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Greek and Roman Thought: English

Terms in this set (33)

"Anybody could be sent by Zeus." No shelter or food when traveling, between city states, no one to turn to. Norm to allow strangers - Homer creates ideal of this norm.

- Iliad: The battle goes on without the gods, and the Greeks begin to gain the upper hand. Helenos sends Hektor back into the city, so he can tell the women of Troy to try to propitiate Athene. Glaukos and Diomedes meet on the battlefield, and Diomedes (not wanting to attack a god) asks Glaukos who he is. Glaukos replies with a famous simile; why ask his lineage, when men are as impermanent as the leaves? Nonetheless he gives it at length, including in it the story of how his ancestor Bellerophontes overcame a variety of dangers to become king of Lykia. Diomedes realizes that there is a tradition of hospitality (xenia) between his family and Glaukos'; instead of fighting, they exchange armor and part on good terms. But Diomedes gets the better of Glaukos, since he receives gold armor in exchange for bronze. Hektor arrives at Troy and encounters his mother, Hekabe. She offers him wine and the chance to pour a libation, but he turns it down, saying he is not clean enough for religious rituals. He gives her instructions about what to do for Athene, and she obeys, but Athene is unmoved. Next Hektor goes to Paris' house, where he chastises his brother for not being on the battlefield. Helen tries to get Hektor to sit down next to her, but he refuses. Hektor goes to his own house to find his wife Andromache, but learns that she is up on the wall with his baby son Astyanax. There he meets them. Weeping, Andromache reminds him of her life story. Achilleus killed her whole family, and Hektor is all she has. She advises him not to go back out onto the battlefield. Hektor replies that he must go or be thought a coward. He imagines Andromache as a captive woman, and is sorrowed by the thought. He seems certain that he will die soon, but he can see no real alternative except to fight on. Next he tries to hold his son, but the baby is frightened by his war gear. Hektor removes his helmet and places it on the ground, and the baby comes into his arms. Hektor prays that one day his son may be a warrior even more glorious than his father. In his parting words to Andromache, Hektor takes pity on her and suggests that perhaps he may survive the battle after all. Hektor and Paris return to the battlefield.

- Odyssey: The major themes in The Odyssey are especially significant because they serve to form the moral and ethical constitution of most of the characters. The reader learns about the characters through the themes. The more complicated a character is, the more he or she engages these major themes. Therefore, the most complicated character, Odysseus, appropriately embodies each of the themes to one degree or another. Thinking of hospitality as a major theme in a literary work may seem odd to modern readers. In Homer's world, however, hospitality is essential. Fagles and Knox (p. 45) refer to hospitality as a dominant part of "the only code of moral conduct that obtains in the insecure world of The Odyssey." Arriving strangers may be dangerous or harmless, and residents are wise to be prepared for trouble. Often, however, strangers are but wayfarers, probably in need of at least some kind of help. Similarly, the residents themselves — or their friends or kin — may, at some time, be wayfarers. Civilized people, therefore, make an investment in hospitality to demonstrate their quality as human beings and in hopes that their own people will be treated well when they travel. Furthermore, communications are very primitive in Homer's world, and strangers bring and receive news. It was through visitors that the Homeric Greeks learned about and kept abreast of what was happening in the world beyond their local areas. Hospitality, or the lack of it, affects Odysseus throughout the epic, and the reader can judge civility by the degree of hospitality offered. Odysseus' own home has been taken over by a horde of suitors who crudely take advantage of Ithaca's long-standing tradition of hospitality. Telemachus and Penelope lack the strength to evict them, nor can they hope for much help from the community because the suitors represent some of the strongest families in the area. In his wanderings, Odysseus receives impressive help from the Phaeacians and, initially, from Aeolus. Circe is of great assistance after Odysseus conquers her, and the Lotus-eaters might be a little too helpful. On the other hand, the Sirens are sweet-sounding hosts of death, and Cyclops (Polyphemus) makes no pretense toward hospitality. In fact, Polyphemus scoffs at the concept and the gods that support it. Zeus himself, king of the gods, is known as the greatest advocate of hospitality and the suppliants who request it; yet even he allows the sea god Poseidon to punish the Phaeacians for their generous tradition of returning wayfarers to their homelands.

- Oresteia: The Oresteia tells the story of the transformation from a tribal/family revenge cycle to state justice. It goes something like this: The house of Atreus is under a curse for ancient crimes, beginning with the patriarch, Pelops, but involving most notably Atreus's killing of his brother Thyestes's children and feeding them to him in a gruesome stew. Since Atreus had invited his brother over to feast under the guise of welcoming back the defeated party to a sovereignty dispute, he's guilty not only of spilling family blood, but, as if that weren't bad enough, he's also guilty of violating simple hospitality and over and above that, of violating hospitality to suppliants. It is no coincidence that there are breaches of this same hospitality rule in every one of the plays composing the Oresteia: Agamemnon is killed at his ritual welcome-home bath in the first play, Orestes can kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus in The Libation Bearers only by abusing his privilege as a guest to gain access, and the Furies - charged with enforcing these very rules - are themselves turned away from Apollo's Temple in the Eumenides. Order can be re-established only because Orestes is absolved of his crime. Essentially Aeschylus and Homer make the same point: in both instances, the king is cut down while receiving the traditional displays of xenia - the laws of hospitality - in a time and place of supposed safety. So why the discrepancy? Because Aeschylus the dramatist, by painting a picture of Agamemnon having his arms pinned helplessly to his side by his entangling robe, seizes this opportunity to introduce the metaphor of the entangling web of deceit, pervasive throughout the trilogy. Fagles' translation perfectly captures its figurative meaning, rendering Clytemnestra's reference to it during her victory speech as "black-widow's web," with all appropriate ramifications. Instead of the weaving a proper Greek wife must attend to as head of the oikos - and we cannot help but think of Penelope here - Clytemnestra spins a web designed to catch her own husband. T
- Iliad: Book 24 of Homer's Iliad presents us with one of the most beautiful and chilling scenes of the epic: the scene where Achilles and Priam directly face one another at the point when the suffering (pathos) of each seems to have reached its pinnacle. Achilles' suffering is centered on the loss of his best friend Patroclus, while the suffering of Priam - although long in the making due to the attack on his city and his family - has
reached a new level of despair with the loss of his dearest son Hector. At first sight, the suffering of each man seems very different in its nature and expression. Achilles grieves over his friend and lifetime companion, and expresses this grief in both deep sadness and rage. As Macleod observes, 'Priam's speech makes Achilles think of his own father and so enables him to feel pity for the Trojan father too.' [15] Indeed, the line that Lewis quotes above—24.542, a line which taken out of context might suggest a particularly unfeeling Achilles—is uttered as the captain of the Myrmidons is reproaching himself for not being a more devoted to son to his own father: '...I give the man no care as he grows old / since here I sit in Troy....' [16] Elaborating on this in a series of comparisons between the new Achilles and his character and actions earlier in the poem, Macleod notes that Peleus's son now 'associates the suffering he causes Priam and his sons with his failure to care for his father's old age', and 'he is moved by the harm he does to his enemies'. 'In short, ambition, vindictiveness and resentment all give way to pity.' Thus, the war poem par excellence, the epic whose lesson is 'that on this earth we must enact hell', ends on an unexpected note of pity and redemption. Witnessing the mutual grief of Priam and Achilles, the spectacle of the old man embracing the killer of his son, the killer recognising the likeness of his enemy's father to his own father, the reader's heart feels acutely that 'feeling of its own', that 'fearful frisson' of which Gorgias spoke. Surely in the experience of compassion, in the thrill of something very close to forgiveness, we have a glimpse as in a dream of the coming of the compassionate One who will forgive us all.

