27 November 2010

Book Review: The Eumenides

Title: The Oresteia - The Eumenides
Author: Aeschylus
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Release Date: 458 BCE
Date Finished: 27 November 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Reading ResolutionsReally 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. The second, The Libation Bearers, has Orestes returning home and killing his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. In the finale to the story, Orestes has fled his home, pursued by the three Furies who wish to torment him and drive him to death because of his matricide.

A Bit of a Ramble
As with the first play in this trilogy, I really enjoyed the story. While the second should have included the most exciting event, it fell flat, lots of talk with very little action. The third play, however, follows Orestes to Apollo's celestial (at least otherworldly) home and then on to Athena's city where Orestes appeals to the goddess to judge his case and hopefully free him from his persecution by the Furies. The trial is intriguing with the Furies on one side, and Apollo and Orestes on the other with Athena and some citizens judging the case.

What was most interesting to me was the dialogue between the Furies and Athena. The Furies are old gods, subjugated by the Olympians, and primarily located in the Underworld. They consistently protest their lot and call attention to the fact that they came first and should not be thwarted. Athena doesn't lord it over them and instead offers them a place of honor in her city: a respectful way to placate them over their loss in the case. It's funny to me how much these plays stray from their central protagonist - Orestes - and feature such a philosophical discussion of the role of the old and new gods.

Another interesting point about the trial is the horridness of the closing arguments. The poor, mortal jury has to cast their ballots, but before doing so, they are dealt some pretty serious threats by the Furies and Apollo. Vote my way or I'll decimate your city sort of stuff. The vote ends up tied, but Athena casts her vote for Orestes' innocence.

Having finally finished the entire trilogy, I am confident in saying that I would recommend it to anyone interested in this time period - especially since it's pretty quick reading - but without the foundation interest, I would hazard a guess that modern readers wouldn't be all that excited by the story.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

So Many Books;

Echoes of Man is my month-long sojourn into antiquity. I plan on entering the ancient world and basking in its glory for the entire month of November.

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


  1. I'm pretty sure I read these in college too...

  2. I had to read these in college, too, for a class required for all freshman. Shortly after I read it, I accidentally discovered the song "Orestes" by A Perfect Circle. As much as I hated that I had to take that class, (and not really because their was anything wrong with it, but mainly because of the "required" bit), I appreciated that the fact that without it, I never would have understood that song.

  3. These sound interesting Trisha, I'm glad you enjoyed all three books.

  4. Saved by Athena! Now that's not something you hear every day.

  5. I need to try this. I started it earlier this year, but I felt like I was missing important things and not understanding what was going on. Of course I was reading it while waiting to be picked up, and my sister was really late coming to get me, and I was paying a lot of attention to watching for her car. So I may not have given it my fullest attention. :p

  6. Wonderful overview and love the illustration selected for your post. I'm quite taken by many a classic, so this may need to be something on my upcoming reading list. Good to hear it's short so that it's not quite so intimidating.

  7. This third book sounds really intriguing to me, and makes me think I will have to try out the trilogy for myself. I am glad to hear they were so well received.

  8. I am fascinated with this book cover. This is a book I would like to attempt.


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