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The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon, the Choephori, the Eumenides (Penguin Classics): 0 Paperback – 26 Jul 1973

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (26 July 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140440674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140440676
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 532,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Aeschylus was born of noble family near Athens in 525 BC. He took part in the Persian Wars, adn his epitahp represents him as fighting at Marathon. He wrote more than seventy plays, of which only seven have survived.

Philip Vellacott has translated Aeschylus and Euripides for the Penguin Classics. He taughts classics at Dulwich College for twenty-four years and lectured on Greek Drama in the USA. He was also a Visiting Lecturer in the University of California. He died in 1997.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "j-claxton" on 27 May 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a rare thing. It is a syllabus book that is actually entertaining! The three plays featured form a triology, that chart the murder of king Agamemnon by his wife, and the the revnge taken by his son and its consequences. Although it is quite a daunting read for someone who doesn't know much about Classics, it is well worth the effort. There are even notes in the back to help you understand the references. Apart from the references to ancient culture, the plays are easy to follow and entertaining, full of suspense, intrigue and horror. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to start learning about Classical culture or people who want a good read without having to resort to a "airport" novel!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on 1 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Four stars is because of the translation. While Vellacott, whose translations of Euripides I love, captures the mood, his rhythmical verse somehow obscures the meaning, at least in the less didactic passages.

Having said that what comes across is a story whose drama to me can only be rivalled by the great stories of the Old Testament, or by Hamlet, whose dilemma is in some ways a mirror of that of Orestes.

Orestes' father Agamemnon has been murdered on his return from victory in the Trojan war by Orestes' mother Clytemnestra, who has shacked up with Aegisthus and who grieves the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia made by Agamemnon to ensure a wind for his fleet on its way to Troy.

This family, the house of Atreus, was under a curse anyway, following the cruel murder by Agamemnon's father of his brother's children.

Orestes murders Clytemnestra and Aegisthus and is then pursued by the Furies. The whole drama of the plays is about his decision to do this and the agonies he is likely to incur whether he does it or not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DW on 10 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The two stars are for the very readable translation. I've taken off the rest because the publisher did not bother to check the kindle edition for numerous errors. How they justify the cost of the kindle book with so many typos and irritating formatting issues is beyond me. Furthermore, I would have appreciated links from the relevant lines to the few notes there are, as I currently have to go to the table of contents each time. I'm very disappointed!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, with minor reservations 29 May 2009
By Barnaby Thieme - Published on
Format: Paperback
It's easy to see why Aeschylus is still revered as one of the great dramatists of the ages. 2500 years later The Oresteia still presents poetical problems of great urgency, probing the darkest depths of the human psyche. While Agamemnon, the first work in this trilogy, is the most lauded, all three are of nearly equal value.

I'm of two minds regarding Vellacott's translation. For the most part the language is vivid and the verse is spacious and eloquent, though his fixed rhyme (which has no analog in the original Greek) is sometimes distracting -- particularly as he is in the all-too-frequent habit of forcing rhyme with ostentatious enjambment. That really breaks the flow.

With a verse translation this admittedly free in its rendering, I'm always left with the nagging question of which images belong to the author and which to the translator. When I want to experience a great work of the canon that can be a bit troubling.

These quibbles aside, Vellacott's translation does an outstanding job of framing the vital images of Aeschylus' trilogy with vigor, and overall my reading experience was first rate.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
awesome 13 Dec. 2005
By ct reader - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the quintessential tale of ritual sacrifice (homicide), blood debt, self-conflicted justice, patricide, guilt, and (ultimately) the divinely bestowed rule of law (reason). Written 2500 years ago, perhaps it's where respect for law originated. If before clan/society/religion (honor) demanded unthinking sacrifice and revenge, Aeschylus advocates divinely endorsed law as a mediator of the irrational (and emotional): reason alone can tame the madness.

Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes, and Aegisthus have since appeared in millions of derivative venues as dramatic models under different names. None approach the power of this work. I read this translation 30 years ago: it remains vivid and memorable.
Matricide in Mycenae? Uh oh! 15 Oct. 2014
By D. Roberts - Published on
Format: Paperback
The story of Orestes is known less to the general public than is the stories of the Trojan War that appear in Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer (Bantam Classics). Recent film features such as Troy and Helen of Troy have omitted the character of Orestes altogether for the sake of simplicity.

Aeschylus' trilogy is about the culmination of the curse of the house of Atreus, which is the the most dysfunctional family in Greek mythology. The founder of the house was a fellow by the name of Tantalus. One day, Tantalus invited over Zeus, Apollo and Demeter for dinner. Before they arrived, he murdered his son, Pelops, and offered his entrails as the repast. Basically, he wanted to "get one over" on the gods.

