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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

But I hope

the master of this house may come home soon,
so I can grasp his welcome hand in mine.
As for all the rest, I’m saying nothing.
A great ox stands on my tongue. But this house,
if it could speak, might tell some stories.
I speak to those who know about these things.
For those who don’t, there’s nothing I remember.

Related Characters: The Watchman (speaker), Agamemnon
Page Number: 33-39
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play begins, the Watchman sets the scene for a complex, multi-generational tragedy. The Watchman waits for his king, Agamemnon, to return from the Trojan War. And yet he feels a deep sense of unease--not so much about Agamemnon but about Agamemnon's home. Greek audiences would have understood that the Watchman is referring to the curse of Agamemnon's family--a curse that began when Agamemnon's father cooked his brother's own children and fed them to his brother. The gods vowed to punish Agamemnon's entire family (the House of Atreus) for the evil act. Now, it seems, the god's punishment has extended to Agamemnon himself--and this is foreshadowed because all the people of Argos know that something is wrong in the royal house.


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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.

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.

Some time ago I cried out in triumph,
rejoicing when that first messenger arrived,
the fiery herald in the night, who told me
Troy was captured and was being destroyed.
Some people criticized me then, saying,
“How come you’re so easily persuaded
by signal fires Troy’s being demolished?
Isn’t that just like a woman’s heart,
to get so jubilant?”

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker)
Page Number: 586-593
Explanation and Analysis:

Clytemnestra here spells out more distinctions between masculinity and femininity in her society. Although she correctly interprets the signal fires coming from Troy and concludes that Agamemnon has won the Trojan War, her announcement is not welcomed. Rather, people (including the old men who make up the Chorus) question Clytemnestra and suggest that she is jumping to conclusions because she's a woman (and therefore more likely to be flighty in her emotions).

Clytemnestra is a proud, fierce woman, but in her society, her innate talents can only get her so far. Her authority is always being questioned and reinterpreted in light of her gender. It's implied at several points that Clytemnestra plots to kill Agamemnon, not just because of her anger over Iphigenia but because of her desire for power--power that her current station (queen) doesn't provide. Furthermore, what's later considered to be Clytemnestra's great crime (killing her husband) is later inextricably linked to her lack of femininity and submission to gender roles.

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

Daughter of Leda, guardian of my home,
your speech was, like my absence, far too long.
Praise that’s due to us should come from others.
Then it’s worthwhile. All those things you said—
don’t puff me up with such female honours,
or grovel there before me babbling tributes,
like some barbarian. Don’t invite envy
to cross my path by strewing it with cloth.
That’s how we honour gods, not human beings.
For a mortal man to place his foot like this
on rich embroidery is, in my view,
not without some risk. So I’m telling you
honour me as a man, not as a god.
My fame proclaims itself. It does not need
foot mats made out of such embroideries.
Not even to think of doing something bad
is god’s greatest gift. When a man’s life ends
in great prosperity, only then can we declare
that he’s a happy man. Thus, if I act,
in every circumstance, as I ought to now,
there’s nothing I need fear.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: The Purple Tapestries
Page Number: 915-930
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Clytemnestra tries to convince her husband Agamemnon, newly returned from Troy, to walk along a purple tapestry that symbolizes his wealth and power. Agamemnon is highly reluctant to walk along the royal tapestry: he thinks that doing so would be showing off, and would anger the gods excessively. Agamemnon is savvy enough to know that the gods love to punish arrogant, proud people--he's trying to keep his head down to avoid divine retribution.

At the end of his speech, Agamemnon makes an interesting point: we can only measure the happiness of a man's life by waiting to see how his life ends. In other words, a man who is happy and prosperous now might not necessarily die that way. Agamemnon's words (an allusion to the Greek legend of Solon, later repeated in the Histories by Herodotus) are important because they reinforce the play's themes of punishment and uncertainty. Happiness and contentment are never certain at all--they can always be replaced with misery and pain. Agamemnon here tries to escape divine punishment, but as we'll see, his attempts are all in vain.

