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Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon Essay

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Updated: Apr 17th, 2020


While effective leaders, both dead and living, speak volumes through their deeds, their ineffectual counterparts do so by words. Leadership lies not in the terminologies, but in the actions. Although the words may appear charming, provided they do not bring forth excellent results, then the leader is worthless.

A good leader ought to bear traits, likeable to its entire people, regardless of their gender, race, religion, and tribe. Dramatists have set out to address the issue of leadership defining what is and what is not expected in leaders. It comes in handy in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.

In Sophocles’ chef-d’oeuvre, Oedipus is an effective leader of Thebes, ambitious, development oriented and courageous, to mention a few. On the other hand, Clytemnestra, a character in Agamemnon, is the daughter of a king and a Greek leader. She stands out as a liquidator, vindictive, and one who lacks even the least of leadership attributes, for she cannot tackle minor issues like family disputes. Baxton says, “Clytemnestra is not a passive witness, but an agent of evil” (Para. 5).

While Oedipus is an effective leader of Thebes, Clytemnestra hardly bears what it takes one to pass for a leader in any society. Oedipus is a loving and a clever leader bearing some practical wisdom while Clytemnestra is a hatred-driven leader, a murderer who cannot stand in for his people when most needed.

Oedipus Vs Clytemnestra

Love is not the getting and having in times of joy, it is the giving, serving, and sharing in times of crisis. It is among the rare traits, which stand out only during predicaments. Without love, all is in vain, leadership included. It takes the will of an effective leader to restore peace in a plague-hit society.

Oedipus is such a leader, who assumes his full responsibility as a king to bring salvation to his people. The people find no solution of the hassle and opt to seek assistance from their leader who, out of love, responds. This is no more than a sign of the effectiveness of Oedipus the king because if it were not so, then his people could not have thought about him, as one who is able to restore peace for them.

To the surprise of his people, as they ask him to take action against their affliction, Oedipus responds to them that he has already dispatched a person to find out the reason as well as the underlying solution. In fact, Baxton posits that, “If it were not for Oedipus’ cleverness, the citizens would have suffered untold disasters at the merciless hands of the Sphinx. …Oedipus was well liked by the people of Thebes” (Para. 6).

In his attempts to follow up the murder case, he says, “Upon the murderer, I invoke this curse…whether he is…” (Potter Lines 246-249). His words show how he is out to free his people from the hands of murderers. Unfortunately, ineffective leaders are unlovable, detached, selfish, and irresponsible fellows whose leadership styles are ever wanting.

Clytemnestra cannot pass for an effective leader as the reactions of her people suggest. The song by the security guard pictures her leadership as all wanting. He sings, “only to weep again the pity of this house…no longer, as once, administered in the grand way” (Aeschylus Lines 16-18). He represents the rest of Clytemnestra’s subject, in his cry of poor governance and affliction. In fact, all the people claim that she is the root cause of their sufferings when they say, “for one woman’s promiscuous sake” (Aeschylus Line 62).

Unlike Oedipus, who receives warm love from his subjects, she is hated since she is an ineffective leader. Oedipus focuses his services towards his people while Clytemnestra is an egocentric leader who cares only for her needs. This is unlike effective leaders who portray high levels of selflessness like Oedipus.

Oedipus’ chief concern is the well-being of his subjects: a true spirit of a servant leadership. Baxton, referring to Oedipus says, “Oedipus acted without regard for who would benefit or suffer from the fruition of his inquiry“(Para. 7). When he sacrifices to unravel the truth behind Thebes’ conflicts, he says, “Time alone can make it clear a man is just while you can know a traitor in a day” (Sophocles Line 613). Oedipus, as an effective leader longs for peace to prevail amongst all the people of Thebes.

He does not serve to benefit some, but all his people and that is why he is seriously devoted to finding out the truth, which in turn will free his people from the bondage of struggles. To assert this, he declares, “I cannot yield my right to know the truth” (Sophocles Line 87). This is a sign of a leader, who can die for, rather than kill, his people. On the other hand, Clytemnestra stands out as one who is only after her own satisfaction.

Selfishness and irresponsibility describe the predominant characters of an inefficient leader. Clytemnestra bears such a description. Baxton observes, “Clytemnestra had to use her influence and persuasion to get everything she wanted” (Para. 5). Instead of taking care of the people she leads, she uses her powers as a leader to deprive them of their rights regardless of their innocence. She is far from forgiving because she cannot extend mercy to her very own husband. To feel emotionally satisfied, she kills him claiming not to love him.

This painful scenario represents the experience of the rest. When she tells her husband, “I never loved you! Tantalus you slew, my first dear husband; and my little son, you tore him from my breast” (Aeschylus Line 623), she pictures her case as a leader who cannot be liked by people. She is a murderer, rather than a savior, of her people as opposed to Oedipus’ caring nature. While Oedipus stands properly for his people, Clytemnestra pictures the reverse as the next paragraph elaborates.

Whether a leader is effective or ineffective, the content of their character will tell it all; surely, words can always lie; however, actions will always tell the difference between an effective and ineffective leader. An effective leader ought to represent his people and ought to reduce the weight of their burdens. Clytemnestra is not of this caliber. Instead, when approached by any of her people, she only leaves them with more sorrows, pains, and heavy laden with stress and depression.

For instance, when Cassandra seeks the solution of her fate from Clytemnestra, the leader says, “I’ll waste no time with the girl” (Aeschylus Line 1064). As a good leader, she ought to take time to check into Cassandra’s problem. She rudely drives her out saying, “take up the yoke that shall be yours” (Aeschylus Line 1071). She ventures into a lonely music with feelings of being unrepresented. According to her, loving Clytemnestra is just but a dream, far from reality.

In fact, she is being referred to as a wretched woman (Collard Para. 4) On the other hand, when Oedipus’ people approach him for a solution concerning the plague, he reveals a good representation of his people by seeking the solution of the problem even before they address it to him. They in turn love him for this because they feel represented unlike Clytemnestra, who cannot lead even her own children, a case that explains the mystery behind her death in the hands of her own children.


Though dead and forgotten, Sophocles and Aeschylus speak volumes through their works. Through the characters Oedipus and Clytemnestra, the two playwrights have pointed out different leadership practices that leaders depict, some of which are good while others are bad. Oedipus’ leadership practices qualifies him for an effective leader for he not only serves his people whole-heartedly, but also loves and represents them in a manner that makes them love him back.

However, Clytemnestra stands out as an illustration of leaders who, instead of serving for the benefit of their people, serve to satisfy their own desires and according to whom the old adage ‘the end justifies the means’ holds true. They can kill like Clytemnestra, provided they are satisfied in the end.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1953.

Baxton, Jeremy. The Drama: Its History, Literature, and Influence on Civilization. London: Historical Publishing Countries, 2002.

Collard, Christopher. Aeschylus Agamemnon. USA: University of California, 2001.

Potter, David. Oedipus Play Review. West Virginia: W.VA Press, 2003.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Ed. David Grene. USA: University of Chicago, 1991.

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