Hauntings of Justice
Updated: Mar 23
Today we begin The Oresteia, following the disturbing events of the house of Atreus, particularly on character of Agamemnon and his family. The author of this story is Aeschylus, the Greek poet who won the tragedy prize several times and wrote a trilogy of plays which we now are reading. Agamemnon, the first play in this trilogy, begins with Agamemnon's return home from the Trojan War. (This is why we follow our reading of the Iliad with this play.) Clytaemestra, Agamemnon’s wife, has been unfaithful while he was gone these ten years in Troy. Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin, has claimed the throne, and Clytaemestra, who "maneuvers like a man" while her husband was gone at war, has taken him as her adulterous lover. Within hours of his return from the Trojan War, Clytaemestra murders Agamemnon. Agamemnon’s son, Orestes (who gives his name to the the plays) flees, but later he returns to kill both his mother Clytaemestra and the usurper Aegisthus. Orestes is then pursued by the Furies, who always take vengeance on matricides and haunt those who commit acts of impiety and injustice. Finally (and this is the plot of the third play), Orestes flees to Athens were the Athena and Apollo of the younger gods hold trial and acquit him.
Of Agamemnon's self-justification, Aeschylus writes,
Lord Agamemnon spoke, the elder prince: "Grievous the doom should I disobey, but grievous, indeed, if I butcher the child, the delight of my house, and stain these father's hands with floods of virgin blood beside the altar place. What thing is free of disaster here? How can I desert the fleet, abandon my allies? To rage in anger for a sacrifice to ease the winds, a sacrifice of a virgin's blood, is right. I would it were well."
On the impiety of Agamemnon, Aeschylus writes (translated by Gilbert Murray),
To the yoke of Must-Be he bowed him slowly,
And a strange wind within his bosom tossed,
A wind of dark thought, unclean, unholy;
And he rose up, daring to the uttermost.
For men are boldened by a Blindness, straying
Toward base desire, which brings grief hereafter,
Yea, and itself is grief;
So this man hardened to his own child’s slaying,
As help to avenge him for a woman’s laughter
And bring his ships relief!
According to the Greek classicist Gilbert Murray, the Oresteia "centres on the old and everlastingly unsolved problem of, 'The ancient blinded vengeance and the wrong that amendeth wrong.'" We'll talk more about this idea throughout the week.
Agenda for the WEEK:
Prayer & Catechism
Begin Biblical Study of "Parables"
Read Matthew 13 and begin studying the Parable of the Sower
Work on Parable Worksheets
Finish and turn in Parable of the Tares Worksheet (due 3/23)
Finish Parable of the Sower Worksheet (due 3/24)
Begin Agamemnon by Aeschylus
Tuesday (3/22) — read up to page 129
Wednesday (3/23) — read Agamemnon page 148
Add to the Agamemnon questions
Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Pray, that you may not stumble.
Study Orestes Notes and Themes for Friday quiz.
Depicted here is the "Sacrifice of Iphigenia," an antique fresco from Pompeii, probably a copy of a painting by Timanthes. Note the look of human hesitancy by the impious father Agamemnon.