This translation by Ian Johnston, Professor Emeritus at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC, has certain copyright restrictions.  For information please use the following link: Copyright. For comments or question please contact Ian Johnston.

Last revised October 1, 2002, minor editorial corrections made on May 21, 2005, minor formatting changes made on June 6, 2012, and in March 2014.

For links to other plays in the trilogy, please use the following link: Oresteia Table of Contents.

This text is available in the form of a Publisher or Word file for those who would like to print it off as a small booklet. There is no charge for these files.  For details, please use the following link: Publisher files.

Note that in the following text the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text and that the numbers without brackets refer to this text. Partial indented lines are included with the previous partial lines in the reckoning.

For a list of other translations and lectures by Ian Johnston, use this link: johnstonia


Dramatis Personae

WATCHMAN: servant of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra.
CHORUS: old men, citizens of Argos.
CLYTAEMNESTRA: wife of Agamemnon, daughter of Leda, sister of Helen.
HERALD: soldier serving with Agamemnon.
AGAMEMNON: king of Argos, leader of the Greek expedition to Troy.
MESSENGER: a servant in the palace.
CASSANDRA: daughter of Priam, King of Troy, a prisoner given to Agamemnon, a priestess of Apollo.
AEGISTHUS: son of Thyestes, cousin of Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra’s lover.
SOLDIERS and SERVANTS attending on Agamemnon and on Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus.

The brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons of Atreus, are both kings of Argos and leaders of the expe-dition against Troy, launched ten years before the action of the play begins. Agamemnon is the senior of the two.  The allied forces under Agamemnon are called the Argives, the Achaeans, or the Danaans, as in Homer’sIliad—not Greeks. Priam’s city is called Troy or Ilion interchangeably.

[The scene is in Argos immediately in front of the steps leading up to the main doors of the royal palace. In front of the palace there are statues of gods. At the start of the play, the Watchman is prone on the roof of the palace resting his head on his arms. It is just before dawn.]

      I pray the gods will give me some relief
      and end this weary job. One long full year
      I’ve been lying here, on this rooftop,
      the palace of the sons of Atreus,
      resting on my arms, just like a dog.
      I’ve come to know the night sky, every star,
      the powers we see glittering in the sky,
      bringing winter and summer to us all,
      as the constellations rise and sink.
      I’m still looking for that signal flare,                                      
      the fiery blaze from Troy, announcing
      it’s been taken. These are my instructions                                         
      from the queen. She has a fiery heart,
      the determined resolution of a man.
      When I set my damp, restless bed up here,
      I never dream, for I don’t fall asleep.
      No. Fear comes instead and stands beside me,
      so I can’t shut my eyes and get some rest.
      If I try to sing or hum a tune,
      something to do instead of trying to sleep,                           
      since I’m always awake, I start to weep,
      as I lament what’s happened to this house,
      where things are not being governed well,
      not like they used to be. How I wish
      my watching could end happily tonight,                                            
      with good news brought by fire blazing
      through this darkness.

[The signal fire the Watchman has been waiting for suddenly appears. The Watchman springs to his feet]

                                                 Fire gleaming in the night!
      What a welcome sight! Light of a new day—
      you’ll bring on many dancing choruses
      right here in Argos, celebrations                                             
      of this joyful news.


                                 It’s over! It’s over!
      I must call out to wake the queen,
      Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife,
      to get her out of bed, so she can raise
      a shout of joy as soon as possible
      inside the palace, welcoming this fire—
      if indeed the city of Troy’s fallen,
      as this signal fire seems to indicate.                                                   
      For my part, I’ll start things off by dancing,
      treating my king’s good fortune as my own.                          
      I’ve had a lucky dice roll, triple six,
      thanks to this fiery signal . . . .

[His mood suddenly changes to something much more hesitant and reserved]

                                                                    But I hope
      the master of this house may come home soon,
      so I can grasp his welcome hand in mine.
      As for all the rest, I’m saying nothing.
      A great ox stands on my tongue. But this house,
      if it could speak, might tell some stories.
      I speak to those who know about these things.
      For those who don’t, there’s nothing I remember.

[The Watchman goes down into the house. Enter the Chorus of Argive elders, very old men who carry staves to help them stand up.  As they speak, servants come out of the palace and light oil lamps in offering to the statues of the gods outside the palace doors]

      It’s now ten years since Menelaus,                                          
50         [40]
      Priam’s great adversary,
      and lord Agamemnon,
      two mighty sons of Atreus,
      joined by Zeus in double honours—
      twin thrones and royal sceptres—
      left this country with that fleet,
      a thousand Argive ships,
      to back their warrior cause with force,
      hearts screaming in their battle fury,
      two eagles overwhelmed by grief,                                           
      crying for their young—wings beating                                                
      like oars, they wheel aloft,
      high above their home, distressed
      because they’ve lost their work—
      their fledglings in the nest are gone!*

      Then one of the supreme powers—
      Apollo, or Pan, or Zeus—
      hears the shrill wailing cry,
      hears those screaming birds,
      who live within his realm,                                                        
      and sends a late-avenging Fury
      to take revenge on the transgressors.
      In just that way, mighty Zeus,                                                              
      god of hospitality,
      sends those sons of Atreus
      against Alexander, son of Priam
      for that woman’s sake, Helen,
      the one who’s had so many men,
      condemning Trojans and Danaans
      to many heartfelt struggles, both alike,                                 
      knees splintering as the fighting starts.*

      Now things stand as they stand.
      What’s destined to come will be fulfilled,
      and no libation, sacrifice, or human tears
      will mitigate the gods’ unbending wrath
      of sacrifice not blessed by fire.

      But as for us, whose old bodies
      confer no honour, who were left behind
      when the army sailed so long ago,                                          
      we wait here, using up our strength
      to support ourselves with canes,
      like children, whose power,
      though growing in their chests,
      is not yet fit for Ares, god of war.
      And so it is with old men, too,
      who, when they reach extreme old age,
      wither like leaves, and go their way
      three-footed, no better than a child,                                                   
      as they wander like a daydream.                                             

      But you, daughter of Tyndareus,
      queen Clytaemnestra,
      what’s going on? What news?
      What reports have you received
      that lead you to send your servants out
      commanding all this sacrifice?
      For every god our city worships—
      all-powerful gods above the earth,
      and those below, and those in heaven,                                               
      and those in the marketplace—                                               
      their altars are ablaze with offerings.
      Fires rise here and there and everywhere,
      right up to heaven, fed by sacred oils
      brought from the palace—sweet and holy,
      their purity sustains those flames.
      Tell us what you can,
      tell us what’s right for us to hear.
      Cure our anxious thoughts.
      For now, at one particular moment,                                                   
      things look grim, but then our hopes,                                    
      rising from these sacrificial fires,
      make things seem better, soothing
      corrosive pains that eat my heart.

      I have the power to proclaim
      that prophecy made to our kings,
      as they were setting on their way,
      a happy outcome for their expedition.
      My age inspires in me Persuasion still,
      the power of song sent from the gods,
      to sing how two kings of Achaea’s troops,                             
      united in a joint command, led off                                                      
      the youth of Greece, armed with avenging spears,
      marching against Troy, land of Teucer.
      They got a happy omen—two eagles,
      kings of birds, appeared before the kings of ships.
      One bird was black, the other’s tail was white,
      here, close to the palace, on the right,
      in a place where everyone could see.
      The eagles were gorging themselves,
      devouring a pregnant hare                                                        
      and all its unborn offspring,
      struggling in their death throes still. 

      Sing out the song of sorrow, song of grief,
      but let the good prevail.

      Then the army’s prophet, Calchas,
      observing the twin purposes
      in the two warlike sons of Atreus,
      saw the twin leaders of the army
      in those birds devouring the hare.
      He then interpreted the omen, saying,                                   

      “In due course this expedition
      will capture Priam’s city, Troy—
      before its towers a violent Fate
      will annihilate all public goods.                                                          
      But may no anger from the gods
      cast its dark shadow on our troops,
      our great bit forged to curb Troy’s mouth.
      For goddess Artemis is full of anger
      at her father’s flying hounds—she pities
      the cowering sacrificial creature in distress,                          
      she pities its young, slaughtered
      before she’s brought them into life.
      Artemis abominates the eagles’ feast.”

      Sing out the song of sorrow, song of grief,
      but let the good prevail.

                                                “And lovely Artemis—                                [140]
      though you’re gentle with the tender cubs
      of vicious lions and take special joy
      in the suckling young of all wild living beasts,
      promise things will work out well,                                         
      as this omen of the eagles indicates,   
      an auspicious sign, but ominous.
      And I call Apollo, god of healing,
      to stop Artemis delaying the fleet,
      by sending hostile winds
      to keep the ships from sailing,                                                             
      in her demand for another sacrifice,
      one which violates all human law,
      which no feast celebrates—
      it shatters families and makes the wife                                  
      lose all respect and hate her husband.                                 
      For in the home a dreadful anger waits.
      It does not forget and cannot be appeased.
      Its treachery controls the house,
      waiting to avenge a slaughtered child.”

      Calchas prophesied that fatal destiny,
      read from those birds, as the army marched,
      speaking by this palace of the kings.

                                      And to confirm all this
      sing out the song of sorrow, song of grief,                             
      but let the good prevail.

                              O Zeus, whoever he may be,                                         [160]
      if this name please him as invocation,
      then that’s the name I’ll use to call him.
      As I try to think all these things through,
      I have no words to shape my thoughts,
      other than Zeus—if I truly can succeed
      in easing my heart of this heavy grief,
      this self-defeating weight of sorrow.

      As for Uranus, who was once so great,                                   200
      bursting with arrogance for every fight,
      people will talk about that god
      as if he’d never even lived.                                                                    
      And his son, Cronos, who came after,
      has met his match and is no more.
      But whoever with a willing heart
      cries his triumphal song to Zeus
      will come to understand all things.*

      Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise,
      has established his fixed law—                                                
 comes through suffering.
      Trouble, with its memories of pain,
      drips in our hearts as we try to sleep,                                                 
      so men against their will
      learn to practice moderation.
      Favours come to us from gods
      seated on their solemn thrones—
      such grace is harsh and violent.

