La Orestía

ISBN: 8471627892
ISBN 13: 9788471627896
By: Aeschylus

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About this book

The most famous series of ancient Greek plays, and the only surviving trilogy, is the Oresteia of Aeschylus, consisting of Agamemnon, Choephoroe, and Eumenides. These three plays recount the murder of Agamemnon by his queen Clytemnestra on his return from Troy with the captive Trojan princess Cassandra; the murder in turn of Clytemnestra by their son Orestes; and Orestes' subsequent pursuit by the Avenging Furies (Eumenides) and eventual absolution.Hugh Lloyd-Jones's informative notes elucidate the text, and introductions to each play set the trilogy against the background of Greek religion as a whole and Greek tragedy in particular, providing a balanced assessment of Aeschylus's dramatic art.

Reader's Thoughts

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.


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.

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.


....Just passed the Libation Bearers. Aeschylus has a way with ironic, monumental dialogues which portend tremendous climaxes. The language is so deep and seeps into the interaction- apparantly he suggests that there are no good options in life, merely the best of the worst, and that one must take their place amid the roil. Wisdom. This resonates with me, in the way that a drama read on the page will, as I imagine the perfect language and staging to bear witness to it....bigger review to follow, as it deserves much more than this.....Finished. Five stars throughout. Coruscatingly direct, rich, earthy, and sublunary. Wisdom writing as mythology as poetry as black drama as cultural history. The trilogy is, I think, an actual example of literature as a catharsis for a national, cultural wound. Athens is seething after the trauma of the Trojan War. Aeschylus, a former decorated solider himself, writes not only a gripping moral tragedy of family but of historical moment. The poise is unbearable at times. IF you surrender to the language and the momentum of the situation, of the irreversible circumstances, the annihilating power of the story and the words will blow you away. This is written almost 2500 years ago and, yes the cliche is true- it's ripped from the headlines. Or more precisely the secret heart of the headlines. it's all there: inter-familial rage, impossible situations which call for revenge, justified killers who are justified in killing justified killers, war, the aftermath of war, sexual infidelity, gender roles, mourning, pulic/private, individual/political conflicts... The narrative arc slopes upward again and again and falls and settles into an empty stage of dust, rumblings and omens of retributions and unbalanced scales calling for justice. Like any good drama it suspends disbelief in midair as you watch characters you know are only going to move closer to their predetermined end while holding on to the edge of your seat to see what happens next. The characters are strong and tastefully lit. They've seeped into our collective unconscious, our cultural heritage- noble, tormented, insecure and niaeve Agamemnon, bitter and cunning and oppressed and grand Clytemnestra, sleazy and arrogant Aegisthus. Then you've got the weatherbeaten Chorus, the frenzied truth-telling doomed moonchild Cassandra, Electra of the offerings and doubt. Haunted, determined Orestes plagued by the truly gruesome, grotesque Furies with snakes in their hair and blood dripping from their eye sockets...Athena, Apollo... Hell, we can easily include the citizens of Greece itself, sitting in the Theater of Dionysus itself, which just happens to be carved into the side of a hill. The chorus is addressing the assembled audience, certainly, and the Gods and Furies are (or can be) as well. There's some meta here, no doubt about it. It can be applied in a variety of circumstances; Bobby Kennedy quoted from the first play on the night MLK was shot to the black community in Philadelphia, Karl Marx reread it every year, Eugene O'Neil adapted it for a modern stage, Freud was all over it, Yeats and Faulkner and Nietzsche made plenty of hay out of referencing it. There is much to be said about the play itself, its role in Greek society, how it exhibits the transition from revenge and blood-feud to democracy and self-governance, the history of the cultural mythologies surrounding it. would be the time for me to admit that I really have no fucking idea how these ideas play out in the grand scheme of ancient history or on the political stage of Aeschylus's time. Not really anything more than some half-digested and barely-remembered diatribes some teachers of mine went on back in undergrad. My fault for all this, not theirs, no sir. Lucky for me (and you, too, dear reader!) the introduction and background appears in the form of translator Fagles' and scholar Stanford's "The Serpent And The Eagle" an eloquent, erudite and informative nigh- hundred page prose poem. But don't take my word for it: "War, war, the great gold-broker of corpsesholds the balance of the battle on his spear!Home from the pyres he sends them, home from Troy to the loved ones, heavy with tears, the urns brimmed full, the heroes return in gold-dust, dear, light ash for men: and they weep, they praise them, 'He had skill in the swordplay, 'He went down so tall in the onslaught,''All for another's woman.' So they musterin secret and rancour stealstowards our staunch defenders, Atreus' sons. And there they ring the walls, the young, the lithe, the handsome hold the graves they won in Troy; the enemy earth rides over those who conquered.""Who- what power named the name that drove your fate?