(in order of appearance)
CHORUS of old men of Argos
KLYTAIMESTRA wife of Agamemnon
AGAMEMNON king of Argos
KASSANDRA Trojan princess, prophet, prisoner of war
AIGISTHOS paramour of Klytaimestra
SETTING: The play is set at the palace of Agamemnon, also known as the house of Atreus, in Argos. Agamemnon has been away for more than ten years at the Trojan War. It is the middle of the night. A watchman is lying on the palace roof.
WATCHMAN : Gods! Free me from this grind!
It's one long year I'm lying here watching waiting watching waiting--propped on the roof of Atreus, chin on my paws like a dog.
I've peered at the congregation of the nightly stars--bright powerful creatures blazing in air,
the ones that bring summer, the ones that bring winter, the ones that die out, the ones that rise up--and I watch I watch I watch for this sign of a torch, a beacon light sending from Troy the news that she is captured.
Those are the orders I got from a certain manminded woman.
But whenever I take to my restless dreamless dewdrenched bed
I cannot close my eyes--fear stands over me instead of sleep.
And whenever I think to sing or hum a tune to stay awake then my tears fall.
This house is in trouble.
The good days are gone.
How I pray for change! A happy change. A light in darkness.
Hold on! There you are! Fire in the night! Blazing like day!
You make me dance for joy!
I must send news to Agamemnon's wife to rise from bed, to shout aloud
for this amazing light--if Troy is really taken as the beacons seem to say.
I myself will start the dancing.
For if they are in luck, I am in luck--we're throwing triple sixes!
Oh how I long to see the master of this house and touch his hand!
For all the rest, I keep silent. Ox on my tongue.
This house if it could talk would tell a tale.
But me--I talk to those who know and then
I lose my memory.
CHORUS : Ten years now since Priam's one great adversary--
Menelaos plus Agamemnon: twin royal power sanctioned by Zeus-- sent forth from this land a thousand ships to fight their fight.
Loud was the cry--they screamed "War!" as eagles scream when they wheel in air and thrash their wings for grief high above the nests of children lost.
All that care lost.
But some god hears the cry, some Apollo or Zeus or Pan, and sooner or later sends down vengeance.
So it was Zeus--god of host, guest, strangers, hospitality--sent the sons of Atreus against Alexander for the sake of a woman with too many husbands.
There were heavy struggles and knees pressed in the dust, Trojan spears smashed and Greek spears smashed.
Now things are where they are.
And will end where they're destined to end.
Not by burning things in secret, not by libations poured in secret, not by tears will you turn away the wrath of offerings that were unholy.
But we, old and useless as we are, left behind by the army, bide our time here, propped on childstrength.
The marrow leaps not in our breast.
Ares is absent.
Old age goes its way withered, on three legs,weak as a child or a dream dayvisible, wavering.
But you, daughter of Tyndareus, Queen Klytaimestra, what's happened, what news, what rumor, what message persuades you to send round orders for sacrifice?
All the altars in the city high and low, heavenly and earthly, blaze with offerings.
Everywhere torches shoot up to the sky, coaxed by holy unguents and royal oils.
Tell what you can. Heal my anxiety for it flashes from darkness to hope and chews me up inside.
Power comes into me!
I am breathed full by the gods of strong song: how the two Atreid kings, the twin command of Greece, were sent with spears against the land of Troy by this one omen--the king of birds appearing to the king of ships.
A black eagle and behind it a white one, whirling in the open air to drop upon a pregnant hare.
They ate the hare, they ate her womb, they ate her unborn young.
Sing sorrow, sorrow, but let the good prevail.
Then the prophet of the army saw the haredevouring birds were two, saw the warmongering Atreids were two, and he unfolded the omen:
In time this expedition will capture Priam's city, will slaughter all its cattle before its walls.
Only let no hatred from the gods darken down upon this army--this bridle forced onto the mouth of Troy.
For holy Artemis you know feels pity and anger at the predators of Zeus who fell upon a cringing hare.
She hates the feast of the eagles.
Sing sorrow, sorrow, but let the good prevail.
Gracious as she is to the tender cubs of lions, delighting as she does in savage beasts still helpless at the breast, she calls out for this omen to be realized--both its favor and its blame.
But I pray Apollo will prevent her raising adverse winds to keep the Greeks from sailing: she wants to instigate another sacrifice, a lawless joyless strifeplanting sacrifice that will turn a wife against a husband.
For there lives in this house a certain form of anger,a dread devising everrecurring everremembering anger that longs to exact vengeance for a child.
So spoke Kalchas to the kings.