- Odyssey: In his return back to Ithaca, Odysseus' choice to return not as himself, but as a beggar, causes unnecessary suffering to both himself and the people around him. In the story, when Telemachus returns home from his journey to find out information about his father, Telemachus is greeted by the loyal swineherd: "as a father, brimming with love, welcomes home/ his darling only son in a warm embrace-/ what a pain he's borne for him and him alone!-/ home now, in the tenth year from far abroad,/ so the loyal swineherd hugged the beaming prince..." (XVI 19-23). In this section specifically, the swineherd is being compared to a father, while Telemachus' actual father Odysseus is standing aside, watching these pigs greet his son with more hospitality and love than he is able to. This is causing suffering not only for Odysseus by not being able to interact and greet his son in a fatherly manner, but also causes suffering for Telemachus, as the closest thing to a father figure for him at this time is his reliable swineherd. Also, while Odysseus is still disguised as a beggar, he is brought back to his home to see that his loyal and now sickly dog has waited years for his master's return. Though Odysseus has returned as a beggar, just by being in the presence of him, the dog senses that his master has returned, acknowledges his presence, and then moves on: "but the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes/ the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away" (XVII 359-360). This shows Argos waiting and longing for Odysseus in his life, and then once he meets Odysseus, he can move on. Leading up to this moment, however, Argos was definitely suffering, but persevered and in the end got closure. Odysseus in this situation though, since he was in disguise, could only ask vague, non-personal questions about his own dog's well-being when all he really wants to do is interact with Argos and be his trusty master again. By choosing to be a beggar, Odysseus was once again forced to be a bystander in what should be his life and was forced to watch his own dog perish away. He couldn't show emotion or react to the situation at all; he had to live with his choice to not claim his rightful identity as Odysseus and suffer the consequences. In a way, Telemachus and the dog both have similar reactions to not having Odysseus in their lives. Telemachus is dying inside to know the location of, or even the simple question of whether Odysseus is alive or dead, while the dog is wasting away his days waiting for the return of his master. The only difference is that the dog got a definite answer and was put out of his misery while Telemachus was left suffering.

- Oresteia: As Agamemnon draws to a close, the king is dead, Clytemnestra is secure in her power, Aegisthus thinks he's the cat's meow, and the people of Argos are less than loyal to their new leadership. They await the return of Orestes, the prince who will avenge Agamemnon and restore justice to their fair city. In act two, known as The Libation Bearers, the people now murmur only in private. As Aeschylus puts it, "They are afraid. Success, they bow to success, more god than god himself." It's been several years since Agamemnon was murdered, and Clytemnestra and Aegisthus have defined right and wrong in the self-serving way that those in power often do. But there's trouble in paradise. The ruling couple has children who want to see them dead. Worse, their servants agree. The Queen has not been sleeping well. She sends offerings to the grave of Agamemnon, but the plan misfires. Her daughter Electra runs into Orestes at the tomb and prays for bloody revenge. As Menelaus tells the story in The Odyssey, Orestes is simply the loyal son who avenges his father's wrongful death, but in the hands of Aeschylus, Orestes becomes much more. He is the revolutionary hero who must "suffer into truth." Justice is no easy matter of right and wrong. It is an existential ordeal of being and becoming. Right conflicts with right and nothing is simple. Orestes must kill his mother to avenge his father. This is less than an ideal situation, but "the rough work of the world" seldom is. Hard choices must be made, and these choices define who we are. Orestes poses as a traveler with news of his own death, and prevails upon the royal family for hospitality. The servants join in the plot. Everyone but the king and queen seem to know what's going on. Too much power, it seems, has made them a little slow. The unheroic Aegisthus is easily dispatched. Clytemnestra, however, is another matter. Agamemnon, she reminds Orestes, killed her daughter. He left her alone for ten years while he plundered Troy, and then had the poor taste to come home with another woman. He was a no good bastard who deserved to die. Besides, she says, "I gave you life." These are all good points, and Orestes wavers, but his friend Pylades reminds him that Apollo has taken sides. He has just one line in the entire play, but it's a good one: "Make all mankind your enemy, not the gods." Clytemnestra is killed, but her avenging Furies waste no time. Orestes descends into madness. As the chorus says, "No man can go through life and reach the end unharmed. Aye, trouble is now, and trouble is still. The theme of "Wisdom and Knowledge" in Agamemnon mainly centers around the Chorus's claim that Zeus makes mortals "Suffer and learn" (177). This phrase could be interpreted to mean "learning happens through suffering" or even, more neutrally, "learning happens through experience." Do you think this is true? Think about it: say you're trying to communicate to your friend that his or her new girlfriend or boyfriend is a total jerk. If the Chorus is right, and learning only happens through suffering, your friend will probably tell you, "I don't believe you," or "It's not really so bad," or something like that. Then, a few months later, after suffering through enough of his or her significant other's jerkiness, your friend might come up to you and say, "You know what, you were right; I just didn't believe you at the time." We've probably all had this experience. But the big question that Aeschylus's play is asking is whether learning always happens through experience, or just part of the time. How is this relevant to the other themes in the play? Think about it: if you think people only learn through suffering, then might want to punish them for crimes by doing the same thing back to them, right? In this way, this theme links up to the ideas of revenge and justice. Similarly, if you only learn what's going to happen by experiencing it, then prophecies about the future can't help you. In this way, this theme links up to the problem of fate and free will.
