Oresteia Background

Oresteia Background

The Oresteia proved to be lucky number 13 for Greek dramatist Aeschylus. The playwright collected his thirteenth Athenian drama award with his horrifying and bloody tale of revenge and the nature of evil. The production was mounted in 458 B.C. and is today the only surviving Greek trilogy. Most scholars are also in agreement that The Oresteia is the final play written by Aeschylus following four-decade-long career as a tragedian.

As a trilogy, The Oresteia includes Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides. If anyone can ever locate a copy of the play he wrote about satyrs, Proteus, then The Oresteia will become a tetralogy, although the trilogy does not need any addition to make it more powerful or more often performed. The Eumenides alone will be likely be remembered as long as there is drama because of the terrifying creation of the Furies, which has been for millennia what every horror movie villain of the 20th century has only been for decades.

The contribution of the Furies to the history of world literature and Greek drama has brought to the fore the overarching dilemma of The Oresteia. That dilemma can be summed up in a single question: why is there suffering in a world created with a supposed divine order?

Ultimately, the story of Orestes being driven to the point of madness in his pursuit of revenge and past the point of insanity by the pursuit of him by the Furies forces the audience to confront an existential dilemma head-on. What is the point of meaningless human suffering if there is supposed to be a design to the universe?

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