Sing sorrow, sorrow, but let the good prevail.
Zeus! whoever Zeus is--if he likes this name I'll use it--measuring everything that exists I can compare with Zeus nothing except Zeus.
May he take this weight from my heart.
The god who was great before Zeus is not worth mentioning now.
The one who came after that is past and gone.
Zeus is the victor! Proclaim it:
Zeus put mortals on the road to wisdom when he laid down this law:
By suffering we learn.
Yet there drips in sleep before my heart a griefremembering pain.
Good sense comes the hard way.
And the grace of the gods (I'm pretty sure) is a grace that comes by violence.
So then the captain of the Greek ships, blaming no prophet,chose to veer along with the blasts of fortune.
His men could not sail, his men were starving, on the shore of Chalcis in the region of Aulis where the roaring tides go back and forth.
Winds from the north came bringing idle time they did not want, bringing hunger and days at anchor enough to drive men mad, sparing neither ships nor cables, every minute longer than the last, grinding this flower of Greek men to nothing.
And the seer cried out Artemis!--an answer more bitter than the question.
The sons of Atreus smote the ground and wept.
And Agamemnon spoke:
Hard for me to disobey.
Hard for me to cut down my own daughter, prize of my house, defiling a father's hand with a girl's blood at the altar.
Which of these is apart from evil?
How can I desert my ships and fail my allies?
Their desperation cries out for a sacrifice to change the winds, a girl must die.
It is their right.
May the good prevail!
Then he put on the yoke of Necessity.
His mind veered toward unholiness, his nerve turned cold.
It is delusion makes men bold, knocks them sideways, causes grief.
Sacrificer of his own daughter he became.
To further a war fought for a woman.
To pay off his ships.
Her prayers and cries of Father! her young life they reckoned at zero, those warloving captains.
Her father said a prayer and bid them seize her high above the altar like a goat with her face to the ground and her robes pouring around her.
And on her lovely mouth--
to check the cry that would have cursed his house--he fixed a bridle.
Her robe fell to the ground.
She cast a glance at each of her killers, like a figure in a painting speaking with her eyes,for she used to sing to them around her father's table.
blessing their libation in her pure girl's voice--
what happened then I did not see and cannot tell.
Let's just say Kalchas was no liar.
Justice tips her scales so that we learn by suffering.
But the future--who knows? It's here soon enough.
Why grieve in advance?
Whatever turns up, I hope it's happy--
in accord with her wishes, our one-woman citadel and bulwark.
I am here to reverence your power, Klytaimestra.
When the king is away one must honor the queen.
So you got good news?
Tell me, unless you don't want to.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Good news. Joy surpassing all your hopes!
The Greeks have captured Priam's town!
CHORUS : What do you say? I can't take it in!
KLYTAIMESTRA : Troy belongs to us! Clear?
CHORUS : My tears fall for joy.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Your eye is loyal.
CHORUS : And is there proof? Have you evidence?
KLYTAIMESTRA : I have. Unless some god fooled me.
CHORUS : You're persuaded by visions in dreams?
KLYTAIMESTRA : I would not trust a mind asleep.
CHORUS : Some rumor then?
KLYTAIMESTRA : You think me a child?
CHORUS : When was the city destroyed?
KLYTAIMESTRA : In the night, this past night.
CHORUS : What messenger could come so fast?
KLYTAIMESTRA : Hephaistos, god of fire! He sped forth a blazing flame from Ida!
Beacon after beacon as the fire messenger moved from Ida to the rock of Lemnosto the crag of Athos third, and skimming high above the sea it shot across like joy, the burning pine torch as another sun, to the watcher on Makistos, who delayed not, nor was he asleep, so the beacon sent its sign to sentinels of Messapion who lit a heap of heather and sped the message on. Not yet growing dim
it leapt the plain of Asopos right as a moon to the cliff of Kithairon and roused a successor of sending flame, which the watchers did not ignore but made an even bigger blaze that flashed over the Gorgon's lake and reached Mount Aigiplanktos urging the mandate of fire further.
Then they kindled a huge beard of flame that overleapt the Saronic Gulf and swooped down bright upon the peak of Arachnaios, nextdoor neighbor to us here, and plunged at last onto the roof of Atreus--this fire
that traveled all the way from Ida.
This was my lightbringing strategy, torch to torch over the entire course.
Victory for both the first and the last.
Such is the proof and evidence I offer you,sent by my husband from Troy to me personally.
CHORUS : To the gods I will give thanks, lady, later. But tell me your whole story uninterrupted. I am amazed.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Troy is ours on this day. Within that city, I imagine, sounds a cry that does not blend--oil and water poured together do not like each other, you could say, they stand aloof.
