Lines 503-974 Notes from Agamemnon

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Agamemnon Lines 503-974

Upon arriving at the very spot where Clytaemnestra and the Chorus are standing, the Herald greets them all. He proclaims that he is one of the men who went off to fight in the Trojan War, and he has at last returned after ten years of fighting. The man remains amazed that he has returned to his home city of Argos, pleased to know that his body shall die in old age on this soil and be buried on this ground, not in some foreign land. The Herald goes on to thank the gods for delivering the Greeks home safely and for helping them conquering the city of Troy after Paris kidnapped Menelaus' wife Helen. The Herald sends gratitude first to Zeus and secondly to Hermes, the messenger god, since Hermes has watched over him in order to bring this joyous message of victory to Argos after so many years. Then he states again that the Trojan altars have been destroyed, yet Paris was deserving of all this due to his terrible crime of raping Helen and of kidnapping her from Menelaus, her husband. Menelaus' brother Agamemnon is not too far behind the Herald in coming up from the beach, and it is he who is this great hero that has carried such great victories to the Greeks, with the assistance from the gods above.

Topic Tracking: Gods 4

The Chorus of Elders utters with great gladness that they have missed the Greek warriors who were away in the war, fearing that they would never return home, and that many of these men wished for death because the anxiety was too great to bear. The Herald is touched to hear this news, assuring the old men that everything shall be better now that they are back unharmed. He says that all of the fighting is in the past, as is the suffering that these Greek warriors have endured, "I call a long farewell to all our unhappiness.../And here, in this sun's shining, we can boast aloud,/whose fame has gone with wings across the land and sea: 'Upon a time the Argive host took Troy...'/And they who hear such things shall call this city blest/and the leaders of the host; and high the grace of God/shall be exalted, that did this. You have the story" Lines 571-581. The Herald thanks Zeus, suggesting also that in the years ahead these Greek warriors will be known as heroes for their bravery. The Chorus' spirits are lifted after hearing these words of encouragement, saying that "Old men are always young enough to learn," since they had become so bitter and devoid of any hope that the war would ever end or that the warriors would ever return home to Argos. They add that Clytaemnestra, their queen, must be told this news now as well, so that she can hear for herself.

Clytaemnestra is somewhat bitter now herself, since she was previously mocked by the Chorus for believing that the Greek ships were finally returning home after the Watchman saw the blaze burning out in the distance, a signal intended to advertise that that Troy had been captured. The queen of Argos mocks the Chorus in turn herself, saying "Men spoke like that; they thought I wandered in my wits;/yet I made the sacrifice, and in the womanish strain/voice after voice caught up the cry along the city/to echo in the temples of the gods and bless/and still the fragrant flame that melts the sacrifice" Lines 592-597. It appears that she is gloating somewhat that she was right in thinking that the Greeks were indeed returning home, even though the Chorus thought that she was jumping to conclusions too quickly without making sure that it was really true or not. She states that her loyalty to the gods has helped her men and her husband to return home safely, recalling that she made a sacrifice to assure that the gods would protect these men.

Topic Tracking: Gender 5

She tells the Herald to wait before saying anything more, for she wishes to hear about the fall of Troy directly from her husband. The woman adds that she yearns to see her husband once again, "But now.../what else/is light more sweet for a woman to behold than this,/to spread the gates before her husband home from war and saved by God's hand?--take this message to the king:/Come, and with speed, back to the city that longs for him,/and may he find a wife within his house as true/as on the day he left her..." Lines 600-607. Clytaemnestra proclaims that she remains loyal to Agamemnon and has not loved anyone else other than him during these ten years, nor has she had sexual intercourse with anyone else either. She thus urges the Herald to return to the ships and tell her king to come to the palace right away.

The Herald is impressed by her devotion, yet the Chorus interrupts before he is able to leave, asking the Herald if Agamemnon's brother Menelaus is still alive. The Herald is reluctant to speak, because he is missing from the Greek army after a large storm shattered the entire Greek fleet as they were returning home from Troy. Afraid to talk about this sad news in the midst of the rejoicing that filled them all moments ago, the Herald only mentions that the gods conspired against the Greek fleet for some reason, but some divinity protected Agamemnon's single ship from being destroyed in the sea. When the storm ended the next day, the sea was "blossoming with dead men" who had drowned when their ships were destroyed during the storm. Yet he adds that if any of those Greeks lost at sea survive and return home, Menelaus would endure, because he is such a brave, daring man, and also because his brother Agamemnon was protected by the gods already; it would then make sense for the gods to save Menelaus as well. With these hopeful words, the Herald returns to the beach to carry Clytaemnestra's message to the king.

Topic Tracking: Gods 5

After the Herald departs, the Chorus of elders becomes very unhappy again after hearing this news about Menelaus, crying aloud what a wretched woman that Helen is, because it was she who caused all of this trouble between the Greeks and Trojans in the first place. They utter, "Who is he that named you.../Helen, which is death? Appropriately/death of ships, death of men and cities/from the bower's soft curtained/and secluded luxury she sailed then,/driven on the giant west wind,/and armored men in their thousands came,/huntsmen down the oar blade's fading footprint/to struggle in blood with those/who by the banks of Simoeis/beached their hulls where the leaves break" Lines 681-698. Helen is also blamed for the Trojan War, portrayed as a woman lounging around in "luxury" as thousands of Greek and Trojan men died out on the battlefield or near a river named Simoeis, which flows near Troy. Her names is said to mean "death" because it was because of her that so many "ships, men, and cities" all died for the sake of this one woman. The Chorus is driven into a deep depression after hearing that Agamemnon's brother Menelaus is lost at sea and no one knows where he is.

