Agamemnon Summary and Analysis
Section 2: From the Chorus' line: "My lady, no grave man could speak with better / grace" to the exit of the Herald
The Chorus begins with a very long speech. First they moralize the fall of Troy as divine punishment for the abduction of Helen by Paris. They say that no man can escape atonement for wrongdoing: the gods see all. A brief summary of the events of the abduction are given. The Chorus is most interested in how Paris betrayed his host's (Menelaus) hospitality by stealing his wife. Helen is also condemned for treachery and blamed for the death of so many Argive sons.
For a short time, the Chorus separates into several individuals. Once voice questions whether the beacon is really true. Another man seconds this doubt. A third and a fourth say that since the message comes by way of a woman, it cannot be trusted. And the final voice, who shares the same skepticism as the rest, directs them toward the Herald who has just arrived. From him, they hope to gain a more dependable story.
The Herald enters and speaks. He is an Argive soldier who, gone away young, has come back a mature man. First thing the Herald gives copious thanks to the gods for his having returned to home soil alive. He tells the Chorus how he had all but despaired of every seeing Argos again. The Herald then informs them of Agamemnon's imminent arrival in the city and asks that they show him the proper admiration. Finally, the Chorus hears from the Herald some of the details of the sack of Troy. During the plundering, the Argives (contrary to the wishes expressed by Clytaemestra earlier) destroyed the Trojan altars and places of worship. But the Herald says that anything Troy suffered, it deserved.
The Chorus asks the Herald how much he missed his country while away The Herald admits to a great, almost unbearable longing for home. This pleases the Chorus immensely, and they quickly share the deep feelings of loss and incompletion they experienced in the absence of men like the Herald (their collective sons). Peace, security, and rest may now come to the state since vitality and leadership have returned-at least, the Chorus hopes as much. For the Herald, his return to Argos means relief from the "nights exposed, the cramped sea-quarters, the foul beds," etc. He is eager to retell all the terrifying and uncomfortable trials of war through which he and his companions lived; he unburdens himself. Happiness in Argos, he concludes, is his just reward.
Clytaemestra appears onstage and speaks. She reproves the Chorus for not having believed her announcement that Troy had fallen. Though the Chorus thinks she'll want to hear the Herald's story, Clytaemestra would rather have it from her husband. She expresses her strong desire to receive him lavishly. Further, she proclaims her complete fidelity to her husband over ten year separation. No other man and no new shame, she vaunts to the Chorus and the Herald, has entered the house. Then Clytaemestra steps to the back of the stage.
The Chorus and the Herald continue their dialogue. Specifically, the Chorus makes inquiries into the fate of Menelaus. The Herald relates his disappearance at sea during a bad storm-no one but the gods know his whereabouts, or whether he is dead or alive. The section closes with the Herald's account of the storm, the wreckage, the numerous deaths. Both characters become downcast, but the Herald reassures the worrisome Chorus, reminding them of Menelaus' strength and fortitude. The Herald exits.
The lengthy speech made by the Chorus at the beginning of this section includes a moral evaluation of Paris and Helen. The unwholesome "fatal marriage," the abduction and rape of Helen by Paris was the direct cause of the Trojan war. The story goes that Paris, prince of Troy, was asked by three goddesses, Aphrodite, Hera, and Athen, to choose the most beautiful among them. He chose Aphrodite, who, as a reward, promised to procure for him the most beautiful mortal woman. This happened to Menelaus's wife, Helen. Although happily married, under the influence of Aphrodite, Helen fell in love with Paris and allowed him to carry her off to Troy. Menelaus then called on the Greek chieftains, most of whom had once been Helen's suitors, to help him attack Troy and win back his wife.
Because of Helen's abduction, the Chorus makes much of betrayals between guests and their hosts. In particular, they vehemently criticize how Paris ungraciously stole Helen from his host, Menelaus. The Argives are also called "hosts," and later, when they arrive at Troy, "guests." Considered as homeland, Argos and its citizens are in fact a host. Clytaemnestra will soon play host her husband. And good hospitality, a traditional Greek virtue, is mentioned by the Chorus several times with reference to Zeus. Here, we see the development of another sub-theme. At the center of the host/guest paradigm seems to be concern for trust and stability. In every case, crime is perpetrated through the dangerous betrayal of a certain fundamental social relationship. For instance, a father like Agamemnon is by definition not supposed to kill his own daughter. When this happens, it is always at the expense of social harmony, as the Chorus is at pains to point out.
"The curse of the people," as the Chorus calls it, is in fact another expression of the death of Argive youths at Troy. As stated above, Argos has lost its children. Thousands of youths left their homeland to fight for Agamemnon. Their deaths were untimely and, as frequently stated by the Chorus, in some ways unnecessary (or at least extremely unfortunate). If the Chorus represents the older generation of Argive citizens, the soldiers are the next, now rather decimated, one. Moreover, the Herald can be thought of as the second generation's singular voice or representative. This explains the touching sentimentality we feel in the reunion between Chorus and Herald-they are very like father and son.
Clytaemestra's speech including her vaunt of perfect fidelity highlights certain noteworthy aspects of her character. First, she is quick to rebuff the Chorus for having doubted her truthfulness regarding the fire. She is bold. She makes it clear that stereotypical views of the flightiness of women do not apply to her. Indeed, for ten years now she has been ruling Argos. But there is another side to this. While undoubtedly of a strong and willful character, Clytaemestra seems somehow too eager to deny her "womanliness." We get a sense of this in several peculiar comments by the Chorus and some by Clytaemestra herself. As we shall see, the ten year stint in an almost exclusively male role has worked profound changes on the queen.
Agamemnon Essays and Related Content
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- Aeschylus: Biography
- Agamemnon Summary
- About Agamemnon
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Section 1: From the first line to Clytaemestra's: "Of all good things to wish this is my dearest choice"
- Summary and Analysis of Section 2: From the Chorus' line: "My lady, no grave man could speak with better / grace" to the exit of the Herald
- Summary and Analysis of Section 3: From the exit of the Herald to Clytaemestra's exit after speaking to Cassandra
- Summary and Analysis of Section 4: From Clytaemestra's exit after she speaks to Cassandra to the opening of the palace doors after Agamemnon's cries
- Summary and Analysis of Section Five: From the opening of the palace doors on the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra to the end of the play
- Related Links on Agamemnon
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
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