The Libation Bearers

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Agamemnon Character Analysis

The king of Argos, husband of Clytemnestra, and father of Orestes, Electra, and Iphigenia. Agamemnon was murdered by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus in Agamemnon, Aeschylus’s play preceding The Libation Bearers. Agamemnon was the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War, and the brother of Menelaus, who started the war to retrieve his wife Helen. Agamemnon was doomed from the war’s start, however, both because he was a member of the cursed House of Atreus and because he slaughtered his own daughter, Iphigenia, in exchange for safe passage to Troy. This act caused Clytemnestra to avenge her daughter’s death, murdering Agamemnon when he returned home, victorious, from Troy.

Agamemnon Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers 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 Penguin Books edition of The Libation Bearers published in 1966.
Lines 1-585 Quotes

Dear god, let me avenge my father’s murder—fight beside me now with all your might!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

As Orestes prays at the tomb of his father, he prays to the god Hermes to help him murder his mother Clytemnestra in order to avenge his father Agamemnon—a shocking plea to modern readers. To Orestes, however, vengeance is holy work. He believes that in killing his mother, he will be carrying out a divinely sanctioned act. 

Indeed, rather than seeing murder as immoral, Orestes instead sees inaction as immoral. He believes that as long as his mother lives, his father's spirit cannot rest, and that he is in fact forsaking his duty as a son for as long as he does not carry out his goal of matricide. Thus in the Greek world, Orestes can be both pious and murderous. His allegiance lies not with his living mother, but with his dead father, proof of how much influence the ghosts of the dead exert over the lives of the living within this work. 

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The proud dead stir under the earth,

They rage against the ones who took their lives…

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Chorus of libation-bearing women enters, along with Electra, they recall the terrifying events of the night before, remembering how a mysterious voice warned them that the dead were coming to avenge themselves upon the living. In Greek drama, dreams and prophecies often prove true, as is most definitely the case in this moment. 

The quote also explains why the queen, Clytemnestra, has sent them out to tend to the grave of her husband (whom she loathed and murdered). Although Clytemnestra may put on a show of piety, this is clearly because fear rather than actual reverence. She is worried about what the voice in the night might prophecy, rather than actually regretful about murdering her husband.

We also can understand from this quote the influence of the dead within this narrative. Rather than being considered gone and at peace, the dead are a constant presence for all the characters on the stage. Although they may no longer be alive, their power has not waned; through Orestes' matricide, the spirit of Agamemnon is essentially avenging himself from beyond the grave. 

What to say when I pour the cup of sorrow?
What kindness, what prayer can touch my father?
Shall I say I bring him love for love, a woman’s
love for her husband? My mother, love from her?
I’ve no taste for that, no words to say
as I run the honeyed oil on father’s tomb.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 86-91
Explanation and Analysis:

As Electra worships at the tomb of her father along with the libation-bearing slaves, she struggles to find words to express her sorrow. Unlike the hypocritical Clytemnestra, Electra is pious and dutiful. Although her father is dead and gone, she is still loyal to him, and feels conflicted about bringing meaningless offerings from her mother. 

This passage also illustrates the complex gender politics at work within The Libation Bearers. Although a woman, Electra identifies far more strongly with her father than with her mother, and believes that her allegiance lies firmly with him. She scorns the queen for having betrayed "a woman's love for her husband," and believes that Clytemnestra has failed in her duties as both a wife and a mother. 

Lastly, Electra's near-obsession with her father helps readers to understand how present he still is for her, despite his death. To Electra, her father is still a powerful force within her life, and she will do whatever it takes to ensure that his memory is honored and his death avenged. 

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). 

You light to my eyes, four loves in one!
I have to call you father, it is fate;
and I turn to you the love I gave my mother—
I despise her, she deserves it, yes,
and the love I gave my sister, sacrificed
on the cruel sword, I turn to you.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia
Page Number: 240-245
Explanation and Analysis:

After being reunited, Electra and Orestes vow to be loyal to each other, in clear contrast to their treacherous mother. Here Electra tells Orestes that she loves him more than other sisters do their brothers, because he must also serve the roles of father, mother, and sister for her. She is referring to the murder of her father Agamemnon, the sacrifice of her sister Iphigenia (who was murdered by Agamemnon's "cruel sword," presenting a seeming conflict of interest for Electra), and the imminent death of her mother Clytemnestra. 

Once again Aeschylus makes clear that the ties between Electra and Orestes can never be broken. They are wholly committed to each other, exemplifying the purity and strength of true familial bonds. As Electra promises her love for her brother, we also witness traditional Greek gender roles at work. Considered weaker because of her gender, Electra places herself under her brother's protection, giving him not just the love of a sibling, but also the respect of a daughter for her parents. 

Lines 719-1065 Quotes

Clytemnestra: Watch out—the hounds of a mother’s curse will hunt you down.
Orestes: But how to escape a father’s if I fail?

