di Albina Abbate

In the Libation Bearers, dreams are certainly a major part of the action on stage, but they also are a key element of the symbolic structure of this second chapter of Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy.

At the beginning of the tragedy, Orestes finds out that his degenerate mother, Clytemnestra, had a nightmare she interpreted as a sign from her husband, Agamennnon. As a consequence, she decided to organize a propitiatory rite at his grave, in order to appease his soul, eager to avenge his death and the funeral he never received. The chorus’ women, the libation bearers, explain to Orestes the details of Clytemnestra’s nightmare: she dreamed of giving birth to a snake, wrapping it with children’s bands and breastfeeding it. Along with the milk, however, she saw the horrible child sucking out blood from her breast.
The tragic hero, as a true interpreter, arranges and resolves the dream to its symbolic parts, only to discover that the dream is showing him how to take revenge upon his father’s death and follow Apollo’s orders. Exactly like the child-snake in the dream, he has to wound his mother to death. Identifying himself with the monster, Orestes seeks to make the dream coincide with reality.