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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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Agamemnon | Quotes


What's destined to come will be fulfilled, and no libation, sacrifice, or human tears will mitigate the gods' unbending wrath of sacrifice not blessed by fire.

Chorus, Parodos

The Chorus explores the theme of inescapable fate and the importance of humility before the gods. Although humans offer libations and sacrifices to appease cosmic forces, such gifts will not change their fates if they have committed crimes according to the myths.


Sing out the song of sorrow, song of grief, but let the good prevail.

Chorus, Parodos

In the struggle of righteousness versus evil, the Chorus believes it is on the side of righteousness. The Chorus bears witness to atrocious events, singing about "sorrow" and "grief," but hopes for better human behavior. These lines are repeated, as a refrain, in the first choral ode, emphasizing the role of tragedy in exploring good and evil in human nature.


The scales of Justice move to show wisdom comes through suffering.

Chorus, Parodos

Humans must endure suffering before they can know its reward: wisdom. According to the Chorus, humans should bear suffering patiently, trusting the gods will enact justice. Iphigenia's death brought pain to her family and so did the war. But did Agamemnon or Clytaemnestra learn anything from their suffering? The Chorus will observe their actions in the coming episodes.


In time, black agents of revenge, the Furies, wear down and bring to nothing the fortunes of a man who prospers in unjust ways.

Chorus, Stasimon 1

The Furies enact the laws of the natural world. Their version of revenge is a kind of justice—making people pay for their crimes. Those who prosper through war and criminal acts, like Atreus, Agamemnon, and Aegisthus, will bring ruin on themselves. This statement becomes Clytaemnestra's rationale when she kills Agamemnon.


Old violent aggression loves to generate new troubles among evil men.

Chorus, Stasimon 2

When Clytaemnestra says "new blood spurts out before the old wound heals," she refers to past crimes, which still fester, unforgiven. The Chorus also points to old aggressions, like Paris's kidnapping Helen, as reasons "evil men" inflict suffering on others. Grudges and family wounds do not heal. This quotation also emphasizes the connections between the past, the present, and the future.


There is the sea. Who will drain it dry?

Clytaemnestra, Episode 3

Clytaemnestra gets the expensive purple dye from the sea. Wanting Agamemnon to walk across the carpet without feeling as though he is desecrating sacred ground, she implies that their wealth enables them to obtain more of the dye. In boasting of wealth Clytaemnestra links the riches of the House of Atreus to the natural world, thinking no one can defeat her, as she says of the sea, "who will drain it dry?" Her statement reflects the theme of overabundance of wealth leading to evil and catastrophe.


A house that hates the gods ... house full of death, kinsmen butchered ... heads chopped off ... a human slaughterhouse awash in blood.

Cassandra, Episode 4

This is Cassandra's first delirious assessment of the House of Atreus. She sees the immediate future ("kinsmen butchered") as well as the past of the slaughter of Thyestes's children and the eternal curse ("a house that hates the gods"). Her prophecies manipulate time, helping the audience understand the slaughter will not end unless the gods intervene.


Another man will come and will avenge us, a son who'll kill his mother, then pay back his father's death, a wanderer in exile, a man this country's made a stranger.

Cassandra, Episode 4

Cassandra predicts Orestes will return from exile. Her gift of prophecy and Aeschylus's tendency to allow characters to imagine past and future happenings give Cassandra the ability to describe events she cannot see. After Agamemnon's death, the Chorus clings to this prophecy.


When things go well, a shadow overturns it all. When badly, a damp sponge wipes away the picture. Of these two, the second is more pitiful.

Cassandra, Episode 4

Cassandra's last words deplore the human tendency to forget the past, especially terrible events. She knows circumstances, both good and bad, are temporary. Good fortunes can change with "a shadow." But even if tragic events and deeds are wiped away with the "damp sponge" of memory, humans still must pay for their crimes.


The form of this corpse's wife was taken on by the ancient savage spirit of revenge. For that brutal meal prepared by Atreus, it sacrificed one full-grown man, payment for two butchered children.

Clytaemnestra, Exodos

Clytaemnestra justifies her killing by dissociating and referring to a force, an "ancient savage spirit," greater than herself. She does not think of herself as an agent with free will and accountability nor of Agamemnon as a man when she says "this corpse's wife." She also pays tribute to the larger forces at work in the family's history: the curse and the sins of Atreus.


No, storms of blood rain batter down, destroying the house, while fate on yet another whetstone, hones the edge of Justice, for the next act, one more crime.

Chorus, Exodos

This quotation reflects recurring ideas and images in Agamemnon: blood, chaotic weather (storms), fate, justice, and the inevitable destruction of the House of Atreus. The language is aggressive and visceral, painting a picture in the audience's mind. "The next act, one more crime" refers to Orestes's avenging of his father's death.


The man who sins is sinned against, the killer pays the price.

Chorus, Exodos

This remark represents the cyclical nature of revenge. Every main character in the play is both wronged and guilty, for different reasons. This duality makes them fully human. No one is innocent. The bloodthirsty desire for vengeance will continue the cycle in the House of Atreus.

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