Classical Greek Mythology

Aeschylus and the Oresteia

What is the background myth of The Oresteia?

In The Oresteia, Aeschylus creates three dramatic plots from the long story of the House of Atreus in Mycenae. This is a story which would have been well known to the audience at the City Dionysia. It begins with Tantalus, who, as punishment for feeding the gods the flesh of his own son, is placed in the Underworld, forever “tantalized” as he attempts unsuccessfully to drink from a stream. The House of Atreus is cursed to continue on a path marked by fratricide, cannibalism, suicide, adultery, and sacrilege. As the characters in The Oresteia appeared, the audience would automatically have seen them as stained by this horrific history.


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