Just a few edition specific notes, because, really, who gives a shit what I have to say about Orestia. What am I going to say, "gee I don't really see what the greatest minds in Western Civilization over the past 2500 years see in this thing, it was boring." Nope, no one needs me to cape up for Aeschylus. Anyways, I was fretting over picking a translation before I had the problem solved for me by finding a nice used copy of the Richard Lattimore translation. I can't really speak to the comparative quality of this translation, but I didn't find any faults in it either. There is a pretty great introductory essay, that particularly serves the reader well for Agamemnon, but doesn't cover the next two plays (The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides) particularly well. (I would guess that the essay was originally written for an earlier volume that only included Agamemnon, and Lattimore quickly updated it for this volume.) However serviceable this essay was, explanatory notes were sorely missed. Unless you're either a expert's expert on Greek mythology or a transplant from pre-Alexandrine Hellas there is a lot of references that you're just not going to be able to get. There's only so much Wikipedia can do to help you. Hence, some of the long choral sections have a tendency to be either beautifully poetic or utterly incomprehensible. Hopscotching to reference notes can be a pain, but here it would be worth it.Jeremy
Incredible. The language and images are dense and often feel hidden behind this odd primeval sort of weightiness. I sometimes found myself having to re-read a line four or five times before I really got all of the little nuances at work. Agamemnon was the definite favorite, personally I found the end of the Eumenides to be just a bit too tritely well-resolved, but that's a paltry complaint overall. A short but extremely demanding read.Christopher H.
Personally, I believe that this is the best and most powerful translation of Aeschylus's brilliant triptych known as The Oresteia. While Peter Meineck's translation may be best suited for the stage, and Ted Hughes's rendition most poetic, it is my sincere opinion that Robert Fagles's translation is the most visceral and resonates most powerfully for me. The inclusion of William Bedell Stanford's introduction within this edition is simply a bonus as it is nothing short of brilliant!Ara
Aeschylus, as the original Greek playwright, sticks to the basics of his time. There is a chorus, a few singularly riveting lines from Clytemnestra (who has been harboring hot anger for over a decade since her husband sacrificed their daughter to the winds), a murder, revenge, etc. There are definitely some lines that I loved when I read through these plays. Reading is a different experience when you are reading through plays, after all. Agamemnon was an excellent piece. Electra, however, is awful. Not because Aeschylus is, but because she is. And she only gets worse. Sophocles and Euripides wrote their own versions of Electra and with each one she just gets whinier, turns into a wannabe goth-girl, and makes me just want to slap her. That being said, it's still worth reading through the whole thing.Ben
I just finished reading The Oresteia, so perhaps it's premature to claim it as my favourite work in Greek and Roman literature; however, it is. The style is as elegant as The Parthenon, and the moral drama is a gripping as a Fury that is sucking the blood out of your body. I wouldn't go as a far as sacrificing my child or killing my mother to go back in time and watch the debut of this play, but I would pay a lot of money. Particularly interesting to me is the affect this had on Greek society. It reminds me of the biblical tale of the Jewish king Josiah (who happened to find a long-lost book of law that conveniently updated an already infallible, but out-of-date legal system for him). If someone decided to write a book to instantly propagate new ideas of governing and yet mesh the new system with the prevailing myths and prejudices of the times, that book would be The Oresteia. The formula is simple (framing the law as above man, and the changes as from the god/s, so no one can attack them as man-made or fallible), but the execution takes skill since it strikes most people as unnecessary for infallible things to change. The Oresteia is more compelling than the story of Josiah (or the Spartan king Lycurgus) because it gives voice to the old arguments subduing them in the process, and because the characters and plot have dimensions. You actually feel that Clytemnestra is making a good point every so often, and it isn't as if she and Aegistus are acting without meditation. I could ramble on about how much insight on Greek religion gets unpacked, how many memorable lines jump off the page, the complex themes of family and honor, the treatment of women as secondary, the politicing of Athena to ensure her judgment is honored, etc. Simply put, there were a lot of ideas The Oresteia clarified for me, and a lot of ideas it sparked in me. I'll read it again sooner than later.John
