The Orestia

ISBN: 1419176331
ISBN 13: 9781419176333
By: Aeschylus

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About this book

These plays embody Aeschylus' concerns with the destiny and fate of both individuals and the state, all played out under the watchful eye of the gods.In "Agamemnon, the warrior who defeated Troy returns to Argos and is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia before the Trojan War.In "The Libation Bearers" (Choephoroi), Orestes, Agamemnon's som, avenges his father by murdering his mother.In "The Furies" (Eumenides), Orestes flees to Delphi, pursued by the divine avengers (Erinyes) of his mother. After being purified by Apollo, he makes his way to Athens and is there tried (and acquitted) at the court of Areopagus.

Reader's Thoughts


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Jewish king Josiah (who happened to find a long-lost book of law that conveniently updated an already infallible, but out-of-date legal system for him).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.


** spoiler alert ** When I finished the first play in the trilogy of The Oresteia, titled "Agamemnon", where the king was slain by Clytemestra, his wife, I was bothered that no one seemed concerned that Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, (and Orestes and Electra's sister) Iphigenia. Orestes and Electra are hell bent on revenging their father's (Agamemnon) murder in the second play, The Libation Bearers, and do so. The last "The Eumenides" concerns the trial of Orestes.The play celebrated birth of tribunals in Athens - an achievement for the time. Aesclylus' was the earliest of the three ancient playwrights to survive to the 21st century and it helped me to know that he was the first to introduce a second character thereby creating dialogue. Some of his language (in translation) was impressive especially a few of Athena's speeches. My 21st century self is still horrified by 5th B.C.E. portrayal of women. I'm glad I read it.

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!


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"]>


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.


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.

Alexander 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!


Good stuff--Although somewhat confusing in parts (esp. the Chorus), it was still a pleasure to read one of the oldest surviving Greek tragedies. The only complete trilogy of Aeschylus surviving, Oresteia tells the story of Clytemnestra's murder of her husband, Agamemnon, then Agamemnon's son, Orestes's revenge on his own mother and her whipped wimp of a lover, Aegisthus, and finally Orestes's reconciliation with the crime of matricide in a bit surreal court scene of Apollo defending Orestes's murder against the accusation of the Furies (Eumenides) in front of a tribunal which Athena quickly composes of wise mortal men, saying that she the divinity/goddess of wisdom herself wasn't quite up to par to render judgment in such a hard case but those mortals put together can.Overall, I liked it.

Anthony Nelson

I won't tell you what happens - read it for yourself. I will tell you that I read it every year - and have done since studying it at university decades ago. This is among the earliest surviving dramas - and also among the leanest, sparest and most elemental of all classical dramas. And it contains everything that defines tragedy - hubris, ignorance, fatal flaws, coincidence, discovery/anagnorisis, power, fall. If you've read Homer, then the Oresteia, while "set" in Homeric times, will demonstrate for you how society and art developed from the Bronze Age in Epic ("Age of Heroes") to the dawn of Classical Greece ("Age of the Polis") and the rise of Athens. Try to resist reading it as being "about" something, but instead as being both of its time and universal and timeless. It is many things, including an optimistic expression of the development of civilised society, and a mirror of the human condition.


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.

Justin Evans

I tried to read 'Prometheus Bound' years ago, and couldn't finish it. Clearly I should have waited a while- The Oresteia, in the Fagles translation, is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. Darker and more violent than anything the 20th century could come up with, it's also brighter and more hopeful than anything from the 19th century. It's as if someone had written both Schiller's 'Ode to Joy' and Eliot's 'Waste Land', and it was one book, only there was far deeper social, political and religious thought involved (this is no slight to those two poems). A less edifying, but funnier joy was finding the original 'better to live on your feet than die on your knees' statement being made by an old codger running around like a headless chook while the 'tyrant' murders the 'innocents.' Otherwise, the introductory essay is a little hand-wavy for my tastes, and the notes are often too detailed and insufficiently informative. Fagles' translation is modern in that it accepts and respects difficulty, while not being utterly obscure. It'll take you some time to read, but it's well worth it.

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.


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)

A.J. Howard

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.


I'm giving this five stars for Agamemnon. I only give The Libation Bearers four. I wouldn't have objected to a few more explanatory notes in the text, but the Introduction was very good. I'm not normally a fan of murder, but Agamemnon is such a jerk that killing him hardly seemed like a crime. I'd have liked Clytaemnestra better, though, if she'd let Cassandra go.

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