Agamemnon was and still is an outstanding character of both Greek mythology and the modern world. The multiple plays which are shown in the theatres only prove a great interest in Agamemnon’s story. Such popularity is triggered by the Aeschylus’ depiction of the failure of the civilized society which can desire to work according to the principles of the vendetta law. Violence can only originate more violence, and there is no escape from it. The story about Agamemnon is a great example of it.
Agamemnon was the son of Queen Aerope and King Atreus. His wife, Clytemnestra, was a sister of the well-known in Greek mythology beautiful Elena (Helen). The legend says that Agamemnon was the king of Argos or Mecenae which are two names for the same area. When Helen was abducted from his brother and her husband, Menelaus, by Paris from Troy, Agamemnon sent the united Greek forces to fight in Troy. This abduction was understood by the Greeks (mainly by the two brothers who spoke on behalf of the whole nation) as a great offense to the honor of their nation, that is why they fought to death to avenge the Troyans their wrongful act, which was also done only by one person, however, the blood was shed across the whole area.
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On Agamemnon’s return from the war, he was murdered according to the fullest version of the book, by the lover of his wife, Aegisthus. In other versions, Clytemnestra murders her husband herself or does it together with Aegisthus. It is believed that Clytemnestra committed adultery when Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter, Iphigeneia. She carried out her plan of vendetta for over ten years while Agamemnon was at war. When eyes are blinded with blood, no place for forgiving is available. She banished her son out of the house and started treating another daughter as if she were a slave. She forgot what it was to be a wife and a mother, and turned into a real tyrant. This situation only once again outlines the importance of the family ties for the Greeks, stressing that if people cease to work on their relationship, they become a ruin (Foley, 2002).
Clytemnestra does not stop on that. While her husband is away, she overtakes all his political rights, revealing a strong desire to rule even on the Agamemnon’s return. She goes against the nature of things at those times and the gods punish her by destroying her happiness. This situation shows a constant conflict of young against old, innovative against traditional, and even male against female when they do not want to learn how to share their duties and responsibilities. In Greek mythology this conflict is outlined in the competition between Apollo who represents everything new and young, and the Furies which stick to the belief that only woman is the queen of the hearth and only the ancient religions should be practiced.
The themes of the Agamemnon story are mainly centered around the argument which takes into consideration the function of human minds in very problematic and violent aspects which are caused by the growing lust for power and all violent acts that are associated with it; the conflict of discrimination against female dominance by males, the choice between sensation or motive, crime and its following penalty. The myth outlines the fight for freedom and some kind of democracy in the country where the tribal attacks from the outside are oblivious to any notion of democratic idealism. The importance of the family is undeniable. Family is vital for all Greeks and, therefore, is strongly emphasized (An English Reader's Guide to the Oresteia, 1991).
An interesting fact is that Agamemnon had inherited the role to be a king from his father, therefore, his community has very high expectations from him. They ask him to stabilize society, call council assemblies and meetings, and arbitrate disputes. Moreover, Agamemnon is also the commander-in-chief of all armies, so the responsibility is even bigger. Both old Nestor and Odysseus, who are two of his best commanders, try hard to maintain the authority of Agamemnon because they understand very well that supporting Agamemnon’s ideas is the only way to establish a meaningful and effective policy of order in the country. After all, Agamemnon is their leader and the king of Greece (Nilsson, 1968).
However, nonetheless the fact that Agamemnon is has enormous power and influential social position as endemic to practically all kings even nowadays, he is far from being the best person for this role. Frequently, Old Nestor gives Agamemnon pieces of advice because Agamemnon clearly needs good counsel and even guiding. Almost at the beginning of reading the myth, the reader understands that Agamemnon frequently allows his overwhelming, often not quite good emotions to influence the most critical, major decisions. Because of this, Nestor recommends Agamemnon not to take Briseis from Achilles; however, Agamemnon does not pay attention to this advice and sets up a whole chain of events that cause deaths of a lot of Achaian soldiers.
As it often happens in the modern society, the biggest power goes to those who are either unprofessional or disdainful of the role which was ascribed to them. Agamemnon was granted a position that was much greater than his own abilities, whereas Achilles was born to a role which was much smaller than his capabilities. Both of them did a lot for the Greeks, however, both also were quick to anger and quite vain about their roles in the society. This sense of vanity caused many additional problems for the common people as none of the leaders wanted to recognize their mistakes and give up for the sake of the country when needed. This led to their quarrel over Briseis which resulted in a tragic break-up between the two — the event that became a cornerstone in the “Iliad”.
