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The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation…

The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides (edition 1984)

by Aeschylus, W. B. Stanford (Editor), W. B. Stanford (Introduction), Robert Fagles (Translator)

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6,51943585 (3.97)121
Title:The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides
Other authors:W. B. Stanford (Editor), W. B. Stanford (Introduction), Robert Fagles (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (1984), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:plays, classics

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Orestia by Aeschylus


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Three Greek dramas by Aeschylus, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Furies make for an interesting trilogy. An understanding of what went on before the Agamemnon was important; I got a lot out of the Introduction and Notes.

Agamemnon returns victorious from the Trojan War and meets a tragic fate.

In the second drama, Orestes, Agamemnon's son, returns to avenge his father's murder (Apollo told him to...).

The conclusion of the trilogy is the trial of Orestes, presided over by Athena, with Apollo as a witness for the defense and the Furies for the prosecution and 12 citizens of Athens are the jury.

I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed these dramas. I did find them interesting - to see the murder of a husband compared to the murder of a mother, to see Apollo argue that the true parent is the father not the mother, as the mother only 'hoards the germ of life' (WOW!) and makes a comparison to Athena, who did not come from a mother's womb. Also, I found it very interesting to see a newer god (Athena) arguing with older gods (the Furies) and essentially assuage them through bribery... ( )
  LisaMorr | Jan 27, 2016 |
I am not here to review the Oresteia--the foundational text of Western drama hardly needs my praise--but instead to say a few words about the Richmond Lattimore translation which I read. Lattimore has an exalted reputation as a translator-poet, but I found this rendering fussy, wordy, often unclear, adhering pedantically to the dodecasyllabic meter of the original which (as Paul Roche has argued) works for the swift-moving Greek tongue but lumbers in consonant-rich English. As Pope wrote in the Essay on Criticism,

A needless alexandrine ends the song
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.

"Alexandrine" refers to a line written in iambic hexameter (twelve syllables, half of them stressed); the second line of Pope's couplet, in which he demonstrates how little suited such a meter is to English, reads uncannily like a parody of Lattimore's Oresteia in advance. Lattimore's twelve-syllable lines are cluttered with superfluous words whose apparent purpose is to fill out the meter and/or convey the alliterative music of the original. Check out these lines of Cassandra's (italics are mine):

Now I will tell you plainly and from no cryptic speech;
bear me then witness, running at my heels upon
the scent of these old brutal things done long ago.

Oh, how those wounded snakes drag their slow length along! Some of the redundancy may be in the Greek, but I blame Lattimore. I looked up these lines in the Fagles translation and found this:

No more riddles. I will teach you.
Come, bear witness, run and hunt with me.
We trail the old barbaric works of slaughter.

The Fagles translation of these lines, which is metrically more flexible, is clear and energetic, and there is to my eye not a superfluous word. Fagles may miss out on the evocative "scent" but he also avoids the confusion of "running at my heels upon" and the redundancies that clog the flow of Lattimore's rendering.

Or check out Lattimore's adjective-overkill in these lines of Clytaemnestra's:

Thus he went down, and the life struggled out of him;
and as he died he spattered me with the dark red
and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood

Here are the same lines as construed by Fagles:

So he goes down, and the life is bursting out of him--
great sprays of blood, and the murderous shower
wounds me, dies me black. . .

Once more, Fagles' metrically more flexible rendering is clearer and more forceful: Fagles has no need to pad out the meter with superfluous verbal placeholders (and strained efforts to preserve the alliterative quality of the Greek: Lattimore's "down," "died," "dark red," "driven rain," "bitter," "blood"). Moreover, in Lattimore's translation, the image of spattering blood is inconsistent with the more laborious image of life "struggling" out of the dying Agamemnon. Fagles has "bursting," not "struggling," which makes more sense. Admittedly, I don't know the original Greek, but even supposing Lattimore is more faithful to Aeschylus in this instance, the fidelity is achieved at the expense of coherence and energy.

Sometimes Lattimore's translation is downright murky, like the Chorus's line in this exchange with Cassandra, where alliteration triumphs over intelligibility:

Cassandra: Friends, there is no escape for any longer time.
Chorus: Yet longest left in time is to be honored still.
Again, I looked these lines up in the Fagles translation, where they make a lot more sense:

