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Agamemnon | Prologos | Summary

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Summary

In Argos on the roof of the royal palace, the watchman waits. On the instruction of Clytaemnestra, ruling the city in her husband's absence, the tired watchman has been on the lookout for the signal fire from Troy, announcing an Argive victory over the Trojans. Too afraid to fall asleep, he worries about the future; the House of Atreus, Argos's ruling family, is not governing as well as they did in the past.

Just before dawn the signal fire appears, meaning victory for Argos and the end of the war. The watchman rejoices and, more solemnly, decides he will greet the king, Agamemnon, gladly, but will tell no one about what has been going on in his absence.

Analysis

The Prologos introduces the main subject of the play: Agamemnon's triumphant return from Troy and the poor governing of Argos in his absence. The watchman's dilemma introduces the concept of waiting in Agamemnon. Characters are waiting for the end of the war, waiting to return from exile, or waiting for justice. In the watchman's case, the waiting is accompanied by fear.

The symbol of the watchdog, the faithful protector of the house and anticipator of trouble, appears in the watchman's character as well. The other two watchdogs of the house, Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, will fail in their roles as protectors. Already the watchman, a low-level palace servant, has noticed their poor government. In introducing the audience to Clytaemnestra, he notes her "determined resolution of a man," a quality she will demonstrate in later scenes as she wields power.

The House of Atreus is personified as a character in its own right when the watchman says, "This house, if it could speak, might tell some stories." The house and its curse seem to have agency of their own—independent of the human characters.

When the watchman enthusiastically mentions his "lucky dice roll," he is introducing the theme of fate. The play asks whether Agamemnon, with his "good fortune," simply got lucky, or was the victory destined?

By his reluctance to reveal his thoughts at the end of his speech, the watchman likely has learned to keep silent, a technique the Chorus later says is "the best antidote against more trouble." What secrets is he hiding? Why does he claim to speak only "to those who know about these things"? The line suggests a common history of shame, of events so infamous everyone knows them and never speaks of them. The Chorus, made up of respected Argive elders, will have more liberty to explain.

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