The Chorus thanks Zeus for destroying Troy, and comments that Troy’s downfall is evidence for the gods intervening in mortals’ lives. The Chorus illustrates its point by saying that Zeus destroyed Troy in order to make an example out of the Trojan prince Paris for the overly prideful act of stealing Helen from Menelaus. At the same time, the Chorus expresses concern that the staggering number of deaths suffered by the Greeks during the war is creating unrest in Argos, and that the citizens may resent Agamemnon for engaging in such a long and difficult war. Furthermore, the Chorus worries that the army’s violence may be punished by the gods if they are not careful.
The Chorus’s speech here is peppered with warnings that excesses of pride and violence may provoke the wrath of the gods. Although they use Paris as an example, we are meant to also draw a comparison to the most recent victor: Agamemnon.We also learn that in the aftermath of such a difficult war, Agamemnon may not be returning to Argos on an entirely sure political footing.
A Herald from the military arrives at the palace. In an emotional speech, he thanks the gods for his safe return home from Troy. He thanks both the gods that supported the Greeks during the war, and gods that did not, and prays that from this point 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.
The Herald’s long list of thanks continues to reinforce the idea that characters in the play fully submit to the ideas of fate and predetermination. Their lives are essentially decided by the gods, so it is important to keep the gods (who are often petty, jealous, and spiteful) always appeased.
The Chorus, anxious about mounting unrest in Argos, tells the Herald that the army will be welcome back and couldn’t be coming at a better time. When the Herald asks if the Chorus was afraid of any particular person in the army’s absence, the Chorus admits that it was—but it is reluctant to reveal whom.
The Chorus’s unarticulated anxiety refers to the fear of Clytemnestra herself—both the way she has ruled Argos in Agamemnon’s absence, and perhaps fear of violence to come.
The Herald reminds the Chorus that even though there were hardships in the past, the Trojan War is now over and should not be dwelled upon. He uses himself as an example, outlining the many struggles he overcame, and boasts of his survival.
The Herald is a character who is blinded by patriotism, and this makes him ignore the fact that the gods may not look favorably upon Agamemnon and the conquest of Troy. The Herald cannot see the “big picture,” where the cycle of revenge and violence is never forgotten.
Clytemnestra appears and scolds the Chorus for not believing her about the war’s end earlier. She gloats that despite the Chorus’s disbelief, she has informed the citizens of Argos of Troy’s downfall and they have believed her. She goes on to say that a woman can feel no greater joy than being reunited with her husband. She assures the Chorus and the Herald that she has been a faithful and loving wife, and returns to the palace.
When Clytemnestra enters, she is still offended by the way the Chorus regards her, but eventually puts on a typical “feminine” mask (praising her husband) in order to quietly execute her plan. In addition, the fact that the citizens of Argos have believed Clytemnestra suggests that she has gained their support while Agamemnon has been in Troy.
The Chorus asks what has happened to Menelaus’ half of the Greek fleet. The Herald says that a storm hit them on the return journey and that Menelaus and his men are missing. He is not sure of their fate, however, and would rather not ruin the celebratory atmosphere in Argos with unconfirmed bad news. Having finished his report, the Herald leaves the palace.
The Herald is convinced that the reason his part of the fleet survived was some kind of divine intervention—but he also believes that the Greek victory in Troy and Menelaus’s misfortune should be kept separate. Regardless, the Herald’s stubborn optimism provides a bit of dramatic irony before the tragedy of the play unfolds.
The Chorus considers Helen and the fact that one woman could bring so much destruction and strife. They recount how Helen traveled to Troy by boat, and how Agamemnon’s army followed her there, bringing Troy’s ultimate destruction.
In the moments before Agamemnon’s arrival, the Chorus recounts a story of a person who arrives somewhere, and brings with them violence and destruction. This anecdote provides a mirror for the violence about to unfold in Argos, and reinforces the idea that fate is predetermined, and moves in endless cycles.
The Chorus declares that violent and evil acts breed more of the same kind. They go on to say that righteousness the way to lead a fulfilling life, and that a righteous person must turn away from luxury and the hunger for power.
Once more the Chorus emphasizes the idea that evil acts (like revenge) only engender more evil. This manifesto’s placement in the play is significant, as we are about to see Agamemnon make a prideful mistake that allows this cycle to continue.