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Agamemnon | Episode 2 | Summary

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Summary

The herald, returned to his homeland after 10 years at war, thanks the gods. He says Agamemnon is on his way home after victory in Troy. Agamemnon has destroyed the altars of Troy's gods, and his armies have made Paris pay the price for his misdeeds.

The Chorus is glad to see the herald return safely. The herald says he no longer fears death; he trusts the gods. The Chorus leader assures the herald the country has missed the soldiers as much as the soldiers have missed their country. Noticing the Chorus leader's anxiety, the herald asks if something is wrong. The Chorus leader admits he feared someone in Argos after the kings left, but he gives no details. The herald then describes the difficult conditions the soldiers suffered. But because the dead are not about to return to life, he wants to celebrate victory.

Clytaemnestra comes outside to speak and make her presence known. She knew of Argos's victory from the signal fires, she said, and whoever doubted her knowledge insulted her. She is eager to welcome Agamemnon back home. She claims she has been faithful, "a watch dog of the home."

The Chorus leader thinks Clytaemnestra is keeping a secret and saying only what is expected. When he asks the herald if Menelaus is returning to Argos, the herald admits Menelaus disappeared in a storm that made the other soldiers lose sight of his ship.

The herald reluctantly describes the storm for the curious Chorus, though he does not want to mar a good day with bad news. His own ship was saved from shipwreck, the herald says, through divine intervention, while other Argive ships sank. He tells the Chorus to wait and hope Menelaus returns safely with help from Zeus.

Analysis

The herald opens this section with the messenger speech, a convention in Greek drama. Because the setting was limited to the skene, or household set, and violence could not take place onstage, playwrights used a messenger to narrate important offstage action.

Like other characters, the herald is an elaborate, lyrical storyteller. His accounts of the shipwreck and of Troy's destruction reach for the objective truth of war's cost, even through the lens of a subject loyal to the king. But he is proud of Argive accomplishments and looks to the future when the spoils of the Trojan War will be a "glorious tribute from the past," and future Argive generations will "praise our generals." His speech becomes more grandiose as it continues, attributing the salvation of his ship to divine intervention. The image of the Aegean Sea "in bloom with corpses" is vivid and poetic, combining life and death. This oppositional phrase is an example of juxtaposition, a technique of comparison appearing frequently in Greek drama.

Even so the herald has to confess that Paris's deeds and the deeds of the Trojans were not greater than their suffering; the enemy endured too much. The Argives suffered, too, and surviving Argive soldiers are convinced their comrades have perished. Menelaus, second-in-command, is missing and possibly deceased. The Chorus's emotion indicates love for the Argive soldiers and happiness to see any return alive.

The play is a political tragedy as well as a domestic tragedy. The losses of war endure in both spheres. "Why should the living call to mind the dead?" the herald asks, but there are good reasons to remember the dead. Their actions and manner of death influence the living, particularly through vengeance.

Clytaemnestra's own plans for vengeance are still hidden. The Chorus can tell she is deceitful. In fact she was unfaithful, and the "tempering bronze" of which she claims ignorance is a sample of the same falsely glittering material the Chorus says brings ruin to the homes of the proud. Instead of being a symbolic watchdog of the home, she has planned for its destruction.

The Chorus leader seems to be deliberately withholding information out of fear, but the audience is not yet sure why. Both the Chorus leader and the herald mention they could welcome death at the moment, if the gods will it—a sign they know the worst is yet to come. The willingness to die, as fate allows, is a recurring sentiment both Cassandra and Aegisthus will express.

Flashcards for Episode 2

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Term:

Basic action in libation bearers

Definition:

Orestes returns secretly and in disguise/ uses Electra's slaves to trick Aegisthus/ kills Aegisthus and is driven mad by furies

Term:

Basic action of Eumenides

Definition:

Orestes pursued by furies to Delphi/ seeks advice and purification from Apollo/ they go to Athens for Athena to solve problem/ Athena sets up jury trial on Areopagus/ citizens of Athens deadlock: accused goes free/ furies established as Kindly Ones

Term:

Orestes myth version differences

Definition:

Homer: Clytemnestra is accomplice only/ Hesiod: Clytemnestra is mostly responsible/ Stesichorus: Clytemnestra is mostly responsible, Apollo sets Orestes on matricide, Orestes gets pursued by Furies and protected by Apollo

Term:

Aeschylus' additions

Definition:

Beacons/ purple tapestries/ pervasive dismal mood/ democratic legal solution

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