- Iliad: Thetis seems to think that Achilleus's destiny is so bad that she wishes she never even raised him. Her feeling here will be echoed by Achilleus in Book 18, lines 86-87, when he wishes he had never been born. That said, do you agree with this? Do you think it is better to live with a bad destiny or never be born at all? Because, if it's destined that Odysseus won't kill the son of Zeus (i.e., Sarpedon), is it destined that Athene will stop him, and in just this way? Here, as elsewhere, it seems more like the gods choose to act in accordance with destiny, rather than being forced to do so. OK, so we know Hektor is trying to cheer up his wife here, but if you were Andromache would you fall for that? So what if Hektor will only die when he's fated to die? Doesn't it still make sense for his wife to be sad whenever he dies? On another point, when Hektor says that the brave man can't escape his fate any more than the coward, what do you think would make someone want to be one instead of the other? Zeus is pondering whether he should save Sarpedon from death, even though that would go against his destiny. Can the gods defy fate? In fact they can - and so can mortals, sometimes (see the quote from Book 20, below). If you read Hera's reply, which comes immediately after this passage, you will see that Zeus doesn't back down because he has to, but rather because it would be inappropriate to save Sarpedon. Achilleus's destiny gives him a choice over how he is going to lead his life. How does this fit in with the picture of destiny elsewhere in the work? Is Achilleus just special? If you had a destiny like him, would you rather know it or have it kept secret from you? Is it reasonable for Zeus to fear that Achilleus might act against his own destiny? Do you think the rest of the Iliad supports or contradicts this view of human freedom? If it contradicts it, does Zeus know something the rest of us don't know? Or is there just something special about Achilleus?

- Oresteia: Is it fair to punish someone for something they didn't choose? Consider the case of Agamemnon. One of the reasons Clytemnestra murders him (an act she considers the implementation of justice) is because he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia. When Agamemnon did this, of course, he felt that he was trapped between a rock and a hard place: he had to sacrifice his daughter or abandon the war against Troy. The Chorus tells us that, before undertaking the sacrifice, Agamemnon "put on the yoke-strap of compulsion" (218). That means, in the Chorus's eyes at least, he did what he had to do. But then again, if he accepted that necessity, that means he chose it through his own free will, right? Also, there is the whole issue of the curse on Agamemnon's family, which might have made it fated for him to come to a bad end. Could this mean that he was fated to commit that crime? But, if so, was it just for him to suffer for it? We'll let you puzzle out the answers to these questions. Either way you cut it, however, it's clear that Agamemnon's theme of "Fate and Free Will" is closely connected to the problem of "Justice and Judgment." This being a Greek tragedy and all, there is lots of ambiguity about the question of whether individuals have free will, or whether they are just controlled by fate. Just as in Agamemnon, Part 1 of the Oresteia trilogy, problems of fate and free will are closely linked with the overarching themes of revenge and justice in Libation Bearers. On the most basic level (not that it's very basic), these themes are connected because the idea of fate seems to give the idea of justice a hard time. After all, if people are fated to commit crimes, how can it be just to punish them?
- Honor in the Iliad is not viewed in the same way as it is in western society; rather honor is won through gaining victory and exacting vengeance. The gods have this problem with constant intervention in the lives of the warriors which arguably takes the honor out of the fight, but to the warriors, fulfilling their vows of destroying their enemies seems to be more important than fighting fairly. A line characteristic of the Achaean thought process is uttered by Nestor, who is an Achaean commander. He says, "Therefore let none make haste to go till he has first lain with the wife of some Trojan, and avenged the toil and sorrow that he has suffered for the sake of Helen." Nestor speaks these words while rallying his warriors to continue the fight with Troy. Ulysses, a few lines earlier, expresses similar sentiments saying, "Still we shall be shamed if we go home empty after so long a stay." Odysseus believes that rather than receiving honor by going home without defeating the Trojans, only dishonor will come from ending the war prematurely, demonstrating clearly the idea of honor through victory and vengeance. Achilles, who was livid because of Apollo who saved Hector and the Trojans from certain doom, exclaims, "You have robbed me of great glory and have saved the Trojans." Achilles' statement shows that his source of glory comes from the Trojan's demise.

- Odyssey: Odysseus is guilty of excessive pride when he gives his name to Polyphemus (Book 9). Laodamus shows excess pride when he challenges Odysseus in Book 8. The suitors seem dangerously proud, especially when Odysseus returns. In the end, the suitors have dishonored Odysseus and must pay for this. On the other hand, a certain amount of pride and sense of honor is important. Note how Odysseus responds to the challenge of Laodamus. Telemachus needs to need to gain more pride so that he can stand up to the suitors who have dishonored his house.
- Iliad: The initial act that frustrated so many Achaeans' homecoming was the work of an Achaean himself: Ajax (the "Lesser" Ajax, a relatively unimportant figure not to be confused with the "Greater" Ajax, whom Odysseus meets in Hades) raped the Trojan priestess Cassandra in a temple while the Greeks were plundering the fallen city. That act of impulse, impiety, and stupidity brought the wrath of Athena upon the Achaean fleet and set in motion the chain of events that turned Odysseus's homecoming into a long nightmare. It is fit that the Odyssey is motivated by such an event, for many of the pitfalls that Odysseus and his men face are likewise obstacles that arise out of mortal weakness and the inability to control it. The submission to temptation or recklessness either angers the gods or distracts Odysseus and the members of his crew from their journey: they yield to hunger and slaughter the Sun's flocks, and they eat the fruit of the lotus and forget about their homes.
Even Odysseus's hunger for kleos is a kind of temptation. He submits to it when he reveals his name to Polyphemus, bringing Poseidon's wrath upon him and his men. In the case of the Sirens, the theme is revisited simply for its own interest. With their ears plugged, the crew members sail safely by the Sirens' island, while Odysseus, longing to hear the Sirens' sweet song, is saved from folly only by his foresighted command to his crew to keep him bound to the ship's mast. Homer is fascinated with depicting his protagonist tormented by temptation: in general, Odysseus and his men want very desperately to complete their nostos, or homecoming, but this desire is constantly at odds with the other pleasures that the world offers.

- Odyssey: Penelope is tempted after a long separation from her husband by the prospect of a younger suitor, lonely and unsure of her husband's fate. Telemachus is tempted to forswear his father's allegiance and take up his throne as a prince looking at a kingship. Odysseus is tempted by Circe/Calypso to enjoy the life of the demigod, and enjoyed a supernatural lifetime. To live as a god or in a godlike manner was a temptation impossible to many. Odysseus is offered many chances. The sailors strive for ambrosia and nectar that is traditionally ascribed only to the Olympian gods. Odysseus is is in fact a character who strives to enjoy all the temptations of a god, but does not suffer the defeat of hubris. The underworld is full of those who have succumbed to temptation, as Odysseus learns. Odysseus strives to be tied to the mast so that he can hear the song of the sirens. Odysseus outwits the one eyed son of the god to free his men. Odysseus is tempted form his marriage vows not only by Circe/Calypso for a supernatural life but by the promise of marriage with Nausicaa, a woman of the people beloved of Nestor. In an age when men were too limited by their bare hands and the society in which they live, the temptation to strive for goods and rewards beyond on one's place held a moral and societal opprobrium. The suitors for Penelope enjoy the reach gifts of the court of the exiled King Odysseus, little counting the future cost. The suitors for Penelope know it is wrong persuade her to give up her marriage vows. With the temptation of the Kingdom by marriage, gold and prizes in addition to a union with a beautiful woman makes them all run counter to civil decency. The suitors who can attend the archery and wrestling contests are tempted by the rich prizes. They do not perceive that the temptation serves to differentiate those who might waver at the test and those who would pursue Penelope with rich goods of Odysseus' house added. Odysseus, (who has denied temptation of supernatural life and a safer port), observes those who succumb to this temptation in a disguised manner. This is after an ocean going odyssey of temptation. Odysseus is tempted again and again, by ways and methods to reach home sooner, and to trick the gods or cheat the ways of the sea to guarantee a swift return home. The reward Odysseus receives is often another ellipse farther from his homeward teleological journey. Even Odysseus' stratagem of the Trojan horse is a temptation of the city of Troy to be tempted to accept a clearly preposterous gift. The suitors attend the meet and competition for trophies and armor and are tempted into the competition by rich gifts that Telemachus proposes to award the victors. Their shame at being tempted is barely allowed to show before Odysseus slays them all. Odysseus then becomes the destroyer of those would be tempted. As King of Ithaca, Odysseus is a godlike figure in this nation-state. Telemachus is his winged messenger. Thus does temptation as a theme surround and saturate the story of Odysseus and the poem of the Homeric Odyssey in sum.
