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Aeschylus: Agamemnon

Uploaded by Gotskillz on Jun 19, 2005

There is a particular scene in "Agamemnon" that I always want to point to in order to show students the genius of Aeschylus as a tragic playwright. To really appreciate any of these ancient plays you really have to have an understanding the peculiar structure of the classic Greek drama. The better understanding you have of this structure, as well as the key elements of tragedy as delineated by Aristotle in his "Poetica," the more you can appreciate any of these plays, but "Agamemnon" in particular.

The play is the first drama of the Orestia trilogy, the only extant trilogy to survive from that period; of course, since Aeschylus was the only one of the three great tragic poets whose trilogies told basically a story in three-parts. Sophocles and Euripides would tell three different but thematically related stories in their own trilogies (the Theban trilogy of Sophocles is an artificial construct). In "Agamemnon" it has been ten years since he sailed away to Troy, having sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in order to get fair winds (the tale is best told by Euripides in "Iphigenia at Aulis"). For ten years Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra, the half-sister of Helen, has been waiting for his return so she can kill him. In the interim she has taken Agamemnon's cousin Aegithus as a lover.

This brings into play the curse on the house of Atreus, which actually goes back to the horrid crime of Tantalus and the sins of Niobe as well. Atreus was the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, who a generation earlier had contended with his own brother Thyestes for the throne of Argos. Thyestes seduced his brother's wife and was driven out of Argos by Atreus, who then became king. Thyestes eventually returned to ask forgiveness, but Atreus, recalling the crime of Tantalus, got his revenge by killing the two sons of Thyestes and feeding them to their father at a banquet. That was when Thyestes cursed Atreus and all of his descendants and fled Argos with his remaining son, the infant Aegithus.

This becomes important because Aeschylus has two people in the palace at Argos, each of whom has a legitimate reason to take the life of Agamemnon. But in this version Aeschylus lays the crime at Clytemnestra's feet. When Agamemnon returns with his concubine Cassandra, daughter of Troy's King Priam, the insane prophetess symbolizes all sorts of reasons for Cassandra to renew...

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Uploaded by:   Gotskillz

Date:   06/19/2005

Category:   Literature

Length:   4 pages (793 words)

Views:   5883

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