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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments The myth, and curse, of the House of Atreus

The myth of the House of Atreus is critical to understanding the Oresteia. Aeschylus expected his audience to know it, just as a modern American playwright would expect audiences to understand the basic story of Robin Hood or Little Red Riding Hood.

So I think it is valuable for us to know the basic mythical background as we start reading the plays.

But we must also keep in mind that there is no single authorized version of the myth. Just as Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood have gone through numerous retellings with the basic story line intact but many details changed by different authors over the years (if you’re dubious about this, check out the Wikipedia entry for LRRH!), so the story of the House of Atreus had a core which was embellished and morphed as it passed through the centuries from oral bard to oral bard.

The heart of the myth is this.

Tantalus, a son of Zeus by a human mother, was the king of Sipylus. As one of the first generations of mortals, he was allowed to dine with the gods. There are a variety of versions of why he angered the gods, but the most common one is that in order to test the gods’ omniscience, he cooked up and served his son Pelops to the Gods. All of them recognized this deception and refused to eat except for Demeter, who was distracted by sorrow over her missing daughter; she ate a piece of the shoulder, so when the gods put Pelops back together, they had to give him an ivory shoulder.

This naturally outraged the gods. They punished him by placing him in a pool where, when he tries to drink, the water recedes from him and when he tries to eat, the fruit over his head withdraws from him, thus tantalizing him with unattainable food (the source of our word tantalize, of course). This was the first curse put on the family.

Pelops married Hippodamia, and there’s a story about this, too, but not for now. But he killed two people, the second by pushing him off a cliff, who as he fell cursed Pelops and all his descendents. So that was the second, double curse on the family.

Pelops and Hippodamia had two sons, Thyestes and Atreus. Atreus killed his step-brother, and he and Thyestes fled to Mycenae, where he married Aerope. Thyestes cuckolded his brother, of which act Zeus shows his disapproval by reversing the course of the sun. Atreus banished his brother, but later pretended to make up with him and invited him to a feast, where he fed him a stew of his, Thyestes’s, sons, after the meal showing him the hands and feet of the children he had eaten. Thyestes naturally curses Atreus and all his line; the third curse of the house of Atreus.

At this point, as Vandiver points out, this family has committed rape, murder, incest, adultery, and cannibalism (twice), and has been thrice cursed. The ultimate dysfunctional family. All unhappy families may be unhappy in their own way, but this one seems unhappy in every way.

Atreus and Hippodamia were the parents of Agamemnon and Menelaus, of the Oresteia. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, married Clytemnestra, and Menelaus, king of Sparta, married Helen. [That’s the standard Homeric version; Aeschylus has them both in Argos.]

When Paris, one of many sons of Priam, king of Troy, came to Sparta, he made off with Helen. (The story of the golden apple figures in here, but it’s not critical to the Oresteia.) This angered Zeus because it was a violation of the guest-host relationship which was Zeus’s special concern, and he ordered the Greeks to go retrieve Helen. Menelaus turned to his older brother Agamemnon to lead the Greeks into battle (this was traditional), and the fleet gathered ready to sail. But the winds were constantly against them. Agamemnon consulted the soothsayers, and found that Artemis was holding the fleet captive. One traditional version of the legend is that Agamemnon had killed a sacred deer in Artemis’s forest and then boasted that he was a better huntsman than Artemis, which angered her and made her hold the fleet windbound, but Aeschylus clearly doesn’t accept this version, because he repeatedly says that Agamemnon was not the reason for her opposition. Anyhow, Artemis demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenina (though this seems to be a post-Homeric addition). Agamemnon is thus caught between the commands of two gods, Zeus ordering him to Troy and Artemis demanding the sacrifice. He makes the sacrifice, and the winds change and they sail for Troy, but his sacrifice has outraged Clytemnestra. (In other versions, akin to the Abraham and Isaac story, Artemis snatches Iphigenina at the last moment and substitutes a deer, but Aeschylus rejects this and has the sacrifice of Iphigenina proceed.)

Agamemnon is away for ten years at Troy. During his absence, Clytemnestra takes as a lover Aegisthus, who it turns out was Thyestes’s son (one story has him only a baby at the time of the feast and so not cooked with the rest of the children; another has it that Thyestes was later told by an oracle to father a son to revenge him, and does so by either seducing or raping his own daughter, so Agisthus is both son and grandson). Aegisthus is thus Agamemnon’s cousin, indeed both first cousin and first cousin once removed if I have my genealogical terms right.

