But now I am weary and my mind is dark; I can no longer distinguish right from wrong. I need a guide to point my way.... And yet -- and yet you have forbidden the shedding of blood.... What have I said? Who spoke of bloodshed?
-- Orestes, "The Flies" by Jean-Paul Sartre
Ever the wisecracking bully,
Zeus trips atop Mt. Olympus
and tumbles into the Greek
borough of Argos -- a bumbling
deus ex machina sans any
At last upright, he shouts,
"Look, Hera, no hands!"
then turns to mock Orestes
for his lifelong exile from
this, the city of his birth. Orestes
picks his teeth with his broadsword
and yawns. He has returned to Argos
to avenge the killing of his father,
Agamemnon, mighty general
and king, who led the long, dark
charge in the endless war against Troy.
Vengeance for Helen was his alone.
Now humiliation mounts on the back of ******.
Queen Clytemnestra gleefully joins in
the fatal mischief of her lover, Aegistheus.
His ambition: to be king. What else?
Hers: to replace the man she once loved, but who
left her bed empty for more than a decade.
War does that, you know. It requires sacrifice,
commands it, calls it duty. Nobody wants
to play that game, nobody wants to pay
the price for raging injustice, for the dangerous
rescue of the divinely beautiful Helen,
snatched away from Menelaus, brother
to Agamemnon, now Mycenae's scapegoat
of shame. Shame, guilt, rage, cunning, lust
for power, lust for queens and kingdoms,
hubris, maniacal ambition, evil run rampant
like an unwatched child, wooden sword
in hand, babbling for glory -- such
are the spoils of war on the domestic
front. Such the sorry state of kingdoms
whose king fights from afar in absentia.
Argos suffers. Each year, the ritual of bringing the
dead up from hell conjures a plague of over-sized
flies, befouling the people, who wallow in repentance,
perhaps even for their silent collusion in glorifying the king's
killing. And so Orestes returns for yet another reason: to liberate
the carrion city from the sickly, yearly confessions of wrongdoing
that attract the flies; a sickly, yearly punishment for those
long past sickness, long past even the remotest possibility of
condoning Aegistheus' dispatch of Orestes' noble, unarmed father.
Orestes vows to avenge that death, only to be harried
by the flies. He will save Argos from its plague of
Clytemnestra's crime, collaboration with evil, all for
the sake of pleasure, not only in her royal bed, but
in seeing her subjects futilely try to atone for sins
she and Aegistheus have imputed to them. Such is
the queenly power that only an equally royal son
can shatter with his shining broadsword,
destined for use in eviscerating the farcical
couple defiling Agamemnon's crown, defrauding
Argos of its rightful rule of power, majesty,
and dignity. So long in the dark, the people
recite their own defilement, covered in flies
and false feelings of failure. No one dares
speak against it, for that, too, is sin. Zeus
presses his stammering stamp upon the ritual.
Electra, Orestes' wavering sister, willing to sacrifice
her own sanctity to the swarming flies, does not trust
her brother’s might or plan until he swings the sword
at Aegistheus' blackened brain, plunges it
into his mother's blackened heart, which pours
anemic blue blood onto the palace floor,
bubbling with sapphires of retribution,
with the beauty of righteous indignation,
now claimed by Orestes in his father's name.
The son shall inherit the throne, yet he chooses –
relying on nothing but his own free will -- to adorn
himself with the flies, liberating the people of Argos
from their misery, and pursuing a path of
infinite freedom away from the city. Little
does he know that les mouches will buzz
their way behind him in the form of Furies, Greece's
classic haranguers of the guilty, of the criminal
on the run from justice, on the road to ruin.
The Furies: favorite trope of Greek choruses,
singing the doom of the unjust, the impure,
the sullied hero, no longer powerful but pathetic.
Rotten to the core. Yet Orestes again freely accepts this
burden and its stain of rightful revenge. He admits
he is no Oedipus. Yes, he has slain his mother
and slept with the lionhearted darkness
of his iron will, steadied with purified
resolution, the signature of freedom,
the sign of heroism that violates all
laws but redeems the reputation of
those who stormed the invincible walls
of Troy, site of Greece's grandest victory,
driven by a giant horse and Odysseus'
wily wit and wisdom. To take part
is an honor, leading the fight an apotheosis
that a sword-swinging son can inherit,
carrying it on his shoulders as protection
from the Furies’ terrifying talons, their blood lust
for human courage -- not to possess its fearlessness,
but to **** it dry like the receding sea on the shores
of Ilium (ancient Troy), like the fading memory
of Clytemnestra's crime, now shrouded in gowns
of legend, of myth, of Aeschylus' Oresteia, of Sartre's
"The Flies", ancient and modern renditions of tales
that shower the human race with virtues even poor Zeus
cannot fathom, with his tired, lightning-addled brain, hounded
forever by Hera's imperious, Olympian disdain, free of every
working machina save the immortal pulleys of pride.