Clytemnestra comes out of the palace and orders Cassandra to descend from the chariot and go 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 place. However, as Cassandra’s silence continues, the Chorus and Clytemnestra wonder whether she is mute, mad, or is in need of an interpreter. Soon Clytemnestra grows angry, gives up, and returns into the palace.
Whether or not Clytemnestra accounted for Cassandra in her initial plans, it is now important to Clytemnestra that Cassandra not cause any trouble for her and her impending revenge plot. Additionally, both Clytemnestra and Cassandra are defying their gender roles – the former by barking orders, and the latter by ignoring them. As the play, and the trilogy at large, continues, both of these women are punished for defying societal gender norms.
The Chorus gathers around Cassandra, and she falls into a trance-like state. Her disparate phrases and thoughts begin to form into a prophecy. As the Chorus observes her, she reveals that she is having a vision of children being cooked and eaten.
Cassandra’s vision is referring to the incident in which Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, cooked his brother Thyeste’s children and fed them to him. On a divine level, this heinous act is the inciting incident of this play’s central cycle of revenge, and Agamemnon’s downfall.
Next, Cassandra envisions a woman bathing and then murdering a man in the palace, and she senses that the Furies are at work initiating revenge. She then sees herself as Clytemnestra’s second victim. Although she seems ecstatic and her words are unclear, Cassandra’s prophecy seems to suggest that the cycle of violence and revenge is about to continue.
This is the key prophecy of the play. Here, Cassandra explicitly reveals how the dark history of the House of Atreus, alluded to throughout the play by the Chorus and others, connects to the impending climax. Apart from Clytemnestra’s personal revenge on Agamemnon, her plot will also be enacting the punishment of the gods upon the House of Atreus.
The Chorus asks Cassandra how she came to be a prophet, and with a little probing, Cassandra admits that the god Apollo was in love with her. When she refused to have a child with him, he punished her by making it so that she was a prophet, but no one would believe her prophecies.
This act of revenge on Apollo’s part is another moment in the play where a woman is punished for defying society’s expectation for women. In ancient Greek drama these expectations would cross the boundaries between gods and mortals.
After returning to the image of the man (Agamemnon’s uncle 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 Cassandra’s prophecy of murder.
Given that the original audience of the play was familiar with the story, the Chorus’s inability to understand the prophecy would have created an almost unbearable sense of dramatic irony at this point.
The Chorus asks Cassandra what man would possibly murder the king—they are completely unable to imagine that a woman might be capable of such an act. Frustrated with her inability to communicate the prophecy to the Chorus, Cassandra renounces her position as a prophet.
It is interesting to note that the Chorus’ misunderstanding of the prophecy hinges on gender. Because they subscribe to the Greek societal norms of gender, they miss considering Clytemnestra, who has been hiding in plain sight, as the possible murderer.
In a frantic state of trance, Cassandra tears her clothes off and announces that a man will come, murder his mother, and end the violent cycle afflicting the House of Atreus. She exits into the palace, dreading her own grisly fate.
This final piece of the prophecy refers to Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s son Orestes returning to Argos and murdering Clytemnestra, once again avenging violence with more violence. These are the central events of the next play in the trilogy. Here Cassandra shows the total power of fate—she accurately prophesies her own death, but can do nothing to stop it, and so goes willingly to be murdered.