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Books Read In 2019 > The Oresteia, A, TLB - Non-Spoilers - Discussion Leader - Cleo

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message 1: by Loretta, Moderator (last edited Sep 01, 2019 12:29PM) (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Please use this thread for first impressions (non-spoilers), background and general information.

Member Cleo has asked to lead this discussion.

Take it away Cleo! 😊

message 2: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Thanks, Loretta!

I've put some background information for this play in the spoiler thread.

message 3: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Oh, and a note on spoilers for those worried about them. I’m continually impressed by the lack of reliance on plot by the Greeks as they, in fact, often give “spoilers” throughout the whole play or poem. The plot is only the packaging; the real story is born of the intrigues, the capriciousness of the gods, internal struggle, personal sacrifice and vengeance. How the plot unfolds is secondary to performance, an intense and acute penetration into the soul of man.

message 4: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments There are three plays, so ten days for each. I'll try to pace my comments on that schedule.

message 5: by Cleo (last edited Sep 03, 2019 10:21PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Agamemnon
(lines 1 - 257)

The play begins with a Watchman who is surveying from the roof of Agamemnon’s palace, lamenting the years of watching and waiting for a very important signal, a signal that would indicate the completion of the war with Troy. The very first lines themselves are a signal, setting a sombre, ominous tone to the scene:

“θεοὺς μὲν αἰτῶ τῶνδ᾽ ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων …. ” (“I ask the gods for respite from these toils …..”)

The beacon is seen and the Watchman rejoices for the return of his king, but the mood does not lighten as the Chorus enters and begins its parados (the chorus’ entrance song).

The Chorus consists of elderly men who were too old ten years ago to make war on Troy, but now impart perhaps the most critical information in the play in their back-story:

(1) that Zeus was requiring Agamemnon, the eldest member of his family, to act in avenging the insult to his household by Paris, by making war on Troy

(2) Agamemnon was required by an offended Artemis to kill his daughter, Iphigenia, to get fair winds to sale for Troy.

Agamemon is put in an unbearable position. He is protector of his household, therefore to kill his daughter goes against his moral obligation. On the other hand, if he dismisses Artemis’ command, he would be disobeying Zeus which would denote a refusal to fulfill his familial accountability to his brother, an offence against his very being. He is caught in an inescapable situation. Fate is suffocating him and no matter what his choice, there will be appalling consequences. His words are seeped in agony:

“My fate is angry if I disobey these,
but angry if I slaughter
this child, the beauty of my house,
with maiden blood shed staining
these father’s hands beside the altar.
What of these things goes now without disaster?
How shall I fail my ships
and lose my faith of battle?
For them to urge such sacrifice of innocent blood
angrily, for their wrath is great —- it is right. May all be well yet.”

Once Agamemnon makes the decision to sacrifice his beloved daughter, his whole character alters. In spite of her heart-rending pleas, the men who have known her since she was a child, lift her upon the altar. Although the audience witnesses the poignancy of the preparation of her sacrifice, we are left to imagine her terrible fate.

message 6: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Cleo wrote: "There are three plays, so ten days for each. I'll try to pace my comments on that schedule."

Sounds like a good plan Cleo! 😊

message 7: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Agamemnon
(lines 258 - 780)

Meanwhile, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife and the leader of Argos during his absence, has entered during the Chorus’ story, and she announces the fall of Troy, which news the Chorus is hesitant to believe, implying that the populous of Argos is discontent after these long years of war. A Herald arrives confirming the victory of the Greeks, and proclaiming the return of their king, Agamemnon. His wife professes overwhelming joy at his homecoming, and in an ironic twist, the Herald is impressed with the truth and majesty of her words.

message 8: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Agamemnon
(lines 781 - 974)

Agamemnon arrives in regal impressiveness, riding in a chariot with Cassandra, the prophetess and princess of Troy by his side, his winnings from the spoils of the war. Clytemnestra greets him with overblown and excessive oratory, spreading purple carpets for him to walk on. The king denounces such delicate pomp, yet walks on them anyway, unwittingly proclaiming a rather chilly illustration of his own character and a whisper of his fate:

"Discordant is the murmur at such treading down
of lovely things; while God's most lordly gift to man
is decency of mind. Call that man only blest
who has in sweet tranquillity brought his life to close.
If I could only act as such, my hope is good."