      So then the leader of Achaean ships,
      the elder brother, Agamemnon,                                               
      did not blame or fault the prophet,
      but gave in to fortune’s sudden blows.
      For Achaea’s army, stranded there,
      on the shores across from Calchis,                                                      
      was held up by opposing winds at Aulis,
      where tides ebb and flow.
      Troops grew weary, as supplies ran low.
      Winds blew from the Strymon river,
      keeping ships at anchor, harming men
 with too much leisure. Troops grew hungry.                         
      They wandered discontent and restless.
      The winds corroded ships and cables.
      The delay seemed endless, on and on, until
      the men, the flower of Argos, began to wilt.
      Then Calchas proclaimed the cause of this—
      it was Artemis. And he proposed                                                        
      a further remedy, but something harsh,
      even worse than the opposing winds,
      so painful that the sons of Atreus
      struck their canes on the ground and wept.*                         

      Then Agamemnon, the older king, spoke up:
      “It’s harsh not to obey this fate—
      but to go through with it is harsh as well,
      to kill my child, the glory of my house,
      to stain a father’s hands before the altar                                            
      with streams of virgin’s blood.
      Which of my options is not evil?
      How can I just leave this fleet,
      and let my fellow warriors down?
      Their passionate demand for sacrifice                                    
      to calm the winds lies within their rights—
      even the sacrifice of virgin blood.
      So be it. All may be well.”

      But when Agamemnon strapped on
      the harsh yoke of necessity,
      his spirits changed, and his intentions
      became profane, unholy, unsanctified.                                               
      He undertook an act beyond all daring.
      Troubles come, above all, from delusions
      inciting men to rash designs, to evil.                                      
      So Agamemnon steeled his heart
      to make his own daughter the sacrifice,
      an offering for the Achaean fleet,
      so he could prosecute the war
      waged to avenge that woman Helen.

      In their eagerness for war, those leaders                                            [230]
      paid no attention to the girl,
      her pleas for help, her cries of “Father!”—
      any more than to her virgin youth.
      Her father offered up a prayer,                                                 
      then ordered men to seize her
      and lift her up—she’d fallen forward
      and just lay there in her robes—to raise her,
      high above the altar, like a goat,
      urging them to keep their spirits up.
      They gagged her lovely mouth,
      with force, just like a horse’s bit,
      to keep her speechless, to stifle any curse
      which she might cry against her family.

      As she threw her saffron robe onto the ground,                    280
      she glanced at the men, each of them,                                                
      those carrying out the sacrifice,
      her eyes imploring pity. She looked
      just like a painting dying to speak.
      She’d often sung before her father’s table,
      when, as host, he’d entertained his guests,
      a virgin using her flawless voice
      to honour her dear father with her love,
      as he prayed for blessing
      at the third libation.                                                                  

      What happened next I did not see.
      And I won’t say. What Calchas’ skill
      had prophesied did come to pass.
      The scales of Justice move to show                                                     
      that wisdom comes through suffering.
      As for what’s to come—you’ll know that
      when it comes.
 So let it be.
      To know would be to grieve ahead of time.
      It’s clear whatever is to happen
      will happen, like tomorrow’s dawn.                                        

[Enter Clytaemnestra through the palace doors]

      But I hope whatever follows will be good,
      according to the wishes of our queen,
      who governs here, our closest guard,
      keeping watch all by herself,
      protecting Peloponnesian lands.

      Queen Clytaemnestra, we’ve come here
      in deference to your royal authority.
      With our king far away, the man’s throne                                          
      is empty—so it’s appropriate for us
      to pay allegiance to his wife, the queen.                                
      I’d really like to hear your news,
      whether what you’ve heard is good or not.
      Your sacrificial offerings give us hope.
      But we won’t object if you stay silent.

      It’s a welcome message. As the proverb says,
      “May Dawn be born from mother Night.”
      You’ll hear great news, greater than all your hopes—
      the Argives have captured Priam’s city!

      What’s that you say? I misheard your words—
      what you’ve just said—it defies belief!                                   

      I say Troy is now in Achaean hands.
      Is that clear enough?

                                 That fills me with joy.
      So much so I can’t stop crying.                                                             

      Then your eyes reveal your faithful loyalty.

      Is this report reliable? Is there proof?

      Of course there is. Unless some god deceives me.

      Has some vision persuaded you of this,
      something in a dream, perhaps?

                                                  Not at all.

      As if I’d listen to some dozing brain.

      Perhaps some unfledged rumour raised your hopes?           

      Now you’re insulting my intelligence,
      as if I were a youngster, just a child.

      When exactly was the city captured?

      I’ll tell you. It was the very night
      that gave birth to this glorious day.

      How could a messenger get here so fast?                                           

      Hephaestos, god of fire, sent his bright blaze
      speeding here from Ida, his messenger,
      flames racing from one beacon to the next—
      from Ida to Hermes’ rock in Lemnos.                                     
      From that island the great flames sped
      to the third fire, on the crest of Athos,
      sacred to Zeus, and then, arcing high,
      the beacon light sprang across the sea,
      exulting in its golden fiery power,
      rushing on, like another sun, passing
      the message to the look-out towers
      at Macistus. The man there was not sleeping,                                  
      like some fool. Without a moment’s pause,
      he relayed the message, so the blazing news                        
      sped on, leaping across Euripus’ stream,
      to pass the signal to the next watchmen,
      at Messapion. Those men, in their turn,
      torched a pile of dried-out heather, firing
      the message onward. The flaming light
      was not diminished—its strength kept growing.
      Like a glowing moon, it jumped across
      the plain of Asopus, up to the ridges
      on mount Cithaeron, where it set alight
      the next stage of the relay race of fire.                                    
      Those watching there did not neglect their work—
      that light which came to them from far away                                    
      they passed on with an even greater blaze,
      which dashed across the shores of Gorgopus,
      to reach mount Aegiplanctus, with orders
      for those there to keep the beacon moving.
      They lit a fire, a huge flaming pillar,
      with unchecked force, speeding the message on—
      its light visible even at the headland
      by the Saronic Gulf. It swooped down,                                   
      once it reached the crest of Arachnaeus,
      that look-out near our city—and from there
      jumped down onto the roof of Atreus’ sons,                                      
      flames directly linked to blazing Troy.
      I organized these messengers of fire,
      setting them up in sequence, one by one.
      In that race the first and last both triumph,
      the ones who sent the message and received it.
      That’s the evidence I set before you,
      a message from my husband, dispatched                               
      all the way from burning Troy to me.      

      My queen, I’ll offer up to all the gods
      my prayers of thanks, but now I’d like to hear
      the details of your wonderful report.
      Can you tell me the news once more?

      On this very day Achaea’s army                                                           
      has taken Troy. Inside that town, I think,
      voices cry out in mass confusion.
      If you place oil and vinegar together,
      in the same container, you’ll observe                                     
      they never mix, but separate themselves,
      like enemies—well, in Troy the shouting
      of conquerors and conquered is like that,
      matching their very different situations.
      Trojans fall upon their family corpses,
      husbands, brothers. The children scream
      over dead old men who gave them life.
      As captives now, they keep lamenting
      all their slaughtered loved ones. But the Argives,
      famished after a long night’s roaming,                                   
400        [330]
      and weary after battle, are set to eat,
      to gorge themselves on what the town affords.
      They’re quartered now in captured Trojan homes,
      sheltered from the night sky’s frost and dew,
      but not according to official rank,
      rather as luck determines each man’s lot.
      They’re happy. They’ll sleep straight through the night,
      without posting a guard. Now, if these troops
      fully and piously respect Troy’s gods,
      a captured country’s divinities and shrines,                           
      those who’ve conquered may not, in their turn,                                
      be conquered. But let no frenzied greed,
      no overpowering lust for plunder,
      fall upon the army from the start,
      so they ravage what they should leave alone.
      For to get safely home, the army needs
      to make that long journey back again.

      But even if the soldiers do reach home
      without offending any god, harsh sorrow
      for the dead may still be watching for them,                         
      unless some new disaster intervenes.
      Well, I’ve let you hear my woman’s words.
      May good things now prevail for all to see.
      I take this news as cause for common joy.                                         

      You speak wisely, like a prudent man.
      But now I’ve heard that I can trust your news,
      we must prepare ourselves to thank the gods,
      who’ve given a blessing worthy of our toil.

[Clytaemnestra goes back into the palace]

      O Zeus, my king, and friendly Night,
      you’ve handed us great glories                                                 
      to keep as our possession.
      You cast upon the towers of Troy
      your all-encompassing hunting net,
      and no one, young or old, escaped
      its enslaving fatal mesh                                                                        
      that overpowered them all.

      I worship mighty Zeus,
      god of hospitality,
      who made this happen.
      For a long time now                                                                   
      he’s aimed his bow at Paris,
      making sure his arrow
      would not fall short or fly
      above the stars and miss.

      Men will say it’s a blow from Zeus
      and trace his presence in all this.
      He acts on what he himself decides.
      Some people claim that gods                                                               
      don’t really care about those men
      who trample underfoot                                                             
      favours from the pure in heart.
      Such people are profane.
      For we now clearly see
      destruction is the penalty
      for those with reckless pride,
      who breathe a boastful spirit
      greater than is just,
      because their homes are full,
      stuffed with riches to excess,
      beyond what’s best for them.                                                   
      Let men have sufficient wealth
      to match good sense, not so much                                                      
      it piles up their misfortunes.
      There’s no security in riches
      for the insolent man who kicks aside
      and pushes from his sight
      great altars of righteousness.

      Such a man is overpowered
      by perverse Persuasion,
      insufferable child of scheming Folly.                                      
      And there’s no remedy.
      His evil’s not concealed—
      it stands out, a lurid glitter,
      like false bronze when rubbed.                                                            
      All men can judge his darkness,
      once he’s tested by events.
      He’s like a child chasing a flying bird.
      He brands his city with disgrace
      which cannot be removed,
      for no god hears his prayers.                                                    
      The man who lives this way,
      doing wrong, the gods destroy.
      Such a man was Paris. He came
      to the home of the sons of Atreus,                                                      
      and then abused their hospitality,
      running off with his host’s wife.

      But she left her people
      the smash of shield and spear,
      a fleet well armed for war.
      To Troy she carried with her                                                    
      no dowry but destruction.
      Daring what should not be dared,
      she glided through Troy’s gates.
      The prophets in this house cried out, 
      “Alas, alas for house and home,                                                           
      and for the royal leaders here.*
      Alas, for the marriage bed,
      still holding traces of her body,
      the one who loved her husband.”
      As for him, he sits apart,                                                           
      in pain, silent and dishonoured.

