Plays by Aeschylus

Agamemnon (Play One from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

Choephori (Play Two from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

Eumenides (Play Three from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

Persians

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Taking the 480 BC destruction of the invading Persian forces as its starting point, Aeschylus's Persians shows the lamenting Persian Queen, mother of Xerxes, far away from the battlefield as she learns of the evisceration of the men of her kingdom. Bit by bit news reaches her of her son's defeat, how the Greeks won out against the Persians superior numbers, and how none of the survivors have hope of returning to their homeland; all but Xerxes, whose final fate is to witness the collapse of a kingdom his failure has destroyed.

In the introduction, translators Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael write that, although Aeschylus's play celebrates a Greek triumph, "it does so in an unprecedented way: the innovation lies in the negative space defined by the lamentations which fill the stage". The empathy so majestically felt and displayed by the Greek playwright for the losses of his 'enemies' is matched here by McLeish's superlative translation, capturing at once the extravagance of feeling of a defeated nation, and the spare verse in which these lamentations are cried.

Prometheus Bound

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Prometheus the Titan, cousin of Zeus, has given mankind fire. Further, he has thwarted Zeus's plan to obliterate the human race, and, in saving them, has taught them many arts, from writing to agriculture, architecture to medicine. His generosity to mankind, to whom he was sometimes known as creator, knows no bounds. But it is precisely this generosity which sees him punished.

In Aeschylus's play we see the characters of 'Might' and 'Force' chaining Prometheus to the Caucasus Mountains, using chains forged by the Olympian god Hephaestus. Despite the sympathy of Hephaestus (whose fire it was Prometheus stole for the humans), and the pain of bondage, Prometheus proudly holds on to his anger at Zeus.

Prometheus Bound sees many suppliants plead with Prometheus to cast aside this pride and beg forgiveness of his powerful cousin. Instead, Prometheus rages on, the searing fire of his words and chains burning as bright as the flames he stole.

Seven Against Thebes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the wake of Oedipus's exile, the cursed sons of his incestuous marriage, Eteocles and Polynices vow to avoid further bloodshed by ruling Thebes in alternate years. However, when the Eteocles refuses to step down after the first year of the arrangement, Polynices raises an army led by seven Argive champions to retake Thebes by force.

Fearing the invaders, and feeling the fear of his people, Eteocles vows to fight Polynices man to man for the future of the city. Instead, they kill one another in battle beneath the seventh gate of the city, leading directly to the dilemma of their sister, Antigone, and her ultimate demise.

Seven Against Thebes, which forms part of Aeschylus's tragic Theban cycle, is brilliantly translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Translator's copyright © by Volatic Limited and Kenneth McLeish 1991

Suppliants (Aeschylus)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Suppliants tells the story of the Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus, who seemed destined for a dynastic marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Danaus's brother Aegyptus. However, when warned by the gods that his brother plans to murder him and his daughters, Danaus flees with the Danaids to Argos, where he is taken in by the King of Argos.

Aegyptus challenges the people of Argos to give up their refugees, but the King and his people refuse, allowing the Danaids sanctuary.

Possibly part of a tetralogy based on the myth of the Danaids, Suppliants is translated and introduced by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Picture of Aeschylus

Aeschylus was writing at a time when the earliest traditions of Greek tragedy were being established. The few plays of his which survive are marked by great theatrical energy and a clear didactic voice which speaks across the centuries to modern audiences and readers alike. Aeschylus is often described as the father of tragedy. Only seven of his estimated seventy-ninety plays have survived, including the Oresteia trilogy, and Prometheus Bound.