- Iliad: The gods of Greek literature often assume alternate forms to commune with humans. In the Odyssey, Athena appears on earth disguised as everything from a little girl to Odysseus's friend Mentor to Telemachus. Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea whom Menelaus describes in Book 4, can assume any form, even water and fire, to escape capture. Circe, on the other hand, uses her powers to change others, turning an entire contingent of Odysseus's crew into pigs with a tap of her wand. From the first line of the epic, Homer explains that his story is about a "man of twists and turns" (1.1). Quick, clever, and calculating, Odysseus is a natural master of disguise, and the plot of the epic often turns on his deception. By withholding his true identity from the Cyclops and using the alias "Nobody," for example, Odysseus is able to save himself and his crew. But by revealing his name at the end of this episode, Odysseus ends up being dogged by the god Poseidon. His beggar disguise allows him to infiltrate his palace and set up the final confrontation with the suitors. It also allows Homer to distinguish those who truly love Odysseus—characters like Eurycleia, Penelope, and even his dog, Argos, begin to recognize their beloved king even before he sheds his disguise.

- Odyssey: The theme of appearance versus reality is at the core of the relationship between Athena and Odysseus. Athena is the maven of makeovers. Her most memorable illusions in The Odyssey are disguises for herself or Odysseus. At the beginning of the epic, she appears to Telemachus as Mentes, king of the Taphians, an old friend of his father who has just stopped to visit in Ithaca. This allows her to encourage the prince and lead him into an expository discussion of the problems in the palace. However, she most famously appears to Telemachus as Mentor, an Ithacan adviser who helps to protect the prince from the murderous suitors and to guide him through his coming of age. On several occasions, Athena changes Odysseus' appearance, either to disguise him or make him look even more formidable than he normally would. As Odysseus prepares for a banquet in his honor with the Phaeacians (8.20-22), for example, she alters his appearance to make him look taller, more massive, and more splendid in every way. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in Book 13 of The Odyssey, Athena disguises him as an old beggar, even going so far as to shrivel his skin, remove the "russet curls" (13.456) from his head, and dim the fire in his eyes. Of course, Odysseus is no stranger to disguise. During the Trojan War, he posed as a beggar to enter the city; he also initiated the ruse of the giant wooden horse filled with Greek soldiers, a story retold by the bard Demodocus, not realizing that the hero himself is present, during the visit to Phaeacia (8.559 ff.). The recognition scenes with Odysseus' three family members on Ithaca provide significant and sometimes controversial twists on the theme of appearance vs. reality. He appears to his son, Telemachus, as a beggar who is visiting the family's pig farm. When they can be alone, Athena alters Odysseus' appearance to something so impressive that the prince wonders if he might not be a god. At the palace, the faithful nurse Eurycleia privately identifies Odysseus when she recognizes a scar on his leg as she bathes him; however, she vows to keep the news to herself. Whether Penelope recognizes her husband, on the other hand, is a matter of dispute. Although at times she seems to suspect who he is, she does not officially accept him — though he wins the contest of the giant bow (Book 21) and slays the suitors (Book 22) — until he reveals his knowledge of their wedding bed. The meeting between Odysseus and his father, Laertes, (Book 24) is also somewhat controversial. Some critics argue that Odysseus, in maintaining his disguise, is needlessly cruel to the old man; others conclude that he helps to restore his father to dignity. Athena admires Odysseus' craft and guile, saying that even a god would have to be "some champion lying cheat" (13.330) to get past him. Deception, illusion, lying and trickery often are thought to be admirable traits in The Odyssey. Athena enjoys them. It's easy to see why Odysseus is her favorite mortal.
- Iliad: Homer's warriors display the loyalty often ascribed to modern soldiers: loyalty to each other rather than to leaders. Thus, while it is hard to find indication of fealty to Agamemnon, the warriors frequently show fidelity to their fellows. In book 11 Odysseus is wounded, cut off from the Greek force. Menelaus hears Odysseus call for help and tells Ajax: "We two should cross the plain to rescue him,or I fear he will not survive out there, tough though he is, and we lose one of our best."
(11.459).

- Odyssey: Agamemnon's story show Penelope's loyalty. Another personal virtue that is a major theme in the epic is loyalty. The most striking example of loyalty in the epic is, of course, Penelope, who waits faithfully for 20 years for her husband's return. Another example is Telemachus, who stands by his father against the suitors. Odysseus' old nurse, Eurycleia, remains loyal to Penelope and her absent master. Eumaeus, the swineherd, and Philoetius, the cowherd, are exemplary in their loyalty to their master and his possessions. Also an excellent if humble host, Eumaeus makes his king proud as he speaks respectfully of the royal family and abhors the invasion of the suitors. In contrast are goatherd Melanthius and maidservant Melantho. Melanthius has become friendly with the suitors and insults Odysseus while the king is still in disguise. Melantho goes even further, sleeping with the enemy, showing disrespect for the queen, and insulting the beggar/Odysseus. The loyal servants are rewarded; those who betray their master are dealt with more harshly. This issue, however, can be complicated because many of the people from whom Odysseus expects loyalty are actually his property. Even his wife, Penelope, literally belongs to her husband. As abhorrent as that may seem to a modern reader, possession is part of the justification for a double standard when it comes to sexual fidelity. Penelope is expected to be absolutely faithful to her husband. Given the account of the battle in the hall at the end of the epic, one might well imagine what would happen to her upon Odysseus' return if she were not. Odysseus, on the other hand, is not bound by the same expectation of fidelity. Penelope and Odysseus especially embody the theme of perseverance. One of the reasons that they are well matched is that they are both survivors. Odysseus has been absent for 20 years, 10 at the Trojan War and 10 more in his journey home. According to the most aggressive of the suitors, Antinous, Penelope has persevered against the invaders for about four years (2.96), playing one against another and confronting them with cunning, most notably exemplified in her ruse of weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. Odysseus' perseverance is legendary, especially in the section of the epic involving his wanderings (Books 9-12). Through the use of guile, courage, strength, and determination, he endures. Perhaps the most difficult test of his perseverance as well as his loyalty is the seven years he spends as Calypso's captive, a situation he can neither trick nor fight his way out. Even when the beautiful goddess-nymph tempts him with immortality, Odysseus yearns for home.
