3 out of 5 stars to Agamemnon, the first of the Orestia plays written in 458 BC by Aeschylus. Peter Arnott, a noted scholar and critic, has stated that, “The Agamemnon is a bitter indictment of war, of the folly of bloodshed, of the hardships of fighting, of the misery at home.” I couldn’t agree more…
The Trojan War began when Paris and the married Helen ran back to Troy because Helen belonged to Menelaus. For over ten years Menelaus, Agamemnon, and their troops fought the Trojans to recapture Helen and punish her. However, when the war ended and Menelaus captured Helen, he looked at her and forgave her for the adultery. The whole Trojan War, caused by the adulterous Helen, only contributed to ten years of senseless murders, foolish bloodshed, and built up anger. As a result, Agamemnon gave up ten years of his life to help his brother. Upon his return to Argos, Agamemnon’s wife killed him for sacrificing Iphigenia, which he only did to leave for Troy. Thousands of men and woman suffered and lost their lives just so Menelaus could have his wife back. There must have been some kind of misery at home to make her need more love, lust and passion. If there wasn’t, she would not have run off with the handsome prince Paris. However, Helen did help make The Agamemnon a folly of bloodshed among innocent citizens. Adulterous Helen was a major element that also supports Arnott’s beliefs that The Agamemnon was an act of misery at home.
Although Helen was the primary cause of the Trojan War, the curse on the house of Atreus helped make The Agamemnon a bitter indictment of war. Ever since Atreus and Thyestes battled to inherit the throne from their father the family suffered at the hands of reciprocity. It was a game of one-up-mans-ship. It began when Atreus banished Thyestes from Argos and most recently ended when Thyestes’ son Aegisthus slept with Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra. Between these events were affairs, phony banquets of reconciliation, and the consumption of human children. In The Agamemnon, when Agamemnon returns, his wife Clytemnestra brutally murders him carrying on the family curse. This misery at home is because of the curse. Each generation of the house of Atreus murders another member and is then murdered himself. This offers support to Arnott’s claim that The Agamemnon is a bitter indictment of war and the folly of bloodshed. Again, the brutal murder of Agamemnon contributes to the folly of bloodshed. If Agamemnon did not help Menelaus, he would not have gone off to fight the war and then come home to suffer at the hands of a senseless curse. This curse also protrudes from misery at home. Each family member must have been miserable enough, angry enough, and vengeful enough to kill another.
However, the most contributing factor that supports Arnott’s claim is the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis. When all the troops met at Aulis to set sail for Troy, the winds were not in their favor. In a rush to win back Helen, Agamemnon realized that he had to sacrifice his innocent daughter Iphigenia to get favorable winds from Strymon. He was forced to make a decision between killing his daughter and losing his respect and the war. This supports Arnott’s commentary that there were many hardships of fighting the war in The Agamemnon. It also shows that the shedding of Iphigenia’s blood was a foolish act only destined to happen for the sake of winning the war.
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