Skip to main content. Try Prime Kindle Store. Published April by Oberon Books. Written in English. There s no description. Get this from a library! The murders at Argos ; Cressida among the Greeks. The play is set in Ancient Greece but the world of the play is hilariously, horrifyingly modern: the absent. Please click button to get murders at argos cressida among the greeks book now. All books are in clear copy here, and all files are secure so don t worry about. Read reviews from world s largest community for readers. The Murders at Argos retells the Oresteia. Everyday low prices and free delivery on eligible orders.
Saltar al contenido principal. The old men think that she is confused or insane as she walks to the doom that she knows is coming. The Chorus is a group of old men of Argos who, they explain bitterly, were considered too old to participate in the invasion of Troy. They feel that they have suffered under Clytaemnestra's rule for the past ten years.
They do not trust her judgment, particularly because they do not think a woman is fit to rule a country like theirs. They eagerly look forward to the return of their king, Agamemnon. After Clytaemnestra murders Agamemnon and announces that Aegisthus will be the new king, the members of the Chorus threaten to rise up in rebellion. They stand up to the armed guards who face them with spears and swords, and are ready to face death before Clytaemnestra calls the guards down.
According to tradition, Clytaemnestra was the daughter of Leda, who was also the mother of Helen, Menelaus's wife. In Agamemnon she is presented as a jealous, vindictive woman who has been planning to murder her husband after he returns from leading the army in war. In Agamemnon's ten-year absence, Clytaemnestra has ruled Argos.
She has been an unpopular ruler. The Watchman who begins the play and the Chorus of old men who have been living in the town while the army was away complain about living under her command. There is no question that they look forward to Agamemnon's return because they find him to be a more fair and compassionate ruler than his wife. She seems to be a capable ruler whom the citizens of Argos underestimate because of her gender.
For instance, she implements a series of signal fires that can carry a message almost instantly across thousands of miles of sea and land, but the Chorus dismisses her idea as a woman's wishful thinking. Their low esteem only makes Clytaemnestra angrier and crueler. Upon Agamemnon's return, Clytaemnestra pretends to be a doting wife.
Still, her speech indicates the anger that she harbors. She mentions their absent child, raising the memory of Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed on an altar at the beginning of the war. Agamemnon shows himself uncomfortable until she coyly states that she was talking about their son Orestes, who is off in exile.
She tells Agamemnon that he should walk on tapestries, sarcastically suggesting that he is too good to touch the ground while at the same time getting him used to the kinds of fine cloths that she will eventually bind him up in to kill him. Clytaemnestra knows that she will not be able to rule Argos once she has killed Agamemnon, but she also knows that a man who took power from the king could inspire the necessary fear to rule.
Part of her plan for murder includes positioning Aegisthus, with whom she has a relationship, on the throne, which she can no longer hold herself. The Herald is a soldier who has been off to war with the Greek army. He arrives soon after Clytaemnestra has seen the signal fires and confirms what the fires have told her: the war is over, and the army is on its way home. Though his appearance in the play is only minutes after the light of the signal fires reaches Argos, readers can assume that much more time has passed between the two. The Herald also brings news of a number of Greek ships that were lost in a storm after the war was over, including the one bearing Menelaus.
He says that there were bodies floating in the water, but that other soldiers who were not accounted for might show up at home someday. His words echo the events in Homer's epic poem The Odyssey , in which Menelaus and his wife, Helen, are found, having been shipwrecked in Egypt. Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. She was killed ten years earlier, sacrificed on an altar to the goddess Artemis. Clytaemnestra murders Agamemnon in revenge for having killed Iphigenia.
Orestes is the son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. He does not appear in the play, as he has been sent to live with a family friend, Strophios the Phocian, while his father was away at war. In the last scene, the Chorus predicts that Orestes will return to Argos to avenge his father's death, as he in fact does in The Libation Bearers , the second part of Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. The Watchman is the first character to appear in the play.
He stands guard on top of the palace, looking out into the night for a signal. He has been there night after night over the course of the ten-year war and complains about the cold and the boredom of his task until, within the context of Agamemnon , he actually does see the signal fire that was lit far off on the horizon; then he runs inside to spread the word.
The action of Agamemnon is mostly driven by the question of how justice would best be served. Agamemnon is a conquering hero, the leader of an army that triumphed after a decade of fighting. Looking at that aspect alone, he deserves a hero's welcome upon his return home. Clytaemnestra, on the other hand, views him differently. To her, he is the man who murdered her child, Iphigenia, the product of Agamemnon's own blood. In Clytaemnestra's mind, the military victory in Troy does not justify the sacrifice that Agamemnon made to achieve it.
