Why does Agamemnon die? An analysis of Aeschylus's 'Agamemnon' from the Orestia trilogy which examines the multiple causes of his death. Based on a reading of the play in translation.

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Aeschylus' Oresteia: Agamemnon

Why did Agamemnon die?

Aeschylus' tragedy, the Agamemnon, is the opening play in the only surviving Greek trilogy: the Oresteia. The Agamemnon has a multifaceted plot, charting the reasons for the hero's legendary unexpected death on his victorious return from Troy. Aeschylus manipulates the original myth in order to accentuate the dangers of giving power to a woman, hence Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon as opposed to her lover, Aegisthus, who is given a far more effeminate role than the original legend suggested. However, this new stance on the story does not suggest that the only causes of Agamemnon's death were Clytemnestra's desire for power, and the need to dispose of her husband in favour of her new lover. Instead, Aeschylus gradually and ingeniously reveals to his audience both the numerous reasons for Agamemnon's murder, whilst showing that his death was perhaps foreseeable.

The short-term causes for Agamemnon's death are conceivably obvious ones.

His vulnerability after his success at Troy left him oblivious to any danger on the home front: he did not seem to anticipate any difficulty in returning after his city after ten years. Both Orestes and Menelaus who may have been able to hinder the murder are absent. Clytemnestra was therefore given the perfect opportunity to slaughter her unsuspecting husband as soon as he entered the house, and the chorus, at first unable to understand the situation because Cassandra's prophesy cannot be believed because of Apollo's curse, were then later too frightened to intervene.

After the murder, Clytemnestra appears to clarify her motives, which the audience have previously had to speculate upon. She explains that she killed because Agamemnon 'sacrificed his own child', and, having been bereaved for years, he had to be sacrificed to oppose her daughter's death: 'I sacrificed this...