, atop the roof of the palace in the Greek city of Argos, complains that he has
spent so much time in this perch that he knows the night sky by heart. He is waiting for a beacon
that will signal the fall of Troy, which has been besieged for ten years by a Greek army led by
, the king of Argos. Agamemnon's wife,
, governs Argos in her
husband's absence, and, while the Watchman says that she has "male strength of heart," (11) the
absence of the king makes him fearful. "I sing," he declares, "only to weep again the pity of this
house / no longer, as once, administered in the grand way" (16-18).
The beacon flares, signaling Troy's fall, and the Watchman leaps up and cries out with joy at the
news, and rushes inside to tell the Queen.
, an assembly of Argos' oldest and wisest
male citizens, comes onstage and discusses the history of the Trojan War. They recount how
Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus, the king of Sparta, gathered a huge fleet and army to
recapture Helen, Menelaus' wife, who was stolen by Paris, a Prince of Troy; and they discuss
how the Greeks and Trojans have spent ten years wearing themselves out in battle. Meanwhile,
the old men of Argos (the men too old to fight) are growing weaker and weaker in their old age.
Clytemnestra joins them, and the Chorus demands to know why she has ordered sacrifices to all
the gods and celebrations throughout the city. Before she answers, they recall the terrible story of
how the Greek fleet, on its way to Troy, was trapped in Aulis by unfavorable winds, and how
Agamemnon learned that the winds were sent by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. In order to
appease her and sail on to Troy, Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia; the
Chorus describes in detail her pitiful cries for mercy as her father's men cut her throat.
finishes recounting the story of Iphigenia, they again ask
explain her sacrifices. She tells them that Troy has fallen to the Greeks. They wonder whether
she has dreamed this, or perhaps heard a rumor. The Queen dismisses these suggestions with
contempt, saying that she is not foolish enough to believe dreams or hearsay, and tells the Chorus
how a system of beacons, stretching across the Greek islands, has carried the news from Troy to
Argos. She pictures the slaughter inside the walls of Troy, and hopes that the Greeks will commit
no offenses against the gods that would hinder a safe journey home.
The Chorus gives thanks to Zeus for the victory and says that Troy deserved destruction as
punishment for the crime of Paris; Helen's eloping with the Trojan prince brought doom upon his
city. Then they think of the terrible cost of the war: "The god of war, money changer of dead
bodies, / held the balance of his spear in the fighting, / and from the corpse-fires at Ilium / sent
their dearest the dust / heavy and bitter with tears shed / packing smooth the urns with / ashes
that once were men" (438-44). Meanwhile, all is not well at home; the losses suffered in the war