Oresteia

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The Oresteia (Ancient Greek: Ὀρέστεια) is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra, the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, and end of the curse on the House of Atreus. This trilogy also shows how the Greek gods interacted with the characters and influenced their decisions pertaining to events and disputes.[1] The only extant example of an ancient Greek theater trilogy, the Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC. Many consider the Oresteia to be Aeschylus' finest work. The principal themes of the trilogy include the contrast between revenge and justice, as well as the transition from personal vendetta to organized litigation.[2]

Agamemnon[edit]

Agamemnon
The Murder Of Agamemnon - Project Gutenberg eText 14994.png
The murder of Agamemnon, from an 1879 illustration from Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church
Written by Aeschylus
Chorus Elders of Argos
Characters
Setting Argos, before the royal palace

The play Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων, Agamemnōn) details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Mycene, from the Trojan War. After 10 years of warfare, Troy had fallen and all of Greece could their lay claim to victory. Waiting at home for Agamemnon is his wife, Queen Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder. She desires his death to avenge the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia, to exterminate the only thing hindering her from commandeering the crown, and finally be able to publicly embrace her long-time-lover Aegisthus. This play is first of the three within the Oresteia trilogy.[3]

The play opens to a watchman looking down and over the sea, reporting that he has been lying restless "like a dog" for a year, waiting to see some sort of signal confirming a Greek victory in Troy. He laments the fortunes of the house, but promises to keep silent: "A huge ox has stepped onto my tongue.". The watchman sees a light far off in the distance and is overjoyed at the victory and hopes for the hasty return of his King as the house has "wallowed". Clytaemnestra is introduced to the audience and she declares that there will be celebrations and sacrifices throughout the city as Agamemnon and his army return. Clytaemnestra's encounters with the Leader, the chorus, and other males within the artistocracy are a manifestation of the Sexism within Ancient Greek Society.

Upon the return of Agamemnon, his wife laments in full view of Argos how horrible the wait for her husband, and King, has been. After her soliloquy, Clytaemnestra pleads, and later convinces Agamemnon to walk on the robes laid out for him. This is a very ominous moment in the play as loyalties and motives are questioned. The King's new concubine, Cassandra, is now introduced and this immediately spawns hatred from the queen, Clytaemnestra. Cassandra is ordered out of her chariot and to the altar where, once she is alone, is heard crying out insane prophecies to Apollo about the death of Agamemnon and her own shared fate.

Inside the house a cry is heard. Agamemnon had been stabbed in the bathtub. The chorus separate from one another and ramble to themselves proving their cowardice when another final cry is heard. When the doors are finally opened, Clytaemnestra is seen standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytaemnestra describes the murder in detail to the chorus, showing no sign of remorse or regret. Suddenly the exiled lover of Cytaemnestra, Aegisthus, bursts into the palace to take his place next to her. Aegisthus proudly states that he devised the plan to murder Agamemnon and claim revenge for his father (The father of Aegisthus, Thyestes, was tricked into eating two of his sons by Agamemnon). Clytaemnestra claims that her and Aegisthus now have all the power and they re-enter the palace with the doors closing behind them.[4]

Agamemnon walks on the carpet of sacred peplos garments.

The Libation Bearers (Choephoroi)[edit]

The Libation Bearers
Orestes Elektra Hermes Louvre K544.jpg
Orestes, Electra and Hermes in front of Agamemnon's tomb by Choephoroi Painter
Written by Aeschylus
Chorus Slave women
Characters Orestes
Electra
Servant
Clytemnestra
Pylades
Cilissa
Aegisthus
Attendants
Setting Argos, at the tomb of Agamemnon

Some time after the murder of Agamemnon, Orestes, son of Agamemnon, returns home with Pylades, his cousin, to mourn over his father's grave. Up to this point, Orestes had been living in exile, but was been sent back, in secret, by the oracle of Apollo, to exact vengeance on the murderer(s) of his father. Apollo left Orestes with no choice by threatening him with a horrible fate if he were not to comply. Orestes then places two of his own hairs on Agamemnon's grave. While standing at his father's grave, Orestes meets up with his sister Electra and they quickly reminisce. Orestes and Electra are encouraged by the chorus to unearth their hatred for their mother and pray to bring about the spirit of their father, Agamemnon, to aid them in their quest for revenge. Orestes and Electra, with the help of the chorus, begin to plot the destruction of Clytaemnestra. Orestes decides he will sneak into the palace and kill Aegisthus and the chorus, with Electra, leave for the palace.

Orestes comes to the door and to his surprise Clytaemnestra opens it greeting him. He acted as if he were a stranger with the sad new of his own death. Clytaemnestra sends for Aegisthus, but her servant is intercepted by the chorus and her orders are not followed. Aegisthus goes into the palace where he is met and killed by Orestes. Clytaemnestra enters and sees Orestes standing over the body of Aegisthus. Notice the similarity between this scene and that of Agamemnon's death. Orestes intends to follow out his orders from Apollo, but he hesitates and is reminded by Pylades that he must exact his revenge. Orestes gathers himself and proceeds to ignore the cries of Clytaemnestra and stabs her. Orestes wraps the bodies in the same shroud his dead father was wrapped in and announces the end of tyranny. However, Orestes is now mercilessly chased by the Furies for the murder of his mother. He is driven to madness and must flee the palace.