      He does not blame her—
      no, he aches to be with her,
      the woman far across the sea.
      Her image seems to rule the house.
      Her husband finds no beauty now
      in graceful statues, for to his blank eyes
      all sexual loveliness has gone.

      In his dreams he sees sad images,                                                       [420]
      with memories of earlier joy—                                                
      a vain relief, for when the man
      thinks he sees such beauty there,
      all at once it’s gone, slipping
      through his hands, flying away
      along the paths of sleep.

      These are the sorrows in the house,
      around the hearth, and pain
      much worse than this. For everywhere,
      throughout the land of Greece,
      in every home where men set out                                           520        [430]
      to gather in that army
      there is insufferable grief.

      Many disasters pierce the heart.
      People know the ones who leave,
      but every house gets back
      weapons and ash, not living men.

      For Ares, god of war, pays gold
      for soldier’s bodies. In spear fights
      he tips the scales, then back from Troy                                              
      he ships a heavy freight of ash,                                                
      cremated bodies of the dead,
      sent home for loved ones to lament.
      He trades funeral dust for men,
      shiploads of urns filled up with ashes.
      Back home the people weep,
      praising one man for his battle skill,
      another for courageous death.
      Some complain about that woman,
      how she’s to blame for all of this—
      but do so quietly. Nonetheless,                                               
540        [450]
      this sorrow spreads resentment
      against the leaders of the war,
      the sons of Atreus. Meanwhile,
      over there, across the seas in Troy,
      around the city walls, the hostile ground
      swallows our beautiful young men, 
      now hidden in the earth they conquered.

      The people’s voice, once angered,
      can create dissent, ratifying a curse
      which now must have its way.                                                 
      And so, in my anxiety, I wait, 
      listening for something murky,
      something emerging from the gloom.                                                
      For gods aren’t blind to men who kill.
      In time, black agents of revenge,
      the Furies, wear down and bring to nothing
      the fortunes of a man who prospers
      in unjust ways. They wear him out,
      reverse his luck, and bring him at last
      among the dead. There’s no remedy.                                      
      To boast too much of one’s success
      is dangerous—the high mountain peak
      is struck by Zeus’ lightning bolt.                                                          
      I’d choose wealth no one could envy.
      May I never be the sort of man
      who puts whole cities to the sword.
      Let me never see myself enslaved,
      my life in someone else’s power.

      This welcome fiery message has spread fast;
      it’s gone throughout the town. But is it true?                        
      Sent from the gods or false? Who knows?

      What man is such a senseless child
      he lets his heart catch fire at this news,                                             
      and then is shattered by some fresh report?

      That’s just the nature of a woman—
      to give thanks before the truth appears.

      Yes, they’re far too trusting.
      The proper order in a woman’s mind
      is easily upset. Rumours women start
      soon die out, soon come to nothing.                                       

      We’ll quickly know about these signal fires,
      flaming beacons passed from place to place.                                     
      We’ll find out if that really did occur
      or if, just like a dream, this joyful light
      has come in order to deceive our hopes.
      For I see a herald coming from the shore—
      an olive bough of triumph shades his face.

      The dry dust on him, all those muddy clothes,
      tell me he’ll report the facts. Nor will he
      light some flaming pile of mountain wood                            
      to pass a signal on with smoke. No—
      he’ll shout out to us what he has to say,
      and we can then rejoice still more, 
      or else . . . but I won’t think of that. Let’s have
      good news to add to what we know already.                                     
      If anyone is praying for something else
      to happen to our city, let him reap
      the harvest of his own misguided heart.

[Enter Herald]

      Greetings to this Argive soil, my father’s land.

      On this day, ten years later, I’ve come back.                          
      I’ve seen many hopes of mine destroyed,
      and only one fulfilled—I’ve made it home.
      I never dreamed I’d die here in Argos, 
      with a burial plot in this land I love.
      I bless the land, the bright light of this sun—
      and I give thanks to Zeus, our highest god,
      and to Apollo, lord of Pytho.
      May you never fire your arrows at us                                                  
      any more. We had enough of those,
      my lord, beside Scamander’s banks,                                        
      when you took your stand against us. But now,
      Apollo, may you preserve and heal us.
      And I greet all gods assembled here,
      including Hermes, whom I honour,
      the well-loved herald god, worshipped
      as the herald’s patron. And next I pray
      the heroic spirits who sent us off
      will welcome back the remnants of our army,
      those spared being slaughtered by the spear.
      O you hall of kings, you roof I cherish,                                   
      you sacred seats and gods who face the sun,
      if your shining eyes in days gone by                                                    
      have welcomed our king home, then do so now,
      after his long absence. He’s coming here,
      carrying light into this darkness, for you
      and all assembled here—our mighty king,
      lord Agamemnon. Greet him with full respect.
      For he’s uprooted Troy—with the pick axe
      of avenging Zeus he’s reduced her soil.
      The altars of the gods and all their shrines                            
      he has obliterated, laying waste
      all that country’s rich fertility. 
      Around Troy’s neck he’s fixed destruction’s yoke.
      Now he’s coming home, king Agamemnon,
      the fortunate elder son of Atreus,                                                       
      among all men he merits the most honour.
      For neither Paris nor his accomplice,
      the Trojan city, can ever boast again
      their deeds were greater than their suffering.
      Guilty of rape and theft, he’s lost his loot.                             
      He’s utterly destroyed his father’s house,
      the land, too, which sustained his people.
      So Priam’s sons have paid the price twice over.

      All joyful greetings to you, herald,
      as you come back from our army.

                                                                   I, too, rejoice.
      Now I don’t fear death—it’s as the gods decide.

      Did your love of this land cause you distress?                                  

      Yes. That’s why my eyes are filled with tears.

      It’s as if you had some pleasing sickness.         

      How so? Tell me exactly what you mean.                              

      You suffered from love for those who loved you.

      You mean the country and the army
      both missed each other?

                                                     Yes, so much so,
      often my anxious heart cried out aloud.

      What caused this gnawing trouble in your heart?

      Long ago I learned to keep my silence—
      the best antidote against more trouble.

      Why’s that? Were you afraid of someone,
      once the kings were gone?

                                                                 Indeed I was.
      In fact, as you have said, there’d be great joy                         
660        [550]
      in dying now.

                                            It’s true we have done well.
      As for what happened long ago, you could say
      some worked out happily, and some was bad.
      But who except the gods avoids all pain
      throughout his life? If I told what we went through—
      the hardships, wretched quarters, narrow berths,
      the harsh conditions—was there anything
      we did not complain about? We had our share
      of trouble every day. And then on shore
      things were even worse. We had to camp                              
 by the enemy wall. It was wet—
      dew from the sky and marshes soaked us.                                         
      Our clothes rotted. Our hair grew full of lice.
      And it was freezing. The winters there,
      beyond endurance, when snows from Ida
      froze birds to death. And then the heat,
      so hot at noon, the sea, without a ripple,
      sank to sleep. . . . But why complain about it?
      Our work is done. It’s over for the dead,
      who aren’t about to spring to life again.                                 
      Why should the living call to mind the dead?                                   
      There’s no need to relive those blows of fate.
      I think it’s time to bid a long farewell
      to our misfortune. For those still living,
      the soldiers left alive, our luck’s won out.
      No loss can change that now. We’ve a right,
      as we cross land and sea, to boast aloud,
      and cry out to the sun, “Argive forces once,
      having captured Troy, took their spoils of war
      and nailed them up in gods’ holy shrines,                              
      all through Greece, glorious tribute from the past!”
      So whoever hears the story of these things
      must praise our generals—our city, too.                                            
      Full honour and thanks to Zeus who did the work.
      That’s my full report.

                                       What you say is true.
      I was in the wrong—I won’t deny that.  
      But the old can always learn from younger men,
      and what you’ve said enriches all of us.

[Enter Clytaemnestra from the palace]

      But your news will have a special interest
      for Clytaemnestra and her household.                                    

      Some time ago I cried out in triumph,
      rejoicing when that first messenger arrived,
      the fiery herald in the night, who told me
      Troy was captured and was being destroyed.
      Some people criticized me then, saying,                                            
      “How come you’re so easily persuaded
      by signal fires Troy’s being demolished?
      Isn’t that just like a woman’s heart,
      to get so jubilant?” Insults like these
      made it appear as if I’d lost my wits.                                      
      But I continued with my sacrifice,
      and everywhere throughout the city
      women kept up their joyful shouting,
      as they traditionally do, echoing 
      their exultation through all holy shrines,
      tending sweet-smelling spicy flames,
      as they consumed their victims. So now,
      why do I need you to go on and on
      about all this? I’ll hear it from the king.
      But, so I can give my honoured husband                                
720        [600]
      the finest welcome home, and with all speed—
      for what light gives a woman greater pleasure
      than to unbar the gates to her own husband
      as he comes home from battle, once the gods
      have spared his life in war?—tell him this,
      and give him the message to come home
      as soon as possible. The citizens
      will love to see him, and when he gets back,
      in this house he’ll find his wife as faithful
      as when he left, a watch dog of the home,                             
      loyal to him, hostile to his enemies,
      and, for the rest, the same in every way.
      In this long time, I’ve not betrayed our bond—                                
      I’ve known no pleasure with another man,
      no breath of scandal. About such things
      I understand as much as tempering bronze.
      I’m proud to state this, for it’s all true—
      nothing a noble lady should feel shame to say.

[Clytaemnestra exits back into the palace]

      She seems to speak as if she really wants
      to tell you something, but, in fact,                                          
      to those who can interpret her words well
      she’s only saying what she ought to say.

      But tell me, herald, can I learn something
      of Menelaus, this country’s well-loved king—
      did he make it back safe and sound with you?

      I can’t lie with false good news of Menelaus,                                    
      so his friends can enjoy themselves for long.

      I wish your news of him was true and good.
      It’s hard when both of these don’t go together.

      Menelaus disappeared—the army                                           750
      lost sight
 of him and his ship. That’s the truth.

      Did you see him sail off from Ilion,
      or did some storm attack the entire fleet
      and cut him off from you?

      Like a master archer, you hit the mark—
      your last question briefly tells the story.

