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“Orestes Pursued by the Furies” by John Singer Sargent

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John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Orestes Pursued by the Furies, 1921. Oil on canvas, 347.98 × 317.5 cm. © MFA with permission by fair use.

In Aeschylus’s Eumenides, Orestes goes mad after the deed and is pursued by the Erinyes or Furies, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety. He takes refuge in the temple at Delphi; but, even though Apollo had ordered him to do the deed, he is powerless to protect Orestes from the consequences. At last Athena receives him on the acropolis of Athens and arranges a formal trial of the case before twelve judges, including herself. The Erinyes demand their victim; he pleads the orders of Apollo. Athena votes last announcing that she is for acquittal; then the votes are counted and the result is a tie, resulting in an acquittal according to the rules previously stipulated by Athena. The Erinyes are propitiated by a new ritual, in which they are worshipped as “Semnai Theai”, “Venerable Ones”, and Orestes dedicates an altar to Athena Areia.

  • [PDF] W. G. Aeschylus; Headlam Clinton E. S; Headlam, The plays of Æschylus, London : G. Bell, 1909.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{aeschylusplays00aesciala,
      Title                    = {The plays of Æschylus},
      Author                   = {Aeschylus; Headlam, Clinton E. S; Headlam, Walter George},
      Publisher                = {London : G. Bell},
      Year                     = {1909},
      Note                     = {Introduction. Prometheus bound. The Persians. The seven against Thebes. The suppliants. Agamemnon. Choephoroe. Eumenides},
    
      Comment                  = {Pages: 384
    Possible copyright status: NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT
    Language: English
    Call number: SRLF:LAGE-4005482
    Digitizing sponsor: MSN
    Book contributor: University of California Libraries
    Collection: cdl; americana},
      File                     = {aeschylusplays00aesciala.pdf:aeschylusplays00aesciala.pdf:PDF;aeschylusplays00aesciala.epub:aeschylusplays00aesciala.epub:ePUB},
      Owner                    = {trismegisto},
      Timestamp                = {2016.01.18},
      Url                      = {https://archive.org/details/aeschylusplays00aesciala}
    }

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, when the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitalia into the sea, the Erinyes as well as the Meliae emerged from the drops of blood when it fell on the earth (Gaia), while Aphrodite was born from the crests of sea foam. According to variant accounts, they emerged from an even more primordial level—from Nyx, “Night”, or from a union between air and mother earth.

  • W. Smith and C. Anthon, A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology and geography: partly based upon the Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology., New York : Harper & Brothers, 1862.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{bub_gb_FjIaAAAAYAAJ,
      author    = {Smith, William and Anthon, Charles},
      title     = {A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology and geography: partly based upon the Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology.},
      year      = {1862},
      note      = {Source http://books.google.com/books?id=FjIaAAAAYAAJ\&hl=\&source=gbs_api Oclc-id 13365562 Identifier-access http://archive.org/details/bub_gb_FjIaAAAAYAAJ Identifier-ark ark:/13960/t0jt2pn12},
      publisher = {New York : Harper \& Brothers},
      url       = {https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_FjIaAAAAYAAJ},
      file      = {bub_gb_FjIaAAAAYAAJ.pdf:bub_gb_FjIaAAAAYAAJ.pdf:PDF},
      timestamp = {2016-07-28},
    }
  • [PDF] Hesiod, Theogony, H. G. Evelyn-White, Ed., G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Heinemann, 1914.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{hesiod-theogony,
      Title                    = {Theogony},
      Author                   = {Hesiod},
      Editor                   = {Hugh G. Evelyn-White},
      Publisher                = {G. P. Putnam's Sons, Heinemann},
      Year                     = {1914},
      Note                     = {Full text in HTML: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm
    WorldCat: http://worldcat.org/oclc/41785942
    Place publ:
     London
    Date publ:
     1914
    Phys descr:
     print, xlviii, 657, 8 p.
     17 cm.
    Pages:
     78-153
    Word count:
     6969
    Notes:
     with an English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.
     "Contains practically all that remains of the post-Homeric and pre-academic epic poetry"--Pref.
     Includes index.
     Bibliography: p. xliii-xlviii.
    Subjects:
     Epic poetry, Greek--Translations into English
     Hymns, Greek (Classical)--Translations into English
     Hesiod--Translations into English
     Gods, Greek--Poetry
     Epic poetry, Greek},
      Series                   = {Loeb Classical Library},
    
      File                     = {hesiod-theogony.pdf:hesiod-theogony.pdf:PDF},
      Owner                    = {trismegisto},
      Timestamp                = {2016.01.18},
      Url                      = {http://data.perseus.org/texts/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0020.tlg001.perseus-eng1}
    }
Python (as painter). Orestes at Delphi. Paestan red-figured bell-krater, ca. 330 BC. British Museum. Accession number: GR 1917.12-10. It shows Orestes at Delphi flanked by Athena and Pylades among the Erinyes and priestesses of the oracle, perhaps including Pythia behind the tripod.

