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Oresteia (Aeschylus)

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The Oresteia

At the very dawn of civilization, five centuries before the Incarnation, the Greeks were already discovering many of the truths attainable by human reason and seeking to convey this truth in art. Under this influence the great Greek tragedies emerged. Tragedies were composed of three related plays, and Aeschylus’ Oresteia is the only complete, surviving trilogy from this era. The timelessness of the profound themes contained in this remarkable work shows the value to Christian thought and civilization of the classical tradition, and at the same time demonstrates the limitations of human activity without grace and revelation.

Introduction

Before undertaking the study of the three plays of the Oresteia themselves, Dr. White uses this first conference to introduce Greek tragedy. He explains that theatre historians consider the fifth century BC as one of only three “golden ages of theatre” and explains what is meant by this characterization. This golden age grew out of religious rituals and formed an important part of social life in Athens at this period. Dr. White presents this historical background as well as the physical arrangement of the Greek theatre and the structural organization of the plays themselves.

Agamemnon

The house of Atreus, of which Agamemnon is the ruler, has been repeatedly cursed throughout its history: by the gods, by other men, and even by members of the family itself. Agamemnon, the tragic hero, had sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia before departing for war against Troy and returns home after ten years to face his vengeful wife, Clytemnestra. While examining this central conflict, Dr. White also touches on the themes of the past’s influence on the present, relations between men and the gods, prayer, and the tragic flaw of pride.

The Libation Bearers

The second play of the trilogy, The Libation Bearers, is named for its chorus, an important element in any Greek tragedy. This chorus brings offerings to the tomb of Agamemnon to honor the deceased. At the tomb they meet Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, returning home to avenge his father’s death. As Orestes recoils from the duty of killing his own mother, the gods, prayer, and fate all exert an influence.

The Eumenides

The Eumenides, the final play of the trilogy, elevates the carnage in the house of Atreus to a conflict among the gods. The Furies, who seek the life of Orestes for the murder of his mother, are pitted against Apollo, who demanded the execution of vengeance. The goddess Athena acts as an impartial judge, and through the trial of Orestes, draws civilization and justices out of chaos and vengeance.

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released April 15, 2015

About the Commentator

Some men are born to teach. They have a breadth of vision of their subject and a gift to communicate effortlessly to their students the knowledge which they have attained. Dr. David Allen White is such a man.

Born to Protestant parents, he was first given a love of literature by a Catholic elementary teacher. He followed this love to college, where he got a B.A. in 1970 at the University of Minnesota an an M.A. the following year at the University of Wisconsin. While pursuing his Ph.D., he received the grace to accept the true Faith and converted on the Feast of St. Nicholas, 1979.

After receiving his doctorate from Indiana University in 1981, he was hired at the US Naval Academy, where he received the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1996. More importantly, he has been the instrument by which God drew more than 70 young cadets to the Traditional Catholic Faith.

He retired in January 2009 and is currently enjoying a well earned retirement between intermittent guest lectures.

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