Thursday, November 03, 2011

Book Review (#33 of 2011) Agamemnon of Aeschylus

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus was a play written by Aeschylus in 458 B.C. as part of a series (the Oresteia) that won him first prize in the archonship of Philocles.  This version was translated into English rhyming verse by Gilbert Murray who also adds helpful footnotes.

Given that the original is in Greek, and this version has not only been translated into English but then made to rhyme in English, makes one wonder how true to the original spirit it remains. For example:
"Paris to Argos came;
Love of woman led him;
So God's altar he brought to shame,
Robbing the hand that fed him."

Author Philip Caputo offered the Oresteia as his one reading recommendation last year, which is why I wanted to read it. .

Agamemnon triumphantly returns home from the Trojan War. He is greeted by Clytemnestra who feigns the loving wife longing for her husband.  She then lures Agamemnon and then Cassandra, his captured slave, into the house and murders them. The elders and comrades of Agamemnon move to take revenge against Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. But Clytemnestra halts the dispute and everyone awaits the return of Agamemnon's son, Orestes, from Troy to exact the revenge.

Early in the play, I found language that sounds biblical enough to make me wonder either about the Greek translation or think about the Gospel authors' exposure to classic Greek literature.

"But the wise Shepherd knoweth his sheep,
And his eyes pierce deep
the faith like water that fawns and feigns."

My favorite part was when Agamemnon is replying to Clytemnestra, who is trying to tempt him to show hubris by treading on tapestries of crimson and gold. He responds by contrasting the honor he seeks with the respect shown only to gods:

"'Tis God that hath 
Such worship; and for mortal man to press
Rude feet upon this broidered loveliness...
I vow there be danger in it. Let my road
Be honoured, surely; but as man, not god"

and:
"God giveth, for I reckon no man blest
Ere to the utmost goal his race be run.
So be it; and if, as this day I have done,
I shall do always, then I fear no ill." 

But alas, poor Agamemnon:
"For woman's sake he endured and battled well,
And by a woman's hand he fell."

1 comment:

practicingresurrection said...

The question of how familiar the writers of the NT were with classic Greek literature is interesting. A couple of these quotes would not seem out of place there.

"Let us run with perservance the race set before us" it says in the letter to the Hebrews.

Paul quotes Epiminedes and Aratus in his speech at Mars Hill, so it is clear that he some at least some familiarity with classical poetry.

Good post! thanks