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Aeschylus – Agamemnon

June 27, 2013

The Agamemnon is the first play in a trilogy by Aeschylus called the Orestia. The Agamemnon is set shortly after Agamemnon’s successful campaign against Troy and recounts the story of his return to Mycenae.

Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, eagerly awaits his return as she wants to enact her revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia. During Agamemnon’s absence Clytemnestra entered into a relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin, the only surviving son of Thyestes. Clytemnestra’s plan for revenge requires Aegisthus but he also has an agenda, believing that the Throne of Mycenae is rightfully his.

Agamemnon returns home with the prophetess Cassandra as his concubine. Cassandra reminds the audience of the blood stained history of the palace of Mycenae, predicting Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon and herself but her prophecy is not believed. The play closes with Clytemnestra and Aegisthus standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. The chorus of Mycenaean Elders conclude the first part of the trilogy by declaring that Agamemnon’s son Orestes will return to avenge his father and reclaim the throne.

The primary theme of the trilogy appears to be the transference from a system of blood revenge to that of law and order, where crimes are punished through judicial practices. Within the Agamemnon the ‘eye for an eye’ vengeance is central. However, under the surface of the play there is a more complex theme of the perpetual cycle of blood vengeance that stems from Tantalus’ attempt to trick the gods and the curse placed upon Pelops; the father of Thyestes and Atreus. This cycle is demonstrated in the chorus’ statement that ‘Oh, does Orestes perhaps still behold the light, that, with favoring fortune, he may come home and be the slayer of this pair with victory complete?’ (1645-1648). If justice continued to delivered through blood vengeance families would have died out; Aegithus being the last of Thyestes blood line is evidence of this. It is probable that the trilogies focus on the development of justice intended to signify to the audience that societies that are not progressive become stagnant.

I will continue to explore this theme in next weeks post that will focus upon the second play in the trilogy The Libation Bearers.


Aeschylus Agamemnon in Aeschylus in two volumes Translated by H. W. Smyth Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1926.


From → Greek Tragedy

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