Aeschylus


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Aeschylus was born in Eleusis, a Greek town near Athens, in 525 B.C. He
was the
first of the great Greek tragedians, preceding both Sophocles and Euripides,
and is often
credited with inventing tragic drama. Prior to Aeschylus, plays were
primitive, consisting
of a single actor and a chorus offering commentary. In his works, he added a
"second
actor" (often more than one) thus creating endless new dramatic
possibilities. He lived
until 456 B.C., fighting in the wars against Persia, and attaining great
acclaim in the world
of the Athenian theater.
Aeschylus wrote nearly ninety plays; however, only seven have survived to
the
modern era, including such famous works as Prometheus Bound and The Seven
Against
Thebes. Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy, called the Oresteia, which
continues with The
Libation-Bearers and concludes with The Eumenides. The trilogy--the only such
work to
survive from Ancient Greece--is considered by many critics to be the greatest
Athenian
tragedy ever written, both for the power of its poetry and the strength of
its characters.
Agamemnon depicts the assassination of the title character by his wife,
Clytemnestra, and her lover; The Libation-Bearers continues the story with
the return of
Agamemnon's son, Orestes, who kills his mother and avenges his father.
Orestes is
pursued by the Furies in punishment for his matricide, and finally finds
refuge in Athens,
where the god Athena relieves him of his persecution.
The events of Agamemnon take place against a backdrop that would have been
familiar to an Athenian audience. Agamemnon is returning from his victory at
Troy, which
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has been besieged for ten years by Greek armies attempting to recover Helen,
Agamemnon's brother's wife, stolen treacherously by the Trojan Prince, Paris.
(The events
of the Trojan War are recounted in Homer's Iliad.) The play's tragic events
occur as a
result of the crimes committed by Agamemnon's family. His father, Atreus,
murdered and
cooked the children of his own brother, Thyestes, and served them to him;
Clytemnestra's
lover, Aegisthus (Thyestes's only surviving son), seeks revenge for that
crime. Meanwhile,
Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to gain a favorable wind to Troy,
and
Clytemnestra murders him to avenge her death.
Tragedies were Athenian, reflecting the taste and intellectual climate of
mid fifth
century Athens. The weight of history and heritage becomes a major theme of
the play,
and indeed of the entire trilogy, for the family it depicts cannot escape the
cursed cycle of
bloodshed from its past.
Aeschylus wrote this victory-winning trilogy in Athens, 458 B.C. His
participation
in a loosely organized political “group” is thought to have influenced his

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works. His
political faction included Pericles, who led Athens to the height of its
political power and
its artistic achievement with democracy. Pericles’ group believed in
expanding democratic
base of citizens, in manifesting Athens’ imperial claims, and in fostering a
foreign policy
that was anti-Spartan.
Sparta had suffered defeat during an uprising in a nearby city-state.
This Spartan
failure upset the balance of power, which Pericles’ group wished to exploit.
Argos, a
city-state in the heart o f the Peloponnesos, without a powerful Sparta,
extended control
over some smaller neighboring cities. In 462, Argos, Athens, and Thessaly
formed an
informal alliance. In 461, Argos changed her constitution from aristocratic
to democratic.
Her assembly, courts, and other features mimicked those of Athens. Something
to note is
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whether or not these events had any influence over Aeschylus’ decision to
move the locale
of the entire myth from Mycenae(the Homeric version of the epic) to Argos!
In response to these democratic reforms, other political groups attacked
the
reforms. Ephialtes, the original leader of the quasi-democratic faction, was
assassinated;
his position was taken by Pericles. This can be paralleled to Aeschylus’
theme in
Agamemnon. He emphasizes integrity and prestige of King of Argos(like
Ephialtes).
Furthermore, Clytemnestra can be referred to as Pericles, who assassinates
The King and
restores his power with her own--see a connection?
Implications for city-state is also prevalent and important. The idea of
class unity
and a just society can be reflected in Aeschylus’ work. At last day of year
in August (New
Year’s Eve Day for ancient times) a court held a murder trial and tried an ax
of murder,
found it guilty, and threw it into the sea. This trial reflects the serious
implications the act
of manslaughter held for the city-state. The concerns included first, how
society is
affected. That is, what is the result of revenge? If one member of a family
were to take
revenge on another, the pattern of vendetta and violence could go on forever.
The fabric
of society in ancient Greece is held together by the family; it is only
through the family, for
example, that you can gain your citizenship. When Aeschylus writes the
trilogy about one
family and the affects of murder and revenge, we have to ask ourselves, is it
a metaphor
for the city-state as a whole?
Secondly, revenge can operate on the political level, instead of a social
aspect as
stated above. This continuous revenge can bring about stasis--meaning
revolution, strife,
or change. It is a term used negatively; in that, revolution or fighting
from within the
family, is bad for the city-state. The family or families of Argos rather,
are comparative to
an Athenian city-state.

