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The son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. On the assassination of Agamemnon, Orestes, then quite young, was saved from his father's fate by his sister Electra, who had him removed to the court of their uncle Strophius, king of Phocis. There he formed an intimate friendship with Pylades, the son of Strophius, and with him concerted the means, which he successfully adopted, of avenging his father's death by slaying his mother and Aegisthus. (See Aegisthus; Clytaemnestra.) After the murder of Clytaemnestra, the Furies drove Orestes into insanity; and when the oracle at Delphi was consulted respecting the duration of his malady, an answer was given that Orestes would not be restored to a sane mind until he went to the Tauric Chersonesus, and brought away

Orestes and Aegisthus. (From a vase.)

from that quarter the statue of Artemis to Argos. It was the custom in Taurica to sacrifice all strangers to this goddess, and Orestes and Pylades, having made the journey together, and having both been taken captive, were brought as victims to the altar of Artemis. Iphigenia, the sister of Orestes, who had been carried off by Artemis from Aulis when on the point of being immolated (see Aulis; Iphigenia), was the priestess of the goddess among the Tauri. Perceiving the strangers to be Greeks, she offered to spare the life of one of them, provided he would carry a letter from her to Greece. This occasioned a memorable contest of friendship between them, which should sacrifice himself for the other, and it ended in Pylades' yielding to Orestes and agreeing to be the bearer of the letter. The letter was for Orestes, and a discovery was the consequence. Iphigenia, thereupon, on learning the object of their visit, contrived to aid them in carrying off the statue of Artemis, and all three arrived safe in Greece with the statue. After his return to the Peloponnesus, Orestes took possession of his father's kingdom at Mycenae, which had been usurped by Aletes or Menelaüs. When Cylarabes of Argos died without leaving any heir, Orestes also became king of Argos. The Lacedaemonians likewise made him their king of their own accord, because they preferred him, the grandson of Tyndareus, to Nicostratus and Megapenthes, the sons of Menelaüs by a slave. The Arcadians and Phocians increased his power by allying themselves with him. He married Hermioné, the daughter of Menelaüs, and became by her the father of Tisamenus. The story of his marriage with Hermioné, who had previously been married to Neoptolemus, is related elsewhere. (See Hermioné; Neoptolemus.) He died of the bite of a snake in Arcadia, and his body, in accordance with an oracle, was afterwards carried from Tega to Sparta, and there buried. His bones are said to have been found at a later time in a war between the Lacedaemonians and Tegaetans, and to have been conveyed to Sparta (Herod.i. 67). According to one story, Orestes spent the time of his madness in Arcadia, where, in his frenzy, he gnawed off one of his fingers (Pausan. viii. 34, 2). The story of Orestes is the subject of an existing trilogy by Aeschylus (the Agamemnon, Choephoroe, and Eumenides), and is treated by Sophocles in his Electra and by Euripides in the remaining plays Electra, Orestes, and Iphigenia in Tauris. See Becker, Die Orestessage der Griechen (Wittenberg, 1858). See Pyrrhus.

Such is the ordinary form of the legend of Orestes. The tragic writers, of course, introduced many variations. Thus it is said that when the Furies of his mother persecuted him, he fled to Delphi, whose god had urged him to commit the deed, and thence went to Athens, where he was acquitted by the court of Areopagus. Orestes had by Hermioné two sons, Tisamenus and Penthilus, who were driven from their country by the Heraclidae.


A Pannonian who acted as regent of Italy during the short reign of his infant son Romulus Augustulus, in favour of whom he had deposed the emperor Iulius Nepos (A.D. 475). In the following year he was defeated and put to death by Odoacer, king of the Heruli. See Augustulus; Odoacer.

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