Aeschylus’ Agamemnon


Agamemnon is only the first play of the great tragic trilogy, the Oresteia. Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia around 458 B.C.E.. It is his sole trilogy to survive intact. Aeschylus probably acted in the first performances of the Oresteia. “Plays were judged according to both high aesthetic criteria and the approval of the general audience. In his own time Aeschylus gained a reputation for dynamic and ornate sets, as well as for stunning sound and visual effects. He is considered by historians of Greek tragedy to be a major innovator in these areas.” (notes)


The story spans two generations of the house of Atreus. In Agamemnon, the king returns from Troy to Argos, where he is murdered by his wife. In Choephori, Agamemnon\'s son, Orestes, avenges his father by killing his mother and her lover, Aegisthus. In Eumenides, Harpies haunt Orestes until his “final absolution by Athena\'s divine justice.”


Some of the themes in Agamemnon include the portrayal of women as promiscuous: Helen, Clytaemestra, Cassandra are all three adulterous women. There is emphasis placed on the natural weakness of woman. It is mainly the Chorus (a group of old men) who advance this position. The women themselves are quick to point out their innocence, although, there is also much ambiguity in their reasoning as well. Another theme is one of masculinity. This brings up the idea of the social structure and the determined roles of men and women. The first section has the first mention of the queen as a lady with "male strength of heart." This has to do with her role as ruler of Argus in the long absence of her husband. Apparently, she has filled his position very well. But there is also some discussion by the chorus as to whether it is "unnatural" for a woman to act in the traditional capacity of a man.


Clytaemestra, the queen of Argos, is a dangerous woman. Ten years prior to the action of the play her only daughter was sacrificed by Agamemnon in order to ensure fair winds for the sail to Troy. This event reveals her character. At first she is appears to be a stable and admirable woman. In her husband\'s absence she even rules Argos well. Yet something doesn’t seem quite right. Even the Chorus is a bit wary of her. She ends up offering herself to Zeus\' as the instrument of Agamemnon\'s inevitable downfall. She strikes him three times and retells how the blood spattered on her clothes. But she denies responsibility for the murder on grounds that she truly was fate\'s instrument. Her guilt is announced, however, with the appearance of Aegisthus (her lover.)


I enjoyed reading the underlying social aspects of this story. The portrayal of Clytaemestra as a dangerous woman and the other woman as “unlady-like” is interesting. The men are also described as over-masculine and somewhat war minded.