Can you explain the message  "lust for power"  using a motif(s) found throughout The Oresteia to support your explanation?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many respects, Aeschylus makes the argument that the "lust for power" leads to destruction.  The lust for power that is displayed in The Orestia is one in which revenge is a vehicle for power.  Individuals who feel that they have been wronged turn to vengeance.  The result is "an eye for an eye" that makes the whole world blind.  It is in this where the message of the lust for power reflects the frailty of human beings.

In many respects, the curses that have been placed on the house of Agamemnon almost make the lust for power complete itself.  Generations before him have been cursed through different variations of the lust for power. An example of this would be Tantalus, Agamemnon’s great-grandfather, slaughtering Pelops, his own son, for the power of immortality.  Another such example would be Atreus slaughtering the children of his brother for the sake of power, control, and dominance.  The curse that had been placed on Agamemnon's family is one in which the lust for power created an endless cycle of blood and vengeance.  This becomes the setting in which the lust for power is a demonstrative motif in Aeschylus' work.

Agamemnon's lust for power causes him to sacrifice Iphigenia.  His desire to conquer Troy and covet power is what motivates him to sacrifice his daughter, deceiving Clytemnestra in the process.  This lust for power also plays a role in him bringing back Cassandra as a spoil of victory along with the butchering of Troy.  The lust for power that had been a part of his family's legacy for so long, manifesting itself into murderous bloodshed, imprints itself on Clytemnestra. Agamemnon's wife recognizes the opportunity that presents itself in taking his cousin as her lover and in murdering her husband: 

You test me like a witless woman, but I speak with a fearless heart to those who know; and whether you yourself wish to approve or to blame me, it's all the same! This is Agamemnon, my husband, but a corpse, the work of my right hand here, a just architect. This is how things are.

The lust for power is what Clytemnestra interprets as moving her past a "witless woman."  It is this lust for power and ability to exact the same type of murderous path as Agamemnon that she interprets as autonomy and a sense of control.  Aeschylus shows that operating under the lust for power causes individuals to lose sight of power.  The lust for power causes them to believe they have power, when in reality they have ceded their power for revenge purposes.

Orestes embraces the lust for power in his desire to kill his mother.  The same lust for power is what motivates him to eagerly embrace the path of bloodshed and vengeance that has been a part of his family's legacy for so long.  The motif is used to show how violence and bloodshed is a part of human identity when it clings to fervently to the lust for power.  Aeschylus has shown three different characters impacted by the lust for power.  He has shown this reality to be something that can only be stopped through an appeal to a legal system or condition in which individuals recognize that there is something larger than themselves at work.  The human desire or lust for power is destructive when it is not checked by external reality.  The legal system or the power of the divine are two such forces that can stop the bloodshed because of their ability to curtail human lust for power.  It is in this condition where the lust for power is shown to be something that can be ended.

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The Oresteia

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