-what hidden brain could divine your future, steer that word to the mark, to the bride of spears, the whirlpool churning armies, Oh for all the world a Helen!""Victory, you have sped my way before, now speed me to the last.""The nightingale- O for a song, a fate like hers! The gods gave her a life of ease, swathed her in wings, no tears, no wailing. The knife waits for me.They'll splay me on the iron's double edge.""Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,the curse no man can bear.""Red from your mother's womb I took you, reared you...nights, the endless nights I paced, your wailingkept me moving- led me to a life of labour, all for what? And such care I gave can't think for itself, poor creature.You have to nurse it, don't you? Read its mind, little devil's got no words, it's still swaddled.Maybe it wants a bite or a sip of something, or its bladder pinches- a baby's soft insideshave a will of their own. I had to be a prophet.O I tried, and missed, believe you me, I missed, and I'd scrub its pretty things until they sparkled.Washerwoman and wet-nurse shared the shop.A jack of two trades, that's me, and an old hand at both... and so I nursed Orestes,yes, from his father's arms I took him once, and now they say he's dead, I've suffered it all, and now I'll fetch that man, the ruination of the house- give him the news, he'll relsih every word.""Lift the cry of triumph O! the master's housewins free of grief, free of the oneswho bled its wealth, the couple stained with murder, free of Fate's rough path.He came back with a lust for secret combat, stealthy, cunning vengance, yes, but his hand was steered in open fight by the god's true daughter, Right, Right we call her, we and our mortal voices aiming well-she breathes her fury, shatters all he hates.Life the cry of triumph O! the master's housewins free of grief, free of the oneswho bled its wealth, the couple stained with murder, free of Fate's rough path. Apollo wills it so!-Apollo, clear from the Earth's deep cleft his voice came shrill. 'Now stealth will master stealth!'And the pure god came down and healed our ancient wounds, the heavens come, somehow, to life our yoke of grief- Now to praise the heaven's just command. Look, the light is breaking!The huge chain that curbed the halls gives way. Rise up, proud house, long, too long your walls lay fallen, strewn along the earth.""This, this is our right, spun for us by the Fates, the ones who bind the world, and none can shake our hold. Show us the mortals overcome, insane to murder kin- we track them down till they go beneath the earth, and the dead find little freedom in the end. Over the victim's burning headthis chant this frenzy striking frenzy lightning crazing the mind this hymn of Furychaining the senses, ripping across the lyre, withering lives of men!Even at birth, I say, our rights were so ordained. The deathless gods must keep their hands far off-no god may share our cups, our solemn feasts.We want no part of their pious white robes- the Fates who gave us power made us free.Mine is the overthrow of houses, yes, when warlust reared like a tame beast seizes near and dear- down on the man we swoop, aie! for all his power black him out!-for the blood still fresh from slaughter on his hands.So now, striving to wrench our mandate from the gods, we make ourselves exempt from their control, we brook no trial- no god can be our judge.""But for me to suffer such disgrace...I, the proud heart of the past, driven under the earth,condemned, like so much filth, and the fury in me breathing hatred- O good Earth, what is this stealing under the breast, what agony racks the spirit?...Night, dear Mother Night!All's lost, our ancient powers torn away by their cunning, ruthless hands, the gods so hard to wrestle downobliterate us all." "A spell-what spell to sing? to bind the land for ever? Tell us.Nothing that strikes a note of brutal conquest. Only peace- blessings, rising up from the earth and the heaving sea, and down the vaulting sky let the wind-gods breathea wash of sunlight streaming through the land, and the yield of soil and grazing cattle floodour city's life with power and never flagwith time. Make the seed on men live on, the more they worship you the more they thrive.I love them as a gardener loves his plants, these upright men, this breed fought free of grief.All that is yours to give. And I, In the trials of war where fighters burn for fame, will never endure the overflow of Athens-all will praise her, victor city, pride of man." "Yes and I ban the winds that rock the olive- hear my love, my blessing- thwart their scorching heat that blinds the buds, hold from our shores the killing icy gales, and I ban the blight that creeps on fruit and withers- God of creation, Pan, make flocks increase and the ewes drop fine twin lambs when the hour of labour falls. And silver, child of Earth, secret treasure of Hermes, come to light and praise the gifts of god." And that's not even the ending. Not quite. Sorry to go on like this but I wanted to see what I'd have to do to come close to using up all the allotted characters I have left. (9,000 more to go...) It's worth the rant. I was very curious several times throughout reading this as to how the play would actually be staged to avoid the kind of overshadowed clumsiness staged productions tend do to the text. Sometimes I think plays are better read within the theater of the mind. You can hear the voices of the characters in your own imagination, the stage is set the way it seems to you. The blocking, music and camera angles are totally your call, as well, so in an odd way there's very little blocking you from perfect immersion. Best to read it alone, aloud by water, because it contains the ancient, roiling toll of the sea.


