Mythology

by: Edith Hamilton

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 2

[I]f I must slay
The joy of my house, my daughter.
A father’s hands
Stained with dark streams flowing
From blood of a girl
Slaughtered before the altar.

Agamemnon speaks these anguished words—quoted from Aeschylus in Part Four, Chapter I—after learning that the Greek ships cannot sail for Troy unless his daughter, Iphigenia, is sacrificed to appease the angry Artemis. Though the very idea of the act is ghastly and repulsive to him, Agamemnon follows through with it, as it seems the only honorable way to perform his duty to his fellow Greeks and uphold the oath he has sworn to help his brother Menelaus reclaim his wife, Helen. Agamemnon’s allegiance is with his social brotherhood more than his family, for he feels the dishonor of preventing the Greeks from sailing is greater than the dishonor of murdering his own child. Already, Agamemnon couches his response as something he “must” do, not as something asked of him. He believes that any mandated duty to a god is justified, even if it is entails a horrible crime like murdering one’s own daughter.

Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, takes a violently different view when he returns home, slaughtering him in revenge. Yet paradoxically, the very principle by which Clytemnestra justifies her action is the same upon which Agamemnon based his, because she obviously feels the duty of avenging her daughter outweighs the crime of killing one’s own husband. With this quote, thus, we see both the theme of the self-perpetuating nature of bloodshed as well as the complexity of the moral dilemmas that formed the subject of much Greek tragedy.