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

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!


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.

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 had in my mind that the these plays were full of mythology of the pantheon of Greek gods.There are gods, yes, and other mythological creatures like the Furies, but there is so much more there, themes of duty, of humility, hubris, sin and forgiveness, the weight and fullness of history (the Trojan War) and family. Out of these three plays Aeschylus sharply defined characters that still are echoed today. Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Iphigenia are still used as descriptions and figures today.I liked them all, Aeschylus was a genius and that shows clearly despite the ages and translation from Ancient Greek to English. They were highly enjoyable!So much of Western civilization is based on Greek culture, one really should read these plays.


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.


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 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!


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Mark Adderley

This is an excellent trilogy (of course), about a woman's revenge upon her husband for the sacrifice of her daughter, and a son's revenge upon his mother for having murdered his father...kind of confusing, like a lot of Greek tragedies. This one involves a conflict between the old ways, represented by Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon, and the Furies, and the new ways, represented by Orestes, Athena, and Apollo. It's Athena, through the use of reason and justice, who puts an end to the cycle of revenge and violence, and reconciles the old and new ways. The first two plays are tragedies, from at least one point of view, but the last one has an optimistic ending, with Athena and the Furies reconciled.Richmond Lattimore's translation is occasionally opaque; you have to read it twice to really get anything out of it.

Wael Mahmoud

Unfortunately i am very disappointment with this trilogy, After reading sophocles' Oedipus.Although it doesn't lack the strong drama, A woman killed her husband - the hero of the war - and a son revenged his father's death by killing his mother, but the events are very slow - except for the second play - and the chours lines - specially in the first one - are very long and boring.There's not a remarkable characters as we see in Oedipus' trilogy, The gods in the third play are very ridiculous, I think the Orestes trial would be better if it was a psychological one where gods presented but not as characters.Anyway i'll keep reading Greek drama, Looking for another Oedipus not another Orestes.And here's my reviews about each play

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