Python (as painter). Orestes at Delphi. Paestan red-figured bell-krater, ca. 330 BC. British Museum. Accession number: GR 1917.12-10.
It shows Orestes at Delphi flanked by Athena and Pylades among the Erinyes and priestesses of the oracle, perhaps including Pythia behind the tripod.

As a comment: Hugh Crosthwaite in his book Ka (p. 39) says:

Aeschylus, Eumenides 797 ff: Orestes, who has killed his mother to avenge the murder by her of his father Agamemnon, is tried at Athens. The Furies, instruments of justice, are the prosecutors. His defence has been that he was acting on the instructions of the god Apollo. Athene, patron goddess of Athens, has a casting vote, and Orestes is acquitted. When the Furies grumble, Athene consoles them: “But there was shining (lampra) evidence from Zeus, and he who gave the oracle and he who bore witness were one and the same.”

There is a tripod cauldron in the previous picture. Crosthwaite has a whole chapter on this subject, some of it now:  (Ka 123):

If put up into the air, a tripod cauldron resembles the popular idea of a comet. It also looks like the seething pot of Old Testament Jeremiah I:13. I suggest that the Greeks linked the god in the ground with the god in the sky. There was a copper cauldron on the roof of the temple of Zeus at Olympia, and another at Delos.

Is there any evidence to support this theory?

By simple metathesis, such as occurs with the Greek ‘kratos’ and ‘kartos’, we get ‘stephanos’, crown, and ‘setphanos‘, Set revealing or shining.

The Egyptian god Set was well known to the Greeks. He killed Osiris; the Greeks equated him with Typhon. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the tripod and cauldron, with a crown of fire, were an attempt to represent, and to establish communication with a god in the sky, elsewhere described as a seething pot facing north, and a cauldron for the use of the god Thor. Homer, Iliad XVIII:369 ff., describes the manufacture of tripod cauldrons: they are for action in the sky.

It is significant that the oldest attendants of Dionysus were the Silenes, followed later by the Saturoi, Satyrs. Oura is a tail. Were it not for the short ‘u’ of Saturos, philology might suggest that the Satyrs were Set’s tail.

At first a Satyr had long pointed ears, a goat’s tail, and small knobs like horns behind the ears. Later, goat’s legs were added. Hesiod writes: “The race of Satyrs, worthless and unfit for work”. In the Doric dialect, Satyros is Tityros, but Strabo distinguishes between Satyrs, Silenes and Tityri. A comet might display less tail with each return.

To the east of Ionia was the Persian Empire. The king ruled through provincial governors called satraps. I suggest that Set explains the word satrap. Rhapis and rhabdos both mean a rod or staff, like skeptron, English sceptre. Chrysorrhapis, of the god Hermes, means bearing a golden rod. A satrap was Set’s rod, ready to punish rebellious provincials with the speed and force of a thunderbolt. The festival of the Stepteria may have been the flight of Set (Greek pteron is a wing).

  • [PDF] H. Crosthwaite, Ka, Metron Publications, 1996.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{crosthwaite-ka,
      Title                    = {Ka},
      Author                   = {Hugh Crosthwaite},
      Publisher                = {Metron Publications},
      Year                     = {1996},
    
      Abstract                 = {A Handbook of Mythology, Sacred Practices, Electrical Phenomena, and their Linguistic Connections in the Ancient Mediterranean World. Introduction by Alfred de Grazia.},
      File                     = {crosthwaite-ka.pdf:crosthwaite-ka.pdf:PDF},
      Owner                    = {trismegisto},
      Timestamp                = {2016.01.22},
      Url                      = {http://www.grazian-archive.com/quantavolution/QuantaHTML/_start_here.htm}
    }

Museum of Fine Arts Boston

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