The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides (Penguin Classics)
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Aeschylus (525-c.456 bc) set his great trilogy in the immediate aftermath of the Fall of Troy, when King Agamemnon returns to Argos, a victor in war. Agamemnon depicts the hero's discovery that his family has been destroyed by his wife's infidelity and ends with his death at her callous hand. Clytemnestra's crime is repaid in The Choephori when her outraged son Orestes kills both her and her lover. The Eumenides then follows Orestes as he is hounded to Athens by the Furies' law of vengeance and depicts Athene replacing the bloody cycle of revenge with a system of civil justice. Written in the years after the Battle of Marathon, "The Oresteian Trilogy" affirmed the deliverance of democratic Athens not only from Persian conquest, but also from its own barbaric past.
they who encourage Electra at first to pray for the violent deaths of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. As soon as they recognize Orestes they encourage him to action, and place themselves under his orders. They persuade the Nurse to tell Aegisthus to come without his armed escort. The doubt and abhorrence which torture Orestes do not exist for them, either before or after the deed is done. Their outlook is that of the chthonian religion, modified by reliance on Apollo for his promised purification.
message noosed my throat in a hung cord, Which force against my will untied. These fears explain Why our child is not here to give you fitting welcome, Our true love’s pledge, Orestes. Have no uneasiness. He is in Phocis, a guest of Strophius your well-tried friend, Who warned me of peril from two sources : first, the risk Threatening your life at Troy; then, if conspiracy Matured to popular revolt in Argos, fear Of man’s instinct to trample on his feilen lord. Such was his
In the men’s quarters, and give them worthy entertainment. Be exact and diligent; you will be held responsible. – I will report this news to the king; and with our friends – For we have many – we will discuss the situation. All go into the palace. CHORUS: Come, women ! Soon our hearts must nerve Our tongues to speak, and show that we Though weak, are loyal, and can serve Orestes in emergency. O earth revered, O sacred mound That grief and love for mourning made, Sad
struck or slighted, In loud and vain distress Often will cry, a stranger To the new wickedness, Which soon shall reach and ruin The house of Righteousness. For fear, enforcing goodness, Must somewhere reign enthroned, And watch men’s ways, and teach them, Through self-inflicted sorrow, That sin is not condoned. What man, no longer nursing Fear at his heart – what city, Once fear is cast away, Will bow the knee to Justice As in an earlier day? Seek neither licence, where no
Thenceforth there is no way to turn aside. Cf. p. 50, ‘Shameless self-willed infatuation Emboldens men,’ etc. As in the story of Faust, there is a point beyond which the sinner cannot turn back, even though forgiveness is still offered. ‘Infatuation’ is in Greek Ate, which has been an English word, if rare, at least since Shakespeare used it of Queen Elinor in King John. In that safe dimness. The sinner is thought of as shunning the light, lest God should find him out. Cf. The Choephori, p.105,