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Agamemnon, The Choephori, and The Eumenides


Study Help Essay Questions

1. Give a brief account of the legendary background of The Oresteia. Mention some tragedies based on elements of this legend by Greek dramatists other than Aeschylus.

2. Who speaks the prologue to Agamemnon? What is the purpose of this speech?

3. How is Agamemnon ultimately responsible for his own downfall? What sins is he guilty of committing?

4. How are Aeschylus' religious doctrines that wisdom is learned through suffering and that retribution comes to all sinners illustrated in Agamemnon? What attitude about Zeus and the Olympian gods is implied in Agamemnon?

5. Discuss the characterization of Clytaemestra in Agamemnon. What sort of woman is she? Why does she plot to murder her husband? Why is there little exploration of her emotional and psychological state?

6. What attitude about the Trojan War is stated in the odes of the chorus and the speech of the herald in Agamemnon? How does Aeschylus symbolically relate the fall of Troy to the fate of Agamemnon?

7. What is the purpose of the herald's account of the fate of Menelaus?

8. At what point does the dramatic climax of Agamemnon take place? Discuss the confrontation of Agamemnon and Clytaemestra. What does she want him to do and why? What is his initial reaction? How does she force him to give in to her wishes?

9. What story about herself is told by Cassandra? Why does the chorus ignore her prophecies? How does her speech broaden the meaning of the entire trilogy?

10. How does Clytaemestra behave after the murder of Agamemnon? What role does Aegisthus play in the final scene of Agamemnon?

11. Why does Orestes return to Argos? How much time has passed since the events in Agamemnon? Why does Orestes hide when Electra approaches?

12. How does Orestes identify himself to Electra? What signs that he was back had she already discovered? What is the purpose of this recognition scene? In what other Greek tragedy is this scene parodied?

13. Why is the portrayal of Orestes' personality one-dimensional? What is his dominant characteristic? What is the moral dilemma he faces? How is the oracle of Apollo responsible for his predicament?

14. How does Aeschylus' portrayal of Electra differ from those of Sophocles and Euripides? What is her role in The Choephori?

15. What is the meaning of the long lyrical passage at the tomb of Agamemnon in The Choephori? Who are the participants? What are their motives?

16. Give an account of Clytaemestra's dream, its meaning and poetic use.

17. Who is Cilissa? What is her role in The Choephori?

18. How does the chorus take an active part in the plot to kill Aegisthus and Clytaemestra? What is the effect of its interference?

19. How does Aegisthus react to the news that Orestes is dead? What is the relationship of Aegisthus to Clytaemestra?

20. Why does Orestes hesitate and turn to Pylades for advice before killing Clytaemestra? What does Pylades tell him? Why does this answer have great dramatic effect?

21. How does Clytaemestra behave when facing death? Does her character seem to have changed in the time since the events in Agamemnon?

22. How does Orestes react after killing his mother? What similarities are there between the endings of Agamemnon and The Choephori? What is the moral dilemma at the close of The Choephori?

23. Who speaks the prologue to The Eumenides? How does this speech generalize Orestes' predicament into a conflict between old and new conceptions of justice?

24. How is dramatic interest shifted away from the fate of Orestes in the conversation between Orestes and Apollo in the first scene of The Eumenides? What conflict is made the central theme of the play?

25. What purpose is served by the appearance of Clytaemestra's ghost?

26. What are the Furies? What moral principles do they enforce? Why is it that they never attempted to punish Clytaemestra for the murder of Agamemnon? Is the concept of lex talionis also found in the Bible?

27. What are the two conceptions of justice that are opposed at the trial of Orestes? By whom are they represented? Why does Athene establish a new court for the trial? Why is Orestes eventually acquitted on grounds that are irrelevant to the case?

28. How does Athene placate the Furies after the acquittal of Orestes? What is the meaning of their new name? What moral principles upheld by them will be maintained in the new social order?

29. Why does Orestes drop out of the action before the final scene of The Eumenides? What symbolic use has Aeschylus made of the story of the family of Atreus?

30. How is the conflict in The Eumenides resolved? What are the elements of the new social and moral dispensation, and what is its guiding principle? What is the purpose of the glorification of the Athenian way of life at the end of the play? What is the meaning of the closing pageant?

31. Discuss the main philosophical and religious themes of The Oresteia. What is the place of The Oresteia in the history of drama?

32. Discuss Aristotle's definitions of tragedy and the tragic hero and their application to the three plays of The Oresteia.

33. Give a brief account of Aeschylus' career as a tragedian, mentioning the innovations for which he is responsible and some of his more important dramatic works.

34. Identify by play and function the following characters: Cassandra, Aegisthus, Pylades, Electra, Athene, Cilissa, Apollo, Hermes, A Priestess, A Watchman, A Herald.

35. Identify the following figures in the legend that provides the background of The Oresteia: Iphigenia, Helen, Menelaus, Paris, Thyestes, Atreus, Calchas, Artemis.

36. Define: prologue, parodos, episode, stasimon, exodos, orchestra, skene, thymele, Thespis, dithyramb, Poetics, Proteus, trilogy, tetralogy, City Dionysia, Theater of Dionysus, Trojan War, Argos, Phocis, Sparta, Aulis, Delphi, Court of the Areopagus.