Analysis of the Play Agamemnon

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Analysis of the Play Agamemnon

We are in Argos, at the tomb of Agamemnon. Enter Orestes and his friend, Pylades. Orestes pays respects to the memory of his father. He has returned to have his revenge on Agamemnon's killers, Clytaemestra and Aegisthus. Orestes speaks of his regret that he was not present for Agamemnon's death or for his funeral, and he puts a lock of his hair on the grave. A group of mourning women enter, veiled in black and carrying urns to pour libations for the dead. Orestes thinks he sees his sister Electra among the women, but he decides that he and Pylades will hide and try to learn the women's intentions. The Chorus of women and their cries create an atmosphere of incredible dread and anxiety. Omens have indicated that the dead are not satisfied and bear great hatred for the living, and Clytaemestra has sent the women out to pour offerings on Agamemnon's grave. The women allude to the house's bloody history; so much violence and murder has plagued the house that the bloodshed has become self-renewing, impossible to clean away. The women also speak of their own status as slaves; they are captive women, won in various campaigns, but they still feel sorrow for the unjust end met by Agamemnon.

Full of bitterness, Electra asks the women how she should make the offering. She feels she cannot honorably pour libations on behalf of her mother, who was Agamemnon's murderer. The Chorus, speaking subtly, implies that Electra should pray for herself and the slave women. She should also pray for Orestes, who is in exile far away. The Chorus also tells Electra to pray that Agamemnon's killers be killed themselves for the life they took. Electra prays as instructed, complaining to her father's spirit about the fate that has befallen Electra and her brother. Orestes is an exile, and Electra lives in her own house as little better than a slave. The Chorus repeats Electra's prayer for an avenger. Electa suddenly sees something that makes her weak: a lock of hair, cut off and laid on Agamemnon's grave. The hair is unique to Agamemnon's children; the hair must belong to Orestes. Electra is torn between hope and the fear of having that hope disappointed. She searches for other signs of her brother, and finds two sets of footprints.

Orestes emerges from his hiding place, still dressed as a traveler. Electra does not yet recognize him, in part because he has been gone for so long. She is so wary of being disappointed that she dare not say anything with certainty; she is not satisfied until she hears the truth from Orestes' own mouth. Orestes finally proclaims his identity, and Electra is overjoyed. Orestes alone, she says, can bring her honor. She asks that Force, Right, and Zeus come to his side. Orestes, in turn, calls on Zeus to aid him in restoring his house to grandeur, with the implied meaning of restoring Agamemnon's rightful heirs. The Chorus asks Electra and Orestes to keep quiet, for fear that their enemies might overhear them. Orestes responds that Apollo himself has commanded Orestes to avenge his father's death, and he trusts Apollo not to forsake him. Even without the command of the god, Orestes has ample reason to kill Clytaemestra: she murdered his father, she has disinherited her children, and the people of Argos suffer under the rule of women. ("Women" pluralized because Aegisthus, Orestes says, has the heart of a woman.) The Chorus prays to the Destinies that past violence may now be repaid with new violence.

Analysis:

Tragedy, as Aristotle points out in his Poetics, involves people performing atrocities against those that they love or should love. "Hate-in-love" is one of the central themes of the trilogy (Lattimore 10). Orestes and Electra are preparing to perform the appalling act of matricide, and the hatred that spurs them on has a great deal to do with their mother's rejection of them. Both Electra and Orestes say that their mother has "sold" them, getting in their place a new lover. Their anger is not only because of their father's death, but because Clytaemestra abandoned them. Electra and Orestes have been robbed of their place in the line of succession. Their mother has turned her back to them, exiling her own son and reducing her daughter to servitude in her own house.

The two siblings largely ignored the faults of their father. Remember the kind of man that Agamemnon was: fiercely proud and ambitious, he sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia so that he could proceed in a morally dubious war. For his brother's beautiful wife, he sacrificed many of the young men of Greece. Even Agamemnon's Chorus of loyal elders disapproves of his actions, telling him that because of his decisions many have suffered. Years later, his humiliating death has transformed him into a martyr, and that transformation is psychologically strategic on the parts of Electra and Orestes. It gives them further justification for their hatred of Clytaemestra.