Topic Tracking: Gender 6

The men continue to lament about the losses endured during the war, cursing now the very birth of Paris, who is the man that kidnapped Helen from Menelaus' palace in Sparta. He is called a "lion cub" due to the viciousness with which he snatched Helen away from her husband, yet the Chorus states again that Paris' entire royal family got what they deserved for bearing such a wretched man into the world; his father Priam, the aged king of Troy, is one such man who was slain by the Greeks as his city burned to the ground around him. Paris is guilty for being too prideful, a terrible sin to have committed. For those who do not live their lives moderately, there are terrible punishments to be received from the gods above, "And Righteousness is a shining in/the smoke of mean houses./Her blessing is on the just man./From high hills starred with gold by reeking hands/she turns back/with eyes that glance away into the simple in heart,/spurning the strength of gold/stamped with false flattery./And all things she steers to fulfillment" Lines 772-781. The goddess of justice protects men who are just; in this instance, the just men are the Greeks, they who have punished Troy for Paris' sins.

Topic Tracking: Gods 6
Topic Tracking: Justice 3

At this moment, the long-lost King Agamemnon finally returns to Argos and enters the area where his wife, Clytaemnestra, and the Chorus of Elders are still standing together. A female prisoner named Cassandra rides along in his chariot, but she doe snot speak. The old men greet their king, welcoming him back. They recall briefly that when he had first sailed off to Troy with the Greek fleet, they were unhappy with Agamemnon because he had sacrificed his eldest daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis in order for the ships to have any wind to sail. Yet this old pain and sadness has gone away over time and the men are happy that their king has returned alive, well, and victorious.. The Chorus adds that Agamemnon shall soon learn what has happened in Argos while he was away.

Agamemnon replies back that he is honored by these men and happy that they have missed his presence in the city. He adds that it was the gods who gave him justice on the battlefields at Troy, "Not from the lips of men the gods/heard justice, but in one firm cast they laid their votes/within the urn of blood that [Troy] must die/and all her people.../For all this we must thank the gods with grace of much/high praise and memory, who fenced within our toils/of wrath the city; and, because one woman [Helen] strayed,/the beast of [Greece] broke them" Lines 814-824. The king of Argos thus owes all of his successes not to his men who fought so bravely, but moreover to the gods who all supported the Greeks during the Trojan War. By the end, these gods all turned against Troy and decided that the city would be destroyed for the sake of this one woman, Helen, whom Paris had kidnapped away from the Greek Menelaus.

Topic Tracking: Gender 7
Topic Tracking: Gods 7

Agamemnon says that since he has returned, the city will be restored once more to lawful order; those who have been disloyal shall be punished and killed, and those who have been loyal shall be rewarded. He is also eager to catch up on the gossip and discover all that has happened in Argos during the past ten years. Declaring that he shall have a meeting of all citizens, the king prepares to go inside of his palace without even saying a single word to his queen, Clytaemnestra, who has been standing silently. Now, however, she speaks aloud, lamenting about how difficult it was for her while Agamemnon was away for so long, since she would always hear so many ghastly rumors about how Agamemnon had been killed in some gruesome way, or that terrible things had happened to him; many times she had tried to commit suicide because it was too stressful to be worrying all of the time. Clytaemnestra proclaims that she had sent their young son Orestes to live with a friend, fearing that he would be assassinated. Finally, she cries again how much she missed Agamemnon and how happy she is that he has returned. To honor him, the queen asks Agamemnon to step out of his chariot and walk on a red carpet of honor, because he deserves special recognition.

Topic Tracking: Justice 4

Agamemnon replies that he is very flattered to hear these words from his wife, yet he cannot step on the red carpet because this is too high of an honor that it would make him no longer a humble man. He warns her, "And all this -- do not try in the woman's ways to make/me delicate.../nor cross my path with jealousy by strewing the ground/with robes. Such a state becomes the gods, and none beside./I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon/these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path./I tell you, as a man, not god, to reverence me" Lines 918-925. The king suggests that his wife, like any "woman" is trying to use her womanly charm to make him do something that he does not want to do. Agamemnon thinks that walking on a red carpet would focus too much attention on him and would honor him too highly, thus making him seem like a god. The gods punish people who compare themselves to the gods, and to avoid this, Agamemnon is trying to remain humble. Clytaemnestra becomes very stubborn, stating that he is afraid of the gods and is weak; she goes on to tempt her husband, saying that if he is not envied by his fellow citizens, then they will not respect him. In order to keep his people's respect, Clytaemnestra declares that he must walk on the red carpet; finally she urges him simply to surrender to her wishes, "Give way of your free will."

Topic Tracking: Gender 8
Topic Tracking: Gods 8

After hearing this remark, King Agamemnon does indeed relent out of frustration. He takes off his shoes, preparing to step down from his chariot and walk on the red carpet, observed by everyone else who is around. He does this regretfully, however, saying that he feels shameful to be dirtying this fine cloth with his feet. Directing some of his followers to also bring Cassandra into the palace behind him, the king steps down and walks inside of his palace. As Queen Clytaemnestra follows he husband inside, she utters a prayer aloud to Zeus, who is the king of the gods, thanking him for his role in returning her husband to Argos safely and hoping that he will continue to protect her family in the time that is ahead of them. She appears to be very happy that her husband has returned after such a long time of worrying. It seems as if Clytaemnestra has finally found some peace of mind for herself, and she happily follows her King inside.

Topic Tracking: Gods 9

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