The Oresteia of Aeschylus

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Overview

The Oresteia - Agamemnon, Choephori, and The Eumenides - depicts the downfall of the house of Atreus: after King Agamemnon is murdered by Clytemnestra, their son, Orestes, is commanded by Apollo to avenge the crime by killing his mother, and he does so, bringing on himself the wrath of the Furies and the judgment of Athens. Together, the three plays are one of the major achievements of Greek antiquity.
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The Oresteia of Aeschylus (Illustrated)

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Overview

The Oresteia - Agamemnon, Choephori, and The Eumenides - depicts the downfall of the house of Atreus: after King Agamemnon is murdered by Clytemnestra, their son, Orestes, is commanded by Apollo to avenge the crime by killing his mother, and he does so, bringing on himself the wrath of the Furies and the judgment of Athens. Together, the three plays are one of the major achievements of Greek antiquity.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
British Poet Laureate Hughes translated this great Greek trilogy before his death in October 1998. Agamemnon, Choephori, and The Eumenides, written in 468 B.C.E., tell the story of the blood feud within the House of Atreus. It begins with Agamemnon's murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, followed by their son Orestes' matricide and the final judgment by a jury of Athenian citizens. These tragedies show ancient Greek views on the power and mercy of deities in deciding human fate. Notable for its poetic beauty and compassion; Hughes's superb lyric translation is a refreshing read for a contemporary English literary and theater audience. Other earlier translations were by Robert Lowell (1978) and Richard Lattimore (1954). With production details unseen at the time of this review, this translation's claim to be another "acting version" of the trilogy remains to be validated. However, based on Hughes's literary reputation and the beauty of the text, this new English translation is a worthy acquisition for all public and academic libraries.--Ming-ming Shen Kuo, Ball State Univ. Lib., Muncie, IN Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Though it's tempting to imagine the late English poet laureate's long tortured relationship with the image of (his wife) feminist heroine Sylvia Plath as its subtext, this vivid free-verse translation of Aeschylus' dark and bloody tragic trilogy (comprising Agamemnon, Choephori, and Eumenides) more properly evinces Hughes's wide range of interests and mastery of classic literatures. His nearly conversational rhythms produce an arresting mixture of colloquialism and formality, enlivened by strong imagery (as in the matricidal Orestes' declaration that "This house has been the goblet / That the demon of homicide, unquenchable, / Has loved to drain"), and only infrequently weakened by astonishing woodenness—as in Clytemnestra's cool reply to the Chorus who lament her murder of her husband: "You think I'm an irresponsible woman? / You are making a mistake"). Perhaps not the ultimate "acting edition" it claims to be, but, still, an essential further installment in the always interesting oeuvre of a gifted poet who was also a diligent scholar.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781176693685
  • Publisher: Nabu Press
  • Publication date: 8/2/2010
  • Pages: 196
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

(Outside the royal palace at Argos.)


WATCHMAN

You Gods in heaven—
You have watched me here on this tower
All night, every night for twelve months,
Thirteen moons—
Tethered on the roof of this palace
Like a dog.
It is time to release me.
I've stared long enough into this darkness
For what never emerges.
I'm tired of the constellations—
That glittering parade of lofty rulers
Night after night a little bit earlier
Withholding the thing I wait for—
Slow as torture.
And the moon, coming and going—
Wearisome, like watching the sea
From a deathbed. Like watching the tide
In its prison yard, with its two turns
In out in out.
I'm sick of the heavens, sick of the darkness.
The one light I wait for never comes.
Maybe it never will come—
A beacon-flare that leaps from peak to peak
Bringing the news from Troy—
`Victory! After ten years, Victory!'
The one word that Clytemnestra prays for.
Queen Clytemnestra — who wears
A man's heart in a woman's body,
A man's dreadful will in the scabbard of her body
Like a polished blade. A hidden blade.
Clytemnestra reigns over fear.
I get up sodden with dew.
I walk about, to shift my aches.
I lie down — the aches harden worse.
No dreams. No sleep. Only fear—
Fear like a solid lump of indigestion
Here, high in my belly — a seething.
Singing's good forfear
But when I try to sing — weeping comes.
I weep. There's no keeping it down.
Everything's changed in this palace.
The old days,
The rightful King, order, safety, splendour,
A splendour that lifted the heart—
All gone.
You Gods,
Release me.
Let that flame come leaping out of the East
To release me.
Where did that light come from? In pitch darkness
That point — that's new.
Down there, near what must be the skyline,
In the right place! It just appeared!
A flickering point. And getting bigger. A fire!
The beacon!
Tell the Queen—
It's the beacon.
It's flaring up! It's shaking its horns.
Troy has fallen.
The King is coming home.
Agamemnon is coming. Troy has fallen!
Now the Queen can rejoice
And I'll be the first to dance — Troy has fallen.
The gods have blessed our master.
They've blessed me too.
They've made me the bearer of the news.
Only let them bring the King home safely.
Let me prostrate myself at his feet
And then — what follows,
Better not think about it.
Only the foundations of this house
Can tell that story. Yes,
The tongue that could find
The words for what follows — that tongue
Would have to lift this house's foundations.
Those who know too much, as I do, about this house,
Let their tongue lie still — squashed flat.
Under the foundations.