Again, Agamemnon has idealistic wishes for a good outcome to his struggles, yet he almost seems to realize that it is a futile hope. The trampling and "crushing" of the purple carpets symbolize his trampling and crushing of all that is delicate and beautiful: Iphigenia, Troy and soon, Cassandra.

message 9: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Agamemnon
(lines 975 - 1342)

Clytemnestra attempts to invite Cassandra inside, but she silently resists until Clytemnestra gives up and enters herself, leaving Cassandra alone with the Chorus. Finally, the girl speaks, but the words flowing from her lips are laments and apocalyptic premonitions. She relates her own story, and also begins to offer vague prophecies of calamity and death, revealing the cause of the melancholy and impeding doom which blankets the city in spite of the return of its king. She claims to foresee her death and Agamemnon’s at the hands of a woman, however, the chorus, bewildered and startled by her claims, refuses to believe her. Her last words are pregnant with eerie foreshadowing:

“….. That room within reeks with blood like a slaughterhouse …”

Resigned to her fate, she enters the house ....

message 10: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Agamemnon
(lines 1343 - end)

Suddenly Agamemnon cries out: “Ah, I am struck a deadly blow and deep with!” At this point, the Chorus fragments, undecided and perplexed as to what they should do. When the doors of the palace open, Clytemnestra is standing over the prone and bloody bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra, bringing the Chorus’ horror to its peak, as Clytemnestra describes the murder of her husband claiming Agamemnon’s evil deed to his daughter as her right. The Chorus, while still bewildered, finally agrees that judgement between them is unclear and revisits the cause of the war with Troy: the repercussions from Helen’s perfidy still resound.

Aegisthus (Clytemnestra’s lover) enters the scene, exchanging insults with the Chorus, but Clytemnestra attempts to calm his ire, claiming that the curse has been cancelled by her act of retribution. She and Aegisthus will be able to reign in peace and benevolence. The altercation does not diminish as the play ends.

message 11: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The next play in the trilogy is The Libation Bearers, and we get a hint of one of its characters in this play, when Clytemnestra mentions that she has sent their son, Orestes, away to safety when there were rumours of unrest in Argos. In the second play, Orestes returns.

message 12: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Greek scholars bring out a number if interesting points in this first play that would not be apparent to a modern audience. The Greek spectators would have been expecting Cassandra to remain silent and have Clytemnestra draw her out, a common strategy in Greek theatre. The fact that Cassandra actually speaks would have astounded onlookers, therefore making her speeches and presence much more powerful.

They also highlight the masculinity of Clytemnestra, noting the Greek words she uses to describe herself as being very masculine references to a Greek audience. The fact that she is placed in the doorway of the house (“oikos” – a woman’s domain) as the murderess, would have been appalling to the viewers. While near the end of the play, she attempts to reclaim her sex as woman, the male images of power, vengeance, murder and ruthlessness still remain.

Hubris in Greek does not simply mean pride but instead indicates wanton violence motivated by pride. Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra suffer this poisonous quality.

message 13: by Connie (new)

Connie Paradowski | 50 comments Thank you so much for all the great information. This is my first experience with ancient Greek literature and am enjoying it greatly. Because I am approaching this as a complete novice I read it first and then read the introduction. This was possible thanks to you and my husband who is more knowledgeable about Greek mythology.

message 14: by Cleo (last edited Sep 11, 2019 09:34AM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Thanks so much for your kind words, Connie, they are much appreciated! I had others help me when I first began to read Greek literature, so I hope I can now pass on some of their wisdom and help others enjoy it as much as I do! If your husband has anything to add about the gods/goddesses and their effect in the story, please feel free to pass the information on. The gods are somewhat more removed in this play than, for example, The Iliad, but they are never out of the picture! (Note: well, except for The Eumenides!)

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 409 comments I must have misread someone's post and responded. Sorry about that--long-winded response deleted :)

message 16: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Renate wrote: "In justifying her killing, The Queen mentions The King's sexual adventures, i.e., rape, of conquered women during the war. This, especially his taking Ajax's woman, is extensively described elsewhere."

