The Dilemmas of the Oresteia: Like Father, Like Son? Essay

The Dilemmas of the Oresteia: Like Father, Like Son? Essay

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Aeschylus' The Oresteia features two characters burdened by seemingly hopeless decisions. First is Agamemnon, king of Argos, whose army was thwarted by the goddess, Artemis. Agamemnon was faced with the decision to call off the army's sail to Troy, and thus admit defeat and embarrassment, or to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to satisfy Artemis whom had stopped the winds to delay Agamemnon's fleet. Second is Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who was given the choice by Apollo to avenge his father's murder, thus committing matricide, or face a series of torturous consequences. Although both Agamemnon and Orestes were faced with major dilemmas, their intentions and their characters are revealed through their actions to be markedly different.

Agamemnon and his fleet were stuck in Argos because Artemis had stilled the winds. Calchas, a seer, foretold great victory matched with great sorrow. The chorus then redresses the omen in lines 133-139

The king of the birds to the kings of the ships, black eagle and white behind it, in full view, hard by the palace, by the spear-hand, ripped open a hare with her unborn still swelling inside her, stopped from her last chance to escape. Sing sorrow, sorrow, but let the good prevail.

It is revealed that the goddess of wild animals, Artemis, is angry, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the massacre of Troy are mentioned. Agamemnon was well aware of what he was getting into and began his worried oscillation between the love of his daughter and the love of his power, prestige, and country. His weakness of character is becoming more apparent, his ethics appear arbitrary.

Agamemnon's pride and cowardice are again revealed in lines 261-272 when the Chorus states Agamemnon's horrid decision t...

... middle of paper ...

...'s command becomes an issue of quid pro quo, a necessary duty rather than an impulsive desire for revenge.

The deeds enacted by Agamemnon and Orestes were the same by definition, but different by motive. Agamemnon's motives were impure in his decision between his daughter and his war. He chose to conquer Troy at Iphigenia's expense. For such a ruthless act, consequences are inevitable, and Agamemnon met his punishment at the hands of his vengeful wife, Clytemnestra. Orestes was able to escape such a fate due in part to his faith in the gods, his reluctant desire to kill, and one goddess' (Athena's) mercy. The matricide committed by Orestes was padded by vengeance, and validated by retributive justice. Athena identified with Orestes during his trial on the basis that neither she nor Orestes had a true mother, and thus cast the final stone in favor of Orestes.

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