Based on the conviction that only translators who write poetry themselves can properly re-create the celebrated and timeless tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the Greek Tragedy in New Translations series offers new translations that go beyond the literal meaning of the Greek in order to evoke the poetry of the originals. Aeschylus' Oresteia, the only ancient tragic trilogy to survive, is one of the great foundational texts of Western culture. It begins with Agamemnon, which describes Agamemnon's return from the Trojan War and his murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra, continues with her murder by their son Orestes in Libation Bearers, and concludes with Orestes' acquittal at a court founded by Athena in Eumenides. The trilogy thus traces the evolution of justice in human society from blood vengeance to the rule of law, Aeschylus' contribution to a Greek legend steeped in murder, adultery, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and endless intrigue. This new translation is faithful to the strangeness of the original Greek and to its enduring human truth, expressed in language remarkable for poetic intensity, rich metaphorical texture, and a verbal density that modulates at times into powerful simplicity. The translation's precise but complicated rhythms honor the music of the Greek, bringing into unforgettable English the Aeschylean vision of a world fraught with spiritual and political tensions.
There was also a kind of sly wit in the Agamemnon which was lacking in Iphigenia. I won't say that I laughed out loud, because I didn't. No chuckling was involved. It just made me smile; the subtle turns of phrase which he peppered all around the play. Definitely amusing, to say the least.
Agamemnon is surely my favorite of the three in the Oresteia. I didn't really like "Libation Bearers," actually. Agamemnon simply seemed to have more drama and problems in it. Libation Bearers had people whining, 'Woe is me! Whatever am I to do?' with Big Good Orestes killing the Evil Villains With No Heart in the end. It was too predictable and, to me, didn't even come close to the depth of Agamemnon, with its turns and twists and deceit and intimate wishes for personal...personal something. Saving. It sounds bad to say that. Perhaps I can come about this a different way.
In Agamemnon, every single character seemed involved and (to me) interesting. We could peer into their soul and see who they were, and why they should be spared from harm. The Libation Bearers seemed too two-dimensional. I thought that it was all right, as far as these things go, but the others which I've read before were much more satisfying.
I knew that Clytemnestra was going to kill Agamemnon (as the play-goers in Athens would have known, who went to see it performed for the first time). I was still gripped by the tension. In Libation Bearers, that tension wasn't there for me. Orestes comes back and saves the day by being male and being able to kill two women. (If we're assuming that Aegisthus is female in marrow.) Granted, two harmful women who killed his father, but the issue of Iphigenia wasn't addressed at all, not even by Clytemnestra.
I think it was just of Orestes to kill Clytemnestra, but only because it seemed that Clytemnestra had done wrong in the way she managed the people. She misused them, her own daughter included. Her killing Agamemnon wasn't *right*, but it wasn't all that terrible (for fiction), considering Iphigenia.I suppose I just rooted a lot more for Clytemnestra than Orestes. "Bring me my man-killing axe!" If that doesn't say it all for Clytemnestra, I don't know what does.
"Eumenides" was ok. I loved the part where Clytemnestra yells at the Eumenides/Furies for sleeping on the job. The whole play is sort of a let-down at the end, though, with its deus ex machina. Meh.
Anyway, the four stars I gave for the Oresteia are almost completely for "Agamemnon." It is my favorite Greek play, and there is much delight to be found in it. And blood. Lots and lots of blood and massacre.
In Agamemnon, the Greek king returns from the Trojan War, with his prize of the Trojan prophetess Cassandra. Cassandra knows that Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, will kill them, but she is fated to be not be believed. And so, the deed is done.
In The Libation Bearers, Clytemnestra has a nightmare that she gave birth to a snake, and so she sends her daughter Electra to Agamemnon's grave to pour out a libation. However, Electra meets her brother, Orestes, and the two plot revenge upon their mother, and her loved. And so, murder begets murder.
In The Eumenides, Orestes is fleeing the Furies, who are pursuing him for murdering his mother. Orestes flees to Apollo, who sends him on to Athens, to be judged by Athena herself.
This volume has the well-known Lattimore translation which sound find tendentious. I believe it is acceptable and corresponds well enough to the original Greek. At some point a more in-depth comparison between various translations may be revealing but this one is serviceable.
Otherwise, the introductory essay is a little hand-wavy for my tastes, and the notes are often too detailed and insufficiently informative. Fagles' translation is modern in that it accepts and respects difficulty, while not being utterly obscure. It'll take you some time to read, but it's well worth it.
