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Agamemnon Character Analysis

The king of Argos, and one of the commanders of the Greek fleet. At the start of the play, he is returning victorious from the Trojan War. Although he is a well-respected leader, he does not have strong resolve and can be convinced to act against his better judgment. Furthermore, not all of the citizens of Argos have supported his Trojan campaign. He is at times boastful and arrogant. Clytemnestra convinces Agamemnon to tread on the purple tapestries – an act of defiance to the Gods – and this misstep seals his grizzly fate.

Agamemnon Quotes in Agamemnon

The Agamemnon quotes below are all either spoken by Agamemnon or refer to Agamemnon. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvard University Press edition of Agamemnon published in 1926.
Lines 1-354 Quotes

But I hope

the master of this house may come home soon,
so I can grasp his welcome hand in mine.
As for all the rest, I’m saying nothing.
A great ox stands on my tongue. But this house,
if it could speak, might tell some stories.
I speak to those who know about these things.
For those who don’t, there’s nothing I remember.

Related Characters: The Watchman (speaker), Agamemnon
Page Number: 33-39
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play begins, the Watchman sets the scene for a complex, multi-generational tragedy. The Watchman waits for his king, Agamemnon, to return from the Trojan War. And yet he feels a deep sense of unease--not so much about Agamemnon but about Agamemnon's home. Greek audiences would have understood that the Watchman is referring to the curse of Agamemnon's family--a curse that began when Agamemnon's father cooked his brother's own children and fed them to his brother. The gods vowed to punish Agamemnon's entire family (the House of Atreus) for the evil act. Now, it seems, the god's punishment has extended to Agamemnon himself--and this is foreshadowed because all the people of Argos know that something is wrong in the royal house.


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Lines 355-782 Quotes

The people’s voice, once angered,
can create dissent, ratifying a curse
which now must have its way.
And so, in my anxiety, I wait,
listening for something murky,
something emerging from the gloom.
For gods aren’t blind to men who kill.
In time, black agents of revenge,
the Furies, wear down and bring to nothing
the fortunes of a man who prospers
in unjust ways. They wear him out,
reverse his luck, and bring him at last
among the dead. There’s no remedy.
To boast too much of one’s success
is dangerous—the high mountain peak
is struck by Zeus’ lightning bolt.
I’d choose wealth no one could envy.
May I never be the sort of man
who puts whole cities to the sword.
Let me never see myself enslaved,
my life in someone else’s power.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, The Furies, Zeus
Page Number: 455-475
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus spells out the relationship between pride and tragedy in Greek drama. There is no greater sin in ancient Greece than excessive pride, or hubris. An overly proud man is practically begging for his comeuppance from the gods--as the Chorus explains (in rather personal terms), prideful men, especially men who've gained their fame and success through violence, will be punished by the gods, or in particular the Furies (whom we'll meet later on).

In short, the Chorus sketches a crude system of justice: climb too high in life, and you'll be "struck down" by Zeus (this is echoed in another famous Greek myth--the story of Icarus). The passage is very important because, as we'll see, Agamemnon is guilty of many sins, not the least of which is his fatal pride, the quality that ultimately ensures his doom at the hands of his wife.

Lines 783-1033 Quotes

Daughter of Leda, guardian of my home,
your speech was, like my absence, far too long.
Praise that’s due to us should come from others.
Then it’s worthwhile. All those things you said—
don’t puff me up with such female honours,
or grovel there before me babbling tributes,
like some barbarian. Don’t invite envy
to cross my path by strewing it with cloth.
That’s how we honour gods, not human beings.
For a mortal man to place his foot like this
on rich embroidery is, in my view,
not without some risk. So I’m telling you
honour me as a man, not as a god.
My fame proclaims itself. It does not need
foot mats made out of such embroideries.
Not even to think of doing something bad
is god’s greatest gift. When a man’s life ends
in great prosperity, only then can we declare
that he’s a happy man. Thus, if I act,
in every circumstance, as I ought to now,
there’s nothing I need fear.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: The Purple Tapestries
Page Number: 915-930
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Clytemnestra tries to convince her husband Agamemnon, newly returned from Troy, to walk along a purple tapestry that symbolizes his wealth and power. Agamemnon is highly reluctant to walk along the royal tapestry: he thinks that doing so would be showing off, and would anger the gods excessively. Agamemnon is savvy enough to know that the gods love to punish arrogant, proud people--he's trying to keep his head down to avoid divine retribution.

At the end of his speech, Agamemnon makes an interesting point: we can only measure the happiness of a man's life by waiting to see how his life ends. In other words, a man who is happy and prosperous now might not necessarily die that way. Agamemnon's words (an allusion to the Greek legend of Solon, later repeated in the Histories by Herodotus) are important because they reinforce the play's themes of punishment and uncertainty. Happiness and contentment are never certain at all--they can always be replaced with misery and pain. Agamemnon here tries to escape divine punishment, but as we'll see, his attempts are all in vain.

