Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”: Outline
Prologue Watchman's monologue; hints of situation in palace; light/dark 1-39 imagery; light spied; watchman exults; undercurrent of foreboding. What does the watchman's prologue tell us about the situation in the palace? Physically, describe his situation?
Parodos and Stasimon 1: 40-257
40-82 Chorus of elders of Argos; recapitulate departure of Agamemnon and Menelaus with the fleet; metaphor of bereaved eagles and ultimate divine vengeance for their loss; polyvalent imagery; Trojan war undertaken for the sake of Helen; impotence of old age; address
82-103 Clytemnestra; ask meaning of sacrifices. Who are the chorus? How do they interact with Clytemnestra? What is meant by "polyvalent imagery"? What images evoke earlier crimes which will be avenged in this play?
104-255 Parodos proper begins ("the longest and richest choral ode extant in Greek tragedy"; falls into 3 sections, differentiated by sense as well as meter.
1.104-59: dactylic meters interspersed with iambic passages; omen of black and white eagles appearing at departure, feeding on pregnant hare; Calchas interprets omen as portent of Troy's destruction by Atreidae; foreboding of Artemis; anger at destruction of hare (Troy? Iphigenia:); appeal to Apollo to stave off Artemis' anger; her demand for unholy sacrifice (Iphigenia).
What associations might be evoked for the audience by the image of the eagles feeding on a pregnant hare (sack of Troy, crime against maternity, Thyestes, and Iphigenia yet to come). How does Calchas interpret it (good omen for sack of Troy, but anger of Artemis provoked by untimely death of young and crime against maternity). Why should Artemis in particular be evoked in this context?
2.160-91: trochees; hymn to Zeus; conflict of Uranos, Cronos ending in Zeus' victory; learning through suffering; fleet stalled at Aulis; discontent among men. What is the chorus' attitude to Zeus? What events of Zeus' past does it allude to? What lesson is Zeus said to teach? How does this reflect Aeschylus' view of the workings of justice?
3.191-255: iambs mixed with trochees; Calchas tells will of Artemis; Agamemnon's dilemma (2 wrongs); Iphigenia's corrupted sacrifice; chorus piously hopes all will be well.
Is any specific motive given by the chorus for Artemis' anger and demand for Iphigenia's sacrifice (in other versions Ag shot Artemis' deer; Atreus refused to sacrifice the sacred ram); Why do you think Aeschylus preferred to present the event as he did? How might the way in which Aeschylus chose to present the event here reveal his notion of the workings of "justice"? Discuss the image of corrupted sacrifice/marriage in ll.228-47. What is the attitude of the chorus toward Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice his child?
258-354 Chorus leader speaks with Clytemnestra; asks meaning of sacrifice; she announces Greek victory at Troy; explains beacon system; stichomythia in 268ff; route of beacons; coryphaeus asks for proof; Clytemnestra responds with story of last night of Troy-note ambiguities; ominous tone of Clytemnestra’s description of the fall of Troy. Discuss ways in which Clytemnestra's two long speeches open up the scene spatially?
Torch speech binding for Agamemnon; symbolic geography of peril. Scene opens play up spatially; grand gesture befits grand Clytemnestra; metaphor of torch races held each year at Athens in honor of Prometheus, Athena, and Hephaestus, later Bendis; relay race in which torch was passed. Stages: 1)Ida-Lemnos (90 m) 2)Lemnos -Mt. Athos (50 m) 3)Mt Athos - Macistus (100 m if in Eubaea); 4)Macistus-Mt Messapion (15 m); 5)Messapion-Cithairon (26 m) 6)Cithairon-Gorgopis?) 6)Gorgopus-Arachnus 7)Arachnus - Argos
355-67 Hymn to Zeus; net metaphor for the fall of Troy. Anapestic dimeters.
367-488 Primarily lyric iambics; Punishment of sin of Paris as paradigm for avoiding wrong deeds; effect of Helen's departure on Menelaus; effect of rape on all Greece (young men come home in urns); citizenry angry at Agamemnon and men for causing so many innocent deaths; return to present; meaning of beacon message; chorus voices skepticism; herald spotted (either chorus leader or Clytemnestra announces his arrival). How does the chorus present the "anatomy" of wrongdoing that leads to punishment? How does it describe the attitude of the citizenry to the leaders who took them to war?
