The Oresteia, by Aeschylus, was my first venture into Greek tragedy since reading Homer back in college. Here’s a quick review:
The Oresteia is a trilogy of works by Aeschylus – Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and Euminides. Agamemnon describes his return from the Trojan War and his murder at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra. The Libation Bearers describes Clytemnestra’s murder by her son, Orestes, in vengeance for her killing of his father (Agamemnon). Finally, in Euminides, we learn of Orestes’ acquittal at Athena’s court. Overall, the trilogy traces the evolution of justice in human society from blood vengeance (the killing of Agamemnon) to the rule of law (the acquittal of Orestes). This particular translation kept my interest fairly well, as it retains the essence of the Greek language, while it’s totally readable in present-day English. Of course, there are some unusual phrases throughout the book, but that’s to be expected.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
Your words have overcome my disbelief, and I believe them, for a willingness to learn returns youth wisely to the old. (p.64)A life unenvied is an unenviable life. (p. 76)
Charge answers charge, and who can weigh them, sift right from wrong? The ravager is ravaged, the slayer slain. But it abides, while Zeus on his throne abides, that he who does will suffer. That is law. Who will cast out the seed of curses from the house? (p. 99)
For though men idolize success as if it were a god, no, more than a god, Justice finds a way to right the balance. And some it swoops down on suddenly in the bright day; some it waits for, tensing, in the twilit shadows, and some it grabs only after black night has wrapped them in its useless shroud. (p. 109)
Don’t wipe away the seed of Pelops. So long as we live, you yourself can’t die, though dead. For children keep a man’s fame living on after he dies; like corks that buoy a net up, saving the flaxen meshes from the deep. (p. 125)
I pray that the crazed voice of civil strife that feeds on evil and is never full may never roar through this land. And may the earth not guzzle down the black blood of its people, and then, hot for revenge, welcome the city’s ruin, murder paid back with murder. Instead let citizens give joy for joy, loving the common good, hating a common foe: they’ll cure most ills this way. (p. 185)
Having now read a Greek tragedy, my appetite is set for more – though I’ll mix them in between my usual reading in history and biography. So look for more reports from my bookshelf!
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