Character List


Clytaemestra Clytaemestra is the only character to appear in all three plays of the trilogy. She dominates the action of Agamemnon but has smaller roles in the other two plays. Many critics consider Clytaemestra the most impressive and fascinating woman in Greek tragedy. Her most important characteristic, as pointed out by the watchman in Agamemnon, is her "male strength of heart." She is proud, efficient, shrewd, and strong, and all these traits come into play when, practically unaided and without arousing suspicion, she plans and carries out a plot to commit murder. Indeed, Clytaemestra is so confident and so superior to those around her, including Agamemnon, that she often alludes to her plans more or less openly without fear of being detected. Clytaemestra is by far the strongest character in the play. This is most clearly demonstrated when, at various points, she forces Agamemnon, Aegisthus, and the Elders of Argos to bend to her will.

Although the trilogy covers a period of several years, Aeschylus does not show any changes in Clytaemestra's personality. This may be because any sign of weakness or remorse on her part would have lessened sympathy for Orestes in the last two plays, but it should also be remembered that Aeschylus' main interest as a tragedian was to dramatize conflicts between opposing forces or individuals, and not to examine the inner development of particular characters.

Orestes Orestes is the central figure of the trilogy. He is the main character of the second and third plays, and, though he does not appear in Agamemnon, he is mentioned frequently and his return home is predicted.

Orestes' most important characteristic is his belief in the justice of his cause and his determination to carry out the command of Apollo despite the moral and emotional qualms he occasionally feels. After the slaying of Clytaemestra, Orestes is embittered and on the verge of madness, but he never doubts that he has done the right thing. Even years of torment by the Furies in The Eumenides do not weaken this belief. Thus, though his dilemma is real and frightening, Orestes is a one-dimensional character who cannot arouse real empathy. That Aeschylus intended this is shown in The Eumenides, where Orestes is turned into a human symbol in the great moral conflict that is fought out on stage between Apollo, as representative of Zeus, and the Furies, as representative of the primitive, pre-Olympian religion. Orestes drops out of the action before the final scene of the play. He is completely forgotten while the conflict is resolved by Athene, and the remaining segment of the play concentrates on glorification of the Athenian way of life.

Electra Electra does not have anything near the importance given her by Sophocles and Euripides in their plays based on the same legend. Aeschylus uses her mainly to provide information for Orestes and to help strengthen his resolution by her presence. She has no real part in the plot to kill Clytaemestra and Aegisthus, and disappears early in The Choephori, the only play of the trilogy in which she appears.

Agamemnon Agamemnon is a powerful king, a great conqueror and leader of men, but as characterized by Aeschylus he has certain crucial weaknesses that lead to his downfall. Agamemnon is complacent, egotistical, and shallow. In his dramatic confrontation with Clytaemestra, Agamemnon blusters a bit and echoes some conventional religious sentiments, but he is easily trapped by her wily use of his own defects as weapons against him. Clytaemestra murders Agamemnon to avenge Iphigenia but would not have succeeded if his other sins — the desecration of the Trojan temples and his sacrilegious insolence in walking on the tapestry — had not aroused the wrath of the gods against him.

Aegisthus Aegisthus appears briefly in Agamemnon and The Choephori. Through an old enemy of Agamemnon and an accomplice in his murder, Aegisthus seems at base to be an ordinary man with no special attributes. He has common sense and some political ability but is no match for Clytaemestra, the woman whom he aids and eventually marries. In The Choephori, it is clear that Clytaemestra is the real ruler of Argos, though she pays Aegisthus some deference for the sake of appearances since he is a man and therefore officially the king.

Apollo God of the sun and prophecy. He appears as the defender of Orestes in The Eumenides.

Athene Goddess of wisdom and patroness of Athens. In The Eumenides, she establishes the new court, casts the deciding vote at the trial of Orestes, and afterward placates the Furies.

Cassandra The prophetess daughter of the king of Troy, she is the concubine of Agamemnon in Agamemnon.

Cilissa The former nurse of Orestes in The Choephori.

A Herald Announces the return of the army in Agamemnon.

Hermes The messenger god and patron of travelers, a mute character in The Eumenides.

A Priestess At the temple of Apollo in Delphi, she speaks the prologue of The Eumenides.

Pylades The companion of Orestes in The Choephori.

A Watchman Speaks the prologue of Agamemnon.

The Elders of Argos The chorus in Agamemnon.

Captive Serving Women The chorus in The Choephori.

The Furies The chorus in The Eumenides.

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