Study Guide

Agamemnon Fate and Free Will

By Aeschylus

Fate and Free Will

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."

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Does Agamemnon portray fate and free will as complete opposites, or is there some wiggle-room between the two ideas?
  2. Does Agamemnon have a choice when he sacrifices Iphigenia at Aulis?
  3. According to Agamemnon, does knowing the future provide any sort of advantage? Does it provide a disadvantage? Does it matter at all?
  4. If Agamemnon did not have free choice over his actions, is it fair for him to be punished?

Chew on This

Agamemnon freely chose to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia.

It does not matter whether Agamemnon freely chose to sacrifice his daughter or not; those who commit crimes should be punished, whether or not they intended to commit them.