Orestes by Euripides
Translated by Ian
In Orestes, the famous Greek tragic dramatist
Euripides (c. 480 BC to 406 BC) revisits the bloody history of the House
of Atreus and offers his very different vision of the reactions of
Orestes and Electra to the death of their mother, Clytaemnestra, whom
they have just murdered in order to avenge the killing of their father,
Euripidesí play, a radical retelling of this old
story, vigorously attacks the treatments of the same events by his
predecessors, Aeschylus and Sophocles, and seems to suggest that the old
myths cannot sustain those earlier visions of tragic heroism and
metaphysical meaning. Here the conventional sources of appropriate
behavior fail to produce nobility or justice: traditional heroes, like
Menelaus, are cowards, the public assembly is fickle and easily swayed,
and the gods are unjust and unreliable. The play is famous for its
eventful plot and for the disagreements it has prompted about what it
may be saying about Athenian life. Responses to it have ranged all the
way from the claim that it is simply a theatrical piece without wider
significance to the view that it is a cry of despair about the
inadequacy of human beings to meet the complex and brutal demands of
contemporary Athenian life.
Ian Johnstonís new translation remains faithful to
the original Greek and offers a modern English poetic text which is
particularly well suited to dramatic recitation or performance.
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