The cyclic thread of vengeance runs like wild fire through the three plays in Aeschylus’s Oresteia. This thread, with its complexity of contemporary and universal implications lends itself quite well to – in fact, almost necessitates – deeply interested study. While a brief summary of the Oresteia will inevitably disregard some if not much of the trilogy’s essence and intent, on the positive side it will establish a platform of characters, events, and motives with which this paper is primarily concerned. As such, I begin with a short overview of the Oresteia and the relevant history that immediately precedes it.
The house of Atreus is cursed, it would seem, with the perpetual cycle of vengeance, the law of an eye for an eye. The curse originated with Tantalus, who angered the gods by feasting them on the flesh of his own son, Pelops. Pelops was restored by the gods and effected the birth of two sons, Thyestes and Atreus. Thyestes angered his brother by seducing his wife and challenging his claim to the throne. Consequently, Thyestes was banished from the kingdom, only to be summoned back by Atreus in false friendliness. Atreus, in the mode of his grandfather, feasted the unknowing Thyestes on small bits of Thyestes’ own children. Upon discovery of his doing, the distraught Thyestes fled into exile with his only remaining son, Aegisthus.
The Agamemnon picks up with Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons to Atreus, who joined together in the war of Troy after Paris, son of Priam, seduced Helen, wife to Menelaus. Angered by his ruthless man-sacrifices in the war, Artemis required that Agamemnon take the life of his daughter Iphigeneia in order to save the army and fleet o...
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...y nature one who questions, one who hesitates, one who considers his own actions from a variety of perspectives. This, by far, appears to be both the simplest and most sound argument. As Oedipus’s persistent pursuit of truth and constantly questioning nature made him a hero in Sophocles’ Oedipus, so did the similar nature of Orestes in the Oresteia.
Aeschylus. “The Oresteia.” Aeschylus: The Oresteia. Tran. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1979. 99-277.
Aristotle. Poetics. Tran. Gerald F. Else. Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1986.
Finley, John H. Jr. Pindar and Aeschylus. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1955.
---. Four Stages of Greek Thought. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1966.
Pollitt, J. J. Art and Experience in Classical Greece. London: Cambridge UP, 1979.
Taplin, Oliver. Greek Tragedy in Action. London: Routledge, 1993.
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