What are the messages in the plays Eumenides and Oedipus the King? How are these messages presented in the plays?

Both of these Greek tragedies are concerned with human responsibility as contrasted with vulnerability to the gods’ will. The main messages in Aeschylus’s play Eumenides include a son’s responsibility to avenge his father’s death and the gods’ unequaled power to resolve moral dilemmas. Principal messages of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King likewise include filial duty to their parents, but the emphasis is on the futility of preventing what is divinely ordained.

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Classical Greek tragedies usually include moral lessons about the cosmic order and the responsibility of humans to behave correctly, which includes obedience to divine will. The harsh messages of the plays generally focus on the negative consequences of irresponsible behavior, including inadequate or misplaced familial loyalty, and of challenging the gods’ power. The themes of Eumenides and Oedipus the King include variants on these two basic ideas. Both plays center on dilemmas that arise when sons—for whatever reason—fail to honor their parents or even harm or kill them.

Eumenides is the third and final play of Aescylus’s Oresteia cycle, a set of plays concerned with the house (or descendants) of Atreus. This family includes Atreus’s son Agamemnon and his son Orestes. After Clytemnestra, Orestes’s mother, kills her husband, Agamemnon, the son is honor-bound to avenge his father’s death. His dilemma is that to do so, he has to kill his mother, making him as immoral as she is. The mortals cannot resolve this dilemma on their own: Humans must rely on the gods to determine a just resolution. Athena helps create a court in which such problems can be addressed. The Eumenides will become agents of justice rather than of punishment.

In Oedipus the King, Oedipus is the son who inadvertently kills his own father. In this case, both his father and mother were initially responsible because they tried to avoid the inevitable outcome of a prophecy. They behave immorally by abandoning their own child. In this play, the adult Oedipus perpetuates the moral problems that he inherited, not only through the fight in which he slays Laius but by similarly ignoring Tiresias’s prophecies. The message that human ignore the gods’ decisions at their own peril is emphasized through the flouting of prophecies in two generations. Both Jocasta and Laius pay with their lives, and Oedipus is burdened with blindness and guilt.

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