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The Oresteia (Ορέστεια #1-3)

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3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  21,586 ratings  ·  571 reviews
In the Oresteia—the only trilogy in Greek drama which survives from antiquity—Aeschylus took as his subject the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos.

Moving from darkness to light, from rage to self-governance, from primitive ritual to civilized institution, their spirit of struggle and regeneration becomes an everlasting song of celebration.
Paperback, 335 pages
Published September 29th 1977 by Penguin Classics (first published -458)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Greg
It's been about ten years since I last read the more traditional translations of these plays so I'm not really in a position to compare and contrast. I also don't know what the original Greek is like, or what the original language was like in relation to the quality of everyday speech at the time. I mean were the original plays written in a highly polished 'intellectual' style, did they sound like how people on the street talked? When Helen is called a weapon of mass destruction in Carson's tran ...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
Edward
Foreword
Acknowledgements
A Reading of 'The Oresteia': The Serpent and the Eagle


--Agamemnon
--The Libation Bearers
--The Eumenides

The Genealogy of Orestes
Select Bibliography
Notes
Glossary
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
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
Emily
I intended to write about each of these plays individually, but the power of the famous stories and the language as rendered by Anne Carson's stunning translation job, meant that I devoured the whole volume in three sittings and never got the chance to sit down at my computer before the book was over. I've gushed about Carson's own work and her beautiful Sappho translation, and this alternate Oresteia lives up to all my high expectations of her offerings.

But first, a little background: the orig
...more
Zelda
Aug 17, 2013 Zelda rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
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
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
Mar 28, 2007 Alexander Santiago rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Yes
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
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
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
Rick
Feb 05, 2015 Rick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: drama
“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.

Aeschylus presents a generati
...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
Rick
The first thing Carson does is deny credit: “Not my idea to do this.” Despite this deflection she clearly warmed to the idea and these three plays by three different playwrights brilliantly tackle the progression of the Oresteia into deeper tragedy. In the first play Agememnon returns from the Trojan War and is murdered by his wife for the crime of sacrificing their daughter en route to Troy. In the second play Orestes and Elektra murder Klytaimestra for murdering their father. In the third play ...more
S.
Jul 17, 2014 S. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: u-of-c
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
Jeremy Allan
I was tempted by the fifth star. These three translations are wild. They stretch uncomfortably between courtly speech of ancient greek dynasties and the idioms we hear on the street in New York City. Therefore it isn't easy to just experience these plays as rendered by Carson. We are constantly aware of them as spectacle, even as they exist before us as text. They are uneven, raw, and sometimes hilarious. And these things make for a reading experience full of surprise. I would careen from a mome ...more
Alex
Ah, it kills me to do this: An Oresteia is not that great.

What it wants to be is great. It wants to weave the three great Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) into a collaboration about the House of Atreus that will allow its readers to get a feel for all three, as well as a coherent story. And by a terrific poet and translator, to boot! Sweet!

And it gets off to a promising start, too, with a terrific rendition of Agamemnon. I've read two other translations - Fagles and Hughes -
...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
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
Maan Kawas
A beautiful tragedy written by a master playwright! I loved the language and characterization of the play. It is a play about vengeance, which is considered just by the gods. According to them, bloodstain cannot be washed up but with more bloodshed. Thus, Orestes was asked by Apollo to avenge his father, and thus fulfilling the divine plan. However, this plan will bring him the fury and harmful consequences in the future, but he accepts what the god Apollo asked him to do. And Aeschylus gave hin ...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
Mar 10, 2014 Ben rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: greece
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
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  • The Bacchae and Other Plays
  • Sophocles II: Ajax/Women of Trachis/Electra/Philoctetes (Complete Greek Tragedies 4)
  • Four Plays: The Clouds/The Birds/Lysistrata/The Frogs
  • Homeric Hymns
  • Theogony/Works and Days (World's Classics)
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...

Other Books in the Series

Ορέστεια (4 books)
  • Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1)
  • The Libation Bearers
  • Eumenides
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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