Hughes is not chained to the original as Fagles is. But in fairness to both their reasons for translating are different. Ted did it for a stage performance by the royal National Theatre and Fagles has done it for academia.
Hughes' poetic background shines throughout this "translation". Clytemnestra dialog is outstanding and Agamemnon's dialog is perceptive, raw and refreshing. C-- You are afraid of the rable's disapproval. A -- Do you mean the rabble or the people. Seeing this on stage must have been a real treat to the ears and the mind.
Most interesting to me through is Hughes' portayal of the Furies in The Eumenides. Hughes portays them as so perceptive and cutting in their insight. The ending -- which all the classics experts love because it shows that raw vengence has been supplanted by law and community blah blah blah thank god for tenure -- is trite even in Hughes's able hands. I don't care what all the pundits say. This play should end with the Furies unsympetheitc to Athene's sophist arguments. I do understand the play functioned as an instructional tool for society at that time but the ending is sophmoric and I'm sure the viewers felt this way 2500 years ago. Go back in your hole but we will love you.
I believe Hughes' really hints at this by not repeating the furies comments which has a tendency to make them mechanized and less perceptive. I would have loved Hughes to take the liberty of doing as Racine had done in Phaedra: retell the tale and prove to everyone that Orestes and Athene and Apollo's arguments are casuistic. Oh well, we will have to leave it to the next set of able hands. Wonderful book a great read!
n the last year of his life, Ted Hughes completed translations of three major dramatic works: Racine's Phedre, Euripedes' Alcestis, and the trilogy of plays known as at The Oresteia, a family story of astonishing power and the background or inspiration for much subsequent drama, fiction, and poetry.
The Oresteia--Agamemnon, Choephori, and the Eumenides--tell the story of the house of Atreus: After King Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, their son, Orestes, is commanded by Apollo to avenge the crime by killing his mother, and he returns from exile to do so, bringing on himself the wrath of the Furies and the judgment of the court of Athens. The culmination of the tragedy addressed the question of the nature and origin of justice and the civil state.
Hughes's "acting version" of the trilogy is faithful to its nature as a dramatic work, and his translation is itself a great performance; while artfully inflected with the contemporary, it has a classical beauty and authority. It is a good choice among modern translations.
Tough to judge the plays themselves in our context, but The Eumenides was harder to empathize with than either agamemenon or the libation bearers
The presentation of this by the actors was very good. I liked hearing it more than reading it.
Agamemnon returns victorious from the Trojan War and meets a tragic fate.
In the second drama, Orestes, Agamemnon's son, returns to avenge his father's murder (Apollo told him to...).
The conclusion of the trilogy is the trial of Orestes, presided over by Athena, with Apollo as a witness for the defense and the Furies for the prosecution and 12 citizens of Athens are the jury.
I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed these dramas. I did find them interesting - to see the murder of a husband compared to the murder of a mother, to see Apollo argue that the true parent is the father not the mother, as the mother only 'hoards the germ of life' (WOW!) and makes a comparison to Athena, who did not come from a mother's womb. Also, I found it very interesting to see a newer god (Athena) arguing with older gods (the Furies) and essentially assuage them through bribery...
The last of the trilogy, The Eumenides, was my introduction to Aeschylus in high school. I remember it, and the comments of my teacher, making quite an impression on me. That play includes a trial and deals with such issues, not only of justice and reason, but those of gender as well, as it deals with who has greater claim, a man's mother or his father? Or whether really the claims of a mother have any validity at all. The ending says a lot about how the Ancient Greeks saw women--and it isn't pretty. Thus the Eumenides is one of those plays that bears close study in the classroom, even if less moving than the first two dramas. In fact, the whole bit of a trial, with Apollo as defense council and Athene as one of the jurors seems a bit... bizarre to a modern reader compared to the realistic, yet mythic contents of the other two.
I can't speak to the dramatic value of the plays, since I've never seen one performed, but in the various translations I've read, Aeschylus' works are striking and beautiful as poetry, though they feel more stylized than Sophocles or Euripides; they make me think of an ancient frieze. Of course, it depends on a good translation for its beauties to emerge. I'd recommend comparing sections side by side before choosing one. If Lattimore's translation comes across as stilted, Weir-Smith's is downright flowery with archaic language and Slavitt strikes me as far too slangy contemporary. Hughes, Meineck, and Fagles read better I think.
