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The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides

(Oresteia #1-3)

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  35,500 ratings  ·  1,117 reviews
Alternate cover edition can be found here, here, here, here

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 an
Paperback, 335 pages
Published February 7th 1984 by Penguin Classics (first published -458)
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Vilhelm Schmidt Less accessible than Macbeth ehh? Guess it’ll be getting bumped down on my list. I don’t consider myself a total dunce, but Macbeth has always been a …moreLess accessible than Macbeth ehh? Guess it’ll be getting bumped down on my list. I don’t consider myself a total dunce, but Macbeth has always been a bit too Shakespearean for my taste, and I love Shakespeare. The “walking shadow” soliloquy is immortally epic, but the play itself is pretty dry. It’s no Titus Andronicus, at any rate.(less)
John L Yes. You should read them in the order that they were originally performed: Agamemnon, The Libation-Bearers, Eumenides. This Oxford paperback edition …moreYes. You should read them in the order that they were originally performed: Agamemnon, The Libation-Bearers, Eumenides. This Oxford paperback edition is a very good one with an excellent introduction and notes.(less)

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Start your review of The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
Seeing the Oresteia on stage is an overwhelming experience to say the least.

Reading and discussing the drama at university felt like going through the Disney version of it by comparison. Hearing the screams, seeing the blood and madness, following real people on their anxious road down to hellish destruction while they stare at you - the audience - with blind eyes - that is almost more than one can bear, even if one is familiar with the intertwined plays beforehand.

Violence leads to more violen
Apr 06, 2015 added it
Shelves: greek, theatre, poetry

Let good prevail ! So be it ! Yet what is good ? And who is God?

As many deeply conservative societies have discovered time and time again - societies in which there is only one right order and this order is warranted by the highest authorities recognized by the society - when change comes, and come it always must,(*) not only do those in power tumble, but the authority of the gods/priests, ancestors, laws, whatever the highest authorities happen to be in that society, comes into question. N
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is pretty fantastic. I'm surprised. I think I like this old Greek trilogy of plays better than all the others that I've read. That's including Oedipus. :P

The translation is pretty awesome, the tragedy is beautiful, and the underlying theme of justice and the balance of power between men and women is stark and heavy.

But isn't it about murder and eye-for-an-eye taken to extremes? Yeah, but it's still more than that.

It's mainly about honoring your children and honoring your parents. It's not a
Jan 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
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
Roy Lotz
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Greeks had an intoxicating culture, or at least it seems to us. All of the iniquities and superstitions of the ancient people have been buried or lost, leaving only the perfect skeletons of buildings and the greatest of their literary productions. As a result, they strike us as a race of superpeople. This trilogy certainly furthers this impression, for it is a perfect poetic representation of the birth of justice and ethics out of the primordial law of retaliation.

The most basic ethical prin
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
"I have suffered into truth"

"You know the rules, now turn them into justice."

"The outrage stands as it stands, you burn to know the end..."

"Never try to cut my power with your logic."

"We spoil ourselves with scruples, long as things go well."

"Old men are children once again, a dream that sways and wavers into the hard light of day."

...Which is all to say that this trilogy is bananas and savage and graceful, and that Aeschylus was doing Shakespeare things about two thousand years before Shakespea
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can only vouch for this Robert Fagles' translation, but yes, astonishingly gripping after more than 2,400 years. ...more
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
And the blood that Mother Earth consumes
clots hard, it won’t seep through, it breeds revenge
and frenzy goes through the guilty,
seething like infection, swarming through the brain.

I’d give this ten stars. The trilogy creates an arc, a link from blood sacrifice and burnt offerings to the nascent construct of something resembling jurisprudence. Superstition giving way begrudgingly to law. While the final trial isn’t exactly one by peers, it is amazing to contemplate. This trilogy is simply wicked
Yigal Zur
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
i read now no. 2. the main conflict between son and mother. the erotic freedom of the women - the mother is destructive for the son, as he is suppose to get the heritage. "you killed my father, how can i live with you?"
amazing conflict. great writing. still.
a lot of build up for me as i write a new thriller.
E. G.
A Reading of 'The Oresteia': The Serpent and the Eagle

--The Libation Bearers
--The Eumenides

The Genealogy of Orestes
Select Bibliography
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing

....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,
BBC Radio 3 adaptation by Simon Scardifield, Ed Hime & Rebecca Lenkiewicz

I've had a couple of false/slow starts with the written Oresteia this year, so to tick off a 'Classic Tragedy' category in a reading challenge, I listened to this production of the three plays, which is packaged with an old half-hour In Our Time episode about Aeschylus' trilogy. (I'd have preferred a production using Robert Fagles' translation, to read along, but couldn't track one down.) The blurb for the Audible edition s
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The penguin classics version is to be particularly recommended - The translation works very well and the 90 page introduction is just brilliant.