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Another concern is how to administer justice, especially when
manslaughter which
demands some form of punishment may have been justified. In the ancient
world murder
and other acts of evil existed. Finally there was a religious aspect to the
concernment of
how to justify the people who committed such acts of evil. Their, the
ancient peoples,
apparent problem at that time was how to purify the city from its
“pollution” or guilt
brought on by bloodshed. An iterating comment can be made to which some or
all these
concerns are dramatized by Aeschylus’ Agamemnon: The family curse of the
house of
Atreus of repeatedly murders with family members and other family-love type
relationships.(wife, husband, etc.)
Many of the violent events are significant. The first significant violent
development is the theft of Helen and the Trojan War that followed(recounted
in Homer’s
The Iliad). The second act of violence was Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his
daughter
Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was enraged of her daughters demise, therefore her
revenger
against her husband was justified in her actions. Perhaps the most vile
display of violence
is the terrible sin of Agamemnon’s father Atreus. He, Atreus, killed his
brother’s children
and cooked them for him. As a result inspires Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin
and
Clytemnestra’s lover, seeks revenge because Atreus, Agamemnon’s father,
killed his
brothers. This creates a trilogy of revenge between Agamemnon, Clytemnestra,
and
Aegisthus.
The Trilogy forces us to recognize its context, with its repeated
references to the
political situation, the Argos alliance, and the newly democratic
“group”(Areopagus
Council). One cannot remove the trilogy from its time and place without
damaging our
understanding of the plays; in order to do this, we would need to educate
ourselves(like
above) of fifth century life, placing ourselves in a “virtual” Athens.
With the knowledge of world history and study, I feel that the
relationship with the
thirteen colonies represented by Argos, Athens and Thessaly corresponding to
Sparta
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acting as Britain clearly displays a perfect spot on the time line. The age
of exploitation
and revolution rather than mercantilistic rapport. Sparta had heavily
influenced trade
between the allies of the Achean cities. Argos, like Philadelphia of the
American colonies,
showed its evolving independence from Britain(Sparta). The thirteen colonies
would
trade with Caribbean countries, the French and even Dutch companies. Sparta
like Britain
was jealous of these amicable relations between the others and intervened.
Another focused idea, the citizens established factions of democracy as
so did the
Argives. People like Thomas Jefferson could have represented Aeschylus for
he was a
writer and in the new democratic “group.” Agamemnon’s return could be,
portrayed as
the men who set out to expand the colonies and fought with the “red skins”
or Indians
(Trojans).
If I were to cast such a play, many notable people come to mind. For the
most
brief yet important character of the play, I feel William Clinton our
president displays
arrogance in his family, especially with his wife. So does Agamemnon when he
returns
home and refuses to walk over the purple carpet laid out by his Queen.
Therefore
Clytemnestra would be portrayed by Ms. Hillary Clinton. Her approaches and
ruthless
determination in the upcoming elections shows her starvation for power as so
does
Clytemnestra. In a way, the grudge Hillary hold against Bill after the
Lewinsky incident is
paralleled or similar to Clytemnestra revenge or grudge she holds for
Agamemnon’s
sacrifice of his daughter. Both women are disappointed to a degree with their
husbands
The Chorus gave me an impression of gossip. They seem to be as “the
washer-women” who supposedly know all that the matter and what gossip is
around first.
And serving to their Queen during Agamemnon’s absence I would imagine Mr.
Belverdeer
to represent them all. He was a butler who helped everyone in a television
sitcom family
and was always aware of news--bad or good. He acted similar to a
psychologist in giving
advice to others. The chorus discussed and foreshadowed the danger of human
pride.
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Cassandra the Trojan Princess who was captured by Agamemnon and then carried
to
Argos as his slave and mistress was my favorite character. She was also
Apollo’s lover
given the gift of prophecy, but when she refused to bear him a child was
punished by
making everyone around her disbelieve her predictions. Cassandra is most
significant
character. She would be played by Julia Roberts character in Pretty Women.
Julia’s
character is underestimated because of her status, a prostitute.
Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin and Clytemnestra’s lover. Can be related
to Sean
Combs a rap artist whose friend was killed and seeks revenge for the terrible
crime as so
does Aegisthus who awaits his revenge to kill Agamemnon. The Herald can be
represented by The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. He, like the
Herald, bring
news of arrival. The Herald patriotic recounts vivid descriptions of the
horrors of war.
The White Rabbit announces the Queen of Hearts arrival and the horror of her
palace.
And last but not least, the Watchman who was assigned to watch for the
signal of Troy’s
fall from the room top of the palace, with a sense of negative foreboding.
He can be
paralleled with Phoebe from the hit sitcom on NBC, Friends. She is regarded
as
unimportant and always left at home to answer calls and leave messages. But
she always
has the best intuition as does the Watchman.
In the excellent trilogy, Agamemnon, one can manifest the ideas of other
themes
and questions. For this, in my opinion, is regarded the most heavily
lavished with theme
and morals for all to read.


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