Monday, March 27, 2017

Agamemnon by Aeschylus Translated by Richmond Lattimore



When my mother's eyesight deteriorated to the point she could no longer read books, (she can, fortunately still read on her Kindle using a large font) she let me take what I wanted, so I took a lot of her books back to my home.  

One of them was this collection of Greek Tragedies.  I don't know if Lattimore is the best translation.  I found it readable which is all I require.  Someone else might suggest another translation.


Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1)Agamemnon by Aeschylus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I have not read a lot of Greek plays so it took me awhile to understand what was happening. I should have read the introduction first, which would have made events clearer.

However, I'm also glad I didn't because it allowed me to arrive at my own conclusions.

For those of you who don't know, Agamemnon was Commander-in-Chief of the Greeks who fought at Troy. He sacrifices his daughter to appease Artemis. This play is one of vengeance and also intrigue.

Agamemnon comes home with Cassandra, his prize by lot. Cassandra is a prophetess who has been doomed by Apollo for refusing him. Therefore, she prophesies but is not believed.

In this play she prophecies her own doom and also Agamemnon's.

I won't tell more because some readers might not know the story as I didn't so found the development contained a couple of surprising twists.

But what one really enjoys in reading Greek plays is the form. I found that very interesting.

The dialogue carried on back and forth between a person speaking a monologue and the chorus. Soloist, Chorus, Soloist, Chorus.

This is very much how classical concerto form is structured. As a musician I recognized this. Look at Handel's Messiah. Every chorus is preceded by a soloist. Or a piano or violin concerto, it is the same form. The same is true for Opera.

Even in a Mozart Piano Sonata the melodic line starts with a "soloist", then a chorus.

So my greatest interest in this play was the form more so than the substance, since the storyline was quite simple and also told in the Odyssey.

If you don't already know the story there are some unexpected twists.



View all my reviews

While I was reading, Hercule occupied himself with my bookmark.

28 comments:

  1. The Lattimore translation is among the best; Robert Fitzgerald's translations are also worthwhile. Once upon a time, back when I darkened college classrooms as a teacher of English composition and world literature, I always looked forward to introducing Greek tragedies and comedies to American students. I would never to presume to call myself an expert (especially since I do not read classical Greek), I know quite a bit about the forms and styles of Greek drama. Fixed by conventions imposed upon the poet-playwrights, the plays (more properly considered poems, of which we have only a few dozen extant from a handful of poet-playwrights -- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes) themselves were astounding vehicles for most often reimagining well-known myths and legends for thousands of audience members in the open-air amphitheaters during festivals (especially the City Dionysia) honoring gods. So, quite naturally, the gods play huge roles in the determinism with which the characters must struggle. I agree with you about not "spilling the beans" about the trajectory of the play, so I will avoid doing so, but I will add this: in reading Greek tragedy, I am always most interesting in sorting out the agon (struggle), the protagonist, the antagonist, and the larger themes (i.e., often problems involving human v. human and human v. gods). You have me anxious to revisit Greek drama. Thanks for your great posting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tim you are one of the most interesting bloggers I have had the good fortune to come across.

      I wish I could have taken a Greek lit class by you because it would have been wonderful.

      I had not thought to view the plays (or Greek poems,which is what I am currently reading) with the struggle between the characters. Neither did I realize agon means struggle (word origins is something else I love to study).

      I'm also glad to know that I lucked out with the translation. I am currently reading Greek poems with various translators, none of them Lattimore. I have no idea how accurate they are but somehow they managed to put the English translation in readable rhyme and rhythm.

      Thanks for a great comment!

      Delete
    2. Sharon, I think choice of translations ought to be driven by reader preferences (except in cases when the reader is a head-over-heels classicist anxious to recreate the most original syntax and diction); after all, the important goal is your understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment. I do not know how much you know about the "staging" of a play like _Agamemnon_, but this link might interest you: http://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Tragedy/

      Your posting has me pondering a blogging project for the future: revisiting texts I encountered and taught in past years. All my class notes long ago when to the landfill, but I might still remember a few things worth discussing. Now, though, I am fully engaged in 19th century American literature, especially Twain and Dickinson, so the "introduction to literature" recreation will have to wait for a while.

      Delete
    3. Eavesdropping on this conversation - I didn't know the meaning of agony either & I haven't read any of the Greek tragedies. I've always felt they were beyond me.

      Delete
    4. Hi Carol. There's no such thing as eavesdropping on my blog. I'd love it if a good roaring dialogue about the subject at hand developed.

      Lexicography is a fascinating subject. I have a couple of books on word origins.

      I don't think Greek tragedy is beyond you. I think if we just enjoy them for what we get out of them, they have achieved their purpose as literature.

      Delete
  2. This is truly one of the greatest of the ancient Greek tragedies. Having read it several times I can attest to the depth of meaning and value for us today. Lattimore's translation is certainly among the best. I was fascinated by your comparison of the play's structure to that of a classical concerto. As a classical music aficionado I would agree with this. I recommend you continue and read the remaining two dramas in Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy,The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, James. I will. I am currently reading another collection of Greek plays and poems. I'm sure both of those dramas are included. If not, I can always get them.

      As for the musical comparison. I can only write about those things I know something of. I wish I could give a more intelligent analysis of the drama, such as Tim.

      But, at least I am capable of enjoying the dramas on my own level. :)

      Delete
  3. a seminal thought, that... the one about solo and chorus, i mean... i never considered that or its reverberations through time... tx...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mudpuddle. Well, that's just my observation. Someone who has studied the subject more thoroughly could probably expound on that more.

      Delete
  4. Hi Sharon.

    It has been a long time since I read this. I agree that these plays are well worth reading.

