The Libation Bearers

Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud Symbol Analysis

Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud Symbol Icon

Although no longer a living character within the play, the ghost of Agamemnon haunts every moment of The Libation Bearers. Once a dominant, powerful king—the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War—Agamemnon was doomed from the moment he set off to Troy, having slaughtered his own daughter, Iphigenia, in exchange for favorable winds from the gods. This action then incited murderous rage within his wife, Clytemnestra. Despite Agamemnon’s terrible sin, however, his surviving children—Orestes and Electra—believe that their allegiance to their dead father far outweighs their loyalty to their living (but murderous) mother, and over the course of the play, they both (along with the Chorus) lament his death and express a desperate desire to avenge him.

The spectral presence of Agamemnon within the text is physicalized by two vital symbols: his burial mound and his shroud. The play opens with the two siblings separately visiting the mound and mourning for their father, proof of his power over them even long after his demise. The two often reference the mound, using it as a reminder of their father’s power, and of the deep dishonor that their mother showed him (the mound is far less grand of a tomb than a king would normally inhabit in death). Later in the play, the robes in which Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon—his burial shroud, as it were—also make an appearance, as Orestes uses them to wrap the corpses of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus before weeping over the robes, visual evidence of how much more he values these memorials of his dead father than the body of the mother he just killed.

Within the play, Agamemnon and his various remnants symbolize two powerful forces: the power of fathers, and the power of death. Because of the extreme sexism (and even misogyny) within Greek society, Agamemnon’s role in his children’s lives is assumed to be much more valuable than that of Clytemnestra. It makes sense, then, that given the choice between allegiance to their father and their mother, Orestes and Electra would choose the former. Further, the Greeks believed strongly in honoring and remembering the dead. Despite his demise, Agamemnon still dominates his children’s thoughts, lives, and actions, proof of how present the Greeks considered the dead in their everyday lives.

Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers quotes below all refer to the symbol of Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud. 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Lines 719-1065 Quotes

I embrace you…you,
My victory, are my guilt, my curse, and still—

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker)
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 1012-1013
Explanation and Analysis:

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Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud Symbol Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the symbol Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud 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
...give him strength. He cuts two locks of his hair and lays them on the grave, honoring Inachos (the god of a local river in Argos) and his dead father, begging... (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
...slave women who attend her. They are dressed in mourning, and bring offerings to the grave. Orestes, observing them, notices his sister and prays to the gods to let him avenge... (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 from... (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
Electra kneels at the grave and prays to Hermes, begging him to ask the dead and Mother Earth to hear... (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, Electra, and the Chorus gather to pray at the grave. The Chorus invokes the Fates and Zeus, praying that they exact justice. Orestes prays to... (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 leaves Electra and Orestes at the grave. Orestes prays for the power “to rule our house” while Electra begs for Aegisthus’ death,... (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 Chorus... (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
...father, adding that it is appropriate 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... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Still obsessed with the shroud, Orestes looks at his father’s dried blood before burying his face in the robes and... (full context)