Cassandra: No escape, my friends, not now.
Chorus:But the last hour should be savored.
Even when Lattimore's translation avoids redundancy and needless obscurity, it is given to unnatural word order and stilted phrasing. Classical Greek is a dead language, but for Aeschylus and his audience it was living, breathing speech. Lattimore does not make Aeschylus' poetry live and breathe; he lovingly embalms it. I came away from this disappointing translation with only a muted sense of the touted majesty of these plays. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
Umberto Eco once wrote in reference to literature translation that if you refer to a dictionary, exactitude is not one of the synonyms of faithfulness. In many of the comments that I've read on the Hughes translation of the Oresteia, it has been noted that Hughes is not true to the text. I feel that this is somewhat beside the point. This is a text that can capture an audience's attention with a story and world that is entirely alien to our own. As a reader, I was drawn deeply into the text, and often forgot that I was reading a translated work—a huge success for a translation between two vastly different languages. Of the three plays, I particularly enjoyed Agamemnon. The language is raw and often gut-wrenching, but it captivates the reader with drum-beat alliteration and an incessant pull forward. For example, when Clytemnestra describes the end of the Trojan war, she talks of:

"Troy on its hill / Cascades with blood, as under a downpour / Of bodies from heaven, / Shattered and entangled with each other / In every passage—mutilations, / Amputations, eviscerations. The woman / Are kneeling, shoulders heaving, with eyes hidden, / Over what were yesterday / Husbands, fathers, sons." (21)

This intensely visual language can be found throughout the text, and makes for a very powerful, moving translation. It may not be exactly true to the ancient Greek, but I'm sure it can affect audiences just as well as the original. I couldn't recommend it more. ( )
  mmcdwl | Sep 10, 2015 |
Aeschylus's The Oresteia my not contain the landmark Greek play Oedipus Rex within its cycle but it also doesn't contain the less impressive Antigone. Instead you get three plays that act as three acts, a beginning, a heightened middle, and a denouement. Agamemnon has little of the title character taking up its breadth of lines and none of Orestes, for which the cycle is named. It does set up the action of events, however, as Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra conspire together and kill Agamemnon. The Libation Bearers is set a few years later and features the son of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon exacting revenge under the guidance of Apollo. The Eumenides is then the tale of the furies' attempt to get revenge on Orestes following his mother's curse in a short but literally divine trial. I do have my complaints about the amount of filler featured at the very beginning of these three plays but that quickly evaporates once the action sets moving at full bore over a course perhaps even shorter than the shortest of Shakespeare's plays. The crown jewel of Greek Tragedy will always be Oedipus Rex (or Oedipus The King) but it's doubtful these three plays would let any but the most stringent auditors down. ( )
  Salmondaze | Apr 19, 2015 |
Right's anvil stands staunch on the ground
and the smith, Destiny, hammers out the sword.
Delayed in glory, pensive from
the murk, Vengeance brings home at last
a child, to wipe out the stain of blood shed long ago.
—"Libation Bearers" line: 646

There is no mortal man who shall turn
unhurt his life's course to an end not marred.
—"Libation Bearers" 1018

You wish to be called righteous rather than act right.
—"The Eumenides" 430 ( )
  gvenezia | Dec 26, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (96 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aeschylusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burian, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fagles, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grene, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hughes, TedTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koolschijn, GerardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lattimore, RichmondEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levi, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowell, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morshead, E. D. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Murray, GilbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preece, LaurenceIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roche, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shapiro, AlanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simonsuuri, KirstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stanford, W.B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vellacott, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Be like me! - amid the incessant flux
of appearances, eternally creating,
eternally driving into life, in this
rushing, whirling flux eternally seizing
satisfaction - I am the Great Mother!

- Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
First words
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness/ of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake/ elbowed upon the Atreidaes' roof dogwise to mark/ the grand processionals of all the stars of night/ burdened with winter and again with heat for men,/ dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,/ these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise. (tr. Lattimore 1953)
Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake..
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus
like a dog.

[tr. Flagles 1984]
The Oresteia of Aeschylus was first performed in Athens in the spring of 458 B.C., some two years before the poet's death. (Introduction)
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Disambiguation notice
This LT Work is the complete Oresteia trilogy of plays by Aeschylus, including:

Choephori (a/k/a, The Libation Bearers), and
Eumenides (a/k/a, The Furies).

Please do not combine this trilogy with any of the individual plays, or with any other collection. Specifically, do not combine this work with any edition that also includes Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound. Thank you.
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Book description
Translations of the extant plays of Aeschylus.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140443339, Paperback)

In the Oresteia—the only trilogy in Greek drama which survives from antiquity— Aeschylus took as his subject the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos. Moving from darkness to light, from rage to self-governance, from primitive ritual to civilized institution, it's spirit of struggle and regeneration is eternal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:51 -0400)

(see all 11 descriptions)

A trilogy of plays dramatizes the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytaemnestra, the revenge of her son, Orestes, and his judgement by the court of Athena.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140443339, 0140440674

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