Sunday, December 29, 2013

AGAMEMNON MUST DIE

Returning from the Trojan War, King Agamemnon expects to resume the throne of Mycenae from the regency of his wife Clytemnestra. He is assassinated. 



The royal family of Mycenae has a bloody, monstrous history. Agamemnon returns with his war trophy, the Trojan princess Cassandra whom he unthinkingly flaunts before his queen. After an epic sword fight in his own banquet hall, Agamemnon is killed. Cassandra has her nightmares/visions of the gory and unspeakable deeds of the House of Atreus; she is led away to be executed. Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have their respective reasons, but regicides must be avenged. Or so say the voices in Orestes' head: he must avenge his father; he must kill the regicides; he must kill his own mother.

But killing one's own mother would break the greatest of ancient taboos and would result in more clamor in his head. Are they just voices? Can they be placated? Aeschylus the playwright resolved this and won a prize from the Athenians. What did that mean?

The above is the "pitch" for the 16,000 words I have posted on Authonomy.com inviting comment. 

I have puzzled over why Aeschylus's Oresteia has been considered such a great classic since the 1960s when I read the new edition of The Complete Greek Tragedies published by the University of Chicago Press with David Grene and Richmond Lattimore as editors. Recently I felt the "call" to recreate the story of the characters and the fragments of their actions and motives provided by the playwright who was a veteran of the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.). The Oresteia, however, dramatized events that were believe to have occurred perhaps 700 years prior to that, at the beginning and the end of the Trojan war (ca. 1190 B. C.). The war itself is a matter of myth and legend; the city that might have been Troy suffered many occasions of fire and destruction in its history. The Trojan war may be most closely identified with what is now referred to (in the archaeological record) as Troy VII, possibly VIIa.

Almost at the very beginning of my writing, I realized that the story I shall tell will follow the outlines that Aeschylus has left us but that the characters and their inner thoughts, their motivation, will be very different. It has never occurred to me to try to capture the beauty and majesty said to characterize Aeschylus's poetry; that is a task more suitably attempted by classicists and philologists. I felt also that the moral world imagined for the Greeks by Grene, Lattimore, Werner Jaeger, C. M. Bowra and the others that I also read so long ago must be changed. I hope, however, that the present generation of readers of literary fiction will find something of value in "Agamemnon Must Die."

I invite their comments on Autonomy.com to help me make it so.

The two covers on display with this post were a gift from a fellow writer on that web-site. Comments on preferences for either cover would also be welcome--either on Authonomy or here.

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