Translation by Hugh Lloyd-Jones.
**Because each section of the trilogy depends on the events in the previous section there will be SPOILERS**
Agamemnon, the first part of the trilogy, tells the story of his triumphant return home after the Trojan War. In order to gain favor with the gods before embarking on the journey to Troy to fight the war, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. Tricking both her and her mother into believing she was about to be wed to Achilles, Agamemnon instead murdered her to honor Artemis and receive the gift of winds to carry their ships.
Agamemnon’s cruel actions towards his daughter come back to haunt him when he returns. His wife Clytemnestra welcomes him home with open arms, inviting him to walk on a red carpet and honoring him with gracious speeches. All the while she is secretly planning his demise with the help of Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus.
Cassandra, King Priam’s daughter, was taken as a spoil-of-war by Agamemnon and is caught up in this horrible scene. She has the gift of sight and so she knows about the impending murder, but she is also cursed by Apollo so no one will believe her when she warns them of it. Cassandra has always been one of my favorite characters in Greek mythology. Her life is such a tragic one and her presence in this player added an extra layer of futility.
Part Two, The Libation Bearers is about Agamemnon’s son Orestes’ return to his home land. He quickly learns of his father’s murder and wants to avenge his death. Apollo’s oracle has instructed him to kill his mother in order to achieve this. With his sister Electra’s help he kills both his mother and Aegisthus. They trick Clytemnestra into thinking Orestes is already dead and then follow through with Apollo’s decree for her death. Almost immediately Orestes is haunted by The Furies and he is plagued with guilt for committing matricide.
The final section, The Eumenides, is about Orestes’ trial. The Furies have hounded Orestes for years. The gods must decide if he will be punished for his mother’s murder and so Athena arranges a trial with jurors from Athens.
There was no blood connection between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s, so his murder was not considered as heinous a crime as her’s. Murdering a blood relative is a more punishable offense, hence Orestes’ trial. During the play we learn the details of Agamemnon’s murder. Apollo comes to Orestes’ defense, explaining that he is the one who told him to avenge his father. Athena is the deciding vote in the trial, deciding to acquit Orestes of all guilt, but not truly giving him peace of mind from what he has done.
Greek mythology is all about cycles. You killed so-and-so, therefore I must kill you. You raped my wife, so I will curse you. You tricked me or refused me, so you will be fated to live in some form of agony. The more the gods meddle in human affairs the worse the cycle becomes. This trilogy is a perfect example of this cycle. One murder leads to another until almost everyone is dead. No one is truly spared from the horrific events.
BOTTOM LINE: I thought this one would be much denser and hard to read, but I found it relatively easy. I think that a big part of that is reading it while being immersed in the world of Greek mythology. I didn’t have to stop and try to remember who was who and how they were all connected because it was fresh in my mind. I would highly recommend reading this one along side The Odyssey and The Iliad as it provides closure for Agamemnon’s part of the Trojan War story.
The play looks at Athena's using a jury trial to determine Orestes' guilt in the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, in the required act of vengeance for her killing his father Agamemnon. Traditionally,
Greek law allowed/required a family member to seek revenge for any killing--leading to a never-ending multi-generational series of revenge murders. As had been going on in this family.
In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and her lover (and nephew) Aegisthus murder Agamemnon and his new concubine Cassandra.
In The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's son Orestes comes how to seek the required vengeance, meeting with his sister Electra.
In Eumenides, he flees Clytemnestra's Erinyes (ancient gods, who seek revenge and will hound him until he is killed in turn), seeking cleansing from Apollo. Apollo and Athena protect him and convince the Erinyes to participate in a jury trial. They then provide the Erinyes with a new option--to live below Athens in a huge area where they become the Fates. If I am understanding correctly.
Jury trials were fairly new to Greece when this was first performed, it would not have seemed standard to the Greeks, but would have given an example of why this new method was better than the old.
The first play that makes up "The Oresteia" starts when Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War. Clytaemnestra is still upset at the sacrifice of her daughter (understandable so). When Agamemnon returns with a captured Cassandra, it tips Clytaemnestra to murder her hustband.
The second play has Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, in a bind - he is charged with avenging his fathers killer, but matricide is one of the big sins in Ancient Greek Culture. The last book, "The Eumenides" is a tale of redemption, kind of. Orestes has been hounded by the Kind Ones for the crime of killing his mother. But Apollo takes pity on him, and purifies him. Orestes is put on trial, and at the end, everybody survives.