The Oresteia

By Aeschylus; Alan Shapiro et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF JUSTICE

Aeschylus' Oresteia, first performed in Athens in 458 B.C.E., is the sole surviving Greek tragic trilogy, and one of those peaks (like Dante's Comedy, Michelangelo's frescoes for the Sistine Chapel, or Bach's St. Matthew Passion) that loom above the other mountains of Western culture as defining expressions of their age. The presentation by each tragic poet of three tragedies performed in a row was ordained by the rules of the competition at the Great Dionysia in Athens, but there was no requirement to offer three tragedies connected by subject. We know that Sophocles and Euripides did not usually do so. Indeed, Aeschylus may have been the only tragic playwright to use the trilogy on a regular basis as, in effect, a gigantic single drama in three parts. By a happy accident, the one Greek tragic trilogy that has survived the ravages of time nearly intact is exemplary in its structure: three plays, each a whole in its own right but each needing the others to complete the form and meaning of a far greater whole.1 And to judge from such

____________________
1
It should be noted, however, that the trilogy was actually performed as part of a tetralogy. At least until sometime after the middle of the fourth century B.C.E., the three tragedies were followed by a satyr play written by the same author for the same occasion. Pithily defined by the philosopher Demetrius of Phalerum as “tragedy at play,” satyr drama remains a somewhat enigmatic genre. Only one complete example, Euripides' Cyclops, survives, along with a large part of Sophocles' Trackers and many smaller fragments. Allied to tragedy in language and scenic resources, satyr drama presented a more lighthearted, rambunctious treatment of myth. Its chorus was made up of satyrs, men with physical traits of animals (e.g., goat ears and horse tails), and with emotional and moral traits to match. Satyrs are not creatures of the polis; they represent a world in which culture itself is still coming into being, they precede (and thus transcend) the division of tragic and comic, and they bridge the gap between gods and mortals. Their perspective presumably helped restore a sense of wholeness and offered a comforting closeness to Dionysus in his most benevolent and joyful aspects. One would give a great deal to know how Aeschylus (who was recognized in antiquity as the greatest writer of satyr plays) capped his tragic trilogy, but here our luck lets us down, since we know little more than the title of the lost satyr play, Proteus. The title does, however, offer at least one clue. In the Odyssey (4. 384–570), Proteus is the Old Man of the Sea, a minor deity who has the power to change his shape, but if held until he resumes his own form will answer questions and foretell the future. Agammnon's brother Menelaus, driven off course on his return from Troy, lands in Egypt and learns from Proteus about his brother's fate and how to achieve his own homecoming. We can deduce that Aeschylus showed Menelaus surrounded by a band of satyrs on Proteus' island in the Nile, and contrasted his eventual return home with the terrible homecoming of Agamemnon.

-3-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Oresteia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Aechylus the Oresteia *
  • Editors' Foreword v
  • Contents *
  • The Oresteia *
  • Introduction 3
  • On the Translation 39
  • Agamemnon 43
  • Libation Bearers 105
  • Eumenides 147
  • Notes on the Text 189
  • Glossary 269
  • Selected Bibliography 281
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 285

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.