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The Chorus Character Analysis

A group of elderly citizens of Argos. These men were too old to fight in the Trojan War, but they have vast knowledge of the history of the war, as well as Agamemnon’s family and ancestors. Throughout the play, they provide a proxy for the audience and provide them with important contextual information.

The Chorus Quotes in Agamemnon

The Agamemnon quotes below are all either spoken by The Chorus or refer to The Chorus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvard University Press edition of Agamemnon published in 1926.
Lines 1-354 Quotes

Then Agamemnon, the older king, spoke up:
“It’s harsh not to obey this fate—
but to go through with it is harsh as well,
to kill my child, the glory of my house,
to stain a father’s hands before the altar
with streams of virgin’s blood.
Which of my options is not evil?
How can I just leave this fleet,
and let my fellow warriors down?
Their passionate demand for sacrifice
to calm the winds lies within their rights—
even the sacrifice of virgin blood.
So be it. All may be well.”

But when Agamemnon strapped on
the harsh yoke of necessity,
his spirits changed, and his intentions
became profane, unholy, unsanctified.
He undertook an act beyond all daring.
Troubles come, above all, from delusions
inciting men to rash designs, to evil.
So Agamemnon steeled his heart
to make his own daughter the sacrifice,
an offering for the Achaean fleet…

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Iphigenia
Page Number: 206-229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this "flashback," we learn from the Greek Chorus that Agamemnon previously sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to ensure a safe voyage to Troy (where he was headed to start the Trojan War). Agamemnon's intentions were noble at first. The goddess Artemis sent winds to stop the Greek ships from reaching Troy, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia was demanded to appease her--but Agamemnon refused to kill his daughter.  Eventually, though, Agamemnon gave into his loyalty to his crew mates, as well as his own selfishness: to ensure that the ships would arrive in Troy (and presumably achieve great glory, riches, and revenge) he killed his own daughter.

The Chorus characterizes Agamemnon's action as ambiguous but ultimately unholy. Agamemnon may have been looking out for his fellow troops and appeasing a goddess, but in doing so, he sacrificed his loyalty to his own family--the ultimate crime in ancient Greece. Just like his father (the source of the curse on Agamemnon's family), Agamemnon has slaughtered his own family members, adding to the cycle of vengeance and punishment that haunts the House of Atreus. He is, in short, inviting punishment from the gods.


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Is this report reliable? Is there proof?
Of course there is. Unless some god deceives me.
Has some vision persuaded you of this,
something in a dream, perhaps?
Not at all.
As if I’d listen to some dozing brain.
Perhaps some unfledged rumour raised your hopes?
Now you’re insulting my intelligence,
as if I were a youngster, just a child.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 271-276
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Greek Chorus asks Queen Clytemnestra for news of the Trojan War. She replies that the war is won: Agamemnon's troops have finally stormed the city and accomplished their goals.

Strangely, the Greek Chorus seems to question the Queen's authority again and again--how is it possible, the Chorus asks, that she could have such specific news of the war? (In the following passage, Clytemnestra replies that a system of signal fires alerted her to Agamemnon's victory).

The Chorus's behavior is unusual in that it seems to be designed to clarify a potential plot-hole. It's a little implausible that Clytemnestra could know what happened in Troy before Agamemnon's return, but her forewarning is crucial to the plot of the play (she's been plotting even before Agamemnon returns). There are even some scholars who have argued that Clytemnestra is lying: she lit the fires herself. Another point to draw from the scene is that Clytemnestra's word is considered automatically questionable because she's a woman: in Clytemnestra's society, women are treated like second-class citizens (indeed, they're not citizens at all).

Lines 355-782 Quotes

The people’s voice, once angered,
can create dissent, ratifying a curse
which now must have its way.
And so, in my anxiety, I wait,
listening for something murky,
something emerging from the gloom.
For gods aren’t blind to men who kill.
In time, black agents of revenge,
the Furies, wear down and bring to nothing
the fortunes of a man who prospers
in unjust ways. They wear him out,
reverse his luck, and bring him at last
among the dead. There’s no remedy.
To boast too much of one’s success
is dangerous—the high mountain peak
is struck by Zeus’ lightning bolt.
I’d choose wealth no one could envy.
May I never be the sort of man
who puts whole cities to the sword.
Let me never see myself enslaved,
my life in someone else’s power.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, The Furies, Zeus
Page Number: 455-475
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus spells out the relationship between pride and tragedy in Greek drama. There is no greater sin in ancient Greece than excessive pride, or hubris. An overly proud man is practically begging for his comeuppance from the gods--as the Chorus explains (in rather personal terms), prideful men, especially men who've gained their fame and success through violence, will be punished by the gods, or in particular the Furies (whom we'll meet later on).

In short, the Chorus sketches a crude system of justice: climb too high in life, and you'll be "struck down" by Zeus (this is echoed in another famous Greek myth--the story of Icarus). The passage is very important because, as we'll see, Agamemnon is guilty of many sins, not the least of which is his fatal pride, the quality that ultimately ensures his doom at the hands of his wife.