Murder, betrayal, revenge, torment . . . you might wonder, “Why would I bother reading three Greek plays when I could see the same sort of lurid problems on an episode of Jerry Springer? And fold laundry at the same time??” Two possible answers: First, you’re not going to get patricide, matricide, human sacrifice and unintentional cannibalism on daytime TV because we still draw the line somewhere, and you have to admit those are pretty dramatic. More importantly, though, along with the dysfunction in the House of Atreus comes a searing examination of guilt, retribution, and justice. It’s a lot of philosophical bang for your buck.The first play in the trilogy, Agamemnon, sets up the conflict for the remaining two. Agamemnon returns home from the Trojan War to his wife, Clytemnestra, who has spent the last ten years plotting revenge because he sacrificed their daughter to appease a god at the outset of the journey. The verbal interplay at their reunion is the stuff of English majors’ dreams. Clytaemnestra’s subsequent murder of Agamemnon, with the help of a lover who has his own history with Agamemnon, is the stuff of Mafia dreams – though actually I’m only guessing on that one. However, Clytaemnestra’s revenge creates the conflict that drives the other two plays and generates the ethical conundrum Aeschylus ultimately wants to solve. For now Clytaemnestra’s son, Orestes, needs to avenge his father’s death . . . but what happens if you kill your own mother? And how is the cycle of revenge ever supposed to end??The Libation Bearers has Orestes debating what he should do, sort of like Hamlet, until the advice of his sister and the chorus women wins the day. . . and that’s when the excitement kicks up a notch. Clytaemnestra’s death at the hand of her son calls forth the avenging Furies — ancient goddesses of chthonic tradition who appear here as gorgon-like horrors, swathed in black, heads writhing with snakes. It’s so dramatic!! Also it’s fitting, for Clytaemnestra is like a Fury herself: in avenging her daughter’s death she acts within the old paradigm of blood ties that the Furies champion, wherein maternal claims are stronger than marital. So even though Orestes does his duty to avenge his father (in accordance with the current ethos), he’s pursed by snaky-haired horrors for killing his mother. Like his father, Orestes appears to be both an agent and a victim of fate, for in following the gods’ direction to avenge his father’s death, he both aligns himself with the Furies’ spirit of vengeance and becomes subject to it. Perhaps Orestes’ contradictory relationship with the Furies is Aeschylus’s commentary on a theology rife with snares and contradictions. In The Eumenides, Aeschylus resolves the problem, but his “solution” to the blood feud tradition is hardly unproblematic itself — read it and lose sleep! But you’ll know for sure why this is a masterpiece.


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!


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.


