The Oresteia

The Oresteia

The Oresteia

The Oresteia


William von Humbolt wrote of Aeschylus' The Oresteia that "among all the products of the Greek stage, none can compare with it in tragic power; no other play shows the same intensity and pureness of belief in the divine and good; none can surpass the lessons it teaches and the wisdom of which it is the mouthpiece." A sequence of three plays, The Oresteia relays the final tragedies which befall the House of Atreus following the end of the Trojan War. The first play, "Agamemnon," tells of the return of King Agamemnon from Troy and of his murder by his wife and her lover. The second, "The Libation Bearers," details the revenge exacted by Agamemnon's son, Orestes, and daughter, Electra, for their father's death. In the third play of the trilogy, "The Eumenides," Orestes and Apollo go before an Athenian jury to determine their ultimate fate. The only full trilogy to have survived from the ancient Greek playwrights, The Oresteia was first performed at a festival in Athens in 458 B.C. where it won first prize. The Oresteia today remains one of the most popular plays of all time. These new dramatic releases provide us once again with that powerful and direct style of translation for which Professor Johnston has become known.


Aeschylus was born in Eleusis, a town near Athens, around 525 BC. He grew up during the development of Athenian democracy and fought at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, a high point of Greek culture, when the Greek army, predominantly Athenians, defeated a force of Persian invaders.

Aeschylus wrote many plays (probably around ninety), only seven of which have survived. His Oresteia, the only complete surviving trilogy of plays by an ancient Greek dramatist, won the annual drama competition in Athens in 458 BC.

Aeschylus died in Sicily in 455 BC. Some legends have it that the cause of death was a turtle dropped onto his head by a bird flying above him.

Ian Johnston was born in Valparaiso, Chile, and educated in England and Canada. He has a BSc from McGill (Geology and Chemistry), a BA from Bristol (English and Greek), and an MA from Toronto (English). For many years he taught literature (English, Classics, and Liberal Studies) in the British Columbia college and university-college system, mostly at Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, before retiring in 2004. He is the author of The Ironies of War: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad (1988) and some justly forgotten satirical musical dramas. He now lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia. His numerous translations from German, French, and Greek are available on his web site at the following address:, and his translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have recently been published in the United States by Richer Resources Publications.

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