The Orestes Plays: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides
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The Orestes Plays: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides (Ορέστεια #1-3)

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3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  18,477 ratings  ·  489 reviews
These plays embody Aeschylus' concerns with the destiny and fate of both individuals and the state, all played out under the watchful eye of the gods.In "Agamemnon, the warrior who defeated Troy returns to Argos and is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia before the Trojan War.In "The Libation Bearers" (Choephoroi), Orestes, Agamemnon'...more
paper, 256 pages
Published May 1st 2004 by Plume (first published -458)
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Laura
Murder, betrayal, revenge, torment . . . you might wonder, “Why would I bother reading three Greek plays when I could see the same sort of lurid problems on an episode of Jerry Springer? And fold laundry at the same time??” Two possible answers: First, you’re not going to get patricide, matricide, human sacrifice and unintentional cannibalism on daytime TV because we still draw the line somewhere, and you have to admit those are pretty dramatic. More importantly, though, along with the dysfuncti...more
James
This is quite possibly the most Hegelian work of drama ever written, and by that I mean its whole structure is geared towards synthesis, lifting opposing and contradictory forces into a higher union, one that reveals the inward and outward nobility of a whole community. Theatre and tragedy were still fairly new when Aeschylus wrote this trilogy of plays (one of his last efforts), and the energy of a novel medium is clearly palpable, even when read twenty-five-hundred years later. The language is...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Oresteia is the only surviving trilogy of Greek tragedy plays, performed in 458 BCE - two years before Aeschylus's death in 456 BCE. This review summarises all three plays as a trilogy, and because I think that it's easier to read them if you know what to expect, I do give away all the relevant plot points.

The first play, "Agamemnon", is about betrayal: King Agamemnon returns home to Argos after the successful sacking of Troy (in modern-day Turkey), only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra and...more
matt


....Just passed the Libation Bearers. Aeschylus has a way with ironic, monumental dialogues which portend tremendous climaxes. The language is so deep and seeps into the interaction- apparantly he suggests that there are no good options in life, merely the best of the worst, and that one must take their place amid the roil. Wisdom. This resonates with me, in the way that a drama read on the page will, as I imagine the perfect language and staging to bear witness to it....bigger review to follow,...more
Kay
Even compared to other Greek tragedies, the Oresteia stands out. It's not just about the family drama or the bloody cycle of revenge. It's more than that. It's about peering deeply into the darkness of the human soul, stripping any semblance of control over one's destiny, and seeing what would result--madness.

Orestes was driven by forces more ancient and far bloodier than his mere judgment. In a society divinely centered on the family, Orestes was ordained to avenge his father's death, even if i...more
Terry
Like so many other things that I've been reading lately, Aeschylus's trilogy is concerned with human beings thrown into the crucible of extremest intensity, pressured from every direction my conflicting obligations, driven to violent action and violent remorse. Few poets are as willing as Aeschylus to stare into the profound darkness of human suffering and name the curse that seems to hold us to the wheel of our own violence. Yet, even fewer are ultimately as hopeful about the possibility of our...more
Alexander Santiago
This is perhaps ancient Greece's most famous tragic trilogy that has survived antiquity. "Agamemnon" deals with the treacherous murder of King Agamemnon, just returned from the Trojan war, at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and his brother (who had an affair with his wife and coveted the throne). "The Libation Bearers" brings karmic and bloody retribution upon Clytemnestra at the hands of her only son, Orestes, avenging the death of his father. "The Eumenides" deals with Orestes flight from...more
Zelda
I actually read this twice. Back-to-back in the style of Mortimer Adler. The first time through I read it with only some of the initial commentary of the translator. Additionally, I had some background provided by a Great Courses lecture. The second time through I read along with the translator's entire commentary. I would have enjoyed the trilogy very much without the second reading but it was with the second reading that I developed a real appreciation for the work.

Mind you, I'm a skeptic when...more
Russell
I had in my mind that the these plays were full of mythology of the pantheon of Greek gods.

There are gods, yes, and other mythological creatures like the Furies, but there is so much more there, themes of duty, of humility, hubris, sin and forgiveness, the weight and fullness of history (the Trojan War) and family.

Out of these three plays Aeschylus sharply defined characters that still are echoed today. Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Iphigenia are still used as descriptions and figures today.