There’s more, of course. There always is in Greek myth. We can explore further details and other versions of the myth as our reading proceeds. But this will I hope do as a start to understanding some of the background of and references in Agamemnon.

Sources I used, in addition to memory:
Apollodorus, Library of Greek Mythology
Oxford Classical Dictionary
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.
Elizabeth Vandiver, Teaching Company course Greek Tragedy
Elizabeth Vandiver, Teaching Company course Classical Mythology


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Thank you for this information, Everyman! It is greatly appreciated. I have heard that a reasonably solid understanding of the Trojan War and the House of Atreus is helpful when reading The Oresteia.


message 3: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 10, 2010 10:21PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments "Thyestes cuckolded his brother, of which act Zeus shows his disapproval by reversing the course of the sun."

Why does Zeus disapprove of Thyestes's act while he (Zeus) had cuckolded quite a few mortals himself? I don't know much about Greek mythology, but I remember reading stories about him seducing married women.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

An interesting comment I ran across:

Curiously enough, Orestes' story has many close parallels with the Norse legend on which the story of Hamlet is based (son in exile is called upon to avenge a father killed by the man who has seduced his mother, perhaps with the mother's consent; the son carries out the act of killing his mother and her lover with great difficulty, undergoing fits of madness, and so on). Given that there is no suggestion of any possible literary-historical link between the origin of these two stories, the similarity of these plots offers a number of significant problems for psychologists and mythologists to explore. This puzzle is especially intriguing because the Hamlet-Orestes narrative is by far the most popular story in the history of English dramatic tragedy.

Would any of the classics/Shakespeare scholars care to discuss this idea a little more thoroughly?


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Kate wrote: "An interesting comment I ran across:

Curiously enough, Orestes' story has many close parallels with the Norse legend on which the story of Hamlet is based (son in exile is called upon to avenge a ..."


I shall peruse my copy of The Poetic Edda, Kate. It sounds vaguely familiar too.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for this great introduction Everyman.

How are curses made by humans the same as, or different from, curses made by gods?


message 7: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 11, 2010 09:11AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Everyman wrote: "Sources I used, in addition to memory:
...
Elizabeth Vandiver, Teaching Company course Greek Tragedy
Elizabeth Vandiver, Teaching Company course Classical Mythology
"


I have both of the Vandiver lecture sets and have enjoyed them immensely. I bought Classical Mythology long before I joined this group, simply because I have a long-standing interest in the topic, and picked up Greek Tragedy (along with her Iliad and Odyssey) as soon as we voted in the Oresteia.

I like her academic approach, particularly the logic of her arguments and her refusal to jump to conclusions, as well as her lecture style. The two sets of lectures have been particularly helpful in sorting out the full tale of the house of Atreus, providing an underpinning in the Greek mindset and understanding the staging.


message 8: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 11, 2010 09:16AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments A bit of synchronicity: I was listening to a lecture series on the development of western music in which the lecturer played a reconstruction of one of the few extant pieces of music from the classical world, a stasimon from Euripides's Orestes.

I found a version of it on YouTube. Unlike the one in the lecture, it doesn't include the chorus, but it credibly reproduces the tonal quality of the ancient piece. Although it's from a different work on the same subject, it provides a sense of what the Greek audience was hearing as they watched the tragedies.


message 9: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 11, 2010 09:25AM) (new)

MadgeUK Patrice wrote: "Thanks so much for a wonderful outline of a complicated tale.

I'm struck by two things. First, the connection to the Abraham and Isaac story. I'm fascinated by the connections between the bibli..."


Ugh what a horrid story!:O But thanks for taking the trouble to spell it out Everyman.