As for the plays, well...they are essential reading obviously. And like all great works in translation, one should really read 2 or 3 different versions in order to get as close as possible to the “original”. The Fagles translation should certainly be one of those versions.
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
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Aeschylus' prose certainly deserves five stars, so dense and moving. Even though his primary focus in Oresteia was ethics, justice, crime/punishment, and changes in social order, the subjective emotions and psychologies of characters are conveyed powerfully. Orestes is not really "heroic" in a Homeric sense, but he presents a less egoistic and more god-fearing type of man in a tormenting pursuit of righteousness. The Oresteia combines both tragic and comic elements, and presents both optimism an ...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
Maru Kun
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it

According to the Wikpedia entry for Francis Bacon's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

"...The canvasses are based on the Eumenides—or Furies—of Aeschylus's Oresteia...Bacon did not seek to illustrate the narrative of the tale, however. He told the French art critic Michel Leiris, "I could not paint Agamemnon, Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting ... Therefore I tried to create an image of the effect it produced inside m
Justin Evans
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
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
Riku Sayuj

Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1):The First Strike

The Libation Bearers (Oresteia, #2): The Course of The Curse

Eumenides (Oresteia, #3): Pending

Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On the surface the Oresteian trilogy appears to be a dramatization of what happened to Agamemnon and his family. Dig a little deeper and the reader may find a dramatization of newer ways of being trumping the old ways.

Generational Changes.

The Oresteian trilogy reveals the dictomy between worldviews
1. Of the gods. The old and the new. According to legend, the old ones were killed or subdued by the new ones. The Fates are among the old ones. Apollo and Athene are among the new ones. A court scen
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This play has truly memorable scenes of great dramatic intensity, like when Clytemnestra is facing his son, among others. The comments in this edition are fascinating and offer real meaning to the idioms and cultural references of a people so close to us and yet so ancient ...
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Taken as a whole, one of the indispensable works of a cosmopolitan literature, something to show extraterrestrials as part of our application for admission to the congress of civilized worlds--even if the individual plays are separately a bit perplexing.

The Agamemnon is curious, with its multiple heralds prefacing the arrival of the protagonist—the first, a watchman, awaits “to read the meaning in that beacon light” (l. 8), to which he responds as “blaze of the darkness, harbinger of day’s / shi
When the Oresteia trilogy begins, Troy has been reduced to ashes and Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, returns home victorious. The Oresteia is just a small portion of the family history of the cursed House of Atreus. The trilogy begins with Agamemnon's murder and the rest deals with its consequences, but in truth the previous events of Greek mythology are very much simmering in the background. Beginning with Tantalus killing his own son and feeding him to the gods (who, apart from the distracted Deme ...more
Daniel Chaikin
38. The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus, translated by Philip Vellacott
first performed: 458 bce
format: 197 page paperback - 1965 Penguin classics
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: June 9-10, 17-22
rating: 3½ stars

The story of Orestes is told in The Odyssey, where he comes across as a hero of a tragedy, and a role model for young princes. Agamemnon, a valiant warrior but also somewhat incompetent as leader of the Greeks, or Achaens, returns home from T
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Oresteia is the only surviving trilogy of plays from Ancient Greece, and it is a perfection of the dramatic form. Aeschylus invented tragedy. The Oresteia’s plot is a precursor to Macbeth, but also a parable of civilization; the play's movement mirrors the emergence of rationalism from the chthonic mists of superstition. It is densely symbolic. The meaning of symbols evolve, with psychological significance emerging from mystical primitivism, as the play’s movement simulates the opening of th ...more
Ava Catherine
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 transition naturally into the following plays. Each play has its own chorus and an almost se
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: black-metal
Overall, The Oresteia was a brutal work, savage and eloquent. I highly recommend you listen to Norwegian black metal while reading this, as it really adds to the experience. Then again, I find that listening to Norwegian black metal adds to the experience of such activities as driving to the grocery store, so I may be a tad bit biased there.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

“…we must suffer, suffer into truth.
We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart
the pain of pain remembered comes again,
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See similar books…
Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)
Greek Αισχύλος , Ésquilo in Portuguese; Esquilo in Spanish; Eschyle en français; Eschil in romanian; Эсхил in russian.

Aeschylus, an ancient Greek playwright, is often recognized as the father or the founder of tragedy. He is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive extant, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. According to Aristotle, he expan

Other books in the series

Oresteia (4 books)
  • Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1)
  • The Libation Bearers (Ορέστεια, #2)
  • Eumenides (Ορέστεια, #3)

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