Suggestions for Study
For each class, I suggest that you first read the assigned text "cold," using only the notes. Just go through it and let yourself be confused, if that happens. (None of the readings is all that long: most of them are under 20 pages; the few that are longer are easier reading.) Second, read the supplementary material, if any is assigned (passages from the "Introduction" and the like). Third, read the Background Material on this site. Fourth, reread the assigned text. Now you should understand it better and you should have answers to some of the questions that will have arisen in the course of your initial reading. Fifth, consult the Illustration and Study Questions site on the Web, and spend some time thinking about the issues raised there.
As a general rule, for each class hour at Wesleyan, you are expected to spend three hours of preparation time. Thus, for each of our classes, which meet for an hour and 20 minutes, you should plan to spend about four hours in preparation time. For many classes, you will not need this much time. When you have time left over, you should spend it thinking about your paper, beginning a draft, and/or commenting on other students' papers.

Aeschylus, Oresteia
Read these Sections for Agamemnon:
Greek Theater (Overview)
Greek Theater (Sections of the theater)
Greek Theater (Personnel)
Greek Theater (Spectacle)

Read these Section for Libation Bearers
Libation Bearers
Pindar, Pythian 11

Read these Sections for Eumenides
Outline of Play
The Mysteries
Homeric Hymn to Apollo
The Furies
Delphi and the Pythia
Theories of Procreation

Greek Theater (Overview)
Greek drama was performed in a competitive arena. The other two areas for competitive performance in ancient Greece were those of politics and sports.

Link here to an
outline summary of competitive performance in ancient Greece, which will also introduce you to some of the terms connected with these cultural enterprises.
(Don't follow the links on this page; explore the particulars of Greek Theater instead by following the links in the sections below.)

Performances of Greek Drama were also part of a festival in honor of the god Dionysus. Link here to a
description of the festival.

The major site for the performances of drama was the theater of Dionysus in Athens within the sanctuary of Dionysus.

Link here to a
description of the Sanctuary of Dionysus.

Link here to an
aerial view of the acropolis in Athens, showing the location of the theater relative to the acropolis (it is in the lower middle part of the photo, on a hill below the acropolis).
Link here to the same site shown as a
reconstruction of the theater of Dionysus in the Roman period. (It was made using 3D computer graphics.)
And follow this link to see an aerial view of the
ancient theater at Epidauros, which has been reconstructed and is still in use today for the performance of ancient Greek dramas.

Greek Theater (Sections)
The sections of the ancient theater:
Orchestra, meaning "dancing place," where the chorus and actors performed. Link here to a
description of the orchestra; a view of the orchestra at Epidauros; an image of the orchestra; a 3D reconstruction of the orchestra as seen from the back of the viewing stands; a reconstruction of the orchestra as seen from the middle of the viewing stands.

Theatron, meaning "viewing place," where the audience sat. (This is the word from which we derive our word "theater".) Link here to a
description of the theatron; an image of the theatron; a 3D reconstruction of the theatron as seen from the orchestra.

Skene: "scene-building" or "background building," where props and costumes were stored, and which served also as the "set" for the drama. Link here to a
description of the skene; an image of the skene; a 3D reconstruction of the skene as seen from the orchestra.

Parodos, a space between the theatron and the orchestra through which the chorus and actors entered onto (and exited from) the orchestra. Link here to an
image of the parodos; a view of one parodos at the theater at Epidauros; a 3D reconstruction where you can see the two parodoi on the sides of the the skene.

Greek Theater (Personnel)
Personnel involved in the production of Greek drama:
Actors: there were three, who took all the roles. All actors were men. Link here to an image from a vase showing
actors dressing for their parts.

Chorus: also all-male; composed of fifteen members. Link here to two transcripts from vases showing a
flute-player and chorus. One chorus is made up of satyrs; the other chorus is composed of maidens.

The chorus-leader (koryphaios, meaning "head man") led the chorus in its dancing and singing and carried on dialogue with the actors. The koryphaios is the character identified as "Leader" in your text of the Agamemnon on page 112 (line 258) and elsewhere.

The choregus (literally, "chorus-leader") was not himself the leader of the chorus, but the citizen who undertook the expenses of dramatic production. Link here to an explanation of the civic duties known as
liturgies, of which paying for dramas was one.

In the earliest period of dramatic production, the poets (like Aeschylus) were also chorodidaskaloi ("teachers/trainers of the chorus"). Link here to a
vase showing the dramatic poet (frontal view), along with the flute-player and the chorus.

Judges: at the end of the festival, a board of ten judges awarded first, second, and third prize to the competing playwrights. In the year of its production (458 BCE), Aeschylus' Oresteia won first prize.

Greek Theater (Spectacle)
Spectacle: Masks and Costumes
Actors in dramatic performances wore masks and elaborate costumes. Link here to a description of "
The Spectacle of Tragedy."

Link here to a
3D interactive reconstruction of an ancient mask, XX where you can view the mask with and without the wig.

