Classics 430: Greek and Roman Myth

Readings on Clytemnestra and Agamemnon

from Aeschylus, Agamemnon (trans. Lloyd-Jones)

lines 205-248

(the Choros speaks)

...then the senior prince [1] gave tongue and said,
"A grievous doom is disobedience,
and a grievous doom it is
if I massacre my daughter, the pride of my house,
polluting with streams of slaughtered maiden's blood
a father's hands hard by the altar.
Which of these courses [2] is free from evil?
How am I to become a deserter of my ships,
losing my allies?
For that they should long
for a sacrifice to still the winds and for a maiden's blood
with passion exceeding passion
is right in the eyes of heaven.  May all be for the best!

And when [Agamemnon] had put on the yoke-strap of compulsion,
his spirit's wind veering to an impious blast,
impure, unholy, from that moment
his mind changed to a temper of utter ruthlessness.
For mortals are made reckless by the evil counsels
of merciless Infatuation, beginner of disaster.
And so he steeled himself to become the sacrificer
of his daughter, to aid a war
fought to avenge a woman's loss [3]
and to pay beforehand for his ships.

And he prayers and cries of 'Father!'
and her maiden years they let go for nothing,
those arbiters eager for battle; [4]
and her father told his servants after a prayer
to lift her face downwards like a goat above the altar,
as she fell about this robes to implore him with all her heart,
and by gagging her lovely mouth
to stifle a cry
that would have brought a curse upon his house;
using violence, and the bridle's stifling power.

And with her robe of saffron dye streaming downwards
she shot each of the sacrificers
with a piteous dart from her eye,
standing out as in a picture, wishing
to address each by name, since often
in her father's hospitable halls
she had sung, and virginal with pure voice
had lovingly honored the paean
of felicity at the third libation of her loving father.


[1] Agamemnon, the king of Argos and father of Iphigenia

[2] That is, to kill his daughter and gain favorable winds, or to refuse to kill her and thus lose the opportunity for battle (thus destroy his alliance with the other Greek leaders).

[3] That is, the 'theft' of Helen by the Trojan, Paris.

[4] The Greek Princes, including Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus