Mr. Reed, Ms. Van Leur
The Opposite Implications of Sacrifice in The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea and Agamemnon
Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Yukio Mishima’s the Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (referred to as the Sailor from here on) were written in completely different centuries. Despite the difference in the times the texts were written, both pieces of work convey many similar themes. One of the themes presented in both texts is sacrifice. The theme of sacrifice is present throughout the book but there are specific sacrifices substantial to the plot in both the books. In Agamemnon, the sacrifice of Iphigenia helps the reader understand the connotation associated with the theme of sacrifice, and in the Sailor, the sacrifice of Ryuji is helpful to understand the theme. In Agamemnon, sacrifice is presented with the association of bloodshed and negative repercussions however it is quite the contrary in the Sailor, since Yukio Mishima presents the idea and practice of sacrifice as a glorified act.
Primarily, the readers can note the opposite connotations that attached to sacrifice by examining the placement of the act of sacrifice in the book. In both novels, the theme of sacrifice is constantly present throughout the book however, the climatic sacrifice scene is not placed at the same area in the plot for both the books. In Agamemnon, the most substantial sacrifice is the one of Iphigenia done by Agamemnon. The readers learn about this event early on since it is placed in the beginning. In the beginning of the book, the chorus describes that there has been a “sacrifice unholy” and “the child shall be avenged.” (Aeschylus 151/155) The unholy sacrifice refers to the sacrifice of Iphigenia and avengement indicates the problems that will follow. The placement of the sacrifice in the beginning implies the author’s utilization of sacrifice as the root cause of problems. In fact, it was the sacrifice of Iphigenia is what provoked Clytaemnestra against Agamemnon and therefore caused much of the conflicts in the play. Since the readers are informed about the sacrifices early on, it makes it possible to note the repercussions that follow with it as the book advances. Overall, the sacrifice is the instigator of the problems and hence is placed early in the book. However, in The Sailor, the climatic sacrifice of Ryuji takes place in the very last chapter. The placement of the sacrifice at the end implies that sacrifice is the resolution. According to the chief who lead Ryuji’s sacrifice believed that the sacrifice was essential to returning Ryuji back to glory as he stated, “this is our last chance…to perform the deed essential to filling the emptiness of the world” (Mishima 167). This implies that the gang believed that sacrificing Ryuji was the right thing since the sacrifice was the only wat to put an end to the problem, the problem being Ryuji’s growing distance from glory. Therefore, in complete contrast to Agamemnon, The Sailor uses sacrifice as a positive conclusion rather than a problem instigator. Looking at the preceding observations, it can be concluded that Agamemnon sacrifice is presented with the association of bloodshed and negative repercussions since the sacrifice leads to problem development in the plot however it is quite the contrary in the Sailor, since Yukio Mishima presents the idea and practice of sacrifice as a glorified event which acts as a resolution.
Secondly, what sets the theme of sacrifice apart in both the books are the vastly different attitudes towards sacrifice. In Agamemnon the idea of making human sacrifice is regarded with attention since it is not very normal. They believe that the one who commits the sacrifice may pay great repercussions and consequently leading to violent consequences. Therefore, when king Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia there is a lot of opinions and talk around it. His sacrifice of Iphigenia is not taken lightly and as a consequence Clytaemnestra murders him for revenge. Soon after she takes revenge for the controversial sacrifice she states, “Iphigenia of the tears he dealt with even as he has suffered.” (Aeschylus 1525-1526) Essentially, Clytaemnestra believes that What Agamemnon suffered he made others suffer equally. Clytaemnestra’s revenge exemplifies that in Agamemnon, sacrifice posses many repercussions that the practitioner might face and some of which may include bloodshed, in this case the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra. On the contrary, in the Sailor, the gang attempts to normalize the practice of sacrificing. The gang perceived emotion as unnecessary and hence they trained themselves to a point in which sex, murder, or sacrifice did not invoke emotion. To achieve such a state, referred to as “absolute dispassion” they believed that everyone should be able to sacrifice and consequently practice it many times. The gang meets to practice killing a cat to achieve the emotionless state of mind. After committing the sacrifice, Noboru is content that he was able to commit the sacrifice of the cast without hesitating, and “a distant hand reached into Noboru’s dream and awarded him a snow-white certificate of merit.” (Mishima 61) This conveys that the gang believed that everyone should be able to sacrifice since it is normal, and hence when Noboru did succeed, he felt accomplished and a part of the regular. Overall, the attitudes towards sacrifices are greatly difference. Since in Agamemnon, it is believed that the practitioner may face grave consequences, however in the Sailor sacrifice is glorified by the gang and hence they believe that it is an act that everyone should be able to complete.
