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The Oresteia trilogy consists of three closely connected plays. In Agamemnon, the great Greek King of that name comes home after the long war; they are victorious over the Trojans. Unbeknownst to him, his wife Clytaemnestra has been plotting his death with her lover Aegisthus. Clytaemnestra feels this act is just because she is avenging the death of her daughter Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed before he left for Troy to have a speedy journey.
The Libation Bearers is the second play of The Oresteia. At the beginning of this play Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, who was sent away as a child by his mother, returns to his homeland to avenge his father?s murder. He is reunited with his sister Electra and together they ask for their father?s help in murdering Clytaemnestra and her lover who are now ruling the kingdom. Orestes kills Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. The vengeful Furies brought on by his mother?s curse then chase Orestes.
The Eumenides, the third play of The Oresteia translates to mean ?The Kind Goddesses?. The play begins in Delphi at Apollo?s shrine where Orestes has journeyed to escape the wrath of the Furies. Apollo demands that the Furies leave Orestes alone, that it was he who bid Orestes to murder Clytaemnestra and the Furies were to leave Orestes alone. They refused, so Apollo agreed to have a trial in Athens where the Goddess Athena organizes a jury of Athenian citizens (male). The jury votes and it is a tie and Athena breaks the tie with her vote in favor of Orestes, therefore acquitting him of all charges. The Furies, angry at the outcome vow to avenge this decision, but Athena persuades them to bless Athens and take Athens as their new home.
Aeschylus?s trilogy call our attention to two concepts of theme: one is of justice as revenge, the other that Agamemnon was destined by Zeus to die because of the curse of the house of Atreus (his father). We see early on in the play Agamemnon that Clytaemnestra , his wife has been planning the demise of Agamemnon. She is bitter and angry at Agamemnon because he sacrificed their daughter, Iphegenia, ??our child is gone, not standing by our side, the bond of our dearest pledges, mine and yours; by all rights our child should be here?? (136). While Agamemnon was away (for ten years) she meticulously plotted and planned his demise with her lover Aegisthus, who also had a reason to want Agamemnon dead. Agamemnon?s father killed Aegisthus?s brothers and fed them to Thyestes (his father), who had seduced Atreus?s wife. During those times, the sins of the father are inherited by their sons: in this case, Agamemnon inherits his father?s crime and is punishable for that crime.
The Libation Bearers also brings about the theme of revenge when Orestes comes back home several years after his father?s death. He meets his sister Electra who has been praying to the gods for someone to avenge her father. ?Raise up your avengers, into the light, my father- kill the killers in return with justice?(183). Orestes (guided by Apollo) plots to kill Clytaemnestra. ?Oh she?ll pay, she?ll pay, by the gods and these bare hands- just let me take her life and die? (196). Even faced with his mother Orestes is ready to slaughter, ?I want to butcher you- right across his body! In life you thought he dwarfed my father- Die!- go down with him forever!? (217). Orestes carries out his seething rage just like his mother before him and again justice seems to served.
A final example of justice as revenge is in the final play of The Oresteia. In The Eumenides, Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus are dead. Orestes is being chased by the Furies, ?No dreams, these torments, not to me, they?re clear, real- the hounds of mother?s hate?(225), whom Clytaemnestra?s ghost has sent after him. Clytaemnestra warned Orestes that if he kills her she would come back. ?Watch out- the hounds of a mother?s curse will hunt you down? (218). And she carried out her curse. The Furies became her ?hounds? they followed Orestes everywhere vowing not to stop until Clytaemnestra?s death was avenged and justice served.
The second theme of The Oresteia is that Agamemnon was destined for a fatal end by Zeus because of his father?s wrong doing. ?What part is played in his destruction by the curse brought down upon his family by the monstrous action of his father, Atreus?? (Jones, 168). It seems as though Agamemnon was set up from the very beginning. ?He is obviously doomed from the start? (Kitto, 143). The crimes Atreus commited sealed Agamemnon?s fate. Zeus was determined to punish the family for the horrible crimes committed.
The first part of the destruction of Agamemnon by Zeus was removing his reasoning. By doing this Agamemnon could not make rational decisions. Zeus then placed Agamemnon in situations that gave him no way out. For example, Zeus wanted Agamemnon to travel to Troy to win the battle. Agamemnon was also told that the only way to have a safe journey was to sacrifice his daughter. Now, Agamemnon did not want to kill his daughter, but he also did not want to anger the gods and not win the war.
?Let us now examine the crucial scene in which Clytaemnestra induces her husband to tread upon the purple tapestries. Why does Agamemnon end by succumbing to his wife?s persuasion?? (Jones, 173).
?This- you treat me like a woman. Grovelling, gaping up at me- what am I, some barbarian peacocking out of Asia? Never cross my path with robes and draw the lightning. Never- only the gods deserve the pomps of honor and the stiff brocades of fame. To walk on them?I am human, and it makes my pulses stir with dread. Give me the tributes of a man and not a god, a little earth to walk on, not this gorgeous work. There is no need to sound my reputation. I have a sense of right and wrong, what?s more- heaven?s proudest gift. Call no man blest until he ends his life in peace, fulfilled. If I can live by what I say, I have no fear.? (138).
It is already clear that Clytaemnestra wants Agamemnon dead, and she will do anything to push him further and further into more crime. And remember that Zeus has taken Agamemnon?s reason away. By treading on these tapestries, Agamemnon has sealed his fate. He has angered the gods with this action and he has also sealed Clytemnestra?s mind about his murder.
In my opinion, Aeschylus was a writer before his time. He has hidden so many different things in his writing. For example, how Clytemnestra was portrayed. She was not a woman of the ancient Greek times. She was portrayed as manly, decisive, demanding, intelligent, and very powerful. Greek women were never to act this way in real life. He also used the goddess Athena in this story, who was born of Zeus and no
Mother. Athena, therefore praised men more than women. To her the men were the strong species.
?No mother gave me birth. I honour the male, in all things but marriage. Yes, with all my heart I am my Father?s child. I cannot set more store by the woman?s death- she killed her husband, guardian of their house?? (264).
Aeschylus also showed a more civilized people of Athens in the final play, by having Athena set a trial by jury. This leads the Greeks to a more democratic and civilized society. This also leads the way for civilizations to come. I am glad that even thousands of years after his death we are still able to enjoy this timeless classic.
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