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by Aeschylus

Agamemnon Gender Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.

Quote #1

(Chorus): "[Menelaus and Agamemnon's] loud and ringing cry was of war, from anger,
like vultures which in extreme anguish for their young
wheel and spiral high above their nests […].
On high, someone – either Apollo or Pan or Zeus –
hears the birds' wailed lament, the sharp cry of these settlers in their home,
and for the transgressors' later punishment sends a Fury.
In just this way the mighty Zeus who guards hospitality
sends Atreus' sons against Alexandros,
because of a woman with many husbands" (48-52, 55-62)

Here, the Chorus plays two ideas of womanhood off one another. One idea is that of a woman as mother and defender of her children, as symbolized by the vultures which are in agony because their young have been killed. The second is that of a woman as promiscuous, a "woman with many husbands." It's pretty easy to see that they regard one of these images as good and the other one as bad. But here's the weird thing: the good image of womanhood is actually applied to Agamemnon and Menelaus, who are compared to the vultures. Why do you think Agamemnon and Menelaus are compared to women in this instance? How does this connect up with the theme of Family running through the play?

Quote #2

(Chorus): "It is very like a woman in command
to concede gratitude before the facts appear:
too ready to persuade, a female ranges beyond her boundary,
quick to move; but doom is quick
for rumour when a woman spreads it, and it is destroyed." (483-487)

With these words, the Chorus expresses a stereotyped view of women as emotional and irrational. But, from your reading of the play as a whole, do you think the female characters in the play actually live up to this stereotype? As for the male characters, there are clearly some who are very rational and don't get their hopes up too early; both the Watchman and the Herald seem to fit this description (at least we think so). But are all the male characters this rational? Based on the way all of the characters in the play are depicted, do you think Aeschylus agrees with the Chorus's opinion of women?

Quote #3

(Clytemnestra): "I cried out my joy long ago, when the first night-messenger of fire came telling of Ilion's capture and destruction. And someone said in reproof, 'Have beacon-watchers persuaded you to think that Troy is now ransacked? Truly like a woman to let her heart be lifted!' Words such as those made me seem astray; nevertheless I went on sacrificing, and people in all parts of the city shrilled cries of joy in women's custom, in grateful triumph, lulling the fragrant flame that devoured their sacrifice at the gods' seats. And now, for the longer account, what need have you to give it me? I shall learn the whole story from my lord himself; and I must hasten to give my revered husband the best of welcomes now he has come back. For what light of day is sweeter to a wife to see than this, with the gates opened up when god has brought back her husband safely from campaign? Take this message away to my husband, to come as soon as possible; he is the city's beloved darling. As to his wife, I wish he may find her when he comes just as faithful in his home as the one he left behind, the house's watch-dog to him while hostile to ill-wishers, and similar in everything else, with no seal broken in the length of time; and I know no more of pleasure from another man, nor talk of blame, than I do of dipping bronze. There you have my boast; its fullness with the truth makes it no shame for a woman of my nobility to proclaim." (587-614)

We've quoted this entire long speech by Clytemnestra because of the sheer wealth of conflicting images of femininity it offers. At the beginning of the speech, we see her offering a counterargument to the sexist stereotypes presented by the Chorus in the previous quotation. Contrary to how they claim women typically behave, Clytemnestra says that she was right about the fact that Agamemnon was coming home, and so hadn't gotten her hopes up for no reason. She drives this point home by saying that she doesn't want to hear any more secondhand information, but will wait to hear what her husband has to say when he gets home. For the rest of the speech, she interweaves various ideas of traditional femininity, pointing out how much she loves her husband, and how faithful she has been to him while he was gone. Why do you think Aeschylus has Clytemnestra portray these two different images of womanhood in this speech?

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