    I like Classical music including concertos and opera. However, I had no idea about the similarities in structure. I do not know that much about theory. It is so interesting how these art forms are similar. I wonder if this involves imitation, something inherent in the way that people create and enjoy art, or just coincidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Brian. I think it must be inherent because there's definitely something mathematical about the structure of poem and music form. Even someone not very musical can "feel" if a rhythm or harmony is off.

      Delete
    2. lying in bed last night thinking about your inspiration, i recalled the antiphonal music they used to perform in churches, pre-Monteverdi; it's a distant memory, but i think groups of brass were on either side of the altar and played in sequence, answering one another, as it were...

      Delete
    3. Hi Mudpuddle. You're right. Church music was very antiphonal. Even the congregation had responsive reading, well, that came later, originally it was all sung if I'm remembering my Medieval music class correctly.

      They did have choirs on both sides of the altar as well as instruments. Concertos developed out of that. Originally there were concerto grosso where two groups of instruments "dialogued" with each other and later just a concerto where a solist bounced back and forth with the orchestra. The development of music is fascinating.

      And to let you know just what kind of a nerd/dork I am: I love chant.

      On another tack. I was listening to some Zulu music (I was in South Africa once) and I noticed that their music, both sacred and secular (war chants and such) have the same form: a soloist who is answered by a choir.

      Delete
    4. REALLY!! fascinating about the Zulus; and tx for the memory stirrer re antiphony; it reminded me i used to know more stuff than i do now - such is life among the elderly...

      Delete
    5. Mudpuddle. I myself have to reach back a few years to recall my music theory. Although, I should hearken back to it because thinking about it now reminds me of how much I enjoy analyzing form and structure.

      Delete
  5. Re: chorus in Greek tragedy -- It is worth noting, at the risk of saying what you already know, that (1) the individual characters,, including the female characters, were portrayed by 3 male actors, each wearing a unique mask for each character (with actors portraying multiple characters), and (2) the choral odes, presented by 12 men wearing identical masks and costumes, were stylized presentations including music (flute-like woodwind and tambourine-like percussion) and movement; that is very hard for us to imagine in our post-modern world, but that production concept was the convention in ancient Athens. Oh how I wish I could be sent back in a time-machine to an afternoon of performances (3 tragedies and 1 satyr play) at the Theatre of Dionysus in the time of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tim. I looked up some traditional Greek tragedy on youtube. I haven't watched them yet, but I'm going to. I don't know how authentic they are. I would join you in that time machine. I would also like to know what kind of music they wrote and what it sounded like. Unfortunately we have no record of it.

      Delete
    2. And I would also like to know how it developed. I would like to know how their myth developed. If you know any good scholarly material on that let me know.

      Delete
    3. i'm sure you knew that it was modal music: ionic, doric, etc., wherein the octaves were divided up differently depending upon the mode... true, it's not known what their music sounded like, but i read somewhere that there were certain modes that were avoided because they drove men mad...

      and of course the tempered scale is not universal, as you know better than i; scottish, chinese, and mid-eastern music are among those still based on modal scales...

      Delete
    4. Mudpuddle. I did not know that. Do you know of any books where I could learn more about ancient Greek music. I guess I should have guessed the modal music had its base in Greek based on the names.

      The whole idea of tempered scales is perplexing. I really should study that better.

      Of course, my biggest complaint as a pianist is how poorly some pianos sustain the pitch.

      Delete
    5. i don't know of any off-hand, but i know there are plenty of resources explaining what little is known. i just looked up "ancient greek music" on wiki and it's quite dense and complicated; i'm not sure it supports what i said above, which is based on my memory of long ago learning... but what i know for sure is that all music is based on the vibrations of a string: there are natural divisions in a twanged string occurring a fourth and fifth of the way along regardless of the string length and these divisions form the basis of a quite involved analysis by various ancient greeks, including Pythagoras, that produced music so related to the natural world that it was presumed to be the voice of the gods... the tempered scale is an artificial division of the octave into 13 notes, chiefly invented around the fifteenth c. to make keyboards possible... it's a complex subject, as i say, and could be the object of a life long study... too much for a simple comment, anyway... but interesting stuff...

      Delete
    6. Hi Mudpuddle. It is indeed very interesting and now you mention it, I have a book about Pythagoras. I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Our discussion makes me think I need to bump up the TBR pile.

      Delete
  6. That's so cool that your mom had a copy of this book. I like your comparison of the written form to a concerto. I'll have to tell my 9-year old b/c he is 1.) infatuated with Mozart, and 2.) he is learning one of his concertos.

    Also, I assume Hercule is your beautiful bird. We used to bird sit for our friends' bird (a budgie) and he used to sit on my book while I read. He also used to nibble the page edges rather quickly. They must love paper, I guess.

    Anyway, I am very encouraged by your personal review b/c I think I have to read this one for my WEM plays, and I am intimidated by the Ancients. (I consider Greek ancient.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nine years old and playing a Mozart concerto? Wow. He must be quite advanced. Which one is he learning?

      Birds are indeed shredders. Hercule loves to sit on my shoulder or the armchair while I read. I have to keep him supplied with toys to shred (usually bookmarks, they're cheap and easily replaceable) so he won't attempt to chew the pages of my book.

      I'm glad I encouraged you because I don't think I'm very qualified to be analyzing Greek literature. I can only say what I got out of it. Others can make far more in depth observations.

      Delete
  7. I made a mistake. It was Minute in F. The Concerto is by someone else (we don't know). So scratch that. : D He'd like to learn a Mozart Concerto, but it will have to be awhile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ruth: Still, do be doing any concerto is quite an achievement.

      Delete
    2. I'm intimidated by them also, Ruth. Sharon, your comparison between the plays & music was great.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Carol. Talk about you know is a good rule of thumb, I suppose. :)

      Delete

I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.