The play, therefore, raises complex questions about the nature of justice. On one hand, it is true that Agamemnon has the responsibilities of a leader, which sometimes might necessitate committing acts for the greater good that would not, individually, be acceptable in peacetime. Military leaders are not considered to be murderers when their actions are taken in the course of fulfilling their duties. Furthermore, Iphigenia's death was ordained by the goddess Artemis, a higher moral power than Agamemnon himself.
Clytaemnestra, on the other hand, feels that justice is on her side. Aeschylus does not answer these questions, though the other plays in The Oresteia go on to explore them with increasing subtlety. Clytaemnestra nurses her anger for ten years, waiting to take her revenge against her husband. Aegisthus waits even longer—his entire life since infancy—to exact his revenge, as his cause is more complicated and the crime committed against Aegisthus's family was even more barbaric. The offense that Aegisthus wants revenge for is unimaginable in its cruelty, but it was perpetrated by Agamemnon's father, not by the man Aegisthus intends to punish.
His is a more theoretical hatred. One question raised constantly in The Oresteia is this: how personal does an offense have to be in order to warrant revenge? Aeschylus complicates this question in Agamemnon by making those who have suffered wrongs also stand to gain earthly rewards from their vengeful actions. Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus feel entitled to act against Agamemnon because offenses were done against them, but like any conspirators who have no more motive than personal gain, they stand to take control of the country in the course of taking their revenge.
In The Libation Bearers , Orestes returns to Argos to take revenge against his mother for the revenge she took against his father on behalf of her daughter, and then Orestes must defend himself and explain why he deserves revenge and when the cycle of revenge might be considered complete.
Although it is not the major motivator in this play, jealousy is certainly a driving force that stimulates the bad feelings between Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon. Early in the play, Clytaemnestra notes that she has watched over Argos while all of the men of the country raced to Troy to fight for the honor of another man's woman, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world. Unmentioned is the fact that Agamemnon was one of Helen's suitors before Helen married his brother Menelaus. Later, Clytaemnestra clearly expresses her jealousy about her husband's involvement.
Agamemnon is not jealous because he does not know about his wife's involvement with his cousin, Aegisthus. Clytaemnestra keeps Aegisthus's involvement in the murder plot a secret until after she has killed her husband. In other versions of this story, Aegisthus is an active player in murdering Agamemnon and Cassandra, but Aeschylus makes it clear that, though Aegisthus believes himself to be a driving force, the killing is motivated by Clytaemnestra's anger at being wronged.
The traditional roles of men and women were clearly defined in ancient Greek society and are reflected in Agamemnon. This play is able to draw particular attention to those roles because of the situation in which it takes place. It is wartime and the king has been called away from the country, creating the unusual circumstance of the queen being left in charge for an extended length of time. Clytaemnestra's rule of Argos is not popular with the Watchman or the old men in the Chorus. It is likely, though, that their dislike of her is caused by their own sexism, and not by any particular act of her own.
They never mention anything that she may have done as their ruler that would have harmed or offended them, but they do complain, frequently, about her being a woman. Sexist attitudes may be seen at the very heart of the play's action. Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra view the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, from different perspectives, and their perspectives coincide with traditional gender roles. Agamemnon views Iphigenia's death as a necessary loss in order to attain a military victory that will hopefully prevent further attacks, while Clytaemnestra sees it through the lens of her own immediate family, as a mother who has lost a child.
Aeschylus is credited with adding a second actor on stage in his dramas, a technique that allowed his dramas to present their situations through the characters' dialogue. Originally, staged dramas were presented as recitations by a chorus, or group of actors, which told the story but did not act it out. By Aeschylus's time, there was generally one actor. He might change masks throughout a performance, indicating that he was different characters, but still, the dramatic possibilities were limited.
With the addition of a second actor, the issues examined in a play could be dramatized through dialogue. Instead of telling audiences what each character felt, the character could either say what he or she felt or try to hide his or her feelings. The other character could then accept what he or she was told or challenge it. One example of this in Agamemnon occurs when Clytaemnestra, talking about how she "wavered between the living and the dead" while her husband was away, abruptly starts talking about their child who is "gone, not standing by our side," and only after a while reveals that she is talking about Orestes, the son in exile, and not the daughter that Agamemnon sacrificed on an altar.
