Question: Evaluate Agamemnon as a Tragic Hero.
In Poetics, Aristotle defines a tragic hero in general as a decent man of the elite who is reduced from a higher state to a lower state due to character weakness, which causes errors in judgment. Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero includes five characteristics. Hamartia is an error or big mistake of the verdict. Hubris is violence that is offensive to the gods or disrespectful to others. Peripeteia is a retrospective of fate. Anagnorisis is when the tragic hero realizes the opposite of fate and then fate should be very cruel to the hero. Agamemnon fits this description of a tragic hero.
Decent man of the elite class
Agamemnon meets the first two requirements of a tragic hero: nobility and morality. He is referred to as the “twin throned and twin sceptered”. Erich Segal calls him a gentleman because he loves his family and devotes himself to his country and religion. Agamemnon leaves his men to help his brother Menelaus and fights to rescue his brother’s wife Helen. He also shows his love for Iphigenia, calling her the beauty of his home and even blessing her with wine whenever she sings at dinner. After the sacrifice, he shows grief and guilt. Agamemnon’s devotion reaches out to his people and the gods. Realizing the fate of a mortal man walking on the purple carpet, he also reverently worshiped the Greek gods. Agamemnon’s love and loyalty to his family, country, and religion portrayed him as a decent man of the elite class.
Excessive pride or hubris
Despite his positive traits, Agamemnon is flawed because he is ignorant, weak, ambitious, greedy, selfish, and proud. Upon arriving at the palace, he speaks of how he had won the battle and brought the city of Troy to the brink of destruction. Although he greets his gods, Agamemnon does not praise them as his best. Instead, he calls them almost as if they were his equals. It is expressed in the following ways;
“I salute my gods, my accomplices who brought me home and won my rights from Priam’s Troy.”
Thus, Agamemnon almost compares the gods to his lieutenants on the battlefield. So, we see that Agamemnon shows great contempt for the gods.
Another example of insanity is that Clytemnestra cunningly persuades Agamemnon to walk to the palace on the red carpet. Although Agamemnon realizes this is wrong and says “give me the tributes of a man and not a god”, he is very proud of his accomplishments and thinks he should be worshiped as a god. Thus, in his opening speech, Agamemnon shows the arrogance that the ancient Greeks called Hubris.
Both hamartia and hubris
Agamemnon destroyed the temple during the Battle of Troy. The Herald tells us, “The altars and shrines to her gods have been destroyed”. This act can be counted as both hamartia and hubris because destroying the temple of a god must be offensive to the god. Another example of hamartia and hubris is that Agamemnon kidnapped Cassandra, a high priestess and favorite of her gods. Once again, by taking her back to Argos as his lover, the king has shown his arrogance. He even sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to procure the wind he needed to sail to Troy with his army. Thus, it is justified that Agamemnon’s life is packed with tragic flaws.
Peripeteia or sudden reversal of fortune
After returning from victory in the war, Agamemnon’s fortune gets changed. After a victory, he is on a high note only to be killed soon by his own wife Clytemnestra but he could not notice a certain point in time this opposite. His death is also extremely cruel for what he has done. Agamemnon was in the bathtub when Clytemnestra threw a net over him and struck him three times with an ax. With these examples, it is entirely possible to consider Agamemnon as a tragic hero.
Catharsis or the purgation of emotions
According to Aristotle, catharsis has three distinct parts. The first part of this is the purification episode, where all emotions except pity and fear are removed. The next stage, distillation, is when the emotions of compassion and fear are strong. Finally, the last stage of the catharsis process is purging, when the emotions of compassion and fear are forcibly removed. The purpose of catharsis is to free people from their emotions. Cassandra dreams a dream about Agamemnon’s death and with tearful eyes says to the chorus; “little shall I gain by flight.” However, we may condemn Agamemnon for sacrificing his innocent daughter Iphigenia but he was ordered by Zeus to take revenge on Paris which is why he faced a great dilemma and is finally killed in a brutal way. So, catharsis is justified in the case of Agamemnon as a tragic hero.
In the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Agamemnon leaves his wife Clytemnestra to rule his country while he fights the Trojan War and returns with the hope of a loving welcome. Ambition makes him sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia and leave his country to help others. Pride allows him to surrender to his wife, to walk on the purple carpet, and disrespect the gods. Clytemnestra’s revenge leads her to kill her husband. Because of his flawed character, Agamemnon makes the wrong decision, thus causing his downfall.