Patrice: In his book In Search of the First Civilisations the British historian Michael Wood writes of Iraq being 'the cradle of Civilisation' and tells of the English explorer, William Loftus, who in 1849 journeyed south from Baghdad into the plains of southern Iraq. There he found not only Sunni and Shia Muslims but communities of Jews, Mandaean baptists and Nestorian Christians. The latter could trace their presence in Iraq back to the earliest days of Christianity. 'Everywhere there were signs of deep continuities...Indeed all three monotheistic religions claimed a point of origin here, even before the classical legacy of Greece. Here had been the garden of Eden, the tower of Babel, Noah's Ark and the great Flood. And here, according to the Book of Genesis, the first cities had been built out of mudbrick "in the land of Shinar" [Shumer]. The author of Genesis named some of those cities: Babylon, Akkad and Erech.' Loftus found the ancient city of Uruk, the Biblical Erech which had been abandoned for over a thousand years. Excavating a 100ft of debris he was able to see that it had been lived in for a thousand years, till well into the first millennium AD when Greeks, Parthians and Sassanian Persians had made their homes there, leaving tell-tale traces in their pottery, coins, burial offerings, and also in their writing. For although Loftus could not have known it, the first proper writing on earth comes from southern Iraq. Indeed it is just conceivable that it was first invented in Uruk iself!.' Woods details and maps the contact between Iraq, Greece, India, China and Egypt, showing the trade and cultural heritage which these ancient civilisations have in common.


message 10: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Patrice wrote: "Thanks Aranthe, that was wonderful. But how on earth do they know?

I've heard that music performed on dvd's of Greek plays. I rented a performance of the Oresteia from the library a while ago."


When you ask "how...do they know," are you referring to the score, the instrumentation, the performance or that this music accompanied that particular work?

As for the first two and the last, they have manuscript documentation and archeological record for most of it. As to what they don't have—the gaps in the two records and performance—those are educated guesses.

From consistency between versions I've heard, I infer that the musical documentation must be reasonably complete; otherwise, I'd expect to hear more variation in the notes.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Why does Zeus disapprove of Thyestes's act while he (Zeus) had cuckolded quite a few mortals himself? "

You are suggesting that those in power shouldn't be hypocrites?

Yes, I had that same question myself. Indeed, Zeus cuckolded numerous men. But here I think it was partly the incest relationship -- seducing your brother's wife. And there's more background to the story. At the time of the incident, Mycenae was without a king. They had been told by the oracle to seek a son of Pelops to be their king. Thyestes and Atreus argued over which of them should be king. Thyestes proposed that whoever possesed a golden lamb or fleece (this is not the Argonauts fleece, but another) would rule. Atreus had one, so agreed. But he didn't know that Thyestes had not only seduced Aerope but persuaded her to give him the fleece, so he then claimed the kingship. But Atreus asked for an omen as to whether the gods agreed that Thyestes should rule, and they sent one of the clearest possible omens: the sun reversed course and set in the East. So Atreus became king and banished his brother. According to several versions of the legend, at the time he didn't realize that Thyestes had slept with his wife, but in mulling over how Thyestes had gotten the fleece in the first place, he realized what had happened, which is why he invited Thyestes back on the pretext of making up, and you know the rest of the story.

But as to why Zeus disapproves of mortals doing what he himself did over and over, well, gods will be gods is about the best I can do.


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kate wrote: "An interesting comment I ran across:

Curiously enough, Orestes' story has many close parallels with the Norse legend on which the story of Hamlet is based ..."


Very interesting. But is it really surprising? There are parallels to many folk legends in differing cultures. Either these arose independently because they are basic concepts of being human, or else wandering bards wandered far and wide over the then known world and carried stories with them which got adapted and changed by each culture to fit its purposes.

This is a fascinating study in its own right, but one requiring a lot more time and space than I have here!


message 13: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 11, 2010 10:59AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Patrice wrote: "I was not aware that they could read Greek musical scores. The instruments are on the pottery but I thought the way they were used was a mystery. I have seen people create musical and dance perfo..."

Here's a nice article from The Atlantic Monthly on a scholar, Dimitrios Yatromanolakis, who is intent on reconstructing ancient music: "Notes from Antiquity" (Toby Lester, author).

There's also this article on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's site: "Music in Ancient Greece"


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Aranthe wrote: "Patrice wrote: "I was not aware that they could read Greek musical scores. The instruments are on the pottery but I thought the way they were used was a mystery. I have seen people create musical..."

Thanks for that link!! Really fascinating.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Aranthe wrote: "A bit of synchronicity: I was listening to a lecture series on the development of western music in which the lecturer played a reconstruction of one of the few extant pieces of music from the class..."

That's an interesting clip; thanks for finding it. I would like to know more about this.

