Showing posts with label Agamemnon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Agamemnon. Show all posts

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Clytemnestra in Agamemnon: How far does Clytemnestra draw the readers’ sympathy in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon?

Agamemnon, the first play of the ‘Oresteian Trilogy’ is considered the best of all Greek dramas. Aeschylus was the first successful tragedian and his ‘Oresteia’ was the only surviving trilogy of the ancient world of which the first play ‘Agamemnon’ is considered the greatest of all Greek dramas. The primary theme of the ‘Oresteia’ is the continual destruction, inherited from generation to generation but as an individual play the subject of ‘Agamemnon’ is the vengeance which Clytemnestra takes upon Agamemnon because, he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis ten years previously. Clytemnestra is often given the bloody attributes for this murder. But if we take the matter neutrally, we shall find that she is not altogether responsible for this murder. Clytemnestra’s taking vengeance can be justified on several grounds, because the things that contributed most in killing Agamemnon are the hereditary guilt, Agamemnon’s murder of ‘Iphigenia’, pride , conceited elements in his character etc. It is Agamemnon and his fate which are mostly responsible for his tragedy in the play Agamemnon.

Let’s start our discussion with the analysis of Clytemnestra’s personality. In Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as strong willed woman. This characteristic is not necessarily typical of women of her time. As a result, the reader must take a deeper look into the understanding of Clytemnestra. In Agamemnon she dominates the action. Her most important characteristic is like the watchman calls it, male strength of heart. She is a strong woman, and her strength is evident on many occasions is the play. Clytemnestra is Agamemnon's wife and has ruled Argos in his absence. She plans his murder with ruthless determination, and feels no guilt after his death; she is convinced of her own rectitude and of the justice of killing the man who killed her daughter. She is, a sympathetic character in many respects.

In the first place, Clytemnestra is not a murderess but she is an executioner. She is the personification of an old curse which haunts over the house of Atreus. Atreus , son of Pelops, had a brother named Thyestes. Atreus and Thyestes quarreled about succession to the throne of Argos. Moreover, Thyestes seduced Atreus’s wife. So, Atreus wanted to make Thyestes commit some unclear or sacrilegious act which would render him permanently taboo in the eyes of the Argine citizens. He secretly murdered Thyestes’ two young sons, and served their flesh to Thyestes at a banquet. Atreus himself got away with the murder; but such debts are not forgotten. His eldest son  Agamemnon inherited the throne of Argos, and with it the curse that had settled on the family. So, sooner or later Agamemnon must die to pay for the sin of his father. There is a ‘Fate’ above which determines the life of everyman. And Clytemnestra during her debate with the chorus puts forward this argument that she is not one to be blamed for the murder. In her words-

                     Dressed in my form, a phantom
                     of vengeance, old and bitter
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                    Has poured this blood in payment.

Through these exulted words Clytemnestra tries to convince the chorus that an old curse ‘dressed in her form’ has poured this blood. And we, the audience see the ruin which the gods, in their mysterious will, sent down upon the house of Atreus stands visible in Clytemnestra.

But apart form this hereditary guilt, Agamemnon’s own wrongdoing is also no less responsible for his downfall. When Agamemnon found himself faced with a fearful dilemma, he made the wrong choice- to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia at Aulis. ‘Fate’ always confronts man with a choice, and if man chooses wrongly the sin in his. Agamemnon chooses wrongly, so the sin in his. In his ‘Agamemnon’ Aeschylus gives us a different kind of justice, which can be called the ‘Avenging justice’, the successful and triumphant wrongdoing by the strong against the helpless finally becomes intolerable to the gods. The shedder of much blood does not escape the eyes of the gods and the wrath and power of the house of Atreus are no defense against the indignant pity of the gods. So, to pay for the sin of slaying Iphigenia Agamemnon must die- the slayer must be slain.

The weaknesses in Agamemnon’s character are also to an outstanding degree responsible for his tragedy. Pride or conceit is the striking characteristic in Agamemnon’s character, which according to the ancient belief, invites the envy and wrath of heaven. Agamemnon’s pride is spectacularly symbolized by his triumphant entrance in his chariot with followers and fanfare, and in his subsequent walking on the red-carpet which greatly evokes the disgust and hatred of men and the vengeance of the gods.

Besides these arguments, there are other grounds on which the Clytemnestra’s murder can be considered with sympathy. We can look at Clytemnestra from two different perspectives namely, as a mother and as an individual woman. When we consider Clytemnestra as a mother, it becomes our duty to defend her. She appears at her superhuman height when she comes forth with the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. She confesses her former deception with no shame or compunction. And in the impassioned clash with the chorus these plausible words come out of Clytemnestra-

                        The guile I used to kill him
   He used himself the first,
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When on my virgin daughter
His savage sword descended,
My tears in rivers ran.      
Clytemnestra’s defense is a mother’s defense. Her defense is convincing, as such a cold-blooded murder can be compensated only by another cold-blooded murder. Agamemnon slew her daughter and at the same time violated the motherly feelings. So, we can rightly say that the penalty matches the deed.

We can also consider Clytemnestra from another perspective namely as a Grecian woman. We see the whole magnificent file of the heroines in Greek tragedies such as Clytemnestra, Artigone, Polysena, Jocasta, Phaedra and even Medea. They were free women, free in thought and spirit. But the difference between Clytemnestra and other women of that age lies in the fact that she had more individuality and personality than any of the women. But Agamemnon, the muddle-headed king gave little heed to this facet of Clytemnestra. Agamemnon cheated Clytemnestra when he had taken Iphigenia from her bosom by giving her a false promise. So when her individuality is at stake, Clytemnestra takes up the weapon for Agamemnon. She appears as a monster for violating her womanness and motherly feelings.

However, it can be argued that Clytemnestra’s illicit relation with Aegisthus induced her to kill Agamemnon. But in growing the relationship up Agamemnon’s contributions are no less responsible. Aegisthus honoured Clytemnestra and her personality. On the other hand, Agamemnon wronged her. Agamemnon’s indifference to Clytemnestra’s personality was responsible for her perverted behavior. It is hard to say whether she would kill Agamemnon, if she had proper assessment of her personality from him.

Concluding our discussion we can say that we have no strong ground to blame Clytemnestra as a cruel murderess. She lays before us certain premises which contain the truth. She speaks of the revenge for Iphigenia’s death and all feel convinced. She draws a grim picture of the Furies of Erinnys, hovering over the house of Atreus. We feel once again that Agamemnon must die sooner and later because of the hereditary guilt. And finally, we are told of two of the concubines of Agamemnon, namely Chyseis and Cassandra, we again lend our moral support to Clytemnestra.

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.