      According to the others in the fleet                                                    
      what happened? Is he alive or dead?

      No one knows for certain, except the sun,
      moving around the earth sustaining life.                               

      Tell me how that storm struck the soldiers’ ships.
      How did the anger of the gods come to an end?

      It’s not right I talk of our misfortunes,
      and spoil such an auspicious day as this.
      We ought to keep such matters separate
      in deference to the gods. When a messenger
      arrives distraught, bringing dreadful news
      about some slaughtered army, that’s one wound                             
      inflicted on the city. Beyond that,
      from many houses many men are driven                               
      to their destruction by the double whip
      which Ares, god of war, so loves—
      disaster with two prongs, a bloody pair.
      A messenger weighed down with news like this
      should report the Furies’ song of triumph.
      But when he brings good news of men being saved
      to a city full of joyful celebrations . . .
      How can I mix the good news and the bad,
      telling of the storm which hit Achaeans,
      a storm linked to the anger of the gods?                                
      For fire and sea, before now enemies,                                                
      swore a common oath and then proclaimed it
      by destroying Achaea’s helpless forces.
      At night malevolent seas rose up,
      as winds from Thrace smashed ships together.
      Pushed round by the power of that storm,
      and driven by great bursts of rain, the ships
      scattered, then disappeared, blown apart
      by the evil shepherd’s whirlwind. Later,
      when the sun’s bright light appeared again,                          
      we witnessed the Aegean sea in bloom
      with corpses of Achaean troops and ships.                                        
      As for us, some god saved us in secret
      or interceded for us—our boat survived,
      its hull intact. That was no human feat.
      Some divine hand was on our steering oar,
      some stroke of Fortune wanted our ship saved,
      not swamped by surf as we rode at anchor
      or smashed upon the rocky coast. And then, 
      once we’d avoided Hades on those seas,                                
      we couldn’t believe our luck, as we brooded,
      in the bright light of day, on all our troubles,
      this new disaster which destroyed our fleet,                                     
      dispersing it so badly. So on those ships
      if anyone’s still breathing, he’ll now say
      we’re the ones who’ve been destroyed. Why not,
      when we say much the same of them?
      But let’s hope things all turn out for the best.
      As for Menelaus, wait for his return—
      that should be your first priority.                                            
      If some ray of sunlight finds him still alive,
      his vision still intact, thanks to Zeus,
      whose crafty plans at this point don’t include
      destruction of the entire race, there’s hope
      he’ll soon come home again. Now you’ve heard this,
      you’ve listened to the truth.                                                                 

[Exit Herald]

      Whoever came up with that name,
      a name so altogether true—
      was there some power we can’t see
      telling that tongue what to say,                                               
      the tongue which prophesied our fate—
      I mean the man who called her Helen,
      that woman wed for warfare,
      the object of our strife?
      For she’s lived up to that name—
      a hell for ships, a hell for men,
      a hell for cities, too.
      From her delicately curtained room                                                   
      she sailed away, transported
      by West Wind, an earth-born giant.                                        
      A horde of warriors with shields
      went after her, huntsmen
      following the vanished track
      her oars had left, all the way
      to where she’d beached her ship,
      on leafy shores of Simois.
      Then came bloody war.

      And so Troy’s destiny’s fulfilled—                                                       [700]
      wrath brings a dreadful wedding day,
      late retribution for dishonour                                                  
      to hospitality and Zeus,
      god of guest and host,
      on those who celebrated with the bride,
      who, on that day, sang aloud
      the joyful wedding hymns.
      Now Priam’s city, in old age,                                                                
      has learned a different song.
      I think I hear loud funeral chants,
      lamenting as an evil fate
      the marriage Paris brought.                                                      
      The city’s filled with songs of grief.
      It must endure all sorrows,
      the brutal slaughter of its sons.

      So a man once raised a lion cub
      in his own home. The beast
      lacked milk but craved its mother’s teat.
      In early life the cub was gentle.                                                           
      Children loved it, and it brought
      the old men great delight.
      They gave it many things                                                          
      and clasped it in their arms,
      as if it were a nursing child.
      Its fiery eyes fixed on the hands
      that fed it, the creature fawned,
      a slave to appetite.

      But with time the creature grew
      and its true nature showed—
      the one its parents gave it.
      So it paid back those who reared it,
      preparing a meal in gratitude,                                                  
      an unholy slaughter of the flocks,                                                       
      house awash with blood,
      while those who lived inside the home
      were powerless against the pain,
      against the massive carnage.
      By god’s will they’d brought up
      a priest of doom in their own house.

      I’d say she first arrived in Troy
      a gentle spirit, like a calming breeze,
      a delicate, expensive ornament—                                           
880        [740]
      her soft darting eyes a flower
      which stings the heart with love.
      Then, changing her direction,
      she took her marriage to its bitter end,
      destroying all those she lived with.
      With evil in her train and led by Zeus,
      god of guest and host, she turned into
      a bride of tears, a Fury.

      Among men there’s a saying,                                                                [750]
      an old one, from times long past:                                            
      A man’s prosperity, once fully grown,
      has offspring—it never dies 
      without producing children.
      From that man’s good fortune
      spring up voracious pains
      for all his race. But on this
      I don’t agree with other men.
      I stand alone and say
      it’s the unholy act that breeds
      more acts of the same kind.                                                     
900        [760]
      A truly righteous house is blessed,
      its children always fair and good.

      Old violent aggression 
      loves to generate new troubles
      among evil men—soon or late,
      when it’s fated to be born,
      new violence springs forth,
      a spirit no one can resist or conquer,
      unholy recklessness,
      dark ruin on the home,                                                              
910        [770]
      like the destructiveness
      from which it sprang.

      But Righteousness shines out
      from grimy dwellings, honouring
      the man who lives in virtue.
      She turns her eyes away
      from gold-encrusted mansions
      where men’s hands are black,
      and moves towards integrity,
      rejecting power and wealth,                                                     
      which, though praised, are counterfeit.                                              
      Righteousness leads all things
      to well-deserved fulfillment.

[Enter Agamemnon in a chariot with Cassandra and a large military escort]

      Welcome, son of Atreus, my king,
      Troy’s destroyer. How shall I address you?
      How honour you without extravagance,
      without failing to say what’s suitable?
      For many men value appearances
      more than reality—thus they violate
      what’s right. Everyone’s prepared to sigh                               
930        [790]
      over some suffering man, though no sorrow
      really eats their hearts, or they can pretend
      to join another person’s happiness, 
      forcing their faces into smiling masks.
      But a good man discerns true character—
      he’s not fooled by eyes feigning loyalty,
      favouring him with watered-down respect.
      Back when you were gathering the army
      in Helen’s cause—I won’t deny the fact—                                          
      I saw you in an unflattering light,                                            
      an unfit mind steering our ship astray,
      trying through that sacrifice to boost the spirits
      of dying soldiers. But now, with love, 
      with a full heart, I welcome your return.
      For those who’ve won final success, the joy
      is worth the toil. If you enquire, in time
      you’ll learn about the men who stayed at home,
      those who with justice stood guard for the city
      and those who failed to carry out what’s right.

      First I salute Argos and my native gods,                                
950        [810]
      as is right, the ones who worked with me
      for my safe return and for the justice
      I brought down on Priam’s city. The gods
      refused to listen to their urgent pleas,
      then cast their ballots—there was no dissent—
      into the urn of blood—to kill their men,
      to wipe out Ilion. The other urn,
      the one for clemency, stood there empty—
      only Hope took up her stand beside it.
      Even now smoke from the burning city,                                 
      an auspicious sign, tells of its capture.
      The storms from its destruction still live on.
      As fiery embers cool, their dying breaths
      give off ripe smells of wealth. For all this,                                         
      we must give the gods eternal thanks.
      Around Troy we’ve cast a savage net.
      For a woman’s sake, the beast from Argos,
      born from the belly of that wooden horse, 
      in the night, as the Pleiades went down,
      jumped out with their shields and razed the city.                
      Leaping over walls, the ravenous lion
      gorged itself on blood of royalty.
      So much for my long prelude to the gods.
      As for your concerns, I’ve heard your words,
      and I’ll keep them in mind. I agree with you—
      we’ll work together. By nature few men
      possess the inborn talent to admire
      a friend’s good fortune without envy.
      Poisonous malice seeps into the heart,
      doubling the pain of the infected man,                                   
      weighing him down with misfortunes of his own,
      while he groans to see another’s wealth.
      I understand too well companionship
      no more substantial than pictures in a glass.
      From my experience, I’d say those men
      who seemed so loyal to me are shadows,
      no more than images of true companions.                                         
      All except Odysseus—he sailed with me
      much against his will, but once in harness,
      he was prepared to pull his weight for me.                            
      I say this whether he’s alive or dead.
      For other issues of the city and our gods,
      we’ll set up a general assembly,
      all of us discussing things together.
      We must make sure what’s working well
      remains that way in future. By contrast,
      where we need some healing medicine,
      we’ll make a well-intentioned effort
      to root out all infectious evil,
      burning the sores or slicing them away.                                 
1000       [850]

[Enter Clytaemnestra with attendants carrying the purple carpet]

      Now I’ll go inside my palace, my hearth and home,
      first, to greet the gods who sent me off
      and today bring me back. May victory,
      which has been mine, stay with me forever.

