Thursday, February 18, 2010

Agamemnon by Aeschylus ebook - Greek Tragedy standing the test of time

One of the best things about reading classics is finding literary works that deliver truths that do not diminish over the ages. In the tragic Greek drama Agamemnon by Aeschylus I encountered a powerful and beautifully written tragedy that was very sensitive to the female victims of war. It is easy to imagine that ancient fully patriarchal societies would overlook the female concerns of anything, but Aeschylus displays a thoughtful sensitivity to the suffering of women and children in war. The whole play is about the vengeance sought by Clytemnestra, wife of King Agamemnon, for the death of their daughter Iphigenia, who Agamemnon killed in ritual sacrifice. He did this ghastly deed to appease the Gods and gain good winds so the ships of the Greek armies could sail against Troy.

In my reading of the play, Aeschylus used the sacrificial killing of Iphigenia as a metaphor for the suffering involuntarily forced upon women and children in war. And the vengeance Clytemnestra has upon Agamemnon demonstrated that the glory men seek in war has no value once the misery and death inflicted on society is taken into account. The play sends the message that men pursue war because of pride and greed and women and children are the victims.

When Agamemnon returns home after the Trojan War, Clytemnestra intends to make him pay for the death of their daughter. Although committed to bringing about his death, she remains disgusted that she is the one who has to do it. She wonders why society did not punish Agamemnon for the crime.

Aye, now, for me, thou hast thy words of fate;
Exile from Argos and the people's hate
For ever! Against him no word was cried,
When, recking not, as 'twere a beast that died,
With flocks abounding o'er his wide domain,
He slew his child, my love, my flower of pain,
Great God, as magic for the winds of Thrace!
Why was not he man-hunted from his place,
To purge the blood that stained him? … When the deed
Is mine, oh, then thou art a judge indeed!

Aeschylus masterfully reveals how society tends to care nothing for what happens to women and children, but, if a woman seeks justice, then she is surely a criminal.