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35 Cards in this Set

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Agamemnon
A Watchman, atop the roof of the palace in the Greek city of Argos, complains that he has spent so much time in this perch that he knows the night sky by heart. He is waiting for a beacon that will signal the fall of Troy, which has been besieged for ten years by a Greek army led by Agamemnon, the king of Argos. Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, governs Argos in her husband's absence, and, while the Watchman says that she has "male strength of heart," (11) the absence of the king makes him fearful. "I sing," he declares, "only to weep again the pity of this house / no longer, as once, administered in the grand way" (16-18).
Agamemnon
The beacon flares, signaling Troy's fall, and the Watchman leaps up and cries out with joy at the news, and rushes inside to tell the Queen. The Chorus, an assembly of Argos' oldest and wisest male citizens, comes onstage and discusses the history of the Trojan War. They recount how Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus, the king of Sparta, gathered a huge fleet and army to recapture Helen, Menelaus' wife, who was stolen by Paris, a Prince of Troy; and they discuss how the Greeks and Trojans have spent ten years wearing themselves out in battle. Meanwhile, the old men of Argos (the men too old to fight) are growing weaker and weaker in their old age.
Agamemnon
Clytemnestra joins them, and the Chorus demands to know why she has ordered sacrifices to all the gods and celebrations throughout the city. Before she answers, they recall the terrible story of how the Greek fleet, on its way to Troy, was trapped in Aulis by unfavorable winds, and how Agamemnon learned that the winds were sent by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. In order to appease her and sail on to Troy, Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia; the Chorus describes in detail her pitiful cries for mercy as her father's men cut her throat.
Agamemnon
When the Chorus finishes recounting the story of Iphigenia, they again ask Clytemnestra to explain her sacrifices. She tells them that Troy has fallen to the Greeks. They wonder whether she has dreamed this, or perhaps heard a rumor. The Queen dismisses these suggestions with contempt, saying that she is not foolish enough to believe dreams or hearsay, and tells the Chorus how a system of beacons, stretching across the Greek islands, has carried the news from Troy to Argos. She pictures the slaughter inside the walls of Troy, and hopes that the Greeks will commit no offenses against the gods that would hinder a safe journey home.
Agamemnon
The Chorus gives thanks to Zeus for the victory and says that Troy deserved destruction as punishment for the crime of Paris; Helen's eloping with the Trojan prince brought doom upon his city. Then they think of the terrible cost of the war: "The god of war, money changer of dead bodies, / held the balance of his spear in the fighting, / and from the corpse-fires at Ilium / sent their dearest the dust / heavy and bitter with tears shed / packing smooth the urns with / ashes that once were men" (438-44). Meanwhile, all is not well at home; the losses suffered in the war have made the citizens of Argos grumble, and the Chorus worries that the heroes of the battles outside Troy may be made to pay for their triumph: "the gods fail not to mark / those who have killed many" (461-62). They wonder whether it is better not to be humble since the gods often punish mortals who rise too high.
Agamemnon
The Chorus debates whether to believe the news that the beacons have transmitted. "Perhaps the gods have sent some lie to us," some worry, while others argue that Clytemnesta is celebrating too soon (478). One of the Chorus members sees a Herald arriving from the beach, and they agree that this man's news will reveal what has truly transpired in Troy.
Agamemnon
The Herald expresses his relief at returning to Argos after ten years abroad, saying that he never dared to hope that he would see his home again. He greets the Chorus and hails all the gods and monuments of his native city, announcing that Agamemnon is returning in triumph, after defeating Troy and avenging Paris' crime. The Chorus tells him to rejoice, and adds that the city has grown fearful in the absence of its young warriors. The Herald insists that however much they have suffered, the warriors suffered more. He goes on to describe the trials they endured during the siege of Troy: the cramped ships that carried them there, the terrible weather, the deaths of countless men. Now they have triumphed, and their deeds will be heralded forever. Both the army and the city are eternally blessed.
