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Aeschylus’s play “Agamemnon” seeks to show his audience that revenge only leads to more violence. This is shown prominently through the character’s central beliefs and motives that are encouraged through the actions of others, which inevitably repeats itself over and over again. The play focuses predominantly around the house of Atreus, and the curse lay upon it that resulted in generations of misery and acts of revenge. The play uses a poetic and metaphorical style that emphasizes the true nature of each character, the background and settings.
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All the events of the play could be linked to the very beginning when Tantalus, one of the sons of Zeus, chose to murder his son, Pelops, and serve his flesh to the gods- committing an act of ‘hubris’. This was the first act of violence that occurred. Pelops had been saved, but the sins of his father remained within the bloodline. Atreus, Agamemnon’s father, and Thyestes were two of Pelops’s children. They killed their half-brother, and as a result were banished.
Again, this added to the curse and stemmed from the hatred and revenge that consumed them. Aegisthus, who’d been raised by Atreus, killed him, yet another act of revenge and thus his children, Agamemnon and Menelaus were exiled to Sparta, where the king accepted them as the royalty they were.
The betrayal of those who they were closest to, begun a hatred toward one, and their lust for power and revenge became a pattern within the bloodline. Atreus had killed his brother to take the throne, and Aegisthus, who’d later been revealed to be Clytemnestra’s lover, had killed Agamemnon in the name of his father, Thyestes, the very man Agamemnon had killed. Perhaps it was a matter of Karma or just by coincidence, but this violent behavior was without question, derived from acts of revenge upon one another and formed a pattern, weaved in pursuit of creating a profound piece of story telling by non other than Aeschylus himself.
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The lust for revenge was passed down the line furthermore- as it would be should they have continued to make the same mistakes as their ancestors before them. When the King of Troy’s son Paris took Helen to Troy with him (where she married his brother despite being wedded to Menelaus) Atreus’s sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, saw it fit to go to war with them- believing their actions were justified and an act of ‘dike’. Their revenge upon Troy blossomed from the pride they beheld, and made them delusional in that sense.
When Artemis asked for an offering, specifically the carcass of his daughter, Iphigeneia, Agamemnon took little time to think it over, “Desert the fleets, fail the alliance?” however, despite the fact that his daughter’s life was on the line, Agamemnon was too possessed by his lust for revenge to rightly see how his actions would affect others, “Law is law!- Let all go well.” Aeschylus had purposely sculptured Agamemnon’s dialogue to show that pride had blinded him, and that, above all, Agamemnon was a foolishly arrogant man who’d go to any lengths to remain above everyone else- whether or not it took ten years and millions of innocent lives to do it.
The blood lust and raging violence served 10 years of deaths, and what for? But the small life of a woman who’d willingly wedded another man- not that she too deserved death’s fate, only that her life was not worthy of the millions Agamemnon had sacrificed. Aeschylus, in writing the play, had purposely written off any common sense one might use in these sorts of situations.
Their emotions and religious views had full control of the direction the story was headed, and was clearly displayed within the play, as is evident in the moment when Iphigenia was sacrificed, “feed their lust, their fury? –feed their fury! –”. Agamemnon’s beliefs had been tempered with, and as he had his daughter killed, he asked his men to, “gag her hard, a sound will curse the house.” The irony of his words may have been purposely written this way by Aeschylus, as the gods knew of every action the humans dwelled upon. In reality however, the action itself would have been enough to add to the curse, but his heart had too long been set on receiving the justice he so wrongly believed that he deserved.
The question surrounding whether or not Agamemnon’s actions were justified is ambiguous. Aeschylus is forcing his audience to question the meaning of justice over revenge, or whether the two are one in the same. If in trying to save a life, you are forced to kill millions, are you truly acting justly? What is the true measure of justice? Do your emotions morph your beliefs or simply contradict the methods you choose to use against said beliefs?
Agamemnon’s failure to see how his lust for revenge or ‘justice’, bestowed upon him the wavering of his people, “it kills our spirit, kills our hope”. However, he would not have failed to see the severity of his actions, had he not been blind sighted by his anger, therefore clarifying the notion that emotions do indeed have an impact in the way we go about ourselves. Agamemnon’s revenge was primarily driven by his emotional state and his renowned reputation, as such, when Helen was taken to Troy, his pride had over run any common sense.
The revenge Agamemnon had so greatly yearned for caused him to act out in violence, and in the process, it killed many. His revenge brought him to believe the life of his brother’s wife was far more important than that of his daughters. He did not even for a moment stop to think how the death would impact the woman who’d bore the child in the first place. In fact, had he not killed Iphigenia, perhaps his wife would not have been so eager to end him and thus further continue the pattern of betrayal through out the bloodline, “…but he sacrificed his own child, our daughter, the agony I laboured into love..”.
When Agamemnon came back from Troy bearing a woman sex slave, Cassandra, at his side (who also had, mind you, been cursed- furthering adding to the house’s misfortune) Clytemnestra fooled him into stepping on the god’s velvet carpet manipulating the situation and giving her reason for murder. She stabbed him as he bathe- killing Cassandra only shortly after (or before? I don’t believe it’s specified.)
Whilst the audience had been given a reason to dislike Agamemnon, by having the main protagonist killed, the author had then given the audience a reason to dislike Clytemnestra also, or at least cause them to question the morality of what she’d done. None of the characters were created to be ‘perfect snowflakes’, and their actions often resorted in the murder of one another. It’s the whole, ‘eye for an eye’ perspective. But as Ghandi said, ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’. It’s these contrasting beliefs that highlight the ambiguity that lies at the heart of Aeschylus’s play.
Conclusively, ‘philos-aphilos’ is a vigorous force throughout the story, and is shown in Agamemnon’s killing of his daughter, and Clytemnestra’s killing Agamemnon. Iphigenia and Agamemnon’s death may have been prevented, however, and the author had purposely sorted these events the way he did as to illuminate the effect it can have on others.
How one act of revenge might have an impact on many more, bringing insurmountable deaths and evidently more misery than its worth. Desire for revenge was passed down from generation to generation like an inevitably horrible heirloom, and in instilling that key element into his play, Aeschylus is able to create a kindling of tales and ideas that expand and reform from but a singular event.
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