Without dialogue, his suspicions of her would have to be voiced directly, which would undercut the nature of suspicion. The use of dialogue diminished the part of the Chorus in Greek drama, though it was still many years before the Chorus fell away. In Agamemnon the Chorus is used, as choruses traditionally were, to convey background information. Many audience members would have been familiar with the tales that dramas were based on, but there were also many different versions of those tales.
Murders Argos Cressida Among Greeks by Foley David - AbeBooks
The recitation by the Chorus would serve to show which details were important to this playwright's telling. By the time that Agamemnon was written, the Chorus had ceased to function as an objective narrator and was identified as a character itself. Usually, as in this play, it represented a group of citizens who were familiar with the other characters and who had a vested interest in the events that were transpiring.
The Chorus in Agamemnon is even more specific than a group of citizens because it represents the old men who have been excluded from the war and have a very particular view of the situation of the play. They are resentful about being told that they are not good enough to fight and resentful about being left to take orders from Clytaemnestra, a woman. The events depicted in Agamemnon take place in the aftermath of the Trojan War , which is considered one of the most significant sources for Greek mythology.
Aside from Greek descriptions, there is no direct historical evidence of when the war took place or who was involved. Archaeologists have found that the ancient city of Troy, in modern Turkey, overlooking the straits of Hellespont, was destroyed sometime around bce, presumably by violence, and many assume that the war that brought it down was the basis for the legends of the Trojan War.
The Athenian scholar Erastosthenes calculated in the third century bce that the fall of Troy occurred around bce, which is so close that historians assume that each calculation is talking about the same event. According to tradition, the Trojan War began as a direct result of a competition of the gods. Three goddesses—Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite—asked Zeus to choose which was fairest, and Zeus put the task off to Paris, the prince of Troy.
Each goddess offered Paris a bribe for his vote, and he accepted the one offered by Aphrodite. As goddess of love, Aphrodite was not the most beautiful one, but she could offer Paris the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world and the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Some sources say that Helen fell in love with Paris, and some say that he came to Sparta and took her forcibly, since Aphrodite had promised her to him.
Menelaus called together all of the great men of Greece who had been Helen's suitors before she had married him, a list that included Odysseus, Ajax, Patroclus, and Menelaus's own brother, Agamemnon, who led the army that set out to invade Troy. The siege lasted ten years, ending when the Greeks snuck in to the city hidden inside of a hollow statue, the famed Trojan Horse, given as a false peace offering. Many writers of the classic Greek period wrote tales about the Trojan War, and so there are many variations to each story, as well as intricate details available about the histories of each character.
The most authoritative sources are The Iliad , concerning events in the final year of the war, and The Odyssey , concerning the ten-year journey home of Greek hero Odysseus and his crewmates.
The Murders at Argos/Cressida Among the Greeks
These works are credited to the epic poet Homer, though historians believe that the two books might have been written by several different authors between and bce. It is certain that Aeschylus, as well as many of the audience members who would have attended performances of his works, would have been familiar with Homer's accounts of the Trojan War and its aftermath. Of all of the examples of ancient Greek drama that exist today, all but one come from the springtime festivals of Dionysus Eleuthereus in Athens that began in the sixth century bce.
The festival was originally a celebration of the god Dionysus, the god of wine and creativity. By the sixth century, however, the drama, which had been staged as a minor part of the festival, had grown in prominence to become an important focus each year. Three playwrights were allowed to submit three dramas each year, as well as a short, rowdy comedy, called a satyr play. Each year, three wealthy citizens were also chosen and assigned to provide financing for the staging of the competition plays, and ten judges were chosen, one from each of the city's "tribes," or phylai. Winners of the dramatic competitions were recognized with a crown of ivy.
Eventually, as dramas evolved from poetic speeches recited by choruses to dramatizations of scenes by distinct characters, a class of professional actors evolved out of the festivals of Dionysus Eleuthereus, also called the Dionysia. Today: Political offices across the globe are open to people of either gender. For example, in Angela Merkel becomes the first chancellor of Germany. Today: Polytheism still exists, but the three most prevalent religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are monotheistic, meaning they hold that there is only one god.
Today: In first-world nations where all citizens have access to the legal system, most wrongs are handled through the courts. Today: Political coups still displace established governments, but there are international tribunals to prosecute the worst violations. Today: Live theater is available to all, regardless of financial standing or interest; however, people most frequently watch drama in the form of movies or television.
