Libation Bearers - Aeschylus
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Libation Bearers

Orestes
Orestes

This is the second of a cycle of three plays written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. Some time has passed since the murder of Agamemnon. Agamemnon's children, Orestes and Electra, have grown up with their mother Clytemnestra and their stepfather Aegisthus. But they are very unhappy, because they know their mother murdered their father. Orestes has gone away, fearing that his mother might murder him too. But he comes back when he is grown up, and struggles with the decision: Which is worse - to let his father's murder go unpunished, or to kill his own mother?

Clytemnestra
Orestes kills his mother while Electra looks on
and Aegisthus runs away. Bronze, ca. 570 BC,
Olympia, Greece

In the end, after a long discussion with his sister Electra, Orestes decides that he has to avenge his father's murder, even though it means killing his mother. So Orestes kills Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

What would YOU do, if your mother had murdered your father? Would you protect your mother, or avenge your father? Why?

More about Orestes: the Eumenides.

Bibliography and further reading about Aeschylus:

Greek Theatre, by Stewart Ross (1999). Easy reading.

Greek and Roman Theater, by Don Nardo. For teenagers.

The Oresteia, by Aeschylus, translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics). The most famous of the plays Aeschylus wrote. Fagles is a great translator! Includes a version for performance.

Aeschylus, by John Herington (1986). A discussion by a specialist about the life of Aeschylus and why his plays are written the way they are.

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H. D. F. Kitto (reprinted 2002). A classic discussion of the meaning of Greek tragic plays, by a specialist.

More about Orestes: The Eumenides
More about Aeschylus (the man who wrote these plays)
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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