Much can be expressed about the age old saying that the punishment must fit the crime, that if actions are committed, there must be an equal response, and that in all things there must—and will be—recompense. In the “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus, and later in the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by Homer, the character of Agamemnon serves as a direct, physical remnant of the theme that there will be learning through suffering.To this end, a look will now be taken at the character of Agamemnon and how his story reflects the main theme, as well as how this theme fits into the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.
”To begin with, Agamemnon’s story is one of suffering, from beginning to end. He is, essentially, a pawn of the gods and does their bidding because he understands that, while the deeds might be horrible and he will eventually pay for them, there is no other way. To appease the goddess Artemis and grant safe passage for his fleet of troops across the seas to Troy, Agamemnon is willing to commit the ultimate evil and sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia.Further, Agamemnon does so; it seems, for a fairly unreasonable price. To regain Helen, the woman for whom ballads are sung about her beauty—who enters into adulteress relationships on her own accord—hardly seems worth the cost of his own daughter’s blood.The word itself: suffer (to suffer, suffering) appears no less than ten times during the “Agamemnon” as one character after another relates their understanding of the term.
Even Agamemnon’s own wife, Clytemnestra, relates that she is “self-taught in suffering” (lns 985-986, the Oresteia). For Clytemnestra, suffering comes in the form of the brutal weight that a wife endures while her husband is away on a journey to carry out yet another, seemingly pointless, battle.And, in the end, when the weight of her endurances reaches the breaking point, Clytemnestra is willing to murder her own husband to end her brutal torture of self-taught suffering. In this, Clytemnestra does not suffer for the right reasons, and, essentially, does not learn from what she has endured. But, she is not the epic hero that Agamemnon is.
Furthermore, Agamemnon makes a guest spot in both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” and his purpose in both works is essentially the same: to show the heroes the cost of suffering based upon the parallels to his own. Agamemnon can be seen as a clever plot device, brought back into each tale to, yet again, demonstrate the theme of knowledge and learning through one’s suffering.In the “Iliad,” Agamemnon plays a bit of a role, citing the honor in fighting to the death, without fear for the afterlife. For, the gods have ordained one’s destiny and it is their “wisdom [that] rules the world” (ln 207, Book I, the Iliad). In this case, he is speaking specifically of the god Zeus, who has demanded yet another sacrifice at Agamemnon’s hands.He cries out that “I hate you most of all the warlords/ loved by the gods.
Always dear to your heart,/ strife, yes, and battles, the bloody grind of war” (lns 208-210, Book I, the Iliad). Even Agamemnon seems to be a hero with a breaking point for the price of his suffering. But, it is through his suffering that he not only finds strength, but true knowledge as well.In the “Odyssey,” Agamemnon is used purely as a plot device to demonstrate the theme of knowledge through suffering.
It is his words that inform Odysseus of the events that have transpired, and even more, it is Agamemnon’s “death [that] presents a greater darkness, and so a starker foil for the luminous reunion of Odysseus and Penelope” (R. Fagles, 1996, p. 503).In the underworld, where Odysseus meets Agamemnon, the true dimension of Agamemnon’s suffering comes to the surface, to intertwine with Odysseus’ own. Indeed, Odysseus, as a man who spent the last ten years of his life trying to appease the gods enough to return home, understands suffering on a profound level and relates with a heavy heart to the sacrifices that Agamemnon has suffered through.
Moreover, the path to enlightenment, especially in Greek works such as these, has always been through the plight of the hero on his journey and the suffering that he must endure to reach such enlightenment. An epic hero will never attain enlightenment unless he experiences profound levels of suffering to not only appease the gods, but to learn a bit about himself and life in the process.A true hero cannot become a man renowned, about whom ballads will be sung, unless he understands, within an inch of his life, the ultimate sacrifice of friend and lover, or the requirement to place all others above himself to follow the path that the gods of destiny have decreed.Overall, in the “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus, and later in the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by Homer, the character of Agamemnon is essentially used as a plot device to highlight the theme that there has been, and will always be, at least for epic heroes, learning and knowledge through suffering.
Agamemnon, for his part, takes on the role of the epic sufferer in all three works, and it is his actions and, later consequences, that epitomize this theme.References.Aeschylus. The Oresteia.
(2003). A. A. Shapiro, P. Burian (Eds.).
New York: Oxford UP.Homer. The Iliad. (1990). R. Fagles (Ed.
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R. Fagles (Ed.). New York: Penguin Group.