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AS Level Classical Civilisation - Discussing Agamemnon.

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Introduction

AS Level Classical Civilisation Assignment 3 (Agamemnon) 1a) What is the situation on stage? The play takes place against the backdrop (skene) of Agamemnon's palace in Argos. Agamemnon, the king, has just returned home from ten years of war in Troy and been greeted by his wife, Clytaemnestra, before going inside to be ritualy purified and participate in the victory sacrifices. His chariot, filled with spoils of war, including King Priam of Troy's daughter, Cassandra, is still outside the palace. In this particular extract, Clytaemnestra has come out of the palace, ostentiably to invite Cassandra to share in the sacrifices, but really to persuade her into the house where she will be killed along with Agamemnon. bi) What does this passage tell us about Clytaemnestra's character? This speech is the last of several spoken by Clytaemnestra after Agamamnon's arrival and before his death. Like the others it is full of hints at what is to come ("From us you will receive what custom says is right") and hidden meanings/dramatic irony ("share some victory libations with the house"). These are all cleverly thought out so as not to cause too much suspicion , and the general effect given by this is that Clytaemnestra has been planning her speeches almost as long as she has been planning the crime, and is very much enjoying finally being able to act them out. ...read more.

Middle

upon Agamemnon's death Clytaemnestra actually declares "By the child's Rights I brought him to birth, by Ruin, by Fury- the three gods to whom I sacrificed this man..." It is an interesting point to note that while Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra and Orestes all see their killings as something akin to pious sacrifice, when really they are profane acts, Cassandra sees in the religious sacrifices that Clytaemnestra invites her to join "murder" and "the open grave". Another notable image is that of the net. As well as Cassandra, "caught in the nets of doom", Clytaemnestra traps Agamemnon in "the nets of pain so high no man can overleap them" and Troy is caught in "the giant dredge-net of slavery". This theme of the nets gradually tightening may be a variation on the Greek aphorism that is usually translated as "the mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small", another reference to justice and the difference between the human and the divine varieties. It must also be remembered that while this is happening Cassandra is standing alone in Agamemnon's chariot and the image this created must have been reminiscent of Nike, the goddess of victory, symbolizing both the victory of Agamemnon in troy and that of Clytaemnestra over Agamemnon. This victory is tainted though, by our knowledge that Cassandra also symbolises the way in which the Argives in Troy succumbed to the desire "to ravish what they must not touch". ...read more.

Conclusion

Agamemnon is the first and drakest of the three plays, and the most active divinities are Fate and the Furies (both of which later become subservient to Zeus), giving a sense that the characters are merely being dragged along by destiny, and that no one is capable of independent action: "Persuasion, maddening child of Ruin overpowers him- Ruin plans it all; And the wound will smoulder on," This image is reinforced by the continuous mention of nets and yokes of various sorts until Aegisthus unites the two themes, saying "I see this man brought down in the Furies' tangling robes." In general, the nets are used to represent Ate or Nemesis, whereas yokes symbolise Fate, and the responsibilities that need to be borne, a force indifferent to human failings, rather than malevolent as the furies are. To a modern reader, as to Aeschylus' audience, the crime of Clytaemnestra seems at first glance to be mere "sordid revenge", but when seen as a part of the conflict between the old gods and the new, civilised Olympians, the murder of Agamemnon becomes symbolic of the old customs, and representative of the things which democratic Athens had escaped from. While it is the Furies who are strongest in this play, the situation changes throughout the trilogy until the gods of order and justice win out, but accept that the Furies have a place in society, but to prevent events such as those in Agamemnon, they must be controled by law. ...read more.

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