12 November 2010

Book Review: The Libation Bearers

Title: The Oresteia - The Libation Bearers
Author: Aeschylus
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Release Date: 458 BCE
Date Finished: 30 October 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 second in the trilogy, The Libation Bearers, recounts the return of Orestes, Agamemnon's son to his home. Agamemnon is dead, murdered by his wife and her lover, and Electra, Orestes's sister is bringing libations to his grave. She discovers Orestes there, and the two vow to kill the usurpers, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

A Bit of a Ramble

What a strange little play! While Agamemnon fascinated me, this one was a bit more boring to read. There are pages and pages and pages of the same thing being said over and over and over again. Much more talk than action in this one, and when we do get to the action, we do not witness it; we merely hear about it from other people talking. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

All of the talk isn't necessarily out of line though. The bulk of the play takes place over the grave of the grievously murdered Agamemnon. His son and daughter, Orestes and Electra, mourn his loss together, and then go on this Hamlet-like rampage, spewing forth curses towards those who murdered him and vowing revenge. I can easily see two young people engaged in this sort of behavior, practically vomiting words that are simultaneously ridiculous, naive, noble, and heart-wrenching.

Then we also have the Chorus and the Leader acting sort of like coaches, engaging in a macabre pep talk, encouraging the siblings to murder their own mother and her lover. And how do they encourage them? With lots and lots and lots of words.

Not to say that the words used aren't wonderfully poetic, but still it was so much talk and so little action. I am, however, excited to read the final play in the trilogy because at the end of The Libation Bearers, Orestes has carried out his duties, but the action has clearly caused some serious mental issues.

Relationship to The Odyssey:
As I said in my review of Agamemnon, I picked up this trilogy of plays because Agamemnon's story is told at least three times, in three separate books in The Odyssey. But this time around, I want to discuss a different connection: Hospitality. As I've said before, hospitality in ancient times seems to have been sacred. Guests were welcomed, almost without question, they were fed, bathed, offered rest, entertained, in general treated like some sort of visiting dignitary - even before the hosts knew their names. In The Libation Bearers, this practice brings about the downfall of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra when they open their doors to the murderous Orestes. Bad luck dude.

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


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. Doesn't sound nearly as good as the first book you are right, but still sounds interesting. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on book 3.

  2. This book does sound a little more weighty and wordy than the others you've described to us. Sorry to hear this.

  3. Amy - It really wasn't as good in my opinion; and I can't imagine it as a play!

    Heather - It was just so much talk and so little action. If someone is dieing in a book, I want to "see it" not just hear someone saying 'hey, I think he's killing that guy in there.'

  4. And stuff like this is exactly why I won't be doing a challenge like you are doing.


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