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by Aeschylus

Clytemnestra Timeline and Summary

  • We first learn about Clytemnestra indirectly, from the Watchman in the play's opening scene.
  • What he has to say isn't very nice: he says that the household of Agamemnon isn't managed as well as it used to be – i.e., when Agamemnon was boss.
  • But, like it or not, Clytemnestra is in charge; as soon as the Watchman sees the signal fire, he runs off to tell her.
  • We can also see Clytemnestra's authority when the Chorus comes on stage and asks her why so many sacrifices are being made all over the city. Like a typical modern politician, she doesn't answer them until she feels like it.
  • When she's got herself good and ready, she comes out of the palace.
  • The Chorus says to her, "What's up?"
  • In reply, Clytemnestra tells them that Troy has been captured by the Achaeans.
  • But then the Chorus says, "How the heck do you know that?"
  • Clytemnestra says, "Easy. Fire told me." Then she explains how, after the city was captured, someone lit a bonfire on top of Mount Ida, near Troy. Then, somebody on the island of Lemnos, in the middle of the Aegean Sea (between mainland Greece and modern Turkey) saw that bonfire and lit a bonfire of his own. Then somebody on Mount Athos in the Chalcidice region of Northern Greece saw that fire and…well, you get the picture. Eventually, somebody on Mount Arachnae lit a watch-fire – the same one that the watchman saw in the first scene of the play.
  • The Chorus says, "Ooh, tell us more, tell us more."
  • Clytemnestra says, "The Greeks captured the city, killed lots of people, enslaved Troy's women and children; now they're on their way home."
  • The Chorus says, "Word."
  • Then Clytemnestra heads offstage, back into the palace.
  • She reappears again a little later, after the Herald has come and told the Chorus about how Troy was captured.
  • Clytemnestra basically tells everybody, "I told you so." Then she tells the Herald to hurry off to Agamemnon and tell him to come quickly. She also announces that she has been totally faithful to him while he's been gone. Then she heads inside the palace, offstage.
  • When she's gone, the Chorus turns to the Herald and says, "That's what she says; don't be surprised if you find out it isn't exactly the truth."
  • A little while later, Agamemnon shows up. He arrives in a chariot; beside him in the chariot is Cassandra, the Trojan princess whom he has taken captive.
  • Clytemnestra says to everyone, "I love my hubby so, so much, I'm not embarrassed to say it! The whole time he was gone, I kept getting reports that he was hurt, and I was so worried! Every day, I nearly killed myself!"
  • Then she turns to Agamemnon and says, "That's why our son Orestes isn't here; I sent him away to be brought up by your friend Strophius the Phocian. He'll be safer that way."
  • Clytemnestra rounds off her speech by saying how glad she is that Agamemnon is back. But then she does something unexpected. She tells him that he should get out of his chariot and head into the house without his feet touching the ground. Then she calls to her slave-women to roll out a purple fabric for him to walk on. (Think of it as rolling out the red carpet.)
  • In response, Agamemnon says, "No way, that would be acting like a god. I can't do that."
  • But Clytemnestra isn't satisfied with that. Instead, she indulges in the verbal equivalent of flapping her arms like a chicken and crowing "Buk-buk bu-kaaawk!"
  • Thus, she starts off by saying, "You're telling me that if you were ever really, really scared, you wouldn't swear an oath to walk on purple fabrics, so long as the gods got you off the hook?"
  • Agamemnon says, "Uhh, sure, I guess I would." Then Clytemnestra says, "And what about Priam, the King of Troy. You're telling me that Priam wouldn't have walked on purple fabrics to celebrate a victory as big as yours?"
  • Agamemnon says, "Uhh, sure, I guess he would."
  • Clytemnestra says, "So what's the big deal? Walk on the freakin' fabrics!"
  • "But the people won't like it," says Agamemnon.
  • "They'll be cool with it," says Clytemnestra.
  • After enough of this back and forth, Agamemnon decides to do as he's told. Before heading into the palace, however, he turns and points to the Trojan princess Cassandra, who is standing in his chariot. Agamemnon has brought her back from Troy as a slave.
  • Then Agamemnon starts walking on the fabrics.
  • Clytemnestra makes a little speech about how the sea can generate as much more purple dye as they want. She boasts about how wealthy they are, and remarks on how great it is that Agamemnon has come home.
  • Agamemnon prays to Zeus that everything will be OK. Then he enters the palace, offstage.
  • Clytemnestra goes inside too, along with the slave-women, who gather up the carpet.
  • After the Chorus sings a little song about how human life is fragile, Clytemnestra comes back out of the palace to gather up Cassandra.
  • Cassandra doesn't answer. Then, the Chorus tells her to listen to Clytemnestra. Cassandra still doesn't answer, nor does she make any move toward the house.
  • Eventually, Clytemnestra reasons that Cassandra, as a Trojan, must simply not be able to understand the Greek language. Clytemnestra decides not to waste any more time on this matter, so she heads into the house, offstage.
  • After a creepy dialogue with the Chorus, Cassandra heads inside, accepting the death she predicts she will receive at the hands of Clytemnestra.
  • A little while later, we hear blood curdling screams coming from inside the palace: it is
  • Agamemnon, and he says someone is killing him.
  • When, the door of the palace opens, we see Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra.
  • Clytemnestra says, "All that stuff I said before – that was just for show. It was necessary because I had to kill my husband. Now that I have, I feel great! You guys should throw a party. As for myself, I'm having a fun time boasting."
  • The Chorus doesn't like this. So what's a Chorus to do? They start chanting. The gist of their chant is that Clytemnestra should be banished from the city.
  • Clytemnestra says, "No way. Agamemnon was the bad guy – he sacrificed his own daughter! Don't you think he was the one you should have banished?"
  • The Chorus doesn't agree, and says that Clytemnestra will have to pay the price for what she did.
  • Clytemnestra says "Fat chance. Justice is on my side – and so is Aegisthus; he'll protect me. Anyway, Agamemnon was a scumbag."
  • The Chorus says, "Oh, this all stinks; we hope we die soon." Then they go into a misogynistic rant about how a woman brought about Agamemnon's death, and how a woman (Helen) was the cause of the Trojan War.
  • Clytemnestra says: "Get over it." In fact, she even goes on to say that she isn't responsible for killing Agamemnon; she blames the Fury of vengeance, which is coming back to get Agamemnon for the crime his father committed against his brother Thyestes.
  • When the Chorus asks who will take care of Agamemnon's funeral preparations, Clytemnestra tells them, "Mind your own business!" She gives a hint, though, of what his funeral will entail, when she says that the only person to lament Agamemnon will be his daughter Iphigenia, in the Underworld. We're guessing this means she's not going to great lengths about it.
  • Then Aegisthus comes on stage.
  • Aegisthus and the Chorus have a heated exchange. At the end of it, they are about to fight each other – but then Clytemnestra steps in.
  • Clytemnestra tells the Chorus to go home, and tells Aegisthus to come with her inside the palace.
  • Aegisthus and the Chorus trade a few more harsh words; the Chorus hopes that Orestes will come home and settle Aegisthus's hash.
  • Then, Clytemnestra takes Aegisthus inside; in the last words of the play, she says that she and he will now be joint rulers in Argos.