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 1034-1330 Quotes

Up there on that roof there sits a chorus—
it never leaves. They sing in harmony,
but the song is harsh, predicting doom.
Drinking human blood has made them bold—
they dance in celebration through the house.
The family’s Furies cannot be dislodged.
Sitting in the home, they chant their song,
the madness that began all this, each in turn
cursing that man who defiled his brother’s bed.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Agamemnon, Atreus, Thyestes, The Furies
Page Number: 1185-1193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Trojan slave Cassandra, who's been cursed with the ability to see the future and have no one listen to her, talks about the future of Agamemnon's family (the House of Atreus). Agamemnon's father has done some horrible things--murdering children in his own family and feeding them to his brother, in revenge for his brother stealing his kingdom and wife ("the man who defiled his brother's bed"). The gods, Cassandra predicts, will punish Agamemnon, both for his father's sins and for his own.

Cassandra alludes to a chorus, but this is not the chorus of old men that we've met previously. Rather Cassandra is talking about the Furies, the monstrous goddesses who punish the wicked for their sins. The Furies personify the cycle of "blood for blood" that Cassandra has alluded to: as the cycle goes on, generation after generation, the Furies develop a craving for more blood--a gory metaphor that suggests the way that revenge has a way of perpetuating itself over time.

But we’ll not die without the gods’ revenge.
Another man will come and will avenge us,
a son who’ll kill his mother, then pay back
his father’s death, a wanderer in exile,
a man this country’s made a stranger.
He’ll come back and, like a coping stone,
bring the ruin of his family to a close.
For gods have made a powerful promise—
his father’s stretched out corpse will bring him home.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes
Page Number: 1279-1287
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Trojan prisoner Cassandra goes quietly to be murdered, knowing that nothing she does can prevent her inevitable death. Cassandra sees a "light at the end of the tunnel," however. Even if she herself will be killed, there will eventually come an end to the cycle of death and "blood for blood" that has cursed the House of Atreus. After Agamemnon and Cassandra's death, Orestes will come to avenge his father's murder by killing Clytemnestra. Somehow, Cassandra claims, Orestes' actions will not set off any further cycles of revenge.

Cassandra's allusions to Orestes would be well-known to Aeschylus's original Greek audiences. What's equally interesting is the way Cassandra accepts her fate--all her knowledge of the future isn't enough to save her from murder. Cassandra sees the future, but can't change it; and that's her curse.

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.

Before this moment I said many things
to suit my purposes. I’m not ashamed
to contradict them now. How else could I
act on my hate for such a hateful man,
who feigned his love, how else prepare my nets
of agony so high no one could jump them?
I’ve brooded on this struggle many years,
the old blood feud. My moment’s come at last,
though long delayed. I stand now where I struck,
where I achieved what I set out to do.
I did all this. I won’t deny the fact.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon
Page Number: 1373-1380
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Clytemnestra dramatically reveals the truth about her actions: she's been plotting for years to kill Agamemnon, who murdered their daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was sure that she could get away with the murder because Agamemnon was already cursed: the gods were already predisposed to punish the king for his sins.

The passage represents Clytemnestra's greatest moment of pride and assertiveness--and her break from the traditional feminine role of the submissive, loyal wife. She's been planning Agamemnon's murder for years now (Iphigenia was murdered at least ten years earlier), and in this speech, she emphasizes the sheer satisfaction of successfully avenging her daughter and killing her husband. Clytemnestra's speech contrasts markedly with the Chorus's talk of fate and destiny. Clytemnestra, quite aside from being dominated by destiny, has used her own free will and intelligence (putting up a cunning act of being a loyal wife) to achieve her goals. But as Cassandra has already told us, even Clytemnestra isn't free from the rules of fate--in due time, she'll be punished for her act of murder and meet the same fate as her husband. Nobody, it seems, can escape the ironclad law of "blood for blood."


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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