Aeschylus here lays the groundwork for the fascinating psychological portraits of Electra found later in the works of Sophocles and Euripides. She is unmarried and therefore "has love to lavish" (Lattimore 27). Without husband or father, and with one sibling dead and the other in exile, for a long time her mother has been the only family member in her life. Being reduced to servitude in her own house by her own mother has been emotionally destructive. When Orestes returns, she clings to him almost as fiercely as she clings to her hatred for Clytaemestra. Listen to her words to her returned brother:


O bright beloved presence, you bring back four lives to me. To call you father is constraint of fact, and all the love I could have borne my mother turns your way, while she is loathed as she deserves; my love for a pitilessly slaughtered sister turns to you. (ll. 238-42)

Lonely and bitter, Electra clings to her brother because he is all that she has left. Vulnerable because she is a Greek unmarried woman, she needs a protector. Her father is dead and her mother is her enemy; she lacks even the sisterly support of the slaughtered Iphigeneia. (Note that although Electra mentions Iphigeneia, she conveniently neglects to mention that Agamemnon was the girl's murderer. Agamemnon's sacrifice of the girl was one of the primary motivations for Clytemaestra's decision to kill him.) Finally, in Orestes, Electra has her protector. The love that for most people is spread out among many is lavished on one man.

The position of women is an important theme for both Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers. This theme is integrally connected to the theme of male power versus female power. In the first part of the trilogy, Clytaemestra's status as a woman provides grounds for both justification and condemnation of her actions. Her husband's long absence made Clytaemestra lonely and politically vulnerable. Think of Penelope in the Odyssey, and the precariousness of her position during Odysseus' long absence. Clytaemestra faced a similar situation in Argos. She also had time to nurse her understandable outrage for her daughter's murder. But although Aeschylus shows sympathy and awareness of the vulnerable position of Greek women, he does not shy away from condemning Clytaemestra. She has committed one of the great sins for a Greek woman: she has shown that she enjoys sex, and she is in part motivated by sexual desire. This motivation is the one on which Electra and Orestes fixate, dwelling on their mother's sex life with a perverse intensity that Sophocles and Euripides deepened and emphasized in their own portrayals of the siblings. Clytaemestra also earns condemnation because her ambition is "unwomanly." In a social system where stability is built on the silence and passivity of women, who are traded between families for the purposes of procreation and the building of inter-family alliances, a woman with a sex drive or ambition is a threat to order. Clytaemestra on top, so to speak, is the world gone awry. The restoration of social order will require putting the rightful male heir back on the throne.

The audience sees the vulnerability of women in the portrayals of Electra and the Chorus. As an unmarried virgin, Electra is without a secure place. The slave women have lost their families and husbands, and yet they remain loyal to the king who made them slaves. In order to survive, women must submit. Their happiness is often dependent on the benevolence of male masters; to try and rectify this situation is to risk becoming a "viper" like Clytaemestra. Although Aeschylus shows an awareness of the difficulties inherent in this situation for women, he is no revolutionary. The triumph of the trilogy is harmony and restoration of order, reconciliation of the old with the new. It was for the playwright Euripides, later on, to dwell obsessively on the status of woman and the contradictions of her social position.

Orestes' prayer to Zeus introduces one of the important and recurring symbols of The Libation Bearers. He describes his father as having been destroyed by a viper. The viper's indiscriminate malevolence is a metaphor for familial strife: the creature will attack and kill even members of its own brood. Here, the snake is a symbol for Clytaemestra; significantly, in Clytaemestra's dreams a snake symbolizes Orestes. The serpent's poison also symbolizes the poison that flows in the veins of the House of Atreus, sickening each new generation with more internal violence and murder; Aegisthus speaks of the serpent's poison later in the play (ll. 841-3). The serpent also symbolizes deviousness. Orestes likens his father to a mighty eagle snared by a snake's coils. In all the murders in the house of Atreus, bloodshed comes about not on the battlefield but by deceptions and plots.

