Language in Aeschylus
Language is Aeschylus' juggernaut: he uses striking, innovative words to drive an image into the mind of his audience. Clytaemestra, notorious as a villain or perhaps an anti- heroine, effectively acts as a medium for Aeschylus’ brilliant rhetoric in Agamemnon. Clytaemestra’s rhetoric not only invokes vivid imagery, but also confuses and perverts spheres of logic and rhetoric: sacrifice with murder, liquids with cloth, and blood with wine. These images overturn the values and traditions of her society, symbolized by the chorus, by joining spheres that were customarily kept separate. Aeschylus’ perversion of values through the confusion of rhetorical spheres gives Clytaemestra ultimate power in the play and throughout the trilogy.
One of the ways Aeschylus builds Clytaemestra’s power at the play's climax is through the involution of murder depicted as a sacrifice. The ritual sacrifice, a sphage, served as a means of purification in antiquity (Lebek 80). In Agamemnon, the symbolic act of sacrifice becomes corrupted and equated with murder. Death, as a sacrifice, is a constant theme. It has been alluded to many times before Agamemnon's demise, always in the form of ritual sacrifice, but never as murder. The most obvious example is the mention of Iphigenia's sacrifice. Therefore, by the time the audience comprehends Clytaemestra's murderous act, it has seen a precedent set for murder mistaken as sacrifice. Clytaemestra boldly presents her position to the chorus: “I struck him twice. In two great cries of agony he buckled at the knees and fell. When he was down I struck him the third blow, in thanks and reverence to Zeus the lord of dead men underneath the ground.” She continues her plea, almost relishing in what she has done: “…and as he died he spattered me with the dark red and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood to make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds” (1389-1394). The three murderous blows that Clytaemestra strikes allude to the three libations offered during a normal sacrifice. Typically, one would offer three libations of wine: first to the Olympians, then to the Chthonians, and finally to Zeus, the Savior (Lebek 1-7). Clytaemestra corrupts the ritual sacrifice on several accounts. She offers blood rather than wine, sacrifices a king rather than an animal, and confuses the steps of the sacrificial ritual.
The first corruption of the ritual is the offering of blood rather than wine. It is not the first time that human remains have been offered for ritual feast instead of animal ones; the audience quickly remembers the feast of Atreus, perhaps the ultimate symbol of the impiety of the Atreides. By offering Agamemnon's blood as wine, Clytaemestra makes a connection with the feast a generation earlier. The second corruption concerns what is being sacrificed. Rather than killing some goat or bull, Clytaemestra murders her husband and king. Again, a...