Saturday, November 23, 2013

Significance of the Red Carpet episode in Aschylus' Agamemnon

Agamemnon is the first play of the trilogy the Oresteia, which is considered Aeschylus' greatest work, and perhaps the greatest Greek tragedy. Of the three plays in the trilogy, Agamemnon contains the strongest command of both language and characterization.  ‘The Red Carpet episode’ is the most significant scene in the play .It plays a leading role in the play, Agamemnon” and constitutes the climax of the play. 

 A red carpet refers to a red colored rug, usually fairly long, that would be rolled out so that various dignitaries would receive what was considered a suitable welcome. Initially, as in plays like Aeschylus’ 5th century BCE play Agamemnon the carpet may have been purple rather than red, although there are conflicting views on translation. In Aeschylus’ play, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra lays down a carpet, red or purple; to trick her husband into thinking he’s getting a suitable welcome before she murders him. Agamemnon does speak of his suspicion and the temptation to anger the Gods by such treatment. Similar to the red carpet is the idea of strewing rose petals on the ground so that the feet of various dignitaries, royals, or others needn’t touch the ground with their feet.

While there’s a dispute about carpet color in the Agamemnon, it’s quite likely that purple carpets would have been more standard than red Ancient Greece and Rome. Purple was the color from Ancient Greece that was associated with royalty, with Tyrian purple in Ancient Greece one of the most expensive dyes to purchase. So early red carpets were more than likely purple carpets."

In the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Agamemnon has left his wife, Clytemnestra, to rule his country while he fights the Trojan War, and he returns expecting a loving welcome. Ambition makes him sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and leave his country to help another. Pride causes him to yield to his wife, walk on the purple carpet, and disrespect the gods.In the tragedy Agamemnon the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as strong willed woman.

 Clytemnestra was profoundly shocked at the sacrifice of her beloved daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra, for obvious reasons, could not appreciate this. She was madly and desperately in love with Aegisthus during her husband’s long absence. Here she must engineer her husband’s death by any means, fair or foul. She was all the more provoked when she was told that Agamemnon had brought Cassandra, the lovely princess of Troy, as his concubine. For long ten years she waited, and at last the much-sought hour had arrived. It was a grim and tense moment .

It was Clytemnestra, who had ordered the Watchman to look for a light. It was her    plan to arrange for a chain of light from Troy to Argos. Anybody might imagine that Clytemnestra had planned all this on such a grand scale in order to extend a hearty welcome to her husband. It was, however, all contrary to popular imagination. She was determined to slay her husband at the earliest opportunity. As soon as she would see the light, she could know that Agamemnon was first approaching. She would not let thing lying down. She must avenge the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Beside herself with joy, she kindled all the alter-flames, and burnt incense.

In the speech of welcome, Clytemnestra was at once rhetorical and hypocritically submissive .Doing every thing strictly according to her plan, she turned to her husband to get down. Clytemnestra was slowly but cautiously tempting the unwary husband to the trap. The red carpet was laid, and Agamemnon should be asked to tread upon it. A mortal, whatever might be his earthly rank and position, must not walk upon the red carpet. To walk on the red carpet was an act of effrontery, an act of sacrilege defying the authority of the gods. Anybody doing it was charged with hubris or pride. Clytemnestra would take infinite pains to persuade Agamemnon to walk on the red carpet. Agamemnon willy-nilly would become a sinner, and that would justify Clytemnestra to murder him with no plot on her soul. Strictly in accordance with the ancient manners, Clytemnestra should have waited to receive her husband. Had she been really happy to be united with her husband after years, she would break out first.

But she deferred it to the later part of her address. Agamemnon entered triumphantly at the head of a procession. In another chariot was Cassandra, his concubine. The whole city was ablaze with the fire of sacrifice.  Clytemnestra was determined to lead Agamemnon to the height of pride. She stood silent for her opportunity.  She must persuade him to commit an overt act of pride which would symbolize the sin he was about to expiate. That is the meaning of the sacred tapestries on which he was about to tread.   The chorus knows full well that humility was not Agamemnon’s strong point .

Clytemnestra appealed to her husband to step down from the chariot. She spread Red Carpet on the ground for her husband to walk upon. Perhaps Agamemnon had a shrewd suspicion that his wife was leading him to a trap. That is why he completely ignored her request at first. He, for a while, suffered from the chastisement of hubris. He was getting confirmed in his view that he was being duped. His eloquent speech on modesty and humility should, in the fitness of things, stop Clytemnestra’s mouth. But as his wife she knew the stuff her husband was of made of pride was in his blood, and that atoned his hamartia and mochtheria, his tragic flaw and moral lapse. 

Hamartia is an unintentional error, while Mochtheria is a conscious act. Agamemnon was thoroughly conscious that what he was doing .Yet the persuasion from his wife brought about his temporary deviation. In fact, it was momentary insanity, and her thought that he was no more a mortal, but as great as a Olympian. Clytemnestra was steadily gaining ground. Agamemnon was no more a match for her , Humility was not deeply ingrained in Agamemnon, and he gave in .He was unmasked and his hubris, lying dominant asserted itself. He was so long hesitant only because he did not like to spoil the rich carpet and tapestries by walking on it with dust- stained shoes on. Clytemnestra could understand that her husband was simply posing, when he said;“Honour me as a man ,not as a god”Clytemnwstra at once changed her tactics like an astute politician. She was thoroughly satisfied that he gradually yielding. In the worldly duel Clytemnestra was winner. Agamemnon asked facetiously:” Is this a battle in which you care to win?”Clytemnesra replied with levity: come, let me triumph on the taker of Troy” Agamemnon stepped upon the Red carpet and invited his own doom.

 Agamemnon’s weaknesses in character include a lack of knowledge, careless ambition, avarice, egotism, and pride. Agamemnon’s flaws lead to errors in judgment, as shown in the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the walk on purple. Pride causes him to yield to his wife otherwise he needs not to yield.