The Chorus' Composition of Helen
in the Agamemnon

Rebecca M. Muich

University of Illinois

In the Homeric tradition, Helen of Troy is given a full characterization: she interacts with other characters and she expresses her thoughts and opinions.  She is a full character, with a personality and a personal history that Homer weaves into his narrative.  In the Agamemnon, however, Helen has no definite characterization.  She does not appear bodily in the play, nor does she speak, even in the memories of the personae.  There is no information about her whereabouts during the play, nor do any of the personae bother to speculate about what happened to her after the war.  Nowhere in the play is there any clear explanation of why she is (or was) so desirable, valuable, and worth fighting for.  Yet even in this obvious absence, Helen is present in the play.  This paper will examine the characterization of Helen in the Agamemnon through the experiences of the personae of the play, as related by the chorus.  I will argue that Helen cannot be characterized as an individual with a defined personality, but rather as a conglomeration of personal experiences with her and the memory of her.   I will evaluate the attempts of the chorus to construct a role for Helen in the story of the Agamemnon.  They blame her explicitly for the war using the prepositions amphi, ouneka and diai.  They describe her transgression against her marriage to Menelaos as willful, saying she left rimpha, and that she was an active participant in her trangression using the damning words lipousa, agousa, and tlasa.  After placing the blame for the war firmly on her (absent) shoulders, the chorus speculates on the nature of her indescribable beauty as well as the destructive nature of power her beauty wields.  She is an anthos (743) and an agalma (741), but she is also dusedros and dusomilos (746), and even a supernatural numphiklautos Erinus (749).  She is a multi-faceted composition, full of qualities which are at once contradictory and complimentary.  I will also examine the phasma (415) of Helen which ruled the house of Menelaos, as told by the chorus.  Here Helen is described only in the context of Menelaos' memory of her, and the lingering images of her he alone could still see in his home.  The language Aescylus uses suggests that his memories of her are centered around her image: the stiboi (411) she leaves in the bed, the kolosson (417) that stand in the house, the opsis (425) that visits him in his sleep.  Her own attributes, her beauty, her personality, are not a part of these memories, only her charis (417), her indefinable sexual charm, the loss of which Menelaos is lamenting.  By investigating the words, images, memories, and conjectures made about Helen by the chorus, I will argue that Aescylus intended to create a compelling character in Helen by not creating anything at all, but rather allowing his chorus to compose a fantastic interpretation of personal experience and memory.

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