Sunday, December 14, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 6


Oresteia
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Aeschylus
Oresteia

I think this book dates back to my undergraduate days at Fordham ('89-'92). Probably that long since I read it, too. It's actually three tragedies about the house of Atreus: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides (someone once told me a joke about an Italian tailor that had as a punchline: You rip-a dees, you men-a dees. Get it?) As I recall it's essentially a story of retribution and vengeance, wherein members of the house of Atreus are constantly killing one another to avenge various injustices they have committed in the past. Each act of vengeance leads to another death, which must in turn be avenged, leading to another death, and so on. The cycle is finally stopped in the third play, as an outside judge, in the form of the three furies, establishes an external standard for justice that breaks the cycle of killing. Major players include Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Orestes and Electra. Here's the beginning of Agamemnon:

Scene: Argos, before the palace of King Agamemnon. The watchmen, who speaks the opening lines, is posted on the roof of the palace.

Watchman (alone:

I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed up the Atreidae's roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night
burdened with winter and again with heat for men,
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise.
I wait; to read the meaning in that beacon light,
a blaze of fire to carry out of Troy the rumor
and outcry of its capture; to such end a lady's
male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains.
now as this bed stricken with night and drenched with dew
I keep, nor ever with kind dreams for company:
since fear in sleep's place stands forever at my head
against strong closure of my eyes, or any rest:
I mince such medicine against sleep failed: I sing,
only to weep again the pity of this house
no longer, as once, administered in the grand way.
Now let there be again redemption from distress,
the flare burning from the blackness in good augury.

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