Imagery of Yokes and Nets
The central theme of the Agamemnon finds vivid expression in the recurrent images, especially of yokes and nets that trap human beings like animals. As the Chorus sing, it is Agamemnon who first puts on himself “the yoke-strap of compulsion” (line 218), consenting to sacrifice his daughter so that the Greek fleet may sail to Troy, and from that moment he is utterly ruthless. At the same time, it is Zeus who is first spoken of (again by the Chorus) as hurling “upon the towers of Troy / a net without holes, so that none full grown / nor any of the young could overleap / slaverys mighty / dragnet, of all-capturing destruction” (357-360). Zeus is carrying out justice in all this-yet it is so horrible. At the same time, human beings in carrying out that justice go beyond all bounds of piety and humanity, and again it is the imagery that conveys the impact, as the Herald who announces Agamemnons homecoming speaks:
Come, give him good greeting, for it is proper,
him who has uprooted Troy with the mattock of Zeus who does justice
with which the soil has been worked over.
And the altars and the seats of the god are vanished,
and the seed is perishing from all that land.
Such is the yoke that he has cast about the neck of Troy,
the senior chief born of Atreus, a man dear to the gods,
he that is come, worthiest of honor among men
now living! (524-532)
Here the recurrent image of the yoke is used just after the mention of the blasphemous destruction of the temples and altars, and just after the image of the working of the soil, which usually leads to the growth of seeds, is used for utter destruction. When Agamemnon refers to his army as “the Argive monster” (824) and “the ravening lion” (827), the feeling is strengthened that human beings become less than human when they carry out justice in this way, treating other human beings like animals.
The image of the net is taken up again by Clytemnestra: If Agamemnon had suffered as many wounds as false rumors told her he had, he would be “riddled with more holes than a net” (868). The tapestries she has spread before Agamemnon seem a visible form of the image, and when she boasts about the murder, she speaks of how she spoke falsely at first, in order to “fence up the nets / of harm to a height beyond overleaping” (1376), and speaks of the robe in which she entangled him for slaughter as “a covering inextricable, like a net for fish” (1382).She has treated him as less than human, and in so doing she has become less than human-the Chorus speaks of her as gloating over his body “like an evil crow” (1472) and of Agamemnon as lying “in this spiders web” (1492).
Aegisthus completes the image pattern by threatening to yoke any citizen who dares to disobey him “with a heavy yoke” (1640). The heavy sense of hopelessness that pervades the play is deepened and strengthened by the imagery throughout.