Orestes and Mercy (prose)

by Larry Chamberlin   Dec 7, 2018


I love to travel, especially with family,
even if it’s someone else’s children.
Twenty years ago my soulmate sister
and our families traveled to Greece.
The excursions to Delphi and Delos
were amazing, as we had adopted each other
as Artemis and Apollo long ago,
so Apollo’s Priestess
and the twin’s birthplace
had special meanings.

But Athens was the peak for me.
After a full day as star struck tourists
we climbed in the evening twightlight
onto the rough gigantic boulders
which made up the Areopagus
just below the Acropolis and
its great temple to Athena
the many columned Parthenon
all of it lit up in pagentry show
giving us in the rocks below
a golden limening aura.

In my accustomed role as storyteller
I related to the kids the saga of Orestes:
his father, Agamemnon, fresh from
the sack of Troy, his rape of Cassandra,
come home to Mycenae and murdered
by his wife Clytemnestra
who was in turn executed
by their son Orestes, a youth
then beset upon by the Furies
for his crime of matricide.

How he fled to Athens and begged
mercy of good and wise Athena;
how that goddess set up The Trial -
model of all litigation in the West.

How the trial took place amid the very
same ancient field of great rocks
on which we sat that evening,
the jury made up of plain citizens
drawn from this same place
an already ancient town of Athens.

How the furies laid out their case
egged on by the ghost of his mom;
how Orestes was defended by Apollo,
arguing defense for the vengeance
of his own father’s murder
and how the jury did split evenly
half for voting in favor of Orestes
and the other half against
the hapless defendant.

Key to the story: Athena judging
that she must not condemn Orestes
where the jury failed to do so,
establishing the rule that
the accused are presumed innocent!
Upon that point as I spoke
were hairs standing upright
on my neck and arms feeling
the very presence of the goddess
drifting through the starlit ether.

My audience, teens and adults,
and several locals who’d drifted
into the area to hear their own history,
remained quiet for long moments,
looking around the darkened boulders
as if to see ancient litigants and their peers,
perhaps even gods and furies setting forth
the pattern for Western Justice.

The moon came out
from behind a cloud
and lit up the arena.

Quiet prevailed,
we all silently
climbed down to earth.

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