Summary and Analysis
Agamemnon: Third Stasimon (Lines 686-773)
The chorus chants an ode on Helen and the destruction caused by her beauty. Helen's very name means "death," they say, and it is appropriate for one who was responsible for so much devastation. At first the Trojans welcomed her, but they regretted their generosity when the war began. The elders tell a parable to illustrate what happened. Once a man raised a lion cub in his house. In the beginning, it was a source of pleasure for him and his family. Later, when the cub grew up, its destructive instincts became dominant. The lion ravished itself ferociously among the man's sheep, then attacked the defenseless family. "This thing they raised in their house was blessed / by God to be priest of destruction." Thus it was with Helen — whatever she touched was destroyed.
Many people believe that good fortune results in suffering, but the elders hold another view — only evil deeds result in evil. Those who do not sin are not punished, but evil breeds more evil. Insolence and arrogant pride are resented by the gods and bring down retribution on man. The blessings of happiness are given to the righteous — those who value honor and justice and lead humble lives.
These verses preceding the entrance of Agamemnon are made up of reflections on sin, retribution, and justice, all illustrated by reference to the fate of the Trojans. These moral laws are universal, however, and apply also to Agamemnon. No one can escape the wrath of the gods if he has sinned. Agamemnon is already guilty of serious misdeeds and in the next scene will commit one last great sin. This ode is thus a prediction and explanation of his downfall.