Agamemnon, The Choephori, and The Eumenides By Aeschylus Summary and Analysis Agamemnon: First Episode (Lines 270-366)

Summary

Clytaemestra informs the elders that Troy has fallen. They accept this news doubtfully and ask for proof. She tells them about the system of beacons on hilltops and islands between Troy and Argos that she arranged with Agamemnon and gives a vivid description of how the news reached her.

Clytaemestra gives free rein to her imagination and goes on to describe the situation in the conquered city. She visualizes the Greek army looting and pillaging in the ruins of Troy while the defeated inhabitants mourn. Clytaemestra points out that the voyage home is long and dangerous, and expresses the hope that the Greeks have not committed any sacrilege in Troy that would offend the gods.

Analysis

The first speech of Clytaemestra is particularly appropriate after the story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, for she is the human embodiment of the bitterness and wrath engendered by the sacrifice and the curse that lies behind it. Clytaemestra is a majestic and powerful woman whose personality dominates the whole tragedy. She is the only character to appear in all three plays of the trilogy. Aeschylus is not too interested in her psychological motivation, however, because his drama is based on the conflict and interplay of important ethical and philosophical principles rather than the emotional development of an individual. His portrayal of Clytaemestra is strikingly human, but he does not explore her thoughts or feelings to any great extent.

In this scene, the strength of Clytaemestra's character is shown by her ease in convincing the elders that her news is true, and by the "masculine" efficiency with which she arranged the complicated system of beacons. Clytaemestra's hope that the conquering Greeks will not be guilty of impiety can be read in several ways — it is a conventional expression intended to delude the chorus, but it may also indicate that she hopes nothing will interfere with Agamemnon's return so that she will not lose her chance for revenge, and that she really does hope the Greeks will offend the gods, for then she will have divine sanction when she kills their leader. Such complex meanings are typical of all Clytaemestra's main speeches. They emphasize her audacious subtlety, for she is so proud and confident that she is not afraid to hint at her plans, and they also heighten the dramatic irony of many scenes.

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