Agamemnon | Study Guide


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Episode 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 1 of Aeschylus's play Agamemnon.

Agamemnon | Episode 1 | Summary



Clytaemnestra enters from the palace. The Chorus leader asks if she knows the outcome of the war; the sacrificial offerings seem to mean good news. Clytaemnestra says the Argives have captured Troy. The Chorus leader is happy but asks what proof she has: a vision, a dream, or a rumor? She says Troy was captured the night before. She learned of the victory through the messengers' signal fires, which started with Hephaestos, god of fire, and reached across Greece. Messengers, whom Clytaemnestra organized herself, picked up the signal and carried it to Argos.

She imagines to herself the fall of Troy. Captive Trojans are grieving, and tired Argive soldiers are celebrating. She hopes the Argives will respect Troy's gods and sacred shrines. Otherwise the gods may be offended and harm the soldiers on their journey home. The Chorus leader tells Clytaemnestra she speaks wisely, "like a prudent man."


Aristocratic Clytaemnestra has led and protected the city in her husband's absence. She is portrayed here as a smart and confident leader. The Chorus begrudgingly admires her, for she has conducted herself like a man in their eyes. Haughty, dismissive, and pragmatic, she believes only in the evidence she can control, such as her signal fire system, rather than dreams or rumors. But when she says "unless some god deceives me," she indicates respect for the gods and acknowledges the damage they can do.

She claims not to trust dreams. But dreams and visions are significant aspects of the play, which often stretch the boundaries of space and time. Clytaemnestra's signal fire system is an example. Her vision for the beacon passing from city to city is a grand, overdone gesture, showing off her wealth and ability to organize multiple messengers. (The Chorus, in their next odes, will warn multiple times against flaunting wealth.) Her action is a manipulation of time, because information that would take a messenger on foot much longer to deliver can arrive, via fires, within hours. She is also showing a level of control over distant cities, as messengers across the country do her bidding. When Clytaemnestra imagines the fall of Troy, she vividly pictures a distant event and the thoughts and behaviors of people she will never meet. Her imagination functions as a kind of vision, though not prophetic.

Clytaemnestra empathizes with the captives "lamenting their slaughtered loved ones" because she is still lamenting her daughter. She is aware the battle is not yet over. Argive soldiers, having accomplished their mission, are now controlled by luck, and she wants the luck to hold. She does not want the soldiers "conquered" by gods they might offend if they take advantage of their newfound fortune.

Yet even if the soldiers return home safely, they still must contend with the dead. Many Argive families are grieving and angry over their losses. The dead influence the living in ancient Greece; their spirits remain, and Clytaemnestra knows the avenging dead never rest. She may be pretending to be optimistic so the Chorus will not detect her scheming.

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