Summary and Analysis
Agamemnon: Third Episode (Lines 774-965)
Agamemnon makes a triumphal entry in a chariot. Cassandra is at his side, and they are accompanied by attendants.
The elders greet their king with a frank statement intended to avoid superfluous praise yet give him the honor to which he is entitled. They remind Agamemnon of their opposition to the war but express genuine pleasure that he is home again. The elders add that Agamemnon will soon learn who has been loyal and who disloyal during his absence.
Agamemnon states that he will offer thanks to all the gods of Argos for his safe return and for their aid in conquering Troy. Everything that happens on earth, he says, is determined by the gods. Men must always remember to praise and thank them for their assistance. After the sacrifice, Agamemnon continues, he will act in accordance with the advice given by the elders and will convene an assembly of the people to settle all disputes and end dissension before trouble arises. The good elements in the state will be strengthened; the rest will be purged.
Clytaemestra tells the elders that she is not ashamed to declare her love for Agamemnon in their presence and steps forward to greet her husband. She tells him about the hardships that a wife must undergo while her husband is away at war — there are constant worries, rumors that he has been killed or wounded. Many times these fears caused terrible nightmares or drove her to the verge of suicide. Clytaemestra was so afraid that Agamemnon would be killed at Troy or that the unrest at home would result in rebellion, she says, that she sent their son Orestes to stay with King Strophius of Phocis, where he would be safe from any danger. Clytaemestra repeats how she worried about her "beloved" Agamemnon while he was gone. She invites him to enter the palace and orders her maidens to spread a luxurious crimson tapestry on the ground for him to walk on.
Agamemnon makes a caustic reply to this effusive welcome. He tells Clytaemestra that her speech and his absence have one thing in common — they were both too long. Furthermore, he says, she is not to treat him with such extravagant praise and luxury, as if he were a depraved oriental. Such excessive splendor as spreading a tapestry on the ground to walk on is fitting only for the gods. The man who is presumptuous enough to imitate their glory is guilty of irreverence and insolence. Agamemnon concludes:
Discordant is the murmur at such treading down
of lovely things; while God's most lordly gift to man
is decency of mind. Call that man only blest
who has in sweet tranquility brought his life to close.
If I could only act as such, my hope is good.
Clytaemestra urges Agamemnon to satisfy her desire to honor him. She coaxes him until he gives in. Agamemnon removes his sandals and, expressing the hope that the gods will not be offended, steps down onto the tapestry. Clytaemestra scornfully remarks that she would have trampled many splendors to bring Agamemnon home again. As she and her husband walk into the palace, Clytaemestra calls on Zeus to answer her prayers and help her to carry out what she plans.
This scene, with its rich tapestry, chariots, and many attendants, makes full use of visual effects, to an extent uncommon in classical tragedy. It is the only scene in which Agamemnon appears. He is a man of heroic stature and great accomplishments, but he is also conceited and pompous, which makes him vulnerable to Clytaemestra's cajoling. He is unable to understand the veiled warning given by the chorus and does not seem sincere in giving credit to the gods or his human allies for helping him to achieve his great victory at Troy. His lines about the sin of insolence seem to be a thoughtless mouthing of conventional sentiments and do not reflect any real devoutness.
This confrontation between Agamemnon and Clytaemestra is the dramatic climax of the tragedy. Clytaemestra's aim is to make Agamemnon commit one final sin, for such a disrespectful act will anger the gods against him and enlist their support for her. Agamemnon seems to dislike his wife, but he underestimates her ability and is easily susceptible to her wiles. She agilely fences with him until he has been bent to her will. His surrender is a sure sign that her plot will succeed. Clytaemestra displays almost demonic cunning in the choice of devices she uses to trap Agamemnon — endearment, flattery, servility, an attack on his courage. Her final lines are filled with exultant irony for she knows that she will triumph, but her own downfall is also alluded to when she mentions Orestes.