• Category: Theater
  • Words: 1846
  • Grade: 100
Aeschylus was born in Eleusis, a Greek town near Athens, in 525 B.C. He

was the

first of the great Greek tragedians, preceding both Sophocles and Euripides,

and is often

credited with inventing tragic drama. Prior to Aeschylus, plays were

primitive, consisting

of a single actor and a chorus offering commentary. In his works, he added a


actor" (often more than one) thus creating endless new dramatic

possibilities. He lived

until 456 B.C., fighting in the wars against Persia, and attaining great

acclaim in the world

of the Athenian theater.

Aeschylus wrote nearly ninety plays; however, only seven have survived to


modern era, including such famous works as Prometheus Bound and The Seven


Thebes. Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy, called the Oresteia, which

continues with The

Libation-Bearers and concludes with The Eumenides. The trilogy--the only such

work to

survive from Ancient Greece--is considered by many critics to be the greatest


tragedy ever written, both for the power of its poetry and the strength of

its characters.

Agamemnon depicts the assassination of the title character by his wife,

Clytemnestra, and her lover; The Libation-Bearers continues the story with

the return of

Agamemnon's son, Orestes, who kills his mother and avenges his father.

Orestes is

pursued by the Furies in punishment for his matricide, and finally finds

refuge in Athens,

where the god Athena relieves him of his persecution.

The events of Agamemnon take place against a backdrop that would have been

familiar to an Athenian audience. Agamemnon is returning from his victory at

Troy, which

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has been besieged for ten years by Greek armies attempting to recover Helen,

Agamemnon's brother's wife, stolen treacherously by the Trojan Prince, Paris.

(The events

of the Trojan War are recounted in Homer's Iliad.) The play's tragic events

occur as a

result of the crimes committed by Agamemnon's family. His father, Atreus,

murdered and

cooked the children of his own brother, Thyestes, and served them to him;


lover, Aegisthus (Thyestes's only surviving son), seeks revenge for that

crime. Meanwhile,

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to gain a favorable wind to Troy,


Clytemnestra murders him to avenge her death.

Tragedies were Athenian, reflecting the taste and intellectual climate of

mid fifth

century Athens. The weight of history and heritage becomes a major theme of

the play,

and indeed of the entire trilogy, for the family it depicts cannot escape the

cursed cycle of

bloodshed from its past.

Aeschylus wrote this victory-winning trilogy in Athens, 458 B.C. His


in a loosely organized political "group" is thought to have influenced his

works. His

political faction included Pericles, who led Athens to the height of its

political power and

its artistic achievement with democracy. Pericles' group believed in

expanding democratic

base of citizens, in manifesting Athens' imperial claims, and in fostering a

foreign policy

that was anti-Spartan.

Sparta had suffered defeat during an uprising in a nearby city-state.

This Spartan

failure upset the balance of power, which Pericles' group wished to exploit.

Argos, a

city-state in the heart o f the Peloponnesos, without a powerful Sparta,

extended control

over some smaller neighboring cities. In 462, Argos, Athens, and Thessaly

formed an

informal alliance. In 461, Argos changed her constitution from aristocratic

to democratic.

Her assembly, courts, and other features mimicked those of Athens. Something

to note is

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whether or not these events had any influence over Aeschylus' decision to

move the locale

of the entire myth from Mycenae(the Homeric version of the epic) to Argos!

In response to these democratic reforms, other political groups attacked


reforms. Ephialtes, the original leader of the quasi-democratic faction, was


his position was taken by Pericles. This can be paralleled to Aeschylus'

theme in

Agamemnon. He emphasizes integrity and prestige of King of Argos(like


Furthermore, Clytemnestra can be referred to as Pericles, who assassinates

The King and

restores his power with her own--see a connection?

Implications for city-state is also prevalent and important. The idea of

class unity

and a just society can be reflected in Aeschylus' work. At last day of year

in August (New

Year's Eve Day for ancient times) a court held a murder trial and tried an ax

of murder,

found it guilty, and threw it into the sea. This trial reflects the serious

implications the act

of manslaughter held for the city-state. The concerns included first, how

society is

affected. That is, what is the result of revenge? If one member of a family

were to take

revenge on another, the pattern of vendetta and violence could go on forever.

The fabric

of society in ancient Greece is held together by the family; it is only

through the family, for

example, that you can gain your citizenship. When Aeschylus writes the

trilogy about one

family and the affects of murder and revenge, we have to ask ourselves, is it

a metaphor

for the city-state as a whole?

Secondly, revenge can operate on the political level, instead of a social

aspect as

stated above. This continuous revenge can bring about stasis--meaning

revolution, strife,

or change. It is a term used negatively; in that, revolution or fighting

from within the

family, is bad for the city-state. The family or families of Argos rather,

are comparative to

an Athenian city-state.