As the competitions developed, the standards became more structured. Each poet's three competition works came to be linked by a. Aeschylus's trilogy The Oresteia , of which Agamemnon is the first play, is the one remaining intact trilogy to have survived to this day. It won first prize at the Athenian festival. Its corresponding satyr play, Proteus , concerns the travels of Menelaus as he returns from the Trojan War.
Aeschylus won the festival thirteen times over the course of his long lifetime. Sophocles, who competed against the much older Aeschylus, managed to beat him in competition and went on to win seventeen more times, including for his Oedipus trilogy, which exists today. The other major tragedian of the period was Euripides, who was born after Aeschylus's death. He won the Athenian dramatic festival only three times during his life and once after his death , but he is considered one of the most important writers of the time, writing several works that survive today, including The Bacchae.
Aeschylus is considered the father of Greek tragedy, the first of the trio of writers, including Sophocles and Euripides, who have come to represent the golden age of Greek drama. Winning the Athens drama festival, his trilogy The Oresteia earned him recognition from the start and has been one of the most influential works of the Western canon ever since. He is credited with putting more than one character at a time on the stage and building his plays around complex moral dilemmas, setting standards for drama that remain in place today. Admiration for Aeschylus has been constant throughout the centuries, exemplified in the quote by Victorian poet Charles Algernon Swinburne, who Albin Lesky reports in A History of Greek Literature once referred to The Oresteia as "the greatest achievement of the human mind.
Some critics have identified Agamemnon as being the weakest of the three plays in the trilogy. It introduces themes that are not developed until the later plays and is uneven in its presentation of characters, as when the title character merely passes through for a few pages. Most critics, however, do not find this to be a problem of the play so much as a conceptual problem on the part of those who would try to stage it on its own, out of the context of The Oresteia.
To stage Agamemnon on its own makes rather less sense than to perform the first movement of a Beethoven symphony on its own. The leading themes of the Oresteia are, it is true, introduced in Agamemnon , but in a confused and confusing way, for this play depicts a world in moral chaos, a world in which there seem to be no fixed principles left to hold on to. The few weaknesses of Agamemnon are therefore not considered the fault of the playwright; rather, they are integral to the themes of the complete work. Kelly is a writer and an instructor of creative writing and literature.
In this essay, he looks at the ways in which Aeschylus builds believable characters in Agamemnon. Agamemnon , the first play in Aeschylus's Oresteian trilogy, is a mature work, written in the final years of the life of one of the most skillful dramatists who ever lived. The trilogy examines critical issues of what it means to exist in society, pitting rules against emotions and individual rights against collective rights in ways that have had a broad impact on the development of legal theory throughout Western civilization.
In Agamemnon , people do terrible things to other people, who then hold onto their grievances, nurturing them until almost everyone has forgotten the original offense. The offended then strike in retribution, and a new generation, knowing only the latest attack, starts planning a reciprocal retribution.
This cycle twists its way through The Libation Bearers to The Eumenides , where the gods hold a trial to decide that the string of retribution, which could conceivably extend forever, must be cut short somewhere. Agamemnon handles these social issues with a free-flowing grace that was not common at the time. For modern audiences, it might seem a little too verbal, with long speeches giving background that does not seem necessary.
Parts that may bore modern audiences, though, become more interesting if readers and viewers remember that the play was written at a time when the custom was to direct all of the language and action to the audience, not to the other characters on the stage. Showing instead of telling , which is the standard for the modern era, was unheard of in Aeschylus's day. Making minor allowances for the different dramatic customs of the time, one can find much of interest in Aeschylus's characters.
They are believable, rounded characters who exist beyond their symbolic functions. The play opens with the Watchman standing atop the house of Atreus, the palace, looking down on the square below while lazily reminding himself that his attention should be on the horizon in case there are any developments in the ten-year-old Trojan War. The Watchman is poised to open up the new, post-war world to Greece, and he is … well, bored.
Like any other low-paid functionary who has been at an unexciting, repetitious job for a year, he is not thinking of his place in history but instead is praying that the gods might relieve his cramps and keep him awake. Another playwright might have used this character just to shout out the news that the signal fires have announced the end of the war, but this Watchman does not even think that the grand scope of things can be more important than his own nagging complaints. Aeschylus has made him human. His counterpart is, of course, the Herald who arrives later, bringing the actual, verifiable news that the war in Troy is indeed over.