Music was certainly very important to Greek life, religion, and tragedy -- much of the choral portion of the plays was sung. From what I understand, we do have some very limited information on Greek music -- 46 or 47 mostly fragmentary scores, some fragments of instruments, pictorial representations of instruments and players on vases. Quite a bit of work has been done trying to interpret all this -- the discussion on music is one of the longer entries in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. But since we have no actual example of the music being sung or played, of course, the interpretation of the scores, the tuning of the instruments, etc. are somewhat subjective (and subject to scholarly disagreements, what else is new?), and any reconstruction would require quite a bit of speculation and guesswork.

Which isn't surprising. How closely, for example, do you think musicians in the year 4500 could reproduce a Beethoven symphony, a Mozart cantata, a Wagner opera, or a Vivaldi sonata if none of the music had been recorded or played and no instruments made for 2,000 years, if all they had were some fragmentary portions of scores, perhaps six pages out of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the lyrics without the music of Valkyrie, a some partial pages of other works, parts of organs, violins, and horns dug up in archaeological expeditions after thousands of years in the ground, a few descriptions from writers of the time, and period paintings of the instruments and performers?

I do admire the attempts to reconstruct the music, and respect the work of the researchers and performers working on it, but any how close it comes to what the original audiences heard is, in my opinion, pretty dubious.

So, interesting, yes. Enjoyable to listen to, definitely. Authentic, dubious.

But definitely something I'm glad you posted and gave us a chance to listen to. It's certainly better to have something hopefully reasonably close to the original to have in our minds as we read the plays.


message 16: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Everyman wrote: "So, interesting, yes. Enjoyable to listen to, definitely. Authentic, dubious.

But definitely something I'm glad you posted and gave us a chance to listen to. It's certainly better to have something hopefully reasonably close to the original to have in our minds as we read the plays."


I've wondered at the overall lugubrious quality myself. While it suits parts of Orestes, it doesn't seem to be limited to that particular piece of music. One of the Greek drinking songs Prof. Greenburg played in the same lecture had a similar mournful tone—hardly what one would expect of a drinking song.

A physical limitation of the instruments, perhaps? As you say, there's only so much we can know, even from a clear visual record. Reconstructing instruments based on pottery or frescoes still assumes much in terms of materials and proportion.

Still, I enjoyed the attempt to reproduce the effect, even if it isn't exact: It functions as a reminder that some aspects of Greek thought may seem as strange and alien to us as the music seems to our ears.


message 17: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Aranthe wrote: "I've wondered at the overall lugubrious quality myself . . . A physical limitation of the instruments, perhaps?"

My guess is that the ancient Greeks composed in a different mode from the two currently used in Western music. Just listening to that recording I can be pretty sure that it isn't in one of those two.

Musical 'modes' are the arrangement of half steps and whole steps in the scales. Different cultures tend to use different modes; the East, for example, uses entirely different modes from the West.

Here in the West we use essentially two modes only, and have since the Renaissance (back in Medieval days we used a good half-dozen, maybe more).

Modes other than the modes one is used to hearing generally sound dissonant to the unacquainted listener and, well, lugubrious.

That's my guess- other musicians? Ideas?


message 18: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Hey, did anyone else here own (and adore) D'Aulaire's book of Greek Myths as a kid?

I did, and familiarizing myself with those stories when very young in the form of a (gorgeous) children's book made all the difference in my later understanding of literature. Still does.

For those who want to familiarize (or reaquaint) themselves with the basic outlines and most famous stories of Greek myth, but don't really want to slog through Edith Hamilton or whatever, I can't recommend better. I bought a copy while reading PL, to refer back to, and it's a pleasure.

They're remarkably un-sanitized for something presented to children. Zeus womanizes, Tantalus serves up his son in a pie- the whole nine yards.


message 19: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "Aranthe wrote: "I've wondered at the overall lugubrious quality myself . . . A physical limitation of the instruments, perhaps?"

My guess is that the ancient Greeks composed in a different mode fr..."


Aeolian, though I think that's our name for it, not theirs. But is mode a reflection of the physical limitations of the instruments, a reflection of a culture's perception of what is euphonic, or both?


message 20: by Rosemary (last edited Sep 11, 2010 02:41PM) (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments The Aeolian is the medieval name for what became our modern minor key. Major was Ionian.