Lines 1034-1330 Quotes

Up there on that roof there sits a chorus—
it never leaves. They sing in harmony,
but the song is harsh, predicting doom.
Drinking human blood has made them bold—
they dance in celebration through the house.
The family’s Furies cannot be dislodged.
Sitting in the home, they chant their song,
the madness that began all this, each in turn
cursing that man who defiled his brother’s bed.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Agamemnon, Atreus, Thyestes, The Furies
Page Number: 1185-1193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Trojan slave Cassandra, who's been cursed with the ability to see the future and have no one listen to her, talks about the future of Agamemnon's family (the House of Atreus). Agamemnon's father has done some horrible things--murdering children in his own family and feeding them to his brother, in revenge for his brother stealing his kingdom and wife ("the man who defiled his brother's bed"). The gods, Cassandra predicts, will punish Agamemnon, both for his father's sins and for his own.

Cassandra alludes to a chorus, but this is not the chorus of old men that we've met previously. Rather Cassandra is talking about the Furies, the monstrous goddesses who punish the wicked for their sins. The Furies personify the cycle of "blood for blood" that Cassandra has alluded to: as the cycle goes on, generation after generation, the Furies develop a craving for more blood--a gory metaphor that suggests the way that revenge has a way of perpetuating itself over time.

But we’ll not die without the gods’ revenge.
Another man will come and will avenge us,
a son who’ll kill his mother, then pay back
his father’s death, a wanderer in exile,
a man this country’s made a stranger.
He’ll come back and, like a coping stone,
bring the ruin of his family to a close.
For gods have made a powerful promise—
his father’s stretched out corpse will bring him home.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes
Page Number: 1279-1287
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Trojan prisoner Cassandra goes quietly to be murdered, knowing that nothing she does can prevent her inevitable death. Cassandra sees a "light at the end of the tunnel," however. Even if she herself will be killed, there will eventually come an end to the cycle of death and "blood for blood" that has cursed the House of Atreus. After Agamemnon and Cassandra's death, Orestes will come to avenge his father's murder by killing Clytemnestra. Somehow, Cassandra claims, Orestes' actions will not set off any further cycles of revenge.

Cassandra's allusions to Orestes would be well-known to Aeschylus's original Greek audiences. What's equally interesting is the way Cassandra accepts her fate--all her knowledge of the future isn't enough to save her from murder. Cassandra sees the future, but can't change it; and that's her curse.

Lines 1331-1675 Quotes

To rest unsatisfied amid great wealth
is in the nature of all human beings.
No one can point and order it away
from princely homes by uttering the words
“Dissatisfaction, enter here no more!”
Take Agamemnon. The powers in heaven
permitted him to capture Priam’s town,
to return home honoured by the gods.
But now, if he must pay the penalty
for blood which other men before him shed
and die in retribution for the dead
he killed himself, what mortal human being
who hears all this can boast he lives
a life unscarred by fate?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, Priam
Page Number: 1331-1343
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus tries to come to terms with the dictates of free will and fate. In the past, Agamemnon has clearly had the blessings of the gods--he's won a great victory at Troy, for which he's been rewarded with glory and slaves. And yet Cassandra claims that Agamemnon will soon be punished; furthermore, he'll be punished for his father's acts of murder, not just his own. The Chorus concludes that all of life is predetermined by "fate." There's nothing Agamemnon can do to escape his punishment--no amount of caution or modesty can ever make up for his father's brutality or his own past actions.

The Chorus's observations might seem harsh by modern Western standards. It's a cornerstone of our society that people should only be punished for actions that they committed of their own free will. Agamemnon, by contrast, is being punished partly for actions completely beyond his control (his father's murders). Agamemnon is also being punished for killing his own daughter--and yet the rules of fate and destiny seem indifferent to a person's individual actions and responsibilities.

Before this moment I said many things
to suit my purposes. I’m not ashamed
to contradict them now. How else could I
act on my hate for such a hateful man,
who feigned his love, how else prepare my nets
of agony so high no one could jump them?
I’ve brooded on this struggle many years,
the old blood feud. My moment’s come at last,
though long delayed. I stand now where I struck,
where I achieved what I set out to do.
I did all this. I won’t deny the fact.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon
Page Number: 1373-1380
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Clytemnestra dramatically reveals the truth about her actions: she's been plotting for years to kill Agamemnon, who murdered their daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was sure that she could get away with the murder because Agamemnon was already cursed: the gods were already predisposed to punish the king for his sins.

The passage represents Clytemnestra's greatest moment of pride and assertiveness--and her break from the traditional feminine role of the submissive, loyal wife. She's been planning Agamemnon's murder for years now (Iphigenia was murdered at least ten years earlier), and in this speech, she emphasizes the sheer satisfaction of successfully avenging her daughter and killing her husband. Clytemnestra's speech contrasts markedly with the Chorus's talk of fate and destiny. Clytemnestra, quite aside from being dominated by destiny, has used her own free will and intelligence (putting up a cunning act of being a loyal wife) to achieve her goals. But as Cassandra has already told us, even Clytemnestra isn't free from the rules of fate--in due time, she'll be punished for her act of murder and meet the same fate as her husband. Nobody, it seems, can escape the ironclad law of "blood for blood."


