AS level classical civilisation Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:25:15
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Category: Nemesis

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The play takes place against the backdrop (skene) of Agamemnons 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 Troys 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 Clytaemnestras character? This speech is the last of several spoken by Clytaemnestra after Agamamnons 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.

In this passage we also see another side to Clytaemnestras character a merciless relish towards killing Cassandra, despite invoking Zeus in all his mercy, even though Cassandra is there through no fault of her own, and this is different from the justified anger that leads her to kill Agamamnon. bii) Does she use dramatic irony? This passage is full of dramatic irony, Cassandra with her gift of prophesy, being the only one of the characters who can appreciate it.

Three sections can be picked out as examples of this technique: Zeus in his mercy wants you to share some victory libations with the house. This phrase could have several meanings, it is either refering to the innocent act of giving thanks, or as is more likely, Clytaemnestra is comparing the blood of Agamemnon and Cassandra that will be spilled to libations, a continuaous theme in the plays. Those who reap a harvest past their hopes are merciless to their slaves. This could well be refering to the harvest Agamemnon reaped in Troy, and the way he treated the city afterwards, and Clytaemnestra as well. From us you will receive what custom says is right.

The most obvious example of dramatic irony, this phrase clearly (to the audience at least) that Clytaemnestra is refering to the customs of vendetta, rather than any traditions of hospitality. c) How does the imagery of this passage relate to the central concerns of the play? In Clytaemnestras speech the contradictory images of Zeus in all his mercy and what custom says is right refer to the conflict between the simple laws of revenge embodied by the Furies, and the more modern legal justice, as shown in Orestes trial at the end of The Eumenides, and which are suported by Zeus and the other Olympians.

It is clear which form of justice Clytaemnestra favours, and the Furies are often mentioned in connection with her. As well as the central dischord, the recurring image of libation pouring and sacrifice appears in this passage. Three was the traditional number for libations, and so it happens in the Oresteia, with the deaths of Iphigenia, Agamemnon and Cassandra and Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus (the other killings, such as that of Thyestes children are largely incidental to Aeschylus narative, merely providing the reason for the curse on the house of Atreus), and upon Agamemnons death Clytaemnestra actually declares.

By the childs 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 Agamemnons 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. 4) In Aeschylus play Agamemnon, the murder of the king could be seen as just a sordid act of revenge.

does Aeschylus present it as more than this and, if so, how does he do it? The answer to this question depends on whether we are to see Agamemnon as a play about the murder of a king by his wife with themes attached, or whether it should be regarded as a play about justice and the acceptable limits of revenge that uses a story about an ancient king as a vehicle to get these points across. To understand the central theme of Agamemnon (and of the entire Oresteia)- the reconciliation of the desire for revenge and the need for justice and order, the historical and political context of the play must be taken into account.

Aeschylus was writing around the zenith of the Athenian polis, the invading persian army had just been defeated against enormous odds by an alliance of Greek states, in which Athens had played no small part. This victory was seen by the Greeks as a triumph of civilised democracy over barbarian tyranny, and an important part of Athenian civilisation were the fair and just (that is to say, not arbitrary or tyranical) laws that governed life in the polis. Agamemnon represents the begining of the battle between old and new, revenge and justice and the Greek way of life and the traditions of the barbarians.

As a part of the Oresteia, Agamemnon, and the activites of the Atreidae that it covers represent the bad old days of Greece, and the failings of Persia at that time, in a moment of dramatic irony, Agamemnon asks what am I, some barbarian peacocking out of Asia? which describes very well how he must have appeared to the audience. The play envisages a situation in which a bad tyrant is killed and replaced by an even worse one.

The matriarchal, chthonic Furies laws of revenge govern the characters actions, And neither by singeing flesh nor tipping cups of wine nor shedding burning tears can you enchant away the rigid Fury. It is not until the creation of the Areopagus by Athena, and hence the beginings of democracy under the Olympians, that the problems of the family are resolved. 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.

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