Agamemnon
Clytemnestra steps forward, and notes that she heard the news first and ordered sacrifices in spite of old men's doubts. Now she orders the Herald to return to Agamemnon and to tell him to return quickly because she (who has been faithful all these years) yearns for his strong presence in their house. The Herald notes that her speech sounds noble and fitting for the wife of the King. Before he leaves, the Chorus asks about the fate of Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, and the Herald becomes displeased: "It is not well to stain the blessing of this day / with such evil speech," he says (636-37). He proceeds to tell them how the Greek fleet endured a powerful storm when they departed Troy that battered their fleet and sank many ships. Somehow, Agamemnon's ship escaped harm, but when the storm had passed Menelaus had disappeared. He may have survived, and may even be safe somewhere, believing Agamemnon to be lost--"if any of them come back he (Menelaus) will be the first" (675)--but for now his fate remains unknown.
Agamemnon
After delivering the unhappy news about Menelaus, the Herald departs. The Chorus speaks of Helen again, discussing how appropriate her name (which means "death") is, since she has brought so much destruction and suffering on those around her- -in Greece, which lost so many lives attempting to recapture her, and in Troy, which was destroyed in fighting to keep her. They reflect on the idea that virtuous families often suffer despite their goodness, but conclude that the opposite is true: "only the act of evil / breeds others to follow . . . houses clear in their right are given children in all loveliness" (758-62). Inflated human pride leads to suffering and death, not righteousness.
Agamemnon
Now Agamemnon arrives, riding in a chariot with Cassandra beside him. The Chorus hails him, and confesses to having doubted his wisdom in making war on Troy; now he has triumphed and they owe him praise. Agamemnon gives thanks to the gods for their part in his victory at Troy, and tells the Chorus that he hears their words--that the most loyal man serves obediently even if he disagrees with the ruler. He promises to see to "the business of the city and the gods" by keeping honest leaders in power and ending corruption (844).
Agamemnon
Clytemnestra comes forward, now, and greets the King, declaring her passionate love for him and describing the sufferings of a wife who waits at home while her husband wages war. Every day brought a new rumor of his death or injury: "Had Agamemnon taken all / the wounds the tale whereof was carried home to me, / he had been cut full of gashes like a fishing net" (866-68). Meanwhile, fearing revolution at home, she sent their son Orestes away to stay with friends in another city. Now her suffering and solitude are over, and she can rejoice in his homecoming. She has asked her maidens to prepare a bright purple carpet for Agamemnon so that his feet need not touch the earth as he enters the palace.
Agamemnon
Agamemnon rebukes his wife for laying the carpet before him saying that, were he to walk on it, he would display unseemly pride and incur the wrath of the gods: "Such state becomes the gods," he tells her, "and none beside. / I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon / these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path" (922-24). Clytemnestra goads him by accusing him of being fearful and pointing out that had Priam, Troy's king, defeated the Greeks, he would have walked on purple. Agamemnon finally consents and enters his palace on the carpet, demanding proper care and attention for Cassandra, the Trojan princess he has taken as his slave and concubine. Clytemnestra comments that the purple dye with which the carpet is colored comes from the sea, "ever of itself renewed" (959). She follows Agamemnon inside, expressing her joy at having him home again (959).
Agamemnon
Outside the palace, the Chorus senses a sudden foreboding, despite Agamemnon's homecoming and the apparent restoration of order to Argos. For some reason, they are unable to articulate their fears: "I murmur deep in darkness / sore at heart; my hope is gone now," they lament (1030-32). Clytemnestra re-emerges and orders Cassandra to participate in the sacrifices of thanksgiving, telling her that she should not be too unhappy with her fate since she will have kind masters. Cassandra offers no reply, and the Chorus echoes the Queen's orders. When the Trojan princess remains silent, the Chorus suggests that perhaps she does not speak the language, but Clytemnestra declares that she is merely lost in "the passion of her own wild thoughts," and adds that she will waste no more time with the girl (1064). She retires within, leaving Cassandra alone with the Chorus. They express pity for the girl, and tell her gently to leave the chariot to "take up the yoke that shall be yours" (1071).
