The opening play in the Oresteian
Trilogy, which one first place in the City Dionysia in 458 B.C.
The Trilogy was completed on that occasion by a satyr-drama,
PROTEUS, on the same theme, making it a tetralogy. PROTEUS, however,
has been lost.
MORE than ten years before the action of the play begins,
Paris, Prince of Troy, had betrayed the hospitality of Menelaus,
King of Sparta, by eloping with Menelaus' wife, the beautiful
Helen. Menelaus' brother, Agamemnon, King of Argos, had been
elected head of the armies promptly assembled from all the Greek
cities for the purpose of avenging the injury to Menelaus. For
ten long years the Grecian hosts had besieged the walls of Troy,
but as the play opens their signal fires announcing Troy fallen
and Menelaus avenged have just been sighted by the watchman on
the roof of the palace in Argos.
During these ten years Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's faithless
queen, had taken for her lover, Aegisthus, blood enemy of Agamemnon's
house. Now when the watchman rushes down from the roof of the
palace to wake the sleeping household and to announce the imminent
return of the rightful king, Clytemnestra immediately makes plans
for his reception. Almost on the heels of the announcement Agamemnon
himself arrives with many captives and loads of booty in his
train. Clytemnestra greets him with great show of wifely affection,
has purple tapestries laid for him to walk upon as befits a conqueror,
and bids him come within to refresh himself from his travels.
Now among the captives is Cassandra, the seeress daughter
of the Trojan King, whom Agamemnon had taken as his concubine.
Scarcely have Clytemnestra and Agamemnon entered the palace when
Cassandra falls into a trance and foretells the murder of both
Agamemnon and herself by the faithless queen. Then she enters
the palace from behind whose closed doors almost at once comes
a scream and then a dying moan. Shortly the doors are thrown
open to reveal the double murder and Clytemnestra appears to
justify her deed before the Argive elders. She reminds them that
ten years before Agamemnon had sacrificed her daughter, Iphigenia,
to propitiate the gods and gain calm seas for the Grecian fleet.
She calls to their attention the fact that he returned home flaunting
another woman in her face. Her deed, she claims, is no murder
but a just retribution.
The people of Argos, however, have always resented Aegisthus
as an interloper. Some of them want to take matters into their
own hands and avenge the death of their King. But the wiser heads
among them counsel discretion and remind them that in his son,
Orestes, now approaching manhood, Agamemnon will shortly find
a natural avenger.