Essay One, Wordcount: 2029
4 October 2014
The Role of Feminine Rhetoric
Aeschylus’s The Oresteia explores the nuances of persuasive rhetoric. One of the most verbally powerful characters of the play, Clytaemestra, maintains her command solely through her effective use of persuasion. At the point in Greek history when The Oresteia takes place, war is in an interlude and the remaining warriors of the Trojan War carry out with their nostoi, or homecomings. Since the power of physical strength is no longer a driving force in Greek culture, as war no longer dominates society, this art of the womanly deception of speech evolves into the most powerful means of control in Greek society. The fervor of speech retains a feminine connotation because women were deemed duplicitous and conniving on a much broader level than men ever were. Masculine speech encompassed more political or public matters. Aeschylus develops this notion through Clytaemestra’s character by offering her a voice of intelligent deception, so illusory to the point of being masculine. In each play of The Oresteia, Clytaemestra employs specific rhetorical devices tailored to the audience she intends to cajole in her favor. She effectively alters the mode of her persuasion depending on the gender of her audience and her audience’s personal relationship witha her. Although Clytaemestra eventually meets her downfall due to a lapse in poise, her rhetoric introduces to the audience the idea that the confident and clever manipulation of words can play a pivotal role in influencing others’ decisions.
Clytaemestra first employs her art of deception as she convinces Agamemnon, her husband, to traipse on the holy tapestries that are meant only for the gods. Although Agamemnon retains the dominant masculine role in their relationship, Clytaemestra’s subterfuge of words connotes that she truly possesses the power in their marriage. After her husband initially refuses her suggestion of stepping foot on the tapestries, Clytaemestra tailors her persuasion to erode her husband’s willpower. She preys upon the qualities that make Agamemnon who he is, a proud warrior, by asserting her mental autonomy, revoking from Agamemnon the comfort of having a subordinate and submissive wife. Her diction is notably direct in stating, “Yet tell me this one thing and do not cross my will” (Agamemnon. 931). Phrased as a mandate instead of a question or a mere request, this statement suggests female dominance uncharacteristic of a Greek warrior’s supposedly subservient wife. In response, Agamemnon asserts, “My will is mine. I shall not make it soft for you” (Ag. 932). With this, Clytaemestra savors the challenge of inducing her husband to fulfill her wish. She targets her persuasion at Agamemnon’s pride by asking him, “Might you in fear have vowed to do such things for god?” (Ag. 933). This mention of “fear” taps into Agamemnon’s intrinsic avoidance of dishonor, thus compelling him to continue the conversation in an effort to protect his honor. Clytaemestra resumes her interrogation by questioning Agamemnon’s valor in comparison to the king of Troy’s valor by asking, “If Priam had won as you have, what would he have done?” (Ag. 935). This question serves as a point at which Agamemnon has no choice but to lay foot on the tapestries; he may either submit to being lesser in heroism than Priam would have been if Troy had won or he may walk on the tapestries as a man of god-like nobility. The final reinforcement of Clytaemestra’s persuasive power over her husband is revealed as Clytaemestra proclaims, “Oh yield! The power is yours. Freely give way to me” (944). Seemingly a type of convoluted oxymoron, this contradictory statement illustrates Clytaemestra’s devious means of convincing. Clytaemestra ingeniously inveigles her husband into a rhetorical trap, in which she knows he will not jeopardize his honor. Her use of rhetoric, which is so artfully customized...
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