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon, The Furies
Page Number: 911-912
Explanation and Analysis:

As Orestes stands over Clytmenestra, ready to strike, she continues to attempt to persuade him to spare her. These two lines encapsulate their argument: Clytemnestra vows vengeance on him if he kills her, while Orestes worries that if he does not, he will have betrayed his father. 

These lines also illustrate the terrible situation in which Orestes has found himself: to avenge one crime, he must commit another. It also demonstrates the conflict between different types of familial bonds (in this case mother/son v. father/son), and shows how these bonds are ultimately ruled by gender. Whatever terrible punishments Clytemnestra threatens for Orestes, he will always remain loyal to his father. Because Clytemnestra is a woman, she will never have as strong a hold over her son as her dead husband. 

But she who plotted this horror against her husband,
she carried his children, growing in her womb
and she—I loved her once
and now I loathe, I have to loathe—what is she?
Some moray eel, some viper born to rot her mate
with a single touch, no fang to strike him
just the wrong, the reckless fury in her heart!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Serpents and Snakes
Page Number: 983-989
Explanation and Analysis:

Having killed his mother, Orestes stands over her, also holding the robes that she used to trap and kill his father years ago. He grows increasingly hysterical, horrified both by what he has done and by the extent of his mother's crimes. 

This passage displays Orestes' conflicted emotions about his mother, as well as his frantic emotional state after killing her. Although the play may seem to be on the side of vengeance, it does not flinch from showing murder's terrible after effects.

Orestes' deep hatred of women is significant here as well. He describes his mother as an "eel" or a "viper," recalling how she killed his father with nothing more than "the reckless fury in her heart." In his muddled mental state, Orestes grows increasingly upset and disgusted by women, his loathing based in his simultaneous hatred for his mother, and his guilt over her death. 

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Agamemnon Character Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the character Agamemnon appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-585
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The play opens at Agamemnon’s burial mound in Argos, before which stand Orestes (Agamemnon’s son) and his faithful companion Pylades.... (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, observing them, notices his sister and prays to the gods to let him avenge Agamemnon’s murder. He hides along with Pylades, anxious to know why the women are approaching the... (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
...their own plight with that of Electra, who silently and secretly mourns for the betrayed Agamemnon. (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Electra praises the Chorus, thanking them for accompanying her to Agamemnon’s grave. She begins to lament her father’s death, adding that she cannot bring him love... (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
...ask the dead and Mother Earth to hear her plea. She asks the spirit of Agamemnon to pity both her and Orestes, whom she feels her mother Clytemnestra has sold in... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...Chorus to add their prayers to hers. The group of women laments the death of Agamemnon, and begs the gods of the dead for the appearance of an avenger to free... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...it signifies the presence of Orestes. Electra believes that Orestes sent the lock to honor Agamemnon, and the Chorus adds that he will “never set foot on native ground again.” At... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...father (dead at Clytemnestra’s hands), her mother (a betrayer), and her sister (Iphigenia, dead at Agamemnon’s hands). Electra prays to Zeus, the king of the gods, for safety and success. (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
The Chorus, too, prays to Zeus, comparing the dead Agamemnon to an eagle killed by a treacherous snake. They once again compare their enslaved state... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...the protection of Apollo, and that the god’s oracle has ordered him to hunt down Agamemnon’s killers. He relates what the oracle has told him: that if the dead go without... (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
...begs her father to end her and Orestes’ pain. Both the Leader and Orestes praise Agamemnon, and the siblings wish that their father had died an honorable, warrior’s death at Troy.... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...spirit offerings, prayers, and honor. Growing more incensed, the two remember the plot that doomed Agamemnon, in which Clytemnestra used a net to trap the king while he was in a... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
Before leaving, Orestes wonders why Clytemnestra sent libations to Agamemnon’s tomb, considering her impiety and her hatred of her dead husband. The leader of the... (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
...orders the Chorus to keep his secret. Last, he prays to his dead father, asking Agamemnon to guide his sword. Then he, Pylades, and Electra exit. (full context)
Lines 586-652
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
...with their feminine wiles. The Chorus turns to Clytemnestra in particular, remembering how she overcame Agamemnon despite his “warlord’s power,” and they assert that the gods detest such women. They then... (full context)
Lines 719-1065
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
...side of justice. Calling Orestes an orphan, they remind Zeus of how much he loved Agamemnon, and they beg him to end the cycle of bloodshed and vengeance that has overtaken... (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
...a mother’s curse on his head if he kills her. She adds that she killed Agamemnon because she was destined to. Orestes responds with scorn, telling her that it is her... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety  Theme Icon
Familial Bonds  Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...mourning with justice and vengeance. They sing of Orestes’ triumph, and of the cleansing of Agamemnon’s house. Although Orestes’ purpose was one of vengeance and deception, they remind the audience 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
...that they die together. He then displays the same robes that Clytemnestra used to entangle Agamemnon before murdering him, and recounts the plot that killed his father. He unfolds the robes... (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
...He states that he killed Clytemnestra because Apollo ordered him to, and because she killed Agamemnon—his actions, in short, were just. As Orestes speaks, Pylades gives him an olive branch and... (full context)