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Agamemnon1 was not so fortunate in the issue. During his absence his wife Clytemnestra had been false to him; and when his return was expected, she with her paramour, yEgisthus, son of Thyestes, laid a plan for his destruction. Cassandra warned the king, but as usual her prophecy was not regarded. While Agamemnon was bathing previous to the banquet given to celebrate his return, the conspirators murdered him.
Electra and Orestes. — It was the intention of the conspirators to slay his son Orestes also, a lad not yet old enough to be an object of apprehension, but from whom, if he should be suffered to grow up, there might be danger. Electra, the sister of Orestes, saved her brother's life by sending him secretly to his uncle Strophius, king of Phocis. In the palace of Strophius, Orestes grew up with the king's son Pylades, and formed with him a friendship which has become proverbial. Electra frequently reminded her brother by messengers of the duty of avenging his father's death; he, too, when he reached maturity, consulted the oracle of Delphi, which confirmed him in tl.a design. He therefore repaired in disguise to Argos, pretending to je a messenger from Strophius, who would announce the death of Orestes. He brought with him what purported to be the ashes of the deceased in a funeral urn. After visiting his father's tomb and sacrificing upon it, according to the rites of the ancients, he met by the way his' sister Electra. Mistaking her for one of the domestics, and desirous of keeping his arrival a secret till the hour of vengeance should arrive, he produced the urn. At once, his sister, believing Orestes to be really dead, took the urn from him, and embracing it poured forth her grief in language full of tenderness and despair. Soon a recognition was effected, and the prince with the aid of his sister slew both yEgisthus and Clytemnestra.2
Orestes pursued by the Furies.3—This revolting act, the slaughter of a mother by her son, though extenuated by the guilt of the
1 ^Eschylus, Agamemnon.
2 .■Escliylus.Choephori; Sophocles, Electra; Euripides, — Electra, Orestes. 8 ^Eschylus, Eumenides.
victim and the express command of the gods, did not fail to awaken in the breasts of the ancients the same abhorrence that it does in ours. The Eumenides seized upon Orestes, and drove him frantic from land to land. In these wanderings Pylades accompanied him, and watched over him. At length in answer to a second appeal to the oracle, Orestes was directed to go to Tauris in Scythia, and to bring thence a statue of Diana which was believed to have fallen from heaven. Accordingly the friends went to Tauris. Since there the barbarous people were accustomed to sacrifice to the goddess all strangers who fell into their hands,
the two friends were seized and carried bound to the temple to be made victims. But the priestess of Diana in Tauris was no other than Iphigenia, the sister of Orestes, who had been snatched away by Diana, at the moment when she was about to be sacrificed. Ascertaining from the prisoners who they were, Iphigenia disclosed herself to them; and the three made their escape with the statue of the goddess, and returned to Mycena.1
His Purification. — But Orestes was not yet relieved from the vengeance of the Erinyes. Finally, he took refuge with Minerva at Athens. The goddess afforded him protection, and appointed the court of Areopagus to decide his fate. The Erinyes brought their accusation, and Orestes pleaded the command of the Delphic oracle as his excuse. When the court voted and the voices were equally divided, Orestes was acquitted by the command of Minerva. He was then purified with plentiful blood of swine.
1 Euripides, Iphigenia among the Tauri.