On the grand scale of things, I now believe that if Aeschylus did not exist, Shakespeare would have died a poor actor in a tragic untimely death most likely caused by unfulfilled dreams.I'm saying this not because it is my intention to lessen the sheer poetic genius of Shakespeare, who still remains my all time favourite playwright (bar a play or two). It is because Aeschylus incorporated such a variety of themes/current affairs/implications/legal and dynastic issues and so on (for a hundred more pages) that whether one judges 'The Oresteia' trilogy from the basis of a dramatic text or from that of a literary text, it would not make any difference. It would still deserve all five stars from any critical perspective. 1) 'Agamemnon':A predominantly domestic tragedy, 'Agamemnon' explores the background of the events that led up to the Trojan war and its eventual capture ('the tragedy of war') and its motives and cause (we're looking at you Helen), Agamemnon's leadership (only his ship returned despite such a military victory, a political tragedy and Clytaemnestra's motive.As argued by more competent critics before me, this play is "not so much right against wrong as right against right". What this means is that Clytaemnestra had her own reasons too, Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia, his mistress Cassandra and her own lover Aegisthus (she claimed that no woman should be apart from her husband for ten years as well, poor her), though this is cause for such an atrocious murder is another thing. It is quite a lengthy play (though I was not bored), the material Aeschylus had to work on was limited so to make it dramatically entertaining is no small feat. There is also a similarity to Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth when Aeschylus admits his "desire to transcend the limitations of presentation". The play ends with Clytaemnestra expressing her desire that peace should bring good order into their cursed house...~4/52) 'The Libation Bearers':The bulk of the tragic legend, that both Euripides and Sophocles had named 'Electra' in their own interesting versions, which "takes place some years after the close of Agamemnon". I have already described the plot in detail in my reviews of both the 'Electra' plays. Aeschylus deliberately connected 'Agamemnon' with this one though, for "like Clytaemnestra at the close of Agamemnon, Orestes defends his position" as if he thinks that by his "innocent murder" he has brought peace to the accursed house. Well, he is also mistaken. Another interesting point is that from a character chart it can be clearly deduced that Aeschylus' 'The Libation Bearers' is a mother-son play, rather than focusing too much on the character of Electra. His chorus of grieving women does the job just as nicely.The famous revelation scene, where Electra understands that it is Orestes as she compare their footprints (as if they would be the same anyway, Euripides does a daring parody in his 'Electra') did seem to me to be a bit 'funny' (not to use the word 'false'). Still, this is a masterful play that set the standard for all the tragic plays to come.~4.5/53) 'The Eumenides'A very interesting take by Aeschylus on Orestes' fate, one which I had a confused idea about. Basically, Orestes finds himself "cleared by Apollo (who is a god who is able to assume responsibility for once) but still pursued by the furies".However, what is fundamentally significant in this play is the original way it debates the whole concept of the Hellenistic system of justice, through the character of the god 'Athene' (Athena). For example, when the furies argue that Orestes killed his mother deliberately, Athena acts as his advocate. She argues and advocates a lot of points that have since become the principles of the current modern legal system. 1) To hear both sides of the argument even if one side evidently wronged, 2) Wrong must not win by technicalities and so on. What is also relevant is that the goddess of wisdom (that sure comes in handy in a maths exam) leaves the case to none other than "the finest of her citizens". Of course, Aeschylus examines the furies' side of the argument as well. They argue that the "house of justice had collapsed" and that "every man will find a way to act his own caprice". They also say that "there are times when fear is good" (as if the divine order of things should be feared if it was respected and followed). The old system with the new system is also contrasted, one should remember that Zeus usurped his farther's (Kronos') throne, and ushered a new generation in his time as well. Maybe, Aeschylus is arguing that the time has come foe another, a better one...I could go on and bore you with many more line, for we are dealing with a master playwright here, one who has mastered not just the craft but developed a new standard and a new style. In Aeschylus, one has to think to gain any kind of satisfaction. ~4.5/5Overall 5/5, plays that deserve to be studied, read and enjoyed even though we are probably not the intended target audience.IMPORTANT: The quotes I used were from the brilliant introduction by Richmond Lattimore ('The Complete Greek Tragedies Volume 1', The University of Chicago Press)


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.


It's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insights and idiocies remain relevant to modern readers, and frightening that humanity has made so little progress that the insights and idiocies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles still concern us.I picked up the Oresteia because I thought it was about time I put the plays to the tale I thought I knew. I found what I expected:The children were eaten: there was the firstaffliction, the curse of Thyestes.Next came the royal death [if we ignore the sacrifice of Iphigenia:], when a manand lord of Achaean armies went downkilled in the bath. Thirdis for the saviour. He came. Shall I callit that, or death? Whereis the end? Where shall the fury of fatebe stilled to sleep, be done with?The familiar bloody tale of cannibalism, infanticidal sacrifice, vengeance, more vengeance, and the Gods ordained entrenchment of patriarchy were all there. The three plays of the Oresteia -- Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides -- were brutal, lovely, frustrating, illogical, brilliant and exciting in turns. I spent some of my time trying to suss out a way to stage these entertainingly without wholesale change, and some of my time thinking about the insights and idiocies that the Oresteia offered.Amongst it all, I was shocked to discover something fresh -- at least to me. We often talk about the stultifying power of patriarchy, how that power has twisted up our cultures into the ugliness we know now, and the blame for that power is widely accepted to be the responsibility of those who made the power, hold the power and don't want to give it up.What struck me in the Oresteia is that most people, from that day to this, from Ancient Greece to our modern globalized world, are responsible for the power of patriarchy (at least partially) because they desire infantilization. Few, so very, very few, want to be adults (metaphorically speaking). They don't want to make choices, they don't want to accept responsibility, they don't want to face conflict, they don't want to think. They want protection, they want to be told, they want to justify, they want to conform, they want to remain permanent metaphysical children embracing illusory comfort.In the Oresteia the gods are credited with every act taken, so the players live or die believing that another is responsible for what they've done. They remain willing children of the gods.It's a human willingness that I see all around me 2,468 years after the Oresteia was written. Is it any wonder the concerns of Aeschylus still plague us today?