503-680 Herald enters. Greets land, gods, house etc. Agamemnon's victory; stichomythia; chorus hints at situation in Argos; lengthy description of discomforts and dangers of war by herald (Aeschylus would know well from his own career as a soldier); Clytemnestra speaks; mocks chorus for not trusting her original announcement; declares joy at Agamemnon's homecoming and proclaims her fidelity to him; chorus hints at her falsity to the herald; questions herald as to fate of Menelaus; herald tells of sea storm in which only Agamemnon's ship was left; prays that lost Menelaus will soon return.
681-810 Etymology of Helen (destruction); parable of lion cub; cub matures and repays grace with death; "the thing they raised in the house turns out to be destruction." (parallel of Helen/more generally symbolizes reversal to type, fatal house of Pelops et all); marriage as death; woman as seductive and treacherous; belief in evil eye rejected; destruction comes only to sinners; but surfeit predisposes men to hubris. Greets Ag. as he enters.
810-974 Agamemnon; accompanied by Cassandra; hints at Clytemnestra's betrayal; admits mixed feelings re expedition; joy at success; lion metaphor; Agamemnon describes victory as just; envy of success; praise of Odysseus; plans to test loyalty of citizens. Clytemnestra's speech: declares love for husband, describes loneliness and suffering in his absence; attempted suicides; explains absence of Orestes (sent to Strophius of Phocis) to protect him from danger of revolution in Argos in case Agamemnon had lost; praises him; invites him to step on red carpet. Stichomythia between Agamemnon and Clytemnestra over stepping on red tapestries (visual significance; dramatic symbol of history of house, "out of the main doors of the house there curls a long stream of blood Agamemnon assimilated to it as he enters. male worsted by female in agon; Agamemnon as in early case of Iphigenia does what he doesn't want to do, treads on lovely things; sacrificial imagery. Agamemnon gives in, peripeteia or climax; Clytemnestra's final speech.
975-1033 Chorus expresses vague foreboding ;curse on house; irrevocability of fate.
1033-1447 Clytemnestra comes back out to bring in Cassandra who has remained silent on chariot; chorus counsels her to accede; she stays eloquently quiet; Clytemnestra goes back into the house.
lyric dialogue between chorus and Cassandra; at first Cassandrahas the singing part and the chorus speaks; then chorus infected and sings; then Cassandra calms down and repeats warning more clearly; Cassandra uses dochmiacs in her lyric. (beat is: " The wise kan garoos/Resent leather shoes." slssl slssl).The chorus' lack of understanding is provocative, an incentive for the audience; Their blindness reinforces Cassandra's sight and ours.
Cassandra ever more directly prophecies Clytemnestra's deed and
fits it into the context of the sins of the house: banquet of Thyestes; vengeance of Aegisthus; history of her affair with Apollo and his curse on her; predicts vengeance of Orestes; she goes in to meet her doom;
chorus sings brief interlude in marching anapests (ssl) to separate preceding from next scene. Screams from house; chorus members distractedly and impotently debate what to do next. Clytemnestra appears (on ekkyklema) over dead bodies.
Clytemnestra's speech: says she planned it all, exults; chorus sings in dochmiacs; Clytemenstra responds in trimeters; tells of Iphigenia, where was the chorus then; now they are ready to condemn her; chorus says she's mad, she will pay; she says that she won't, has dear Aegisthus to protect her; expresses jealousy of Cassandra.
1448-1576 Chorus wishes to die; Agamemnon killed by a woman as atonement for multitudes killed by Helen. Doom of house, banquet of Atreus; Iphigenia; chorus confused, predicts more blood. Cytemnestra sees it as a cleansing of past guilt; its over, she thinks.