So the voices of vanquished and victor are distinct upon the ear.
Some fall on the bodies of their husbands, fathers, brothers and cry out grief from throats no longer free.
The others, famished after allnight battle, search for any breakfast they can find. No billets, no order, just chance.
But quartered now in captured Trojan homes, escaped from frost and dew, they'll sleep like happy men the whole night through without a watch.
And if only they reverence the gods and temples of that city these captors will not fall captive in turn.
Let no mad impulse strike the army to ravish what they should not,overcome by greed. They're not home yet.
Yet even if they make it home without offending gods the agony of those who died may wake again--I pray no sudden shift to evil.
Such are my woman words.
May the good prevail.
I'm ready for blessings, many blessings.
CHORUS : Woman, you talk like a sensible man.
Now that I've heard your proofs--and they're good proofs--I shall address the gods with gratitude for our success.
O Zeus king, O night of glory you have thrown over the towers of Troy a net so vast no man could overleap it, a dragnet of allenveloping doom.
I reverence great Zeus, the god of host and guest who bent his bow against Paris and did not miss.
People talk about "the stroke of Zeus."
Trace the meaning.
Zeus acts as Zeus ordains.
Do you think the gods ignore a man who steps on holy things?
That man is impious whose daring goes beyond justice, who packs his house with wealth in excess.
Now me, I'm a moderate person.
But a man of excess has no shelter.
He kicks the altar of Justice out of sight.
Persuasion drives him on--she is child of ruin.
There is no cure. The damage is plain--it shines like bad bronze, black on the touchstone.
Like a boy lost in dreams such a man brings disgrace on his city.
No god hears his prayers and if you befriend him, Justice will take you down.
Such a man is Paris, who came to the house of Atreus and outraged his host by stealing his wife--
Helen who bequeathed to her people clang of shields, press of spears, throng of ships.
Helen who brought ruin to Troy instead of a dowry.
Lightly, lightly, she went through the gates and the seers wailed aloud:
Alas for the house! Alas for the house and the men of the house!
Alas for the marriage bed and the way she loved her husband once!
There is silence there: he sits alone, dishonored, baffled, mute.
In his longing for what is gone across the sea a phantom seems to rule his house.
Any image of her is hateful to him. Without her eyes all Aphrodite is gone.
Dreams bring him grief or delusional joy--dreamvisible she slips through his hands and never comes back down the paths of sleep.
Such is the sorrow throughout that house.
But grief sits at the hearth of every house where a man sailed off to war.
Many things pierce a woman's heart: in place of the man she sent out she knows she'll get back a handful of ash.
Ares who exchanges bodies for gold, Ares who holds the scales of war, sends home to the wife the dust of her man packed in an easy little urn.
And the lament goes: What a master of battle he was!
How beautifully he died! while some people snarl under their breath All for the sake of another man's wife!
in resentment against the Atreidai, those champions of justice.
And what about those who lie over there--under the ground at Troy, planted in enemy soil?
The citizens' talk is heavy with anger. They want to see a penalty paid.
I'm anxious--I'm not sure what lurks in the dark.
Certainly the gods see all this killing.
And the Furies destroy a man who prospers unjustly, they grind his life away to nothing.
Dangerous to be big or famous--there strikes the thunderbolt of Zeus!
I prefer to remain obscure.
I'm no sacker of cities!
Let me keep my little life to myself.
But this beacon sends rumor racing through the town.
Is it true? Who knows? Some lie sent by gods?
What man is so childish or daft that his mind takes fire at news of a beacon then falls to despair if a word is changed?
On the other hand isn't it just like a woman to want to rejoice before anything is clear.
The female skin is much too porous.
And her gossip dies in a day.
Well, soon we'll know about these lights and fires and beacons, whether they're true or just some fantasy.
But look, I see a messenger coming from the shore, branches of olive on his head.
Covered in thirsty dust.
This man will make things clear--using words, not fire and smoke.
He'll tell us whether to celebrate or--or what I don't like to say.
MESSENGER : I greet you, ground of my fathers, land of Argos.
In this tenth-year light I come to you.
Many hopes are shattered, one is left:
I never dreamed that at my death I'd be buried in the place I love best.
Rejoice my homeland, rejoice light of the sun, and you highest Zeus and you Pythian Apollo--may you launch no more arrows against us.
You were hostile enough on the banks of Skamander, Apollo, now our savior!
I greet all the gods here, especially Hermes patron of messengers.
You who sent us out, welcome us home, this remnant of the army.