Link here to representation of a vase of a
scene from Aristophanes' Birds, on which you can see the actors dressed in their costumes.

Link here to a comic representation on a vase of a
scene from Sophocles' Antigone, on which the actor playing Antigone is clearly an old man: he is holding his mask in his right hand.

Follow this link to a brief account of the Life and Career of Aeschylus. (Scroll down to Aeschylus (4) and begin reading there.)

For background, revisit the page on the Line of Tantalos.
And follow this link to revisit the pages on the
Origin of the Curse on the House of Atreus.
See also the background notes on pages 14-15 of the "Introduction" to Fagles' translation.
And read also the Introduction to the Agamemnon on pages 23-52 of Fagles' text. Watch out especially for what is said about Clytemnestra in the Agamemnon Introduction, and see if you agree with it.

Troy - Lemnos - Mount Athos (northern Greece) - Mount Makistros (Euboea) - Euripos - Mount Messapion (?) - Plain of Asopos (Boeotia) - Mount Kithairon - Saronic Gulf - Argos

Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba and a priestess of Apollo. In mythology, Apollo gave Cassandra the power of prophecy in order to seduce her; when she first agreed and then refused, Apollo modified her powers so that her prophecies, though accurate, would never be believed.

At the sack of Troy, Cassandra took refuge at the statue of Athena, but Ajax dragged her away and raped her.
This was a popular motif in vase paintings: follow this link to an
archaic black-figure vase of the rape of Cassandra (detail here); follow this link to an archaic red-figure vase of the scene on which Cassandra is a diminutive figure (the vase is in the Yale University Art Gallery); follow this link to a late archaic red-figure vase of the scene; follow this link to an early classical red-figure vase of the scene.

When the spoils of Troy were divided, Cassandra was awarded to Agamemnon.

Libation Bearers
Read the Introduction to the play on pages 52-70 of the Fagles translation.

Link here to a page representing views of
Electra at the tomb of Agamemnon.

Link here to a student site on
The Story of Orestes, and to another of her pages on Sources for the tale of Orestes

When thinking about the relationship of Orestes to his parents, consider the story of Telephus, on whom Euripides based a play (entitled, not surprisingly, Telephus):

Telephus (king of the Mysians, Trojan allies) received a wound in his thigh from Achilles, while defending Mysia from the Greeks. The wound could not be cured until the one who wounded him healed him. Telephus therefore traveled to Greece and reached the palace of Agamemnon in Argos. In order to convince the Greeks to help him, Telephus (on the advice of Clytemnaestra) grabbed Orestes and threatened to kill him if he didn't receive aid. Odysseus interpreted that the "one who had wounded him" was actually Achilles' spear; after anointing the wound with rust from the spear, Telephus was saved.

The myth is illustrated on this vase, which shows Telephus seated on an altar, holding the child Orestes. On the left, Agamemnon enters, holding a spear in his right hand and holding out his left hand in supplication. Telephus' left thigh is bandaged. You can see Telephus and baby Orestes more clearly in this detail view.

Pindar, Pythian 11
Link here to read
strophe 2-strophe 3 of this ode (the sections in bold), which was written for a Theban victor. Pindar links Thebes to the Orestes-story through a mention of Pylades, Orestes' companion, who was a Theban.
Note the date of this ode--either a few years before (474 bce) or shortly after (464 bce) the presentation of the Oresteia (468 bce). How would you interpret the relationship of this ode to Aeschylus' play?

Read the Introduction to the play on pages 71-86 of the Fagles translation.

Outline of Play
The major scenes of the play are as follows:
Introduction: the Pythia (
see below), lines 1-66
Apollo and Orestes, lines 67-96
Clytemnestra's Ghost and the Furies, lines 97-175
Apollo and the Furies, lines 176-232
Orestes and the Furies, lines 233-407
Athena, the Furies, and Orestes, lines 408-505
The Furies' Chorus, lines 506-571
The Trial Scene, lines 572-792
Athena and the Furies, lines 793-926

As you read, try to distinguish what makes each scene particular: Who are the major characters? What is the interaction among them like? How does the interaction with the Furies change as the play progresses?

The Mysteries
On pages 71-72 of the "Introduction" to the Fagles' translation of the Eumenides, Stanford compares the message and meaning of the play to that of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
What does he have in mind by this comparison? Do you agree with it?

In thinking over the question, you can refresh your memory about the Eleusinian Mysteries by linking to the Background Notes on the
Homeric Hymn to Demeter, where they are described, and where there is information also about Triptolemus and about the Thesmophoria.

Homeric Hymn to Apollo
In the opening of the Eumenides, the Pythia explains that the Delphic oracle was first that of Gaia (Earth), and that is was then transmitted to Themis (daughter of Ouranos and Gaia and one of the Titans; see Theogony line 135). (Themis is called "Tradition" in this translation.)

