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War and Its Aftermath Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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.
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon

The historical context and political climate in Agamemnon revolves around the Trojan War, which comes to an end in the first moments of the play. Each of the characters is eventually forced to grapple with how the outcome of this colossal war has affected their lives. The Chorus not only provides us with key historical information about the war, but also offers important emotional perspective that guides the audience’s understanding of the war’s personal effects. Although the Chorus is sometimes unsure of the central characters’ thoughts and feelings, they give us an essential window into the morale of the citizens of Argos – the Greek city of which Agamemnon is king – during and after the war. The Herald, and later Cassandra, also provide information about the sorry state of Troy after it has fallen, drawing attention to the devastation that Agamemnon and his army have left behind. These views on the turmoil in Troy serve as an important comparison to the havoc that ensues in Argos upon Agamemnon’s return.

Along with the historical and dramatic context of the war, Aeschylus frames the war’s aftermath with two important personal examples of post-war suffering through Clytemnestra and Cassandra’s experiences. Cassandra has fallen from Trojan royalty to prisoner of war, and her grief at her new station is apparent from the moment she first cries out to the gods. Although Clytemnestra is married to the leader of the winning army, the war’s victory is sour and mournful for her as well. Victory has only been made possible by dreadful sacrifice—in this case the literal sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia. The aftermath of Agamemnon’s wartime decision to sacrifice his daughter becomes the central narrative of the play, and this narrative demonstrates that the decisions made during wartime have extensive implications that go beyond simple military victory and defeat.

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War and Its Aftermath Quotes in Agamemnon

Below you will find the important quotes in Agamemnon related to the theme of War and Its Aftermath.
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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Then Agamemnon, the older king, spoke up:
“It’s harsh not to obey this fate—
but to go through with it is harsh as well,
to kill my child, the glory of my house,
to stain a father’s hands before the altar
with streams of virgin’s blood.
Which of my options is not evil?
How can I just leave this fleet,
and let my fellow warriors down?
Their passionate demand for sacrifice
to calm the winds lies within their rights—
even the sacrifice of virgin blood.
So be it. All may be well.”

But when Agamemnon strapped on
the harsh yoke of necessity,
his spirits changed, and his intentions
became profane, unholy, unsanctified.
He undertook an act beyond all daring.
Troubles come, above all, from delusions
inciting men to rash designs, to evil.
So Agamemnon steeled his heart
to make his own daughter the sacrifice,
an offering for the Achaean fleet…

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Iphigenia
Page Number: 206-229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this "flashback," we learn from the Greek Chorus that Agamemnon previously sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to ensure a safe voyage to Troy (where he was headed to start the Trojan War). Agamemnon's intentions were noble at first. The goddess Artemis sent winds to stop the Greek ships from reaching Troy, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia was demanded to appease her--but Agamemnon refused to kill his daughter.  Eventually, though, Agamemnon gave into his loyalty to his crew mates, as well as his own selfishness: to ensure that the ships would arrive in Troy (and presumably achieve great glory, riches, and revenge) he killed his own daughter.

The Chorus characterizes Agamemnon's action as ambiguous but ultimately unholy. Agamemnon may have been looking out for his fellow troops and appeasing a goddess, but in doing so, he sacrificed his loyalty to his own family--the ultimate crime in ancient Greece. Just like his father (the source of the curse on Agamemnon's family), Agamemnon has slaughtered his own family members, adding to the cycle of vengeance and punishment that haunts the House of Atreus. He is, in short, inviting punishment from the gods.

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.

Some time ago I cried out in triumph,
rejoicing when that first messenger arrived,
the fiery herald in the night, who told me
Troy was captured and was being destroyed.
Some people criticized me then, saying,
“How come you’re so easily persuaded
by signal fires Troy’s being demolished?
Isn’t that just like a woman’s heart,
to get so jubilant?”

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker)
Page Number: 586-593
Explanation and Analysis:

Clytemnestra here spells out more distinctions between masculinity and femininity in her society. Although she correctly interprets the signal fires coming from Troy and concludes that Agamemnon has won the Trojan War, her announcement is not welcomed. Rather, people (including the old men who make up the Chorus) question Clytemnestra and suggest that she is jumping to conclusions because she's a woman (and therefore more likely to be flighty in her emotions).

Clytemnestra is a proud, fierce woman, but in her society, her innate talents can only get her so far. Her authority is always being questioned and reinterpreted in light of her gender. It's implied at several points that Clytemnestra plots to kill Agamemnon, not just because of her anger over Iphigenia but because of her desire for power--power that her current station (queen) doesn't provide. Furthermore, what's later considered to be Clytemnestra's great crime (killing her husband) is later inextricably linked to her lack of femininity and submission to gender roles.

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 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.


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.