The Greek book of the week – The Orestia by Aeschylus
The civilization of Ancient Greece continue to fascinate the modern mind. It’s remote in time, and yet still close to us. This is partly because we owe to the classical world so many of the values and ideas which shape our society, literature and art, partly because many of the important moral and political issues which continue to exercise twenty-first century man were first addressed in the ancient world.
The Orestia by Aeschylus (458 BC). (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, Eumenides)
Aeschylus was a prolific playwright who is often referred to as the father of tragedy. However, only 7 of the perhaps 90 plays that Aeschylus wrote are preserved.
The Orestia is a trilogy performed at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC. Probably The Orestia is Aeschylus’ best work. The trilogy:
• Agamemnon the first play of the trilogy, details the return of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae or Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting for him is his wife Clytaemestra, who had begun an affair with Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus. Clytaemestra kills Agamemnon and she and Aegisthus proclaim themselves the rulers of Argos.
• The Libation Bearers is the second play of The Orestia. It takes place a few years later. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, kills Clytaemestra and Aegisthus to avenge his father. He’s immediately pursued by the Furies, spirits that avenge injustice.
• Eumenides is the third and final play of The Orestia. Orestes, tormented by the Furies, flees to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. There, the Furies surround him but Athena intervenes. She calls on twelve Athenians to join her in forming a jury that will judge Orestes.
In exploring the ancients we learn something about ourselves as well because the emotions generated and the dilemmas of judgment forced upon the characters are timeless and integral parts of the human condition.