The trilogy called Oreteia, of which Agamemnon is the first play, deals with a series of crimes and their retribution in the house of Atreus.
Events leading to the Tragedy of Agamemnon
It all started when King Atreus had unfairly kept his brother Thyestes from the throne of Argos.
The abduction of Helen by Paris, causes the war against Troy. Agamemnon —King of Argos— became the commander in chief and leader absolute of all the Greek army and navy. To renew the winds —which had been quieted by Artemis, who had been angered when a sacred deer was killed at Aulis— Agamemnon’s sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. With favorable winds, Agamemnon sets off toward Troy. At home, however, Clytemnestra and Aegistus were plotting against him at home.
Aeschylus portrays Agamemnon as a play heavily crafted with war, politics, and personal vengeance. The Chorus exclamations are ambivalent. At times it bemoans the loss of life of the Greek youth in an unwanted war and much less for a woman (Helen) of ill repute; it also disapproves of a father sacrificing a daughter. Yet, at other times the chorus is quite loyal to King Agamemnon.
Agamemnon returns from the war
When a herald arrives at the palace announcing that the war has ended and that Agamemnon is in Greece and soon will return to Argos, Clytemnestra pretends to be happy that soon she’ll be reunited with her husband. Yet, she knew all along that she plans to kill her husband.
Welcoming her husband, she orders handmaidens to lay down a path of finest purple cloth for Agamemnon to walk like a god on from his chariot to the palace. Agamemnon thanks his wife for her greeting but declines her invitation, explaining that to do so would be offensive to the gods.
Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess whom Agamemnon has brought as a concubine, prophesies that she and Agamemnon both will die if she sets foot inside the palace, and that in turn the murderers also will be killed. She accepts her fate and goes in.
Humiliated, rejected, and discriminated as a barbarian, Clytemnestra together with Aeigstus murder Agamemnon. So violent are the murders that the audience doesn’t see them, but learns of them through the words of the chorus. When the chorus confronts Clytemnestra of plotting such a dreadful act, she answers that she was only a vehicle of retribution against a man who had condemned himself by his own base actions.
Clytemnestra and Aegistus
Clytemnestra’s hatred for Agamemnon started when he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia, and it festered for the ten long years of the Trojan War. Murder sets in her heart. Although she was a strong woman —ironically, she is often described as manly, while Aegistus womanly— she seeks Aegistus’ help in her vengeful plans. By this liaison, Aegistus would become king and she would be his queen, which they did temporarily: “I and thou will rule the palace and will order all things well.”
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