Aeschylus’s View of the Trojan War

Many works of Greek literature featured the Trojan war, and warfare in general, as a central theme. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Trojan war was glorified and fought by heroic warriors for a noble cause. The mid 6th to 5th century BC playwright Aeschylus painted the Trojan war in a very different light in his play, Agamemnon.

In the play, the war with the Trojans had just ended and King Agamemnon was coming home. He had utterly devastated Troy and his soldiers looted and killed the defeated Trojans. There was no real victor in the war, because after the conquest of Troy all but one of Greece’s fleet sank in a storm.

Many results of the war were hatred and murder. In order to stop unfavorable winds, Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis with a profane attitude, arousing the hatred of his wife, Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra then got revenge for the death of Iphigenia by killing Agamemnon. When he had come home, Agamemnon accused all of the warriors who had fought by his side of envy (except for Odysseus). In Homer’s Iliad, the warriors who fought in the Trojan war were enthusiastic about fighting for what they thought was a worthy cause. In Agamemnon, there was a speech made by a herald that showed what was thought of the war:

“If I told what we went through-the hardships,
 wretched quarters, narrow berths,
the harsh conditions-was there anything we did not complain about?
We had our share of trouble every day.
And then on shore things were even worse.
We had to camp right by the enemy wall.
It was wet-dew from the sky and marshes soaked us.
Our clothes rotted. Our hair grew full of lice.
And it was freezing. The winters there,
beyond endurance, when snows from Ida
froze birds to death. And then the heat,
so hot at noon, the sea, without a ripple,
sank to sleep. . .”

 

The Trojan war started because of an extreme breach of etiquette by Paris, who stole Menelaus’s wife, Helen, while visiting his house. And what did the subsequent war have to show for it?  Only a few survivors from the thousand-ship fleet, a city in ashes, the death of Agamemnon’s daughter and the hatred of his wife, the death of the King at the hands of his wife, not to mention the decimation of the male population of Greece. Aeschylus obviously had a very different view of the Trojan war than most of the other writers of his time.

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