Lastly, the objective and results of the sacrifice also enhance the understanding of sacrifice in both novels. In Agamemnon the purpose of the sacrifice is more selfish compared to the sacrifice in the Sailor. The motives behind the sacrifice is what differs the negative connotation in Agamemnon and glorified version of sacrifice in the Sailor. Firstly, in Agamemnon the sacrifice done by the king of his daughter Iphigenia is solely for selfish reasons. Agamemnon “endured then to sacrifice his daughter to stay the strength of war waged for a woman, first offering for a ships’ sake.” (Aeschylus 223-227). Essentially, the sacrifice of Iphigenia was to please Artemis so that his fleet could sail, and he could be victorious in the war. It can be concluded that he wanted to sacrifice his daughter for tangible results and results that will solely benefit him. In fact, the selfishness associated with the sacrifice is what set the negative tone and resulted in Clytaemnestra’s crave for revenge. Conversely, in the Sailor the sacrifice is not executed for personal benefits, or a selfish reason. In fact, the gang sacrifices Ryuji to stop chaos and return Ryuji back to his destined glory. While planning the execution of the sacrifice, the chief explains that, “if a gear shifts out of place it’s our job to force it back into position. If we don’t order will turn to chaos.” (Mishima 162) The gear refers to Ryuji and putting him back in place means to return him to glory, which they believe is only possible by sacrificing him. The gang believes in the sacrifice is for a greater good, which is to avoid utter chaos. Unlike the sacrifice done in Agamemnon, this sacrifice did not have tangible results but was done with a will to improve and aid others. Thus, the difference in the objective of the sacrifice is what showcases the different connotations applied. Since the sacrifice was done selfishly in Agamemnon the entire theme of sacrifice was regarded with a negative connotation which ultimately lead to revenge being plotted and bloodshed. On the other hand, the selflessness motive of the gang behind the sacrifice of Ryuji is what glorified the theme of sacrifice in the Sailor.
In conclusion, there are constant occurrences of sacrifice in Agamemnon and the Sailor, but the tone associated with sacrifice is different in both pieces of work. In Aeschylus’s Agamemnon the sacrifice of Iphigenia is known to the readers from the beginning therefore all the problems proceeding after, such as the bloodshed of Agamemnon by the hands of Clytaemnestra are repercussions of sacrifice. However, in the Sailor, the sacrifice is the resolution ending all problems, therefore giving the act of sacrifice a more esteemed status within the book. The attitudes about sacrifice are different in the texts as well. In Agamemnon, sacrifice is a big deal to society and the practitioner faces consequences however in the Sailor the gang specifically believes that sacrifice is an essential skill everyone must be able to do. Lastly, negativity and bloodshed are associated with sacrifice in Agamemnon as a result of the selfish motive behind the sacrifice but however is glorified in the Sailor since the sacrifice was done for a greater good. Overall, sacrifice is constantly present within both the pieces however their connotative meanings suggests association of sacrifice with bloodshed and negative repercussions in Agamemnon and a glorified version in the Sailor.
Grene, David, et al. The Complete Greek Tragedies. University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Mishima, Yukio. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. Vintage Classic, 2015.