Happy January 1st--are you ready to start reading the ancient Greeks?
I'm going to start with Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. These plays tell the awful story of Agamemnon's family after he returns from the Trojan War. Before setting out, he had sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, and in revenge (not to mention how Agamemnon took Cassandra as a mistress) his wife Clytemnestra murders him, and Cassandra too. Now it's up to their son Orestes to avenge his father, and he kills Clytemnestra and her lover. This makes Orestes guilty of matricide, so the Furies pursue and torment him, and he appeals to Apollo, who encouraged Orestes in the first place. Athena has to step in as arbiter, which leads to some discussion on reason and law. What happens when justice and duty are at cross-purposes?
Aeschylus' plays are the oldest we have, and only seven have survived; he wrote at least seventy. All the plays before Aeschylus have been lost, and apparently they were somewhat different, with fewer characters that could only speak with the chorus. Aeschylus developed conflict between characters and is often known as the Father of Tragedy. He wrote many trilogies, but all have been lost except for the Oresteia. From what I hear, his plays are written in difficult Greek that often puzzled his contemporaries and now gives translators fits.
He was born in Eleusis around 525 BC of a wealthy family, and was a member of the Eleusinian mysteries that were based in his home city. He served in the Persian wars and fought at the Battle of Marathon, as did his brother Cynegeirus, who was killed in action there and revered as a hero. Later, he fought at the Battle of Salamis as well. This war service was much more important to the Greeks than literary accomplishment, and so his epitaph reads:
- Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,
- who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;
- of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,
- and the long-haired Persian knows it well.
Now that you know something about Aeschylus, what Greek literature are you planning to read?