From 1996-2001 I taught in the
Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual
Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through
Aeschylus' Agamemnon Outline and Passages
The summary below has
been tailored to match the line numbers in Robert Fagles’ translation of
Aeschylus’ Oresteia. The line numbers are slightly different than in the
original Greek text.
finally sees signal fire signaling the end of the Trojan War
(old men of Argos) gives essential background about the cause and misery of the
Trojan War, and reveals real fear about what Clytemnestra has in store for the
returning Agamemnon (specific reference to the sacrifice of Iphigenia).
between Chorus Leader and Clytemnestra: the chorus does not trust that
Clytemnestra has good information about a Greek victory.
praises the gods, discusses political unrest in Argos.
Herald reports to
Chorus that the Greeks have won. Herald praises the gods and speaks of the
horrors of war. Clytemnestra enters briefly to say "I told you so" to
the Chorus and to announce that she will welcome Agamemnon. Exit
considers the tragedy of the feud.
addresses the Chorus: he thanks the gods. Clytemnestra addresses the Chorus in
Agamemnon's presence: she speaks of the hardship she endured waiting for news of
Agamemnon all these years.
She then addresses
Agamemnon, giving a speech renowned for its double-edged meaning and lots of
veiled references to the child he killed. She has her servants lay out red
carpets for Agamemnon, also with a double meaning. He orders Cassandra to be
given hospitality. Clytemnestra and Agamemnon enter the palace.
reflects on an unnamed terror they feel.
and asks Cassandra inside. Cassandra does not move, and Clytemnestra, angry,
Cassandra reveals to
the Chorus all that will happen inside the house, as well as knowledge of the
past (Curse of the House of Atreus) and future (the vengeance of Orestes). A
priestess of Apollo, she appears practically possessed as her speech goes on.
The Chorus cannot understand that she means that Clytemnestra, a woman, will be
Agamemnon's murderer. She enters the house to go to her doom.
Chorus expounds on the
evils of power. They identify Agamemnon as the recipient of his father’s curse
and bemoan the cycle of vengeance that will cause his death too to be avenged.
The Chorus running in
all different directions represents the political unrest caused by these events.
Clytemnestra reveals the body of Agamemnon, recounts the murder and explains why
she had a right to kill him.
Aegisthus gives his
story of vengeance, the child-feast that is part of the Curse of the House of
Atreus. Clytemnestra stops the fight between the Chorus and Aegisthus and his
men, claiming that the cycle has come to an end. No more killing.
In 1588-1594 the Chorus
explains the problem with the Mycenean system of justice. But the Chorus has
already suggested that Orestes should avenge the murder. The play ends with
Aegisthus and Clytemnestra as King and Queen of Mycenae.
Quotations/Passages The Agamemnon
'Obey, obey, or a heavy
doom will crush me! - /Oh but doom will crush me/once I rend my child,/the glory
of my house - /a father's hands are stained,/blood of a young girl streaks the
altar./Pain both ways and what is worse?' The Chorus quoting Agamemnon, (Ag.
Tell him that, and have
him come with speed,/the people's darling - how they long for him. And for his
wife,/may he return and find her true at hall,/just as the day he left her,
faithful to the last. Clytemnestra (Ag. 599-604)
Let the red stream flow
and bear him home/to the home he never hoped to see - Justice,/lead him in!
Leave all the rest to me./The spirit within me never yields to sleep. We will
set things right, with the god's help./We will do whatever Fate requires.
No...the house that
hates god,/ an echoing womb of guilt, kinsmen/torturing kinsmen,, severed
heads,/ slaughterhouse of heroes, soil streaming blood - Cassandra (Ag.
Once I betrayed him I
could never be believed. Cassandra (Ag. 1218)
We will die,/ but not
without some honor from the gods./ There will come another to avenge us, born to
kill his mother, born/his father's champion. A wanderer, a fugitive/driven off
his native land, he will come home/to cope the stones of hate that menace all he
loves./ The gods have drawn a monumental oath: as his father lies/upon the
ground he draws him home with power like a prayer. Cassandra (Ag. 1300-1308)
And now you sentence
me? - /you banish me from the city, curses breathing/down my neck? But he -
/name one charge you brought against him then./ He thought no more of it than
killing a beast,/and his flocks were rich, teeming in their fleece,/but he
sacrificed his own child, our daughter,/the agony I labored into love/to charm
away the savage winds of Thrace. Clytemnestra (Ag. 1436-1444)
No slave's death, I
think -/no stealthier than the death he dealt/our house and the offspring of our
loins,/Iphigenia, girl of tears./ Act for act, wound for wound! Clytemnestra
Let them howl - they're
impotent. You and I have power now./We will set the house in order once for all.
Clytemnestra (Ag. 1707-8)
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