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Governance from primitive ritual to civilized institution their spirit of struggle and regeneration becomes an everlasting song of celebratio. The Greeks had an intoxicating culture or at least it seems to us All of the iniuities and superstitions of the ancient people have been buried or lost leaving only the perfect skeletons of buildings and the greatest of their literary productions As a result they strike us as a race of superpeople This trilogy certainly furthers this impression for it is a perfect poetic representation of the birth of justice and ethics out of the primordial law of retaliationThe most basic ethical principal is loyalty We are born into a family establish reciprocal relationships with friends become a contributing member of a mutually supporting group and so naturally feel bound to treat this network of people with the proper respect and kindness But loyalty has several problems First one s family friends and group are largely determined by chance and who is to say that our family and friends are the most worthy Second loyalty does not extend outside a very limited group and so does not preclude the horrid treatment of others And as the Greek plays show us the bounds of loyalty can sometimes cross putting us in a situation where we must be disloyal to at least one personThis is the essential problem of Antigone where the titular character must choose between loyalty to her city or to her dead brother who betrayed the state This is also the problem faced by Orestes who must choose between avenging his father and treating his mother properly In Sophocles play the problem proves intractable leading to yet another string of deaths But Aeschylus shows that by submitting the bonds of loyalty to a higher impartial court that we can resolve the contradictions and put an end to the endless series of mutual retaliations that loyalty can give rise toThe rise of judicial procedures and of concepts of ethics that extend beyond loyalty to fairness was a crucial step in the rise of complex societies Aeschylus has given us an immortal dramatization of this epochal step But of course this play is than a philosophical or historical exercise It is a work of high drama and poetry worthy to stand at the first ranks of literature for its aesthetic merit alone The Greeks continue to enchant

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S took as his subject the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of ArgosMoving from darkness to light from rage to self. 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 buckThe 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 subseuent 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

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Alternate cover edition can be found here here here hereIn the Oresteia the only trilogy in Greek drama which survives from antiuity Aeschylu. Seeing the Oresteia on stage is an overwhelming experience to say the least Reading and discussing the drama at university felt like going through the Disney version of it by comparison Hearing the screams seeing the blood and madness following real people on their anxious road down to hellish destruction while they stare at you the audience with blind eyes that is almost than one can bear even if one is familiar with the intertwined plays beforehandViolence leads to violence in a brutal chain reaction That is a curse that the family of Atreus experiences in three consecutive steps Agamemnon has to choose between political and military success and his love for his daughter Iphigenia He chooses to be a leader over being a human so he sacrifices his daughter on the way to Troy and thus kicks off the action thriller Klytamnestra his wife follows the call of revenge as does Orestes the son Electra on the sidelines cheers on her brother when he kills his mother and thus participates in the honour killingsSpirals of violence are not unusual in the history of mankind but unluckily we don t possess the Greek dramatic device of a deus ex machina to set the score straight and suggest a solution that leads to better understanding and rule of law Or could one see the international organisations formed after the Second World War like the UNO or later the EU as such attempts at reining in the blood lust of humiliated and hurt humanity Of eternal contemporary relevance the Oresteia is hard to stomach but important to consider Must read a classic even after two and a half millennia


10 thoughts on “Ὀρέστεια

  1. says:

    Seeing the Oresteia on stage is an overwhelming experience to say the least Reading and discussing the drama at university felt like going through the Disney version of it by comparison Hearing the screams seeing the blood and madness following

  2. says:

    Let good prevail So be it Yet what is good ? And who is God? As many deeply conservative societies have discovered time and time again societies in which there is only one right order and this order is warranted by the highest authorities recognized by the society when change comes and come it always must not only do those in power tumble but the authority of the godspriests ancestors laws whatever the highest authorities happen to be in t

  3. says:

    This is pretty fantastic I'm surprised I think I like this old Greek trilogy of plays better than all the others that I've read That's including Oedipus PThe translation is pretty awesome the tragedy is beautiful and the underlying theme of justice and the balance of power between men and women is stark and heavyBut isn't it about murder and eye for an eye taken to extremes? Yeah but it's still than thatIt's mainly about honori

  4. says:

    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 cannib

  5. says:

    I can only vouch for this Robert Fagles' translation but yes astonishingly gripping after than 2400 years

  6. says:

    I have suffered into truthYou know the rules now turn them into justiceThe outrage stands as it stands you burn to know the endNever try to cut my power with your logicWe spoil ourselves with scruples long as things go wellOld men are children once again a dream that sways and wavers into the hard light of dayWhich is all to say that this trilogy is bananas and savage and graceful and that Aeschylus was doing Shakespeare things about two

  7. says:

    The Greeks had an intoxicating culture or at least it seems to us All of the iniuities and superstitions of the ancient people have been buried or lost leaving only the perfect skeletons of buildings and the greatest of their litera

  8. says:

    And the blood that Mother Earth consumesclots hard it won’t seep through it breeds revenge and frenzy goes through the guiltyseething like infection swarming through the brain I’d give this ten stars The trilogy creates an arc a link fro

  9. says:

    i read now no 2 the main conflict between son and mother the erotic freedom of the women the mother is destructive for the son as he is suppose to get the heritage you killed my father how can i live with you? amazing conflict great

  10. says:

    ForewordAcknowledgementsA Reading of 'The Oresteia' The Serpent and the Eagle Agamemnon The Libation Bearers The Eumenides The Genealogy of OrestesSelect BibliographyNotesGlossary

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