The Oresteia

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And you thought your family had problems.

What is justice? How is it related to vengeance? Can justice be reconciled with the demands of religion, the violence of human feeling, or the forces of fate?

These questions have been asked by Athenians for decades after the battle of Marathon.(During the first Persian invasion of Greece, in 490 BC) And with that is the influence and inspiration for The Oresteian Trilogy Three ancient Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus.

These three plays, detail the sordid affairs due to a curse on the House of Atreus. The trilogy consists of

Aeschylus shows us that unchecked violence gives birth to further violence, murder begets more murder.


Tropes used in The Oresteia include:
  • Classical Mythology
  • Downer Ending: Played straight, but also subverted. In the first play of the trilogy, Clytemnestra seems to get away with Agamemnon's murder. However, the next play dealt with Orestes' vengeance against her. Of course, that is itself a big no-no, so Orestes is tormented by the Furies. The next play of the trilogy is a trial, which ends in the acquittal of Orestes, making the trilogy as a whole end on an up note. This was quite an innovation at the time, as a trilogy of plays produced for the City Dionysia were normally unrelated.
  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Cassandra Truth: Agamemnon features the actual Cassandra, who tells the Greek Chorus that she's going to die by Clytemnestra's hand, but they don't seem to understand her.
  • Cycle of Revenge: It all began when Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigeneia so that the Greek army could sail out for Troy. He returns home after ten years of war, only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra. Then Orestes, their son, felt it was his duty to kill her, and so on and so forth. Also note that Ag's cousin Aegisthus has a hand in his death as the continuation of a bloodfeud between their fathers. Finding a resolution to this cycle that does not involve the death of every named character is the focus of the final play.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Literally, since that's the only way the Cycle of Revenge is concluded.
  • Greek Chorus
  • Nightmare Fuel: According to contemporary accounts, the Eumenides in the Oresteia caused fainting and sphincter trouble in the audience at its premiere.
  • Missing Episode: The Oresteia would originally have been performed with a 4th comic play, Proteus. It has not survived.
  • Satyr Play: Proteus.