The only surviving trilogy of classical Greek tragic plays (though its corresponding satyr play is lost), the Oresteia represents better than any other work the raw and primal power of Aeschylus' work. He is not as sophisticated a playwright as Sophocles, and not remotely as daring, formally or thematically, as Euripides, but he brings us closer than they do to the sacral and ritual origins of the tragic drama. The Fagles translation perfectly captures the trilogy's nearly barbaric force.Terry
Like so many other things that I've been reading lately, Aeschylus's trilogy is concerned with human beings thrown into the crucible of extremest intensity, pressured from every direction my conflicting obligations, driven to violent action and violent remorse. Few poets are as willing as Aeschylus to stare into the profound darkness of human suffering and name the curse that seems to hold us to the wheel of our own violence. Yet, even fewer are ultimately as hopeful about the possibility of our breaking that wheel, of our suffering a way through to wisdom and truth. In this way, Aeschylus is a religious poet who believes in redemptive sacrifice. And by placing his faith in the power of civic institutions to domesticate the chthonic forces of our souls and turn them toward public service, he is also a political poet. At a time when it is hard for poets to be either of these things, a time when our families and our politics seem equally bound up in sterile cycles of fear and retribution, Aeschylus may have much to teach.Selina
Drama. Violence. And betrayal. This Greek tragedy had it all. Aeschylus’ Oresteia tragedy trilogy tells the tale of the cycle of blood violence and justice within the House of Atreus. Way before the events in the Oresteia, King Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, began the cycle of family violence by cooking his brother’s children and feeding them to him. The retribution for this act would not come until later from Aegisthus, the remaining child not cooked and eaten by his father, through Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife. Right before the events of the Oresteia, King Agamemnon of Athens had successfully overtaken Troy in the Trojan War and was journeying home with his army. What awaited him at home was nothing short of the drama, violence, and betrayal that is advertised in Greek tragedies. (view spoiler)[In the first book of the trilogy, Clytemnestra succeeds in murdering her husband after he sacrifices their daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods and save his army while trying to return from the victory at Troy. In the next book, Orestes returns home and avenges his father’s death by killing his mother and her lover, Aegisthus. In the final book, Orestes is hunted down and put on trial for killing his mother. His fate lies in the hands of the newly formed court system and the goddess Athena. (hide spoiler)]Women play a prominent role in the Oresteia trilogy. The representations of female characters in the Oresteia as rebellious, as cunning, and as masculine reflect the Athenian attitudes and anxieties toward women. It is not surprising that this Greek masterpiece is steeped in misogyny since the stereotypes and archetypes of women presented in the tragedy cast women in a highly unfavorable light. This did not take away the brilliance of Aeschylus' work, but it definitely made it less enjoyable to me. There were many double-standards in how the Chorus (the voice of the audience and people) and the other characters treated and viewed the actions of female characters (Clytemnestra) compared to the actions of male characters (Agamemnon, Orestes). No character in the play came out of the story fully noble and correct, but the females especially were criticized and judged far more harshly than I would have liked. The overall tone and message I received from the story was one where males are superior, a message not surprising considering when it was first written. Maybe I am judging the play a bit harshly, but in modern times, it comes off misogynic.I admit I analyzed this trilogy far more than I normally would a book mostly since it was for a school assignment. There are many good points and themes presented in the book, such as the idea of blood violence and retribution, the idea of justice and the court system, and the idea of oracles and prophecies. Clytemnestra was a very interesting character. In many ways, she was not how a woman is usually portrayed during those times; she was strong, cunning, and intelligent. Her mastery of language and interpretation was amazing and made for some interesting exchanges as she tried to lure her prey into her trap. Unfortunately, Aeschylus really made her more of a one-note villain in the latter books as opposed to the polarizing, conflicting character she was in the first book of the trilogy.Overall, the Oresteia was pretty good. There were just some fundamental ideas about life that the trilogy seemed to be pushing that bothered me. Definitely read it if you enjoy Greek tragedies or enjoy seeing how the values and ideas of society were like way back then (5th century BC).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>Russell