Might want to move this comment to the Spoilers thread Renate.

message 17: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Bryan "goes on a bit too long" wrote: "I must have misread someone's post and responded. Sorry about that--long-winded response deleted :)"

Bryan, my friend, you could never be long-winded! You didn't have to delete anything!!! 😁

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 409 comments Well thank you, Loretta. My post looked kind of silly hanging out there in the wind since the question was gone, so I figured it was better to delete it than have everyone wonder what in the world I was talking about.

message 19: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Libation Bearers

The play opens with Orestes standing at the tomb of Agamemnon, with a request to Hermes (or “Cthonic Hermes” who acts as a messenger between the Olympian gods and the Underworld) for favour and for the ear of his father, to bring his spirit back into play. Sadly, in the only surviving manuscript of The Libation Bearers brought to Florence in the 15th century, the opening speech is damaged and there are number of missing lines, the number of which can only be guessed (an estimate is 80 lines). However, other lines survive in works of other authors: the first five lines are written in Aristophanes’ play, The Frogs, and other lines can be found in the commentaries of other authors, however, it is expected that most of the explanatory prologue has been lost.

As Orestes lays a lock of his hair on the tomb to honour his dead father, a Chorus of women, dressed all in black, hurry towards the grave. As they approach, Orestes and his companion, Pylades, hide themselves and he recognizes his sister, Electra, among the mourners.

The women are captive slaves who have been sent by Clytaemestra to pour libations (liquid offerings) on Agamemnon’s grave in response to a nightmare which has disturbed her sleep. The dead king rages through the queen’s dreams and she will placate his spirit if she can, but the Chorus sings of the impossibility. The crime committed far exceeds any reparation.

message 20: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Bryan "goes on a bit too long" wrote: "I must have misread someone's post and responded. Sorry about that--long-winded response deleted :)"

Long-winded often equals a good discussion and a sharing of ideas. Please keep up the long-windedness! :-)

message 21: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Bryan "goes on a bit too long" wrote: "Well thank you, Loretta. My post looked kind of silly hanging out there in the wind since the question was gone, so I figured it was better to delete it than have everyone wonder what in the world ..."


message 22: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Libation Bearers #2

Electra’s conflict is truly pitiable. How can she complete the task in true principle? Both her father’s body and memory have been disgraced, and furthermore the acts were perpetrated by her own mother. How can she give her father prayers from his own murderer? Should she simply pour the libations into the ground? In a fascinating exchange, the Chorus acts as a teacher or mentor, instructing Electra in almost a Socratic way, encouraging her to pray for retribution and the return of Orestes. First praying to Hermes, Electra’s prayer then moves to her father, asking for vengeance with a glimmer of hope that good will come out of it, almost like her father’s wish in Agamemnon. Can good come out of evil? We shall see …………..

Reaching the tomb, Electra is astonished to discover the lock of hair, then she finds footprints, and finally Orestes comes out of concealment. However, his presence is met with doubt by his sister, yet after convincing her of his identity, she gives him all her familial love. After praying to Zeus, Orestes recounts the oracle at Delphi and his order of vengeance, however he admits that even if Apollo would not persuade him to revenge, his own personal desires would ensure the act, dismissing both Clytaemestra and Aegisthus as “women”.

As Orestes and Electra exchange prayers, mostly to their father, Orestes’ resolve becomes more driven by personal desire than duty. He then learns of Clytaemestra’s dream; she birthed a snake that drew blood as it suckled, and Orestes claims the dream a portent of the coming murder of his mother. With the chorus spurring them on to action, Orestes orders Electra to keep secret his arrival and to go inside, whereupon he leaves with Pylades to find Aegisthus and kill him.

message 23: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Libation Bearers #3

As the chorus sings of parents who have murdered their children (such as Althaea & Meleager – see Metamorphoses Book VIII) and children who have killed their parents (such as Nisus and his daughter [Syclla] – see Metamorphoses Book VIII), Orestes arrives at the palace and announces to his mother the death of Orestes. Not recognizing him, she laments the curse of the House but her regret appears mild, as the slave Cilissa later confirms when she notes there was a “smile inside her [Clytaemestra’s] eyes”. Cilissa, guided by the Chorus, takes a message to Aegisthus that he needs not his bodyguard while meeting the stanger, allowing Orestes his moment of revenge. As a servant careens through the door, calling a riddle about the living killing the dead, Clytaemestra arrives and with the courage of a man, calls for an ax. As the truth dawns, Clytaemestra’s words change to the feminine, recalling her care of her son as a child. As Orestes’ resolve falters, Pylades reminds him of his duty and he finally enacts revenge for the death of his father, Agamemnon. And in a gross re-enactment of the death of Agamemnon and Cassandra, Orestes is shown standing over the bodies of his mother and her lover, a further echo of the curse blanketing the house of Atreus.

message 24: by Cleo (last edited Sep 19, 2019 09:21PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Libation Bearers #4

Orestes’ speech after the murder begins with a justification of his action, but soon the audience sees his assurance begin to break down and his mental state becomes tenuous. Though victorious, he feels the evil in his deed. Since Apollo had counselled his actions, he will go to him as a suppliant to beg his advice:

“I would have you know, I see not how this thing will end.
I am a charioteer whose course is wrenched outside
the track, for I am beaten, my rebellious senses
bolt with me headlong and the fear against my heart
is ready for the singing and dance of wrath. But while
I hold some grip still on my wits ………
…. I go an outcast wanderer from this land, and leave
behind, in life, in death, the name of what I did.”

