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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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

Agamemnon | Symbols



Nets, snares, entrapment, and entanglement appear repeatedly as a nautical image (a fishing net) that evokes helplessness. Nets surround characters whose fates are inescapable and beyond their power to change. Images of slavery, confinement, and silencing (the bit, the yoke, chains) are coupled with the multiple metaphorical nets that cover characters soon to die and cities soon to be conquered.

The net imagery comes to suggest death or fate is closing in on the characters. Clytaemnestra claims to have staked a net around the dead body of Agamemnon. The Chorus also claims Agamemnon lies in a spider's web of death.


The watchdog represents responsibility and guardianship. A dog is a humble servant, protecting others at the expense of itself. But both watchdogs of the House of Atreus and city of Argos—Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, "the watch dog that protects our household"—shamelessly misuse responsibility to further their own ends.

The symbol of the watchdog surfaces in the watchman's character, too, as he watches diligently for a signal fire from Troy. He acts as the protector of the house and the foreseer of good fortune or trouble. In contrast, Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, the other two watchdogs, are failing in their roles as protectors. The watchman, a palace servant, is aware of their limitations as rulers. In introducing Clytaemnestra, he comments on her "determined resolution of a man," a quality she demonstrates as she gains individual power.

Purple Carpet

The purple carpet is also referred to as red—a deep reddish purple, similar to the color of blood. Its symbolism is tied to the bloodshed in the House of Atreus and to evil acts that encourage death. Both Agamemnon's pride and Clytaemnestra's treachery are linked to the purple carpet.

Its color comes from dye in the sea, another force larger than humans themselves. Clytaemnestra brags in Episode 3 that the dye is as "valuable as silver" and a sign of wealth. She is ignoring the Chorus's many warnings against flaunting wealth, which leads to judgment and catastrophe.

Blood is also a feature of human and animal sacrifice, a gift to the gods as well as an act to preserve the living. Clytaemnestra, for instance, talks about pouring Agamemnon's blood in libations to the gods.


Characters are often compared to birds. These comparisons offer details about the character's personality, fate, and moral righteousness, or lack thereof. Cassandra is a helpless nightingale and a singing swan before her death. Clytaemnestra, in her murder, is compared to the death-seeking raven. Agamemnon and Menelaus, going to war, are two proud eagles. Menelaus and Agamemnon are also represented as birds whose nest has been robbed of Helen.

The appearance of birds also serves as a sign from the gods. The two eagles, one white and one black, that fly by on the right side of the ship as Menelaus and Agamemnon depart for Troy are viewed as a favorable sign. When the eagles devour a pregnant hare, the sign remains favorable that the sons of Atreus will devour Troy.

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