Well, it'd depend on the instrument. If it's capable of playing a chromatic scale (like a modern violin, for example) it can be played in any mode. If it's not, then it would be locked into one mode. I have not the foggiest what ancient Greek instruments were like or how they were played.

However, I imagine that the makers of the instrument would choose that mode based on an aesthetic preference, which would be, as you say, a cultural perception.

Different cultures also consider different intervals euphonic. We like thirds and fifths, for example. Other intervals sound dissonant . . . and other cultures like them.

I guess my point here is that if the Greeks liked, eh, sevenths and fourths, or something, no matter how cheerful and lovely the music was to them, it will sound eerie and strange to us.


message 21: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments A question for Everyman and/or anyone else who is familiar with the Lattimore translation: I'm finding a dearth of punctuation—what in English would be flagrant run-on sentences. Is this a result of Lattimore's attempt to retain the meter and sense of the Greek?

In most cases, it's not a problem. Once I get into the rhythm of the language, it carries me along fairly well; every once in a while, however, I find the subject (or object) of a speech obscured or ambiguous because of it, and I'm not sure whether he left it that way intentionally, because it is equally ambiguous in the original language, or if it's his writing style.

I tasted a couple of other translations, including the Fagles. Both read more cleanly, but seemed a bit too overtly modern in places. As I'm familiar with the story and its basic imagery, I'd like to stay as close to the Greek text as possible, but I'd like to have a better handle on how much of what I'm reading is the attempt to retain Greek construction or literary devices and how much is Lattimore's style (if that's possible).


message 22: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "The Aeolian is the medieval name for what became our modern minor key."

Thank you! The last time I took music theory I was barely in my early teens, and it suffers from disuse, so your correction sent me on a scavenger hunt to update it.

Apparently no one is terribly certain that they even used the word we translate as mode in the same way that we do: In my poking around, I found one academic whose research suggests that ancient Greek modes had nothing to do with keys or scales, but were different ways of tuning a seven-string lyre. Not that it matters for Oresteia; just an interesting rabbit trail.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Aranthe wrote: "A question for Everyman and/or anyone else who is familiar with the Lattimore translation: I'm finding a dearth of punctuation—what in English would be flagrant run-on sentences. Is this a re..."

I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don't. I think you may well be right, since Greek scholars tend to say that his is the closest translation to how the Greek would have sounded had Aeschylus written in English, but I don't know for sure.


message 24: by Thomas (last edited Sep 11, 2010 06:00PM) (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Aranthe wrote: "A question for Everyman and/or anyone else who is familiar with the Lattimore translation: I'm finding a dearth of punctuation—what in English would be flagrant run-on sentences. Is this a re..."

My guess is that this is Lattimore translating literally to save the sense of the Greek, at the expense of fluid English. Meter in ancient Greek is determined by syllable length, not stress, so I don't think he's trying to save the meter. It's probably Aeschylus's complicated grammar.

If you can supply an example sentence I might be able to tell you more. Aeschylus is tough going, but I'll give it a shot.


message 25: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Aranthe wrote: "S. Rosemary wrote: "The Aeolian is the medieval name for what became our modern minor key."

Thank you! The last time I took music theory I was barely in my early teens, and it suffers from disuse,..."


I had to look it up in my textbook to remind myself. ;-)

How interesting, about the modes and ways to tune the lyre! We're getting far off track, but I do love these rabbit trails.


message 26: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Patrice wrote: "If anyone is interested there are several utubes of the Oresteia on line, masks and background music included!"

I've been slowly watching the one from BBC on my iPod touch, Patrice.

Also, LibriVox has a fairly good audio performance of the plays here: http://www.archive.org/details/oreste... They're using the E.D.A. Morshead verse translation: http://classics.mit.edu/Aeschylus/aga... It's a little hard to understand the chorus in the audio, so I'm listening and reading at the same time.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "I've been slowly watching the one from BBC on my iPod touch, Patrice."

Great find, Laurel.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "I attended a lecture in which he claims the Trojan war was fought in England. "

Uh, I'm not sure what to say about that. The mind boggles. Does he have any specific site in England where he thinks Troy was??


message 29: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 11, 2010 09:06PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "Patrice wrote: "I attended a lecture in which he claims the Trojan war was fought in England. "

Uh, I'm not sure what to say about that. The mind boggles. Does he have any specific site in Engla..."


