Publisher: Penguin Classics
Release Date: 458 BCE
Date Finished: 30 October 2010
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Challenges: 100+ Reading, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Really Old Classics Challenge,
The Short and Sweet of It
The Oresteia is the only trilogy of Greek drama to survive today. Included are Agaememnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides, three plays which reveal "the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos." Sounds interesting right?
The first in the trilogy, Agamemnon, recounts the return of its titular character to his home following the Trojan War. Starring alongside Agamemnon are his wife Clytemnestra, a spoil of war with a gift of sight named Cassandra, a returned exile with his eye on the thrown Aegisthus, and a chorus of old men.
A Bit of a Ramble
Reading this for the first time was not like reading contemporary novels for the first time. The characters were already familiar to me. I knew that Agamemnon agreed to fight in the Trojan war after Menelaus asked for his help getting Helen back. I knew Helen had run off to Troy with Paris, starting the whole snafu. And I knew that Agamemnon was killed by his wife and her lover upon his return. This sort of familiarity did not make my reading of this play boring in any way however. Aeschylus puts enough of a spin on things to keep me interested, and even surprised me with some his choices.
For one, in Agamemnon, the murderer is not Aegisthus; instead it is Clytemnestra who runs the king through in part based on Aegisthus's plan, but not solely because of him. The motivations for Clytemnestra and Aegisthus to kill Agamemnon were the most interesting part of the play. From other readings, I was under the impression they just wanted him dead so that they could be together: a relatively selfish gesture. But in Aeschylus's version, the two sneaky murderers have quite the inspiration for wanting Agamemnon dead.
Clytemnestra is acting out of maternal anguish. Before Agamemnon et. al. went off to war, they made a sacrifice to the gods for favorable winds. What did they sacrifice you might ask? Ag and Cly's DAUGHTER. He killed his own daughter on an altar in the hopes that the gods would give him smooth sailing to Troy. How effed up is that?!?! Cly is seriously pissed. And rightly so I might add.
Aegisthus's motivation is no less horrifying. Atreus, Agamemnon's father, and Thyestes, Aegisthus's father, were brothers. When the two fought for the crown, Atreus won and banished Thyestes and his family from Argos. Nope, we aren't to the motivation yet... One day Thyestes returned to Argos, a suppliant (a guest), and Atreus treated him to a lavish meal. Of course, he sprinkled pieces of human flesh (children's) over the whole thing:
...made my father a feast that seemed a feast for gods,When Thyestes realized what he was eating, he freaked out. Now Aegisthus wants revenge. Again, I can totally see his point.
a love feast of his children's flesh.
the extremeties, feet and delicate hands
into small pieces, scatters them over the dish
and serves it to Thyestes throned on high.
He picks at the flesh he cannot recognize,
the soul of innocence eating the food of ruin -
Relationship to The Odyssey:
I picked up The Oresteia when I realized that it revolved around the same story being told by Menelaus and Nestor in The Odyssey. Both kings recount the story of Agamemnon to Telemachus, primarily I think to get to the part about Orestes avenging his father's murder. This part of The Oresteia is not recounted in Agamemnon but must be part of the last two plays in the trilogy.
Odysseus is lauded in The Odyssey as a great hero of the Trojan war, a master strategist and brave fighter. His reputation holds up in this play as Agamemnon says: "My comrades...they're shadows, I tell you, ghosts of men who swore they'd die for me. Only Odysseus: I dragged that man to the wars but once in harness he was a trace-horse, he gave his all for me. Dead or alive, no matter, I can praise him." Apparently, Agamemnon forced Odysseus to join the fight. I really should have read The Iliad first, but what can you do? :)
This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!
During this time, I will be reading and reviewing literature of the time and posting about related topics. If you have anything you would like to add - a review, an informative post, etc. - let me know. I would love to have you join in!
Echoes of Man Image from ~darkmatter257 at deviant art