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Themes of the Oresteia

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Torsten Kehler

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English 103 Lecture 4
September 21,2011
The chorus in Greek Tragedy has no defined role, role depends on the play. They make editorial
comments and generalize the views Athenians would have about certain subjects (s.a. Peace, war,
revenge, Agamemnon).
Ex: perception on Helen. Elopes with a man she hardly knows, leaves her family and her
duties. Seen in a very harsh light(p.22). What is not shown is the true character of
Story: Man & Lion (parabole)
1. We can't expect a leopard to change its spots. Can not force the lion to change its fierce nature.
It is excessive arrogance to assume that one can control nature (in the form of the lion cub).
2. The folly of taking the wrong guest into your house.
3. The guest-host relationship was very important and extremely special to the Greeks, with a host
of complicated norms surrounding how you behave.
Helen breaks it by falling in love and sleeping with Paris. Helen is the Lion cub in this
case, but is not. Things are not what they seem to be. She is a human version of the
Trojan horse. Trojan virus: sneaks in unexpectedly and brings destruction. She destroys
Troy and the house of Argos.
Things are not what they seem or appear to be (ex:beacon; supposed to represent end of
conflict, safety, and conflict, and it brings more bloodshed).
The past always haunts us, it erupts into our world when we least expect it. It is not just left
The play starts with the beacon, which supposedly brings happiness. Watchman: gets off the
roof. Agamemnon: back home, run his business, loving wife, slaves, booty. But the past is
with him. (The chorus moves beautifully between past, present, and future). Agamemnon
thinks sacrificing Iphignelia is in the past, but Clytemnestra can not let it go, which causes
her to murder her husband. Agamemnon believes he returns to events of daily life, but the
past comes back.
Destruction brought on by the past.
The chorus fills us in and gives details on what happened before the current events in the play.
The conflict in The Oresteia begins with the conflict between Argos and Tantalus.
1. Tantalus sacrificed his son to the gods. They punished him for it by having food and drink
within his sight but beyond his reach (tantalizing=wonderful, extremely tempting).
2. There's a curse. The boy comes back and has two sons: Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus fed
Thyestes his sons. Only one left.
3. Another curse and another episode of vengeance and blood revenge: Thyestes flees taking
Aegistus with him (that's the son who becomes Clytemnestra's lover).
4. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia on the way to Troy because the Goddess Aramis
sent a curse on them, and the ships could not continue on to Troy. (Agamemnon: overconfident,
displays all characteristics of Hubris. He comes back home with booty from Troy, walks on the
carpet that should have been reserved for gods. TRAGEDY: when you do something that will
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