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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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

Agamemnon | Themes



Like many Greek dramas, Agamemnon wrestles with the concept of fate, or preordained events that humans cannot influence or finally control. Characters fall into the "nets" of their individual fates.

Responsibility and accountability are central questions of the play. If her family is cursed to murder each other, can Clytaemnestra do anything but kill her husband? If Zeus decides the fate of all humankind, can Agamemnon be blamed for sending Trojans to their inevitable destruction? Despite fate, however, the Chorus believes humans are still held to a moral standard. As the voice of reason in the play, the Chorus believes humans should accept responsibility and punishment for evil deeds, fated or not. Part of fate is paying for one's crimes.

Gods—not only the all-powerful Zeus but Ares, god of war; Artemis, goddess of nature and the weak; Apollo, god of healing, light, and truth; and others—control events in ways humans cannot. Gods manipulate the weather, as Artemis does when Agamemnon is not able to set sail. Gods curse humans, as Apollo curses Cassandra with prophecies no one believes. With the gods intervening freely in human affairs, characters in Greek dramas struggle with the question of free will. Do they have the ability to make decisions, or is every action governed by fate? The gods know in their own time frames what the humans will do since they must follow their fates. But the humans below are unaware and take their own actions, along with the responsibilities that result.

Revenge versus Justice

The code of revenge, both a primal spirit and an unwritten law, governs the primary actions in the play. Especially during wartime, when tensions are heightened and deaths abound, many characters believe their roles are to avenge loved ones, blood for blood.

Thyestes curses the entire family of the House of Atreus for all to die in acts of bloodshed and vengeance. Agamemnon's death is a prime example of blood for blood. Aegisthus seeks to avenge his murdered siblings, the children of Thyestes, and the wrong done to his father. Although he does not kill Atreus, he kills the next-best victim: Atreus's son. Clytaemnestra believes Agamemnon's death is what he deserves for killing Iphigenia, their daughter. The ending of the play implies Clytaemnestra, too, will pay for her own bloodshed.

Justice, to Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, seems to mean righting wrongs with vengeance. The Argive attack on Troy is an act of vengeance, and Agamemnon believes his win is just. Justice also involves people suffering or dying for acts their family members commit, since families are so intricately linked.

However justice, to the Chorus, looks different. The Chorus claims people should be rewarded or punished according to the righteousness or evil of their deeds. As the Chorus Leader says to Agamemnon on his return, he should reward "those who with justice stood guard for the city." Protecting one's country and family and being loyal and honest preserve justice for future generations.

The notion of civic justice, justice in governing a body of people, surfaces as well as individual justice. A leader like Agamemnon has a responsibility to protect his citizens. The Chorus mentions resentment of war leaders and sorrow over war deaths in Argos in Stasimon 1, implying Argos's citizens feel treated unjustly, despite their victory. Later the Chorus warns Aegisthus he will be punished not only for Agamemnon's sake but for the sake of the people of Argos—"your head will not escape the people's cursing."

Righteousness versus Evil

"Righteousness leads all things to well-deserved fulfillment," the Chorus sings. Unlike vengeance, righteousness means doing good when others are doing evil; virtue brings honor and fulfillment.

The characters in the play believe they are on the side of righteousness: Agamemnon goes to war and Clytaemnestra takes matters into her own hands. However others affected by these actions view them as evil and violent. Much of the play's dramatic tension comes from the conflict between individual codes of righteousness and evil.

The confusion between righteousness and evil poses an interesting question: Does righteousness become evil when advanced by an individual rather than a court of law? Some scholars argue the Oresteia as a whole represents a progression from primitive individual justice, as seen in Agamemnon, toward civilized court-based justice.

Questions for Themes

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
Willy as both Victim and Volunteer For your final discussion on the play, discuss how Willy was both a victim and volunteer in his fate: VOLUNTEER – Willy brought all his problems on himself. He has p
THESE QUESTIONS ARE REFERRING TO ROMEO & JULIET. YOUR ANSWERS ARE TO BE IN YOUR OWN WORDS. NO PLAGIARIZING. Thank You. :) 1-This character asked Lord Capulet if he could marry his daughter. Lord Capul
Watch & Read --------- "Death of a Salesman" After you have seen one version of the play, please post to let us know which version you watched, and how you
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