Ancient Greek society’s expectations of men and women and the significance of these roles come to the forefront in Agamemnon’s central characters. In this society men were expected to be strong, decisive, and honorable, while women were thought to be passive, and were expected to be subservient and silent. The Watchman, the Chorus, and the Herald laud Agamemnon for fulfilling the duties expected of a man and for being a solid and fair leader, yet his actions don’t always align with societal expectations for men.
Agamemnon shows signs of weakness before the play has even begun. According to the mythology upon which the play is based, Agamemnon at first decides not to sacrifice his daughter, but is then convinced by a prophet to do so. We see a similar situation unfold when Clytemnestra convinces the supposedly steadfast king to walk on the purple cloths when entering the palace, even though Agamemnon senses that the gods will be upset by this action. Agamemnon’s indecisiveness is not considered manly, and consequently leads his downfall.
Clytemnestra’s femininity is also constantly called into question, but she uses those societal expectations to help get her way. Clytemnestra demonstrates an awareness of female gender norms and uses or discards them at will to her own advantage. Nearly every male character in the play criticizes Clytemnestra for exhibiting qualities associated with men, and in the end, these very qualities—decisiveness, aggression, and sense of justice—are in fact what allow her to carry out her revenge plot. At the same time, it is important to note that Clytemnestra is later murdered by her own son Orestes in the next installment of The Oresteia, and that her death can be viewed as a punishment for breaking the conventions of femininity in Ancient Greek society.
Gender Roles ThemeTracker
Gender Roles Quotes in Agamemnon
Is this report reliable? Is there proof?
Of course there is. Unless some god deceives me.
Has some vision persuaded you of this,
something in a dream, perhaps?
Not at all.
As if I’d listen to some dozing brain.
Perhaps some unfledged rumour raised your hopes?
Now you’re insulting my intelligence,
as if I were a youngster, just a child.
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?”
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.
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.
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.