After Clytaemestra storms off into the house, the Chorus behaves tenderly toward Cassandra. She has obviously suffered greatly from the fall of her city and the disintegration of her family. Finally, she speaks, but her words appear nonsensical. She hails Apollo, accusing him of her ruin. Cassandra recognizes the ills and corruption of the house of Atreus. Inexplicably, she even knows the house's bloody history. Though Cassandra's prophetic statements seem clear, the Chorus cannot understand them.
In agony, Cassandra predicts her own death as well as Agamemnon's. She sees some kind of net or trap, one set by a demonic woman who for the moment goes unnamed. The Chorus struggles to find any meaning in her inspired effusions. Cassandra then laments the fall of her city and remembers her father. Hoping for enhanced clarity and credibility, Cassandra at one point summarizes the story of Thyestes and Atreus and the old sin (see below). The Chorus is amazed at the intimate knowledge this foreigner possess of their legacy. Yet they remain skeptical.
Cassandra's own history follows. She explains how she became a prophet. Apollo descended, seduced her, and gave her the faculty of divination. However, because this event trespassed a vow she'd made to her husband, Cassandra's prophecies were rendered unintelligible. Thus the truth of what she says is incomprehensible to all auditors. She alone must bear it. Tormented by another string of forecasts, Cassandra speaks of a certain woman's savage thirst for revenge. This woman's bloodlust, she says, is at the heart of the disastrous future.
But the Chorus is bewildered and incapable of reading her impassioned declarations. Their interpretations are always somehow muddled. Finally, Cassandra resigns herself to her fate. She only asks that death be quick and painless. The Chorus remarks on her bravery. With a few profound last words on the vanity of human existence, Cassandra goes slowly into the house. She has no choice but to face the inevitable slaughter.
Following a brief speech on Agamemnon, the Chorus then hears a noise from inside the house. It is Agamemnon crying that he has been struck a deadly blow. The Chorus is terribly panicked and does not know what to do. Meanwhile, Agamemnon cries out again after receiving a second blow. Soon, the Chorus dissolves into several different, though equally ineffectual, voices. The members of the Chorus debate over whether to storm the house or call for help. They also mention several times their fear that Agamemnon's murder spells tyranny for Argos. Then the doors swing open.
Cassandra's string of prophecies dramatically heightens the sense of imminent disaster that has been steadily building since the very beginning of the play. The pace moves rapidly in this section. The speeches are more clipped, especially Cassandra's utterances. She reaches an extremely high pitch and intensity as she expresses now abstrusely, now . with sharp clarity, the anguish she experiences because of her unique faculty. Some disaster will befall the house and very soon; it is a foregone conclusion. But tragedy grinds on the inexorable, on Fate; and once the machine is in motion, it can be delayed but not stopped.
In fact, the long dialogue between Cassandra and the Chorus serves as an indispensible structural device. While we, the audience, remain distracted by the raving of Cassandra, offstage Agamemnon is meanwhile being seduced and murdered. The technique is classically Greek. Often in tragedies, the most central actions are related by a messenger or at least spoken about in retrospect. Thus the focus is taken off the action itself, and we are forced to concentrate on consequences.
We hear more of the sickly, ill-fated house of Atreus, a favorite theme among ancient Greek tragedians. Its early history, which Cassandra speaks in one her prophecies, is appropriately dark and unnatural. First, Atreus, the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, had his wife seduced by his brother, Thyestes. Incensed over this unforgivable insult, Atreus got his revenge at banquet when he served Thyestes the boiled flesh of his own two sons. Later, Thyestes's third and only surviving son, Aegisthus, killed Atreus to avenge this atrocity. In addition to Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigeneia, these old sins still hang over the house.
The utter confusion of the Chorus following the cries from a dying Agamemon may illustrate its inability, as an embodiment of the state, to govern itself. The Chorus, as we know, is composed of older Argive citizens. Thus they are less vital and less likely to take decisive action. Indeed, they panic. As they discuss whether or not and how to answer the first cry, the king is dealt a second blow. We see how helpless the body becomes when the head is cut off. Though this passage includes the play's climax, there is something almost comical about it. Yet at the same time, the Chorus' futile behavior belies their terror at what is to come: first dissolution, then tyranny.