The Libation Bearers

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Aegisthus Character Analysis

Clytemnestra’s lover, and her accomplice in murdering Agamemnon, Aegisthus hates the house of Atreus, which was responsible for his own family’s ruin. He rejoices when he learns (falsely) that Orestes is dead, but remains deeply suspicious about whether or not this report is true. Aegisthus also is shamefully unmasculine, allowing Clytemnestra to dominate and rule him at every turn. He is also impious, neglecting the basic Greek laws of hospitality when the disguised Orestes shows up at his door as a guest.

Aegisthus Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers quotes below are all either spoken by Aegisthus or refer to Aegisthus. 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 Penguin Books edition of The Libation Bearers published in 1966.
Lines 1-585 Quotes

For our enemies I say,
raise up your avenger, into the light, my father—
kill the killers in return, with justice!
So in the midst of prayers for good I place
this curse for them.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 147-151
Explanation and Analysis:

After being unable to pray for peace for her father's spirit, Electra instead, at the prompting of the chorus, begs the gods for vengeance. Her prayer highlights the close bond within The Libation Bearers between piety and vengeance. Although most of Electra's words involve "prayers for good" for herself and her brother, she also includes curses for Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. This mixture of good wishes and bad is not contradictory to Electra or the Chorus—they believe that both vengeance and reverence can exist within a truly pious and reverent person, because part of the holy law is vengeance. 

It is also significant that Electra prays not to the gods, but to her father. To this abandoned daughter, Agamemnon has become like a god; although he is buried, she still considers him powerful enough to avenge his own murder, through the actions of his descendants.

In the midst of this deeply vengeful prayer, it is important to note that Electra has made no attempts to kill her mother herself. This lack of action is illustrative of the role of women within this type of Greek drama. Although Electra may hope for her mother's death, as a pious and proper Greek woman, she would never carry out the deed herself (in contrast to the murderous and bloody Clytemnestra, who overstepped the bounds of her gender in taking action against her husband). 

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Lines 653-718 Quotes

Slave, the slave!—
where is he? Hear me pounding the gates?
Is there a man inside the house?
For the third time, come out of the halls!
If Aegisthus has them welcome friendly guests.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Aegisthus, Pylades
Page Number: 633-637
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to enter the palace of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra (and eventually kill them both), Orestes poses as a traveler and knocks on the gates. Aegisthus ignores the guest at his doors, however, causing Orestes to become increasingly enraged. 

The Ancient Greeks firmly believed that hospitality to strangers and guests was one of the most important virtues that a person could display. That Aegisthus does not come out to greet a guest is proof of his unfitness to rule a kingdom, and—even more basically—his failings as a person.

When someone does finally come to greet Orestes, it is not Aegisthus, but Clytemnestra. This act is yet another disgrace for the royal couple. Clytemnestra, a woman, is clearly in charge, and has taken her husband's place as head of the house. Both gender roles and rules of hospitality have been upended, and as a result Clytemnestra and Aegisthus' rule is able to be presented as monstrous and perverse in yet another fundamental way.

Lines 719-1065 Quotes

The butcher comes. Wipe out death with death.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, Aegisthus
Page Number: 823
Explanation and Analysis:

As the murderous plan of Orestes and Electra begins to work, Aegisthus enters, believing Orestes to be dead and exulting in that fact. The Chorus calls him a "butcher," proof of their contempt for him, before urging Orestes to "[w]ipe out death with death."

This quote displays the difference in opinion that the Chorus has of Aegisthus versus Orestes. They think of Aegisthus as nothing more than a butcher, even though in killing Agamemnon, he was in fact avenging the deaths of his own brothers at the hands of Agamemnon's father. Meanwhile the Chorus reveres Orestes, despite the fact that he too means to kill out of revenge. To them, Orestes' act will be holy and purifying, whereas Aegisthus' was a desecration.

The difference between the two men is one of piety. Orestes' act is commanded by the gods; he is carrying out their orders. Aegisthus, meanwhile, helped to murder Agamemnon for selfish reasons, and since then has not acted as a pious or proper Greek or king. 

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Aegisthus Character Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the character Aegisthus appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-585
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...Chorus tells Electra that she should say a prayer for “those who love you…[and] hate Aegisthus.” Electra laments that she is entirely alone except for the Chorus, but the leader urges... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...Orestes, whom she feels her mother Clytemnestra has sold in exchange for her murderous lover Aegisthus. She describes her near enslavement and Orestes’ exile, asking that Orestes be returned home, and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...the appearance of an avenger to free the house from the corruption of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus leader warns Orestes and Electra to be wary of Aegisthus’ and Clytemnestra’s spies. Orestes responds that he is under the protection of Apollo, and that... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...died an honorable, warrior’s death at Troy. The Chorus prophecies the end of Clytemnestra’s and Aegisthus’ reign, and then all three begin to beg the gods for violent, bloody vengeance. They... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...the grave. Orestes prays for the power “to rule our house” while Electra begs for Aegisthus’ death, and her own freedom. The siblings promise their father’s spirit offerings, prayers, and honor.... (full context)
Lines 653-718
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Orestes and Pylades (both now disguised) reenter. As Orestes predicted, Aegisthus makes the two knock three times at his gates before being allowed in (a grave... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...orders Electra to escort Orestes and his servants to their rooms, before resolving to tell Aegisthus the news. All exit. (full context)
Lines 719-1065
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
...nurse when he was a child, in tears. She recounts how Clytemnestra is looking for Aegisthus so that he can go speak to (the disguised) Orestes, and then relates her own... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Cilissa then reveals that Clytemnestra has told Aegisthus to bring his bodyguards with him when he talks to Orestes, but the leader of... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...mother), and to “go through with the murder.” As they finish their prayers, the “butcher” Aegisthus enters. They pray that Orestes will “[w]ipe out death with death.” (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Aegisthus, having heard that Orestes is dead, worries that this terrible news may destabilize his kingdom... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
With Aegisthus gone, the Chorus prays to Zeus once more, begging the god for Orestes’ success. They... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
To answer their question, out rushes a wounded servant of Aegisthus, incoherently lamenting his master’s death. He attempts to open the door to the women’s quarters... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The doors of the palace open to reveal Orestes and Pylades with the body of Aegisthus. Giving Clytemnestra no time to mourn, Orestes drags his mother towards her lover’s body. She... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Turning back to Clytemnestra, Orestes tells her that he will kill her on top of Aegisthus’ body. She continues to beg, telling him that she will bring down a mother’s curse... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...future. Last they turn to time, anticipating a future of prosperity and peace, free of Aegisthus’ and Clytemnestra’s corruption. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Orestes and Pylades reemerge, standing over the bodies of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Orestes remembers how the two killed his father, adding that it is appropriate that they... (full context)