The Eumenides[edit]

The Eumenides
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Remorse of Orestes (1862).jpg
"Orestes wird von den Furien verfolgt" (Orestes Pursued by the Furies) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Written by Aeschylus
Chorus The Erinyes
Characters Priestess
Apollo
Orestes
Ghost of Clytaemnestra
Athena
Athenian citizens
Setting before the temple of Apollo at Delphi and in Athens

The play "The Eumenides" illustrates how the sequence of events in The Oresteia end up in the development of social order or a proper judicial system in Athenian society.[5] In this part of The Oresteia the main character Orestes is hunted down and tormented by the Furies also called "the Erinyes", a trio of goddesses known to be the instruments of justice for killing his mother.[6] However through the intervention of Apollo, Orestes is able to escape them for a brief moment while they are asleep and head to Athens under the protection of Hermes. Seeing the Furies asleep, Clytaemnestra's ghost comes to wake them up to obtain justice on her son Orestes for killing her.[7] After waking up the Furies hunt down Orestes again and when they found him, Orestes pleads to the goddess Athena for help and she responds by setting up a trial for him in Athens. This trial is made up of a group of twelve Athenian citizens and is being supervised by none other than Athena. Here Orestes is used as a trial dummy by Athena to set-up the first courtroom trial. He is also the object of central focus between the Furies, Apollo and Athena.[8] After the trial came to an end the votes were tied and Athena ruled that Orestes would not be killed.[9] This ultimately did not sit well with the Furies, however Athena eventually persuades them to accept the decision and instead of violently retaliating against wrongdoers, constructively be a vigilant force in Athens. She then changed their names from the Furies to "the Eumenides" which means "the Kindly Ones".[10] Athena then ultimately ruled that all trials must be settled in court rather than be carried out personally.[11]

Analysis of Themes[edit]

In this trilogy there are multiple themes carried through all three plays. Other themes can be found and in one, or two, of the three plays, but are not applicable to the Trilogy as a whole and thus are not considered themes of the trilogy.

Justice Through Retaliation[edit]

Retaliation is seen in The Oresteia in a slippery slope form, occurring subsequently after the actions of one character to another. In the first play "Agamemnon," it is mentioned how in order to shift the wind for his voyage to Troy, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his innocent daughter Iphigenia.[12] This then caused Clytaemnestra pain and eventually anger which resulted in her plotting revenge on Agamemnon. Therefore she found a new lover Aegisthus. And when Agamemnon returned to Argos from the Trojan War, Clytaemnestra killed him by stabbing him in the bathtub and would eventually inherit his throne.[13] The death of Agamemnon thus sparks anger in Orestes and Electra and this causes them to now plot the death of their mother Clytaemnestra in the next play "Libation Bearers," which would be considered matricide. Through much presssure from Electra and his cousin Pylades Orestes eventually kills his mother Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus in "The Libation Bearers".[14] Now after committing the matricide, Orestes is being hunted down by the Furies in the third play "The Eumenides", who wish to exact vengeance on him for this crime. And even after he gets away from them Clytaemnestra's spirit comes back to rally them again so that they can kill Orestes and obtain vengeance for her.[15] However this cycle of non-stop retaliation comes to a stop near the end of "The Eumenides" when Athena decides to introduce a new legal system for dealing out justice.[16]

Justice Through the Law[edit]

This part of the theme of 'justice' in The Oresteia is seen really only in "The Eumenides," however its presents still marks the shift in themes. After Orestes begged Athena for deliverance from 'the Erinyes,' she granted him his request in the form of a trial.[17] It is important that Athena did not just forgive Orestes and forbid the Furies from chasing him, she intended to put him to a trial and find a just answer to the question regarding his innocence. This is the first example of proper litigation in the trilogy and illuminates the change from emotional retaliation to civilized decisions regarding alleged crimes.[18] Instead of allowing the Furies to torture Orestes, she decided that she would have both the Furies and Orestes plead their case before she decided on the verdict. In addition, Athena set up the ground rules for how the verdict would be decided so that everything would be dealt with fairly. By Athena creating this blueprint the future of revenge-killings and the merciless hunting of the Furies would be eliminated from Greece. Once the trial concluded, Athena proclaimed the innocence of Orestes and he was set free from the Furies. The cycle of murder and revenge had come to an end while the foundation for future litigation had be laid.[19] Aeschylus, through his jury trial, was able to create and maintain a social commentary about the limitations of revenge crimes and reiterate the importance of trials.[20] The Oresteia, as a whole, stands as a representation of the evolution of justice in Ancient Greece.[21]

Adaptations[edit]

In 1967 composer Felix Werder adapted the play into an opera entitled Agamemnon.[22] In 2014 BBC Radio 3 broadcast the entire Oresteia over the course of three weeks as part of their Drama on 3 series:[23]

The Spaghetti Western The Forgotten Pistolero, is based on the myth and set in Mexico following the Second Mexican Empire. Ferdinando Baldi, who directed the film, was also a professor of classical literature who specialized in Greek tragedy.[24][25][26][27]

In 2004 Yael Farber produced her adaptation Molora, the story of Electra and her children set in South Africa.

