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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the motifs in Aeschylus's play Agamemnon.

Agamemnon | Motifs


Ships and Sailing

Ships were the primary method of travel to other cities in ancient Greece, for both commerce and warfare. The royal family was called the "ship of state." Aegisthus, asserting his authority to the Chorus, says "Your masters on the higher tiers control the ship." Nautical images invoke order, roles, and hierarchies. They also represent journeys and exile from one's homeland.


Prophecy manipulates and expands the play's sense of time, which transcends the literal time of the play's events and flashes back to the past and forward to the future. The sense of time is also fluid from the role of the myth, which encompasses all the characters and actions outside the normal human time frame. Past and distant events significant to the play—the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the fall of Troy—are foretold by the prophets Calchas and Cassandra. Cassandra also predicts the return of Orestes, an event that connects Agamemnon to its two sequels, furthering the story of the family dynasty over time. The prophetic imagery cements the actions in the play.

The Chorus contemplates the purpose of prophesying future tragedies, which are inevitable even though they have not happened. The prophets in the play—Cassandra, who appears onstage, and Calchas, who does not—can see what is to come and meld those visions into their experience of the present. "As for what's to come—you'll know that when it comes. So let it be," the Chorus says in the Parodos. In Stasimon 3, the Chorus members will be filled with their own visions of forthcoming doom, but will be reluctant to clarify what they see, knowing they cannot change events.

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