I had in my mind that the these plays were full of mythology of the pantheon of Greek gods.There are gods, yes, and other mythological creatures like the Furies, but there is so much more there, themes of duty, of humility, hubris, sin and forgiveness, the weight and fullness of history (the Trojan War) and family. Out of these three plays Aeschylus sharply defined characters that still are echoed today. Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Iphigenia are still used as descriptions and figures today.I liked them all, Aeschylus was a genius and that shows clearly despite the ages and translation from Ancient Greek to English. They were highly enjoyable!So much of Western civilization is based on Greek culture, one really should read these plays.Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Oresteia is the only surviving trilogy of Greek tragedy plays, performed in 458 BCE - two years before Aeschylus's death in 456 BCE. This review summarises all three plays as a trilogy, and because I think that it's easier to read them if you know what to expect, I do give away all the relevant plot points.The first play, "Agamemnon", is about betrayal: King Agamemnon returns home to Argos after the successful sacking of Troy (in modern-day Turkey), only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Agamemnon's cousin, Aegisthus, who had taken over Agamemnon's rule in his absence. Clytemnestra is wrathful because her husband sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to placate the god Artemis and secure calm winds for the voyage to Troy, and kills Agamemnon in his bath. They also murder Cassandra, his spoils of war, the prophetess cursed to never be believed who sees her own death but is, of course, disbelieved. Such is the curse of Agamemnon's family continued.The second play, "Libation Bearers", is about just revenge, or deliverance. Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's son Orestes returns from another kingdom where he was sent to live, having learned from the oracle Loxias of his mother's murderous betrayal. Through Loxias he is given leave by the god Apollo to exact revenge by killing his mother and her lover. When he arrives at the palace he goes first to the tomb of his father to pay his respects; there he encounters his sister Electra, also in mourning. With the help of the palace servants, he disguises himself as a traveller bearing news of his own death so as to trick his way inside and see Aegisthus privately. He slews him and then his mother, who knows she is going to her death but does not fight it.The third play, "Eumenides", is about justice and change - it displays a new way of seeking justice, that in a new court-of-law, with the verdict decided by a group of citizen jurors in Athens. The Furies are hounding Orestes, demanding payment for the matricide. Orestes seeks out Apollo's temple and Apollo's protection, and then Athena (Pallas Athena), goddess of war, wisdom and justice (among many other things). Athena decides to hold a trial to hear the case, with the Furies the prosecution and Apollo defending Orestes. Athena casts her own vote in Orestes' favour, and the result is a tie: Orestes goes free. The Furies threaten to destroy the land but Athena placates them instead into protecting it, and decrees that henceforth a trial by jury shall always be used to decide such cases.That's the general overview of this trilogy of Greek tragedies, though there is a lot more going on in the details. I did struggle a bit, reading these short plays, because it's so hard for me to concentrate these days. I found my mind wandering continuously, thoughts intruding, and even when I made the effort to focus I often had to re-read passages several times and then admit defeat. The notes do help, but the fact remains that I had trouble with the structure of many lines, that like obscure poetry they alluded me. Full of metaphor and requiring a great deal of knowledge to get the mythic and historical references, a lot of "Agamemnon" in particular was hard to follow, in particular the Chorus' chants, like when they tell the story of the family curse (I only know that's what it's about from reading the intro and some notes. Other names are often used - like Ilion, for Troy, or Pallas, for Athena - and like an optical illusion the lines seem to double in on themselves so you don't know what the hell is really being said, or so it seems to me, like it's a language I don't know. It gives me a headache.Yet, on that note, it also made me wonder (an intruding thought among many), how these plays would have been heard by ordinary people, just as Shakespeare's plays were heard by the poor and uneducated as much as the rich - regardless, they all understood them, didn't they? I mean, the style of speech was understandable in all its convolutions and beseechings. We struggle to follow all the lines in Shakespeare today - it just makes me really recognise how much verbal language has changed, verbal English (I know Greek isn't English, but the translation honours the original). But I digress.I'm not entirely sure what to make of this story. We've all heard the story of Troy even if you haven't read The Illiad, and you've probably heard of Agamemnon and Cassandra too. Aeschylus wasn't the only playwright to create plays based on this myth of Agamemnon's murder - Euripides, for example, who came just after Aeschylus died, wrote