[Agamemnon moves to climb out of the chariot but is held up by Clytaemnestra’s speech]

      Citizens, you senior men of Argos here,
      I’m not ashamed to speak before you all,
      to state how much I love my husband. With time,
      men’s fears diminish. So I’ll speak out now.
      I don’t talk as one who has been taught
      by others, so I’ll just describe my life,                                     
      my oppressive life, all the many years
      my husband’s been away at Ilion.                                                        
      First, it’s unmitigated trouble 
      for a woman to sit at home alone,
      far from her man. She has to listen to
      all sorts of painful rumours. Messengers
      arrive, hard on each other’s heels, bearing
      news of some disaster—and everyone
      tells of troubles worse than those before,
      shouted throughout the house. If my husband                      
      had had as many wounds as I heard rumours
      coming to this house, he’d have more holes in him
      than any net. If he’d died as many times
      as rumour killed him, he could claim to be
      a second Geryon, that triple-bodied beast,                                        
      and boast of being covered up with earth
      three times, one death for every separate shape.
      Because of all these spiteful messages,
      others have often had to cut me loose,
      a high-hung noose strung tight around my neck.                  
      That’s why our son, Orestes, is not standing here,
      the most trusted bond linking you and me.
      He should be, but there’s no cause to worry.
      He’s being cared for by a friendly ally,                                                
      Strophius of Phocis, who warned me twice—
      first, of your own danger under Ilion’s walls,
      second, of people here, how they could rebel,
      cry out against being governed, then overthrow
      the Council. For it’s natural to men,
      once someone’s down, to trample on him                             
      all the more. That’s how I explain myself.
      And it’s all true. As for me, my eyes are dry—
      the welling sources of my tears are parched,
      no drop remains. Many long nights I wept
      until my eyes were sore, as I kept watching
      for that beacon light I’d set up for you,                                               
      but always it kept disappointing me.  
      The faint whirring of a buzzing fly 
      would often wake me up from dreams of you,
      dreams where I saw you endure more suffering                    
      than the hours in which I slept had time for.
      But now, after going through all this, my heart
      is free of worry. So I would salute my lord—
      the watch dog who protects our household, 
      the mainstay which saves our ship of state, 
      the lofty pillar which holds our roof beams high, 
      his father’s truly begotten son, for men at sea
      a land they glimpse beyond their wildest hopes,
      the fairest dawn after a night of storms,                                            
      a flowing stream to thirsty travellers.                                    
      What joy it is to escape necessity!
      In my opinion, these words of greeting 
      are worthy of him.
 So let there be no envy,
      since in days past we’ve suffered many ills.
      And now, my beloved lord, come to me here,
      climb down from that chariot. But, my king,
      don’t place upon the common ground the foot
      which stamped out Troy.

[Clytaemnestra turns to the women attending on her who, on her orders, begin to spread out at Agamemnon’s feet the tapestries they have brought out from the house, making a path from the chariot to the palace doors. The tapestries are all a deep red-purple, the colour of blood]

                                    You women, don’t just stand there.
      I’ve told you what to do. Spread out those tapestries,
      here on the ground, directly in his path. Quickly!                
      Let his path be covered all in red, so Justice                                      
      can lead him back into his home, a place
      he never hoped to see. As for the rest,
      my unsleeping vigilance will sort it out,
      with the help of gods, as fate decrees.

      Daughter of Leda, guardian of my home,
      your speech was, like my absence, far too long.
      Praise that’s due to us should come from others.
      Then it’s worthwhile. All those things you said—
      don’t puff me up with such female honours,                          
      or grovel there before me babbling tributes,
      like some barbarian. Don’t invite envy                                               
      to cross my path by strewing it with cloth.
      That’s how we honour gods, not human beings.
      For a mortal man to place his foot like this
      on rich embroidery is, in my view,
      not without some risk. So I’m telling you      
      honour me as a man, not as a god.
      My fame proclaims itself. It does not need
      foot mats made out of such embroideries.                            
      Not even to think of doing something bad
      is god’s greatest gift. When a man’s life ends
      in great prosperity, only then can we declare
      that he’s a happy man. Thus, if I act,
      in every circumstance, as I ought to now,
      there’s nothing I need fear.                                                                   

      Don’t say that just to flout what I’ve arranged.

      You should know I’ll not go back on what I’ve said.

      You must fear something, then, to act this way.
      You’ve made some promise to the gods.                                

      I’ve said my final word. I fully understand,
      as well as any man, just what I’m doing.

      What do you think Priam would have done,
      if he’d had your success?

                                                            That’s clear—
      he’d have walked across these tapestries.

      So then why be ashamed by what men say?

      But what people say can have great power.

      True, but the man whom people do not envy
      is not worth their envy.

                                          It’s not like a woman
      to be so keen on competition.                                                 
1110        [940]

      It’s fitting that the happy conqueror 
      should let himself be overcome.

                                    And in this contest
      that’s the sort of victory you value?

      Why not agree? Be strong and yield to me,
      of your own consent.

                                       Well, if it’s what you want . . .
      Quick, someone get these sandals off—
      they’ve served my feet so well. As I now walk
      on these red tapestries dyed in the sea,
      may no distant god catch sight of me,
      and, for envy, strike me down. There’s much shame            
      when my feet squander assets of my house,
      wasting wealth and costly woven finery.

[Agamemnon, in bare feet, comes down from the chariot onto the tapestries]

      So much for that. 

[Agamemnon turns to call attention to Cassandra in the chariot]

                                         Welcome this foreign girl                                  [950]
      into our house. And do it graciously.
      For god, who sees us from far away,
      looks down with favour on a gentle master.
      No one freely puts on slavery’s yoke,
      but this girl, the finest flower of all our loot,
      comes with us as my army’s gift to me.
      And now, since you’ve talked me into this,                           
      I’ll proceed into my palace, treading
      on this crimson pathway as I go.

[Agamemnon starts to move slowly along the tapestries towards the palace and up the stairs. Cassandra remains in the chariot]

      There is the sea. Who will drain it dry?
      It gives us crimson dye in huge amounts,
      as valuable as silver, inexhaustible.
      With that we dye our garments. And of these                                   
      our house has a full store, thanks to the gods.
      We’re rich. We have no sense of poverty.
      I’d have vowed to tread on many clothes,
      to use what we have stored up in our home,                         
      if an oracle had ordered such a payment
      to save your life. If the root still lives,
      the house can blossom into leaf once more,
      growing high-arching shade, protection
      against the Dog Star’s scorching season.
      Your return to your father’s hearth and home
      brings us the summer’s heat in winter time.
      It’s like when Zeus makes wine from bitter grapes,                         
      the house immediately grows cool, once its lord
      strolls through his own halls in complete command.          

[By this time Agamemnon has reached the palace doors and has just entered the palace]

      O Zeus, Zeus, who accomplishes all things,
      answer my prayers. Take care to bring about
      all things that reach fulfillment through your will.

[Exit Clytaemnestra into the palace. The doors close behind her]

      Why does this sense of dread
      hover so unceasingly
      around my heart
      with such foreboding?
      My song of prophecy goes on
      unbidden and unpaid.
      Why can’t some calming confidence                                       
1160        [980]
      sit on my mind and spurn
      my fears as enigmatic dreams?
      It was so long ago—
      Time has long since buried
      deep in sand the mooring cables
      cast when the army sailed to Troy.

      My own eyes tell me
      Agamemnon has returned.
      For that I need no further witness.
      But still, here, deep in my heart,                                             
      the spontaneous song
      keeps up its tuneless dirge,                                                                  
      as the avenging Furies chant.
      It kills my confidence, my hope.
      Everything inside me
      beats against my chest,
      surging back and forth
      in tides of grim foreboding—
      something’s moving to fulfillment.
      But I pray my premonitions                                                     
      prove false and never come to light.                                                   

      For, as we know, boundaries
      of vigorous health break down—
      disease is always pressing hard
      the common wall between them.
      So with the fate of men.
      It holds to a straight course,
      then, all at once, can crash
      upon a hidden rock of grief.
      But if, as a precaution,                                                               
      men toss overboard
      some part of their rich cargo,
      and time their throw just right,                                                           
      the house, though grieving,
      will not completely founder,
      nor will its hull be swamped.
      And Zeus’ bountiful rich gifts
      reaped from the furrows every year
      hold off the plague of famine.

      But once a murdered man’s dark blood                                  1200
      has soaked the ground, who then                                                        
      can bring him back through song?
      Even Aesculapius, whose skill
      could raise men from the dead,
      was stopped by Zeus’ thunderbolt.
      Was that not warning to us all?
      If one fate settled by the gods
      did not prevent another fate
      securing an advantage,
      my heart would then outrace my tongue—                           
      I’d speak out loud and clear, 
      I’d cry out my forebodings.
      But now it mutters in the dark,                                                           
      uneasy, holding little hope
      for any resolution.
      And still my spirit smoulders.

[Enter Clytaemnestra from the palace. She addresses Cassandra, who is still in the chariot]

      You should go in, too—I mean you up there,
      Cassandra. Zeus, in his mercy to you,
      has made you member of our household,
      one who shares its purification rites.                                      
      So you can take your place before the altar
      of the god protecting all our wealth,
      along with other slaves. So come down.
      Leave the chariot. And leave your pride behind.
      Men say even Hercules, Alcmene’s son,                                             
      once long ago was sold in slavery
      and had to eat its bitter bread. If Fate
      has brought you to the same condition,
      be very grateful you serve masters here
      who’ve been rich forever. Certain men,                                  
      those who’ve reaped a harvest of rich goods
      beyond their dreams, maltreat their slaves.
      They go too far. But here, with us, you’ll get
      the treatment our traditions say is right.

CHORUS LEADER [addressing Cassandra]
      Our queen is talking to you. Her meaning’s clear.
      Fate has caught you in its nets—you’d best obey,
      unless such action is beyond your power.

      If she’s not like a swallow, with a song                                               
      all her own, something barbarously obscure,
      I’ll speak so she can understand. She must obey.                  

CHORUS LEADER [to Cassandra]
      Go with the queen. Of all your options now
      what she says is best. Do as she says.
      Step down from your chariot seat.

                                                     Come down now.                                                 
      I don’t have time to waste on this girl here.
      Inside, by our central hearth, our victims                                          
      are already waiting for the sacrifice,
      a joyful time beyond our fondest hopes.
      So if you want to play your part in this, 
      you’d better come at once. If what I say
      means nothing to you, if you can’t understand,                    
1250       [1060]
      at least use your foreign hand to make a sign.                                 

      An interpreter is what this stranger needs.
      She’s like some wild thing, freshly trapped.

      She’s mad, too busy listening to her troubled heart.
      She’s just left her newly captured city,
      then come here, without sufficient time
      to learn to stomach the controlling bit.
      She will, once her anger’s been dissolved
      in foaming blood. But I’ll waste no more time,
      dealing with her contempt outside the house.                      

[Clytaemnestra turns and exits into the palace. The members of the Chorus gather around Cassandra]

      I’ll not lose my temper. I pity her.
      You unhappy creature, why not come down?                                       
      Leave the chariot. Why not accept fate’s yoke
      of your own free will?

CASSANDRA [searching the sky for a sign of Apollo and screaming]
                                        Aieeeee . . . earth . . . sky . . .
      Apollo . . . Apollo . . .

