Agamemnon by Aeschylus

Αγαμέμνων του Αισχύλου free ebook


Agamemnon is the first play in a trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus entitled the Oresteia. (The second two parts are called Libation Bearers and Eumenides.) When we say it is part of a trilogy, we don’t mean like nowadays, when some blockbuster movie makes a ton of money, prompting studio executives to crank out a couple of sequels. In the heyday of Greek tragedy, all three parts of a trilogy were performed back-to-back…to-back, on a single day. Sometimes, these would be followed by a fourth play, called a satyr play, which would provide a goofy contrast. Each series of plays would usually be linked by some overarching story and set of themes; the Oresteia, which talks about a cycle of revenge within three generations of a single family, is no exception.

The Oresteia was first performed in Athens at the Festival of the god Dionysus in 458 B.C. At this festival, tragedies were always performed as part of a contest pitting poet against poet; you’ll be pleased to know that, with the Oresteia, Aeschylus took home first-place.

So, that trophy must have meant Aeschylus was set for life, right? Well, yes, but Aeschylus was already a very established playwright, and an old man, by the time he won this victory. Aeschylus was born around 525 B.C. in Eleusis, a small town not far from Athens. Eleusis was considered part of Athenian territory, and so Aeschylus was born an Athenian citizen; his family came from the nobility. According to legend, when Aeschylus was a young man, he worked in a vineyard. One day, when he dosed off, the god Dionysus appeared to him in a dream and said, “Hey, Aeschylus! You should become a writer of tragedies.” Then Aeschylus supposedly woke up and said, “Word.” We at Shmoop can’t vouch for this story, but we do know that Aeschylus began writing plays in the 490s B.C…. free ebook