Summary and Analysis
Second Episode (Lines 481-685)
Several days have gone by. The elders chatter excitedly together about the rumors that are spreading through the news-starved city now that everyone knows that the war is over. They begin to doubt Clytaemestra's information and suspect that she has been guilty of feminine impetuosity in announcing the war's end.
At this moment, a herald enters bringing definite news that the war is over. Agamemnon and the army have just landed on the beach below the city and he has been sent ahead with the message. The herald tells the elders of his happiness at being home again and describes the hardships that the army endured during the long siege. He gives an unromantic and bitter account of the war, then tells about the destruction of Troy and mentions that the temples of the fallen city were desecrated by the victorious army.
The elders welcome the herald and express joy at his news. They hint that affairs in Argos are in bad order and hope that the returning soldiers will solve the city's problems, but the herald does not understand what they mean.
Clytaemestra steps forward and mocks the Chorus for having doubted her. She claims to be gratified by Agamemnon's safe return and gives the herald a message for her husband, welcoming him home and announcing that she will give him a triumphal reception when he enters the city. Clytaemestra adds ironically, "may he find a wife within his house as true / as on the day he left her" and praises her own fidelity to Agamemnon.
After Clytaemestra exits, the herald tells the elders about the fate of Menelaus. The fleet encountered a violent storm on its return voyage. The ships were scattered and many went down during the tempest. In fact, Agamemnon has reached Argos with only one ship of his whole contingent. Menelaus is still missing, but the herald is certain that he will get home safely. He leaves to deliver Clytaemestra's message to Agamemnon.
The herald's message confirms the fall of Troy, but his offhand admission that the Greek conquerors were guilty of sacrilege heightens the general tension. The elders sense that something is wrong but are reluctant to speak openly because they have just been humiliated by Clyaemestra after the herald's arrival. Clytaemestra's message to Agamemnon is filled with double meanings and veiled threats that are comprehensible only to the audience.
The long digression about Menelaus is important because his absence will make it easier for Clytaemestra and Aegisthus to murder Agamemnon and take over the state. It also provides the theme for Proteus, the satyr-play that followed the Oresteia trilogy.