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

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.


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.


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.


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.

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!


....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.

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.


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.


This dramatic trilogy is amazing. Unless you are intensely familiar with Greek history and myth, get a good copy of Aeschylus' writing with notes and glossary in the back. I read a Penguin publisher edition, translated by Robert Fagles. It was beautiful. The language: stunning. My vocabulary, like most eary-twenty-somethings I know,is grossly bleak. My language skills suck. The third play, The Eumenidies is the first record of a trial in dramatic history. Drama is at its core, the art of a democratic civilization. But what good is democratic law, when our power of rhetoric, our knowledge of language, or ability to use our freedom of speech is weak beyond belief? ---Classics like this have disappeared from public education. Why?. . . Why? Because standards must sink in a passive socialist society. Well, that thought is just what sprung to mind. I'm not really sure why. The point is: people should be learning about the roots of their society, how democracy was born (i.e. in the theaters of ancient Greece), and how the knowledge of language is the greatest power a person can ever hope to weild. Introducing literature such as this early on in a person's life--like, before the age of ten--will expand their linguistic potential and also get them thinking for themselves. "Thinking for oneself" That phrase reminds me of another phenomena: independant thought, questioning authority--are other abilities that recede in a Socialist society along with the ability to put thoughts, impulse, and emotion into words, much less into flexible, persuasive, powerful rhetoric. You want world peace? Brain to banish the power of brawn? Then cultivate your mind, baby. Peace talks take persausive language by people with enough knowledge of speecha and words to creatively adapt their language to persuade another body of persons into doing what they want by their own volition. Basically, if you want world peace: make your four-year-old learn Greek and Latin. Let him/her read Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Orestia, and you will get a freethinking, genius of a kid.

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.


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?

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.

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.

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!


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"]>

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