O royal halls, O beloved roof, O holy seats and gods that face the sun, receive your king with glad eyes at last.
He is come, bringing light in darkness, Agamemnon.
Welcome him well for he deserves it, he has dug up Troy with the shovel of Zeus, the shovel of Justice.
The soil of Troy is worked down to nothing.
Her altars are vanished, her temples are gone.
The seed of the land is utterly desolate.
Such a yoke did our king throw around Troy!
And now he is home, a blessed man, worthy of honor beyond all the living.
Neither Paris nor Troy can boast their deed was greater than their suffering.
That rapist-robber lost his plunder and razed his father's house to the ground.
Double the price did the sons of Priam pay for their crime.
CHORUS : Glad welcome to you, messenger of the army.
MESSENGER : Glad indeed. If gods want me to die, I'm ready now.
CHORUS : Did longing for your home afflict you there?
MESSENGER : Oh yes, oh yes, so that my eyes are filled with tears.
CHORUS : A sweet affliction then.
MESSENGER : How so?
CHORUS : The feeling was reciprocal.
MESSENGER : You mean you longed for the army?
CHORUS : Oh often we sighed from a dark heart.
MESSENGER : Why dark?
CHORUS : Silence is the only safe answer to that.
MESSENGER : You've come to fear someone?
CHORUS : Let me borrow your words: I'm ready to die.
MESSENGER : Yes, but it's over now.
And as for all that happened all those years--some of it happy, some of it not--well, who is free from suffering except the gods?
Were I to tell you our hardships--the miserable quarters, narrow gangways, lousy beds and how we groaned on days there was no food!--but it was worse onshore.
Our beds right up against the enemy walls. Rain from the sky, dew from the ground soaking us perpetually, rotting our clothes, filling our hair with vermin.
I could tell you stories of winter so cold it killed the birds in the air.
Or summer heat when the sea at noon lay without a crease--
but why bewail this? Our toil is past. Over.
The dead do not care to rise again.
Why should I count them?
Why pick at old wounds? Goodbye grief!
For us, this remnant of army, it feels like a victory!
So here is our boast: we took Troy finally and nailed plunder to the walls of Greece to glorify our gods.
Praise the city and the generals, you who hear this.
And the grace of Zeus that brought the thing to pass.
That's my whole story.
CHORUS : You prove me wrong, I don't deny.
Never too old to learn.
But all this concerns Klytaimestra most.
KLYTAIMESTRA : I raised my shout of joy a while ago, when the fire first blazed through the night, announcing Troy's fall.
There were of course those who rebuked me saying,
"You've convinced yourself that Troy is sacked because of a beacon!
How like a woman!" They called me insane.
Well, I went on with my offerings:
all through the city women raised the women's cry of jubilation in the temples of the gods, throwing spices on the flames. And now, what need for you to tell me more?
From the king himself I shall learn everything--how best to welcome him oh I'm excited--
what day is sweeter for a wife than when she runs to open the door for her husband back from war?--
bring him this message: come with all speed, you darling of the city.
You'll find your loyal wife just as you left her, guarding the house like a good dog, enemy to your enemies, quite unchanged.
She broke no seal while you were away.
And she knows no more of secret sex or scandal than she does of dipping bronze.
This is my boast.
It's one hundred percent true and worthy of a king's wife.
CHORUS : That's how she talks. You may need an intepreter.
But tell me, messenger, what of Menelaos?
Did he come back safe with you?
MESSENGER : Would that I could lie!
CHORUS : Would the truth were happy!
MESSENGER : He vanished from the army, he and his ship too.
CHORUS : You saw him leave Troy? Or did some storm snatch him?
MESSENGER : That's it, you hit the mark.
CHORUS : And they call him alive or dead?
MESSENGER : No one knows.
CHORUS : Describe the storm.
MESSENGER : I don't like to mar a joyful day with unwelcome news.
It's like mixing two different gods.
When a longfaced messenger comes to a city bringing tales of its army fallen,of a wound cut into the flesh of the people, of men from every house thrown onto the bloody prong of Ares, it's appropriate he sings out a hymn to the Furies.
But when he comes bringing victory to a city of joy--how can I mix evil into that?
How tell of the storm that fell on the Argives from angry gods?
For Fire and Water swore an oath--eternal enemies before--to wreck our fleet.
Steep ruinous oceans rose by night, winds lunged out of Thrace and dashed the ships on one another.
The water went wild. Ships simply vanished.
Like sheep lost to a floundering shepherd.
When dawn came we saw the Aigian Sea abloom with bodies and pieces of wreck.
