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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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Agamemnon | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Episode 1 of Agamemnon, why is the Chorus hesitant to believe Clytaemnestra's report of an Argive victory in Troy?

The Chorus believes in the authority of the gods, who communicate to men through visions. When the Chorus leader asks Clytaemnestra if she has had a vision, she scoffs "As if I'd listen to some dozing brain." The Chorus and Clytaemnestra have different views of authority and how the gods talk to men. Clytaemnestra is convinced her signal fire system is effective. But the Chorus, skeptical of such good news after years of waiting, wants to hear from someone who has actually been at war. Although the Chorus members are outwardly respectful to Clytaemnestra, they do not honor her as a leader. Clytaemnestra knows how they feel, and their attitude fuels her jealous anger at Agamemnon.

In Agamemnon, Episode 1 why does Clytaemnestra hope the Argive soldiers will not destroy Troy's shrines and divinities?

Although Clytaemnestra does not believe in dream signs from the gods, she knows enough to fear the gods' vengeance and unpredictability. And she knows that desecration of shrines and temples will anger the gods. She also believes in vengeance for the dead, the same revenge she is exacting for her daughter, and is not eager to call down any more curses upon the family. After she carries out her own plot to kill Agamemnon and rule Argos, she needs the bloodshed to stop so she can ensure her rule. She hopes "those who've conquered may not, in their turn, be conquered" by curses, greed, and evil. Rather than echoing the Chorus's concerns for men to act righteously, she wants events to go as she has planned but without unnecessary destruction.

How is Agamemnon compared to Paris, and how do the two men's similarities indicate their fates?

Both men suffer from what the Chorus calls "delusions inciting men to rash designs." Both have exaggerated views of their own power and worth. Agamemnon is deluded into thinking he is doing right by sacrificing his daughter. Paris is deluded into thinking he is in the right, or at least satisfying his urges at the expense of the city, by taking Helen for his bride. Zeus, the most revered of the gods, punishes both men for their evil deeds. The Chorus says Zeus has "aimed his bow at Paris" for 10 years. Now Zeus comes for Agamemnon, in the form of the curse on his house. When Agamemnon walks on the purple carpet, he echoes Paris's treading on what he should leave alone.

How are urns and burial important in Agamemnon?

Urns containing the ashes of the dead are the price of war. Ares, the god of war, "trades funeral dust for men, shiploads of urns filled up with ashes," sings the Chorus in Stasimon 1. Even though Argos is celebrating victory, its citizens must reckon with their dead. Urns symbolize enemy deaths as well. Agamemnon says the gods decided the fate of the Trojans by casting their ballots into "the urn of blood." Burial was a significant rite to the ancient Greeks. Urns and ashes were the only means of honoring the dead. The Chorus mourns after Agamemnon's death, "Who will now bury him? Who will lament for him?" The manner of his death hurts the Chorus members as much as the fact of it. Even Clytaemnestra concedes to tradition and says Agamemnon's family will bury him.

How are the Furies significant to the plot and backstory of Agamemnon, and why are Helen, Clytaemnestra, and Cassandra compared to or accused of invoking the Furies?

The Furies are primeval, malevolent goddesses. Without mercy they carry out the natural world's laws, such as vengeance and consequences for actions. The Furies, like Ate, the goddess of ruin, are considered the prime forces behind the play's curses and deaths. They are associated with the color black. The Furies also deliver justice for evil men. The Chorus says the Furies reverse the luck of men who "prosper in unjust ways." Helen is turned into "a bride of tears, a Fury" after her arrival in Troy because of the destruction she will bring. The Chorus indirectly compares Clytaemnestra to a Fury because she acts on behalf of the "Black Ruin" at work in the house. Cassandra identifies "the Furies insatiably at work against this clan" as she pictures Agamemnon's death at Clytaemnestra's hands. She knows the curse is permanent: "the family's Furies cannot be dislodged." The Chorus leader, who does not believe in the good of prophecy, says that Cassandra herself is invoking the Furies and evil in her prophecy.

