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Themes and Colors
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
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Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Agamemnon, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Revenge Theme Icon

Agamemnon is the first play in The Oresteia, Aeschylus’ trilogy of tragedies which portray a set of revenges, each leading to the next in a vicious cycle, in the House of Atreus (the family and descendants of Atreus, Agamemnon’s father). Revenge is the backbone of The Oresteia, and it drives most of the action of Agamemnon. The play’s gradual build towards Clytemnestra’s violent revenge on her husband Agamemnon and the upheaval resulting from that act are the central focus of the play, but simultaneously gods, militaries, and mortals from many generations are also exacting their own vengeances against each other. The play begins as Troy falls and Agamemnon returns home after ten years away at war. The war he is returning from was itself an act of revenge, in which Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus raised an enormous fleet to attack Troy after the Trojan prince Paris stole Menelaus’ wife Helen. Agamemnon’s homecoming, after the Greek victory at Troy, is celebrated by the citizens of Argos as a revenge well executed. However, the celebration does not last for long.

Shortly after his return, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra in a multi-layered act of revenge. On the surface, Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon to avenge the death of their daughter Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed before the Trojan War to appease the goddess Artemis, who had stopped Agamemnon’s fleet from being able to reach Troy. In fact, Artemis demanded this tribute from Agamemnon in particular as a way to get revenge on him for once insulting her. Clytemnestra is also upset that Agamemnon has brought Cassandra, a princess and prophet of the god Apollo, from Troy to be his concubine (slave and mistress). Killing her husband is thus also an act of revenge for Agamemnon’s infidelity, despite Clytemnestra’s own infidelity with Aegisthus. Finally, Agamemnon’s death also serves as a kind of multi-generational revenge for Aegisthus (Agamemnon’s cousin)—not just against Agamemnon himself, but also against Agamemnon’s entire family. Decades earlier, Agamemnon’s father Atreus had killed Aegisthus’s brothers and then cooked them as food, which he then served to Aegisthus’ father Thyestes. Agamemnon’s death thus completes that particular cycle of revenge as well.

In Greek drama and mythology, the concept of revenge is often embodied by the Furies. These divine women were said to live beneath the earth and were thought to be responsible for acts of revenge. Throughout Agamemnon, the Chorus’s growing sense of worry and dread often comes from their belief that the action of the play could invoke the wrath of the Furies—especially after Cassandra prophecies that blood will be spilt in the house of Atreus.

As the play draws to a close, both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus describe the murder as a successful offering to the Furies in order to right Agamemnon’s offenses against them—that justice has been served. Yet the fact that the action of the play is preceded and driven by so many interrelated revenges suggests that Clytemnestra’s belief can’t possibly be correct—revenge always leads to more revenge. In fact, the murder of Agamemnon propels the next set of revenges in The Oresteia, and so the cycle of revenge and bloodshed continues.

Revenge ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Revenge appears in each section of Agamemnon. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Revenge Quotes in Agamemnon

Below you will find the important quotes in Agamemnon related to the theme of Revenge.
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.


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Old violent aggression
loves to generate new troubles
among evil men—soon or late,
when it’s fated to be born,
new violence springs forth,
a spirit no one can resist or conquer,
unholy recklessness,
dark ruin on the home,
like the destructiveness
from which it sprang.
But Righteousness shines out
from grimy dwellings, honouring
the man who lives in virtue.
She turns her eyes away
from gold-encrusted mansions
where men’s hands are black,
and moves towards integrity,
rejecting power and wealth,
which, though praised, are counterfeit.
Righteousness leads all things
to well-deserved fulfillment.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 763-782
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the key themes of the play is the idea that evil always causes more evil somewhere down the line. Agamemnon's father's acts of evil and revenge spawn the evil and revenge in this play, as we'll see, and even Helen's abduction from Troy causes the various events of the play (without Helen's abduction, Agamemnon would never have sacrificed his daughter to reach Troy safely, and his wife presumably would never have murdered him). In short, evil and revenge are never ending cycles.

In Greek society at the time, there is a strong code of revenge and "blood for blood." Whenever an evil act is committed, it must be balanced out by another act--which itself causes more acts of vengeance and retribution. The only way to escape from the endless cycle, the Chorus suggests, is to embrace the path of wisdom and morality--foreshadowing the end of the Oresteia.

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.

One disgrace exchanged for yet another,
the struggle to decide is hard.
The man who sins is sinned against,
the killer pays the price.
Yet while Zeus sits upon his throne
this decree from god remains—
the man who acts will suffer.
Who can then cast from this house
its self-perpetuating curse?
This race is wedded to destruction.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 1560-1569
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play draws to a close, we come back to the same idea we've heard from Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and many of the other characters: balance. Every sin must be balanced out with an act of revenge, and every drop of blood spilled must be canceled out with more blood.

The Chorus isn't satisfied with the endless cycle of murder and revenge--it benefits no one, and actually cripples the House of Atreus. The Chorus prays that someone will come along to end the cycle of revenge. As we'll see in the two sequels to Agamemnon, Orestes at first continues the cycle of revenge by killing his mother, but then at last brings it to a close, changing the nature of the very Furies themselves.