Some devious god kept us and our hull intact, some forgiving god, with a nudge of the tiller.
Salvation took its seat on our boat and we did not go under, nor run up onshore.
No--we swept out of death into sudden bright daylight scarcely trusting our luck, then took account of a new cataclysm--our fleet in shreds.
If any man of them still breathes, of course he thinks us lost, as we do him.
May it turn out well!
As for Menelaos, expect him.
Some ray of light may find that man alive, if Zeus is not yet inclined to wipe out his family, there's hope he'll come home.
That's the truth.
CHORUS : Who can have named her so perfectly?
What prophetic mind?
Who was it gave to that bride of blood, that wife of strife, the name Helen? For the woman is hell to ships, hell to men, hell to cities.
She vanished out the veils of her bedroom on a western wind and in her wake came men with shields tracking her all the way to the shore of Troy. They beached in blood.
Trouble came to Troy. It had the name wedding, it had the name funeral.
It began in dishonoring Zeus, god of the feast where her wedding song was sung.
Then Troy grew old overnight. Troy changed its tune to one of sorrow. Paris became the bridegroom of doom.
And Helen made misery and death for her people just by living among them.
A man reared a lion cub once in his house.
It was new at the breast, a young gentle thing, tumbling and playing with children, delighting the old. The man took it up in his arms like an infant, nuzzling his hand when its belly was empty.
But time passed. It started to show its lion nature--
made an uninvited feast of slaughtered sheep, spilling blood and havoc from room to room.
That thing was a priest of ruin. Bred in the house. Sent by god.
At first, I think, there came to Troy a spirit of windless calm.
An ornament--a pretty glance, little sting to the heart.
But she swerved aside to a marriage of murder and tears.
She harmed the place, she harmed the people, she was sent by Zeus to the city of Priam: bride as disaster. Bride as Fury.
You know the old saying--Great wealth gives birth to great woe.
Now here is my own opinion:
One unholy deed breeds another unholy deed.
A righteous house has righteous children.
Old hybris makes new hybris.
In the hour of crisis you cannot resist her, you cannot fight back--
an utter unholy recklessness will take you and curse you and ruin your house.
Like mother, like child.
But Justice shines in shabby houses and honors the virtuous life.
From golddrenched halls and unclean hands she turns away--toward holiness. Not wealth, not pomp, not praise.
Justice guides us all.
[Enter AGAMEMNON, with KASSANDRA behind at a distance.]
CHORUS : Enter king, sacker of Troy, son of Atreus--how should I address you?
How can I show you just the right amount of deference and courtesy?
Many people cherish a show of feeling.
They're quite wrong.
You can always find someone to groan along with your misfortune (while the sting doesn't reach his heart) or join in your joy (note the fake smile).
But no smart shepherd is deceived by a fawning flock or its watery love.
Now I have to admit when you sent an army after Helen I wrote you off as a loose cannon.
But I also admit, you did it! You won! And you'll learn in time if you ask the right questions who kept your city safe for you and who did not.
AGAMEMNON : First Argos and the gods of Argos I think it right to greet--those gods who had a share in my return and the justice I took from Priam's town.
They didn't wait for legal arguments but cast their vote straight into the urn of blood.
So much for Troy.
There was an urn of hope but it was empty.
Look, smoke still floats above that city, you can see it.
Storms of ruin there. The ashes stink with wealth.
For this victory we must pay the gods everlasting gratitude.
We threw a noose around Troy's arrogance and--for a woman's sake--
ground the city to powder.
We are the wild beast of Argos, descended from horses, sheathed in shields, that overleapt the towers of Troy, a rawflesheating lion to lap the blood of kings!
That's what I have to say to the gods.
Now you (old men): I hear and I agree with your anxieties.
I see your point.
Few men can praise a friend's success without resentment--
there is a poison settles on the heart and makes it twice as painful when a man in distress has to look on another rejoicing.
I know. I am acquainted with the mirror of society--
why, all those men who posed as loyal friends to me?
No more than ghosts or shadows. Odysseus alone turned out to be a steady tracehorse--
alive or dead as he may be.
For all the rest: we'll call an assembly.
Where things go well, we'll plan how to prolong it.
Where there is need of medicine and healing, we'll cauterize or cut.
Clear out that disease!
So now into my house, my hearth, and greet the gods.
They sent me forth, they bring me back.
May Victory, who came with me, abide and stay.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Gentlemen, citizens, elders of Argos, you, I am not ashamed to tell you of my husbandloving ways.
Shyness diminishes with age.
The fact is, life got hard for me when he was off at Troy.
