Some of the most intriguing moments in The Oresteia come from the brief moments of prophecy. A form of prophecy appears in all three plays and all in different ways. However, both Cassandra’s prophecy and Clytaemnestra’s dream point strongly to the future, as well as the past, while the prophecy of the Pythia simply states the facts of what is in Apollo’s temple. The prophecies in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers prove to be more significant to the plot than the prophecy in The Eumenides.
The first prophecy introduced occurs in Agamemnon after Agamemnon has returned to his house and left the Trojan princess, Cassandra, outside with the chorus, the old men of Argos. Cassandra begins to prophesize, seeing both the future and the past history…
As she bred this sign, this violent prodigy
so she dies by violence. I turn serpent,
I kill her. So the vision says.’” (LB 530-537)
Thus Orestes interprets the prophecy as him killing his mother as revenge for his father’s death. Cassandra had foreseen this in Agamemnon, and it has come true in The Libation Bearers, as evidenced by Clytaemnestra’s dream and Orestes’ return and subsequent murder of his mother. Again, the prophecies from Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers are shown to be integral to the plot.
Finally, the prophecy in The Eumenides is introduced. It is spoken at the beginning of the play by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. She has entered into Apollo’s temple to find the Furies and Orestes there, and she stumbles back out in terror. She speaks of Orestes, saying:
“’he holds the seat where suppliants sit for purging;
his hands dripping blood, and his sword just drawn,
and he holds a branch (it must have topped an olive)
wreathed with a fine tuft of wool, all piety,
fleece gleaming white.’” (E 43-47)
The Pythia merely describes Orestes in the statement, neither acknowledging his past, nor prophesying his future. She then notices the…