The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides (Penguin Classics)
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Aeschylus (525-c.456 bc) set his great trilogy in the immediate aftermath of the Fall of Troy, when King Agamemnon returns to Argos, a victor in war. Agamemnon depicts the hero's discovery that his family has been destroyed by his wife's infidelity and ends with his death at her callous hand. Clytemnestra's crime is repaid in The Choephori when her outraged son Orestes kills both her and her lover. The Eumenides then follows Orestes as he is hounded to Athens by the Furies' law of vengeance and depicts Athene replacing the bloody cycle of revenge with a system of civil justice. Written in the years after the Battle of Marathon, "The Oresteian Trilogy" affirmed the deliverance of democratic Athens not only from Persian conquest, but also from its own barbaric past.
ends with the question, Will Zeus now save this tormented house, and bring the curse to an end? THE EUMENIDES Hitherto the whole story has been intensely concerned with human actions, with human fete and human feelings. At the same time the pattern of events has been shown as the reflection of a pattern of divine will, as the working-out of divinely ordained moral principles. Zeus is in heaven, judging sin and forgetting nothing; Apollo is in his temple, where his unearthly voice commanded
the age of reason and law, and by his help the cosmic battle was won, the age of anarchy defeated, and the Olympian dynasty established. Prometheus was rewarded for his services with an invitation to dine at the table of the Olympian gods. There, in pity for the sad plight of mankind, he stole a spark of divine fire and conveyed it to the earth. He taught men all the uses of fire, and in particular how to melt metal and shape it into weapons and tools. Zeus, seeing what increase of strength and
taint. And now from holy lips, with pure words, I invoke Athene, ruler of this country, to my aid. Thus she shall gain, without one blow, by just compact, Myself, my country, and my Argive citizens In loyal, lasting, unreserved confederacy. Whether by the Tritonian lake, her Libyan home, She stands – at rest, at war, a bulwark to her friends; Or with a warrior’s eye in bold command surveys The Phlegraean plain – a god can hear me – let her now Come in divine authority and save my soul!
Hear me, O brooding Night, My mother, from whose womb I came for punishment Of all who live in light Or grope beyond the tomb. Phoebus would steal away My office and my right, My trapped and cowering prey Whose anguish must atone For sin so violent, For blood that bore his own. Now, by the altar, Over the victim [329–46] Ripe for our ritual, Sing this enchantment: A song without music, A sword in the senses, A storm in the heart And
deities who watch the rising sun. The statues of Zeus, Apollo, and Hermes stand on the eastward or south-eastward façade of the palace, facing the direction from which Agamemnon arrives. p. 62 Our hearts echo what you felt. Their relief at Agamemnon’s safe arrival is so deep that they could now die happy. The more sombre note of ‘Our hearts were dark with trouble’ naturally escapes the Herald. p. 64 A wife as faithful as he left. In this and the following lines Clytemnestra uses her