1577-end.Aegisthus enters; gloats; narrates banquet of Thyestes; chorus demurs; Aegisthus threatens; chorus appalled that act done by a woman; yearn for Orestes to avenge his father; Aegisthus calls his men to subdue him; Clytemnestra appears to make peace; seeks end to suffering; 2nd mention of Orestes. Mutual taunts between chorus and Aegisthus; Clytemnestra vows to make good order in the house.
Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”: Critical Questions
(1-40) Where is the watchman as he speaks the prologue? What is he doing? What does the watchman's speech tell the audience about the situation in the palace?
(40-103) Who are the chorus? How do they interact with Clytemnestra?
(104-54) What associations might be evoked for the audience by the image of the eagles feeding on a pregnant hare? What is meant by "polyvalent imagery"? What images evoke earlier crimes which will be avenged in this play?
How does Calchas interpret the omen to the Greeks? Why should the goddess Artemis in particular be evoked in this context?
(160-82) What is the chorus' attitude to Zeus? What events of Zeus' past does it allude to? Compare the chain of events leading to the murder of Agamemnon with the chain of events leading to the castration of Uranos.
What lesson is Zeus said to teach? How does notion reflect Aeschylus' view of the workings of justice?
(183-253) Is any specific motive given by the chorus for Artemis' anger and demand for Iphigenia's sacrifice? Why do you think Aeschylus preferred to present the event as he did? How might the way in which Aeschyus chose to present the event here reveal his notion of the workings of "justice"? Discuss the image of corrupted sacrifice in ll.228-47. What is the attitude of the chorus toward Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice his child?
(254-350) Discuss some ways in which Clytemnestra's two long speeches "open up" the stage spatially?
(355-475) How does the chorus here present its "anatomy" of wrongdoing that leads to punishment? How does it represent the attitude of the citizenry toward its leaders who took them to war?
(537-550) Point out chorus' hints at trouble in Argos in stichomythia with herald .
(587-616) Point out double entendres and ironies in language of Clytemnestra's speech.
(637-80) According to the herald what happened to the Greek army when it was time to leave Troy?
(681-810) According to the chorus what is the end result of seduction and desire? What might the parable of the lion cub mean? What notion of justice does the chorus accept? What notion does it rejection?
(810-974) How does Clytemnestra explain the absence of Orestes to Agamemnon?
Why have many seen the agon of the carpet scene stichomythia as the turning point (peripeteia) of the dramatic action? Discuss possible multiple significances.
Analyze the rhetoric of Clytemnestra's persuasion of Agamemnon to tread the tapestries. By what strategies does she convince Agamemnon or is she, in effect, "walking through an open door"? Compare her subsequent attempts at persuading Cassandra? How can you account for the difference in her success.
Does Agamemnon have a "tragic flaw"? If so, what is it?
(1037-1443) What is Cassandra's own story? How did she receive the gift of prophecy?
Point out and explicate passages in which Cassandra alludes to past, present, and future crimes of the house?
Analyze the imagery of Clytemnestra's speech over the slain body of Agamemnon (1372-1398).
(1448-1577) Discuss inversion of gender roles, net imagery in kommos.
(1578- 1673 ) What is the effect on the issue of motivation of having kept Aegisthus for the end? How does the chorus characterize Aegisthus in respect to his gender?
What, if any, "closure" is there at the end of this play?
1. What are the events of the Agamemnon, i.e. what actually happens in this play? In what ways does Aeschylus "open up" the play to include a wide range of events spanning geography and history?
2. Moot Court: List as many motives as you can for Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon. If you were her defense lawyer, what arguments would you emphasize and which motives would you try to repress? Where and when in the Agamemnon does Aeschylus introduce the various possible motives? How does this affect our perception of the "justice" of Clytemnestra’s act?
As a lawyer whose actions would you prefer to defend, those of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, or later Orestes? What arguments would you use for the defense of whomever you have chosen?
3. Of what, if anything, is Agamemnon guilty in this play?
Does he (or any of the other characters) have a choice in any matter?
4. What is the major conflict(s) of the play? the trilogy? How do the conflicts that you have enumerated become intertwined with one another, and in effect inextricable from one another?