Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review: “The Oresteia Trilogy” by Aeschylus, Dover Thrift Editions

This book contains three plays by Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”, “The Libation-Bearers”, and “The Furies”. “Agamemnon” is the famous tale relating the death of Agamemnon at the hand of his wife Clytemnestra. “The Libation-Bearers” is the well known tale of the death of Clytemnestra at the hands of her son Orestes. “The Furies” is less well known. It relates the criminal trial of Orestes for the murder of his mother.

As with all the Dover Thrift Editions books this one is an excellent choice for those that don’t know if they will like the work or want it available at a low cost. Furthermore the translation by Morshead scans fairly well for a modern reader.

All three of these plays have more talking and less action than modern plays. I thought these were rather interesting particularly “The Furies”. The challenge there is how to regard a matricide that is also the required vengeance for the murder of the father. The back and forth between arguments for the prosecution and the arguments for the defense is an interesting setting for the philosophical arguments, while the conclusion, with Orestes found not guilty and the criminal trials being devoted to the Furies, ably demonstrates the fundamental ambiguity found where a series of crimes are committed.

I place “Agamemnon” next as it is almost as interesting as “The Furies”. The interest here comes from Clytemnestra’s deceptions, Agamemnon’s poetic appreciation for his home, and Cassandra’s grim foretelling.

The least interesting is “The Libation-Bearers”. It is little more than two people nerving each other up and then plotting the murder of their mother. Because she wronged them.

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