From the invocation of Agamemnon's spirit to the change of scene from the king's tomb to just outside the door of Clytaemestra's palace. (Lines 315-652):

Summary:

In a lyrical and intense sequence, Electra and Orestes, and to a lesser extent the Chorus, call on the spirit of Agamemnon to aid them. They pray to Zeus, Earth, and the gods of the dead. They speak of the wrongs committed by Clytaemestra and the shameful end of their great father. They pray for aid and strength so that they will not become soft and fail to carry out the deed.

The Chorus praises the words of Electra and Orestes spurs them on to action. Orestes asks why Clytaemestra decided to send offerings to Agamemnon's tomb. The Chorus tells Orestes that the queen had a dream that she was nursing a serpent. The snake drew blood along with mother's milk. Orestes hopes that the snake symbolizes him. Electra will go inside and keep watch on the house to make sure nothing gets in the way of their plot. The slave women will keep Orestes' return a secret. Orestes and Pylades will go to the gate of the palace, disguised as foreigners. Because of the Greek view of hospitality, they will not be turned away. Once inside, Pylades and Orestes will kill Aegisthus first. Orestes and Pylades exit, and Electra exits separately.

The Chorus sings of the sins of evil women and men. Time and time again, the gods have shown that they punish wrongdoers. The Chorus describes "daring" as an inextricable part of their sins. These villains dared to defy the gods or the laws of morality. For the sake of ambition or lust they put themselves above the laws of gods and men. The Chorus says that there are clear lessons to be learned from the fate of these sinners. Their punishment is a sign that the gods watch and judge. In Argos, the Chorus says, those in sin have yet to be punished, but at long last Destiny and the gods will bring about their just end.

Analysis:

The invocation of Agamemnon is one of the most powerful scenes of the play. The language is intense, full of violence and passion, and through this language Aeschylus conjures the sense of tremendous powers at work in the events to come. The divine plan and destiny is an important theme of the trilogy. Remember that Apollo himself has given the order for Orestes to murder his mother. Also at work is the theme of history and memory. The actions of Orestes are spurred from above, but they are also spurred from behind: in the past, he has the whole bloody history of his family and the Curse on the House of Atreus pushing him forward. Several times during the invocation, the Curse comes up either explicitly or implicitly. There is a strong sense of the legacy of violence that has been left to these children; Electra describes herself and Orestes as "savage born from the savage mother" (l. 422), and the Chorus speaks explicitly of the terrible internal violence that has plagued the house of Atreus.

Two themes come together in the Curse: the theme of history and the theme of violence's self-perpetuating nature. Behind Agamemnon's death is the story of the Trojan War and before that, the bloody legacy of his father. (See the ClassicNote on Agamemnon or this ClassicNote's Short Summary for the story of the Curse on the House of Atreus.) Remember that Aegisthus was Thyestes' only surviving son. His brothers were killed by Agamemnon's father through a scheme that was both barbaric and wickedly creative. Aegisthus, in turn, killed Agamemnon with Clytaemestra's help. Now, Orestes will kill him. Violence is a cycle that seemingly has no end. The force of this cycle propels Orestes toward matricide.

But that does not mean that matricide is easy or pleasant. When Orestes and Electra call on their father to remember their suffering and the wrongs committed against him, the invocation seems to be as much for them as it is for him. They are working themselves into a frenzy, making themselves bloodthirsty and savage enough to murder their own mother. This frenzy comes with the theme of memory and history. Memory gives the past the power to work on in the present; through the invocation, Orestes and Electra are making themselves relive the horrible events of the past. They are manipulating memory, (leaving out Iphigeneia's death, for instance) so that they will be able to properly avenge their father, as ordered by Apollo, and protect their lives and their rightful inheritance.

