Unit III: Greek Tragedy, ca. 480-400 B.C.
Week 10: Aeschylus (ca. 525-456/5 B.C.)
The Athenian theater of Dionysus
Now we leap ahead several centuries, through the Greek Dark Age (ca. 1100-800 B.C.), to the heyday of Athenian culture and the rise of democracy. One of the peculiar institutions of Athens is its drama, which was originally written for religious festivals in the Theater of Dionysus.
Please read before you begin:
Then please read:
- The Agamemnon
- [The Choephoroi (Libation Bearers) — optional]
- The Eumenides
For this week, I am assigning the first and last plays of the only surviving trilogy in the whole Greek dramatic corpus — that is, the Oresteia (“The Orestes Story”) of Aeschylus. (The Theban plays of Sophocles, which we’ll be looking at next time, are sometimes erroneously referred to as a trilogy, but the salient feature of a Greek tragic trilogy is that all three plays be produced in the same year and presented together. The Theban plays were not.) The first play is called the “Agamemnon”, and the last is called the “Eumenides”. You may wish to read the middle play (The “Choephoroi” or “Libation Bearers”) as well, if you have time. If you want to read the “Choephoroi” or any other pieces of Greek drama, you can of course look them up in a library; or you can read them online on a website or download a public domain version of the text from a suitable FTP location.
In stores and libraries:
- Robert Fagles, who produced your translation of the Iliad, has also translated the Oresteia into similarly flexible verse. I am not entirely thrilled with it, but it is accessible.
- In many libraries and some better bookstores, you can find the translations by Lattimore and Green, often in a set of complete Greek drama. These are less flamboyant, but are quite accurate — possibly the best available. They have been around a while, too, so you should be able to find them used if you look hard enough.
- There are some older ones in collected drama sets, and such things as the Great Books sets. These tend to be a little flowery — not really much like the way Aeschylus himself wrote, which was rather grittier.
On the web:
- From the Project Perseus website, the “Agamemnon”. This is a rather dull but servicable prose translation that you can read on the web. If you also know or are studying Greek, you can also flip back and forth from the English to the Greek texts. The “Choephoroi” or “Libation Bearers” is not required, but is here also, if you would like to read it, as is the “Eumenides” — the conclusion of the trilogy.
- The Tech Archive also supplies the Morshead translation of the “Agamemnon (though it is inexplicably truncated),” the “Choephoroi” and the “Eumenides.” This translation is rather Victorian in its sensibility, and has some very awkward bits. But it also has more drama and flair than the translation on the Perseus site.
Above center: The Athenian Theater of Dionysus; © Copyright, Mary McMenomy, 1999;
Lower right: Orestes and Pylades, First-century Greco-Roman, Paris, Musée du Louvre; © Copyright, Bruce McMenomy, 2010.
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