1. Ordinary World - In the case of Odysseus in the "Odyssey", our hero's ordinary world can not wholly be defined or looked at as "ordinary". However, for this book and tale of Odysseus, it is the closest thing to fit for this segment of the journey. His ordinary world is living on the island of Ogyia, retained by the goddess Calypso, who ever tries to win over his heart, and never does.
2. Call to Adventure - Odysseus' call to adventure takes place while he is still in his ordinary world. Hermes travels from Mt. Olympus to tell Calypso that Zeus has declared that Odysseus is to be set free from her detainment of him. She assents to what her fellow immortal has told her, and she grudgingly relates the news to Odysseus that he is at liberty to finally leave her.
3. Refusal of the Call - When Odysseus is told this, he reacts to her in a very stubborn and pessimistic view of things. He talks about how he does not trust her devious mind and suspects her of hatching some trick against him, for he does not believe that she would ever willingly let him go with out making sure something bad were to befall him. So with this he for a time refuses her statement that he is emancipated from Ogyia.
4. Mentor - Odysseus' mentor figure is perhaps the single most significant factor of the lengthy poem that Homer writes for us. For the King of Ithacaís mentor and helper throughout his journeys, from the beginning of the Trojan War until he finally returns to Ithaca to reclaim his throne, is the bright-eyed goddess, Pallas Athena. She prompts him to have the courage to be able to act in many situations, she knows all and often uses this omnipotence to aid Odysseus, and she is the one who also aids his son, Telemachus, first by providing the impetus for him to search for news of his father around Achaea in the very first books of the "Odyssey". Throughout Odysseus' heroic journey, the immortal Athena plays a major role in the events that occur, by taking on the look of Mentes and other people along the journey of Odysseus.
5. First Threshold - The mighty Odysseus' first threshold is agreeing to leave the island of Calypso, after he has collected her binding oath, and as he sets sail homeward bound for Ithaca. The strong and just Prince begins his voyage home with the thought in mind of stopping off at some benevolent land and making friends and peace with those people, who will then help him furnish a ship and crew to finally assist him in his voyage home. This period of beginning to sail for home, after a long period of stagnation and frustration at not being able to get back to his homeland, comprise what is Odysseus' crossing the 1st threshold of his heroic journey.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - Odysseus' tests, allies, and enemies segment of his journey does not consist of many events. Although he faces many enemies and feats that he must overcome throughout his struggles getting home from Priamís city of Troy, at this point he faces only one major foe whom definitely provides a non-superficial test for him to pass, and only one entity, being the Phaecians, as his ally. As he begins his journey, Odysseus travels safely for many days, however the immortal curse bestowed upon him by the relentless and unforgiving Poseidon, god of the seas and earthquakes, is yet to befall him. At around the 29th day into the story of the "Odyssey", Poseidon is seething up on high about the release of Odysseus from the caption of Calypso, and still infuriated by the transgression that the hero waged against his son Polyphemus the Cyclops, he wrecks his raft and Odysseus drifts to the shores of Scheria. This is the island of the Phaecians, and after meeting the King of these peoples' daughter, Naussica, he is welcomed by King Alcinous and Queen Arete. After he stays at this great land which Homer portrays as being like the perfect utopian society, relating all of his past adventures and stories to the royal court and palace of Phaecia, he is given a great many gifts and set off in a great ship of these people to sail him quickly home. He finally reaches Ithaca with these great oarsmen rowing him on in their own ship, and finds that hefaces another challenge on coming home, perhaps even more trying than all the previous perils that he has faced outside of Ithaca, sailing around the great and mighty seas.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave - Odysseus approaches his inmost cave when he returns to his homeland and finally touches the ground of Ithaca once again. As he wakes up, after being dropped off by the Phaecian sailors, he is immediately confronted by Athena and she drapes him in the guise of an old man, and advises him to first go to the swineherd Eumaeus' field and home. He is now back finally on his own land, the homecoming that he has longed for intermittently, for the past twenty years! It must be with great concentration and self-control that he can keep himself from running to his palace and proclaiming his return, an act which would probably have been fatal for him. So he learns from his loyal Euameus all that has befallen his kingdom during his absence, primarily the troubles of the suitors lying in wait to marry his bride Penelope. After learning all this, and meeting his son Telemachus for the first time grown-up, these two lay a plan and trap so that they may slowly test the suitors and all the servants of the palace for their loyalty and their resolve before finally slaying all that have wronged the great and now returned Odysseus.
8. Supreme Ordeal - Odysseus' supreme ordeal is obviously facing the suitors and all those that have wronged him. He scrupulously and painstakingly draws out the time between when he first arrives and when he will attack. He remains under the guise of the old man, even up until the time when he kills the first suitor. Only he, the hero, knows when the time will come for the attack. The only other person that knows it is coming is Telemachus, and he is only told to be ready for the sign from Odysseus, whenever he decides that he will wreak his ultimate revenge and unfurl his rage. Eventually Odysseus finds out who is loyal to him and who is not, then finally decides to do the deed that he has waited for with thoughts of blood for about two or days. He kills all of the suitors in a battle in the main courtyard of the palace, then has the disloyal maids also executed.
9. Reward - His reward is winning back his place of power and being able to be with his wife again, his son, and his surviving father.
10. The Road Back - I believe that Odysseus' road back can be symbolized by his journey on the road to see his father Laertes and bring him back so that he may live with him finally in peace in the palace. Odysseus has to face his last enemy in this denouement section of his journey in the object of the suitor's angry fathers who come after him with a hord from the city to kill Odysseus for his slaughter of the suitors. Odysseus, Telemachus, and even Laertes, of course with the help of the mentor Athena, fend of these aggressors and kill them too.
11. Resurrection - He is resurrected when he defeats this last enemy and can now take a reprieve from the constant threat of fighting and danger that has plagued him for two decades.
12. Return with the Elixir - The return with the elixir is when Odysseus and his loyal friends finally defeat his last threat to their survival, and peace is wrought over the entire place of Ithaca by Athena and the rest of the immortal gods up on high.