I lik...more
Justin Evans
I tried to read 'Prometheus Bound' years ago, and couldn't finish it. Clearly I should have waited a while- The Oresteia, in the Fagles translation, is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. Darker and more violent than anything the 20th century could come up with, it's also brighter and more hopeful than anything from the 19th century. It's as if someone had written both Schiller's 'Ode to Joy' and Eliot's 'Waste Land', and it was one book, only there was far deeper social, political...more
Jim
Robert Fagles' translation is excellent.

The Oresteia was written as a trilogy, and according to the scholars is the only Greek drama that survives as such. I would definitely recommend reading all 3 parts together, as they build one after the other. This trilogy is deceptively simple, in some ways, but the excellent introductory essay by W.B. Stanford, titled "The Serpent and the Eagle", helped me to see the much deeper issues that are explored in the play. I don't want to put any spoilers in th...more
Shiverme
Q: How many great authors were inspired by the characters in these plays?
A: Bazillions, give or take.
The Furies-- wrathful, smelly, wraith-like she-beasts-- are among the most fascinating creatures ever spawned by our collective unconscious. (Delivered by Dr. Aeschylus, no doubt via one putrid and grizzly c-section) these girls predate the Olympian pantheon and specialize in erasing people who murder their own family members.
Every time I experience a taste for revenge (and it happens more freque...more
Melora
This is more like it! I read Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers in the Grene translation, and Agamemnon was great, but The Libation Bearers was a bit "meh." So I got another copy, this one translated by Fagles, and What a Difference! Going by reviews, Grene seems to be regarded as more "literal," which sounds like a good thing, but I'll take "vigorous and engaging" over "literal and (a bit) dry" any day. Fagles' introductory essay was fascinating, if sometimes a little abstruse, and both The Lib...more
Karl H.
The Oresteia is a series of plays about the war of the sexes, law and order, and vengeance. It is tough to read in the modern day, because a lot of it is predicated on a very sexist view of women, and I think that view is inextricably tied to how the play is written.

Probably my favorite of the plays is Agamemnon, the first of the Oresteia. I think this play is the greatest out of the set- certainly it seemed the strongest to my modern sensibilities. Agamemnon, I am convinced, actually questions...more
Michael
I've come to the conclusion that anyone who says he or she is a fan of Greek drama must also, by default, be a fan of soap operas and the ridiculous story lines that surround them. This, of course, is not a bad thing (soap operas definitely have a fan base), but I can't refrain from sighing and inwardly groaning at all the ridiculous plots these characters go through. If you've read Sophocles, Aeschylus' Oresteia is more of the same thing. Rocky mommy/son relations, cheating spouses, murder, sca...more
Brad
It's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insights and idiocies remain relevant to modern readers, and frightening that humanity has made so little progress that the insights and idiocies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles still concern us.

I picked up the Oresteia because I thought it was about time I put the plays to the tale I thought I knew. I found what I expected:
The children were eaten
...more
Rick
“I have suffered into truth.” Orestes makes that declaration in The Eumenides, the third of the trilogy of plays dealing with the House of Atreus’s tendency to take empassioned revenge as their only acceptable call to action in a crisis. You expect excellence from Robert Fagles. His translations of Homer are superb. And you also expect it from Aeschylus, whose surviving plays endure and thrive in the hands of translators of craft and imagination across the centuries. Aescyhlus presents a generat...more
James
This is a modern (circa 1999) translation of one of the greatest of the Greek Tragedies that has survived. It is even rarer in that it is a complete trilogy which was common in the age of the great Greek tragedians but few have survived in tact.
n the last year of his life, Ted Hughes completed translations of three major dramatic works: Racine's Phedre, Euripedes' Alcestis, and the trilogy of plays known as at The Oresteia, a family story of astonishing power and the background or inspiration f...more
Jonathan
It's a pleasure to see how Greek myth was understood and reworked by an actual ancient Greek. It is hard for us to comprehend how fluid was religious belief in antiquity, before the rise of international religions, with centralized clergy, made dogma a necessity. The gods are characters, and can be used as an author wishes, providing they stay in established "character." Who would guess, not knowing The Eumenides (third and final play in The Oresteia), that the conflict resolution would take pla...more
Christopher H.
Personally, I believe that this is the best and most powerful translation of Aeschylus's brilliant triptych known as The Oresteia. While Peter Meineck's translation may be best suited for the stage, and Ted Hughes's rendition most poetic, it is my sincere opinion that Robert Fagles's translation is the most visceral and resonates most powerfully for me. The inclusion of William Bedell Stanford's introduction within this edition is simply a bonus as it is nothing short of brilliant!
Ben
I just finished reading The Oresteia, so perhaps it's premature to claim it as my favourite work in Greek and Roman literature; however, it is. The style is as elegant as The Parthenon, and the moral drama is a gripping as a Fury that is sucking the blood out of your body. I wouldn't go as a far as sacrificing my child or killing my mother to go back in time and watch the debut of this play, but I would pay a lot of money.

