Agamemnon | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Agamemnon | Stasimon 2 | Summary

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Summary

The Chorus recalls Helen's capture, which started the war. Troy celebrated when she first arrived. Now Troy is mourning.

The Chorus tells a story of a man who raised a lion cub. At first the cub was gentle and beloved. As it grew older, it became aggressive and slaughtered the family flocks to prepare a meal for its parents. Powerless, the parents realized they had raised "a priest of doom in their own house." Similarly Helen was calm when she first arrived in Troy. Then she turned into a destroyer, becoming like one of the Furies, or vengeful goddesses.

An old saying states a man's prosperity "has offspring": fortunate men will have troubled children. The Chorus disagrees. What dooms generations of families, they say, is violence and aggression: "the unholy act," for children inherit their parents' violent tendencies. To be righteous, families should reject power and wealth.

Agamemnon returns in his chariot, accompanied by his soldiers and the captive Cassandra. The Chorus leader steps forward to welcome the returned king. Admitting he disagreed with the war at first, the Chorus leader admires Agamemnon's triumph and is prepared to tell him which Argos residents guarded the city in his absence and which did not.

Analysis

More news of the war frightens the Chorus. The descriptions become more poetic, exaggerated, and violent: the West Wind as "an earth-born giant," for instance, and repeated references to blood and slaughter.

The calm lion cub turned murderous beast is a metaphor for fatal Helen beguiling the Trojans. Individuals cannot escape their true nature, the legacy they received from the family into which they were born. Helen may have come to Troy "like a calming breeze" (the Chorus describes her with rich, lush metaphor, indicating the larger-than-life idea of Helen's beauty), but she brought the destructive troops of Argos, led by Zeus, after her. The "meal in gratitude" prepared by the lion cub, the meal masquerading as a gift and resulting in "massive carnage," reflects the infamous meal described later in the play: Atreus's serving of Thyestes's children to their father. Treachery is the theme here: destruction disguised as an offering.

The Furies, goddesses of vengeance, mercilessly enforced natural order. The play cites their power repeatedly.

The Chorus members, like the other characters in the play, believe they are on the side of righteousness in the thematic struggle of righteousness versus evil. They know cycles of violence never end. Old violence begets new violence; old blood begets new blood. Evil, not prosperity, will be punished. In the epode of this ode, the Chorus turns its gaze to appearances and reality. The "gold-encrusted mansions" indicate the showing of outward wealth to cover the "black hands" of inward evil. Righteousness does not depend on wealth, and the two do not necessarily occur together.

As he greets Agamemnon, the Chorus leader mentions many men can pretend to be happy or sad. Is he referring to Clytaemnestra, who will spend the next scene disguising her emotions? Or is he trying to get in the good graces of the king? The Chorus leader is honest enough to tell Agamemnon he disagreed with the war at first. Nevertheless he is loyal and seeks recognition for loyalty. Returning to the symbol of the watchdog, the Chorus members present themselves as the true watchdogs in Argos. Despite the Chorus's respect for the victorious Agamemnon, he has been branded a sinner. The audience may wonder how the contradiction in his behavior will be resolved.

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