Comparison of Blood and Oath Ties between Orestia and Medea

Written by Marjorie Montenegro

Home | Short Stories | Essays | Literary Reviews | Term Papers | Poetry | Contact Me


QUESTION:  Outline the conflict between blood-ties and oath-ties in the Oresteia and Media.  How is this approach to reading these texts (just one of very many possible approaches) a useful one?  (In your mind, how much of the totality of these four plays is accounted for by this approach?) *Approach spoke of is Nortans Anthology rather than a studying of the complete texts. 

ANSWER:  The conflict between blood ties and oath-ties as portrayed in the Oresteia and Medea are diametrically opposed.  In the Oresteia we are presented with a variety of blood ties, but it is the oath tie which causes the most controversy.  Alternately, in the Medea, although there is a clear violation of the oath tie, it is the destruction of the blood tie, which is portrayed with horror.

Clytaemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, slays her husband upon his return from victory at Troy.  Clearly murdering ones spouse would be a breaking of the oath tie; however, Agamemnons sacrifice of Iphigenia, his daughter, which is the reason for Clytaemnestras action, is an equally clear breaking of the blood tie.  During the course of the book only the Furys defend the actions of Clytaemnestra; however, Agamemnon is, figuratively speaking, given little more reproach than a mock frown and a what did you do you naughty boy.  Clearly the zeitgeist was more inclined to value the oath tie than the blood tie.

In Medea; however, the zeitgeist changes.  Jason, the husband of Medea, decides that he is no longer in need of Medea.  He has, after all, already fetched the Golden Fleece, with much help from his wife, and now has the kingdom and a new and improved wife.  This is Medeas incident of the breaking of an oath tie.  The reader of Medea are given Jason in the light of a family man who shows concern for his children while Medea is vilified to King and kingdom alike.  When humiliation turns to rage Medea murders her children, this is as solid an example of the obliteration of the blood tie as one can hope for.  The play portrays this murderess as an evil viper capable of any betrayal while the poor husband is left weeping.  Although this is a tragic play, the real tragedy of this play lies within its portrayal of Jason as breaking his oath tie (just a little broke since he is doing it for Medea and the children) but leaving the play as a victim. 

The handling of the blood and oath ties are apparently different in both Medea and the Oresteia.  It is unclear from the limited text we have to use for this comparison whether this was done because of the time, the men who were to be the audience or the common use of literature as a tool of propoganda.  Would Agamemnon have been avenged if he were Medea?  In comparing the texts of both plays the answer is no.  Therefore, the differences in the blood and oath ties in our limited text are different.

The comparison used in these two pieces of work might have their purpose; however, in their reading from Nortons Anthology, without a more detailed background to the pieces, that purpose is lost.  Analyzing pieces of work as different in theme, without the deeper understanding of the times which were the setting for such plays, negates any conclusion that might be found.

Using this approach of contrasting ties takes any enjoyment away from the plays.  To overanalyze a portion of a piece will never yield anything substantial or whole.  In reading the abbreviated text of Oresteia and Medea in the rushed manner in which this paper demands does give the reader the opportunity to peer into the window of the ancient times from which it was born; however, it does not gain entry through the door of knowledge or to the totality of these works.