Agamemnon enters riding a chariot. With him is the prophet Cassandra – a Trojan princess, Paris’ sister, and Agamemnon’s prize from the war.
Agamemnon’s entrance is a grand one, and he has taken a concubine (essentially a sex-slave) from the war—turning a Trojan princess into a slave as the ultimate sign of Troy’s defeat. This demonstration of luxury and arrogance immediately follows after the Chorus’s warning about this type of behavior.
The Chorus greets Agamemnon with honesty, claiming that not all of the citizens would be so willing to be frank with their king. They tell him that although they were not always entirely supportive of his military methods, particularly the sacrifice of his daughter, they are glad to have him back in Argos. They insinuate that in time, however, he will find out that all is not right at home.
The Chorus’s greeting confirms their loyalty to Agamemnon, while also gently warning him against deceit – and deceit is everywhere in Argos, from the unruly and dissatisfied citizens to Agamemnon’s own wife Clytemnestra.
Addressing the citizens of Argos, Agamemnon thanks the gods and begrudgingly reminds everyone that a woman caused the war that brought so much violence and destruction. Although he tries to appear grateful to the gods, Agamemnon’s account of the destruction of Troy is proud and boastful. He also attempts to allay the fear of political unrest by offering to set up an assembly where he can pinpoint and solve any outstanding issues in Argos.
Here, we get another brief glimpse of ancient Greek society’s disdain for women.We are reminded of the Trojan War’s persistent presence in Argos, and because of the sense of foreboding cultivated thus far, we begin to feel that Agamemnon may never get the chance to solve these problems the war has created. Furthermore, Agamemnon’s attitude does not seem to be in line with the Chorus’s description of righteousness.
As Agamemnon begins to descend from the chariot, Clytemnestra stops him and addresses the crowd. She recounts the intense grief, worry, and suicidal thoughts she experienced while waiting for her husband. She explains that because of her depressive behavior, she has sent their son, Orestes, to stay with a friend. Finally, as a way of celebrating her husband’s safe return, Clytemnestra asks that Agamemnon enter the palace walking on a carpet of luxurious purple tapestries.
Clytemnestra puts on a dramatic act in order to ensure that her revenge plot can be executed. She drops her usual aggressive manner for a sweeter, more fawning tone. If she can convince Agamemnon to walk on the cloths, this act of disrespect to the gods (that is, acting excessively arrogant) will seal his doom—making the gods angry at him and so unwilling to protect him from his wife. Clytemnestra also mentions her son Orestes here. He will return later in Aeschylus’s trilogy of plays to end the cycle of revenge.
Agamemnon chides Clytemnestra for speaking too much and refuses to walk on the tapestries, telling her that this would be an act of arrogance that the gods would not ignore. However, Clytemnestra continues to goad him, and he finally relents and enters the palace walking on the tapestries. Clytemnestra once again plays the role of loving wife and conveys how happy she is to have her husband back. She prays that Zeus’s master plan is fulfilled and follows Agamemnon into the palace.
We already know from the story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice that Agamemnon can be convinced to act rashly and against his better judgment. In this moment, we see this same character flaw now set into motion the tragic climax of the play. To the people of Argos, Clytemnestra might seem to be praying for good fortune, but we can interpret that she is in fact invoking the gods to help her with her own plans.
Although the Chorus has just witnessed Agamemnon’s safe return, their anxieties have not been quelled, and they can sense the vengeful Furies trying to inspire violence. They know that fate could change on a dime and turn a success into a tragedy. They discuss the finality and suddenness of death and feel that something bad is going to happen, but pray that it won’t.
The Chorus has actually just witnessed Agamemnon’s ultimate act of hubris – the act of defiance to the gods that brings about his downfall. Yet again, the Chorus, as the proxy to the audience, explains the unshakeable nature of fate, and helps guide the ominous tone of the play as it hurtles towards its climax.