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Agamemnon by Aeschylus: A Tragedy Analysis

General Summary

The Oresteia” is a trilogy by Aeschylus consisting of three tragedies: the Agamemnon, the Hoephores, and The Eumenides. Staged in 458 B.C., Aeschylus’ Oresteia is the only surviving example of a complete trilogy on a single subject (Powers 58). In this case, the trilogy focuses on the story of Agamemnon’s death on his return home at the hand of his wife Clytemnestra and the subsequent revenge on the father of Agamemnon’s son Orestes. The theme of blood feud, a series of murders in which each character alternately becomes avenger and victim, becomes the underlying motif that unites all the tragedies.

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The first part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, the tragedy Agamemnon, deals with the fate of the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War. The action takes place in Argos, the capital of Agamemnon’s kingdom, where Clytemnestra, his unfaithful wife, is staging a lavish ceremony to welcome her husband, who has returned victorious with rich spoils. A sense of impending doom seizes all present. The old servant whom Clytemnestra has been forced to watch over the return of the ships is confused and terrified. The elders of Argos are distraught and terrified as they listen to the dreadful prophecies of Agamemnon’s captive, the Trojan Princess Cassandra. Only Agamemnon is calm and far from suspicion in Aeschylus’ drama. However, as soon as he enters the palace and crosses the threshold of his bath, Clytemnestra strikes him from behind with an ax and, finishing off her husband, kills Cassandra, who has come running at Agamemnon’s shout.

Main characters’ reasoning

According to the laws of ancient theater, the audience was not supposed to see the murders. In Aeschylus’ tragedy, they heard only the cries of the victims and learned what had happened from the messenger’s story. A triumphant Clytemnestra stood over them with an ax in her hands. The traditional reasoning was that she was taking revenge on Agamemnon because he had once sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods to hasten the departure of the Greek fleet for Troy. The gods chose Clytemnestra as the instrument of punishment for the criminal father and carried out their justice. However, this interpretation of the myth did not satisfy Aeschylus, who was interested in the ethical motives of human behavior and was free in his choice of decisions (Price and Zelnick-Abramovitz 34). So it is not her mother’s outraged feelings that guide Clytemnestra’s actions, but the desire to proclaim her beloved Aegispha as king of Argos. In defiance of all norms of human behavior, splattered with the blood of her victims, Clytemnestra triumphs in Aeschylus’ drama. In this tragedy, Agamemnon appears as the bearer of the curse of the entire criminal Atrid family. Each member of this family inevitably becomes a criminal, and his punishment is perceived as the punishment of the gods, the guardians of justice, the foundation of the world order.

Work’s Problematic

Aeschylus revealed the problem of family relations and also used some traditional antique images in his tragedy. These included hereditary generic responsibility, the influence of the gods on human behavior, the transition from bloody events to a measured life, and a sublime and solemn style. Aeschylus was an ardent patriot, so he defended Athens’s honor to the last event in his tragedy (Singer et al. 23). He believed that antique statehood would resolve all contradictions, the struggle of matriarchy with patriarchy, and the collapse of the tribal system.

Features of the composition

The trilogy was developed on the basis of images of a man performing heroic deeds, as well as through descriptions of gods and demons. The author does not focus on specific individuals; he views them only as a means of constructing the destiny of an entire people or state. Aeschylus dramatizes conflicts and explains human behavior through supernatural influences (Singer et al. 23). The tragedy is written in a solemn style, which corresponds to the grandiosity of the problems. Original poetic imagery adds pathos to the work, while sound associations and internal rhyme make it more emotional.

Linking Text to an Ethical Concern

The ethical problem of Aeschylus’ work is to explore a man’s decisions free in his choices. Although Clytemnestra had the motivation to kill Agamemnon, she was free to choose her actions. According to the laws of the time, Clytemnestra should have expected revenge from Agamemnon’s son but was determined in her desire to kill him. The parallel can be drawn with people who commit a crime and are aware of the punishment that will follow. It could be a very different offense, either common theft or murder. These people act out of their own motives, which they see as a worthy motivation for committing the crime. As long as it is not committed, the would-be offender is free. When he commits a crime, he deliberately gives up his freedom in the name of achieving his goal of revenge, profit, or satisfying his thirst for risk. Likewise, Clytemnestra sacrificed her free life to avenge Agamemnon’s murder of her daughter. Thus, one can see that people’s decision to sacrifice their freedom in the name of what they believe to be a greater goal has at all times been the engine for committing crimes.

Linking the Idea of the Text to Contemporary Culture

The text’s main idea is to show the motivation and consequences for the person who has plotted revenge. In contemporary culture, this theme is also prevalent. The reason for this is mainly because the theme of revenge is a pressing ethical issue. For example, the famous movie The Joker, starring actor Joaquin Phoenix, reflects the theme of revenge for bullying. The main character, a battered man with mental disorders, turns into a homicidal maniac because of his constant taunts. The theme of blood vengeance is reflected less often because it is not necessary for modern society. A person who killed someone’s relative can be put behind bars or sentenced to death. Own-handed blood feuds are practiced only in some remote countries with a relatively low level of democracy. Nevertheless, revenge has always been and will continue to be a subject of interest in modern art. This is because it is a powerful feeling that sometimes pushes people to do terrible things. This is reflected in modern culture as well as in ancient literature, such as Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.

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Works Cited

Powers, Melinda. Reclaiming Greek Drama for Diverse Audiences: An Anthology of Adaptations and Interviews. Routledge, 2020.

Price, Jonathan, and Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz. (2020). Text and Intertext in Greek Epic and Drama: Essays in Honor of Margalit Finkelberg. Routledge, 2020.

Singer, Thomas, Cashford, Jules, and Craig San Roque. When the Soul Remembers Itself: Ancient Greece, Modern Psyche. Routledge, 2019.

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