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An Oresteia: Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides Hardcover – March 31, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Jennifer Michael HechtThis is a very strange masterpiece. It is an ancient Greek tragedy, but also new, and not just because Carson is its brilliant and original translator. The work of only three ancient Greek playwrights who wrote tragedies survives: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were the voices of distinct generations. Sadly, only a few of even their plays have made it down to us. Worse, the plays were often written as sets of three, and only one full set survives: the Orestia, Aeschylus's story of the blood-drenched Atreus family.The odd thing is that among the surviving plays of the other two, Sophocles and Euripides, there exist plays about this same family, at different points in the action. Putting them together—as Carson does here—gives us a whole new set. Creating an Orestia comprising a play from each of the tragedians, translated by the same person, was the idea of theater director Brian Kulick. Carson tells us in her introduction that she initially resisted. As she had already translated two of the plays in question, she happily gave in. Lucky for us. We get to witness the horror unfold while also watching the ancient style develop: ever more players, ever more of the inner life, ever more self-reflection and wit. The laws of the story go from mythic, to human, to pure chaos. The drama is all blood: Dad kills daughter (for luck in war!); and mom kills dad in revenge (and because both have new lovers); the children kill mom in revenge for dad; and Orestes, who performed the matricide, has a howling, bedridden, breakdown. Elektra tells Orestes, in the second play, that no degradation could be worse than to live in a house with killers. In the third play they discover something worse: being killers. It all ends in an orgy of violence, madness, a sudden god and two marriages. Readers will find stunning expressions of the pain that grown children feel after bad parental separations and neglect. The various characters' impressions of events is psychologically enthralling, and the poetry is sublime.Carson is one of the great poets writing today and is an equally compelling translator. Her language here is clear and comfortable and the volume can be read fast, like a novel, for a weird and thrilling ride. Read it slowly and you will find grace everywhere. When Helen of Troy explains how some widows of soldiers are angry with her and Elektra says, No kidding. The great Greek playwrights may still be ancient, but the play is triumphantly fresh—and bloodier than a vampire novel. Jennifer Michael Hecht is a historian and poet, author of Doubt a History and Funny: Poems, among other books.
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About the Author

Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches Ancient Greek for a living. She is currently a professor of classics, comparative literature and English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her publications include Eros the Bittersweet (1986), Glass, Irony and God (1995), Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998), Economy of the Unlost (1999), The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (2001), If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2002), Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (2005) and Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides (2006).


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086547902X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anne Carson's An Oresteia (Aiskhylos' Agamemnon, Sophokles' Elektra, and Euripides' Orestes) is an ingenious idea that makes for a completely different trilogy than THE (Aiskhylos') Oresteia, and provides a sample of the style and voice of each of the three big Athenian tragedians. The "trilogy" spans events from Klytaimestra's discovery that Agamemnon is finally returning from Troy to the deus ex machina that resolves the outrageous standoff between Orestes, condemned to death for the matricide that avenged his father's death, and Menelaos, who has shrewdly declined to support him in the Argive assembly.

Along with Carson's previous translations of four plays by Euripides (Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides (New York Review Books Classics)), these are the most vivid, moving, and even shocking, translations of Greek tragedy I have ever read. Although I cannot read Greek and cannot offer any authoritative comment on the translations as such, my impression from studying other translations and their scholarly notes is that Carson's achievement in English is not at the expense of the Greek; indeed, far from it. Her own introductions to the plays are also marvels of insight and impact.

Carson's rendering here of the extended exchange between Kassandra and the Chorus in Agamemnon is as hypnotic and simply visceral as any I know. The text is set on the page in striking arrangements (which I cannot reproduce in the Amazon review form) befitting the chaos of Kassandra's visions. Carson, who has written elsewhere on "Screaming in Translation," dispenses with the traditional Oh's and Alas's and either transliterates Kassandra's shrieks ("OTOTOI POPOI DA!
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We seem to live in an era that demeans the past, that is, anything older than last year. Thinking people will find this Oresteia contains significance that will haunt humankind as long as the species lasts. Anne Carson's translation and introduction captures the essence of these ancient Greek plays. Mindless slogans of today lack the depth to take seriously. We are in particular urged to embrace the concept of "If you want peace, you must have justice." The Greeks too wanted justice. But how to define "justice?" When and how does "justice" become "revenge" and when does it become a satisfactory remedy to past grievances? These plays leave the reader to decide and to think consequences. Is this relevant to today or not?

Finally, we have an elegance of speech lacking in almost all communication of today. We can be thankful that the Greeks of old did not have Twitter to communicate their deepest thinking. Also, they had profundity in their drama rather than mindless live "celebrity" shows. "An Oresteia" should be part of any thinking person's library.
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Ann Carson is a brillant writer, the Oresteia is a wonderful balancing act between adaptation and translation. Would recommend to individuals whom have had trouble with the classics in the past.
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By using different authors, Anne Carson not only demonstrates the differences among them and simultaneously lets us see the myths in chronological order. I learn so much from her approach!
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