In 2014 MacMillan Films staged the entire Oresteia for camera as part of its Greek drama series

  • Agamemnon (11 September 2014) using the Peter Arnott line-by-line translation, released by MacMillan Films. The cast included Tanya Rodina as Clytemnestra, James Thomas as Agamemnon, and Morgan Marcum as Cassandra.
  • Libation Bearers (11 September 2014) translation by Peter Arnott, The cast included Tanya Rodina as Electra and James Thomas as Orestes.
  • Eumenides (11 September 2014) translation by Peter Arnott, The cast included Tanya Rodina as Athena and James Thomas as Apollo.

See also[edit]

Translations[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Porter, David (2005). "Aeschylus' "Eumenides": Some Contrapuntal Lines". The American Journal of Philology. 126: 301–331 – via JSTOR. 
  2. ^ Euben, J. Peter (March 1982). "Justice and the Oresteia". The American Political Science Review. 76 (1): 22–33. doi:10.2307/1960439. 
  3. ^ Burke, Kenneth (1952). "Form and Persecution in the Oresteia". The Sewanee Review. 60 (3: July - September): 377–396. 
  4. ^ The Oresteia. New York, New York: Penguin Group. 1975. pp. 103–172. ISBN 978-0-14-044333-2.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  5. ^ Porter, David H. "Aeschylus' "Eumenides": Some Contrapuntal Lines". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 03-12-2016 20:30 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  6. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Anonymity and Polarity: Unknown Gods and Nameless Altars at the Areopagos". University of Illinois Press. Retrieved 03-12-2016 21:33 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  7. ^ Trousdell, Richard. "Tragedy and Transformation: The Oresteia of Aeschylus". C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. Retrieved 03-12-2016 22:43 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ Porter, David. "Aeschylus' "Eumenides": Some Contrapuntal Lines". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 03-12-2016 20:30 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. ^ Hester, D. A. "The Casting Vote". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 04-12-2016 00:31 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. ^ Mace, Sarah. "Why the Oresteia's Sleeping Dead Won't Lie, Part II: "Choephoroi" and "Eumenides"". The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc. (CAMWS). Retrieved 04-12-2016 00:58 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Mace, Sarah. "Why the Oresteia's Sleeping Dead Won't Lie, Part II: "Choephoroi" and "Eumenides"". The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc. (CAMWS). Retrieved 04-12-2016 00:58 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. ^ Scott, William. "Wind Imagery in the Oresteia". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 04-12-2016 05:56 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  13. ^ Euben, J. Peter. "Justice and the Oresteia". American Political Science Association. Retrieved 04-12-2016 05:32 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. ^ Scott, William. "Wind Imagery in the Oresteia". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 04-12-2016 05:56 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. ^ Scott, William. "Wind Imagery in the Oresteia". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 04-12-2016 05:56 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  16. ^ Euben, Peter. "Justice and the Oresteia". American Political Science Association. Retrieved 04-12-2016 05:32 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  17. ^ Porter, David. "Aeschylus' "Eumenides": Some Contrapuntal Lines". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 03-12-2016 20:30 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  18. ^ Burke, Kenneth (1952). "Form and Persecution in the Oresteia". The Sewanee Review. 20: 377–396 – via JSTOR. 
  19. ^ Hester, D. A. "The Casting Vote". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 04-12-2016 00:31 UTC.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. ^ Raaflaub, Kurt (1974). "Conceptualizing and Theorizing Peace in Ancient Greece". Transactions of the American Philosophical Association. 129: 225–250 – via JSTOR. 
  21. ^ Trousdell, Richard (2008). "Tragedy and Transformation: The Oresteia of Aeschylus". Jung Jornal: Culture and Psyche. 2: 5–38 – via JSTOR. 
  22. ^ *Thérèse Radic. "Agamemnon", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed October 15, 2015), (subscription access)
  23. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03q13c3
  24. ^ http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film2/DVDReviews49/terror_express.htm
  25. ^ http://www.fistfulofpasta.com/index.php?go=reviews/texasaddioss
  26. ^ http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/The_Forgotten_Pistolero_Review
  27. ^ http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/The_Forgotten_Pistolero_Review_by_Korano

References[edit]

  • Collard, Christopher (2002). Introduction to and translation of Oresteia. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283281-6. 
  • Widzisz, Marcel (2012). Chronos on the Threshold: Time, Ritual, and Agency in the Oresteia. Lexington Press. ISBN 0-7391-7045-7. 
  • MacLeod, C. W. “Politics and the Oresteia.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 102, 1982, pp. 124–144.

External links[edit]