In Electra's final prayer to Agamemnon, she brings up one of the important symbols of the trilogy. She likens her brother and herself to the corks of a net, which keep the fibers from sinking. In this way, though their father is dead, he will live on if his children survive. They will hold up his bloodline for him. The impetus to restore order, to set the world right, is another important theme of the trilogy. Part of restoring order is putting the rightful heir on the throne and continuing the family line. But Electra's use of metaphor shows how complex symbolism in the Oresteia can be. The corks of the net are a metaphor for the family's survival, but the net and water imagery recall Agamemnon's murder. Remember that to kill him, Clytaemestra ensnared the king with a piece of cloth while he was taking a bath. Even in an image of survival, there is no escape from images of violence. Survival will not come with clean hands for the siblings; more brutality and treachery will be needed.

But still, Aeschylus shows faith in the ultimate triumph of justice. His universe is not as chaotic or malicious as Euripides'; the words of the Chorus show that the gods watch and judge justly. Although solutions are not simple and often unmerciful, there is a sense that in the end all comes to right. Clytaemestra's death has to happen; the murder will be further proof that there is justice in the world.

From the scene change to the exit of Cilissa. (Lines 653-782):

Summary:

We now have a scene change. We are no longer at the tomb of Agamemnon, but before the doors of Clytaemestra's palace. Orestes, accompanied by Pylades, knocks on the palace doors. He says to a servant that he brings important news for the masters of the house. Clytaemestra comes out to greet them; she offers hospitality and asks to hear the news. The disguised Orestes tells her that on his way to Argos, he was told to inform the rulers of Argos that Orestes is dead. Clytaemestra receives the news with apparent sorrow. She assures the disguised Orestes that the hospitality offered to him will not suffer, despite the fact that he is the bringer of terrible news, and she tells a servant to make sure that the two travelers receive every benefit of hospitality. She will talk to Aegisthus and some trusted friends about this sudden turn of events. Everyone exits except for the Chorus.

The Chorus prays for Orestes' success. Cilissa, an old nurse, enters with tears in her eyes, and the Chorus asks her why she is crying. Cilissa says that Clytaemestra seems sad, but Cilissa thinks that the queen hides inner happiness at the news; Orestes can no longer endanger the queen and Aegisthus. Clytaemestra sent Cilissa to fetch Aegisthus, so that he might hear the news, too. Cilissa is grieving for Orestes. She raised him as if the boy were her own son; as was not uncommon in rich Greek households, Orestes' parents had less to do with his upbringing than his nurse. She raised him from infancy, and now she has lost him. She must bring the news to Aegisthus, whom she clearly hates.

The Chorus asks Cilissa if Clytaemestra told Aegisthus to return home armed and with bodyguards. Cilissa says yes; the Chorus tells her to instruct Aegisthus otherwise. He should return home alone, unarmed. They hint that Orestes may still be alive. Cilissa does not understand, but she agrees to do as asked. She is not sure what is going on, but she will trust the slave women and hope for the best.

Analysis:

Orestes may be acting under the orders of Apollo, but there is much in his plan that is savage and sneaky. Deception and ensnarement is a theme of the trilogy. He hopes to ambush his mother and Aegisthus in a manner as underhanded as the ambush in which Agamemnon was murdered. Onstage at the same time, we see mother and son both in disguise. Cilissa says that Clytaemestra puts on a face of sorrow to hide a truer, inner face of happiness. Orestes hides his face under the costume of a foreign traveler; he even affects an accent to complete the disguise. Although Orestes insists on the justice of his actions, putting disguised mother and disguised son onstage at the same time suggests that there are many parallels between murdering Agamemnon and murdering Clytaemestra and Aegisthus. In both cases, deception is a prelude to the killing. In both cases, the killer feels that he or she is serving justice. And in both cases, the murder also amounts to usurpation of the throne of Argos.

Although the nurse is skeptical of Clytaemestra's sorrow, Aeschlyus' characterization of the queen is round enough for us to think that at least some part of Clytaemestra's sorrow is real. Certainly, she is not completely honest. She implies to the stranger (the disguised Orestes) that the prince was a source of happiness; strange words, coming from the woman who exiled him. Cilissa is right about one thing: some part of the queen feels relief. Orestes is the legitimate heir to the throne, and his exile did not end the threat of his returning to avenge his father. Clytaemestra's dreams increased her fears of her son's return. The mixed emotions Clytaemestra feels is yet another manifestation of the hate-in-love theme. She feels both sorrow and happiness at news of her son's death.

