At first, I found the task of writing a response on Greek tragedies to be daunting. The language used within them and the long monologues typically do not hold my attention for very long. When I first began to read The Oresteia by Aeschylus, I was bored. Not to mention, the story of Troy always frustrates me. (How come Paris is never blamed for any of the events that take place? I've always found him to be such a coward. But that is neither here nor there...) About halfway through reading Agamemnon, I remembered that Fr. Pilarz challenged us on the first class to look at the way the characters that we read about attempt to play God. This made getting through the plays much easier.
Instead of laboriously making my way through long monologues in which characters bragged about destroying Troy, I looked for lines of dialogue that defined their relationship with the gods. In the eyes of these people, their acts of violence please their gods, especially Zeus. On page 70, Agememnon states that "Heaven shares my glory." But who says that the gods are pleased at the destruction of a city to bring back a woman that ran away with her lover? In my opinion, Agememnon just uses this as an excuse to avenge his brother, who was most likely mortified that his wife ran away with another man.
On the note of Agememnon sharing his glory with the gods, who assigned these gods such vengeful characteristics? It seems like people who just wanted justification for their actions did so. I think adopting a religion, whether it be polytheism or Christianity, just to find blame for your actions totally contradicts the idea of religion.
Moving on to the Choephori, I found a very interesting difference from the previous play. Orestes, son of the murdered Agememnon, is now king of Argos. However, his relationships with the gods seem very different than his father's. Instead of expecting rewards from Zeus for acts of violence, Orestes asks Zeus permission to avenge his father's death. This makes me wonder if this is due to a change in the mindset of the people of Argos, or simply just the difference between Orestes and Agememnon.
In The Bacchae, we have a character actually claiming to be a god. Dionysus proclaims to be the son of Zeus and mortal Semele. A major conflict in the play is Dionysus pitted against Pentheus, arguing if the people of Thebes should be able to worship Dionysus, since Pentheus does not recognize him as a god. Dionysus prevails in the end and Pentheus is killed.
I'm assuming Pentheus did not reconigze Dionysus as a god due to jealousy of his relative. But I would completely understand if he didn't recognize him as a god, because he truly believed Dionysus to be mortal. According to Greek mythology, Zeus is said to have a plethora of offspring. I've found a few websites that said he had over 100 children. Who said all of these were actually Zeus' children? What if some of them just claimed to be sons and daughters of Zeus for the prestige of being a deity?
This idea reminds me of a quote from the 2001 film A Knight's Tale. Heath Ledger's character, a peasant, pretends to be royal to compete in jousting tournaments. To justify his actions, he says to his compatriots,"How did the nobles become nobles after all? They took it!" Maybe that's what some of these demigods did - they took the title of god.
After reading this collection of plays, my opinion of Greek tragedies have not changed. I still do not really enjoy them. That could be thanks to taking four year of Latin class in high school, which I did not enjoy. However, looking at these plays as a study of characters playing god/God definitely brought a more interesting aspect to the reading.