The Herald, more than the Watchman, is used to deliver background information to the audience, though Aeschylus does not sacrifice much in the way of character to achieve this. The Herald is a soldier, and as the old men of the Chorus make clear when they complain about being left behind during the invasion, this culture honors military involvement, and soldiers claim the right to walk with pride.
He has also probably done this before—brought people news and seen their reactions to him, merging the messenger with the message. It would be natural that a person in his position would have an inflated sense of his own significance. And since his character would credibly be this way, Aeschylus only stretches the boundaries of credibility a little when he has the Herald talk at length about facts that are only slightly related to the plot of the drama, such as the storm that took the Greek fleet and his own personal confidence that Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, will show up again some day.
Even for one who is used to holding his listeners' attention with the news he brings, the Herald comes off a little more like a source of background information than a person invested in the actions onstage. Aeschylus uses him primarily as a vehicle for delivering information to the audience, but that use is perfectly suited to who this character is. Though the Herald is primarily important for delivering information, Cassandra is, oddly, the opposite. In theory, a character who can see the future would seem to be an ideal contrivance for a playwright to foreshadow what is coming up next to the audience, but in Aeschylus's situation, there was no need for that because he was dealing with old, familiar tales that most members of his audience would know.
Instead of using Cassandra to tell the audience new information, then, he uses her in Agamemnon for emotional effect. She is barely coherent, raving, driven mad by her knowledge of the horrible death that awaits her. Since dramatic convention would not allow Aeschylus to put the actual massacre of Cassandra and Agamemnon on the stage, Cassandra experiences it moments before it happens, a powerful dramatic substitution. As fans of horror movies will attest, the anticipation of a gruesome deed is generally much more gripping than witnessing it would be because it forces the audience to participate with their imaginations.
From the moment she steps out of the shadows to talk, Cassandra is a character in the process of dying. Aeschylus could hardly have conjured up a character more worthy of his audience's attention. About Clytaemnestra as a character little needs to be said. She is one of the world's great protagonists, a woman whose complexity far exceeds her function in the story.
The unwillingness to accept the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia has burned for a decade because it has been fueled by more than just her sense of justice, but by the obstinacy that is embedded deeply in her personality. In her idea of having signal fires transmit information across miles in a second, one can see her genius; in her anger at those who doubted it would work, one can see the pride that drives her. Clytaemnestra stands alone against the forces that disapprove of her, including the basic sexism of her society which Aeschylus shows to be a useless, blinding affectation and the populace's outrage at having their king murdered.
She is only a credible character because Aeschylus has made her a person who might be able to stand up to such pressures and dismiss them. Even readers who approach Agamemnon as an example of Greek theater must admit that Clytaemnestra might stand for one thing or another, but she would not be a credible representative of those traits if Aeschylus had not made a credible human being out of her.
While Clytaemnestra is a thoroughly memorable, believable character, the same can hardly be said about her husband, Agamemnon, the king of Argos, the leader of the victorious army, who comes off as the vaguest, most ill-defined character onstage. Again, this is not really a sign that Aeschylus did not know what to do with this character, but is in fact a sign that he knew exactly what he was doing. Agamemnon only passes through onstage briefly, yet given the brief time he is in the drama that bears his name, he makes a distinct impression as a humble man, ready to settle down to the business of ruling just minutes after returning from a ten-year siege.
Some critics have pointed out the fact that he does, at his wife's urging, consent to walk into his palace on a beautiful set of tapestries that would be more fitting for a god than a mortal, claiming that this is meant to be the evidence that Agamemnon has abandoned his humility to hubris, and therefore has earned the death brought down on him. But hubris, the inflated sense of self-importance, is a character trait, not a solitary act. Given the brevity of Agamemnon's appearance here, there is just no way of telling whether he is swept up by Clytaemnestra's persuasiveness or by the thrill of his triumphant return home, or if he really believes himself on level with the gods.
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Agamemnon appears, is flattered, resists flattery, and then gives in to it. For such a brief walk-through appearance, he establishes himself as a credible person. The only character in Agamemnon to come off as hollow is Aegisthus. He is a cartoonish representative of evil who is not brave enough to kill his enemy himself but lets a woman do it instead; not honest enough to admit that the murder is Clytaemnestra's achievement, he takes credit for it; not sympathetic enough to make others see that the massacre of his brothers and sisters and the humiliation and befouling of his father gives him a right to strike against Agamemnon; and not regal enough to take control of Argos without brute power.
