Aiskhyos — Agamemnon

Clytaemnestra begs the Furies to avenge her
Klytaimnestra awakens the Furies to avenge her (Louvre)

Agamemnon

Play 1 of The Oresteian Trilogy

by

Aiskhykos (Ασχύλος, Aeschylus)

translated by William P. Coleman

Characters

  • Klytaimnestra (Κλυταιμνήστρα, Clytaemnestra, Clytemnestra). Queen of Argos.
  • Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων). Her husband, the King.
  • Aigisthos ( Αίγισθος, Aegisthus). Her lover for the 10 years the King has been away at the Trojan war.
  • Kassandra (Κασσάνδρα, Cassandra). A princess of Troy, brought back by Agamemnon as a concubine and prize of victory.
  • A Watchman.
  • A Herald.
  • A Khoros of old men (Chorus). Citizens of Argos.

Setting and background to the writing of the play

The ancient Greek city of Argos.

Any historical characters on whom the play is based would have lived in the Bronze Age, about 1200 BCE. Their stories were elaborated and transformed into semi-myths by an unwritten oral tradition of poet-bards during the centuries that followed, especially by Homer, who lived before 700 BCE.

The dramatist Aiskhylos wrote after 500 BCE, at the end of the Archaic Period of Greece and at the beginning of the Classical Period. Continuing the tradition, each dramatist felt free, or even obligated, to make changes in the plot lines of the old stories to retell them according to his own vision of their inner meaning.

Such plays were written to be performed at Athens as part of annual festivals like that of the god Dionysios (Dionysus). These were religious events, treated as city-wide celebrations. On each day of the festival, a wealthy citizen and a playwright would present a troupe of actors in a series of 3 tragedies and a comic satyr-play that they’d volunteered to produce and write. Virtually every citizen of Athens would attend and watch the plays from the stone benches of the circular amphitheater in a hillside, and at the end of the festival they’d vote one troupe’s plays as the winner.

They were not “classical,” or “literary,” or “educated.” They were popular.

They functioned as entertainment — and as religious ritual — and as a way for people to express their heritage and sense of themselves.

This play, Agamemnon, along with The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides forms such a series that was presented together on a single day, the only trilogy that has survived complete over the centuries.

greek theater, aschylus, agamemnon

Back story

Ten years previously, a prince of Troy named Paris (or Alexander) had violated the laws of hospitality by running away with Helen (“Helen of Troy”), the wife of his Greek host, Menelaos (Menelaus), the King of Sparta.

Agamemnon, brother of Menelaos and King of Argos, united all the princes and heroes of Greece to fight the Trojan War to avenge this offense against the gods and against decency.

Now, the people of Argos have waited years for their King and all their young men to come home. Queen Klytaimnestra has arranged a series of signal fires from Troy to Argos and has stationed a watchman on the roof of the palace to bring the first news as soon as he sees the fire that will mean the Greeks have won the war and Agamemnon will return.

Argos, Troy, and the return or Agamemnon from the Trojan War

Scene Index

(descriptive titles added by the translator)

Copyright Notice: Permission to perform royalty-free

The written contents of this page and of all scenes identified in the index above are © 2008 by William P. Coleman.

The Creative Commons copyright in the left sidebar of each page applies. However, additional permission is granted for this play translation: for amateur or professional groups to perform it in any medium, royalty-free, for profit or not, without cuts or alterations; and also for actors to use individual monologues. Credit must be given to William P. Coleman as translator, and this page must be referenced. I should be notified: wpc at wpcmath dot com. Any other use requires written permission.

Aigisthos and Klytaimnestra stab Agamemnon in his bath as Elektra watches
Aigisthos and Klytaimnestra stab Agamemnon in his bath

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