I visited Schliemann's Troy when I was in Turkey.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy

I suppose that this is still the strongest candidate for Troy although there is some controversy about it. Wherever it is, it's surely not in England. ;)


message 30: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 11, 2010 09:24PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "Why does Zeus disapprove of Thyestes's act while he (Zeus) had cuckolded quite a few mortals himself? "

You are suggesting that those in power shouldn't be hypocrites?

Yes, I..."


Thanks for the elaboration, Everyman. I suppose that a God in any religion is above ordinary morality, but what made wonder is why Zeus makes such a big deal of it. It seems that it is the incest that actually draws his wrath and not merely the cuckolding.

"Thyestes proposed that whoever possesed a golden lamb or fleece (this is not the Argonauts fleece, but another) would rule. Atreus had one, so agreed. But he didn't know that Thyestes had not only seduced Aerope but persuaded her to give him the fleece, so he then claimed the kingship."

This reminds me of the Genesis story in which Jacob deceived Isaac to bless him by wearing goatskins. Apparently in ancient Mediterannean/Near East you have to be hairy to be a leader of your tribe/nation. : )


message 31: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "I checked out his theory about England being the site for Troy with a Greek scholar and he just laughed. David claims that anyone who goes to Troy can see that it can't be the right location. But..."

From what I remember from the visit and subsequent readings on it, the controversy seems to arise because the ruins that Schliemann claimed to be Troy is actually from a much earlier age. Apparently his excavation method was not up to professional archeological standards and he destroyed a lot of evidence that could have been used to accurately date the sites.

I remember being shown a portion of a city wall that is supposed to date from Priam's Troy, but apparently no one knows for sure.


message 32: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "Interesting! I'd so love to go there myself.

If I remember correctly David's criticism was that the shoreline was not as described in Homer. I think he said something about the sea being to..."


Patrice, if you love the classical world, you'd love Turkey. Besides Troy, I also visited Aphrodisias ( http://www.sacred-destinations.com/tu...) and Ephesus (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/tu...). Fascinating places.

I remember being able to see the sea from the site, but I have never read Homer, so I don't know how close the sea is supposed to be.


message 33: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "Wow! Thanks so much for those links Sandybanks. They took my breath away. I'd never heard of Aphrodisias before. Just wonderful!"

Glad you enjoy it, Patrice. Aphrodisias was some kind of a health spa during the Hellenistic era, with some of the best preserved Greek ruins in Turkey, including a theater. They might have staged Oresteia there!


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "From what I remember from the visit and subsequent readings on it, the controversy seems to arise because the ruins that Schliemann claimed to be Troy is actually from a much earlier age. "

That's right, but subsequent excavations have seemed, at least as I read the research, to say that this was indeed the site of Troy, or multiple Troys, that there were many layers of cities an Schleimann probably identified the wrong one as "the" Troy, but some other layer may well have been "the" Troy, though of course absolute certainty is impossible.


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "I remember being able to see the sea from the site, but I have never read Homer, so I don't know how close the sea is supposed to be. ."

Well, we'll have to remedy that if the Iliad ever gets picked by the random generator for a possible reading selection.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

If I am having so much trouble, perhaps others are too, and could also benefit from guidance. Following the pattern that worked well for me with Paradise Lost I got hold of both the Fagles and the, more modern, Meineck translations. (With PL, I no longer needed the "translation" after about Book Five.)

Anyway, armed with the posts here and the information from the introductions, I managed to get through Agamemnon with reasonable comprehension of the story. But when I turn to the Fagles, which clearly seems more "poetic" and faithful to Aeschylus's language, I get lost, tired and confused. Unlike Shakespeare or Milton, reading out loud doesn't seem to help.

I feel prepared to follow and participate in some of the discussion of the issues. But this comes more from my general experience and from the essays than it does from any real connection to the text yet.

Any thoughts? How did you first approach Aeschylus? What had to happen to "get him?"


message 37: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Sandybanks wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Interesting! I'd so love to go there myself.

If I remember correctly David's criticism was that the shoreline was not as described in Homer. I think he said something about ..."


Thanks for those images Sandybanks - what a wonderful place to have visited!#

I think Schliemann has been discredited. He discovered much but he fabricated and forged much too:(.

http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/1320Hist...

