Agamemnon | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Agamemnon | Stasimon 1 | Summary

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Summary

The Chorus members praise Zeus, who assured the Argive victory. They know the gods care about human affairs and deliver justice; "destruction is the penalty for those with reckless pride" such as Paris. The Chorus warns wealth does not bring security.

Paris abused Argive hospitality by capturing Menelaus's wife Helen. Menelaus grieved his wife deeply. Other citizens of Greece suffered the losses of war. Sorrow made the people resentful of the war's leaders, Agamemnon and Menelaus. The people's wrath, says the Chorus, is "a curse which now must have its way." The gods and the Furies will punish boastful men who do not deserve their prosperity.

The Chorus members begin to speak individually. They hope the signal fire message means the war is over, but they doubt the message is accurate. Some Chorus members say Clytaemnestra, as a woman, is too trusting and believes rumor easily. The Chorus leader sees a herald (a soldier) approaching the palace. From the herald's appearance, the Chorus leader can tell he has come from the battlefield and will know what really has happened.

Analysis

The Chorus tends to think in images and lyrics. Even when relating facts, it uses metaphors that reinforce the play's symbols: Zeus's "hunting net" surrounding Troy and Paris "like a child chasing a flying bird." It is also aware of the murmuring of the people against the war, the gathering storm in the House of Atreus.

The Chorus anticipates men will attribute the chain of events to Zeus, avoiding responsibility themselves. It anticipates hubris—pride—as a source of destruction, affecting both Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. Persuasion—meaning flattery, rhetoric, or false praise—is an equally destructive force that can affect a rich man like Agamemnon as easily as it affected Paris. Lurid glitter and false bronze reflect gilded appearances, like Agamemnon's palace, which are not what they seem and reinforce the theme of evil stemming from a show of wealth. The warning against boastfulness foreshadows Agamemnon's actions in walking across the purple carpet.

Paris and Helen may have initiated the Trojan War. But Agamemnon escalated the violence, punishing everyone in Troy, including innocent citizens. He enlisted young Argive men to fight and die, causing "insufferable grief" to their families. And, as the audience will learn, he brings back the surviving crew of only one ship, representing a very significant loss.

As the Chorus emphasizes the cost of war to soldiers and civilians, it subtly expresses its own dissent, although Chorus members are loyal to the king, even when they disagree with his decisions. They are patriots who want the best for their city, but they do hear the general consensus. They know "gods aren't blind to men who kill"; the curse will have its way. On principle Chorus members oppose the war, believing both sides wrong; they wish to be neither conquerors nor slaves.

Usually suspicious, the Chorus does not trust Clytaemnestra completely. Chorus members are respectful, but they believe women to be irrational and emotional. They may also sense Clytaemnestra, in particular, tends to lie to get her way.

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