Agamemnon
Cassandra speaks for the first time, crying out to Apollo. She asks him why he torments her and to what city he has brought her. The Chorus tells her she is in the house of the Atreidae, the home of Agamemnon's family. Cassandra calls it "a house that God hates . . . the shambles for men's butchery, the dripping floor" (1090-92). She recalls past crimes committed here, then prophecies vaguely about future acts of violence. The Chorus does not comprehend her message, but she continues to declare that destruction will fall upon this place, and bemoans the fate that destroyed Troy and brought her here.
Agamemnon
The Chorus induces her to tell her story. Apollo fell in love with her and granted her the gift of prophecy; she promised to bear him a child. When she broke her word, he punished her by making it so that nobody would heed her warnings. After explaining this, she prophecies that she and Agamemnon will die at the hands of a woman, "a woman-lioness, who goes to bed / with the wolf" (1258-59). Eventually, a son will emerge to kill the murderess and avenge his father's death.
Agamemnon
After delivering this prophecy, Cassandra declares that she is resigned to die. Everyone else in her native city has perished, and it is time for her to join them. The Chorus praises her bravery, even as they fail to understand her prophecy, and she moves to enter the palace. Once there, she recoils, crying that "the room within reeks with blood like a slaughter house" (1309). Then, steeling herself, she enters, making a last prayer to Apollo that her son will come to avenge his mother and father's deaths.
Agamemnon
Once Cassandra goes, the Chorus fears for the King's safety. Suddenly, Agamemnon 's voice is heard from inside, crying out in agony that he is mortally wounded. Another cry comes, followed by silence. The Chorus anxiously debates what to do. Some advocate sending messengers to rally the citizens of Argos, while others insist that they should enter immediately and take the murderers "with the blood still running from their blades" (1351). The doors fly open, revealing Clytemnestra standing triumphantly over the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra.
Agamemnon
Without a hint of shame, the Queen describes how she killed Agamemnon with an ax, after using heavy robes to trap him in his bath. She tells the Chorus that he was evil and deserved to die. They declare that she will be driven out of Argos and shunned by all men for her crime. She rebuffs their reproach by pointing out their hypocrisy; none of them protested when Agamemnon killed her innocent daughter, Iphigenia. The murder of her husband is justified, she insists, because it avenges his crime. Now Agamemnon can lie dead alongside Cassandra, who shared his bed.
Agamemnon
The Chorus laments the murder, blaming Agamemnon's death on Helen of Troy. They wonder who will mourn for Agamemnon since his wife--supposedly his closest relation--has killed him. Clytemnestra tells them that Iphigenia, his child, will greet him next. The Chorus bemoans the stain left on the family and city by their ancestral curse, but the Queen insists that her murder has put an end to the cycle of vengeance and violence.
Agamemnon
Aegisthus, Clytemnestra's lover, appears for the first time and is accompanied by his bodyguards. He is Agamemnon's cousin, and as he rejoices over the murder, we learn the history of the ancestral curse that has led to the King's death. Aegisthus' father, Thyestes, tried unsuccessfully to seize the crown from Agamemnon's father, Atreus, and was exiled from Argos. Eventually, Thyestes returned to the city and begged for mercy. Atreus pretended to welcome him, and then boiled two of Thyestes' sons and served them to his brother, who ate his own children unwittingly. Since that horrible day, Thyestes (now dead) and his son have been exiles. Only now has the terrible crime against Aegisthus' family been avenged.
Agamemnon
The Chorus taunts Aegisthus, saying that he allowed a woman to do the deed for him, and tells him that he will be executed for the crime. "How shall you be lord of the men of Argos, you / who planned the murder . . . yet could not dare / to act it out?" (1633-35). Aegisthus replies that because of his exile, he could not get close enough to Agamemnon to kill him. He claims that his henchmen and the treasury will enable him to control the city. He promises to have the Chorus killed.
Agamemnon
As they trade threats, Clytemnestra acts as a peacemaker, telling the Chorus that she and Aegisthus could not have acted any other way, and that peace must now reign in Argos under her rule. The defeated Chorus accepts their authority, but declares that when Orestes returns, he will exact vengeance for his father's murder. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra dismiss these words as empty threats, and together they take up the reins of the state.