I first approached Aeschylus by seeing the plays performed so perhaps you might 'get him' by watching a couple of Youtube performances?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqFgCG...


message 38: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 12, 2010 03:06PM) (new)

MadgeUK Sandybanks wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Interesting! I'd so love to go there myself.

If I remember correctly David's criticism was that the shoreline was not as described in Homer. I think he said something about ..."


Thanks for those images Sandybanks - what a wonderful place to have visited!#

I think Schliemann has been discredited. He discovered much but he fabricated and forged much too:(.

http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/1320Hist...

I first approached Aeschylus by seeing the plays performed so perhaps you might 'get him' by watching a couple of Youtube performances?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqFgCG...


message 39: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "Any thoughts? How did you first approach Aeschylus? What had to happen to "get him?"

My first approach was in seminar with one of the truly great Greek teachers and scholars of the 20th century, Jacob Klein. I don't know whether I "got" him, but I sure learned to love the play.

If you have time, you might want to see whether you can borrow the Teaching Company lecture course on Greek Tragedy on interlibrary loan. My library shows that quite a few libraries have the vidio (CD) and audio (cassette) available.

I would suggest you buy it, since it's really worth it, but unfortunately it's not on sale right now, and I really only ever buy these courses when they're on sale (every course goes on sale at least once a year, so it's just a matter of timing), but if you can't get it on library loan, maybe if you called up and begged them and told them you needed it for a discussion now and if they didn't sell it to you now they never would, they would give you the sale price, which is usually about a third of the list price. Can't hurt to try.


message 40: by Everyman (last edited Sep 12, 2010 03:34PM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I think Schliemann has been discredited. He discovered much but he fabricated and forged much too:(."

He certainly exaggerated some of his finds, and tended to jump to invalid conclusions, but overall his work was invaluable in jump starting classical Greek archaeology. He did pretty certainly find the site where Troy was, even if he didn't correctly identify which ruins there were Trojan, and he did find the site of Mycenae, even if the "mask of Agamemnon" wasn't really from that era.


message 41: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "My first approach was in seminar with one of the truly great Greek teachers and scholars of the 20th century, Jacob Klein. I don't know whether I "got" him, but I sure learned to love the play."

What an honor! I've read some of his Plato commentary, and he is of course a legend at St. John's even now. It must have been something to have him in seminar.

I was utterly flummoxed the first time I read Oresteia, so I can sympathize with Zeke. After multiple readings in several translations I still find it puzzling. But I would venture to say that if you aren't puzzled at times, you might not be reading closely enough. This work is extraordinarily rich, but also very foreign -- some things that might have been obvious to an ancient Greek audience have to be spelled out for us, and other things about it are just plain mysterious. I'm looking forward to seeing how much of the shroud we're able to pull away.


message 42: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Everyman wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "I remember being able to see the sea from the site, but I have never read Homer, so I don't know how close the sea is supposed to be. ."

Well, we'll have to remedy that if the I..."


I've been waiting for the random generator to give out either that or the Odyssey for a while. : ) I'm curious about them but I think I need to read them with a group.


message 43: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Patrice wrote: "Sandybanks, would mind sharing how you went there? Was it with a tour? I've heard the American Archaelogy Association conducts wonderful tours, always with an archaeologist."

Patrice, I went to Turkey with a tour group that I joined in London. It was just a 10-day general interest tour, so it was not focused on archeological sites, although we did visit quite a number of them. Besides the classical sites, we also visited Istanbul (The Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace, the Blue Mosque etc.), Rumi's tomb in Konya, Izmir (ancient Smyrna), Canakkale/Gallipolli and Cappadoccia (to see the early Christian catacombs and rock-cut churches). If you're really interested in the archeology, I think you can easily spend 2 to 3 weeks there.


message 44: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "But I would venture to say that if you aren't puzzled at times, you might not be reading closely enough. This work is extraordinarily rich, but also very foreign -- some things that might have been obvious to an ancient Greek audience have to be spelled out for us, and other things about it are just plain mysterious. I'm looking forward to seeing how much of the shroud we're able to pull away. "

Great reminder. Much as we like to see ourselves as the legacy of the Greeks, their culture was very different from ours, and we have to do some work to dig into some of the differences that become key elements in the Oresteia. But it'll be worth it. Definitely worth it.


message 45: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 12, 2010 09:33PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Zeke wrote: "If I am having so much trouble, perhaps others are too, and could also benefit from guidance. Following the pattern that worked well for me with Paradise Lost I got hold of both the Fagles and the,..."

