Agamemnon

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The Purple Tapestries Symbol Analysis

The Purple Tapestries Symbol Icon

When Agamemnon arrives at the palace, Clytemnestra convinces him to enter into the palace as a returning conqueror walking on a luxurious swath of purple tapestries. Agamemnon is aware that walking on these cloths may be unfavorable in the eyes of the gods — that the gods may see his walking on the cloths as a sign of excessive arrogance — yet he does so anyway. The tapestries thus signify Agamemnon’s act of hubris: an act (however small) of pride or defiance to the gods that eventually leads to downfall.

The Purple Tapestries Quotes in Agamemnon

The Agamemnon quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Purple Tapestries. 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 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.

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The Purple Tapestries Symbol Timeline in Agamemnon

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Purple Tapestries appears in Agamemnon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 783-1033
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...return, Clytemnestra asks that Agamemnon enter the palace walking on a carpet of luxurious purple tapestries. (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 that this would be an act of arrogance that the gods would not... (full context)