O that some Fate would soon come,
free from suffering and quick,
bringing endless sleep,
our last eternal sleep,
now our gracious lord is dead.
For a woman’s sake
he suffered much, and now
by a woman’s hand he died.

Alas for you, Helen, frantic woman.
On your own, beneath Troy’s walls,
you slaughtered many lives,
and more than many.
Now you wear your final garland—
one long remembered for the blood
which will never wash away.
Back then in this house
lived a spirit of strife,
a power that broke our king.

Don’t torment yourself like this, invoking
death and fate, or redirect your rage
on Helen, as if she killed those men,
all those Danaan lives, all by herself,
and brought us pain past remedy.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, Helen
Page Number: 1448-1468
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus and Clytemnestra argue over the true source of the tragedy that's fallen on the House of Atreus. The Chorus (made up of old, crotchety men) insists that Helen is to blame for the present disaster: if Helen hadn't been abducted, then there would have been no war, and Agamemnon would still be alive. Clytemnestra angrily disagrees with the Chorus--she points out that Helen herself killed no one; it was the soldiers who fought in the Trojan War who truly set in motion the events of the play we've been reading.

The passage illustrates the structures of blame and scapegoating that are closely tied to the rule of "blood for blood." Whenever there's a big tragedy, somebody (usually a woman) gets stuck with the blame--even if that person isn't totally responsible for the tragedy. In this case, Helen is assigned with the blame for the tragedy of the Trojan War. By the same token, whenever a tragedy occurs, the Furies need to know who to punish. Clytemnestra's explanation of the "cause" of the Trojan War is a lot more convincing than the Chorus's, but the Furies would never be satisfied with such a "diffused" explanation (i.e., the explanation that the Trojan War was the result of many different complex motivations and responsibilities): there can only ever be one scapegoat at a time.

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Agamemnon Character Timeline in Agamemnon

The timeline below shows where the character Agamemnon appears in Agamemnon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-354
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon for a signal fire from Troy. The signal fire would indicate that her husband Agamemnon’s army has taken the city and is victorious in the Trojan War. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...and he jumps up to inform Clytemnestra. Then his mood changes abruptly as he wishes Agamemnon a safe return, and once again he expresses a vague sense of some mysterious and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
...War. The members of the Chorus explain that the war is an act of revenge: Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus raised an army from across all the cities of Greece and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...then explains that during the war, the goddess Artemis had sent strong winds to delay Agamemnon’s fleet from arriving in Troy. In order to appease Artemis, the army’s prophet suggested that... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...Clytemnestra to tell them what has happened, and she gives them the good news that Agamemnon’s army has taken Troy. Although overjoyed, the Chorus can barely believe the news. They ask... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...She explains that while the Trojans are in a chaotic and painful state of mourning, Agamemnon’s army is enjoying the spoils of war. She hopes that the Greek army’s looting won’t... (full context)
Lines 355-782
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...Greeks during the war is creating unrest in Argos, and that the citizens may resent Agamemnon for engaging in such a long and difficult war. Furthermore, the Chorus worries that the... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...upon the Greeks. He then confirms for the Chorus that Troy has fallen and that Agamemnon is on his way home. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...much destruction and strife. They recount how Helen traveled to Troy by boat, and how Agamemnon’s army followed her there, bringing Troy’s ultimate destruction. (full context)
Lines 783-1033
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Agamemnon enters riding a chariot. With him is the prophet Cassandra – a Trojan princess, Paris’... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus greets Agamemnon with honesty, claiming that not all of the citizens would be so willing to be... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Addressing the citizens of Argos, Agamemnon thanks the gods and begrudgingly reminds everyone that a woman caused the war that brought... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
As Agamemnon begins to descend from the chariot, Clytemnestra stops him and addresses the crowd. She recounts... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Agamemnon chides Clytemnestra for speaking too much and refuses to walk on the tapestries, telling her... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Although the Chorus has just witnessed Agamemnon’s safe return, their anxieties have not been quelled, and they can sense the vengeful Furies... (full context)
Lines 1034-1330
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
After returning to the image of the man (Agamemnon’s uncle Thyestes) eating his own cooked children, Cassandra explicitly declares that Agamemnon will be murdered.... (full context)
Lines 1331-1675
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...considers Cassandra’s prophecy. They conclude that if the prophecy is indeed true, and that if Agamemnon can have the help of the gods to win a military conquest, but still be... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
All of a sudden, from within the palace, Agamemnon screams twice. The Chorus goes into a state of panic, each member suggesting conflicting ideas... (full context)
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Gender Roles Theme Icon
The palace doors open, revealing a blood-soaked Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytemnestra openly confesses to killing Agamemnon and details how she murdered him by... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...the palace with a cadre of soldiers. In a long speech, he expresses joy at Agamemnon’s murder, and recounts in detail the incident where Agamemnon’s father Atreus cooked Aegisthus’ brothers and... (full context)