From Beowulf through The Odyssey, our study of the classics informs our understanding of the role of art and literature in forming our sense of ourselves and human history. This will be the first Salon study of the Oresteia so will have the energy of new and unexplored territory. Aeschylus explores the shift from a world ruled by force and feud to a time when human rationale and the early ideas of civilisation start to inform law and behaviour.
The only trilogy in Greek drama that survives from antiquity, Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is translated by Robert fagles with an introduction, notes and glossary written in collaboration with W.B. Stanford in Penguin Classics. In the Oresteia Aeschylus addressed the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos. As they move from darkness to light, from rage to self-governance, from primitive ritual to civilized institution, their spirit of struggle and regeneration becomes an everlasting song of celebration. In Agamemnon, a king’s decision to sacrifice his daughter and turn the tide of war inflicts lasting damage on his family, culminating in a terrible act of retribution; The Libation Bearers deals with the aftermath of Clytemnestra’s regicide, as her son Orestes sets out to avenge his father’s death; and in The Eumenides, Orestes is tormented by supernatural powers that can never be appeased. Forming an elegant and subtle discourse on the emergence of Athenian democracy out of a period of chaos and destruction, The Oresteia is a compelling tragedy of the tensions between our obligations to our families and the laws that bind us together as a society. Aeschylus (525-456 BC) was born near Athens. He wrote more than seventy plays, of which seven have survived, all translated for Penguin Classics: The Supplicants, The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Prometheus Bound, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. If you enjoyed The Oresteia, you might like Euripides’ Medea and Other Plays, also available in Penguin Classics.
‘Conveys more vividly and powerfully than any of the ten competitors I have consulted the eternal power of this masterpiece … a triumph’ –Bernard Levin
‘How satisfying to read at last a modern translation which is rooted in Greek feeling and Greek thought … both the stature and the profound instinctive genius of Aeschylus are recognised’ –Mary Renault, author of The King Must Die
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