Phoebe then received he oracle from Themis. Phoebe was also a Titan (see Theogony, line 136), and she was also the mother of Leto (see Theogony, lines 406ff.), who was herself the mother of Apollo and Artemis. In the Eumenides, then, the Delphic Oracle is Apollo's because he received it as a birthday gift from his grandmother, Phoebe.

In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, however, the god acquired rights over the oracle after he defeated and killed a monster bred by Hera, "dreadful and baneful Typhaon, a scourge to mortals" (line 351).

After the monster had "breathed out her gory soul" (line 362), Apollo proclaimed: "Rot now right here on the man-nourishing earth; / you shall not ever again be an evil bane for living men...but right here / the black earth and the flaming sun will make you rot" (362ff.).

Since the Greek verb pytho means "to cause to rot," this provides an etymology for the place, the monster (later called Pytho), and Apollo's epithet, "Pythian":
"And the holy fury of Helios made her rot away;
hence the place is now called Pytho, and people
call the lord by the name of Pytheios, because on that spot
the fury of piercing Helios made the monster rot away" (371-74).

See also Pausanias' account of the origin of the name Pytho (scroll to 10.6.5).

Why do you think Aeschylus explains Apollo's dominion over the oracle differently? And why do you think he emphasizes the absence of force (see esp. line 5) in its transmission?

The Furies
In Hesiod's Theogony (lines 184ff.), the Furies were born from Gaia, who was "inseminated" with the blood from the castration of Ouranos' genitals. (Link here to a diagram of this episode in the Theogony; and link here to Apollodorus' account of the Furies' birth.)

Remember, too, that in the Odyssey (Book 2, lines 144ff.), Telemachus was concerned that, if he followed Antinous' suggestion and drove Penelope back to her father's home, he would insult her, incur her father's anger and the debt to him of her dowry, and risk the likelihood of harm by one of the gods "when mother, leaving her own house behind, / calls down her withering Furies on my head."

For representations of the Furies in ancient art, link here to two vases on which they are shown as young women; see also a vase on which Furies are represented in hunting costume, and another where the Fury has dark skin, in addition to the images on your Study Page.

When Orestes first sees the Furies, at the end of the Libation Bearers (lines 1048ff.), he says they look like Gorgons. At the beginning of the Eumenides (lines 51ff.), the Pythia also thinks they look like Gorgons, except that they have no wings.

Who were the Gorgons? In the Theogony (lines 271ff.), they are three daughters born to Keto and Phorkys, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa.

Only Medusa was mortal, and the most famous exploit of the hero Perseus was her decapitation. The story is related in the Theogony, and more fully in Apollodorus (Volume 1, sections 155-161).

As the Princeton page notes, the head of the Gorgon subsequently found a place on Athena's shield, where, like most shield emblems, it functioned as an apotropaic ("turning-away") device. Athena sometimes wears it on her breastplate, or on the aegis (the divine attribute of a large "bib" with scales worn round the shoulders).

Link here to see images illustrating (a) Perseus and the Gorgons, (b) Athena with the gorgoneion, and (c) frontal views of the Gorgons which show their terrifying features. (Contrast these images with what is said about the Furies in Aeschlyus and their representations on vases.)

The omphalos or "navel," located at Delphi, was regarded as the center of the earth. Although it was not the only omphalos or central point in Greece--there was another one in Sparta, for example--it was usually regarded as the center of the earth, as Pausanias explains. And a myth in Strabo tells us how the site was located.

For a view of a stone uncovered at Delphi that is thought to be the omphalos, follow these links.

To see one of many representations of Orestes at Delphi holding on to an elaborately decorated omphalos, follow this link.

And here you can see a Hellenistic coin showing Apollo seated on the omphalos.

Delphi and the Pythia
For information about Delphi and the Pythia, see the remarks on this student page on the Pythia's "Office" and other remarks by the same student on the Pythia's "Resume".

For information about Delphi which is specifically tied to Orestes, see these student pages (read this page and the next one).

And for information about The Pythia as Prophetess, Pythia and the Priests, and the Pythian Priestess herself, follow these links on the student page, The Feminine Voice at Delphi.

To see the Pythia's tripod, link to this South Italian Vase, where you can also see Orestes seated at the omphalos.
To see a more detailed representation in
black and white, follow this link.

And this link will take you to a representation the Pythia on her tripod being consulted by King Aigeus. The Pythia is called Themis on this vase: see the remarks above on the Homeric Hymn to Apollo on the line of transmission of the oracle. (Keep this representation in mind when you are reading Euripides' Medea.)

Theories of Procreation
In the trial scene (lines 572-792), Apollo claims that, in procreation, the mother is "just a nurse to the seed" and that the father is the true parent (lines 665-72).

Some ancient theories of generation corresponded to Apollo's view of the matter: that of
Aristotle, in particular.

Others, however, did not. Link here to a page of excerpts from the
Hippocratic Corpus where "male and female sperm" are described.

Last updated 6 April 2000