Aeschylus: The Oresteia, a Student Guide

Aeschylus: The Oresteia, a Student Guide

Simon Goldhill

Language: English

Pages: 105

ISBN: 0521539811

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Simon Goldhill focuses on the play's themes--justice, sexual politics, violence, and the role of man in ancient Greek culture--in this general introduction to Aeschylus' Oresteia, one of the most important and influential of all Greek dramas. After exploring how Aeschylus constructs a myth for the city in which he lived, a final chapter considers the influence of the Oresteia on more contemporary theater. The volume's organized structure and guide to further reading will make it an invaluable reference for students and teachers. First Edition Hb (1992): 0-521-40293-X First Edition Pb (1992): 0-521-40853-9

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hand through an extended series of ritual scenarios – the libation-pouring, the prayers and offerings, the kommos – which place the revenge within a context of ordered religious activity. The murder of the queen, like that of the king in the Agamemnon, receives extended dramatization after its lengthy scenes of preparation. After Clytemnestra takes the unrecognized Orestes into the palace, surprisingly his old nurse comes out to summon Aegisthus; she laments Orestes’ apparent death; she recalls

pervert and conquer. This negative desire destroys the ‘yoked society of beasts and men’ – that is, all forms of union that make up society. It is this threat that Clytemnestra embodies. Clytemnestra’s pursuit of power, then, through her misuse of words and her misuse of her body in adultery constructs a figure of monstrous reversal of the female role. One effect of this representation of the woman in charge is the great reduction of the role of Aegisthus. In the Agamemnon, he appears only in the

women. 38 THE ORESTEIA The Eumenides continues this opposition. Apollo, a male god, supports Orestes; the Furies, female figures, support Clytemnestra’s cause. The trial itself turns on issues central to gender roles. For Apollo’s final and necessary argument (Cho. 657–61) is that the mother is no parent to the child; the true parent is ‘the one who mounts’, and the mother is just ‘like a host for the male seed’. So too Athene’s reasons for voting for Orestes are explicitly based on her

grace’, the messenger replies, ‘Yes! For things have gone well’, as if they were expecting to die for joy at the prospect of the army’s return. This misunderstanding stands as a significant prelude to the messenger’s report, and his next commission: to take back to Agamemnon Clytemnestra’s message, namely, that Agamemnon should hurry home to find his ‘trustworthy wife in the house, as he left her, the noble watchdog of the home, enemy to his enemies . . .’ (a message that prompts from the chorus

from modern Western representative government. The ‘commitment to the polis’ that I described as a basic fifth-century ideological force finds its institutional pinnacle in Athenian democracy. I mentioned above the standard assumption that a citizen should be prepared to fight and die for the polis (as indeed Aeschylus fought at Marathon and perhaps Salamis). It must never be forgotten to what degree Athens is a warrior society and how deeply militarism is linked to democracy throughout the fifth

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