Zeke, I used this online translation, originally recommended by another member here (Kate?), which is in plain English:

http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/aesch...

I'm not sure how accurate this one is in terms of duplicating the Greek poetry, but it is relatively easy to comprehend. I suppose comprehension trumps all the other factors in an initial reading (at least for me!), especially for something as ancient --- and thus strange as Oresteia.


message 46: by Rosemary (last edited Sep 13, 2010 04:03AM) (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Zeke, what 'translation' did you use for PL? I'm awfully curious.

Like you, I had an awfully hard time getting through the Oresteia with the first translation I picked up, which was the Lattimore. For me, the Fagles worked really well. I think perhaps I found his poetry so lovely that I was willing to spend more time and energy on it than I was willing for the Lattimore.

(Aside: I've loved Fagles's translations since reading his Odyssey in high school [the textbook had a different translation, but my dad bought me Fagles's when I had a tough time, and I fell in love].)

Even with a basic knowledge of the story, I spent a lot of time flipping backwards and forwards between the play and the synopsis. Some of the lyrical passages I'm pretty sure I didn't 'get' in all their depth, but I'm counting on the group discussion to help me out.

I'll probably do the second, group, reading with a different translation . . . maybe I can hack the Lattimore this time. Maybe.


message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm glad that my confession of difficulty resonated with both experienced readers and others who are struggling. Together, I think we will have a very rich discussion. My wife keeps raising her eyebrows at what I consider "pleasure" reading.

S. Rosemary: I read the Meineck translation first. I found it fairly easy to follow, but I was aware, in my bones, that it didn't sound "right." I will be interested in what E-man has to say, since I believe he is going to check it out.

The other one I have is the Fagles. It sounds very different, but I find it more difficult.

One matter that I hope will be discussed early on is something both introductory essays mention. This is the apparent intentional obscurity and ambiguity of much of the text.


message 48: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 13, 2010 05:30AM) (new)

Zeke wrote: "If I am having so much trouble, perhaps others are too ... Anyway, armed with the posts here and the information from the introductions, I managed to get through Agamemnon with reasonable comprehension of the story. But when I turn to the Fagles, which clearly seems more "poetic" and faithful to Aeschylus's language, I get lost, tired and confused. "

Thanks for posting this, because I'm getting bogged down just trying to get through the introductory essay! I don't have the background in Greek Tragedy the author seems to assume his readers have. But now, reading your post, I don't think skipping the intro and jumping right into Agamemnon would be a better idea, so I'm going to try to keep plowing ahead and not worry about what goes over my head.


message 49: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "S. Rosemary: I read the Meineck translation first. I found it fairly easy to follow, but I was aware, in my bones, that it didn't sound "right." I will be interested in what E-man has to say, since I believe he is going to check it out."

I do have the Meineck, also just got teh Fagles, and of course have the Lattimore.

But at the level of the discussion we're likely to get into in just two weeks per play, I'm not sure the translations are going to have that much importance. When we get into quandries, we can look to Thomas to interpret the original Greek for us, but otherwise, I think perhaps we should worry less about the translations we're using, all of which I think are competent, and more about what Aeschylus is saying, what he's trying to do, the interplay of man and gods, the effects of a family curse and how the sins of the parents carry onto and are reflected in the sins of the children (the Greeks of the heroic period in which the play is set very much believed in family curses that carried over for generations, and the Greeks of the 5th century when the play was written may well still have held those beliefs, or may not -- I'm not really clear about that -- maybe Thomas or somebody else is?), and many other aspects of the psychology and power of the plays.

So my advice is to find a translation that works for you, and enjoy it. If you then want to go and read another and compare then, fine, but I frankly wouldn't get too hung up at this point on the translations.


message 50: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 13, 2010 08:09AM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments "There are a variety of versions of why he angered the gods, but the most common one is that in order to test the gods’ omniscience, he cooked up and served his son Pelops to the Gods."

I'm curious as to whether the ancient Greeks ever had a tradition of human sacrifice like the Moloch worshippers in the Old Testament.


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