The Oresteia Trilogy (5th Century B.C.) – One Man and The Big Impact

Oh boy is this a play I have wanted to sink my teeth into since I saw my cram school’s theatre performance of this actually classic play. It was great! And how I want to talk about this play about Agamemnon, his family and all the drama that goes with it. Because really this is some complicated family, having one member hated by anyone who knows the Trojan War and another being made in a complex by Freud who just loved his classics when trying to twist all kind of incest by blaming the victim or just making a connection that wasn’t there in the first place.


The play was written by Aeschylus – the father of tragedy so you know what to expect – in 5th century BC. He had a great influence in what we now know as greek tragedy as he supposedly changed the landscape of plays by having the characters (or actors) interact with each other and not just the chorus and brought conflict in to the midst of these characters, at least this is what Aristotle says. He wrote 79 plays but only 7 survive and all we know that won prices at the Dionysia play competition in the spring. The guy had talent!

Born in the Grecian West Attican city of Eleusis in to a noble family that lived not far away from Athens, or that it what is said, wether he was born noble is either true or just a way of making him stand on more of a pedestal after his death is still a question. According to his geographer Pasuanias who wrote about him in the 2nd century AD he got his calling for playwriting while sleeping in the vineyards and that the god Dionysus came to him to take on his calling to write plays for about tragedy for the Grecian people. Wether this is a metaphor for him being drunk and having an odd dream and then like a youth just deciding to write plays spontaneously while under the influence is anyone’s guess. He had two brothers, Cynegirus, a soldier who died in the battle of Marathon and Ameinias who also was a playwright as well as a sister Philopatho. One could say it ran in the family as later on his children and nephews would become playwrights as well. They might as well be called the first Theatre Family of Greece, even though not all of their plays might not survive the legacy of their wins in celebrations do along with the prestige carried on does.

I will put summaries as I go on to the different sections, but if you want a funny sarcastic summary of this classiest of classic plays then OSP is the place to go to!


AGAMEMNON – Or How One Man Brought it All Upon Himself 

The play begins with the watchmen of Argos in Mycenae who keep watch on the sea to hear news of Troy and to find out if the battle has been won, because it has been ten years since their king went to war and the The Elders of Argos serve to tell the backstory of it all. Queen Clytemnestra has taken a lover since her husband has left (can’t blame her) with Aegisthus. King Agamemnon comes back to Argos, with the prophetess Cassandra with him and is promptly killed in revenge for killing his daughter Iphigenia by his wife and Aegisthus who killed him in revenge for his families part in his father eating his sons (that’s a whole another story). The Elders warn Clytemnestra that this will have consequences and that Orestes will pay the act of blood with her own.



THE LIBATION BEARERS – Shame! Shame! Shame! 

It has been seven years since the death of Agamemnon. Orestes returns to Argos – who was saved along with his sister by their nurse and taken away from Argos since Clytemnestra wanted to kill them both – and meet up with his sister Electra on their father’s grave where she mourns and vows revenge with his brother against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Apollo commands him to murder his mother who is suffering from bad dreams because of her deed. Electra and Orestes go to the doors of the palace of Argos to get in by telling a lie that Orestes is dead, in order to their mother and her lover. Clytemnestra mourns when she hears the news (how authentic this is is up for debate) and when she calls for Aegisthus he is killed and Clytemnestra soon after is dead too and who curses her son. Lord Apollo approved of the killing, but when the deeds are done Orestes is haunted by The Furies who hound him and he runs away because of his mother’s curse cast upon him.



THE EUMENIDES – Place your bets!

The Furies have fallen asleep after hounding Orestes for such a long distance. Orestes is met by Apollo who bid that he go to Athens. He leaves and when The Furies awaken they are angry at Apollo for condoning the murder of his mother which is against the rule blood revenge and not a rightful killing. Orestes seeks sanctuary in Athena’s temple in Athens, praying for the goddess for justice. The Furies have found him and try to take him when Athena appears and plans to make this a trial, where her vote is the deciding one and where Orestes side can make their case. Orestes confesses to the crime but doesn’t regret it. Apollo makes the case that the killing of Clytemnestra was rightful as it was revenge for killing his father Agamemnon and since Clytemnestra wasn’t really family as she came from another house and her job was to make babies like all women and his real blood family was his father (insert roll of the eyes for regressive ideas here), this means Orestes is innocent. The jury do their votes and it’s a tie. Athena casts her vote and Orestes is let free and promptly leaves the scene. Athena says to The Furies that now their job is to be the bearers of justice, not vengeance.