He does not have the conflicting morals that fill out a well-drawn, human character—not even a minor character like the Watchman, torn between duty and boredom—but Aegisthus does provide the template for generations of villains to come. In putting Aegisthus in this play, Aeschylus has siphoned off much of the hatred that might otherwise be directed toward Clytaemnestra, allowing audiences to see her more clearly, in all of her human weakness.
Agamemnon is usually read in a school situation, as a text for learning about Greek morals and the development of the standards of Western civilization. Ancient texts probably need to be viewed that way, at least some of the time. But looking at the drama as a drama, appreciating Aeschylus as a playwright and not as a poet or philosopher, it turns out that his works stand up on their own. In particular, the characters that he develops to populate this play, using traditional, familiar materials, are as fresh and real as any characters written in the twentieth or twenty-first century.
They are not primitive at all. They are rounded and multifaceted. They are real. In the following essay, Normey provides biographical information on Aeschylus and discusses the modern relevance of The Oresteia. The terrorist attacks on September 11 and its aftermath have astounded and altered all of us in ways impossible to measure.
The enormity of the tragedy in New York and Washington may be beyond the ability of works of literature to encompass in any truly meaningful way. Nonetheless, I was most interested in a discussion the superb Eleanor Wachtel had with a panel on Writers and Company CBC Radio for those of you out of the loop after the attacks. Roger Shattuck, the distinguished academic critic Proust, Forbidden Knowledge offered the observation that we would do well to read Aeschylus' Oresteia. I can report that I have taken him at his word and worked my way through the trilogy in Robert Fagles' translation.
Aeschylus also wrote a satyr play with comic elements which was performed with the tragedies, but this has been lost. I won't try to draw links between the Oresteia and the recent acts of carnage but assure you that the trilogy has an abundance of political and moral meanings. Aeschylus has been called the father of tragedy and is the first great writer in this genre. He staged and acted in his plays and was responsible for great innovations such as the introduction of two speaking actors performing on stage together.
Previously, the practice was to limit the interaction to one speaking actor and the chorus. Aeschylus was a formidable presence in Athenian society in the golden age of that remarkable city-state. He valiantly fought at Marathon in the famous victory over the expansionist Persians in bc. This soldier citizen also fought at Salamis. Indeed, despite his prowess as a playwright, it is his contributions as a warrior that are identified in his epitaph on a tombstone in Sicily:. Aeschylus wrote over 90 plays, of which 7 have survived complete along with a number of fragments.
His plays, including the Oresteia, were awarded a number of prizes in the fiercely competitive society of fifth century Athens. Nonetheless, in the years after his death his tragedies appear to have been far less popular with Greek audiences than the more accessible plays of his younger contemporaries, Sophocles and Euripides.
Referring to Aeschylus' inspired interweaving of extended metaphors and his grand manner, Sophocles commented that the first tragedian must have composed while under some form of Dionysian intoxication. Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia in bc at the age of 67, two years before his death. It is believed that he was producing the work in Sicily at the time of his death.
It was first performed at the famous Great Dionysia Festival, an annual festival of immense religious significance. The festival took place in the ninth month of the Greek calendar, roughly corresponding to our March. Tribute was offered to Dionysus, god of fertility and celebration.
The trilogy weaves myths concerning the cursed House of Atreus with incidents from the Trojan War into a gripping revenge saga. The House of Atreus is shot through with hubris and savagery. One of the ancient patriarchs, Pelops, won the hand of his bride through a ruse which killed her father—a reckless, deathly chariot ride which may have been the origin of the Olympic Games. Pelops had two sons who feuded with one another. Atreus is reported to have lured his brother Thyestes to his banquet hall for a reconciliation. Atreus then proceeded to serve Thyestes his own children's flesh. Aghast at this barbaric act, Thyestes cursed Atreus and his descendants and fled into exile with his remaining son Aegisthus.
Atreus had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, who jointly ruled the kingdom of Argos and married two sisters, Clytemnestra and Helen. Menelaus we will recall was dismayed to learn that his beautiful wife Helen had committed infidelity with the dashing Paris and fled with her lover to Troy. This was the famous event triggering the Trojan War. Agamemnon is established as commander-in-chief of the Greek forces.