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 play


I've come to the conclusion that anyone who says he or she is a fan of Greek drama must also, by default, be a fan of soap operas and the ridiculous story lines that surround them. This, of course, is not a bad thing (soap operas definitely have a fan base), but I can't refrain from sighing and inwardly groaning at all the ridiculous plots these characters go through. If you've read Sophocles, Aeschylus' Oresteia is more of the same thing. Rocky mommy/son relations, cheating spouses, murder, scandal, ghosts, etc., etc.The Oresteia follows the rise and fall of Agamemnon, his wife, Clytemnestra, and their son, Orestes. Even though I'm not going to give spoilers in this review, it's kind of a futile effort since this is a trilogy of Greek tragedies, and it's obvious what happens in tragedies (-cough- people die -cough). I don't know. If Greek tragedy is your thing, by all means, enjoy every bit of it. It definitely isn't mine, but for some reason or another, I still find myself being assigned it in almost every English class I take.


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.

Ben Dutton

And so we come, at last, to the first pieces I had have previously read from the Penguin Classics range, The Oresteian Trilogy of Aeschylus, made up of the three plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. It won the first prize at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC.AgamemnonAgamemnon, king of Argos, returns home following the Trojan War. His wife, Clytemnestra, has been planning his murder as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia. In Agamemnon’s absence, Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin. The second strand is set with the discovery of Agamemnon’s keeping of the concubine Cassandra, whose entrance heralds death. So is set the stage for a very Greek tragedy.Agamemnon is the first part of the Oresteian trilogy (originally a tetralogy, containing as it did the satyr play Proteus, now lost). This first part of the trilogy is a play haunted by the constant spectre of death.“What is this persistent dreadHaunting, hovering to showSigns to my foreboding soul” (P.76)The Libation BearersThe Libation Bearers continues the story of Agamemnon, opening with Clytemnestra’s nightmare in which she gives birth to a snake. Fearing retribution she orders her daughter Electra to pour libations on Agamemnon’s tomb. At the tomb, Electra meets Orestes, who has returned from protective exile in Phocis, and they plan revenge upon Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus together. Electra, pretending to bear news of Orestes’ death, finds Clytemnestra who calls Aegisthus to share in the news. Orestes kills them both. Immediately, Orestes is beset by the Furies, who avenge patricide and matricide in Greek mythology, and this brutal plays reveals its dark beating heart.“A raging sea of gall batters my heartThe iron goes through my soul; out of the savage flood.” (p.110)The EumenidesThe Furies pursue Orestes from Argos and into the wilderness. Orestes makes his way to the temple of Apollo, hoping to be for relief from the Furies. Apollo bears a portion of the guilt of the act, for he had encouraged Orestes to kill Clytemnestra. Apollo sends Orestes to the temple of Athena. There, the Furies track him down and, just before he is to be killed, the goddess Athena, patron of Athens, steps in and declares that a trial is necessary. Apollo argues Orestes’ case and, after the jury splits their vote, Athena decides against the Furies. She also renames them the Eumenides, or kindly ones, and declares that thereafter all future hung juries should result in acquittal, since mercy should take precedence over harshness. The Eumenides specifically extols the importance of reason in the development of laws, and, like The Suppliants, lauds the ideals of a democratic Athens.“So, Heaven’s firm ordinance has now been told,The task which Fate immutably assignedTo our devotion. Who will then withholdDue fear and reverence? Though our dwelling lieIn subterranean caverns of the blind,Our ancient privilege none dares deny.” (P.161)This trilogy fulfils every modern conceivable notion of what tragedy is – however The Oresteian Trilogy confounds modern expectation, ending as it does, in line with what other extant Greek tragedy shows us – a happy ending. The dark heart of this drama has been leading to this; an extolling of the virtue of the city state, for this is what the best of Greek drama does, and what Aeschylus did so formidably.Philip Vellacott’s translation of these three plays is truly great, managing to expertly maintain the balance of poetry and plot that exemplifies Aeschylus. Like all great drama, these three plays work on very different levels, open to much interpretation and debate. My few thoughts on this trilogy seem almost negligible. The Oresteian Trilogy is amongst the finest drama ever written – the plays hold up as well as they did in Ancient Greece. Aeschylus was a master storyteller, and it is little wonder his work has stood the test of time. But I am no Greek scholar, and am ignorant of much of this culture. Perhaps with more reading I will understand more of its depth, but for the time being this brief note shall have to do as my commentary upon The Oresteian Trilogy.


Finally I understand the furies.

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