Where and why are light and dark placed in juxtaposition in Agamemnon?

Juxtaposition is a technique in which the author places two opposite concepts or images side by side. Light and dark show the duality with which humans must contend: righteousness and evil, hope and despair, truth and confusion. When the watchman sees the "fire gleaming in the night" he compares the darkness of the war to the light of its end. The herald believes Agamemnon will carry "light into the darkness" at his return, representing the return of strong leadership to Argos. Clytaemnestra invokes the saying "May Dawn be born from mother Night" when the war is over. Agamemnon's return, she says, is "the fairest dawn after a night of storms." She is playing the part of the good wife, but she also believes his return will bring truth into the light once she has murdered him.

In Agamemnon, Episode 2 what are the implications of the herald's question "Why should the living call to mind the dead?"

Ancient Greeks knew the dead affected the living. They honored their dead through funeral rites. But after the war, when corpses lined Troy and the Achaean Sea, remembering the dead also meant remembering the severe impact of war and the strife it brought to the city. The herald also considers memory of the dead an unnecessary reliving of "blows of fate." He celebrates survival of the war. Like Agamemnon he is boasting of his good fortune, forgetting the avenging dead never rest. He believes, wrongly, "Our luck's won out. No loss can change that now. As the Chorus knows, the gods always have another plan in mind." Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus recall the dead in their thirst for vengeance, the dead spurring on their plotting. Honoring the dead may bring them satisfaction but may lead to more deaths and violence.

In Agamemnon how is weather important to both the outcome of the war and to humans' views of the gods?

The gods act through the natural world. The gods control the weather, and the weather controls and limits human beings, even deciding whether they live or die. For example Agamemnon and his troops cannot set sail without favorable wind, a circumstance that results in loss and disgrace from inability to defend their country. The storm that hit the Argive forces, the herald says, was "a storm linked to the anger of the gods." Likewise his ship was preserved by divine favor in "the bright light of day." The Chorus compares the curse on the House of Atreus to "storms of blood rain," suggesting a supernatural force of destruction. Clytaemnestra's tribulations began because of weather: had the winds been favorable at Aulis, Iphigenia would not have been sacrificed, and Clytaemnestra might have taken a less hostile view toward the gods and her husband's action to please them.

In Agamemnon, Stasimon 2 how does the chorus describe family and generational strife, and how does this description relate to Agamemnon's actions in Episode 3?

According to the Chorus, family strife comes not from prosperity but from evil acts, which men cannot hide. After old violence "new violence springs forth." The "unholy" acts of previous generations will be repeated in their children. Their children will act out the same violence and be its victims as well. For instance, the lion cub in the Chorus's story was adopted by men but could not hide the truth of its bloodlines. In time "its true nature showed," the one its parents gave it. Helen, whom the lion cub represents, married into the House of Atreus, and brought destruction to Troy from her family. Agamemnon's actions show he is following old patterns; he is seduced into walking across the purple carpet by the thought of being a leader like Priam, the conquered Trojan king. He also loves his wealth, not wanting to squander the assets of his house. He has just come back from war and wants to be seen as a good, democratic leader; however he cannot hide his true nature. His hamartia, his inescapable fate, will find him and continue to destroy his family.

In Agamemnon, Stasimon 2 why does the Chorus leader reveal to Agamemnon his doubts about the war?

The Chorus leader wants to prove his loyalty to the regime by showing his honesty. He says Agamemnon, as a man of true character, will not be "fooled by eyes feigning loyalty, favoring him with watered-down respect." He considers himself a watchdog and a representative of the people's dissent. After the war, although citizens are glad of victory, he feels compelled to say they never supported the war and believe its costs far too much for its reward. Even though the Chorus members can speak for the people and be the voice of reason, they are still respectful and humble when interacting with the king. The Chorus leader is especially deferent in speaking for the group. They believe if the truth comes to light, justice will win out.

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