In asking this question we must remember to look at both sides of the ‘coin’. On one hand we have Agamemnon’s uncompromising position and his good qualities, and on the other, we have Clytemnestra and her reasons for killing her husband. We shall start with Agamemnon.
The first time we hear of Agamemnon is from the Watchman in the opening scene. He speaks of the feeling of longing he has to take his master’s hand in his. The Chorus are ready to criticize the king when they feel he deserves it, but clearly respect and love him. He must have ruled well before the war, or the simple fact that he is the rightful king would not have generated such good will for him. Moving on to Iphigenia, no one questioned that the war against Troy was a just war, since the city, by sheltering Paris and Helen, shares the guilt of the violation of Xenia, the sacred bond of hospitality between guest and host. Also, all the Greek leaders had taken a solemn oath before Helen chose her husband that they would all wage war against any who took her unjustly. Yet the war cannot be fought if the ships cannot sail with the help of the winds, that the goddess Artemis refuses to let blow unless a sacrifice is made, and it is clear that these winds will only blow if Iphigenia is sacrificed to appease Artemis who demanded an innocent life be sacrificed in order to make up for all the innocent Trojans who will die in this war. Even though the Chorus condemn Agamemnon, they also repeated the words he spoke as he struggled with what to do, faced with such a decision to make, with only evil conclusions. They reported him as having felt the full horror of killing his daughter, but when faced with the whole army demanding that the sacrifice be made, they recognise that their demand was necessary.
Some people have criticised Agamemnon for yielding to Clytemnestra in walking on the precious tapestries. He feels the inappropriateness of him, a mere mortal, taking an honour due only to the gods, but he also seems to feel affection for his wife, if winning the victory means so much to her, he is willing to let her win. And his entrusting Cassandra to her, with the request that she be kind, the right of a man to take concubines was not unremarkable at that time, and he was no more unreasonable than any other man, in expecting his wife to accept the presence of a mistress. Moreover, he shows his humanity by requesting his wife to treat Cassandra with kindness and respect. It is not surprising, therefore, that Cassandra says no word against Agamemnon, and it strengthens the case for him immensely that she feels only horror at the prospect of his death at his wife’s hand. His case is underlined and strengthened, by the readiness of the Chorus to take up their sticks and die by Aegisthus’ hand rather than accept a tyrant, and by their longing for the coming of Orestes, the rightful heir.
However, we must also consider Clytemnestra and her reasons for killing Agamemnon. Clytemnestra is a strong woman caught in the midst of a world in which women are for being like men, yet horrified when women show the strength and courage of men. Our sympathy is drawn to her from the beginning, when the Watchman speaks of her as a woman with the capacity for wisdom equal to a man’s, yet the Chorus only honour her because she is Agamemnon’s wife, praise her for speaking like a sensible man, yet are ready to scorn her for believing the beacons just like a woman. Her bitter attitude is revealed when she constantly alludes, however ironically, to herself as a mere woman. By portraying her in this way, Aeschylus shows that he understood how hard it was to be a woman in a world where women were so undervalued by the men.
Homer only mentions Clytemnestra as a bad wife, one whose behaviour will make men distrust all women forever. Aeschylus, even though he probably did not sympathize with her as much as a modern audience would, still does her far more justice, and gives us a sympathetic enough portrayal that it is even possible to have more sympathy with Clytemnestra than Agamemnon, whatever Aeschylus intended. Aeschylus, even though he probably did not sympathize with her as much as any modern audience would, still does her far more justice, and gives us a sympathetic enough portrayal that it is even possible to have more sympathy with Clytemnestra than Agamemnon. In an early part of the play, it is Clytemnestra who sympathizes with the common soldiers who, now that Troy is taken, will finally be able to eat well and sleep peacefully in beds again. It is also Clytemnestra who sees clearly that the Greeks will only return safely if they honour the altars and temples in Troy, and neither the Herald nor Agamemnon says a word that indicates that they understand that their actions brought on the storm that destroyed so much of the fleet. Even the false words in which she speaks of her longing for her husband’s return remind us of the real suffering of the woman who must stay at home and wait while her husband fights, even if in this case what she is waiting for is the chance to avenge her daughter’s death. It goes without saying that the Chorus’s description of the suffering of Iphigenia rouses sympathy for her mother. Agamemnon told Clytemnestra to bring Iphigenia so that she could be married to Achilles, strongest of all Greek warriors. Aeschylus mentions garments that seem to be wedding garments, adding another drop of bitterness to what Clytemnestra had to suffer through. Agamemnon’s arrogance and weakness make him seem an inadequate husband for such a strong and intelligent woman as Clytemnestra.
All these factors, when put together make it possible for me to understand and forgive Clytemnestra, rather than believe that she is totally wrong and Agamemnon is innocent. Her wish to prevent more bloodshed completes this picture. She is hoping for a peace that will never come, and she will have to pay for what she did, but that, can be argued, is the most tragic of all.