(Cry of triumph from Clytemnestra inside palace. She
enters: casts incense on altars, etc. Enter Elders of Argos:
the Chorus. Dawn.)


CHORUS

Ten years ago
The sons of Atreus,
Menelaus and Agamemnon,
Both divine Kings,
Assembled a thousand ships
Crammed with the youth of Hellas
And sailed across the sea to punish Priam.


Two brothers, ravenous for war,
Their hunger for war
Went up
Like the screaming
Of eagles, two eagles in agony
Over a crag
Where their nest has been robbed-
Beating the air
With broad oars,
Climbing the currents
They bewail, in helpless fury,
Their lost labours.
Their brood gone,
They lament
Their vigilance that failed.
Anguish tears their throats.
They scream it in heaven — and in heaven
Some god hears it—
Zeus or Pan
Or Apollo hears
And pities it,
And sends a remorseless fury
To hunt the culprit down
And pluck the guilt from his bowels.


So now Zeus — protector
Of the sacred trust
Between the guest and the host—
Sends the two sons of Atreus
To rip the boasting tongue
From between the lips of Paris
And Helen from his bed.
Greece and Troy with bellowing effort
Lock their limbs
In that accursed marriage, and labour
At the killing.
Spear-shafts splinter
In twisting bodies,
Strong men kneel
In their own blood
Under weights of darkness
And what is happening
Cannot be otherwise.
Cannot not happen.
Fate holds every man
Of these two embattled armies
By the scruff of the neck
And jams his face, helpless,
Into what has to happen.
Priam pours libations
To lubricate the favour of the heavens
In vain.
He burns perfumed offerings on altars
To soften their pity
In vain.
The gods above and the gods below
Ignore him.
No bribes,
Nothing that passes under the roof of a temple
Or under the roof of the mouth,
Can appease heaven's anger
Or deflect its aim.
We were too old.
Second childhood
Propped on sticks
Kept us out of the battle.
We stayed here
On the scrap heap
Playing with our dreams,
The playthings of dreams.


(Chorus sees Clytemnestra.)


Queen Clytemnestra,
What has happened?
What have you heard?
Why have you called for a sacrifice
Throughout Argos—
Every altar
Of every god
Is ablaze—
From the kitchen-shrines of hearth-goblins
To the high temple of Zeus, god of the summits.
Fortunes in rich oil
Go up in smoke
Smudging the dawn.
Cherished beasts
Drop to their knees
In a flood of blood.
What has happened?
What is happening?
Are we right
To smell hope
In all this?
Or has a worse fear come? Tell us.
Do all these fiery tongues,
These forked and horned offerings,
Declare good news or the opposite? Tell us.
Do they consume the evil of the past
And the dread of what is to come—
All these fears that sicken us—
Or do they thicken the air with something worse?


I am the man to tell this tale.
Old age
Takes away everything
Except a few words the gods have tested,
For the eye
That opens towards the grave
Sees the core of things and is prophetic.
As our two Kings set out,
As their floating forest of spears
Lifted anchor,
Two birds,
Hook-beaked, big-winged birds,
A black bird and a white bird,
Sailed over
On the right — on the right!
Good fortune!
The whole army cheered the good omen—
Victory!


Then those two birds,
The black bird and the white bird,
Flushed and drove and killed
A hare heavy with her twins.
The whole army
Saw them kill the pregnant hare. They saw
The black bird and the white bird
That had brought them promise of victory
Rip the mother's womb and drag from it
The living unborn tenants—
The whole army watched from start to finish
That murder of the unborn.
If evil is in this wind, let it blow over ...

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

AGAMEMNON: 3
CHOEPHORI: 89
THE EUMENIDES: 149
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2011

    Great Play - Terrible E-Book

    I love the Oresteia of Aeschylus - the only problem is that this e-book is unreadable - pagination and spacing are severely messed up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 13, 2013

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    Posted March 15, 2011

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