Before he can lead his troops across the sea, he is given an omen. He considers it necessary in light of the message he receives to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis in order to set sail for Troy. Agamemnon takes the story up as a watchman awaits the long-anticipated return of the king and his troops.
Peering into the night, he makes out the light from torches which have been stationed along the route to the palace. The lighting of the torches signals that Agamemnon has returned after ten long years! This play of light and dark, together with a sequence of other key images and metaphors will be woven throughout the trilogy with powerful dramatic intensity.
This first play is at root a domestic tragedy. It asks its original audience in the severely patriarchal society of ancient Greece to contemplate the disruptive and frightening presence of a woman plotting to murder her husband, the leader of the entire community.
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- William Shakespeare, 1864, Victor Hugo?
Given Agamemnon's exalted status, the play is a political tragedy as well. Clytemnestra intends to punish her husband for the callous sacrifice of their daughter. We are made to experience the fear pervading the community, represented by the Chorus, as this formidable woman meticulously carries out her bloody deed, with the assistance of her lover, Aegisthus. First she orchestrates a deeply ironic home-coming ceremony, convincing Agamemnon that he should overcome his scruples and accept the dangerous honour of treading on blood-red tapestries she has laid out for him.
Her ability to play on his overweening pride tells us much about the flawed nature of the king. Clytemnestra is less successful in manipulating the king's consort, Cassandra, a Trojan princess. Agamemnon has taken her as war booty. Cassandra is left on stage with the Chorus and gradually reveals to it her amazing powers of prophecy as an initiate of Apollo. She foretells in vivid and despairing detail the sorry end that awaits both herself and Agamemnon. She further foretells the appearance of a stranger who will avenge their deaths. In The Libation Bearers, a similar pattern of extended preparation for the central confrontation of protagonists is developed in lines of sombre beauty and grandeur.
Piercing oratory is exchanged between Orestes son of Agamemnon who returns to Argos in disguise, and his mother, from whom he has been separated for many years. The debate crashes to a close with the reminder that Orestes is under an injunction from Apollo to avenge his father's death. As the Chorus laments:. The cycle of bloody revenge thus appears to exemplify Nietzsche's aphorism: "All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both.
The Eumenides opens with Orestes being pursued by the Furies, primordial beings who rise up from the earth to demand his blood. They are hastened on by Clytemnestra's wandering spirit. Orestes has fled to the shrine of Apollo at Delphi in order to pray and seek purification. The young prince attempts to justify his deed, but the Furies adamantly refuse to exonerate him. They begin to sing a "binding song" which will cast a spell that will lead to a painful death.
The goddess Athena arrives in time to protect him. She seeks to arbitrate the seemingly insoluble conflict. The scene shifts to Athens. After praying at Athena's shrine on the Acropolis, Orestes makes his way to the Areopagus, the Athenian court. In a magnificent foundation myth, Aeschylus imagines a brilliant and auspicious beginning for the real court that played such a part in the polis of his time. Athena with her wisdom and reputation for fairness persuades both sides to agree on a trial in which "the first men of Athens" will sit as jurors and will cast their ballot stones after hearing all of the evidence.
The trial scenes must be experienced directly. Modern readers will no doubt find it difficult to fathom Apollo's argument to the effect that Orestes should be acquitted because a woman is not really a parent of a child, just a "nurse to the seed. At the very least, some may be mollified to note that it is not he, but Athena, displaying her wisdom as a goddess, who presides over the trial. By a close margin, Orestes is acquitted.
Athena then respectfully persuades the Furies to forego their lust for vengeance and become respected guardians of Athens. She thus brings about a remarkable reconciliation. The Furies are transformed into the Euminides or kindly ones and will now channel their energies for good.
In dramatizing the transformation from a society governed by tribal laws of revenge to a society governed by the rule of law, fulfilled by independent judges and jurors, Aeschylus also entered the debate, which absorbed Athenians in , over the exact role of the Areopagus. Critics differ on where precisely Aeschylus stood on certain reforms proposed by the radical Pericles.
It seems evident to me that he supported moderate democratic reforms to the degree that they would not seriously impair the basic functions of the court. In any event, on a deeper level, it is rare to experience a drama that so powerfully dramatizes the contribution that a fair and impartial court system makes to democratic civilization.
In the following excerpt, Levy identifies the central theme in Agamemnon : the problem of good and evil.
Related Murders at Argos/ Cressida Among the Greeks (Oberon Modern Playwrights S)
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