Orestes by Euripides.

Orestes by Alexandre Cabanel (1846).
Orestes (Ὀρέστης) is a tragic play by Euripides first performed around 408 B.C. It's about the eighth play on the Orestes myth I've read, the first was Sophocles' Electra, then Aeschylus' Orestia, followed by the several plays by Euripides on events around this myth. It, the Orestes myth, is a very dramatic tale: Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to ensure a safe voyage, his wife Clytemnestra murders him for revenge, then in turn Electra and Orestes (brother and sister) murder their mother and her lover for murdering their father. He is subsequently driven mad by the Furies as he awaits trial for murder. Yet, and I don't know if it was the translation or Euripides, but this absolutely fell flat for me. 

The play begins with a prologue from Electra telling the audience of the events leading up to the action. She goes on to explain that Agamemnon's brother Menelaus (whose wife Helen is the sister of Clytemnestra) is to return from Egypt and he is Orestes only hope of being found not guilty by the court of Argos. As Orestes awakens Menelaus and Tyndareus (Orestes grandfather) return and discuss the matter, so too debating the notion of justice, earthly and divine. Menelaus, concerned with his reputation, refuses to help Orestes and so he and his friend and accomplice Pylades hatch a plan to ensure he is found innocent. When that fails they plot to get revenge on Menelaus by killing Helen and their daughter Hermione. Helen however vanishes, and when Pylades and Orestes manage to discover the location of Hermione Menelaus returns. Only the god Apollo is able to stop them from killing each other, and he tells them of how Helen is now a star, that Menelaus must return to Sparta, and that Orestes will be found innocent. He will later marry Hermione and Electra will marry Pylades.

I'm afraid this is another Euripides play I couldn't quite get into. It's interesting in its debate of justice and indeed war, but for such an exciting story the execution (as it were) of it was rather disappointing. Nevertheless I still have high hopes for the next Euripides on my list - Bacchae. For now, I'm just glad I finished Orestes.

But, on a cheerier notes! I started my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge last year on 27th May with only three titles recently read (and not many more read at all!). Orestes was my 50th title read for the challenge so I'm now a third of the way through! I'm hoping to get to the half way point at the end of this year, after which the challenge will slow down somewhat as I approach the longer works. And after 50 titles I can say with confidence: Sophocles remains my favourite!


The Plays of Euripides

Ion | Helen | Phoenician Women | Orestes | Cyclops | Bacchae 


  1. congrats for your persistence! a lesson to all, perhaps... I read somewhere that Sophocles is sort of universally considered the top notch Greek playwright; maybe because of his excellent judgement re balancing the dramatic elements: rage, plotting, grief, joy, treachery, political finagling, etc. i think it's true that too much violence or gratuitous action can get boring after a while... a fine line to walk, there...

    1. Indeed! Sophocles is the master, I wish there were more than seven of his works left to read...

  2. Congrats on your progress with the Classics (with a capital C)
    I read Orestes about a week ago, and found it better than average, but as I read another version of the same Greek story, it starts to pale. I will be very interested in your thoughts on the Bacchae :)

    1. Thank you! I've got some of your posts saved to read, I saw you have something on Orestes up and a Sophocles or too... I really need to catch up!


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