Old violent aggression
loves to generate new troubles
among evil men—soon or late,
when it’s fated to be born,
new violence springs forth,
a spirit no one can resist or conquer,
unholy recklessness,
dark ruin on the home,
like the destructiveness
from which it sprang.
But Righteousness shines out
from grimy dwellings, honouring
the man who lives in virtue.
She turns her eyes away
from gold-encrusted mansions
where men’s hands are black,
and moves towards integrity,
rejecting power and wealth,
which, though praised, are counterfeit.
Righteousness leads all things
to well-deserved fulfillment.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 763-782
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the key themes of the play is the idea that evil always causes more evil somewhere down the line. Agamemnon's father's acts of evil and revenge spawn the evil and revenge in this play, as we'll see, and even Helen's abduction from Troy causes the various events of the play (without Helen's abduction, Agamemnon would never have sacrificed his daughter to reach Troy safely, and his wife presumably would never have murdered him). In short, evil and revenge are never ending cycles.

In Greek society at the time, there is a strong code of revenge and "blood for blood." Whenever an evil act is committed, it must be balanced out by another act--which itself causes more acts of vengeance and retribution. The only way to escape from the endless cycle, the Chorus suggests, is to embrace the path of wisdom and morality--foreshadowing the end of the Oresteia.

Lines 783-1033 Quotes

For, as we know, boundaries
of vigorous health break down—
disease is always pressing hard
the common wall between them.
So with the fate of men.
It holds to a straight course,
then, all at once, can crash
upon a hidden rock of grief.
But if, as a precaution,
men toss overboard
some part of their rich cargo,
and time their throw just right,
the house, though grieving,
will not completely founder,
nor will its hull be swamped.
And Zeus’ bountiful rich gifts
reaped from the furrows every year
hold off the plague of famine.
But once a murdered man’s dark blood
has soaked the ground, who then
can bring him back through song?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 1001-1021
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus sums up the play's take on fate and human existence. Humans live happy lives--until suddenly, they don't. The gods are always capable of punishing mortals, especially those who disrespect the gods with their pride and arrogance. Even the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world could be struck down by the almighty god, Zeus. The only way to be absolutely certain that a person has lived a fulfilling, happy life is to follow that person all the way to death.

The Chorus alludes to the sacrifice Agamemnon has made: he's tossed off his "cargo" (i.e., his daughter) in order to ensure his own survival and return to his native land. Agamemnon's actions are risky: in the end, the Chorus predicts, he may end up being punished--a process that art and poetry can document, but never change.

Lines 1331-1675 Quotes

To rest unsatisfied amid great wealth
is in the nature of all human beings.
No one can point and order it away
from princely homes by uttering the words
“Dissatisfaction, enter here no more!”
Take Agamemnon. The powers in heaven
permitted him to capture Priam’s town,
to return home honoured by the gods.
But now, if he must pay the penalty
for blood which other men before him shed
and die in retribution for the dead
he killed himself, what mortal human being
who hears all this can boast he lives
a life unscarred by fate?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, Priam
Page Number: 1331-1343
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus tries to come to terms with the dictates of free will and fate. In the past, Agamemnon has clearly had the blessings of the gods--he's won a great victory at Troy, for which he's been rewarded with glory and slaves. And yet Cassandra claims that Agamemnon will soon be punished; furthermore, he'll be punished for his father's acts of murder, not just his own. The Chorus concludes that all of life is predetermined by "fate." There's nothing Agamemnon can do to escape his punishment--no amount of caution or modesty can ever make up for his father's brutality or his own past actions.

The Chorus's observations might seem harsh by modern Western standards. It's a cornerstone of our society that people should only be punished for actions that they committed of their own free will. Agamemnon, by contrast, is being punished partly for actions completely beyond his control (his father's murders). Agamemnon is also being punished for killing his own daughter--and yet the rules of fate and destiny seem indifferent to a person's individual actions and responsibilities.


O that some Fate would soon come,
free from suffering and quick,
bringing endless sleep,
our last eternal sleep,
now our gracious lord is dead.
For a woman’s sake
he suffered much, and now
by a woman’s hand he died.

Alas for you, Helen, frantic woman.
On your own, beneath Troy’s walls,
you slaughtered many lives,
and more than many.
Now you wear your final garland—
one long remembered for the blood
which will never wash away.
Back then in this house
lived a spirit of strife,
a power that broke our king.

Don’t torment yourself like this, invoking
death and fate, or redirect your rage
on Helen, as if she killed those men,
all those Danaan lives, all by herself,
and brought us pain past remedy.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, Helen
Page Number: 1448-1468
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus and Clytemnestra argue over the true source of the tragedy that's fallen on the House of Atreus. The Chorus (made up of old, crotchety men) insists that Helen is to blame for the present disaster: if Helen hadn't been abducted, then there would have been no war, and Agamemnon would still be alive. Clytemnestra angrily disagrees with the Chorus--she points out that Helen herself killed no one; it was the soldiers who fought in the Trojan War who truly set in motion the events of the play we've been reading.

