Agamemnon Summary

Agamemnon is a play written by Aeschylus, based on the times of the Trojan War against the Greeks. The setting opens up with the watchman who is given the job of watching the roof of the palace for Agamemnon’s return, explaining how dull and unhappening his life is. Because Agamemnon had been gone while fighting the Trojan War for 10 years, it was not expected he would succeed. However, as the watchman kept describing his boring life, he spotted a signal fire that originated from a distance. The starting of the signal fire was a sign that they had won the Trojan War. This made the watchman hurry his pace and reach out to Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra, which led to the awaking bustles of Argos as they get busy with making sacrifices to the gods for the win.

In this play, the term Chorus is given to a group of old men. It is seen that these old men “Chorus”, had settled in front of the palace which had been under the care of Clytemnestra after Agamemnon had left. The Chorus wondered why there was so much commotion in the palace. Prior to getting a proper explanation of their inquiry, the Chorus sang about the causes and events that led them to the Trojan War, mentioning the sacrifice that Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra made by sacrificing their daughter to the gods. After the ending of the song sung by the Chorus, Clytemnestra appears in front of them to answer their question. She gives them the good news of winning the Trojan War and that Agamemnon was on his way back to the palace. She gives them an in-depth explanation through a song which describes the events of the signal fire that was seen from what is now Turkey to their own land, Argos. However, as the Chorus are still being sceptical of the news and the song she had beautifully used to explain the events, she leaves them and goes back into the castle.

The next scene shows that a Herald comes into the setting to officially announce the news of Agamemnon’s arrival. He also informs them of the sufferings of the army as a whole in the Trojan War and thanks their deities for blessing them with the victory. Herald also mentions that Agamemnon is coming with Cassandra who is a Trojan princess taken as captive and concubine. Only after the explanation provided by him, do the Chorus finally have belief in the news because the Herald gave them an in-detail explanation of the events of how it all occurred and how they emerged as victorious against Troy. Before Herald sets off, the Chorus asks him about Menelaus. He then woefully informs that Menelaus’s ship was wrecked in a terrible storm on their way back home and that he could not make it. The Chorus then begin to sing songs about how Helen, wife of Menelaus, would be infuriated by this turn of events.

When Agamemnon arrives in his chariot, his wife Clytemnestra comes out to welcome her husband after a long and hard-won war. She orders the palace’s slave women to spread out purple fabric for Agamemnon to put his feet on so that he does not have to touch the earth. She thought it to be a treatment Agamemnon deserved after the victory he had brought to their lands. However, Agamemnon is reluctant to do as he fears this act may come off as rude and arrogant to the gods and this might upset them. But Clytemnestra did not listen to her husband’s worries and eventually forces him to do as she has said. Clytemnestra comes out of the palace after her husband has entered to fetch princess Cassandra. She asks Cassandra to come inside the palace but Cassandra does not obey which maybe was due to her inability to understand Clytemnestra. Cassandra does not show any form of communication with Clytemnestra which makes Clytemnestra leave the chariot agitated and get back to the castle without Cassandra.

Cassandra happens to be an individual who has prophetic powers. After Clytemnestra left her outside, failing to persuade her to come into the castle, the scene is shifted towards the Chorus and Cassandra outside the palace. The Chorus repetitively tried to persuade Cassandra to go inside the palace but instead of hearing them out, Cassandra had started to scream and cry about her being murdered here very soon. This leaves the chorus confused and they inquire further. Then Cassandra, using her powers, informs them of the past and future events of the palace. She describes the gruesome past of the palace with Agamemnon’s father who had murdered his own brother Thyestes’s wife and children for sleeping with his wife. He had mercilessly butchered them all and fed the meat to his brother. According to her, this vile act had brought a curse to the palace.

The next premonition Cassandra comes up with is the death of herself and Agamemnon. She informs them that they will be murdered soon enough and hints to the Chorus that it will be done by Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra. This was the reason why Cassandra had not reacted to any query or word of Clytemnestra when she had tried to take Cassandra inside the castle. Losing hopes on the Chorus who failed to understand the weight of her words, she silently accepted her death as fate and goes inside the palace.

After a little while passed, cries from the palace were heard by the Chorus, two specifically. One of the voices were of Agamemnon crying out that he was being murdered. The Chorus, still indecisive within one another wonder if they should go inside to check what was happening or wait outside like before to be notified of the incidents for confirmation.

What Cassandra had told them just moments before is soon confirmed to them when the palace doors open and it is seen that Clytemnestra had murdered the two people, Cassandra and Agamemnon, and was standing over their dead bodies. Clytemnestra explains valiantly that Agamemnon’s murder was revenge she had taken purely for the murder of their daughter Iphigenia even though she also had taken equal part in the murder of her daughter. She also laughs at the elderlies for thinking she was a weak woman, and a damsel-in-distress type but now she had proved to be powerful. She also explained how she had murdered her husband by slyly entering his bath and butchering him with an axe. She then disturbingly admits her sadistic inner self when she confesses she loved how her dead husband’s blood splattered all over her and that it made her feel happy. When the Chorus tells her that she would have to answer for the crime she had committed and that she would be thrown out of Argos for this, she goes on to defend her actions by saying that she had nothing to do with this because she was doing her duty. This was fulfilling the deeds to carry out the curse that had been placed because of Agamemnon’s father. Clytemnestra’s real character is revealed after she kills her husband. She shows no remorse and had projected a great image of being an unkind, sadistic and proud character throughout the final scene of the play.

The whole plot that Clytemnestra had been explaining seemed pretty hard to believe as none of the reasons she gave made any logical sense for the Chorus. Avenging her daughter’s death cannot be the reason for which Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon especially not when she was equally responsible for it as Agamemnon was. However, in the later scene, enters a new character called Aegisthus. Aegisthus is the son of Thyestes, who had been tortured by Agamemnon’s father by being fed the meat of his own wife and children. Aegisthus had lost his mother and siblings in the hands of Agamemnon’s father and he wanted to avenge his family by killing Agamemnon. This was made possible by the assistance of Clytemnestra who is Aegisthus’s lover and they had come together to plot the murder for a very long time.

This explains the real reason why Clytemnestra had killed Agamemnon. It was not for avenging her daughter, it was for avenging her lover’s agony from the loss of his family. Aegisthus lets the Chorus know of the events that had led to the careful planning of the murders of Agamemnon which agitated the elders highly. After the behavior of the Chorus, Aegisthus relays orders to punish them all but Clytemnestra stops him, telling him it was a waste of time and energy to kill these insolent fools and it would yield no value to his conquest. This murder of Agamemnon made Aegisthus and Clytemnestra take over the entire palace and announce themselves as rulers of Argos. At the news of this, the Chorus hopes that Agamemnon’s exiled son comes back and takes revenge on the traitors for the murder of his father and takes back the throne.