The old nurse's sorrow is a sharp contrast to Clytaemestra's reaction. Although we can believe that Clytaemestra is sad to hear that Orestes has died, note that we can find no speech or stage directions that indicate tears from Clytaemestra. Aeschylus imbues the queen with grandness and dignity throughout both Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers. She is composed and unshakeable, no matter what happens. But here that self-control comes off as overly composed, too inhuman. Clytaemestra's measured and careful reaction to her son's death seems all the more cold when juxtaposed with Cilissa's emotional and sincere reaction; the slave weeps for a boy who was not even of her blood, calling his death the greatest pain she has had to bear. This contrast between queen and slave nurse reveals Clytaemestra's determination and composure while also showing her unlikable traits. As is often the case for the tragic figures of Greek literature, Clytaemestra's strengths are inextricable from her faults.

The Cilissa/Clytaemestra juxtaposition may also be social commentary on the child-rearing practices of the Greek nobility, in particular the nobility of Aeschylus' own city of Athens. Frequently in Athens, many of the responsibilities of childrearing were left to slaves. Although the Curse in the Oresteia should not be reduced to a story about what goes wrong when Mommy pays no attention to Baby, Aeschylus' use of the Cilissa character is too carefully placed and prominent for it to be accidental. The most specific criticisms can also be the most general: in revealing Clytaemestra's faults as a mother and a human being, Aeschylus may be subtly criticizing a certain method of parenting.

Whatever their justification for slaying Agamemnon, Clytaemestra and Aegisthus clearly have not made themselves loved. The success of Orestes' plan rests on the dissatisfaction of slaves in the house. The Chorus does not only comment on the action: here, the Chorus is a co-conspirator. The nurse Cilissa hates Aegisthus and wastes little love on Clytaemestra. Tyranny was a hot political issue for Athenians, who had some experience with tyranny: the original definition of "tyrant" was a strong noble, often with good intentions, who ruled as dictator. Tyrants seized and maintained power by force. Tyrants may have been effective rulers at times, but their abuse of the system and flaunting of the rules made a city under tyranny dangerously subject to the whims of one man. A history of these abuses led to the overwhelmingly negative definition of the word that eventually evolved, the definition still in use today. Agamemnon may have had many shortcomings as a ruler, but his wife has done little since his death that would justify his murder. All of the servants of the house despise her and her lover.

From the choral ode that begins "Not to my supplication, Zeus" to the removal of Clytaemestra. (Lines 783-930):

Summary:

The Chorus prays to Zeus for Orestes' success, assuring the father of gods that if Orestes is successful, he will be a devout giver of sacrifices forever after. They also pray for Orestes' murder of the usurpers to put an end to the cycle of violence. Hopefully, the restoration of Orestes will end the Curse. They pray for Orestes to keep his resolve and go through with the necessary murders.

Aegisthus enters, speaking about his sorrow at hearing of Orestes' death. But he is not certain if the news is true. When he asks the Chorus what they know, they say they heard the news as well but suggest that he go inside to learn the truth from the messenger himself. Skeptical, Aegisthus enters the house intending to question the messenger thoroughly. Outside the house, the Chorus wonders what is happening. They hear a cry from inside, but cannot be sure of who is screaming. The Chorus says that they will stand aside so as not to be held responsible for what happens. One of the followers of Aegisthus enters, proclaiming with terror that his master is dead. He searches for Clytaemestra so that he can warn her of the danger. When Clytaemestra enters, the follower speaks inarticulately, but the perceptive queen grasps his meaning. She sends him to get an axe so that she can defend herself.