If the Iliad is about strength, the Odyssey is about cunning, a difference that becomes apparent in the very first lines of the epics. Whereas the Iliad tells the story of the rage of Achilles, the strongest hero in the Greek army, the Odyssey focuses on a "man of twists and turns" (1.1). Odysseus does have extraordinary strength, as he demonstrates in Book 21 by being the only man who can string the bow. But he relies much more on mind than muscle, a tendency that his encounters showcase. He knows that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, for example, and that, even if he were able to do so, he wouldn't be able to budge the boulder from the door. He thus schemes around his disadvantage in strength by exploiting Po1yphemus's stupidity. Though he does use violence to put out Polyphemus's single eye, this display of strength is part of a larger plan to deceive the brute. Similarly, Odysseus knows that he is no match for the host of strapping young suitors in his palace, so he makes the most of his other strength—his wits. Step by step, through disguises and deceptions, he arranges a situation in which he alone is armed and the suitors are locked in a room with him. With this setup, Achilles' superb talents as a warrior would enable him to accomplish what Odysseus does, but only Odysseus's strategic planning can bring about such a sure victory. Some of the tests in Odysseus's long, wandering ordeal seem to mock reliance on strength alone. No one can resist the Sirens' song, for example, but Odysseus gets an earful of the lovely melody by having his crew tie him up. Scylla and Charybdis cannot be beaten, but Odysseus can minimize his losses with prudent decision-making and careful navigation. Odysseus's encounter with Achilles in the underworld is a reminder: Achilles won great kleos, or glory, during his life, but that life was brief and ended violently. Odysseus, on the other hand, by virtue of his wits, will live to a ripe old age and is destined to die in peace.
In Book 24 of the Odyssey, a book deemed by some critics to be spurious, there is evidence for a functional reading that the slaughter of the Suitors may have gone beyond the culturally sanctioned bounds of politcal harmony and put the Ithacan community at risk of civil war. Laertes expects immediate repercussions for Odysseus' action against the Suitors - "....all the Ithacans will come down on us in a pack, at any time/ and rush the alarm through every island town!" (Fagels, pg. 479). The crux of the matter has been the claim of a returning King Odysseus against a community as represented by the Suitors who had long thought him dead. While the Suitors strike us as reprehensible, their seeking of cultural-political legitimacy through Penelope's hand in marriage is a legitimate political impulse. They do not set up camp in Odysseus' Palace until the eighth year of his post-Trojan War exile. Odysseus has been gone seventeen years when the Suitors arrive, and has been presumed dead for seven of them. Telemachus is incapable of ruling his own house, let alone the Ithacan confederation, when the Epic begins. Laertes' fear that All the Ithacans will retaliate is a fear that recognizes their basic claim that Odysseus is presumed dead and Ithaca must move on. While recognizing that the complaint of the Ithacan community against the bloodshed in the palace is a valid one, we also recognize that Odysseus himself has a valid greivance. He is a King who is being slowly dispossessed of his palace, his wife, and his son. In counterpoint to the legitimization of the Ithacan's anger by the Laertes' type of social proof, the herald Medon, whom Odysseus had spared at Telemachus instigation, tells the angry assembled mob of Ithacans that "Not without the hand/ of the deathless gods did Odysseus do these things!" (Fagels, pg. 482). Medon grants legitimacy for Odysseus' actions in front of the crowd - the social proof of which lay in their reaction to him: "Terror gripped them all, their faces ashen white." (Fagels, pg. 482) and then Halitherses speech condemning the actions of the Suitors - "What fine work they did, so blind, so reckless/ carving away the great wealth, affronting the wife/ of a great and famous man, telling themselves / that he'd return no more! So let things rest now..."(Fagels, pg. 482). Despite their terror of an Odysseus aided by the Gods, a majority of Ithacans decide to attack. The final scenes of Book 24 of the Odyssey present us with the apparent paradox of both competing claims, the Suitors (and Ithaca) versus Odysseus, as being functionally valid. An impasse seems to have been reached and civil war imminent. More than half the Ithacans support action against Odysseus, but the Gods seem to be on the side of the returning king. The resolution of the conflict seems beyond human agency and the somewhat, to modern ears, deus ex machina ending with Zeus and Athena sort of wrapping things up with reconciliation via 'forgetfulness' betrays the Greek cultural sacredness of the idea of political harmony - "Let them be friends,/ devoted as in the old days. Let peace and wealth/ come cresting through the land." (Fagel, pg. 493). Odysseus himself will be reminded of this when Athena wheels on him with threats of Zeus' vengeance, and he desists, "glad at heart", for the Man of Many Turns know a King is no King without a people to rule.
The plays take their keynote from a saying by the chorus early in Agamemnon: "we must suffer, suffer into truth" (p. 109). From the outset of the trilogy, we are immersed in a world already full of the misery of the Trojan War and stained by the murderous House of Atreus. In each generation, there have been acts of violence and retribution, intermingling the private and public realms, that have called forth further vendettas in a seemingly endless chain. The facts in each case are indisputable: Agamemnon has sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia ten years earlier to advance his campaign against Troy; in the Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra kills Agamemnon to avenge the sacrifice; in The Libation Bearers, Orestes kills his mother Clytaemnestra in retaliation for her killing of Agamemnon. What Aeschylus calls into question, both for his characters and for his spectators, is the meaning of each act. Does Agamemnon choose justly between the interests of his command and his fatherly love and duty? Is Clytaemnestra justified in carrying out the sentence she passed on Agamemnon? Is Orestes right to value vengeance for his father's death more than his mother's life? Progressively, the suffering that each of the main characters inflicts is weighed more and more heavily against the suffering that each undergoes in carrying out violence. The characters justify their actions, backed up by presumptions of what the gods may require them to do, but always coming nearer and nearer are the torments threatened by the Furies. In The Libation Bearers, after Orestes has killed his mother—assuming like so many before him that an act of revenge will resolve a troubled state of affairs—the Furies begin to torment his conscience, driving him from the place where he assumed he would recover his patrimony. Again, Aeschylus challenges us to suffer toward truth with his protagonist, asking how his seemingly just revenge can be reconciled with the intent of the Furies to punish the crime of matricide. Depicting the Furies as both fiercely reasonable and physically repugnant, Aeschylus asks us to understand their stature and authority. The culminating play in the trilogy, The Eumenides, brings the action of the drama out of the world of archaic history into the crucible of Athenian culture and thought, and therefore into the intellectual and civic world to which we are heirs. In the debates between Athena, Apollo, and the Furies, Aeschylus represents the elements that must be balanced and held in tension to create a resolute civic order. In making the exoneration of Orestes dependent on a tie vote of the jurors that is broken only by Athena's vote, a searching question is raised about the meaning of justice ordained by a court: What can make a verdict such as this one—justifiable manslaughter—more than a contradiction in terms? The metaphoric movement from darkness to light is present throughout the Oresteia. However, when the Furies become the Eumenides—the Kindly Ones—and are established as the guardians of the court, Aeschylus is asking us to consider the way in which law and the primitive, ferocious drives that are its source must combine to produce the energy and judiciousness that can make a society great and vigorous. Concluding with an ongoing torchlight procession of celebrants, the trilogy ultimately turns toward a rich chiaroscuro—a recognition of the necessity of controlling opposing forces in such a way that they complement each other.
