Discuss the effect of past violence on the events in Agamemnon.
The legacy of past crimes is one of the principal themes of the play. To grapple effectively with the role of the past in the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, the reader must first take into account the Trojan War, which, as the Chorus explains, was fought for "one woman's promiscuous sake." The war destroys the Trojans completely, but there is a sense that the victors must suffer for their success. Menelaus, Helen's husband, is lost at sea, and so too is Odysseus, another Greek king whose wanderings Homer recounts in his Odyssey. Agamemnon's murder is simply a part of the war's legacy of violence. At the same time, the reader must deal with the sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is the direct cause of the domestic tragedy; Clytemnestra cannot forgive her husband's murder of their daughter, and so plots his murder. Finally, there are the crimes of Agamemnon's father, which have stained the house and given rise to the cycle of violence that dominates the play and the entire trilogy.
How sympathetic a character is Clytemnestra? Why should we applaud or condemn her husband's murder?
An answer to this question must take into account evidence on both sides of the issue. On one hand, the murder of Iphigenia is presented as a terrible crime, and Clytemnestra acts to avenge this wrongful death. She is convinced of her own righteousness, freely confessing to the crime and showing no signs of guilt, and Agamemnon, arrogant and foolish, certainly is not a sympathetic victim. On the other hand, in the structure of the trilogy, Clytemnestra's crime is terrible and necessitates vengeance by her son. Moreover, the tawdry motivation for her actions becomes apparent when Aegisthus appears. It is not merely that she wants vengeance for Iphigenia, she also wants to be able to carry on freely with her lover. Aeschylus seems to be keeping Clytemnestra firmly in the audience's sympathies, without even hinting at Aegisthus' existence until the end of the play when he must begin to lay the groundwork for the events of The Libation-Bearers.
Discuss the role of hubris, or pride, that comes before the death of Agamemnon.
An answer to this question should focus on the speeches of the Chorus when they discuss the dangers of being too successful in life: "the gods fail not to mark / those who have killed many . . . and the vaunt of high glory / is bitterness; for God's thunderbolts / crash on the towering mountains." The scene in which Clytemnestra induces her husband to trod on the purple robes strewn in his path--the principal symbolic act of hubris, an act that foreshadows his deathis also very important. In analyzing these sections of the text, a knowledge of the Greek religious imagination is necessary. The Greek gods were all-too-human in their jealousies, and rather than reward human greatness, they tended to see mortal achievement as a threat to their own power. Therefore, when any human rose too high (like Agamemnon in this play), he risked being singled out for divine chastisement.
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