Echoes and Whisperings

Colin Burrow

  • House of Names by Colm Tóibín
    Viking, 262 pp, £12.99, May, ISBN 978 0 241 25768 5

At the start of Aeschylus’ Oresteia a watchman sees a flaming beacon. This is supposed to be the sign that Troy has fallen and that Agamemnon is coming home from the Trojan war. The watchman briefly rejoices. Then he says (in Richmond Lattimore’s translation): ‘The rest/I leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon/my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak/aloud and plain.’ Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, has taken Aegisthus as a lover. Neither the present nor the future is something anyone wants to talk about. And the future is indeed grim: Clytemnestra fulsomely welcomes Agamemnon home then tangles him in a net while he is bathing, and slaughters him. She then is killed by her son, Orestes, who is pursued by the Furies.

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