Demeter was the only one who was fooled as this happened around the time that Persephone was abducted to the underworld & the goddess was thus distracted. She immediately knew something was kahooey when she bit into the meat. She felt so bad that she brought Pelops back to life. As she had bitten into his shoulder, she gave him a prosthetic one as recompense.

Zeus was not amused. The earth opened up underneath Tantalus and he fell down into Tartarus. There, he was up to his neck in water and had gorgeous branches of fruit all around him. However, each time he reached for the fruit, it receded JUST out of his reach. And, each time he tried to take a drink, the water would always be just beyond his dry & vapid lips. Such was his punishment: to forever suffer the pangs of hunger & thirst whilst having fruits & water just out of his grasp. If you're scoring @ home, you know that this is from whence we get the term "tantalize."

Such was the beginning of the curse of the house of Atreus. Through the generations, the family encountered infantcide, matricide, cannibalism, incest, adultery and just about everything you'd like to jettison from a "normal" household. Of course, it's not as though the family always "set out" to commit despicable acts.

Before leaving for Troy, Agamemnon is faced with a dillema: he can either abandon the expedition and send the Greeks home, OR he must sacrifice his young daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods. Doing the latter will cause Artemis to unlock the winds. Doing nothing will equate to the 1st option as the fleet is restless and about to give up on the idea of sailing to Troy. Agamemnon, with a heavy heart, chooses to make the sacrifice.

Ultimately, this is one of the many facets of the story that compel his wife, Clytemnestra, to take vengeance upon her husband. This much is covered in Helen of Troy. However, the story does not end there. Agamemnon & Clytemnestra also have a son: Orestes.

Orestes, then, is faced with a conundrum of his own: if he murders his mother to avenge his father, then he will be haunted by the furies. If he does not avenge his father, then his mother will never face punishment for her crime. What would YOU do? That's a tough one!!

Such is the backdrop of The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides (Penguin Classics). The 1st play recounts Agamemon's return to Troy & his subsequent murder. The 2nd play is about Orestes & his sister, Electra, plotting revenge against their mother and uncle (Aegisthus). The 3rd and final play is the tale of poor Orestes being chased by the furies and Apollo acting as his "defense counsel" at what the Greeks believed to be the first trial by judge & jury. This is a rather important feature, given that the current judicial structure of the United States is loosely based upon the blueprint of the Greeks, which they in turn traced back to Orestes!

So, for people who want to know the more complete story of the Trojan war, this book is a must. People who are curious about the end of "clan justice" and the beginning of a "civilized" judicial system will also be inclined to read their Aeschylus.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Best translation of The Oresteian Trilogy that I have Read 29 Dec. 2013
By cheryl hancock - Published on
Format: Paperback
Not being able to read the original Greek, I had picked up several translations of Aeschylus in the past, all of which left much to be desired. This was the first translation to truly begin to open up the grandeur of Aeschylus' works for me.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The only surviving Greek trilogy. 13 Jun. 1999
By R. D. Allison ( - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Agamemnon" is the first of the Oresteia trilogy (the only extant Greek trilogy) and should be required reading of all university students. The trilogy won First Prize at the Greater Dionesia in 458 B. C. Agamemnon returns to Argos from the Trojan War. He is killed by his wife Clytemnestra and his first cousin Aegisthus. Clytemnestra's reasons for the murder of both Agamemnon and Cassandra were questioned even in ancient Greece: was it for revenge for the death of her daughter Iphigenia or was it for her adultery with Aegisthus? In one of Pindar's odes (c. 474 B. C.), "Pythia 11", he asks: "Was it Iphigeneia, who at the Euripos crossing was slaughtered far from home, that vexed her to drive in anger the hand of violence? Or was it couching in a wrong bed by night that broke her will and set her awry?" The Oresteia trilogy is a study in justice. Agamemnon's death must be avenged; but, this means matricide. Orestes, in the next play, should not have been the hand of vengence. "The Libation Bearers" (or, "The Choephoroi"), the second play in the trilogy, is the earliest known play containing an intrigue as the main plot. Electra, sister of Orestes, has been sent to the grave of Agamemnon to offer a libation. Clytemnestra is attempting to placate the spirit of her dead husband. When she and Aegisthus are killed by Orestes, Orestes finds that now the Furies will pursue him rather than his mother. In the last play, the Eumenides (or the Erinyes), daughters of Night who avenge crimes committed by offspring against parents and who punished people who fail to keep their oaths, seek Orestes. Apollo purifies Orestes by washing him in pigs' blood. But the Erinyes reject Apollo's order to leave Orestes alone. The conflict is resolved via a trial overseen by Athena. Athena succeeds in restraining the Erinyes who are persuaded to make their home in Athens and will now be able to punish violence done within the polis. This play is the earliest known drama containing a complete change of scene.
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