Study Guide: Aeschylus'
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Aeschylus: Born 525/524, Athens. Died 456/455 in Gela, Sicily.
Plays: Unlike most tetralogies we know of, the Oresteia
constitutes a connected story line. It was produced at Athens in the year
Setting: Agamemnon and Libation Bearers in Argos
(where Agamemnon is king); Eumenides at Delphi, then at Athens.
Proteus (lost satyr play) in Egypt
Time: The aftermath of the Trojan War
- Agamemnon: The return of the victorious Agamemnon from Troy,
and his murder at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, in revenge for
sacrificing their daughter, Iphigeneia. Cassandra, princess of Troy
and Agamemnon's captive, is also killed
- Libation Bearers: Orestes and Electra (brother and sister)
conspire to kill Clytemnestra (their mother) and Aegisthus (Clytemnestras
lover) in revenge for the murder of Agamemnon, their father
- Eumenides: Orestes is put on trial at Athens for the murder
of his mother. The Furies (Erinues), goddesses of punishment,
are at last appeased. The cycle of violence is broken
- Proteus (lost): Satyr play; concerns what happened to Menelaus
(Agamemnons brother) through all this - i.e., his and Helen's
adventures in Egypt
- man versus woman
- civic harmony versus civic chaos
- persuasion versus violence
- new gods versus old gods
- new political order versus old
- JUSTICE VERSUS JUSTICE
What connections are there between justice,
power-force-violence, and persuasion in Aeschylus
In general, think about how imagery RESONATES and ECHOES
in the Oresteia - images "bouncing off" of one another and reflecting
one another and the action of the play, too.
- For the trilogy, what are the types of justice?
- Do they conflict?
- What are their relative merits?
- Which justice is ultimately 'just?
- Do you see an evolution in how justice is conceived?
- How do you yourself possibly define/redefine justice as a result
of reading the Oresteia?
- Does the Oresteia say anything about the role of persuasion
and justice in a community?
Is there at the end of it all "theodicy": divinely
19-Feb . . .
The Chorus in Agamemnon
We shall interrogate Hegelian notions of the chorus as "simple
consciousness" in opposition to "individual pathos,"
the "ethical mode" associated with the main characters - the
"heroes" - of tragedy.
21-Feb Discussion: "There are no bad tragic characters"
. . .
The case of Clytemnestra. Organized class discussion.
B. Issues, Topics Preview
- "Tragic formula"
- koros (excess)
- hubris (arrogance, transgression)
- atē (delusion, ruin)
- dikē (justice)
- Cycle of suffering
- Pathei mathos, "knowledge through suffering"
C. General Issues
IN GENERAL. How do YOU respond to the various
characters? Bad guys? Good guys? In between? Why?
The chorus. The role of the chorus (VERY prominent):
their effectiveness/ineffectiveness in the action of the play; their function
within the POETIC structure. Note the play of imagery - metaphor and simile
- in their songs. How to make sense of all those images?
Clytaemnestra. Gender issues: In what ways does
she play the womans part? In what ways the man's part? Justice:
Do YOU think Clytaemnestra (who kills her husband) does/does not have
justice on her side? Why??
Agamemnon - red carpet scene. His arrival and
the red carpet scene (lines 795976): What are the issues in this
episode? Why in the end does Agamemnon tread upon the carpet? Why
is it a fatal mistake?
Cassandra scene. Can you make sense of the telescoping
of prequel into action of play?
- Zeus: "Father of gods and men," arbiter of justice,
- Ares: god of destructive war
- Apollo: god of prophecy; grants Cassandra (Trojan princess,
Agamemnon's prisoner) the gift, but decrees that she will never be believed
- Artemis: Demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter if the
Greek fleet is to be allowed to sail out of Aulis for Troy
- Furies: Deities of punishment
Genealogy: House of Pelops
"Feast of Thyestes"
- Atreus and Thyestes, sons of Pelops, quarrel over the
kingship of Argos
- Atreus becomes king, but Thyestes has an affair with Atreus wife
- Atreus exiles Thyestes, but then invites his brother back to Argos,
supposedly to give Thyestes a chance to seek forgiveness
- Pretending to serve his brother meat from a sacrificed animal, Atreus
actually tricks Thyestes into eating two of Thyestes' own sons - this
is the Feast of Thyestes
- Atreus' two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, become kings
- Agamemnon of Argos, Menelaus of Sparta
- Agamemnon marries Clytemnestra, Menelaus marries Helen,
- Paris, prince of Troy (in Turkey), steals Helen; the
brothers (the "Atreids") organize an army to get her
- But the Greek army can't set sail from Aulis until the goddess
Artemis' desire for a human sacrifice is satisfied - it must
be Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon
- The Chorus in Agamemnon provides no clear motivation -
an offense against the goddess or the like - to explain Artemis'
anger at Agamemnon and Menelaus
- Iphigenia dies, the Greeks set sail. While Agamemnon is gone, Clytaemnestra
has an affair with Aegisthus, the surviving son of Thyestes (see
"Feast of Thyestes," above)
- It is important to note that in Agamemnon's absence, Clytemnestra
has sent Orestes, their child, away to be raised by Strophius
of Phocis, allegedly so that in the event of Agamemnon's death,
an uprising of the people of Argos won't endanger the child
- Agamemnon conquers and loots Troy, and returns to Argos with Cassandra,
formerly princess of Troy, now his slave