It's a terrible thing for a woman to sit alone in a house, listening to rumors and tales of disaster one after another arriving--
why, had this man sustained as many wounds as people told me, he'd be fuller of holes than a net!
To die as often as they reported he'd need three bodies and three cloaks of earth--one for each burial.
So often did nasty rumors reach me, I hung up a noose for my neck more than once.
Other people had to cut me down.
That's why our boy--yours and mine--
Orestes, is not standing here, as he should be.
Don't worry. Strophios has him, our Phokian ally, who warned me of problems, your danger beneath Troy but also anarchy at home--
the people throwing off your government.
They love to kick a man who's down.
I'm telling the truth. This is not an excuse.
As for me, my torrents of tears have dried away.
Not one drop left.
My poor eyes ache with weeping and watching all the night--
I watched for those beacon fires myself.
No one else kept vigil as I did.
And the lightest buzzing of a gnat would wake me if I fell into a dream.
There I saw you catastrophized in more ways than there were moments of sleep.
So now, with all that over, with my mind grief free, I salute my man: he is the watchdog of the palace, forestay of the ship, pillar of the roof, only son of his father, land appearing to sailors lost at sea, fine weather after storms, fresh stream to a thirsty traveler.
Is it not sweet to escape necessity!
We've had our share of evils!
And now, dear one, as a special favor to me, I pray you descend from your car without setting foot on the ground--
O King, this foot that wasted Troy!
What are you waiting for? You have your orders--strew the ground with fabrics, now!
Make his path crimsoncovered!
So Justice may lead him to the home he never hoped to see.
Everything else I'll arrange myself with my usual sleepless vigilance--exactly right, gods willing.
AGAMEMNON : Offspring of Leda, guard of my house, you have made a speech to match my absence--long.
But praise of me should come from others.
Don't pamper me with female ways, don't fuss like some groveling barbarian, don't strew my path with anything at all!
You'll draw down envy.
That stuff is for gods.
I am mortal. I can't trample luxuries underfoot. Honor me as a man not a divinity.
Anyway, who needs red carpets--my fame shouts aloud.
Here discretion is key.
Count no man happy until he dies happy.
If I keep this rule, I'll be okay.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Oh come on, relax your principles.
AGAMEMNON : No I will not. My principles are firm.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Would you have done it for the gods to satisfy a vow?
AGAMEMNON : Yes, if some religious expert prescribed it.
KLYTAIMESTRA : What about Priam, if he'd won the war?
AGAMEMNON : Oh Priam would love to walk on stuff like this.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Still you fear the blame of common men?
AGAMEMNON : The voice of the people does have power.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Unenvied means unenviable, you know.
AGAMEMNON : You're like a bulldog. It's not very feminine.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Yet a winner must acknowledge his victory.
AGAMEMNON : And you insist on this victory?
KLYTAIMESTRA : Yes! I do! Bend to me. Please!
AGAMEMNON : Oh all right. Let someone loose my sandals, good slaves of my feet.
and as I tread upon these crimson cloths let no evil eye of envy from the gods strike down on me.
What a shame to trample the wealth of the house and ruin fabrics worth their weight in silver. Well, so it goes.
Take this foreign girl into the house. Treat her kindly.
God looks graciously upon a gentle master--and no one wants to be a slave.
She is choice plunder, picked out for me by the army, my companion on the way.
And now, since I am compelled to do your will, I shall proceed into the house walking on red carpets.
KLYTAIMESTRA : There is the sea and who shall drain it dry?
It breeds the purple stain, the dark red dye we use to color our garments, costly as silver.
This house has an abundance. Thanks be to gods, no poverty here.
Oh I would have vowed the trampling of many cloths if an oracle had ordered it, to ransom this man's life.
For when the root is alive the leaves come back and shade the house against white dogstar heat.
Your homecoming is warmth in winter.
Or when Zeus makes wine from bitter grapes and coolness fills the house as the master walks his halls, righteous, perfect.
Zeus, Zeus, god of things perfect, accomplish my prayers.
Concern yourself here.
CHORUS : Why does this fear float always in front of my heart--
hungry for signs of the future--
singing a prophetic song no one asked for or paid for?
Why can't I thrust it off like a difficult dream?
My confidence drains away from the center of me.
Yet it was years ago the Greek ships tossed their ropes on the beach at Troyand I saw them come home with my own eyes.
Still at the edge of my heart the song of the Furies keeps nagging--
no one taught me this song and it has no music, all the same it shakes me.
My thoughts go round and round.
I know it all means something real but I hope not! I pray not!
Health and disease collaborate, don't they?
They share a wall between.
So a man's fortune runs a straight course then strikes a hidden reef.