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Another concern is how to administer justice, especially when

manslaughter which

demands some form of punishment may have been justified. In the ancient

world murder

and other acts of evil existed. Finally there was a religious aspect to the

concernment of

how to justify the people who committed such acts of evil. Their, the

ancient peoples,

apparent problem at that time was how to purify the city from its

"pollution" or guilt

brought on by bloodshed. An iterating comment can be made to which some or

all these

concerns are dramatized by Aeschylus' Agamemnon: The family curse of the

house of

Atreus of repeatedly murders with family members and other family-love type

relationships.(wife, husband, etc.)

Many of the violent events are significant. The first significant violent

development is the theft of Helen and the Trojan War that followed(recounted

in Homer's

The Iliad). The second act of violence was Agamemnon's sacrifice of his


Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was enraged of her daughters demise, therefore her


against her husband was justified in her actions. Perhaps the most vile

display of violence

is the terrible sin of Agamemnon's father Atreus. He, Atreus, killed his

brother's children

and cooked them for him. As a result inspires Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin


Clytemnestra's lover, seeks revenge because Atreus, Agamemnon's father,

killed his

brothers. This creates a trilogy of revenge between Agamemnon, Clytemnestra,



The Trilogy forces us to recognize its context, with its repeated

references to the

political situation, the Argos alliance, and the newly democratic


Council). One cannot remove the trilogy from its time and place without

damaging our

understanding of the plays; in order to do this, we would need to educate


above) of fifth century life, placing ourselves in a "virtual" Athens.

With the knowledge of world history and study, I feel that the

relationship with the

thirteen colonies represented by Argos, Athens and Thessaly corresponding to


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acting as Britain clearly displays a perfect spot on the time line. The age

of exploitation

and revolution rather than mercantilistic rapport. Sparta had heavily

influenced trade

between the allies of the Achean cities. Argos, like Philadelphia of the

American colonies,

showed its evolving independence from Britain(Sparta). The thirteen colonies


trade with Caribbean countries, the French and even Dutch companies. Sparta

like Britain

was jealous of these amicable relations between the others and intervened.

Another focused idea, the citizens established factions of democracy as

so did the

Argives. People like Thomas Jefferson could have represented Aeschylus for

he was a

writer and in the new democratic "group." Agamemnon's return could be,

portrayed as

the men who set out to expand the colonies and fought with the "red skins"

or Indians


If I were to cast such a play, many notable people come to mind. For the


brief yet important character of the play, I feel William Clinton our

president displays

arrogance in his family, especially with his wife. So does Agamemnon when he


home and refuses to walk over the purple carpet laid out by his Queen.


Clytemnestra would be portrayed by Ms. Hillary Clinton. Her approaches and


determination in the upcoming elections shows her starvation for power as so


Clytemnestra. In a way, the grudge Hillary hold against Bill after the

Lewinsky incident is

paralleled or similar to Clytemnestra revenge or grudge she holds for


sacrifice of his daughter. Both women are disappointed to a degree with their


The Chorus gave me an impression of gossip. They seem to be as "the

washer-women" who supposedly know all that the matter and what gossip is

around first.

And serving to their Queen during Agamemnon's absence I would imagine Mr.


to represent them all. He was a butler who helped everyone in a television

sitcom family

and was always aware of news--bad or good. He acted similar to a

psychologist in giving

advice to others. The chorus discussed and foreshadowed the danger of human


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Cassandra the Trojan Princess who was captured by Agamemnon and then carried


Argos as his slave and mistress was my favorite character. She was also

Apollo's lover

given the gift of prophecy, but when she refused to bear him a child was

punished by

making everyone around her disbelieve her predictions. Cassandra is most


character. She would be played by Julia Roberts character in Pretty Women.


character is underestimated because of her status, a prostitute.

Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and Clytemnestra's lover. Can be related

to Sean

Combs a rap artist whose friend was killed and seeks revenge for the terrible

crime as so

does Aegisthus who awaits his revenge to kill Agamemnon. The Herald can be

represented by The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. He, like the

Herald, bring

news of arrival. The Herald patriotic recounts vivid descriptions of the

horrors of war.

The White Rabbit announces the Queen of Hearts arrival and the horror of her


And last but not least, the Watchman who was assigned to watch for the

signal of Troy's

fall from the room top of the palace, with a sense of negative foreboding.

He can be

paralleled with Phoebe from the hit sitcom on NBC, Friends. She is regarded


unimportant and always left at home to answer calls and leave messages. But

she always

has the best intuition as does the Watchman.

In the excellent trilogy, Agamemnon, one can manifest the ideas of other


and questions. For this, in my opinion, is regarded the most heavily

lavished with theme

and morals for all to read.
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