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Theatre / The Oresteia

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And you thought your family had problems.

What is justice? How is it related to vengeance? Can justice be reconciled with the demands of religion, the violence of human feeling, or the forces of fate?

These questions had been asked by Athenians for decades after the battle of Marathon (which occurred during the first Persian invasion of Greece, in 490 BC) and were the inspiration for The Oresteian Trilogy, three ancient Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus.

These three plays detail the sordid affairs which occur due to a curse on the House of Atreus. The trilogy consists of

Aeschylus shows us that unchecked violence gives birth to further violence, murder begets more murder.

Has been translated multiple times; you can find one version here.

Tropes in The Oresteia include:

  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Tantalides are a mess.
  • Cassandra Truth: Agamemnon features the actual Cassandra, a princess of Troy and now Agamemnon's prize of war, who tells the Greek Chorus that she's going to die by Clytemnestra's hand, but they don't seem to understand her.
  • Cycle of Revenge: It all began when Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigeneia so that the Greek army could sail out for Troy. He returns home after ten years of war, only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra. Then Orestes, their son, felt it was his duty to kill her, and so on and so forth. Also note that Ag's cousin, Aegisthus, has a hand in his death as the continuation of a blood feud between their fathers—Ag's father Atreus had served up Aeg's brothers to their father, Thyestes, for having an affair with Atreus' wife. Aeg had then killed Atreus and put Thyestes on the throne, but Ag and his brother had ousted him. Finding a resolution to this cycle that does not involve the death of every named character is the focus of the final play.
  • Deus ex Machina: Literally, since that's the only way the Cycle of Revenge is concluded.
  • Downer Ending: Subverted. In the first play of the trilogy, Clytemnestra seems to get away with Agamemnon's murder. However, the next play dealt with Orestes' vengeance against her. Of course, that is itself a big no-no, so Orestes is tormented by the Furies. The next play of the trilogy is a trial, which ends in the acquittal of Orestes, making the trilogy as a whole end on an up note. This was quite an innovation at the time, as a trilogy of plays produced for the City Dionysia were normally unrelated.
  • Morton's Fork: Orestes' situation. His mother, Clytemnestra, slew his father, Agamemnon. If Orestes fails to avenge Agamemnon, then the Furies, goddesses of guilt and revenge, will pursue him to the ends of the earth. However, if Orestes murders his own mother - even if in sanctioned vengeance - the Furies will still pursue him to the ends of the earth!
  • Satyr Play: Proteus.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Both Electra and Pylades are introduced in The Libation Bearers but aren't in Eumenides

Alternative Title(s): Oresteian Trilogy, Oresteia