Yet if as a precaution we throw overboard a certain measure of wealth, our house doesn't sink, our ship sails on and Zeus keeps sending up field after field of grain to stave off famine.
But the black blood of a man once it falls to the ground who can call it back?
Even the healer who thought he knew how was checked by Zeus.
I am a restrained person.
Otherwise my heart would race past my tongue to pour out everything.
Instead I mumble,
I gnaw myself.
I lose hope.
And my mind is burning.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Get yourself into the house, I'm talking to you, Kassandra.
Now that Zeus has enrolled you in our household, made you a sharer of our water, take your stand by the altar with the other slaves.
Come on, get down here, don't be proud. They say even Herakles once was sold as a slave, ate slave's bread.
And if that is your lot, lucky you--your masters here are solid old money.
New money people are rough on servants.
Now you know what to expect.
CHORUS : [To KASSANDRA.] Your turn. She's talking to you.
You're not a free person:
you'll obey her of course. Or maybe you won't.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Does she talk only "barbarian"--those weird bird sounds?
Does she have a brain?
CHORUS : [To KASSANDRA.] Your best option is to go with her.
Do as she says. Go.
KLYTAIMESTRA : I can't waste time like this in the doorway.
Already the animals stand at the hearth ready for slaughter--
a joy we never hoped to see.
So you get a move on, or you'll miss the whole ceremony.
If you really don't understand a word I'm saying make some sign with your hand.
CHORUS : Of an interpreter she seems, this stranger, to have need.
For her way of turning is that of a newcaught animal's.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Oh she's mad. Hearkens only to her own mad mind.
Brought from a captured city yet she knows not how to take the bit--
she frets her inside mouth away in foam of blood.
I'll not be insulted further.
CHORUS : But I, for I pity you, will not get angry.
Poor creature, come down from there.
Here is necessity. Here is a yoke for you to bear.
KASSANDRA : OTOTOI POPOI DA!
CHORUS : Why do you mix up Apollo with "woe"?
This god does not ever near sorrow go.
KASSANDRA : OTOTOI POPOI DA!
CHORUS : She calls on the god in an unlucky way.
This god has no part in anyone's death day.
KASSANDRA : Apollo
god of the ways
god of my ruin oh
yes you destroy me oh
yes it is absolute this time
CHORUS : She looks about to prophesy and tell her side.
The god is stretching a slave's mind wide.
KASSANDRA : Apollo
god of the ways
god of my ruin where
have you brought me what
house have you got me to
CHORUS : The house of Atreus, look and you'll see.
You can trust me.
KASSANDRA : Godhated so
much knowing together self-
CHORUS : She's keen as a hound tracking a smell.
She'll find blood, she'll tell.
KASSANDRA : Evidence
they shriek children
roasted on spits a father-gorged
CHORUS : Of course we've heard of your talents before.
But we're not in the market for prophets anymore.
KASSANDRA : [scream] what
[scream] what in the world
is this [scream] strange
big as the house
evil in the house
who can lift it who can heal it
help is a world away
CHORUS : Some of this I don't get.
Some of it is old hat.
KASSANDRA : [scream] woman
wash your man in the bath
how can I
soon it will
there she goes
hand over hand is
CHORUS : Riddles all together with oracles tossed.
I'm still lost.
KASSANDRA : [scream] [scream] [scream] [scream] what is this
net of hell no
the wife is the net he's
married to murder here
comes insatiable vengeance
howling the sacrifice
CHORUS : Who is this spirit of vengeance you call to?
Your words make me falter.
It races my heart the yellow fear
as when death is near.
KASSANDRA : [scream] [scream] look
the bull from the cow she
nets him she gores
her deadly black
down he bathes in
death are you listening to
CHORUS : Prophecy usually goes right over my head.
Still it sounds grim what she said.
Oh what good do prophets ever bring?
They tinge with terror the simplest thing.
KASSANDRA : [scream] [scream] evil life evil luck evil I am just this sound look the
cup of my pain is already poured
did you bring me
it for this
was it for this
was it for
CHORUS : You're mad--godstruck godswept godnonsensical and you keep making that sound, it's not musical.
Like the nightingale who wails her lost child, you're inexhaustibly wild.
Sorrow this, sorrow that, sorrow this, sorrow that.
KASSANDRA : But yes think oh think of the clear nightingale--
gods put round her a wing a life with no sting but for me waits schismos of the double-edged sword: schismos means
a cleaving a cutting a splitting a chopping in two
CHORUS : Where does it come from this godawful panic, this rash hysterical
clang of your prophetic voice rushing over the edge?
