A woman’s role in ancient Greek life was far less significant when compared to that of Greek men. Greek women’s jobs were mainly to run the household and bear children. Women had very little rights in Greek society. In Tragedies women were often the main focus revealing to us how women were treated and also how they were thought of in society (Marschke). In the play Agamemnon written by Aeschylus, all of the actions revolve around the actions of the women.
The plays namesake, Agamemnon, is actually a minor character. It is the women of Agamemnon, not the men that have total control over the destiny of the play. The play begins with Helen running off with the Prince of Troy, Paris. Helen is Clytemnestra’s half-sister, and Clytemnestra is Agamemnon’s wife. Helen is married to Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus. Agamemnon orders his army to go and retrieve Helen for his brother, thus beginning the Trojan War.
Agamemnon’s army is in an unfavorable position to sail to Troy. Agamemnon must kill his own daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice in order to please the goddess Artemis. If he does this she in turn will give them favorable winds in order to sail safely and quickly to Troy. So Agamemnon orders the death of him and Clytemnestra’s daughter Iphigenia. This brutal killing of his own flesh and blood was the beginning of the end for Agamemnon.
This act of injustice shows just where women rated in Greek life. King Agamemnon valued a war over his brother’s wife and favorable winds from the goddess Artemis over the life of his own daughter! Iphigenia’s death crushed Clytemnestra. I believe it was at this point that she came up with the plan to murder her husband Agamemnon. Clytemnestra’s daughter’s life was taken by her husband because of her half-sister Helen.
This act of brutality was unforgivable and set the tone for the rest of the entire play. While Agamemnon is away leading the fight in Trojan War, Clytemnestra is home ruling Argos. Clytemnestra sends her and Agamemnon’s son away to stay with friends in another town and she begins an affair with Aegisthos, who is Agamemnon’s cousin. Together they plot to kill Agamemnon upon his return from the war.
Agamemnon and his men prevail over Troy and return home. Agamemnon is not alone when he returns; he has brought a concubine named Cassandra with him. Clytemnestra acts as if she is happy that he is home but this is all just a part of her scheme. She prepared a long purple fabric for Agamemnon to walk on when he entered their palace so that his feet wouldn’t have to touch the ground after his victory over Troy. This was also a part of her plan to get her husband to perform an act of hubris against the gods so that they would punish him.
Agamemnon is reluctant at first but Clytemnestra outsmarts him and convinces him to proceed. Agamemnon’s concubine Cassandra was a princess of Troy, she was taken as a slave after the fall of the city. Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by the God Apollo. Apollo developed a crush on Cassandra and gave her this gift in hopes of it helping his chances with her but when she rejected him he put a curse on her that nobody would ever believe any of her prophecies.
Cassandra can see that she and Agamemnon’s death is imminent, and she tries to tell the chorus but they disregard her thinking she is crazy. Clytemnestra sets her plan into action, she kills Agamemnon and Cassandra. The chorus calls for her to be banished for her crime but Clytemnestra claims it was the fury of vengeance and Agamemnon was destined to die after killing their daughter. She basically said he deserved it, Lex Talionis, an eye for an eye. The basis of this play is somewhat like the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” (Congreve).
There are several tragic events in this play all based around women. Murders, adultery, and wars all stemming from the actions of women and yet women were looked upon as lesser beings than men. Just take a look at Clytemnestra, she is pretty much running the show in this play. Clytemnestra is an extremely smart master manipulator, these characteristics were not normal for women of her time.
It seems that after the murder of her daughter Iphigenia, an entire plan was set into motion by Clytemnestra and she would go to any lengths to fulfill it. Had Iphigenia not been murdered Clytemnestra could have lived happily ever after with her husband Agamemnon, ruling Argos in peace. Clytemnestra is a murderer, liar, and adulteress but at the same time you can almost feel sympathetic towards her; her entire life was sent into a downward spiral after her half-sister Helen’s own infidelity with Paris.
Clytemnestra then loses her daughter because her husband chose to kill her as a sacrifice in exchange for good winds to fight a war over Helen; her husband then leaves her to go fight the war over Helen, and then returns to her ten years later with a concubine. Not to say that what Clytemnestra did was justified but just one of those events would be enough to send someone over the edge.
One could say that Clytemnestra’s infidelity was a direct action as a result of the murder of her daughter. In addition her choice of extra marital partner was beneficial to her ultimate plan of murdering Agamemnon. Who better a partner for her to choose than Agamemnon’s own cousin Aegisthos? There was already a family history of animosity between the two after Agamemnon’s father and Aegisthos’s father’s had a feud over the throne of Argos; Agamemnon’s father boiled his brothers children and fed them to him for dinner! Clytemnestra could use this to her advantage.
Cassandra is another very important woman in this play. Although she appears only briefly with Agamemnon, she sets up the climax of the story during her conversation with the chorus about her prophecies. Her ability to see the future starts when she approaches the outside walls of the palace, she can see a vision of her impending doom. Realizing her fate is unavoidable Cassandra enters the palace and begins a conversation with the chorus.
She tells the chorus of her visions that she and Agamemnon will be murdered by Clytemnestra, she also tells them about the prior bloodshed that happened, referring to Aegisthos brothers being boiled and served to his father for dinner. The Chorus claims to believe her yet they do nothing, and her prophecy comes true. Clytemnestra murders Cassandra and Agamemnon. Cassandra was a very brave woman; after all she had been through having been kidnapped and taken as a slave from her former city of Troy she was still able to hold herself together.
She can also see that she is going to be killed after she enters the palace yet she does not run, Cassandra accepts her fate and enters. She realizes that she cannot change the will of the gods and Cassandra willingly walks into her own death. Two of the other minor women characters are Helen and Iphigenia; although they have minimal parts in the play they are extremely important to the entire plot of the play.
Helen is the cause for the entire Trojan War and the brutal killing of Iphigenia is the ultimate cause of Agamemnon’s murder. Each crime that is committed causes another more extreme crime as a result, and all of these crimes revolve around the women in the play.
Agamemnon is a typical Greek tragedy. Agamemnon was a tragic hero; he was the great King of Argos who went off to fight a war against the Trojans to return his brother Menelaus’s wife Helen before being murdered by the hands of his own wife. Everything that happens in this play is the effect of something a woman did; the entire play actually revolves around the choices of women. One might say a better name for this play may have been Clytemnestra.
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