Particularly interesting to me is the affect this had on Greek society. I...more
A.J. Howard
Just a few edition specific notes, because, really, who gives a shit what I have to say about Orestia. What am I going to say, "gee I don't really see what the greatest minds in Western Civilization over the past 2500 years see in this thing, it was boring." Nope, no one needs me to cape up for Aeschylus.

Anyways, I was fretting over picking a translation before I had the problem solved for me by finding a nice used copy of the Richard Lattimore translation. I can't really speak to the comparati...more
Lisbeth
One of the classic tragedies of the human history - this particular trilogy tells the tale of the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra, and their son's subsequent revenge and torment. Beautifully written and translated, Clytemnestra's speech as she waits to hack her husband to shreds is still one of the most poignant in existence. Just beautiful.
Cecil
Finally I understand the furies.
Charles
On the grand scale of things, I now believe that if Aeschylus did not exist, Shakespeare would have died a poor actor in a tragic untimely death most likely caused by unfulfilled dreams.

I'm saying this not because it is my intention to lessen the sheer poetic genius of Shakespeare, who still remains my all time favourite playwright (bar a play or two). It is because Aeschylus incorporated such a variety of themes/current affairs/implications/legal and dynastic issues and so on (for a hundred mor...more
Wael Mahmoud
Unfortunately i am very disappointment with this trilogy, After reading sophocles' Oedipus.

Although it doesn't lack the strong drama, A woman killed her husband - the hero of the war - and a son revenged his father's death by killing his mother, but the events are very slow - except for the second play - and the chours lines - specially in the first one - are very long and boring.

There's not a remarkable characters as we see in Oedipus' trilogy, The gods in the third play are very ridiculous, I...more
Connie
At the beginning of the fifth century, it was customary for each of the tragedians competing at the festival of Dionysus to present a trilogy of three plays on a related theme, followed by a satyr-play. The Oresteia is the only surviving example of a Greek tragic trilogy, so it has immense importance in the history of drama.

Each of the plays is self-contained; however, the endings of the first two plays do transition naturally into the following plays. Each play has its own chorus and an almost...more
Ben Dutton
And so we come, at last, to the first pieces I had have previously read from the Penguin Classics range, The Oresteian Trilogy of Aeschylus, made up of the three plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. It won the first prize at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC.

Agamemnon

Agamemnon, king of Argos, returns home following the Trojan War. His wife, Clytemnestra, has been planning his murder as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia. In Agamemnon’s absence, Cly...more
James
This is a modern (circa 1999) translation of one of the greatest of the Greek Tragedies that has survived. It is even rarer in that it is a complete trilogy which was common in the age of the great Greek tragedians but few have survived in tact.
In the last year of his life, Ted Hughes completed translations of three major dramatic works: Racine's Phedre, Euripedes' Alcestis, and the trilogy of plays known as at The Oresteia, a family story of astonishing power and the background or inspiration...more
Karen
This dramatic trilogy is amazing. Unless you are intensely familiar with Greek history and myth, get a good copy of Aeschylus' writing with notes and glossary in the back. I read a Penguin publisher edition, translated by Robert Fagles. It was beautiful. The language: stunning. My vocabulary, like most eary-twenty-somethings I know,is grossly bleak. My language skills suck. The third play, The Eumenidies is the first record of a trial in dramatic history. Drama is at its core, the art of a democ...more
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  • Euripides V: Electra/The Phoenician Women/The Bacchae
  • Sophocles II: Ajax/Women of Trachis/Electra/Philoctetes (Complete Greek Tragedies 4)
  • Lysistrata and Other Plays
  • Homeric Hymns
990
Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC) was an ancient Greek playwright. He is often recognized as the father or the founder of tragedy, and is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive extant, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict among them; previously, characters interacted only with the cho...more
More about Aeschylus...
Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1) Prometheus Bound Prometheus Bound and Other Plays The Persians Eumenides

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“Oh, the torment bred in the race,
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein,
the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house, and not outside it, no,
not from others but from them,
their bloody strife. We sing to you,
dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground --
answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.”
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“Nothing forces us to know
What we do not want to know
Except pain”
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