When a person is accused of a crime they are either found innocent or guilty. This is the basic idea of justice and it is what many feel needs to happen if someone has done something controversial. In the play The Oresteia by Aeschylus, the story of Clytemnestra guilt or innocents is questioned. She does many things that people are not too happy with and those controversial actions throughout the story, mainly in the first part Agamemnon get her into the trouble. As we explore the case that builds against her innocents by exploring the killings of Agamemnon and Cassandra and the boastful expression about the killings.
This action causes a great deal of rage in Clytemnestra. One could very well understand why she would act this way. Clytemnestra see's the killing of her daughter as just being killed for her husband's gain. She also feels that he could have chosen a different virgin to sacrifice. One the other hand, if one looks at Agamemnon's problem they could be otherwise. Agamemnon was the general of his army and the leader that his men looked up to. So when the profit came to him saying I will give you wind for a virgin sacrifice he took it as sacrificing someone close to him. He thought along the lines that he was asked for a reason to be the one doing the actual sacrifice. So Agamemnon chooses his daughter the virgin and sacrificed her with good judgment for what was best for the army. The issue is that Clytemnestra does not see it this way and that is what causes the future events that make us to question her innocence.
Agamemnon is the husband of Clytemnestra, father of three and the leading General in the Trojan War. The Prophet Calchas approach Agamemnon and tells him that the sacrifice of a virgin will send wind to allow his troop's ships to get off to battle. Agamemnon decides to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to get the wind needed to go to battle. Iphigenia does not realize what is happening to her until it is too late. Although she tries to escape her fate, she still is given to Calchas as the virgin sacrifice. Clytemnestra has the ten years of the Trojan War to plan her revenge on Agamemnon. Upon his return Clytemnestra shows him some love. That love she showed quickly changes to rage and hatred when Clytemnestra she's Agamemnon with his mistress Cassandra. Even though Clytemnestra had planned the murder of her husband now she had another victim. Clytemnestra spends time with him and acts as if she is happy and in love. She then puts him in a robe and takes him to the bath. Clytemnestra then gives three swings with an ax in order to kill Agamemnon. Clytemnestra also plans to kill Cassandra so she calls in Cassandra. Cassandra knows that is she will be killed upon entering the house, but after some self deliberation she goes in anyway. So with the same ax that killed Agamemnon, Cassandra is now killed. Both of these acts are considered murder because the killing of another person is murder and murder is illegal. Now there are a few exceptions to this rule. If one looks at the case of Agamemnon killing Iphigenia, that was for a sacrifice that the Gods asked for. Although this can be seen as murder in the long run it really is not the same as the kind of murder that Clytemnestra committed. She had pre-meditated murder. There was the reasoning of revenge behind the whole idea of killing Agamemnon and Cassandra. A defense that Clytemnestra could use is the idea of blood vengeance. The idea of this is killing someone in your blood line for vengeance is accepted. The issue with this is that Agamemnon was not in Clytemnestra's blood line, they were married. Marriage bonds are not nearly as strong as blood bonds. This comes up later on in the story when Orestes kills Clytemnestra. This is more accepted because it is in the blood line. The killing of Cassandra was not exactly in Clytemnestra's original plan. When Clytemnestra saw Cassandra she was filled with rage, for the simple fact that this women had taken to bed her husband. One might argue that Clytemnestra did not really mean to kill Cassandra, it is just she was simply blinded by rage and hatred. But Clytemnestra called Cassandra in the house for the reason of killing her. So rage or not she still thought about killing her before she did it. By rethinking the murder she can't use the excuse of rage or hatred. The plotting of the murder of Agamemnon was a well thought out and well executed plan. Clytemnestra spent ten years thinking about killing him. For that reason alone Clytemnestra is guilty. She tells the Chorus, "I say you will see Agamemnon Dead...No words heal this" (1245-1247). She then continues on to discuss more of the thought of killing her husband with the Chorus. With the two dead Clytemnestra takes the two bodies out front of her home and displays the bodies. It is here that she then tells the story of how she killed the two. She goes into great detail about the blows she gave to Agamemnon and the way he screamed (1384). She says "I'm not ashamed to speak openly" (1373). She goes on to tell that she is proud of what she has does and does not feel bad about it. In line 1380 Clytemnestra says, "This is my work, I do not deny it," this shows that she knew exactly what she did. If one combines what she is saying in lines 1373 and 1380 she is speaking openly that she did and she does not care about what she has done. The manner in which she talks about the murders, she sounds proud. Someone who is innocent does not talk in a proud manner about what they have done. If one feels that they are innocent they tend to be sorry about what they do. Clytemnestra is not sorry about what she has done. Clytemnestra was a person of great guilt. She goes through the story plotting the death of her husband, committing the murder, and they discussing what she did. These are not the actions of an innocent person. Through the actions Clytemnestra commits she proves time and time again that she is guilty of the crimes she commits. For the actions she had her death was coming to her. She seems to have gotten exactly what she deserved.
Clytaemnestra does not invite the wrath of the Furies for killing
Agamemnon, for" that murder would not destroy one's flesh and blood" (E 210). Orestes, on the other hand, is relentlessly pursued by these ancient deities, who will stop only when he is made to pay "agony / for mother-killing agony" (E 266-67). Thus the old order, though it perpetuated endless violence and bloodshed, also upheld the mother's or the daughter's rights, even over those of the husband's. The Furies who preside over this order are subservient to no other god, for, as they claim, "The Fates who gave us power made us free" (E 352). They are roused to action by matricide but remain indifferent to the killing of a husband by his wife. However, when this state of affairs, "where justice and bloody slaughter are the same" (E 184) gives way to a more evolved form of justice culminating in the trial at the areopagus, the forces of patriarchy, too, win the day. Apollo's arguments in defense of Orestes are rabidly patriarchal, all based on the fundamental notion that a woman's life is worth less than that of a man. There are many inconsistencies in his strident justification of Clytaemnestra's murder. For instance, he abuses the Furies for their despicable blood-thirsty ethic, the endless cycle of revenge they set in motion, yet when they ask him why he commanded Orestes to kill his mother, he coolly admits that he "commanded him to avenge his father, what of it?" (E 201). Apollo seeks to replace the sanctity of the filial bond with the sanctity of marriage rites as the principle of justice: "Marriage of man and wife is Fate itself, / stronger than oaths, and Justice guards its life" (E 215-16). Along with this he makes an argument, albeit a very specious one, against the mother's rights.
The theme of "Revenge" is also closely connected with the theme of "Justice and Judgment." Agamemnon, if you remember, is only the first part of a three-part series of tragedies entitled the Oresteia. Most scholars think that the Oresteia as a whole charts the progress of ancient Greek civilization from an earlier stage, in which people took the law into their own hands, and a later stage in which crimes were punished by courts of law. According to this model, Agamemnon represents the more primitive stage that had to be corrected by later development. When looking at the whole trilogy, this might be a good way of thinking about it, but let's try not to get ahead of ourselves when looking at Agamemnon specifically. In reading the play, you'll notice that the word "justice" gets passed around quite a lot, sometimes in contexts very close to what we would call revenge. For example, at the end of the play, Aegisthus strikingly says that the murder of Agamemnon proves to him that the gods are just. Is there really a difference in Agamemnon between vengeance and justice? Is it possible to take justice into your own hands, or does doing so just make it revenge? What is the point of revenge, anyway?