Just then, Orestes and Pylades enter. Clytaemestra tries to convince her son not to kill her; she nearly persuades him, but Pylades convinces Orestes that the oracle must be obeyed. Orestes resolves to go through with the matricide. Clytaemestra continues to beg her son for mercy, arguing that destiny had a great part in his father's death. She also warns him that if he kills her, her curse will fall on him. She also tries to remind him of her father's faults, and the difficulties faced by a woman in her position. Orestes is not moved. Clytaemestra recognizes that the snake that she nursed in her nightmares was Orestes. Pylades and Orestes drag her into the house.

Analysis:

The Chorus promises that Orestes, if successful, will give many offerings to Zeus. Orestes himself made a similar promise earlier. The implication is that Orestes will give better offerings than Clytaemestra or Aegisthus have; it is as if the value of the man can be determined by the offering he gives to the gods. The promise of rich offerings to the gods occurs repeatedly in The Libation Bearers, but it is almost non-existent in other Greek tragedies. Sacrifices are common, but in other plays offerings are frequently part of a complicated situation. In Iphigeneia in Aulis and Iphigeneia in Tauris, sacrifice becomes complicated because the intended victim is human. In Antigone, sacrifice becomes impossible when the gods reject Thebes' offerings to show their disapproval of Creon. In this play, Orestes and the Chorus bring up offerings as part of a simple promise: if Orestes succeeds, many rich offerings will make their way to the gods. The sacrifice of animals was an ancient and conventional form of devotion in Greek religion. The sacrifice also brings humans and gods into a relationship that can be understood in human terms: the gods enjoy and require devotion. They like to receive gifts, and a man who is devout will give more gifts; in return, the give aid to the gift-givers. It is often said of Aeschylus that he was like a Greek Milton: he sought to explain or justify divine actions in human terms. In the trilogy, the great method for this kind of explanation is the creation of teleology, a story that explains events in terms of an ultimate purpose or design. In the Oresteia, at least, this theme is present, as the whole bloody history of the House of Atreus ultimately leads to reconciliation of old gods with new and the creation of a new institution of justice. It is fitting then that The Libation Bearers repeatedly mentions the most archaic and conventional form of piety, without complication or irony. Aeschylus is trying to make clear the working of divine will: at the same time, the most conventional form of religious devotion is mentioned with respect. Gods and men have a harmonious and mutual relationship.

Right until Clytaemestra comes face to face with her son, she shows more of her incredible composure. Faced with the revelation that her son has returned to murder her, she icily calls for an axe. Yet when he comes to kill her, she first tries to sway him by appealing to his sense of love for her: "Hold, my son. Oh take pity, child, before this breast / where many a time, a drowsing baby, you would feed / and with soft gums sucked in the milk that made you strong" (ll. 896-9). The quick transition shows both Clytaemestra's determination to survive and how fast the shift can be between love and hate; Clytaemestra need not be totally dishonest in her appeal to her son's love. The appeal is conflicted, but to interpret her words as purely hypocritical is to oversimplify her character. Hate-in-love is central to this play; even the imagery in her appeal resonates with this theme. Clytaemestra speaks of nursing, but her words immediately recall the nightmare of nursing, her prophetic dream of breastfeeding a snake. We learn for the first time that Orestes' exile was not heartless banishment into the wilderness: Clytaemestra sent the prince to live in the house of one of her friends. Her goal has been preservation of her power and her lover, and she stopped short of killing her children or putting their safety at risk. However, we cannot forget that when faced with the choice of her own life or Orestes', Clytaemestra calmly calls for an axe.

When an appeal to love fails, she tries to sway him through fear. She warns him of her curse, affirming what much of the play has already hinted at: Clytaemestra's death will not, as Orestes and the Chorus have hoped, end the cycle of suffering.

Choral ode ("I have sorrow even for this pair") to the end of the play. (Lines 931-1076):

Summary:

The Chorus sings of the harshness of justice. There is sympathy for those who suffer, but satisfaction that justice runs its course. They praise Orestes for his role as the agent of divine justice and hope the House of Atreus will rise again, purged of the curse that has brought suffering on the house for so long. The Chorus also shows faith in the idea that time brings all things to pass.