Though no one else can see them, Orestes can now see the “bloodhounds of his mother’s hate.” These Furies punish family members who have harmed family members, in particular, children who have abused parents. Orestes rushes out in torment and the chorus laments, wondering what will happen to the family of Atreus.

message 25: by Michaela (new)

Michaela | 178 comments Thanks Cleo for all this information! I finished the book recently, working with two translations in German (my mother tongue), but it wasn´t always easy to understand, though I know the story on the whole.

message 26: by Pillsonista (last edited Sep 20, 2019 02:13PM) (new)

Pillsonista | 261 comments Please don't take offense, Michaela, when I say this, but your English is so good that I never would have guessed that German (or any other language) is your mother tongue.

Congratulations on your mastery. I used to have a day job as a tutor for students learning English as a second language, so I know how difficult it can be.

EDIT: And apologies for going off-topic. I'll just leave it at that.

message 27: by Michaela (new)

Michaela | 178 comments Thanks Pillsonista, I´m very flattered! :)

message 28: by Cleo (last edited Sep 20, 2019 03:32PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments You're very welcome, Michaela! I wouldn't have known you weren't English-speaking either. I took German for a year in school and had an excellent teacher so I picked up alot, but still it's very basic. I've always had intentions of studying it further but of course that ever-elusive thing called "time" (or lack of it) has prevented me. Perhaps one day .....

message 29: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The plays of The Oresteia are astonishingly well-constructed. All the questions of revenge and justice and murder and duty are woven with a skillful needle throughout the drama, weaving a tapestry that at times can be alternately poignant, terrifying, suspenseful or appalling.

Setting Electra, a princess of Argos, among captive slaves is very effective. In effect, she is a slave as well, impotent in her ability to do anything about the situation. Essentially, by placing her among the women, they are made allies in their mental battle against her mother, Clytaemestra, and Aegisthus.

We’ve continued with the theme from Agamemnon of discordant responsibilities that bring conflicting thoughts and either paralyzed or inconsistent action. Apollo has threatened Orestes with madness if he does not avenge his father, yet the Furies promise the same fate if he does. His dilemma is identical to that of his father. With blood justice comes the duty of killing but the process is always cyclical and the avenger often does not escape his own fate. As to the limitations of this type of justice, Aeschylus makes them obvious.

message 30: by Cleo (last edited Sep 20, 2019 03:35PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments I noticed either a “cataloguing” or a “sandwiching” of themes or issues within this play. Initially Aeschylus mentions “bright/half-dark/gloom” within three lines of the play; Electra says “… between my prayer for good and prayer for good I set this prayer for evil;” the Chorus asks for Justice (good), based on hatred in exchange for hatred, then invokes the spirit of Right (good); and throughout the play a connection is implied between the gods (heaven & Apollo), Orestes and Electra (their struggles on earth), and Hades & Agamemnon (Underworld or under earth).

There are a couple of issues in this play that readers might like to be aware of. The scene where Clytaemestra is pleading with Orestes and bares her breast to him, is not in the original play, and merely an addition by some overexuberant revisionist fond of gratuitous additions.

I also noticed a few non-scholarly commentaries that mention that women in this play are portrayed as “weak” and their place in the home is disparaged and devalued. In fact, in ancient Greece there were two important roles that both sexes fulfilled and, unlike modern times, there was no crossing over between the two. The women’s role in the home was considered an important one and in court if there was evidence with regard to a home in a legal case, the woman’s evidence or opinion would be taken over a man’s. Interesting, isn’t it?