one too. I've studied some ancient Greek plays, years ago, but I don't really have a background in it. To me, as a modern-day reader and an emancipated woman, I can't help but find them almost misogynistic in tone, even though scholars have apparently seen Clytemnestra as an early feminist figure for taking over the male role of ruler - the translator, Christopher Collard, Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Wales, says in his introduction that "it seems unnecessary to think of her as more than a playwright's imaginative construction for the sake of his drama." (p.xxvii) But there are far stronger anti-women sentiments voiced in these plays, especially the third one. (I want to bring it up not because I'm offended or anything, but because it's an interesting theme, to me at least, and because I vaguely remember when I studied Greek plays in university that strong, powerful, mad women are a common theme - but more than that, I can't remember!)In "Agamemnon", the king himself speaks of the gods' undivided and just support for the destruction of Tory, saying "it was for a woman that Troy was ground into dust..." (p.23)Apollo has the worst denouncement, though, when he says during the trial in "Eumenides":The so-called mother is no parent of a child, but nurturer of a newly seeded embryo; the parent is the one who mounts her, while she conserves the child like a stranger for a stranger, for those fathers not thwarted by god. [p.103] And Athena makes her judgement thus:It is my business in this case to give my judgement last; and I shall cast this vote of mine for Orestes. [...] I do so because there is no mother who gave me birth, and I approve the masculine in everything - except for union with it - with all my heart; and I am very much my father's: so I will set a higher value on the death of a woman who killed her husband, a house's guardian. [p.105](Athena, a rational goddess, is the daughter of Zeus, born of his head.)So combined with Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter, his other daughter Electra's idolatry of her father, Clytemnestra's usurping of a man's role and adultery, the gods' promotion of the masculine over the feminine is rather like having the last word. Bit hard to gainsay a god.I bring up the theme of women in these plays because I feel it is relevant in questioning, what is Clytemnestra's greatest crime here? Why does Orestes feel the need to kill her rather than bring her to justice? Certain lines jump out at me that make it apparent that her greatest crime was taking on a man's role, and therefore depriving Orestes of his inheritance. In "Libation Bearers", Orestes says of his decision to kill his mother, "Many desires are falling together into one; there are the gods' commands, and my great grief for my father; besides, it oppresses me to be deprived of my property, so that our citizens, who have the finest glory among men, and honour for their heart in sacking Troy, should not be subjects like this of a pair of women. [p.59](By "pair of women" he refers here to his mother's lover Aegisthus, who he calls "effeminate at heart".)I wonder whether she would have been so abominable in mens' eyes if she had not sought to rule, which she was doing in her husband's absence anyway. It is so easy in mythology to lay all blame and evil and everything that goes wrong, at the feet of women. What scapegoats we make! Though to be fair, if Athena had not cast her own vote, Orestes would have been found guilty, for her vote made it a tie in which case she decreed he would be pardoned. The majority of jurors voted against him. Which brings me to the big idea of the trilogy of plays, though: justice itself. Here we have the myth of how the first court of law, the first trial, began and was institutionalised in Athens, making it the most sophisticated and modern city-state in Greece. With the Furies trying to avenge Clytemnestra's murder and losing, they bemoan the change: "You younger gods! The ancient laws - you have ridden them down! You have taken them out of my hands for yourselves!" [p.106] The tied verdict, though, helps Athena, the patron of Athens, placate the Furies by saying they have not been dishonoured, and the goddess moves quickly to give the Furies a new role, that of protecting Athens rather than bringing destruction upon it for losing the trial. In doing so, she posits the city as the pinnacle of all things, blessed by the gods and made fortunate by the Furies who she gives the role of "keeping both land and cit on the straight way of justice." (p.111) In telling the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's downfall, this trilogy of plays gives us the mythologised story of how Athens became great - to an Athenian audience, so it's very much a self-aggrandising story.There's lots more going on here; I've barely scratched the surface. I don't feel I can give it a rating, so I've given it a 3 because it's so middle-of-the-road. In terms of the general plot, it brought to mind "Hamlet" and also "Macbeth" - it's true that everything borrows from everything else, and stripped down, I'm sure there are probably only about three real plots or something (or was it seven? I think there's a book on this