Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

Orestes pursued by the Erinyes (or Furies) for revenging the death of his  father Agamemnon by killing his mother Clytemnestra). From “Mythology of ...
Orestes being tormented by the “furies” after avenging his father’s death.

The Greek poet and playwright Aeschylus wrote “The Libation Bearers” as a sequel to “Agamemnon”. Its name comes from the ancient Greek religious practice of Libation, which is a basic showing of piety that you do often to appease the gods and dead humans. In the story, the dead were not being appeased because libations were not offered. Differing from “Agamemnon”, the chorus is made up of captured Trojan slaves who converted to Greek religion. 

In this play Zeus is once again in charge, yet seems to always be in the background instead of making every decision. Still, everyone praises Zeus since this was basic to Greek thought. The god Apollo is the most important of the Olympians in this play. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, promises Apollo that he will kill his father’s murderers, but Apollo has to validate the legitimacy of this oath. He eventually does at the conclusion. There is another set of gods called the “furies” or “hounds.” They are gods of retribution and avenge people who have been murdered. Described as being relentless in their revenge, they are feared by the characters. 

One of the other vital Olympian gods in “The Libation Bearers” is Hermes who is a messenger of Zeus to the underground gods. He is known as a trickster and will sometimes change Zeus’ message to get what he wants. There are gods of the “hearth” who provide the well-being and success of each individual family, and they are the ones that must be offered Libations. Fate, time, fear, and justice are described as invisible forces or gods themselves. Like in “Agamemnon”, bloodshed is dealt with by more bloodshed; justice is constant and merciless. Fate is a large part of the story; the outcome of men’s actions depend on it. The succession of Agamemnon’s family is unclear and we don’t know if Orestes becomes the ruler, but in the end, Orestes kills his father’s murderers fulfilling the oath. 

Ethics and Imagery in Biblical Literature

Depiction of King Solomon.

In the Bible, there are several focuses. However, they all ultimately fall under the umbrella of ethics. Time and time again, the book of Proverbs states that ethics is not only the answer to the issues of life, but also that an ethical person will acquire wisdom. 

The words of God are pure and never unethical. All power of earthly rulers is given to them from God. “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” A king should avoid liquor or drinking and only marry a virtuous woman. She is a treasure, for she never stops serving others. 

Obviously, wisdom is vital throughout the Bible, partly because wisdom and ethics are intertwined. Those who hate wisdom love death. Wisdom speaks plainly, is the source of all wealth, foundation of civil rulership, and was the basis of creation. Solomon suggests constantly throughout Proverbs that wisdom is necessary beyond any earthly thing or pleasure. Drawing connections between wisdom and ethics is simple: a wise person will always choose the ethical choice and vice versa. Other themes in Proverbs include the self-destructive nature of adultery and fornication, and how the Lord ought to be feared. 

Proverbs contains heaps of powerful imagery. Many are metaphors for wisdom, which is described as “marrow to one’s bones,” “more precious than rubies,” and “the tree of life.” In contrast when describing those who hate wisdom, it says that they will be “swallowed by the graves,” “destruction will come upon them like a whirlwind,” “their ways are the ways of darkness,” “wisdom cries in the streets for them because they have become the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence.”

Proverbs, and the Bible in general, overwhelmingly deals with matters of ethics. Solomon continuously states that those who follow God’s laws and are ethical will be saved, but evil is suicidal to those who hate wisdom and goodness. 

The Birth of Christianity

Byzantine Icon of Jesus from the Haghia Sophia.

In the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, the traditional Greek religion was being undermined by many new mystery religions and cults. Greek philosophers either tried to explain their religion using logic and reason, or just became atheists. The Romans even continued the Greek religion, but changed the names of the gods and started the cult of the emperor. 

After the Jews were conquered by Alexander the Great, they returned to Israel, but shortly after were occupied by Rome. Some Jews never returned to Israel, instead settling in Egypt and Europe. The Jewish religious leaders taught that their messiah would be an earthly, political leader and would free them from Roman bondage. 

When the Jews arrived back in Israel, the only religious record they had left was the Law of Moses, which they strictly followed. The main Jewish religious leaders were the Scribes and the Sanhedrin, who were a group of Scribes and Priests, along with a group called the Elders. 

Nativity of Jesus.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem to his virgin mother Mary and spent His childhood in the Galilean town of Nazareth. Jesus first taught in the Temple at age 12, and started His public ministry around 30 AD when He baptized John the Baptist. Jesus gathered 12 of His most loyal followers to preach with Him, and taught them to spread the gospel and heal diseases. Jesus eventually grew a large following, many of them persuaded by His great miracles.

The Jewish religious leaders did not believe Jesus was the Son of God, so when He proclaimed Himself to be the Christ, they took it as blasphemy, which was punishable by death under their law. The High Priests paid one of Jesus’s unfaithful disciples, Judas Iscariot, to hand in Jesus to the authorities. Jesus stood in front of the Roman Provincial Governor, Pontius Pilot, who found him innocent of treason against Caesar, but to prevent a revolt sentenced him to death by crucifixion. 

Crucifiixion of Jesus.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, instructing them to continue preaching the Gospel in other countries. After 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven. His disciples preached that in order to receive salvation, you must repent of your sins, follow Jesus’s teachings, and be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. 

The disciples wrote down Jesus’s life and teachings into the Gospel of the New Testament, which was written between 50 and 100 AD. The first Bibles were composed in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Book of Matthew was written for Jewish Christians, and Mark and Luke were directed towards Gentiles. John’s Gospel emphasized the divinity of Christ and repentance. Later, letters and books recorded by the Apostles Paul, James, Jude, and the Disciple Peter were added to the Bible.

Greek Icon of Saint Paul.

As Christianity spread, so did its enemies. First the Jews, then Romans, Greeks, and eventually other religions like Islam and heresies inside the Church. Many early Christians sacrificed their lives for the Holy faith.