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Agamemnon Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Aeschylus's Agamemnon. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Aeschylus

Aeschylus is considered by many to be the father of tragedy. He is the first known playwright to have written characters that interact with each other onstage, rather than just speaking to the Chorus. Very little is known about Aeschylus’ life for certain. Some accounts say that he worked on a vineyard until Dionysus, the god of wine and theatre, visited him in a vision and told him to become a playwright. In addition to being a playwright, Aeschylus and his brothers were also soldiers, and fought during the Persian Wars. His award-winning play, The Persians, is surely influenced by his time on the battlefield. Of the ninety-odd plays he wrote, only seven survive today. According to one account, Aeschylus was killed by a falling turtle, which was dropped out of the sky by an eagle. His two sons also became playwrights and poets.
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Historical Context of Agamemnon

The events that take place in Agamemnon, and The Oresteia in general, would have been well known to the play’s original audience. According to Greek mythology, the Trojan War began as a result of Paris, a Trojan prince, stealing Helen, who was married to the Greek king Menelaus. Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon led a fleet of troops to Troy to avenge Paris’ insult, and the following siege lasted ten years. The play begins the moment the Trojan War ends, but at the time that the play was first performed, the Trojan War was nearly a millennium in the past.

Other Books Related to Agamemnon

Agamemnon is the first play in a trilogy of tragedies called The Oresteia. The trilogy focuses on a chain of revenges that occur in the House of Atreus. When Agamemnon was originally performed in 458 BCE, it was performed along with the other two plays, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. Following the trilogy a fourth play called Proteus would have been performed, but the text of Proteus has been lost. The most famous account of the Trojan War (the setting for Agamemnon) is the Iliad, by the epic poet Homer. The other great tragedians of Aeschylus’ era (whose works still survive) were Euripides and Sophocles.
Key Facts about Agamemnon
  • Full Title: Agamemnon
  • Where Written: Greece
  • When Published: c. 458 BCE
  • Literary Period: Classical Greek
  • Genre: Tragic Drama
  • Setting: The city of Argos, Greece, outside of the royal house of Atreus
  • Climax: When Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon
  • Antagonist: Clytemnestra

Extra Credit for Agamemnon

Ancient Greek Staging. At the time Agamemnon was originally staged, it would have been performed in a huge amphitheater. The actors would have worn character masks so that the huge audience could distinguish whom each performer represented. The Chorus would have been comprised of a large number of men, and most of that role’s text would have been chanted or sung. In Ancient Greek stagings, violence never occurred onstage, so Agamemnon and Cassandra’s bodies would have been revealed after their deaths on a special rolling platform called an ekkyklema.

Civil War Adaptation. Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra is a three-part trilogy based on The Oresteia. The first play in the trilogy, The Homecoming, is an adaptation of Agamemnon, and focuses on the wife of a Civil War general, who exacts revenge on him when he returns from the Civil War.