Brad's Reviews > Aeschylus I: Oresteia, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers & The Eumenides

Aeschylus I by Aeschylus
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Jun 08, 2010

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bookshelves: drama, classic, collection, greek-lit
Read from June 08 to 22, 2010

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: there was the first
affliction, the curse of Thyestes.
Next came the royal death [if we ignore the sacrifice of Iphigenia:], when a man
and lord of Achaean armies went down
killed in the bath. Third
is for the saviour. He came. Shall I call
it that, or death? Where
is the end? Where shall the fury of fate
be stilled to sleep, be done with?
The familiar bloody tale of cannibalism, infanticidal sacrifice, vengeance, more vengeance, and the Gods ordained entrenchment of patriarchy were all there. The three plays of the Oresteia -- Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides -- were brutal, lovely, frustrating, illogical, brilliant and exciting in turns. I spent some of my time trying to suss out a way to stage these entertainingly without wholesale change, and some of my time thinking about the insights and idiocies that the Oresteia offered.

Amongst it all, I was shocked to discover something fresh -- at least to me. We often talk about the stultifying power of patriarchy, how that power has twisted up our cultures into the ugliness we know now, and the blame for that power is widely accepted to be the responsibility of those who made the power, hold the power and don't want to give it up.

What struck me in the Oresteia is that most people, from that day to this, from Ancient Greece to our modern globalized world, are responsible for the power of patriarchy (at least partially) because they desire infantilization. Few, so very, very few, want to be adults (metaphorically speaking). They don't want to make choices, they don't want to accept responsibility, they don't want to face conflict, they don't want to think. They want protection, they want to be told, they want to justify, they want to conform, they want to remain permanent metaphysical children embracing illusory comfort.

In the Oresteia the gods are credited with every act taken, so the players live or die believing that another is responsible for what they've done. They remain willing children of the gods.

It's a human willingness that I see all around me 2,468 years after the Oresteia was written. Is it any wonder the concerns of Aeschylus still plague us today?
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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RandomAnthony Oh, this is a great collection. I like Aeschylus, but I love Euripides.


Brad I'm reading the dull intro stuff at the moment, but I am really looking forward to getting into the plays themselves. I am an Aeschylus virgin.


message 3: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Yes, better by far that we take 'too much' responsibility rather than shun responsibility altogether.


Brad It is indeed, Trevor.


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