The Oresteia Book Summary, Ending, Quotes & Review 2024

The Oresteia Book Summary, Ending, Quotes & Review 2024
Julia Scheeres
Julia Scheeres She/Her - Journalist/Book Author/Cat Mom April 23, 2024

The Oresteia is about the ancient Greek legend of the House of Atreus, a tale of betrayal, murder, and revenge that is central to Greek mythology. This trilogy follows the cursed family through generations, and the struggle for justice that ultimately leads to a new social order.

The Oresteia Book Summary

Agamemnon, king of Argos, returns from the Trojan War to a hero's welcome, but his wife Clytemnestra, still grieving over the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia, has plotted his murder.

She kills Agamemnon as an act of vengeance for their daughter's death, and for his betrayal through his affair with Cassandra, a Trojan princess he has brought back as a concubine.

Orestes, their son, is commanded by Apollo to avenge his father's death. He kills Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, fulfilling the family's cycle of violence.

The Furies, ancient goddesses who avenge matricide, pursue Orestes. He seeks refuge with the goddess Athena, who establishes a trial to resolve the feud, the first trial-by-jury.

The jury is deadlocked; half want Orestes punished, the other half do not. Athena casts the deciding vote in his favor, arguing that the father is more important than the mother in the act of procreation.

The Furies are enraged by the decision, but Athena persuades them to accept it. In return, the Furies are renamed the Eumenides ("Kindly Ones"), and they become protectors of the city.

The Oresteia ends with a message of hope, as the cycle of bloodshed is broken. Athena and the Furies negotiate coexistence, signalling a shift from primitive blood vengeance to a system of civil justice.

The Oresteia Quotes

  1. For there is no justice when laws are all-powerful.For there is no justice when laws are all-powerful.
  2. There is no greater evil than the lack of justice.There is no greater evil than the lack of justice.

The Oresteia Ending Explained

At the end of The Oresteia, Orestes is freed from the avenging Furies and is acquitted of matricide.

Athena persuades the Furies to bless Athens and its people, thus establishing the city as a place of justice and wisdom.

The trilogy concludes with the promise that the new alliance between the city and the Furies will bring prosperity and peace to the land.

Characters in book The Oresteia

  • Agamemnon: King of Argos and a renowned Greek warrior who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.
  • Clytemnestra: Agamemnon's wife, who awaits his return and has her own plans for justice.
  • Orestes: Son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, whose destiny is entwined with murder and vengeance.
  • Iphigenia: Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, whose sacrifice was demanded by the gods for favorable winds in the Trojan War.
  • Aegisthus: Clytemnestra's lover and the usurper of Agamemnon's throne.
  • The Furies: Ancient goddesses of vengeance who torment Orestes for killing his mother.
  • Apollo: God of the sun and Orestes' divine supporter.
  • Athena: Goddess of wisdom and war, who presides over the trial of Orestes.

Key Lessons

  • Justice Evolves: The concept of justice can transform over time, reflecting the values and needs of a society.
  • Break Cycles: It is possible to break free from destructive family or societal cycles through courage and the pursuit of change.
  • Seek Resolution: The pursuit of vengeance may be natural, but seeking resolution and reconciliation has the potential to bring lasting peace.

My Personal Opinion

Is The Oresteia worth reading? Absolutely, I found it to be a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of justice and the human condition.

I was captivated by the rich tapestry of mythology and the deep psychological insights into its characters. However, I did find some parts to be quite dense and complex, requiring careful attention to fully grasp the narrative's depth.

I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in classical literature, mythology, and the origins of justice systems. It's a profound work that offers a unique perspective on timeless moral and philosophical dilemmas.