The Triumph of Venus: The Erotics of the Market

By Jeanne Lorraine Schroeder | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Eumenides' Return
The Founding of Law Through the
Repression of the Feminine

PROLOGUE: THE DEUS EX MACHINA

The Eumenides,1 Aeschylus's account of legal origins, reveals that postmodernism precedes, rather that succeeds, modernism.

Relating the trial of Orestes for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, The Eumenides illustrates the moment when law and civilization supplants chaos and barbarism—the moment when we become subjects by submitting to the symbolic. Specifically, it tells how Athens comes to decide that accusations of murder will thereafter be addressed through public trial by jury rather than the spiraling blood bath of private vendetta.2

Surprisingly, the play contains absolutely no discussion of the relative morality, justice, wisdom, or practical effect of the two rival regimes. The debate is framed entirely and expressly in terms of whether the masculine or feminine principle should prevail. The rule of law is newly written by Father Zeus and is represented by Apollo—a solar god personifying masculine culture. In contradistinction, the prelegal, natural regime of vengeance is the primordial rule of Mother Night and is represented by the Furies (the Erinyes)—infernal goddesses personifying the maternal superego or feminine jouissance in its ecstatic, destructive mode.

The Furies and Apollo argue over whether the mother or the father is the true parent of the child, and which relationship, motherhood or marriage, is the more significant. In other words, in Lacanian terms, the issue adjudi-

____________________
1
Aeschylus, The Eumenides [hereinafter Aeschylus, The Eumenides], in Aeschylus, The Oresteia at 231 (Robert Fagles trans., 1975) [hereinafter, Aeschylus, The Oresteia].
2
Although the Furies speak of the rule of Mother Night as the ancient law, it is not “law” in the sense of public order. The private regime of vengeance and guilt is natural and prelegal.

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