Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 3

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription 3
tragedy. He is a legendary protagonist who provided even Homer with the story
of an avenger of blood. Homer does not make a clear statement that Orestes
killed his mother, while in Electra Sophocles dramatizes providential justice in
a story stained with blood but stays silent about the relation between him and th
Furies. In his Electra Euripides describes weak-minded Orestes persuaded by
Electra into killing their mother. The Dioscuri, Clytemnestra's brothers, point
out that matricide is not justifiable; but they comfort their nephew and niece, b
attributing their mother's death to the Fates.
Euripides, with whose Ion Simms was familiar enough, brings our
attention to Orestes' agonies in Orestes, where Orestes opposes himself to
Tyndareos, his maternal grandfather, who maintains that he should have taken
"lawful proceedings, prosecute for murder, and / Expel his mother from the
palace" (Orestes 317) for her outrageous act, while Orestes declares that "My
action / Was a right action" (Orestes 320). He even justifies his act by saying h
avenged his father because "my father planted me, / Your daughter bore me --a
field sown with another's seed. / Without the father there can be no child;
therefore, / I reasoned, the prime author of my life must have / My loyalty, more
than she who supplied care and food" (Orestes 319).
Important to us, however, is the way Euripides describes the Furies in
Orestes. Electra says her brother is haunted by the Furies (Orestes 308); and
Orestes himself declares that the Furies are killing him: "Those female fiends
with bloody faces wreathed in snakes! / They're here! They're coming closer!
Now they leap at me! . . . They have dog's jaws and gorgon's eyes; / They'll kill
me—priestesses of hell, dread goddesses!" (Orestes 309). He admits that the
Furies, who are "black as night,""drive me, hound me, lash me—it is agony!"
(Orestes 314). The chorus of women of Argos states that the sin that stains a
hand guilty of a mother's murder has destroyed Orestes "With Furies hounding
to the death, / With fugitive eyes rolling in terror" (Orestes 330), adding that
"Crime in a just cause' is an impious sophistry, / An insanity breeding in evil
hearts" (Orestes 330).
Here Orestes is prohibited from fleeing by Argive armed guards, not by
the Furies. Electra and Orestes are about to be sentenced to death by stoning.
Encouraged by Pylades, Orestes attempts to kill his mother's sister Helen, "a bad
woman" (Orestes 340), in order to drive Menelaus mad because he did nothing
to help him. Eventually Apollo appears and tells Orestes to go to Athens so that
he may stand his trial "Arraigned by the three Furies for your mother's blood"
(Orestes 359). In short, Euripides's Orestes portrays the fury and frenzy of a
madman who commits another crime as penitence for matricide. The Furies
never appear in person; they just function as a metaphor of conscience. Simms's
use of the Furies in Martin Faber parallels Euripedes's description of them.
Martin, protagonist and narrator in Simms's first novel of 1833, says he is "but
an instrument in the hands of a power which I could not understand" (Martin
Faber 23). Infuriated at William Harding's "[s]hallow sophistry" (Martin Faber
82), he wishes "the furies tug at thy vitals, like snakes, in all hours" (Martin
Faber 84).
In The Eumenides, as Bachofen has pointed out (Matriarch 169-253),