      Why cry out your distress in Apollo’s name?
      He’s not a god who pays attention
      to those who mourn like this.

                                        Aieeee . . . earth . . . sky . . .                     
      Apollo . . . my destroyer . . .

      She cried out again.  Such ominous words—
      and to a god who’s not the one
      to have around at times of grieving.

      Apollo! Apollo! God of the road . . .                                                     
      You’re destroying me. Why leave me here
      beyond all hope a second time?

      It looks as if she’s going to prophesy,
      to say something of her unhappiness.
      She may be a slave, but inside her                                           
      the god’s voice still remains.

      O Apollo! God of the road . . .
      You’re obliterating me! Where am I now?
      Where have you led me? What house is this?

      If you don’t know where you are, I’ll tell you—
      you’re at the house of the sons of Atreus.
      That’s the truth.

                                            No . . . no . . . a house                                       
      that hates the gods . . . house full of death,
      kinsmen butchered . . . heads chopped off . . .
      a human slaughterhouse awash in blood . . .                         

      This stranger’s like a keen hound on the scent.
      She’s on the trail of blood.

                                  . . . I see evidence I trust—young children
      screaming as they’re butchered—then their father
      eating his own infants’ roasted flesh . . .

      We’ve heard about your fame in prophecy.
      But here in Argos no one wants a prophet.

      O god what’s this she has in mind?                                                     
      What new agony inside the house
      is she preparing? Something monstrous,                               
      barbaric, evil . . . beyond all love,
      all remedy. And help is far away.

      I don’t understand what she’s saying now.
      What she first said, that I understood—
      the whole city talks about it.

      O evil woman, you’re going to do it.
      Your own husband, the man who shares your bed—
      once you’ve washed him clean . . . there in the bath . . .
      How shall I describe how all this ends?
      It’s coming soon. She’s stretching out her hand . . .              
1310        [1110]
      and now her other hand is reaching for him . . .

      I still don’t understand. What she’s saying
      is just too confused. Her dark prophecies
      leave me bewildered.

                                                    Look! Look over there!
      What’s that apparition? Is that death’s net?
      No, she’s the net, the one who sleeps with him,
      that woman, murder’s willing agent.
      Let those Furies insatiably at work
      against this clan rise up and scream for joy—
      they have another victim fit for stoning.                                

      What Fury do you now invoke to shriek
      throughout this house? What you’ve just said                                  
      makes me afraid.

      Drop by drop the dark blood flows
      around my heart—like mortal wounds
      when life’s sunset comes,
      when death is near.

      Look over there! Look now!
      Keep the great bull from his mate.
      She’s caught him in her robes—                                               
      now she gores him with her black horn.
      A trap! He’s collapsing in the bath!
      I’m telling you what’s going on—
      he’s being murdered in there,
      while bathing—a plot to kill him!

      I can’t boast of any skill with prophecies,                                          
      but these strike me as pointing to disaster.

      What good ever comes to men
      from prophecies? They talk of evil.
      All those skilful words encourage men                                  
      to be afraid of what the prophet chants.

      Alas for me! Alas for my unwelcome fate!
      I’m crying out for my own suffering—
      my cup of grief is full, brim full . . .
      Why have you brought me here,
      so wretched, if not to die,
      the second victim? Why else?

      Your mind’s possessed—some god is in control.                              
      And so you wail aloud about your death,
      just like some shrill nightingale that sings,                           
      without a pause, of her heart’s distress,
      lamenting all her life for her dead son,
      life rich in sorrow.

                                               O to have that—
      the fate of the singing nightingale!
      Gods gave her body wings and a sweet life.
      She does not weep. But murder waits for me—
      a two-edged sword hacks me to death.

      These vain prophetic cries of woe you chant,                                    
      where do they start? Why introduce
      such horrific fear into your songs?                                          
      How do you set some limit to the path
      where what you see so ominously leads?

      Alas for that wedding . . . Paris and his bride . . .
      how it destroyed his loved ones . . . 
      Alas for the Scamander, river of my home!
      By your banks I was raised so long ago,
      brought up to all this misery . . . And now it seems
      I must soon chant my prophecies
      by Cocytus and banks of Acheron,                                                       
      twin rivers of the dead.                                                             

      What’s that? The words seem clear enough—
      any child could understand. Your cruel fate
      strikes at me like a bloody fang. It hurts.
      My heart breaks to hear you chant your sorrows.

      Alas for my city’s fate—
      totally destroyed . . . 
      Alas for my father’s sacrifices,
      all those grazing herds . . .
      offerings to save our walls!
      In vain . . . the city was not spared . . .                                    
1380       [1170]
      all that misery it’s endured.
      Now I, on fire too, must go to ground.

      You keep repeating what you said before.
      Some evil-minded demon, swooping down,
      has fallen on you, forcing you to sing,
      to chant your songs of death. 
      Where does this end?
      That’s what I can’t see.

      Then my prophecy will veil itself no more,
      like some new bride half-concealed from view.                    
      Let it now rise as clear as a fresh wind
      blowing toward the rising sun, a wave                                               
      cresting through the dawn and bringing on
      a tide of woe far greater than my own.
      I’ll teach you no more in cryptic riddles.
      And you bear witness—run the trail with me,
      as I sniff out the track of ancient crimes.
      Up there on that roof there sits a chorus—
      it never leaves. They sing in harmony,
      but the song is harsh, predicting doom.                                 
      Drinking human blood has made them bold—
      they dance in celebration through the house.
      The family’s Furies cannot be dislodged.                                           
      Sitting in the home, they chant their song,
      the madness that began all this, each in turn
      cursing that man who defiled his brother’s bed.
      Have I missed the mark? Or like a fine archer
      have I hit the beast? Or am I selling lies,
      a fortune-teller babbling door to door?
      Tell me on your oath how well I know                                   
      these old stories of this family’s crimes.

      How could an oath of ours be any help,
      no matter how sincere, to heal your grief?
      But I’m amazed that you, born overseas,
      can say so much about a foreign city,                                                 
      as if you’d lived here.

                                                           It was Apollo,
      god of prophecy, who made me what I am.

      Surely the god was not in love with you?

      I used to be ashamed to talk of this . . .

      When we’re doing well, we all have scruples.                        

      Apollo was like a mighty wrestler, 
      panting all over me, in love.

      Did you go through with it—
      bear him a child?

                                 I promised to,
      but then I broke my word.

      Did you already have prophetic skill,
      inspired by the god?

                                                           At that time
      I used to prophesy to all my countrymen.                                          
      I’d foretell disasters.

      How did you escape Apollo’s anger?                                       

      Since I resisted him, no one believes me.

      But to us, at least, what you prophesy
      seems true enough.

                                       Aieee . . . the pains I feel.
      The fearful labour pains of true prophecy
      seize me, confuse me, as they start again,
      full of foreboding. Look there—see those creatures,
      young ones, sitting by the house, dark shapes,
      like something from a dream? They’re like children
      murdered by their loved ones . . . their hands are full,
      clenching chunks of their own flesh as food,                         
1440       [1220]
      their guts and inner organs . . . it’s all so clear . . . 
      that awful meal their own father tasted.
      For all that, I say, revenge is on the way,
      someone’s planning it, a craven lion,
      a beast wallowing in bed, keeping watch,
      waiting for my master to get back.
      Yes, my master—since I must now bear
      the yoke of slavery. That lord of war,
      who led the fleet and ravaged Ilion,
      has no idea what that cur is up to,                                          
      what evil plans the hateful bitch is hatching,
      as her tongue licks his hands in welcome,
      ears perked up for joy, like treacherous Ate,                                     
      goddess who destroys. It’s outrageous—
      the woman kills her man. What shall I call her?
      What awful monster suits her? A snake?
      An amphisbaena with a head at either end?
      Or perhaps a Scylla living in the rocks,
      preying on sailors, raging mother of hell,
      who breathes relentless war on loved ones.                          
      How that woman, in her audacity, 
      screamed out in triumph, like a battle cry, 
      pretending to enjoy his safe return!
      Whether you credit what I say or not—
      that doesn’t really matter. Why should it?
     What will come will come. And soon enough,                                   
      as you stand here full of pity, you’ll say
      Cassandra’s prophecies were all too true.

      I understand about Thyestes’ meal,
      and tremble thinking how he ate his children’s flesh.          
      Terror grips me as I hear these truths
      without embellishment. As for the rest,
      hearing that just makes me lose my way.

      I tell you you’ll see Agamemnon dead.

      Poor girl, calm yourself. Tone down those words.

      No—no one can heal what my words prophesy.

      Not if they’re true. But may the gods forbid!

      While you pray here, others move in to kill.                                     

      What man is going to commit such crimes?

      What man? You’ve completely missed the point.                 
      You’ve failed to understand my prophecies.

                                                             Yes I have—
      I don’t see who has means to do it.

      Yet I can speak Greek well enough.

      So does the oracle at Delphi,
      but understanding what it says is hard.

      O this fire! His fire comes over me once more!
      The pain . . . Lycian Apollo . . . burning me . . . 
      That two-footed lioness . . . crouching there
      with a wolf, once the noble lion’s gone . . . 
      She’s going to kill me . . . the agony!                                       
1490       [1260]
      Now she prepares her drugs, and in her rage,
      vows I too will be a part of her revenge,
      as she whets a sword to kill her king.
      He brought me here. Now we both die.
      Her retribution. So why do I bear 
      these ornaments that mock me, this rod,
      these prophet’s wreaths around my neck?
      Let me be rid of you before I die . . . .

[Cassandra breaks her wand and throws off the insignia of her office as a prophet]

      There, an end to you. With you down there,
      I get revenge. Make some other woman rich.                        
      Let her preach destruction instead of me.