Next, The Eumenides!

message 31: by Cleo (last edited Sep 22, 2019 06:15PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Eumenides #1

Time passes and Orestes arrives at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still pursued by the Furies. His conflict continues in tormenting unrelief and he appeals to Apollo for alleviation from his guilt. He has avenged his father, but in doing so has murdered his mother. Divine command has clashed with divine decree, and he is helpless to navigate his way through the maze of paradoxical possibilities. The priestess, Pythia, is shocked to find him in the suppliant’s chair with a sword dripping with blood and the sleeping Furies surrounding him. A spell has been placed upon them by Apollo so Orestes can travel unhampered to Athens, which he does after Apollo absolves him of complicity in his murder of Clytaemestra. But now he must seek Athena for a possible resolution to his dilemma.

message 32: by Renate (new)

Renate Cleo wrote: "I noticed either a “cataloguing” or a “sandwiching” of themes or issues within this play. Initially Aeschylus mentions “bright/half-dark/gloom” within three lines of the play; Electra says “… betwe..."
The home, reserved for women, is a much more limited sphere than everything else that was open to men.

message 33: by Cleo (last edited Sep 23, 2019 09:54PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Renate wrote: "The home, reserved for women, is a much more limited sphere than everything else that was open to men.

I guess that all depends. Nowadays we tend to minimize the importance of the household over work/career. However, what if the Greeks saw the household as important as the polis (city) the man's domain? Aristotle saw the household (oikos) as the basic social unit of the polis.

message 34: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments The Eumenides #2

Yet the ghost of Clytemnestra awakens the Furies and they pursue their prey to Athens, where Orestes is suppliant, and at the Aeropagus the goddess Athena must intervene with a jury of men to pronounce sentence upon the tormented man. Immediately Apollo is set up as Orestes’ defence, while the Furies appear as the prosecution in support of Clytaemestra’s ghost, yet in the end, by a tally of votes, Orestes is acquitted.

message 35: by Renate (new)

Renate Cleo wrote: "Renate wrote: "The home, reserved for women, is a much more limited sphere than everything else that was open to men.

I guess that all depends. Nowadays we tend to minimize the importance o..."

who would have the ultimate say over whom the son or daughter could marry?

message 36: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Renate wrote: "who would have the ultimate say over whom the son or daughter could marry? .."

The man would have the final "technical" say but we don't know how much weight the woman would have in the background before the decision was made.

And that is another discussion altogether. Is it best for the parents/father to choose? An arguement could be made for this case; who better to decide than people who have had years of experience and insight in the matter than a young person who is more likely to be swayed by emotion.

And in modern times, the skyrocketing divorce rate doesn't necessary support that having the couples decide is a better practice.

message 37: by Cleo (last edited Sep 29, 2019 07:38PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments This play is perhaps the most complex and difficult of the trilogy. The Furies are older than both Apollo and Athena, and it is thought that they symbolize the old pre-democratic system of ancient Greece. Their childish simplicity of pre-Hellenic times clashes with the more sophisticated Hellenism of Apollo, where reason, intellect and civility are emphasized; to the Furies, the reason why Orestes has blood on his hands is unimportant, only that it is there. Yet while Apollo’s reasoning is more refined, his advice and actions echo a similar cruelty to his counterparts. Athena must intervene, reconciling man to woman, traditional to modern, and barbarism to culture. To do this she surprisingly convenes a Jury of Athenian men, effectively entrusting the burden of judgement and the transformation to a more equitable society onto the shoulders of men, deeming certain situations and conflicts too complex to be judged by one individual.

message 38: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments In this case, we do no know if the jury has an odd or even number of members, and these numbers do affect our interpretation, as the votes are balanced and for a decision, Athena’s vote is required. Did she break a tie or did she make one? In either case, Orestes is acquitted but what is the implication of each scenario? If Athena’s vote was needed to break a tie, it is implied that human justice still cannot resolve the dilemma; in the later case, it would appear humans are still drawn to the old ways and her vote is needed to push them towards a new order. In either case, the gods are still necessary.

message 39: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments At the point of writing the play, the Greeks had a court system in place, but Aeschylus back-dates it into myth to weave together the old justice system with the new. The Aeropagus council dominated Athenian government in the 6th century, but by 5th century their powers were curtailed, during the reforms of 462. It is thought that Aeschylus’ trilogy was addressing these reforms, however, there is dissension among scholars over whether he is admonishing the reformers for not respecting the old system or stressing its importance. In The Eumenides, the Furies are not discarded, rather they are absorbed by the new order and changed into ‘the kindly ones’.

message 40: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Thank you very much Cleo for leading this discussion! It was chock full of information and insight! 😊

message 41: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Happy to do it, Loretta!

message 42: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Cleo wrote: "Happy to do it, Loretta!"


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