Aeschylus is the earliest of the Greek tragic playwrights whose works remain. He is often credited with adding a second actor to the plays while retaining the original role of the choral odes and dance, and he is credited as well with developing the idea of the linked trilogies of tragic themes. The Oresteia itself, the only compete trilogy remaining of the many that were written by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, is a powerful portrayal of pride, revenge, and renewed hope and mercy. (A fourth play, a satyr play usually included to break the tension with comic relief, has been lost.) Beginning after the fall of Troy, The Oresteia depicts the fate of Agamemnon and his family. As in many tragedies, the plays present their heroes with the constraints of impossible choices and portray the outcome of those choices. The roles of the gods, fate, and mutability and the possibility and beauty of redemption all enrich the tales and add to their texture. In this course, we will discuss the three plays of the trilogy and follow the characters within their worlds. We will also read selections from The Trojan Women by Euripides to illustrate the fate of the defeated Trojans, as well as reading brief selections from the Electras by Sophocles and by Euripides for a glimpse of how those authors use the story (as well occasionally satirize the version by Aeschylus.) We will read A. E. Housman’s brilliant short parody also. To substitute for the missing satyr play and to illustrate one way to prevent war, we will end by reading the comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes.
I strongly recommend the Penguin Classics edition of the three plays of The Oresteia by Aeschylus, translated by Robert Fagles, so that we can follow the text together. For Lysistrata, I suggest you look online (it is very short), though I like my printed text from digi-reads.
Instructor Ann Nesslage is a graduate of Vassar with a master’s degree in British literature from Bryn Mawr. Ann retired from Choate Rosemary Hall where she taught different levels of English, including British literature and British Studies. She also created electives including a course in early Irish and Welsh literature and mythology. Ann purchased her home in Bremen in the early 1970s and moved there full time in 2008. She is an active gardener and avid reader and enjoys writing.
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