A quick recap of the story so far, since we’ve been on hiatus: The Curse of the House of Atreus, which was born in the bloodshed of Pelops, has been wrecking havoc on his descendants in the usual way, that is, fratricide, incest, cannibalism, adultery, and plain ol’ murder. Last time, Clytemnestra, sick of her abusive and philandering husband, strait up axed Agamemnon, just like J.Lo in the movie Enough.
Now The Curse is moving its ugly eye onto the next generation, ol’ Cly and Aggie’s kiddies. Well meaning, but none too intelligent, Orestes is off on the other coast attending college. His admission was pretty much guaranteed by his skills with the discus. His younger sister, Electra, is stuck at home.
Orestes was raised in exile, as far from his conniving mother as possible, because she was slightly afraid he would come back and seek vengeance for his father’s murder. Unfortunately, this meant he missed out on the usual family bonding, and was susceptible to peer pressure.
The festivities at the Delphic Oracle were pretty much par for the course in any mythological hero’s early adulthood. The parties were so epic, that the gods were known to show up on occasion, just to spice things up. Amenities included: intoxicating fumes spewing from the heart of a mountain (volcanoes having not been discovered yet), prophesying priestesses, as well as the usual smattering of satyrs and scantily clad nymphs.
Tickets were indeed hard to come by. Luckily, Orestes’s cousin and best bud, Pylades, was in the industry and knew a guy who got them VIP backstage passes. Giving their guardians some flimsy line about “seeking advice from the divine”, they set off for Delphi with all haste. Road trip!
Orestes, after downing a veritable trail mix of uppers, downers, and hallucinogenics, sat down and began contemplating the courses of action ahead of him. He knew that it was his duty, as only son, to kill his father’s murderer. But that villain was also his mother, and matricide goes against the laws of nature! What was he supposed to do – stuck like this between his sacred obligation and a potentially atrocious crime?
Apollo, guardian against bad trips, took pity on the young man and granted him with a vision. In no uncertain terms, he said,
“Yo, your ma, Queen Cly, she’s so crazy,
You’ve got no time left to be lazy!
Head home soon and slay the old bird,
(Though afterwards you’ll feel like a turd).
It’ll work itself out; I’ve got your back,
Go on, grab your sword, give her head a whack!”
Orestes, surprised at how clear this particular prophesy was, grabbed Pylades from a group of nymphs, and told him what was up. The pair of friends then ventured on towards Argos, stopping at the tomb of Agamemnon for some much needed rest.
At the tomb, the guys ran into Electra and a group of servant woman. Clytemnestra, pestered by horrifying nightmares about trying to breastfeed poisonous snakes, had sent them there to pour libations and ask for blessings. Brother and sister had a joyous reunion, filled with chaste and utterly platonic hugging, unlike some mythological siblings I could name.
Orestes, between blathering on about the life changing experience of the Oracle, and a long diatribe on the virtues of scantily clad nymphs, tried to explain Apollo’s command to his sister. Electra, for her part, was skeptical. She could see that he had burned out a fair few synapses. Still, a mission from the gods was not to be ignored, so she pulled the racially insensitive Native American headdress off him and they began to form a plan.
Concealed in cunning disguises they made from accessories picked up at Delphi, the boys came to the palace, seeking admittance. Clytemnestra, unsure if she wanted these vagrant youths in her home, was disinclined to let them in, but at least she didn’t recognize Orestes. Peering around the cracked door, she listened to their message.
“Oh, great and powerful Queen, we come from Phocis, bearing sad tidings of your son. He has died, and we bear his ashes to return to you, his mother.”
“Dead, is he? And burned as well? Come in! This is great news! You know, I was sure these dreams I’ve been having – horrible things, about a snake biting my breasts and drawing blood from them – meant he was going to show up here and kill me! Huge relief to know he’s no longer with the living. Say, would you boys like some milk and cookies?”
Seating the youths at the kitchen table, she sent a servant to bring Aegisthus, her lover. Unfortunately, the woman was Orestes’s nurse from long ago, and had a soft spot for the boy. Knowing what he was about, she made sure that Aegisthus arrived sans sword, shield, and guards. Orestes promptly slew him.
Clytemnestra fled into the mail hall, where her handy battle ax was leaning against the wall nearby. Though she raised it, she knew she could never kill her own son. So she begged him to spare her, asking him to remember all the times he had lain his infant head upon her breast in innocent sleep.
This is where the whole exiling-your-kid-to-prevent-vengeance plan starts to break down. Orestes didn’t have any tender memories of growing up with his Mom. Just a huge black void where the maternal-child bond should have been. To his credit, he paused momentarily, looking to Pylades for advice.
“I dunno man, I mean, Apollo himself sent you here, right? Pretty sure you’ve got to end the old biddy. Freaking Apollo! You don’t want to piss that guy off. And besides, she’s a woman, not, like, a real person.”
Despite his misgivings, Orestes slew his mother. The doors of the palace flew open (you think Clytemnestra would’ve gotten that fixed), revealing Orestes standing over the bloody corpses. His eyes were wide with hallucinatory flashbacks, and his visions were starting to take a dark turn.
In the distance, he perceived the Furies coming towards him. These old goddesses of revenge wore filthy black robes that somehow had both the texture of razor wire and gasoline. Their lank hair rose above their heads like snakes, and their eyes dripped blood. They had the stench of primordial offal and when they screamed from their toothless mouths, flies buzzed in swarms towards the one pursued.
They were nasty pieces of work. It is said that when they appeared on the stage in 5th century Athens, they were so terrifying as to cause miscarriages in the audience.
Orestes, presented with the horrifying vision, fled from Argos. Spouting mad obscenities, he proclaimed his murdered mother had set the Furies on him, and they were goading him on with his own guilt.
Tune in next time for the finale: House of Atreus, Part 7, The Trial! Featuring male theories of the reproductive process, the very first court drama, and the foundation of Athens!