The cycle of revenge and retribution is endless. Every drop of blood spilt has to be atoned for with more. Everyone thinks they have the law and the will of the gods on their side and this conviction drives them on to commit new injustices. This is the spiral of violence that grips the ruling house of the Atrides in Aeschylus’s ‘Agamemnon’, the first part of his trilogy ‘The Oresteia’. Agamemnon returns home in triumph after ten years fighting the war against Troy to be greeted by his wife Clytemnestra with hatred and a desire for revenge. Not only because of Cassandra, the “spoils of war” he presents to Clytemnestra as his lover, but above all because he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia in order to secure a favourable wind from the gods for his fleet. For Aeschylus, however, the conflict between Agamemnon and Clytemnestra is far more than a personal dispute between a married couple: it is a political battle about how society is run: the matriarchy is challenging the patriarchy.
«Over 2,000 years ago, Tantalus tested the gods and their omniscience by preparing an abominable meal – and for this they put a curse on his family. From then on, every generation of Tantalus’s descendants would see their offspring murdered by members of their own family. Out of revenge and hatred, the gods unleashed a relentless spiral of killing that only Orestes was able to end. Now, without believing in the gods’ existence or knowing of any curse, we still see ourselves confronted with an unstoppable cycle of violence and never-ending war. Can Aeschylus’s Oresteia help us to understand the visible and invisible workings of power and can we use it to learn how to stop the killing?» Ulrich Rasche