Agamemnon...the character
The King of Argos, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the commander of the Greek armies during the siege of Troy. Agamemnon is the older brother of Menelaus, whose wife Helen was stolen by a Trojan prince, thus igniting a decade-long war. A great warrior, he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in order to obtain a favorable wind to carry the Greek fleet to Troy. During the ten-year conflict, his Queen has plotted his death in order to avenge the killing of their daughter. He appears on stage only briefly, and behaves arrogantly. He goes to his death unaware of his fate.
Clytemnestra
The play's protagonist, Clytemnestra is Agamemnon's wife and has ruled Argos in his absence. She plans his murder with ruthless determination, and feels no guilt after his death; she is convinced of her own rectitude and of the justice of killing the man who killed her daughter. She is, a sympathetic character in many respects, but the righteousness of her crime is tainted by her entanglement with Aegisthus. Even so, Aeschylus makes it clear that Agamemnon's death must be avenged.
Chorus
The elder citizens of Argos, who were too old to fight in the Trojan War. They serve as advisors to Queen Clytemnestra during Agamemnon's absence, and provide commentary on the action of the play. Their speeches provide the background for the action, for they foreshadow the King's death when they describe the events of the Trojan War and discuss the dangers of human pride.
Cassandra
A Trojan Princess, captured by Agamemnon and carried to Argos as his slave and mistress. She was Apollo's lover. Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy, but when she refused to bear him a child, he punished her by making all around her disbelieve her predictions. She sees the ancestral curse afflicting Agamemnon's family, and predicts both his death and her own, as well as the vengeance brought by Orestes in the next play.
Aegisthus
Agamemnon's cousin, and Clytemnestra's lover. His father and Agamemnon's father were rivals for the throne. Agamemnon's father boiled two of his rival's children--Aegisthus' brothers--and served them to him for dinner. Since that time, Aegisthus has been in exile awaiting a chance to seek revenge for the terrible crime.
The Watchman
The man assigned to watch for the signal of Troy's fall from the roof of the palace. He is joyful at his king's return, but also is gripped with a sense of foreboding.
The Herald
He brings the Chorus news of Agamemnon's safe homecoming. An ardent patriot, he is ecstatic to see the home he thought he had left forever and provides vivid descriptions of the horrors of the war against Troy.
Aulis:
A small port city located on the Greek mainland north of Athens; site of an ancient temple to the goddess Artemis. The entire Greek fleet assembled at Aulis before sailing off to Troy. However, Artemis was angry that the Greeks had killed a wild rabbit, demanding that the ships would not sail from Aulis until Agamemnon's eldest daughter Iphigenia was sacrificed there. After this deed was completed, the ships sailed from Aulis, as promised.
Blaze:
A signal fire observed by the Watchman. The blaze near Argos was the last fire in a long line of fires that began at Mount Ida near Troy, declaring that Troy was defeated and the Greeks were returning to their homes after ten long years of fighting.
Sparta:
A city located on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, further south than Argos. Ruled by Menelaus and his queen, Helen, Sparta was thrown into confusion after Paris, visiting the royal palace from Troy, kidnapped Helen while Menelaus was away from the city. Menelaus demanded that his wife be returned to him, appealing to his brother Agamemnon to assemble an army to attack Troy.
Altar:
An raised area sacred to the gods, usually used for ritual sacrifices. Iphigenia was sacrificed at an altar at Aulis by her own father, Agamemnon. Similarly, Cassandra later compares her own death at the hands of Clytaemnestra to a cow that is being led to the slaughter to be sacrificed at the altar.
Red carpet:
A red carpet that Clyaemnestra insists that Agamemnon walk upon when he victoriously returns from Troy. At first the man is resistant because he doesn't want to be arrogant by claiming that he alone is responsible for the Greek victory, rather than it being because of the gods. However, Clytaemnestra is very persistent and Agamemno0n agrees at last to take off his shoes and walk barefoot upon the carpet proudly, as if he himself were a god. This act seals his fate, having lost any godly protection and making him an easy victim to his wife's jealousy.
Scylla:
Once a beautiful woman, Scylla was transformed into a hideous, snake-headed monster that lived inside of the rocks along the Mediterranean coast, eating sailors from passing ships. Cassandra compares Clytaemnestra to this monstrous creature, knowing that she is about to be murdered by her.