The passage illustrates the structures of blame and scapegoating that are closely tied to the rule of "blood for blood." Whenever there's a big tragedy, somebody (usually a woman) gets stuck with the blame--even if that person isn't totally responsible for the tragedy. In this case, Helen is assigned with the blame for the tragedy of the Trojan War. By the same token, whenever a tragedy occurs, the Furies need to know who to punish. Clytemnestra's explanation of the "cause" of the Trojan War is a lot more convincing than the Chorus's, but the Furies would never be satisfied with such a "diffused" explanation (i.e., the explanation that the Trojan War was the result of many different complex motivations and responsibilities): there can only ever be one scapegoat at a time.

One disgrace exchanged for yet another,
the struggle to decide is hard.
The man who sins is sinned against,
the killer pays the price.
Yet while Zeus sits upon his throne
this decree from god remains—
the man who acts will suffer.
Who can then cast from this house
its self-perpetuating curse?
This race is wedded to destruction.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 1560-1569
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play draws to a close, we come back to the same idea we've heard from Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and many of the other characters: balance. Every sin must be balanced out with an act of revenge, and every drop of blood spilled must be canceled out with more blood.

The Chorus isn't satisfied with the endless cycle of murder and revenge--it benefits no one, and actually cripples the House of Atreus. The Chorus prays that someone will come along to end the cycle of revenge. As we'll see in the two sequels to Agamemnon, Orestes at first continues the cycle of revenge by killing his mother, but then at last brings it to a close, changing the nature of the very Furies themselves.

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The Chorus Character Timeline in Agamemnon

The timeline below shows where the character The Chorus appears in Agamemnon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-354
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
...the palace to inform the queen that he has seen the signal fire, and the Chorus enters. The Chorus (which speaks all together) is made up of a group of elderly... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus then explains that during the war, the goddess Artemis had sent strong winds to delay... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Chorus implores Clytemnestra to tell them what has happened, and she gives them the good news... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Clytemnestra describes to the Chorus the system of signal fires that was used in order relay the news to Argos,... (full context)
Lines 355-782
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus thanks Zeus for destroying Troy, and comments that Troy’s downfall is evidence for the gods... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...forward, all the gods will look favorably upon the Greeks. He then confirms for the Chorus that Troy has fallen and that Agamemnon is on his way home. (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus, anxious about mounting unrest in Argos, tells the Herald that the army will be welcome... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Herald reminds the Chorus that even though there were hardships in the past, the Trojan War is now over... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Clytemnestra appears and scolds the Chorus for not believing her about the war’s end earlier. She gloats that despite the Chorus’s... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus asks what has happened to Menelaus’ half of the Greek fleet. The Herald says that... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus considers Helen and the fact that one woman could bring so much destruction and strife.... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus declares that violent and evil acts breed more of the same kind. They go on... (full context)
Lines 783-1033
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus greets Agamemnon with honesty, claiming that not all of the citizens would be so willing... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Although the Chorus has just witnessed Agamemnon’s safe return, their anxieties have not been quelled, and they can... (full context)
Lines 1034-1330
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...inside, but Cassandra remains silent. At first, Clytemnestra tries to reason with Cassandra, and the Chorus urges her to follow the queen’s orders, citing that fate has brought her to this... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus gathers around Cassandra, and she falls into a trance-like state. Her disparate phrases and thoughts... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus asks Cassandra how she came to be a prophet, and with a little probing, Cassandra... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...Thyestes) eating his own cooked children, Cassandra explicitly declares that Agamemnon will be murdered. The Chorus, however, cannot seem to make the connection between the crimes of Agamemnon’s father (Atreus) and... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus asks Cassandra what man would possibly murder the king—they are completely unable to imagine that... (full context)
Lines 1331-1675
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
The Chorus considers Cassandra’s prophecy. They conclude that if the prophecy is indeed true, and that if... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
All of a sudden, from within the palace, Agamemnon screams twice. The Chorus goes into a state of panic, each member suggesting conflicting ideas for what to do... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...confesses to killing Agamemnon and details how she murdered him by stabbing him twice. The Chorus wants Clytemnestra to be banished, but she retorts that their judgment is a double standard—the... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
The Chorus calls Clytemnestra ambitious and arrogant. Unfazed, Clytemnestra interrupts them and goes on to reveal that... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Chorus laments that all this violence and suffering was for the sake of woman, and connects... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Clytemnestra continues to justify her revenge to the Chorus and admits no guilt for the murder. The Chorus cries out in grief for the... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...where Agamemnon’s father Atreus cooked Aegisthus’ brothers and fed them to Aegisthus’ father, Thyestes. The Chorus then accuses Aegisthus of being cowardly and womanly for not fighting in the war, and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Aegisthus threatens the Chorus with his soldiers, but Clytemnestra stops the moment from escalating into more violence. As Aegisthus... (full context)