The Oresteia of Aeschylus (Illustrated)

The Oresteia of Aeschylus (Illustrated)

by Aeschylus

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Overview

The Oresteia of Aeschylus (Illustrated) by Aeschylus

The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus which concerns the end of the curse on the House of Atreus. When originally performed it was accompanied by Proteus, a satyr play that would have been performed following the trilogy; it has not survived. The term "Oresteia" originally probably referred to all four plays, but today is generally used to designate only the surviving trilogy. "The individual plays probably did not originally have titles of their own". The only surviving example of a trilogy of ancient Greek plays, the Oresteia was originally performed at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC, where it won first prize. A principal theme of the trilogy is the shift from the practice of personal vendetta to a system of litigation. The name derives from the character Orestes, who sets out to avenge his father after his mother's affair with Aegisthus.

The play Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων, Agamemnōn) details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family, who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The Libation Bearers (Χοηφόροι, Choēphoroi) is the second play of the Oresteia. It deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills Clytemnestra to avenge the death of Agamemnon, Orestes' father.

The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες, Eumenides; also known as The Furies) is the final play of the Oresteia, in which Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry at the Areopagus (Rock of Ares, a flat rocky hill by the Athenian agora where the homicide court of Athens later held its sessions), to decide whether Orestes' killing of his mother, Clytemnestra, makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

That the play ends on a happy note may surprise modern readers, to whom the word tragedy denotes a drama ending in misfortune. The word did not carry this meaning in ancient Athens, and many of the extant Greek tragedies end happily.

The ancient law of the Erinyes mandates that blood must be paid for with blood in an unending cycle of doom. The chorus states this fact several times throughout the play, most clearly in the first section of the kommos. Vengeance is just, they say, and it has been the law of the house for generations. Nothing else can wash away a bloodstain but more blood, which in turn requires more blood in order to be cleansed. The chorus offers no solution to this dire situation of violence breeding more violence. They merely state it as the natural law and do what is in their power to help Orestes fulfill his role in the divine plan. However, over the course of The Libation Bearers, one has the sense that this time, things will be different. Apollo has promised Orestes that he will not suffer for his crime, and we know that a god is unlikely to go back on his word. Man cannot hope to build a progressive civilization if he is steeped in a perpetual bloodbath.

Since Apollo has thrown his weight behind the path of vengeance, Orestes chooses to comply with his commands. In fulfilling his duty towards Apollo and his father, Orestes condemns himself to suffering. He chooses to make this sacrifice, however, in order to preserve the laws of society. In the end of Eumenides, Orestes is tried in court by the Furies, with the goddess Athena and the Athenian elders acting as the jury. In this case, Orestes is not killed in turn for his crimes as would have been the retributive law at the time, but he is given the opportunity to defend himself, and is ultimately declared not guilty. The Erinyes are angered by this decision as they belong to the old gods, and for decades uncounted blood had to be repaid in blood. Yet Athena calms them with great effort, making it clear to them that a society cannot possibly work and grow under such circumstances, and grants them seats of great power in Athens. Justice is decided by a jury, representing the citizen body and its values and the gods themselves, who sanction this transition by taking part in the judgment, arguing and voting on an equal footing with the mortals. This theme of the polis self-governed by consent through lawful institutions, as opposed to tribalism and superstition, recurs in Greek art and thought.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940015604504
Publisher: Balefire Publishing
Publication date: 09/21/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 300
File size: 12 MB
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About the Author

Aeschylus (Greek: Αἰσχύλος, Aiskhulos; c. 525/524 BC – c. 456/455 BC) was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays can still be read or performed, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. He is often described as the father of tragedy: our knowledge of the genre begins with his work and our understanding of earlier tragedies is largely based on inferences from his surviving plays. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict amongst them, whereas previously characters had interacted only with the chorus.

Only seven of his estimated seventy to ninety plays have survived into modern times, and there is a longstanding debate about his authorship of one of these plays, Prometheus Bound. Fragments of some other plays have survived in quotes and more continue to be discovered on Egyptian papyrus, often giving us surprising insights into his work. He was probably the first dramatist to present plays as a trilogy and his Oresteia is the only ancient example of the form to have survived.

At least one of his works was influenced by the Persian invasion of Greece, which took place during his lifetime. This play, The Persians, is the only extant classical Greek tragedy concerned with recent history (very few of that kind were ever written) and it is a useful source of information about that period. So important was the war to Aeschylus and the Greeks that, upon his death, around 456 BC, his epitaph commemorated his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon rather than his success as a playwright.

He was a deep, religious thinker. No poet has ever presented evil in such stark and tragic terms yet he had an exalted view of Zeus, whom he celebrated with a grand simplicity reminiscent of David's Psalms, and a faith in progress or the healing power of time.

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Oresteia of Aeschylus 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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I love the Oresteia of Aeschylus - the only problem is that this e-book is unreadable - pagination and spacing are severely messed up.
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