It isn't hard to see the centrality of family to Libation Bearers. In the very first scene, we have two children paying homage to the spirit of their dead father; then they realize that they are brother and sister, which gives us a family reunion scene. The play's climax is an all-out battle of words between a mother and son, which ends with the mother being killed - talk about family drama. Probably the best way of thinking about the theme of family in Libation Bearers is that it sets the stage, or provides the context, puts up the venue, or whatever other metaphor you want to use, for the main themes of revenge and justice to play themselves out. Specifically, it's the context of family that makes it impossible for those themes to play themselves out in a straightforward way. As far families go, the royal house of Argos is about as dysfunctional it gets. This, in turn, shows how dysfunctional traditional ideas of revenge are.
In a patriarchal society like that of ancient Greece, it would be pretty hard to have a play with a fearsome female villain like Clytemnestra and not have the issue of gender play a prominent role. At many points in Agamemnon, we hear characters utter stereotyped views about women, but it isn't clear how much Aeschylus endorses these. For example, the Chorus frequently remarks on how women are irrational and don't pay attention to the facts. The Chorus members intend this as a criticism of Clytemnestra, but do we really see her being irrational or making factual mistakes? Evil though it is, Clytemnestra's murder plot definitely required careful (i.e., rational) planning, and she was right about the signal fire from Troy, which the Chorus doubted. Also, the Chorus is majorly wrong in mistaking the appearance of Clytemnestra for what it really means, when they can't believe she will be Agamemnon's killer.Clytemnestra's actions do, however bear out another cultural stereotype in the play: that women are untrustworthy. (Of course, it could also be said that Agamemnon is untrustworthy, since he sacrificed his own daughter.) At the end of the play, when the Chorus makes fun of Aegisthus by calling him a woman for not going to war and using deception to get back at Agamemnon, does this question or reinforce stereotypes? When Libation Bearers begins, the conservative gender norms of the ancient Greek world have already been violated. Clytemnestra, a woman, is in power along with her new boy-toy, Aegisthus, who everybody thinks is a wimp because he stayed home from the war. Many of the other characters express a determination to put an end to the ruling couple's violations of gender norms. Orestes is disgusted with what he sees as Aegisthus's effeminacy, while Electra prays to the spirit of her father to make her more "chaste" (141) than her mother. Notions of what is appropriate and inappropriate for women come to the forefront during Orestes's final debate with his mother. There, Orestes acts as a hardline defender of traditional, patriarchal values, with all the double standards they imply, while Clytemnestra defends a more liberal approach that sees things from a woman's point of view. Who wins the argument? Is it the same person who wins by force?
The theme of "Revenge" is also closely connected with the theme of "Justice and Judgment." Agamemnon, if you remember, is only the first part of a three-part series of tragedies entitled the Oresteia. Most scholars think that the Oresteia as a whole charts the progress of ancient Greek civilization from an earlier stage, in which people took the law into their own hands, and a later stage in which crimes were punished by courts of law. According to this model, Agamemnon represents the more primitive stage that had to be corrected by later development. When looking at the whole trilogy, this might be a good way of thinking about it, but let's try not to get ahead of ourselves when looking at Agamemnon specifically. In reading the play, you'll notice that the word "justice" gets passed around quite a lot, sometimes in contexts very close to what we would call revenge. For example, at the end of the play, Aegisthus strikingly says that the murder of Agamemnon proves to him that the gods are just. Is there really a difference in Agamemnon between vengeance and justice? Is it possible to take justice into your own hands, or does doing so just make it revenge? What is the point of revenge, anyway? In reading Libation Bearers, it's very important to remember that it is only Part 2 of a three-part series of tragedies called the Oresteia. Most scholars think that the Oresteia as a whole charts the progress of ancient Greek civilization from an earlier stage, in which people took the law into their own hands, to a later stage, in which crimes were punished by courts of law. Libation Bearers is a continuation of the morally ambiguous cycle of revenge begun in Agamemnon. The entire plot of Libation Bearers is headed at 100 mph towards one conclusion: Orestes's killing of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. When it happens, however, Orestes goes crazy, showing us that revenge just isn't the way to go. This leaves the door open for an exploration of using courts of law to deal out justice in Part 3 of the trilogy, Eumenides.
From just reading Agamemnon on its own, you might not immediately think that "Justice and Judgment" is its most important theme. Like, sure, it would be in your Top 10, but it probably wouldn't be top dog. Instead, you might want to put "Revenge" first, or maybe "Fate and Free Will." And that would be cool. So why are we putting it first? That's because "Justice and Judgment" is definitely the main theme of the Oresteia trilogy as a whole; as you may remember, Agamemnon is only the first part of this trilogy.

Appropriately enough, given that it's only part 1 of 3, the picture of justice that emerges from Agamemnon is pretty confused. Most characters in the play view it as a form of payback: you hurt me, so I hurt you. This gets complicated, however, like when Aegisthus considers it an act of justice to kill Agamemnon, even though Agamemnon never did anything directly to him. Instead, Aegisthus's variation on the payback theme would go something like this: your dad hurt my siblings and my dad, so I hurt you.

If this sounds more like revenge to you than justice, you're definitely on to something - but we'll talk about that more under the "Revenge" theme. For now, we'll simply point out one more problem about justice in Agamemnon: the idea that justice comes from Zeus, the king of the gods. This idea mainly comes from the Chorus, and it kind of makes sense, since Zeus likes to protect the laws of hospitality and nice stuff like that. The idea breaks down, however, when the Chorus claims (in line 1486) that Zeus is "all-causing" and "all-doing." If this is true, and Zeus is responsible for literally everything that happens, doesn't that mean he's responsible for injustice as well as justice? Or is injustice itself really justice, because it's all part of Zeus's plan? It would be pretty hard to argue that some of the things mentioned in the play - like the crime of Atreus - are really, deep down, in accordance with justice. So, basically, what we're getting at is that the treatment of justice in this play is a major mind-bender, and we can definitely tell why Aeschylus had to write two more plays just to get the issue under some sort of control. Just like in Agamemnon, Part 1 of the Oresteia, the themes of justice and revenge are very closely intertwined. In fact, you could say that the entire point of the trilogy is to tease out the subtle distinction between them. In reading the play, we've got to bear in mind that Orestes isn't hell-bent on killing his own mother (plus Aegisthus) just because he feels like it. Instead, he is doing it out of a deep sense of obligation to his father; basically, he is doing it out of a sense of justice. Not to mention the fact the Apollo told him he had to, or else. This makes us wonder if the gods are even just. If not, what standard of justice can there possibly be in the universe? We certainly don't know the answers to these questions - but Libation Bearers definitely forces us to ask them.