The doors of the house open, revealing Orestes with the bodies of Clytaemestra and Aegisthus. Attendants hold the robe in which Clytaemestra ensnared Agamemnon as he bathed. Orestes declares that he has rid the land of two tyrants; he also says with irony that they are lovers still, together even in death. He shows off the robe, instrument of his father's murder, as evidence of Clytaemestra's evil and justification for his murder of his own mother. As for Aegisthus, the man has received normal punishment fit for the seducer of another man's wife. Orestes continues to denounce his mother. The Chorus expresses sorrow for the work that Orestes had to do, but he repeats that his mother was guilty. He continues to speak of the robe, a beautiful object made vile by its role in Agamemnon's murder. Both the Chorus and Orestes are unsure of what will come next, and they feel some trepidation about what will follow the matricide. Orestes justifies his action once again, speaking of his mother's guilt and the orders of Apollo. He is to return now to the shrine of Apollo, and await further instructions there.

Suddenly, Orestes is fearful. He sees gorgon-like monsters, women with hair of snakes, robed in black. They are the Eumenides, the Furies, and they have been summoned by Clytaemestra's curse. Their eyes drip blood. Only Orestes can see them; the Chorus tells him that he must take sanctuary with Apollo. If Apollo touches him, perhaps he will be free of the Furies. Orestes flees, pursued by the Furies. The Chorus bids him good luck, and then recounts the bloody history of the House of Atreus. Orestes is fleeing for his life, punished for the murder of his mother. When, the slave women wonder, will the Curse end?

Analysis:

The parallels between Orestes and his mother continue. She, too, appeared in public proudly displaying the body of her victim. She, too, declared that the murder was in the name of justice, and that finally the cycle of violence was over. She, too, displayed the robe that ensnared her husband. Orestes does all of these things as well. Although he confidently proclaims that he has done what needed to be done, both he and the Chorus rightfully feel trepidation about what might come in the future. Unlike Clytaemestra, there is no long wait for the violent deed to be punished; Orestes has only had time to display the bodies and make a few speeches when the Furies come to exact Clytaemestra's revenge.

The Greeks acutely understood that different moral systems or obligations often come into conflict. This is a powerful theme in many Greek plays. As Orestes himself says, his reasons for killing his mother are strong. She murdered his father. She has disinherited Orestes and his sister, and the god Apollo has commanded Orestes to kill her, threatening punishment if Orestes does not follow through with the act. But duty is not easy or clean in this case. Orestes is still committing a morally repulsive act; he is caught between two courses of action, neither of which is morally perfect. He will not escape punishment. The Furies are the embodiment of an ancient and simple justice: the murderer must be punished. He has committed matricide, one of the most repulsive acts possible for a human being, and now he must pay. This turn of events continues with the theme of violence's power to perpetuate itself. The Curse has not yet been appeased.

The Furies are also the manifestations and symbols of Orestes guilty conscience. Although Orestes defends his actions again and again, this need to constantly justify his deeds actually indicates deep fears and anxieties about what he has had to do. Aeschylus wants us to know that the Furies are real; in the next play of the trilogy, we see them onstage. But at the end of The Libation Bearers, only Orestes can see the Furies. Aeschlyus also wants us to feel that the Furies are most real for Orestes, because they represent his guilty conscience.

We are left in suspense at the end of the play. The Chorus reminds us that the torment of Orestes is part of a long series of calamities, all part of the Curse that began after the murder of Thyestes' children. The cycle of violence is also connected to other events in the past: the Trojan War looms in the background, an incredible event that has irrevocably changed the House of Atreus. Aeschylus has a great sense of history. The tremendous world of the past has come together to influence the fortunes of the House of Atreus. This part of the trilogy has given us more psychological characterization and plot than parts one or three. It has also, in a sense, been the most focused. The Trojan War dominates Agamemnon, while the creation of a new world order dominates The Eumenides. In The Libation Bearers the spotlight has been most intently on this house and its characters, but the scope will soon broaden. Part three of the trilogy will bring us a broader understanding of how the House of Atreus has played a role in the designs of fate and the civilizing of man and god.

Article name: Analysis of the Play Agamemnon essay, research paper, dissertation