Agamemnon is famous from his actions during the Trojan War, which were far from honourable. Firstly, he kills his daughter Iphigenia to get better winds for his ships. Second,  angering Achilles by taking Briseis whom he had claimed and thus causing Achilles going a long hiatus from the war in to his tent causing great loss of life for the Grecian forces. Third, haughty as hell and just no care for others and insulting them. Fourth, taking Cassandra as a war prize (or bluntly a sex slave) and taking him home to his wife! I mean the guy was a ten time idiot with a big head and no doubt thought because of his many actions he was safe for life until he was axed off. If you are sympathetic to him I truly don’t understand you. Because really he is the last person to deserve ANY of the drama that came after his death. I mean, honour is at stake blah blah, but really he should have seen it coming. He even had a prophetess with him and didn’t see it coming! Can’t say his death isn’t happy news to everyone except those who are bound to revenge his death.



Clytemnestra was a Spartan Princess, the sister of Helen of Troy, thus making her a strong woman even in the times the play takes place. The is said to have another husband before Agamemnon, wether this was King Tantalus of Pisa or the King of Lydia is unclear and the myth goes that Agamemnon killed him and forced Clytemnestra to marry him. When her daughter Iphigenia is killed its not hard to see where her revenge is born for her husband and taking on a lover Aegisthus, her husband’s cousin, in the meantime is story wise in the events of the Trojan War making her the anti-Penelope. When Agamemnon comes she acts courteous to her husband and then kills him in cold blood and kills Cassandra as well for good measure. She is both powerful, but clearly underestimates the causes his acts will have (thought one can hardly blame her) and she is quite the juiciest character on stage in the first play.



He is the cousin of Agamemnon and a child of incest by his father Thyestes and daughter-wife Pelopia (permission to make a barf sound) and his myth before all this is killing his father and even the backstory is f-ed up Hannibal style, look it up if you want to and let’s just say when greeks had tragedy they went all the way. After this he becomes the lover of Clytemnestra. He is constantly belittled and the words make him weak willed against the force that is Clytemnestra. Indeed his death is hardly of matter compared to hers which brings on this whole judicial drama.



The prophetess of Troy whom no one believes even though they should. She is brought in to the play as a trophy of war and sex slave (cleanly described as a concubine in texts) for Agamemnon who claimed her after the sack and whom Clytemnestra despises at first sight. When she is left alone she starts to see visions gifted to her by Apollo of the death of Agamemnon and herself. She accepts her fate since it is in the hands of the gods and never seen again, though her scene is quite impactful. In one myth she is said to have birthed two sons for Agamemnon, Teledamus and Pelops, who were killed by Aegisthus. In the play this myth is not mentioned, most likely for dramatic reasons.



A vengeful women like her mother she mourns greatly for her father’s death while making the libations (offerings) at her father’s grave. She is as popular as her brother and has many plays to her name. Her job of doing the libations is a sacred and important job in spirit and ancestral worship in Ancient Greece. While her brother takes on the act of killing (wether she does the killing as well is up to the performance), but she is clearly the spiritual side of the sibling duo with her establishing scene and is not hounded by The Furies. This devotion to her father sadly is twisted when Freud got it in his head to make this devotion to one’s father incestuous when it clearly wasn’t, not in myth or in the play. Permission to hate on Freud all you want!



The hero himself! He really starts out sad and who really is sad throughout with The Furies following him after his deed. There has been debate wether he and his cousin Pylades had any romantic tension or not between them seeing as they were close and he returned to Argos with him in tow (old times this kind of cousin stuff was accepted, enough said). And seeing that he isn’t mentioned in having wife and children does make a case for this theory. Anyway he is a good hero, but being surrounded by people more charismatic and also less sad than him makes him disappear a little in to the background of his own trilogy.


This is a good play to put on as well as to perform with all he juicy roles in this trilogy. Though it might be 3 hours long (each play is about an hour depending how you pace it) the plays is very immersing and the drama is real drama not come out of easily explainable misunderstandings. Checking out the translations and picking one of them or making one of your own for the script for the performance is up to you, though the cultural importance is not to be diminished with the translation. There is something grand about a play like this. It has the aura of importance, yet because the story is so good you understand as to why it is a classic. This play makes you feel angry at Agamemnon, sad for Cassandra, complicated emotions for Clytemnestra and sympathy for Orestes and Electra. These roles are juicy for any actor who wants to sink their teeth in to them. So put this play up in your local theatre, go watch it if its performed or just watch the play in greek and hear music in your ears as you watch this classic play unfold with he language it was meant to be performed in. You’ve seen the summary, you can keep track of what is going on with it or just look up the play and read it before watching. Either way works!



Wikipedia – Oresteia 

Wikipedia – Aeschylus

Britannica – Oresteia 

Ancient Literature – Oresteia 

Theoi – Agamemnon 

Theoi – Libation Bearers 

Theoi – Eumenides 


Thank you for reading! 

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