[Cassandra now starts tearing off her clothes]

      Look how Apollo now in person strips me,
      rips my prophetic robes, the god who watched,                                
      as my friends in their hatred turned on me,
      mocked me so savagely in these very clothes—
      they thought they knew what they were doing.
      But they were wrong. I heard them call me names,
      “beggar,” “starving wretch”—I endured them all.
      And now the prophet god is done with me.
      He’s led his prophet to her place of death.                            
      No father’s altar for me here—instead
      a chopping block awaits, slaughtered
      in one hot stroke of bloody sacrifice.
      But we’ll not die without the gods’ revenge.
      Another man will come and will avenge us,                                      
      a son who’ll kill his mother, then pay back
      his father’s death, a wanderer in exile,
      a man this country’s made a stranger.
      He’ll come back and, like a coping stone,
      bring the ruin of his family to a close.                                    
      For gods have made a powerful promise—
      his father’s stretched out corpse will bring him home.
      Why then do I lament so piteously?
      Since I’m the one who first saw how Troy
      would be wiped out the way it was,
      since I see now how those who took the city
      are being destroyed in judgment from the gods,
      I’ll go to meet my fate. I’ll dare to die.                                                
      I greet this doorway as the gates of Death.
      Once the death blow strikes, I pray I’ll have                          
      a gentle end—no struggle, as my life blood
      drains away. And then I’ll close my eyes.

      You poor woman, so much pain and wisdom.
      You’ve said so much. But if you see your death—
      see it so clearly—how can you go on
      so bravely to the altar, like an ox
      destined by gods for sacrifice?

      There’s no way out. My friends, the time has come.

      But there’s some benefit in going last.                                               

      This is the day. It makes no sense to run.                              

      You know, you endure your suffering
      with courage I admire.

                                            No one hearing that
      has reason to be glad.

                                                        But to die well
      confers some human dignity.

CASSANDRA [approaching the door then moving back in horror]
      I cry for you, my father, your noble children.

      What’s wrong? Why turn around in fear?

      This house . . . It’s horrific!

      Why call out in horror? Is there some vision
      in your mind?

                                                It’s this house—
      it stinks of murder, blood slaughter . . .                                 

      No, no—that’s the smell of sacrifice,                                                  
      victims at the hearth.

                                                       That smell . . .
      it’s like an open grave . . .

      Do you mean the splendid Syrian incense?
      It’s all through the house.

CASSANDRA [turning back to the palace doors]
                                                      No. But I must go.
      I’ll lament my death, and Agamemnon’s, too,
      inside the house. Enough of living!
      Alas, my friends, I’m not holding back in fear,
      like some bird trapped in bushes. I want you
      to witness how I went to meet my death,                              
      when for me another woman will be killed,
      a man will die for one who married evil.
      This is my last request before I die.                                                    

      I pity you, poor creature, and your death,
      which you have prophesied.

                                                       One last time 
      I feel the urge to speak, not sing a dirge
      about my death. I pray to the sun,
      here in the light of his most recent day,
      that those who carry out revenge for me
      will make my enemies pay with their blood                         
      for butchering a slave, an easy victim.
      Alas, for human life. When things go well,
      a shadow overturns it all. When badly,
      a damp sponge wipes away the picture.

      Of these two, the second is more pitiful.                                           

[Cassandra exits slowly and deliberately through the palace doors, which close behind her]

      To rest unsatisfied amid great wealth
      is in the nature of all human beings.
      No one can point and order it away
      from princely homes by uttering the words
      “Dissatisfaction, enter here no more!”                                    
      Take Agamemnon. The powers in heaven
      permitted him to capture Priam’s town,
      to return home honoured by the gods.
      But now, if he must pay the penalty
      for blood which other men before him shed
      and die in retribution for the dead                                                      
      he killed himself, what mortal human being
      who hears all this can boast he lives
      a life unscarred by fate?

[A scream comes from inside the palace]

AGAMEMNON [from inside]
                                                      Help me!
      I’m hit . . . a deadly blow . . .

      Who cried out then? Something about a deadly blow.

AGAMEMNON [within]
      Aaagh! I’m hit again . . . a second blow . . .

      That’s the king in there. Those cries, I think,
      tell us what’s going on. Come now, let’s decide
      what’s best to do, our safest course of action.

[At this point the Chorus breaks up in panic, losing its unity as a group. Individual members speak to each other in great confusion]

      Here’s my advice—summon all the people,
      call them to bring help up to the palace.

      I say we must attack the house at once,                                             
      catch them at it, swords still wet with blood.

      My view is we should do something like that.                      
      I vote we act. There’s no time to delay.

      It’s all so clear. This is their opening move—
      a sign they’re going to tyrannize the city.

      We’re wasting time. They’ve thrown aside
      all sense of hesitation. Their hands won’t rest.

      I don’t know what scheme I could propose.
      It’s up to those who can carry out the plan
      to tell us what to do.

                                                 That’s my view, too.
      I don’t know how to bring the dead to life
      with nothing but our words.

                                                      But just to stay alive,                 
      should we bow down before these tyrants,
      who desecrate the house?

                                                        No. We can’t do that.
      Death would be preferable, a gentler fate
      than such a tyranny.

                                                  But should we assume,
      just on the basis of those groans we heard,
      that Agamemnon’s dead?

                                                                        Before we act,
      we must have clearer evidence. To guess like this
      is not really knowing what is true or not.

      That’s it then—everyone agrees on this—                                         
      we need to know more clearly how things stand                  
      with Agamemnon, son of Atreus.

[The palace doors open, revealing the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytaemnestra stands over them. She is covered in blood]

      Before this moment I said many things
      to suit my purposes. I’m not ashamed      
      to contradict them now. How else could I
      act on my hate for such a hateful man,
      who feigned his love, how else prepare my nets
      of agony so high no one could jump them?
      I’ve brooded on this struggle many years,
      the old blood feud. My moment’s come at last,
      though long delayed. I stand now where I struck,                 
      where I achieved what I set out to do.
      I did all this. I won’t deny the fact.                                                      
      Round this man I cast my all-embracing net,
      rich robes of evil, as if catching fish—
      he had no way out, no eluding fate.
      I stabbed him twice. He gave out two groans.
      Then as his limbs went limp, I hit again,
      a third blow, my prayerful dedication
      to Zeus, underground protector of the dead.
      He collapsed, snorting his life away,                                      
      spitting great gobs of blood all over me,                                            
      drenching me in showers of his dark blood.
      And I rejoiced—just as the fecund earth
      rejoices when the heavens send spring rains,
      and new-born flower buds burst into bloom.
      That’s how things stand, old men of Argos.
      Be joyful, if that’s how you feel. For me,
      this is my triumph. If it were fitting
      to pour libations on this corpse,
      I’d pour my curses out—that would be just.                          
      He filled the mixing bowls in his own house
      with such destructive misery, and now
      he drinks it to the dregs. He’s home at last.

      What you say I find incredible!
      How can that tongue of yours gloat like this,
      exulting over your dead husband?                                                       

      You’re testing me, as if I were some silly woman.
      But my heart is fearless. Let me tell you 
      what you already know—then you can praise
      or criticize me as you like. I don’t care.                                  
      This man is Agamemnon, my husband.
      He’s a corpse, the work of this right hand,
      a work of justice. That’s how matters stand.

      Woman, what earth-grown poison have you eaten,
      what evil drink drawn from the surging sea,
      that you’re so mad to risk the public voice,
      the curses people mutter? You cast him off.
      You cut him down. So now you’ll be thrown out,                             
      exiled from the city—a hateful thing
      to your own people.

                                                        So now                                       
      you’d sentence me to banishment,
      send me from the city a thing accursed?
      Back then you made no accusation
      against this man lying here. He sacrificed
      his own child, that dear girl I bore in pain,
      to charm the winds from Thrace—and didn’t care.
      To him she was a beast for slaughter.
      He had flocks of them—his farms were full.
      Shouldn’t you have banished him from Argos
      in punishment for that polluting crime?                                
1680       [1420]
      You’re strict enough when you pass judgment
      on what I’ve done. So let me caution you—
      I’m prepared to fight you head to head.
      If you win, well then, you can govern me.
      But if god lets me prevail, you old men
      will learn, old as you are, to behave yourselves.

      You’re too ambitious, far too arrogant.
      Blood-drenched murder’s made you mad. That’s plain.
      Your eyes are full of blood. Now stroke for stroke 
      you’ll pay for what you’ve done. You’ve lost your friends,   
      you’ve lost your honour . . .                                                                  

CLYTAEMNESTRA [interrupting]
      Then hear this, too, the force behind my oath—
      by that Justice I exacted for my child,
      by Ate, goddess of destruction,
      by the Fury to whom I offered up this man,
      my hopes will never walk these halls in fear,
      so long as Aegisthus stokes the blazing fires
      in my hearth. And he’s as loyal to me now
      as always, my shield, no man to trifle with.
      He’ll boost my confidence. Here he lies,                                
      the man who abused his wife, seduced
      by every captive girl at Ilion—
      and here she lies, his concubine, his spear prize,                              
      the faithful prophetess who shared his bed.
      She also knew the rowing benches
      where sailors sweat. They get what they deserve.
      He’s dead. She, like a swan, sang her last song,
      then died. Now she lies there, his sweetheart.
      She’ll bring new thrills, fresh pleasures to my bed.

      O that some Fate would soon come,                                      
      free from suffering and quick,
      bringing endless sleep,                                                                          
      our last eternal sleep,
      now our gracious lord is dead.
      For a woman’s sake
      he suffered much, and now
      by a woman’s hand he died.

      Alas for you, Helen, frantic woman.
      On your own, beneath Troy’s walls,
      you slaughtered many lives,                                                     
      and more than many.
      Now you wear your final garland—
      one long remembered for the blood
      which will never wash away.                                                                
      Back then in this house
      lived a spirit of strife,
      a power that broke our king.

      Don’t torment yourself like this, invoking
      death and fate, or redirect your rage
      on Helen, as if she killed those men,                                      
      all those Danaan lives, all by herself,
      and brought us pain past remedy.

      O spirit that falls upon this house,
      on Menelaus, on Agamemnon,
      descendants of Tantalus,
      you overpower me
      through these two sisters,                                                                    
      each with power like a man.
      You consume my heart with grief.
      Perched on his corpse                                                                
      the hateful raven caws her song,
      her harsh triumphal tune.

      Now you’re talking sense, when you call on
      the demon of this house, who’s eaten up
      three generations, the one who nurtures
      bloodlust in our guts. And so new blood
      spurts out before the old wound heals.                                              

      You appeal to that huge fiend
      haunting this house,
      whose anger weighs it down,                                                   
      to that tale of evil fate
      insatiably consuming us.
      Alas, alas, the will of Zeus,
      the cause of everything,
      who brings all things about.
      What can come to mortal men
      except at Zeus’ will?
      And in what’s happened here
      what’s not caused by the gods?