At this point the story outlines an idea of importance of sustaining and at the same time constraining the adversary passions which always possess people’s souls, especially if these people have reached a certain level and are occupying some influential political positions. The Greeks’ understanding of perfect balance is reflected here.
Aeschylus also ponders over the difficult life of most women and men. He recognizes that they must face inevitable contradictions all the time which always put them into predicament. Therefore, only strong-minded individuals with a brave heart and who are sly enough can lead a comparatively good human life. The influence of the gods on the people’s fates is unfathomable, and such acceptance of impossibility to change the way of things when someone is not in favor of a god, only stresses on the dilemma of difficult existence (An English Reader's Guide to the Oresteia, 1991).
On the other hand, each coin has two sides: Agamemnon’s concern and devotion to Menelaus, his brother, is very strong. After Helen was abducted, Agamemnon understood at once that the order in the Achaian society totally depended on Helen's return to his brother. Despite his flaws, he is well-aware of the significance of the family orderin order to keep the society unite and faithful to each other and their country. Nonetheless all these good qualities, Agamemnon is haunted with other qualities that undermine his good traits and add up greatly to self-created problems (Kerenyi, 1959).
It is also worth mentioning the idea of justice which goes through the whole mythology of Greece. The idea of justice helps to accentuate on the tragic elements as the society where people are more than just prone to commit minor and major crimes of any kind without the slightest pang of regret, should face the severe justice and few of them like its effects on their life. Because of the vitality of the tragedy in the everyday political life of the ancient Greeks, the tragic moments are in abundance, reaching sometimes the ridiculous heights and sharing a very thin line with the comedy.
For the leading top of the country it was very useful to make the life of its citizens as dramatic as possible. Drama was often used to enlarge the significance of some political issues. That is why the more tragic the works were, the better they were accepted by the country. Greece of that time was very controversial as it is seen through its myths: On the one hand, people are allowed to do practically everything they want, and most of them falls very low in their deeds, but on the other hand, the justice will always reign in the end. The more brutal way of executing the justice was chosen by the gods, the better lesson it was supposed to be for the common people who rarely paid to it attention, anyway.
It is important to recognize that Agamemnon is a very weak person and even weaker leader; he has doubt constantly and does not know what step is smarter to make next. During periods of discouragement and depression, he takes a lot of wrong steps, and frequently reveals an unfair judgment. Agamemnon cannot realize that the duty of a king is to be strong and confident and neversuccumb to his own emotions and desires as he is responsible for the well-being and even lives of the citizens of his country.
Agamemnon totally fails to comprehend the fact that authority demands a great deal of responsibility and that all his own wishes have to be secondary when the needs of the community stay at stake. His inability to see the limitations of any power causes Agamemnon to make his first big mistake: He persists in keeping Chryseis, his Trojan War prize without paying much attention to the heartfelt pleas of her father. He definitely likes her, and, because of his vanity, Agamemnon believes that he will lose his dignity if he returns her, whatever the common sense advises him to do (Foley, 2002).
Finally, Agamemnon learns to listen to other people: He recognizes the effective counsel of old Nestor, Diomedes, and Odysseus, however, it is clear that his emotional instability and the lack of understanding in proper judging do not qualify him to be good enough for kingship. Despite even the fact that he finally admits his wrongful doings in dealing with Achilles and he tries to make up for his mistake with multiple gifts and even the return of Briseis, Agamemnon only manages to insult Achilles more. With time his courage fades away and he becomes deeply depressed, revealing a wish to abandon the Trojan War.
Nonetheless Agamemnon's nobleness as a warrior, his role as a king was too often marked by such characteristics as cowardice, stubbornness, and immaturity. Continuing to read about Agamemnon, some growth in understanding is still visible, especially in Book IX when the king sends the embassy to Achilles. As it often happen with today’s people, understanding comes when it is too late to change something as too much water flew under the bridge. This is the case with Agamemnon, too, who only proves that people have always been the same, only the world around them have changed under the continuous influence of the natural influences as well as high development of modern technologies. Agamemnon became a much greater leader than he was before when it had a larger impact on the Greeks, even despite the fact that he never reached the same level as other warriors (An English Reader's Guide to the Oresteia, 1991).
Summarizing the ideas of the Aeschylus’s “Agamemnon”, it is important to add that they are and will always be critical for each nation in the world which steps on the path of committing a vendetta law. Each crime is always punished, each truth always comes out, and even if someone thinks that their actions can be acquitted somehow or that they did a great job to conceal the truth, they are utterly wrong, because what we give that we receive tenfold, and the story of Agamemnon is a good example of it.