The Oresteia: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides - Aeschylus, Robert Fagles, William Bedell Stanford Even compared to other Greek tragedies, the Oresteia stands out. It's not just about the family drama or the bloody cycle of revenge. It's more than that. It's about peering deeply into the darkness of the human soul, stripping any semblance of control over one's destiny, and seeing what would result--madness.

Orestes was driven by forces more ancient and far bloodier than his mere judgment. In a society divinely centered on the family, Orestes was ordained to avenge his father's death, even if it meant killing his own mother. What is a man to do? If he doesn't kill his mother, the furies of his father would pursue him. If he does kill his mother, same story. Hardly fair, as his father Agamemnon was the one who sparked this vicious chain of events in the first place by sacrificing his daughter so that the Achean fleet could sail to Illium. The lack of control, being tossed this way and that like a lone battered ship caught in a divine storm, the uncertainty of life and yet the certainty of eternal torment--such is the definition of hell.

In such a system, how will the House of Atreus, a house of kings and heroes, survive itself?

When I studied the play, many found Athena's judicial intervention jarring and strange, especially since the first two plays centered around emotionally charged brutality and violent justice. In comparison, the resolution of the trilogy seems cold, a stark contrast to the previous two plays. But it is in this intervention that Aeschylus really delivers his message to Greece. Bound by its own traditions and practices, the House of Atreus would ultimately collapse in on itself. But when subjected to a common, binding law determined by moral and impartial judges was the House of Atreus salvaged. A court system and laws, created by the people, established order where there was madness. In the end, man can find his own way, even if divine forces seek to drive us to another fate.

In these plays, Aeschylus wrested our destiny away from the gods and placed the strands of our fate in our hands. Though it might be a fleeting moment of control, even if we are truly the chess pieces of the gods, Aeschylus reminds us to a certain extent, our fates are our own.