Compare and contrast key character traits of Agamemnon and Medea.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Agamemnon and Medea are two intense characters in Greek literature.  Much of what they offer represent the very essence of human definition.  In both good and bad terms, they embody the reality of mortality and what it means to be "only human."  A point of comparison between both is their sense of focus and drive.  Simply put, both of them are singularly committed to accomplishing their end goals.  Agamemnon is possessed by the need to embrace Greek victory no matter the cost.  It is evident that the Gods are not pleased with the Greeks and thus are not able to set sail without divine blessing. Agamemnon's focus is evident in how he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to please Artemis and gain the divine blessing in order to set sail and to achieve victory. In a similar manner, Medea is focused in what it is she needs to do.  In her assistance to Jason, Medea does not equivocate.  She kills her brother, disobeys her father, and conjures up special potions and unguents in order to protect him.  She shows equal focus when she develops her plan for revenge against Jason.  When she kills her children, she shows little in way of regret or remourse.  One distinct similarity between both Medea and Agamemnon is their will to act.  They display that unique focus of a human being who covets something and will do anything to achieve it.

Another similarity is that both of them commit a fundamental violation of the nature of being in the world.  Agamemnon and Medea do not show much in way of fear or reticence about committing actions that do not keep an eye on the maintenance of the social or emotional order that surrounds them. Agamemnon kills his child.  Medea kills her brother and her own children.  In both settings, a loved one dies at their hands and both abdicate their natural responsibility as parents. This is a gruesome violation of the natural order that envelops human beings.  Aeschylus and Euripides use each as a demonstration of how human beings have to atone for violating the natural order of being. Agamemnon kills his daughter and is killed by his wife. Medea violates the bonds of being a sister and mother and suffers for her transgressions.  Both characters suffer for their own actions that violate the natural order of being in the world.

A distinct difference could be present in how each is perceived.  Agamemnon is seen as a commander who will do anything for his troops to experience success.  On the other hand, Medea is reviled for what she does to her children.  Gender might be a reason why they are perceived differently.  Both of them commit unspeakable acts towards those they love, but yet, they are seen in different lights, as a whole, and gender might be a reason for this.

Another difference might reside in their motivations behind their actions. Agamemnon sought the capture of Troy.  Why he does what he does is for this and this alone.  He shows himself to be a leader of men and ruler first, and a husband and father secondary or even tertiary. The emotional gap he has with his wife is part of the reason why she finds it so easy to cause harm to him. There is little subjective passion within him.  Yet, in Medea, there is nothing but passion in her actions. She loves Jason and does anything to be with him. When he betrays her, she is hurt and her passion causes her to take revenge. In both, there are specific differences behind why they do what they do.

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