Review: “Oresteia” by Aeschylus

The Oresteia is a trilogy of interrelated tragedies.  It is comprised of the plays AgamemnonThe Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides.   In each play,Aeschylus debates the importance of moral duty and whether Divine law or natural law commands superior obedience from humans.

Agamemnon begins with the triumphant return of Agamemnon to Argos from Troy.  Although Klytemnestra’s hatred for Agamemnon is quickly made evident, her feelings worsen upon her husband’s acknowledgement of his Trojan concubine, the prophetess Kassandra.  Amid Kassandra’s ignored warnings about Agamemnon’s impending murder, Klytemnestra leads her husband into the trap she has prepared for him.  Aeschylus notes that Klytemnestra is guilty of murder, but Agamemnon is not without blame.  He openly insults his wife and his entire court by keeping Kassandra.  His sacrifice of Klytemnestra’s daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis has not been forgotten.  In Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon’s hubris and greed are displayed in a similar situation.

In The Libation Bearers, the children of Agamemnon, Elektra and Orestes, plan to punish their mother and her new lover, Aegisthus.  The love-hate relationship between Klytemnestra and her children shows their internal conflicts; they hate their mother for murdering their father, but they still love her as their mother.  Even with the doubtful morality of their choice, Elektra and Orestes persevere in their mother’s murder as well as the murder of her lover.  Klytemnestra’s final pleas are very touching, and Aeschylus seems to pity Klytemnestra in spite of her crimes.

The Eumenides is simply the judgment and trial of Orestes after the murders by Athena, Apollo, the Eumenides (the Furies), and a human jury.  Divine law and natural law are accounted for, and the jury must determine Orestes’ guilt or innocence.

Original review: Part 3: Notable Ancient Greek playwrights,


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