      Alas, my king, my lord—                                                          1760
      How shall I weep for you?                                                                    
      How speak of you with love?
      To lie entangled in the spider’s web,
      gasping life away—a sacrilege—
      stretched out on this bed of shame,
      struck down in treachery,
      the two-edged sword
      wielded by your wife.

      Are you saying this work is mine? That’s not so.
      Don’t think of me as Agamemnon’s wife.                               
      The form of this corpse’s wife was taken on                                      
      by the ancient savage spirit of revenge.
      For that brutal meal prepared by Atreus,
      it sacrificed one full-grown man,
      payment for two butchered children.

      Who would ever say
      you bear no guilt
      for Agamemnon’s murder?
      How could they? How?
      Yet that avenging spirit                                                             
      acting on his father’s crime
      could well have egged you on.
      Black Ruin moves ahead with force                                                    
      through streams of family blood
      granting vengeance for the young
      served up as chunks of meat.

      Alas, my king, my lord—
      How shall I weep for you? 
      How speak of you with love?
      To lie entangled in the spider’s web,                                      
      gasping life away—a sacrilege—
      stretched out on this bed of shame,
      struck down in treachery,
      the two-edged sword
      wielded by your wife.                                                                            

      I don’t think the man died wretchedly, 
      like some poor slave. Surely his own deceit
      brought ruin on this house? His suffering
      matches exactly what he did himself.
      Remember my own Iphigeneia,                                               
      his daughter, that sweet flower whom we mourn.
      So let him not boast out loud in Hades.
      He was the first to draw his sword,
      and by the sword he’s been repaid.

      There’s no clear way, and now                                                             
      this family’s falling. I’m afraid.
      It’s not just bloody drops. No,
      storms of blood rain batter down,
      destroying the house, while fate
      on yet another whetstone,                                                        
      hones the edge of Justice,
      for the next act, one more crime.

      O Earth, my Earth—
      how I wish you’d swallowed me
      before I ever saw my king
      lying low on such bed,                                                                           
      a silver-plated bath.
      Who will now bury him?
      Who will lament for him?
      Will you dare to do this,                                                           
      a woman mourning for the spirit
      of the husband she’s just killed,
      complete the injustices you’ve done
      with wretched favours to the dead
      to expiate your monstrous crimes?
      As people stand around the grave
      to praise this god-like man, in tears,
      whose sad heart will be sincere?                                                         

      That business is none of your concern.
      At our hands he collapsed in death.                                        
      We’ll bury him. But this house will not weep.
      No. Iphigeneia will meet him down there,
      as is fitting—the daughter greets her father
      happily by that swift stream of sorrow.
      Then she’ll embrace the man with love.

      One disgrace exchanged for yet another,                                           
      the struggle to decide is hard.
      The man who sins is sinned against,
      the killer pays the price.
      Yet while Zeus sits upon his throne                                        
      this decree from god remains—
      the man who acts will suffer.
      Who can then cast from this house
      its self-perpetuating curse?
      This race is wedded to destruction.

      Now you’re close to getting at the truth.
      For my part, I’m prepared to swear an oath
      to the demon of the House of Atreus
      I’ll rest content with what’s been done,                                              
      hard though that is, if he’ll leave this house alone,              
      transferring family murder somewhere else,
      to some other clan. I don’t need much,
      a small part of our wealth, if I can free
      these halls entirely of this madness,
      the urge we have to kill each other.

[Enter Aegisthus with armed attendants. The situation now grows increasingly tense, with the soldiers menacing the members of the Chorus, who begin to coalesce as a political unit, rediscovering their strength. This sense of a major irreconcilable political division and the threat of civil war grows increasingly acute until the end of the play]

      What a glorious day of retribution!
      Now I can say that once again the gods
      looking down on men avenge their crimes.
      How it fills my heart with joy to see this man
      stretched out here in a robe the Furies wove,                       
1860       [1580]
      full payment for deceitful treachery
      his father’s hand devised. For Atreus,
      king of Argos, was this man’s father.
      To set the record straight, my father,
      Thyestes, brother to Atreus
      challenged his authority. So Atreus
      expelled him from his home and city.
      But Thyestes in his misery returned, 
      a suppliant at his own hearth, praying
      Fate would save him, he would not be killed,                       
      his own blood would not stain his native ground.
      Atreus, the godless father of this man,                                               
      welcomed him effusively, but not with love.
      He set up what seemed a celebration—
      a feast day with lots of meat, but served 
      my father flesh of his own children.
      He sliced their toes and fingers off. Over these
      he diced the other parts, then passed this dish
      to Thyestes, where he sat beside him.
      My father then, in total ignorance,                                          
      took the food he didn’t recognize,
      and ate the meal which, as you’ve witnessed,
      destroyed the race. When Thyestes learns
      the abominable thing he’s done, he screams,
      staggers back, vomits up the butchered flesh.
      Then, kicking down the banquet table 
      to underscore his cry for justice,
      he calls down on the House of Atreus
      a curse no one can bear, “Let them all die,                                         
     the race of Pleisthenes—all die like this.”*                             
      That’s why you see this man lying here.
      This murder was my plan for justice.
      For Atreus threw my broken father out,
 and me as well, his third son, still a child,
      an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.
      But I grew up. And Justice brought me back.
      I seized the man who’d banished me.
      I planned each detail of this murderous scheme.
      Now I see him in the nets of Justice,                                                   
      I can face even my own death with joy.                                  

      To me you’re contemptible, Aegisthus,
      getting pleasure from all this agony.
      You say you killed the king deliberately,
      and planned the cowardly slaughter on your own.
      I tell you—remember this—when justice comes,
      your head will not escape the people’s cursing
      or death by stoning at their hands.

      So you say—but you man the lower oars.
      Your masters on the higher tiers control the ship.
      You may be old, but you’ll learn how painful                        
      it is at your age to be taught your place.                                            
      Hunger pangs and chains, two worthy teachers,
      make excellent cures for teaching wisdom,
      even with old men. Surely you have eyes.
      Can’t you see this? You shouldn’t kick at thorns.
      You’ll only hurt yourselves.

                                                  You womanly creature!
      You stayed at home, waiting out the war,
      until the men came back. You soiled a real man’s bed,
      then planned to kill our king.

                                                              This talk of yours
      will soon give you sufficient cause to weep.                          
      The tongue of Orpheus was not like yours—
      the pleasure of his voice drew all things to him.                              
      Your puny squawking merely irritates.
      But once I chain you up, my force has ways
      to make you more compliant.

                                                              As if you rule in Argos!
      You, the one who plotted Agamemnon’s death,
      but weren’t brave enough to kill the man yourself!

      Clearly it was the woman’s role to trick him. 
      I was not a man whom he would trust.                                   
      After all, I’m an old enemy of his.
      But with his wealth I’ll try to rule the people.
      Those who resist I’ll strap under the yoke.                                        
      It won’t be light—not like a well-fed trace horse.
      No. Miserable starvation in the dark—
      then we’ll see how docile they can be.

                                                            You coward!
      Why not kill the man yourself? Why rely
      upon that woman for the murder,
      a disgrace to her own country and its gods?
      O can Orestes still see the light of day?                                 
      If his good fortune holds, will he come home,
      win out, and kill the two of them up there?

      If that’s the way you want to act and speak,
      you’ll get your lesson fast. Men, stand ready.
      My trusty guard, your work’s in front of you.                                    

[The soldiers place their weapons at the ready and move into menace the Chorus. The Chorus stands its ground, raising their staves as weapons]

      Don’t give way. Each of you, get your weapons ready.

AEGISTHUS [half drawing his sword]
      My hand is on my sword, as well.
      I’m not afraid to die.

      You say you’ll welcome death. That’s good to hear.
      We’re happy to oblige. 

[Clytaemnestra, alarmed at the way in which the conflict has grown, moves quickly between the guards led by Aegisthus and the Chorus]

                                         Stop this, my dearest.                             
      Let’s not act to bring on further trouble.
      Our wretched harvest is bountiful enough—
      we’ve reaped sufficient pain. No more bloodshed.
      You honourable old men, go home. Yield to fate,
      before you hurt yourselves. What we’ve done here
      we had to do. Let our troubles end right now.
      That we’ll allow, even though our fate                                               
      has struck a heavy blow. That’s my advice,
      what a woman ought to say, if any here
      will act on it.

                                              What about these men                      
      who let their tongues prattle on against me,
      hurling insults in my face, testing fate?
      They throw aside all moderate restraint
      to abuse their master.

                                                   Men of Argos
      will never cringe before an evil man.

      I’ll get my own back soon enough.

      Not if fate brings Orestes home again.

      I understand how exiles feed on hope.

      Go on. Fatten yourself up. While you still can,
      pollute all Justice.

                                  You must know you’ll pay                            
1970       [1670]
      for all this insolence to me.

                                   Keep on bragging—
      just like a cock beside his hen.

CLYTAEMNESTRA [pulling Aegisthus towards the palace doors]
      Leave them their feeble yelping. You and I
      control the house. We’ll put things in order.

[Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus back slowly into the palace and close the doors, leaving the guards and Chorus still facing each other. Slowly the Chorus disintegrates and its members walk off one by one. The guards form up in front of the palace, an armed defence before the doors]



*Priam was king of Troy, father of Paris (the man who abducted Helen). Agamemnon and Menelaus were the commanders of the expedition against Troy (with Agamemnon in the senior position). [Back to Text]

*Alexander was an alternative name for Paris, son of Priam[Back to Text]

*Uranus was the original god, who was overthrown by his son Cronos. Then Cronos, in turn, was overthrown by his son Zeus. [Back to Text]

*Calchas tells Agamemnon he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia to appease Artemis and stop the hostile winds. [Back to Text]

*The lines following describe Menelaus’ reaction to Helen’s disappearance. [Back to Text]

*In some legends Atreus had a son Pleisthenes who was raised by his brother Thyestes. Thyestes sent Pleisthenes to kill Atreus, but the latter killed him, not knowing he was his son. This was the cause of the notorious banquet. In other stories Pleisthenes (perhaps another person with the same name) is the husband ofAerope and father of Menelaus and Agamemnon. When Pleisthenes died, Atreus married Aerope and adopted the children. Aerope had a sexual affair with Thyestes, another cause for the quarrel between the two brothers, and was drowned for her adultery. [Back to Text]


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