Would Clytemnestra have been a better title for Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon?
Greek society placed all non-Greeks as barbarians. Within this society, man must be competitive and heroic and women were to be loyal and unassuming. One of the constant themes which runs throughout Aeschylus’ play is the role reversal between male characters and Clytemnestra. It can be seen with the chorus, Agamemnon and Aegisthus; Clytemnestra often openly displays pride, intelligence, cunning and violence.
The irony in this play is that Clytemnestra is only a woman and yet she presumes to deceive and murder her own husband, the great and invincible son of Atreus. However the Oresteia as a whole is not just a story of the fate of one man and the revenge another exacts. Naming the first play “Clytemnestra” would constrain the entire trilogy to the internal bickering of one violent family headed by a strong “child - avenging Fury”. The “Agamemnon” is more than that, generations are judged and found wanting, wealth is revealed as impotent against Fate and revenge is exposed as the vicious downward spiral into demonic evil.
Aeschylus achieved much by naming his first play “Agamemnon”: it provided him with a vehicle with which to teach his audience the dangers of arrogance, pride and selfishness. In simple terms, Agamemnon the man is punished by death in the form of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus for the sacrifice of Iphigenia and hubris against the gods. The needless destruction of Troy and the monstrous actions of the line of Tantalos can be incorporated to show the escalating ferocity of revenge and inherent badness. When Aeschylus called his first play “Agamemnon”, I do not believe he was referring to the man but to the themes of evil, revenge and justice which Aeschylus displays in the stricken members of the play in the form of a curse in the midst of which everyone was - without knowing it.
Calling this play “Clytemnestra” would not have been a good idea; it would be the same as calling the Bible “Jesus: His story” - the content would be similar but the essence of the message would be lost.
Emma Hunt A1D