Plot Summary of Agamemnon by Aeschylus

The prologue, parados, episodes, and stasima of Agamemnon

Dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, fulcrum of cycle with Stories of Iliad, by Felice Giani (1758-1823), fresco, vault of Feast Hall or Achilles' Gallery, main floor, Palazzo Milzetti, Faenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, 19th century
DEA / G. CIGOLINI / Getty Images

Aeschylus' Agamemnon was originally performed at the City Dionysia of 458 B.C., as the first tragedy in the only surviving trilogy of ancient Greek plays. Aeschylus won 1st prize for his tetralogy (the trilogy and a satyr play).

Online English translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, by E. D. A. Morshead

Overview

Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War has returned after 10 years. He arrives with Cassandra in tow.

There is controversy about the performance dates for the Greek tragedies and the components of Greek tragedy.

Structure

The divisions of ancient plays were marked by interludes of choral odes. For this reason, the first song of the chorus is called the parodos (or eisodos because the chorus enters at this time), although the subsequent ones are called stasima, standing songs. The episodes, like acts, follow the parados and stasima. The exodus is the final, leaving-the-stage choral ode.

  1. Prologue 1-39
  2. Parados 40-263
  3. 1st Episode 264-354
  4. 1st Stasimon 355-488
  5. 2nd Episode 489-680
  6. 2nd Stasimon 681-809
  7. 3rd Episode 810-975
  8. 3rd Stasimon 976-1034
  9. 4th Episode 1035-1071
  10. Kommos 1072-1330
  11. 4th Stasimon 1331-1342
  12. 5th Episode 1343-1447
  13. Exodus 1448-1673

    (Line numbers from Robin Mitchell-Boyak, but I also consulted The Structure of Aeschylus' Agamemnon by Dr Janice Siegel)

Setting

In front of the royal palace of Agamemnon at Argos.

Characters of Agamemnon

  • Agamemnon
  • Aegisthus
  • Clytemnestra
  • Cassandra
  • Herald
  • Watchman
  • Chorus of Argive Elders

Prologue

(Watchman)

enters.

Sees the Greeks have taken Troy.

exit.

Parodos

(The chorus of Argive elders)

Summarises the war to get back Helen, Agamemnon's sister-in-law. They are suspicious of what Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra is up to.

They describe the injustice done to Clytemnestra by her husband.

(Clytemnestra enters)

First Episode

(Chorus Leader and Clytemnestra )

The chorus learns from the queen that the Greeks are back from Troy, but they don't believe her until she explains the beacon relay that provided her with the news, then the chorus gets set to offer prayers and thanksgiving.

Clytemnestra exits.

First Stasimon

(The chorus)

Says that Zeus is the god of guests and hosts and disapproves of breaking the bonds, as Paris did. The families suffer and begrudge their losses when their men follow Agamemnon to war to avenge Paris' theft. Too much glory brings an inevitable fall.

Second Episode

(Chorus and the Herald)

The Herald asks the gods to welcome back those who have survived the 10-year war, and especially Agamemnon who destroyed their land and the altars to their gods. The chorus says it has been anxious for the return.

Clytemnestra enters.

She says she already knew it was time to rejoice and asks that the message is brought to her husband that she has remained faithful and loyal.

Clytemnestra exits.

The herald doesn't any better than to believe Clytemnestra. The chorus wants to know whether Menelaus suffered any mishaps, which he and other Achaeans have, but the herald says it's a day for rejoicing.

The Herald exits.

Second Stasimon

(The chorus)

The chorus takes Helen to task. It also blames an evil/proud family for producing future generations of ill-doers.

Agamemnon and Cassandra enter.

The chorus greets their king.

Third Episode

(Chorus and Agamemnon, with Cassandra)

The king greets the city and says he will now go to his wife.

Clytemnestra enters.

Clytemnestra explains how awful it is to be the wife of a man away at war. She addresses her attendants to fete her husband and strew his path with a royal cloth. Agamemnon doesn't want to make a feminine entrance or one more suited to the gods. Clytemnestra persuades him to step on the royal cloth, anyway. He asks her to receive the war prize that is Cassandra with kindness. Clytemnestra then asks Zeus to work his will.

Clytemnestra and Agamemnon exit.

Third Stasimon

(The chorus, with Cassandra)

The chorus senses doom. Fate doesn't forget blood guilt.

Fourth Episode

(The Chorus, with Cassandra)

Clytemnestra enters.

Clytemnestra tells (silent) Cassandra to go inside. The Chorus tells her to do so, too.

Kommos

(Cassandra and Chorus)

Cassandra is distraught and invokes the god Apollo. The chorus doesn't understand, so Cassandra tells the future, or the present -- that Clytemnestra is slaying her husband, and the past, that the house has a lot of blood guilt. She tells of how apollo gave her the gift of prophecy but then cursed her. She knows she will be killed, but still enters the house.

Cassandra exits.

Fourth Stasimon

(The Chorus)

The chorus describes the multi-generational blood-guilt of the House of Atreus and hears shrieking from within the palace.

Fifth Episode

(The Chorus)

Agamemnon is heard to cry out that he has been struck a mortal blow, and cries out again about a second. The Chorus discusses what to do. They look around.

Clytemnestra enters.

She says she lied for good reason before. She is proud that she killed Agamemnon. The Chorus wonders if she has become maddened by some type of potion and says she'll be exiled. She says they should have exiled him when he sacrificed his own child. She says Aegisthus is beside her and that they slew Cassandra, Agamemnon's concubine.

Exodos

(The Chorus and Clytemnestra)

They take to task the two women who have caused such turmoil, Clytemnestra, for killing their guardian, the king, and her sister Helen.

Clytemnestra reminds them it wasn't Helen who killed the warriors. The Chorus warns that there will be further evil.

Aegisthus enters.

Aegisthus explains his part of the vengeance cycle, that Agamemnon's father had served Aegisthus' father his sons as a feast. These were Aegisthus' brothers. Aegisthus says he can die now that he has obtained revenge. The Chorus says they will stone him, ignoring the presence of his retainers. Aegisthus says he will use the late king's gold to control the people of Argos. Clytemnestra tells them to cool down. The Chorus and Aegisthus do so but continue to taunt each other, the Chorus saying that Fates willing, Orestes will return home soon.

The End

Sections of the Tragedy in Popular Translations

Lattimore's Chicago TranslationRobert Fagles' translation
Prologue: 1-39
Parodos: 40-257
Episode I: 258-354
Stasimon I: 355-474
Episode II: 475-680
Stasimon II: 681-781
Episode III: 767-974
Stasimon III: 975-1034
Episode IV: 1035-1068
Epirrhematic: 1069-1177
Episode V: 1178-1447
Epirrhematic: 1448-1576
Episode VI: 1577-1673
Prologue 1-43.
Parodos: 44-258.
Episode I: 258-356.
Stasimon I: 356-492.
Episode II: 493-682.
Stasimon II: 683-794.
Episode III: 795-976.
Stasimon III: 977-1031.
Episode IV: 1032-1068.
Kommos: 1069-1354.
Stasimon IV: 1355-1368.
Episode V: 1369-1475.
Exodos: 1476-1708.
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Plot Summary of Agamemnon by Aeschylus." ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/plot-summary-of-agamemnon-by-aeschylus-116743. Gill, N.S. (2017, February 9). Plot Summary of Agamemnon by Aeschylus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/plot-summary-of-agamemnon-by-aeschylus-116743 Gill, N.S. "Plot Summary of Agamemnon by Aeschylus." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/plot-summary-of-agamemnon-by-aeschylus-116743 (accessed December 13, 2017).