After the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra, Clytemnestra attempts to justify her actions in a response to the accusations of the chorus. The aggressive stance that Clytemnestra takes in the beginning of this passage is clearly a reversal of genders. It shows the strength of her character as well as the duality. Explaining her reason for murdering Agamemnon, she logically questions the chorus, asking how they dare judge her, especially because Agamemnon has killed more people than she has killed.
She then falls back into the traditional role of a Greek woman by acting like a mother, revealing the necessity of the actions she committed as a man. Her ability to move between the characteristics of both male and female emphasizes the duality of her character, as shown in her speech. Without this section of the play Aeschylus’s representation of reversed gender roles would not be very significant. In the first stanza, Clytemnestra demonstrates outrage at the idea that the chorus feels they have the audacity to judge her and her actions.
That the mere suggestion that she should be banished from her home, exposed to the hatred and curses of the populace when Agamemnon was never punished for his similar crimes was unbearable. Clytemnestra asks what charges were ever brought against Agamemnon for the killing their daughter, inferring that the sacrifice of Iphigenia should have been murder, but he was not charged with a crime. Was it because he was a man thus above such judgment? The chorus seemed to pass a harsh judgment on Clytemnestra because she dared to commit murder, which was seen to be a man’s deed.
Now you pass judgment! Exile from this land, the hatred of the people, public curses. But him! What charges did you ever bring against him? ” (Aeschylus 1411-14). The word, exile, derives from Old French exiler; all based on Latin exilium ‘banishment’, from exul ‘banished person’. Exile refers to the state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons. The use of this word establishes the extreme punishment by the chorus for Clytemnestra’s murder of kyrios, Agamemnon or head of the household and the violation of xenia, in the murder of Cassandra.
The word, curses, according to the OED is a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something. The impression of curses in this stanza signifies the consequence of the murders. The public, or people of the land, would curse or express harm or adversity to befall Clytemnestra because most men (chorus) would fear and hate the woman who would contaminates (pollutes) her family and community by murdering her husband She uses the sacrifice of her daughter to expound on her slaying of Agamemnon.
According to Clytemnestra’s point of view, Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia was trivial, equated to the slaughter of an animal (sheep), with no concern or sorrow given to it. He had many others from which to choose, that he could have sacrificed in place of her daughter, the daughter she bore with great travail. Yet he sacrificed Iphigenia nevertheless, using her death to appease Zeus and save the lives of the sailors in the fleet. (Aeschylus 225-26). “For all he cared he might as well have been killing an animal.
Oh, he had plenty of sheep to choose from, but he sacrificed his own child, my labor of love, to charm away the cruel storm-winds of Thrace. ” (Aeschylus 1417-18). “He was the one you should have banished from this land, as punishment for the pollution he brought on us. ” (Aeschylus 1419-20) The word, sheep, according to the OED is a person who is too easily influenced or led. In this stanza, Clytemnestra uses the term to account for the multitude of people (persons) that Agamemnon could have chosen in place of using Iphigenia as a sacrifice to Zeus.
Sheep also implies that both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra consider this people to be of no or little consequence, especially at their level in society, and would not be missed as much as their daughter. The word, pollution, late Middle English: from Latin pollutio(n-), from the verb polluere. Pollute, which derives from Latin pollut- ‘soiled, defiled’, from the verb polluere, based on the root of lutum ‘mud’: Represents a contamination or the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects. Pollution is used to symbolize the consequence of the murder (sacrifice) of Iphigenis.
Clytemnestra created her own pollution, the murder of Agamemnon, in response to Agamemnon’s, the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Once more Clytemnestra states her belief that Agamemnon should have been banished for the pollution, the defilement, he brought on us (Aeschylus 1420), implying that he has violated the laws of nature and man with the sacrifice of Iphigenia. “But when you hear of what I have done, you judge so harshly. Go on, threaten away! “(Aeschylus 1421) In this line, Clytemnestra again expresses outrage at the chorus for its unforgiving decree, urging them to continue to threaten her.
Implying she is not afraid of them or their judgment. With the chorus’s threat of banishment (exile), Clytemnestra all but invites their threat, saying she is prepared to meet their judgment and if they win, thus proving she has dishonored the house, then so be it. But if she should prevail, and the gods side with her, then she will retain her position as queen. At the end, she infers that she doesn’t care how old (wise) they are, she will have the power to deal with them, suggesting that she will quiet their voice. I’ll meet your match, if you overthrow me, then you win, but if the gods have ordained another outcome, then you will learn discretion, however old you are” (Aeschylus 1423). The word, discretion, derived from Discern is Middle English (in the sense ‘discernment’): via Old French from Latin discretio(n-) ‘separation’ (in late Latin ‘discernment’), from discernere, means to perceive or recognize (something) or to distinguish (something or someone) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
Discretion is the way in which one’s behavior or manner of speech is done as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information, or the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation. The use of discretion in this stanza refers to how Clytemnestra declares that they (chorus) will learn how to conduct themselves and obey her, should the gods favor her. This passage of the play gives an added depth to Clytemnestra’s character. Without it, she would have seemed to be a crazy, unreasonable woman. However, this section offers logical awareness for her actions, a “method to the madness” so to speak.
Ultimately, Clytemnestra’s quarrel with the chorus not only shows the role reversal Aeschylus intended to expose, but also makes it more pertinent to real life. His ability to show that Clytemnestra’s revenge wasn’t just madness, but was a logical outcome, in her mind, to the murder of Iphigenia. As she grieves for the loss of her daughter, you are compelled to feel sorry for Clytemnestra, which serves to make her appear more fallible. The pain of the loss of a child is universal, which serves to make the Agamemnon a powerful piece of literature, helping to create a connection between the reader and the character
Courtney from Study Moose
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