The Agamemnon by Aeschylus - A Summary
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The Agamemnon

three woman and four men on a greek pot
(from left to right, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus,
Agamemnon, Electra, and Cassandra)

The Agamemnon is the first of a cycle of three plays written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. When the play begins, King Agamemnon is still away at the Trojan War. His wife Clytemnestra (kly-tem-NEST-ra) and his young children, Orestes (a boy) and Electra (a girl) are at home in Mycenae. But Clytemnestra is very angry at Agamemnon for killing their oldest daughter Iphigeneia, and she has been letting a cousin of Agamemnon's named Aegisthus rule the kingdom while he was away, instead of keeping it safe for her husband.

one woman lifts an axe to kill another
Clytemnestra kills Cassandra

When Agamemnon gets home, he acts very arrogant. He does not pay the gods the respect that they deserve. For instance, he walks on a red carpet to the door of his house, even though red carpets should be sacred to the gods. This is hubris, and the gods punish it. As soon as Agamemnon gets inside the house, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murder him (off-stage; in Greek plays the action usually takes place off-stage).

Clytemnestra also kills Cassandra, a Trojan priestess whom Agamemnon has brought home as his slave.

Learn by doing: a Greek play-reading
Another play by Aeschylus: Libation Bearers

Bibliography and further reading about Aeschylus' Agamemnon:

Greek Theatre, by Stewart Ross (1999). Easy reading.

Greek and Roman Theater, by Don Nardo. For teenagers.

The Oresteia, by Aeschylus, translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics). The most famous of the plays Aeschylus wrote. Fagles is a great translator! Includes a version for performance.

Aeschylus, by John Herington (1986). A discussion by a specialist about the life of Aeschylus and why his plays are written the way they are.

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H. D. F. Kitto (reprinted 2002). A classic discussion of the meaning of Greek tragic plays, by a specialist.

Another play by Aeschylus: Libation Bearers
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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