No Burden Too Terrible for A Person: Reading Euripides’ Orestes Online

Euripides, Orestes 1-3

“There is nothing so terrible, as the saying goes,
No suffering or affliction sent by the gods
No burden that a human cannot naturally endure.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν δεινόν, ὧδ᾿ εἰπεῖν ἔπος,
οὐδὲ πάθος οὐδὲ ξυμφορὰ θεήλατος,
ἧς οὐκ ἂν ἄραιτ᾿ ἄχθος ἀνθρώπου φύσις.

Orestes Poster

Representatives from the Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre have been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy in our shared time of isolation to explore how the context of the ‘small screen’ changes the way we understand the genre and its performance, how the themes and concerns of ancient tragedy communicate to us today, especially in a time of crisis, and, most importantly, to stay occupied and engaged with one another.  Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen.

This week, we turn to Euripides’ Orestes, a play that revisits Orestes’ fate after he kills his mother Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus to avenge the murder of his father, Agamemnon. If the story sounds familiar, well, it is: the Homeric Odyssey presents Orestes as a model for Telemachus repeatedly. Aeschylus makes his story the topic of our only surviving Greek trilogy, ending in Athens with an aetiology for the trial by jury

But, in typical Eurpidean style, this Orestes is surprising and unsettling. If Aeschylus’ Oresteia is optimistic, projecting a belief in the redemptive or at least balancing powers of human institutions, Euripides’ Orestes is the opposite, showing that human institutions fail to distribute justice when needed most and that individuals give in to the worst excesses of human nature.

Scenes (from this translation by Ian Johnston)

1-71 – Electra’s speech
153-315 – Chorus, Electra, Orestes
730-806 – Orestes, Pylades
1018-1203 – Electra, Orestes, Pylades, Chorus
1554-1691 – Menelaus, Orestes, Chorus, Apollo

Euripides, Orestes 288-293

“I think that my father, if I had gazed in is eyes
And asked him if I should kill my mother,
Would have touched my chin over and over
Not to plunge my sword into my mother’s neck,
Because he was not about return to life
And I would be miserable suffering tortures like these.”

οἶμαι δὲ πατέρα τὸν ἐμόν, εἰ κατ᾿ ὄμματα
ἐξιστόρουν νιν μητέρ᾿ εἰ κτεῖναί με χρή,
πολλὰς γενείου τοῦδ᾿ ἂν ἐκτεῖναι λιτὰς
μήποτε τεκούσης ἐς σφαγὰς ὦσαι ξίφος,
εἰ μήτ᾿ ἐκεῖνος ἀναλαβεῖν ἔμελλε φῶς
ἐγώ θ᾿ ὁ τλήμων τοιάδ᾿ ἐκπλήσειν κακά.


Orestes – Richard Neale
Electra – Tabatha Gayle
Chorus – Tim Delap and Evelyn Miller
Pylades – Martin K Lewis
Menelaus – Robert Matney
Apollo – Paul O’Mahony

Scene Selection and dramaturgy: Emma Pauly

Special Guest: Claire Catenaccio

Upcoming Readings(Wednesdays at 3PM EDT, Unless otherwise noted)

Aeschylus, The Persians May 13th

Euripides, Trojan Women, May 20th

Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th

Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th[10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

Euripides, Orestes 200-207

“We are ruined, like corpses, we are dead.
This one goes among the dead and the greater share
Of my life goes there too
In weeping and mourning
And tears in the night
Unmarried without children I drag out
An unlivable life for the rest of my time.”

ὀλόμεθ᾿ ἰσονέκυες ὀλόμεθα.
ὅδε γὰρ ἐν νεκροῖς τό τ᾿ ἐμὸν οἴχεται
βίου τὸ πλέον μέρος· ἐν
στοναχαῖσι δὲ καὶ γόοισι
δάκρυσί τ᾿ ἐννυχίοις
ἄγαμος ἄτεκνος ἔτι <βίον ἀ>βίοτον ἁ
μέλεος ἐς τὸν αἰὲν ἕλκω χρόνον.

Orestes Punished by the Furies by William Apolphe Bougeureau


“Peoples of much suffering: look how fate
Tramples on your hopes.
Different pains visit different people
Over the span of time:
The whole expanse of mortal lives cannot be measured”

ἔθνη πολύπονα, λεύσσεθ᾿ ὡς παρ᾿ ἐλπίδας
μοῖρα βαίνει.
ἕτερα δ᾿ ἕτερον ἀμείβεται
πήματ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ μακρῷ,
βροτῶν δ᾿ ὁ πᾶς ἀστάθμητος αἰών.

Videos of Earlier Sessions
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th

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