Western Literature lesson 45

What was Aeschylus’s view of the Trojan war?

War is glory. Or so thought the ancient Greeks. Most of the Greek playwrights, especially Homer, portrayed their characters as godlike heroes. However war didn’t always end as perfectly as described in the old tales and Aeschylus realized this. He expressed antipathy concerning the Trojan War because the war brought shame, misery, and envy to everyone involved not just during the war but for a long time after.

In the Orestes Trilogy, Agamemnon, a significant big cheese from the T.W. was admired by the masses but portrayed as a cold husband and an arrogant king to the audience. His heroic career began with the egomaniacal sacrifice of his daughter to a goddess in order to fulfill his wish of fighting in glory with his men at Troy. He selfishly ignored his daughter’s pleas to live and his wife’s (Clytemnestra’s) motherly emotions. This left Clytemnestra to stew in her agonizing sorrow, anger, and hatred of the man for the decade following his departure. When at long last Agamemnon returned, a concubine arrived with him almost in mockery of his wife. But little did he know that in his absence Clytemnestra had been fooling around with his brother while plotting the ultimate revenge against her king. Aeschylus portrayed Clytemnestra as an innocent until her role as a shameful swinger and a miserable murderer could no longer be ignored. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra inadvertently worked together to bring dolor to their son Orestes throughout the entirety of the trilogy because he inherited the duty to right their wrongs.

While the TW itself was no picnic, as evidenced by these lines from Aeschylus in The Oresteia Trilogy, “They came back to widows, to fatherless children, to screams, to sobbing. The men came back as little clay jars full of sharp cinders,” the havoc it wreaked continued on into the future. Without a thought to what would happen to her son, and utterly bent upon her mission, Clytemnestra slyly rolled out the false red carpet for Agamemnon upon his arrival home and he became immediately apprehensive. However, before he could act on his suspicions, she struck like a viper and took her husband out. Apollo demanded that Aggie’s heir, Orestes, extract vengeance for his father’s untimely death by murdering Clytemnestra or else endure a double dose of banishment and leprosy. Understandably motivated, he went forth and performed the horrendous act. Dear Mama’s Furies rose up and attacked in vengeance. Orestes absconded to Athens where he collapsed to his knees and pleaded for a trial by the goddess Athena. Intrigued by his case, Athena gathered a court from the people of Athens with the Furies on one side and Apollo on the other. After vigorous debate, the Furies were tantalized into accepting a position of kindness in return for deification by the people of Athens. The situation only began to brighten for the characters when they turned to logical action and away from the original events of the war.

The Trojan War was a horrendous affair wrought over another’s envy of a man for his wife. This war was the cause of many heroes as well. But did these victors really entertain glory in their golden years? No! Agamemnon, one of the heroes, performed unspeakable acts and in turn was greeted by death with open arms. Clytemnestra’s sentence was pronounced and her son Orestes was left to carry out the grim details. By the end of the trilogy there remained only a broken family ruling a broken kingdom. (Which is a recipe for disaster.)

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