already!). It's tricky to read because all the action happens off the page; or rather, it happens in speech, making it fairly bogged-down with details, but this was also an interesting aspect of the plays. It was hard to read Cassandra and Clytemnestra's dialogue when they are both aware they are walking to their deaths - there's real emotion in those lines. The chants of the chorus are the hardest to read, being like poetry rather than prose and requiring significant background knowledge to understand. A note on this edition: This is a new 2002 translation by Christopher Collard for Oxford World's Classics, and it's more of an academic translation than a popular, readable one. There is a long introduction and essay by Collard on the characters, the theatre production of the plays, dramatic form and so on, as well as extensive notes in the back. It comes with a summary of the three plays - which it's a great idea to read first or it's hard to follow what's going on - as well as a chronology of Agamemnon's family and a map that shows Greece and Turkey, which I really appreciated. All in all, it's a very thorough translation, noting when lines and words are missing from the original manuscripts, and probably your best choice if you're studying the plays.Mark Adderley
This is an excellent trilogy (of course), about a woman's revenge upon her husband for the sacrifice of her daughter, and a son's revenge upon his mother for having murdered his father...kind of confusing, like a lot of Greek tragedies. This one involves a conflict between the old ways, represented by Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon, and the Furies, and the new ways, represented by Orestes, Athena, and Apollo. It's Athena, through the use of reason and justice, who puts an end to the cycle of revenge and violence, and reconciles the old and new ways. The first two plays are tragedies, from at least one point of view, but the last one has an optimistic ending, with Athena and the Furies reconciled.Richmond Lattimore's translation is occasionally opaque; you have to read it twice to really get anything out of it.Wael Mahmoud
Unfortunately i am very disappointment with this trilogy, After reading sophocles' Oedipus.Although it doesn't lack the strong drama, A woman killed her husband - the hero of the war - and a son revenged his father's death by killing his mother, but the events are very slow - except for the second play - and the chours lines - specially in the first one - are very long and boring.There's not a remarkable characters as we see in Oedipus' trilogy, The gods in the third play are very ridiculous, I think the Orestes trial would be better if it was a psychological one where gods presented but not as characters.Anyway i'll keep reading Greek drama, Looking for another Oedipus not another Orestes.And here's my reviews about each playAlexander Santiago
This is perhaps ancient Greece's most famous tragic trilogy that has survived antiquity. "Agamemnon" deals with the treacherous murder of King Agamemnon, just returned from the Trojan war, at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and his brother (who had an affair with his wife and coveted the throne). "The Libation Bearers" brings karmic and bloody retribution upon Clytemnestra at the hands of her only son, Orestes, avenging the death of his father. "The Eumenides" deals with Orestes flight from 'the furies,' demon-like creatures who are hellbent on exacting justice for the unforgivable sin of matricide, with a climax of Orestes appealing for mercy and clemency from the gods of Olympus for his "crime." A fascinating read with such descriptions that one cannot help but imagine the scenes that take place. Highly recommended!Melora
This is more like it! I read Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers in the Grene translation, and Agamemnon was great, but The Libation Bearers was a bit "meh." So I got another copy, this one translated by Fagles, and What a Difference! Going by reviews, Grene seems to be regarded as more "literal," which sounds like a good thing, but I'll take "vigorous and engaging" over "literal and (a bit) dry" any day. Fagles' introductory essay was fascinating, if sometimes a little abstruse, and both The Libation Bearers and Eumenides were terrific this time. What a rat Apollo is, though!Morgan
I enjoyed "The Eumenides" more than I thought I would, more than the other two parts of the trilogy. Reading "The Libation Bearers" was incredibly confusing, because I had read two versions of "Electra" before going into The Oresteia, and sophomore year of highschool I saw a play entitled "Orestes 2.0," which was a wacky retelling of the mythos of Orestes and Electra. None of these fell into my understanding of the myth, which is Orestes kills Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Electra has a part in it but ends up going insane and either killing herself or someone else, and then Orestes is hounded by the Erinye.This is a pretty hard translation to get through, very long and flowy and it's incredibly easy to get lost in the language. It's also easy to miss subtle little nuances in the text. Over all, though, it seems to stay pretty true to Aeschylus. Or so my professor hinted at.