KASSANDRA : O marriage of Paris so deadly for everyone else
O river of home my Skamander
I used to dream by your waters now soon enough back and forth on the banks of the river of hell
I will walk with my song torn open
CHORUS : Why are you suddenly speaking clear as day?
A newborn child could construe what you say.
It gives me a bloody pain to hear all the griefs you name.
KASSANDRA : [scream] [scream] [scream] for my ruined city
[scream] for the offerings my father made to save its towers he
killed animal after animal it did no good we suffered anyway and I am soon to hit the ground
I with my thermonous thermonous means hot soul, burning mind, brain on fire
CHORUS : You're back on track.
Some heavy spirit swoops on you and takes your breath--
out comes Death.
(Outcomes? I'm not sure where this will end.)
KASSANDRA : Okay. No longer.
No longer now out from veils like some firstblush bride shall my oracle glance but as brightness blows the rising sun open it will rush my oceans forward onto light--a wave of woes far worse than these.
No more riddles.
Bear me witness:
I know that smell. Evils. Evils long ago.
A chorus of singers broods upon this house, they never leave, their tune is bad, they drink cocktails of human blood and party through the rooms.
You will not get them out.
They are kin to the Furies and sing of original evil, marriage beds that stink of life gone wrong.
Do I miss the mark? Am I a prophet of lies?
Or do you admit I'm a pretty good shot.
Bear me witness:
I see this place I see its ancient sins.
CHORUS : You amaze me. It's as if you were born here.
KASSANDRA : You can thank Apollo.
CHORUS : He desired you?
KASSANDRA : I was ashamed to speak of it before.
CHORUS : Let's not be overdelicate.
KASSANDRA : The fact is we wrestled.
CHORUS : Had sex?
KASSANDRA : I said yes but defaulted.
CHORUS : And you already possessed your gift?
KASSANDRA : My gift. Oh yes. I was the local prophet.
CHORUS : So did Apollo punish you?
KASSANDRA : He made my prophecy never believed.
CHORUS : But we believed y--
KASSANDRA : [scream] I lose my screams they find me again!
The dread work of prophecy buckles me down to its BAM BAM BAM--
do you see them there those young ones who nest by the door
like shapes in dreams
like children murdered
they hold their own flesh in their own hands
and the entrails drip where their father tasted deep.
Yes I can see this and I tell you vengeance is coming--
a soft lion tumbles in the master's bed awaiting him--
how little the great general understands that bitch who licked his hand at the door of the house and what she plans to do.
She has the nerve, she is a killer, female against male.
What should I call her--a kind of snake, a Skylla, a plague, a mother who breathes out war against her own loved ones?
How she shrieked in joy to see that man on her doorstep.
Yet you know it's all the same to me if anyone believes this or not.
Who cares? The future is coming.
Soon enough you'll pity me, you'll say I was a true prophet.
CHORUS : Thyestes feasting on his children's flesh--
I get that one, it makes me cold with fear.
After that you were unclear.
KASSANDRA : I say you will see Agamemnon dead.
CHORUS : Hush, girl.
KASSANDRA : There is no hushing this.
CHORUS : Really? Really? I pray you are wrong!
KASSANDRA : Pray away. They are preparing to kill.
CHORUS : They? Who? What man do you mean?
KASSANDRA : You haven't been listening at all have you?
CHORUS : Just tell me what he's planning to do.
KASSANDRA : And yet I speak Greek all too well.
CHORUS : So do the Pythian oracles but no one understands them.
KASSANDRA : [scream] Again! The fire comes on me.
[scream] For Apollo! [scream] For me!
Look there--see the lioness who beds a wolf when the lion is gone?
She'll kill me, she's mixing a cup of anger and death even now, she's whetting her sword on her husband's head--
she'll make him pay for bringing me home!
So why do I keep this ridiculous costume, these "prophetic symbols" the stick the crown--
be gone! be damned! Enrich someone else's life with doom!
Look, Apollo himself is denuding me--
he watched them mock me in my little prophet's dress, my little prophet's hat.
They called me gypsy beggar starveling, I put up with that.
And now the prophet forces his prophetess down to the killing floor.
Instead of my father's altar a butcher's block awaits me and a hot rip of blood.
I am meat for sacrifice.
But I won't go unavenged.
Another is coming, a son to kill the mother and pay the father's debt--
strangered from this land he will go into exile then come back one day to finish it off.
The gods have sworn an oath on this.
So why call for pity?
I saw Troy fall. I see Troy's victors falling.
Now I go to die. Hello gates of Hades.
I pray for an easy death: one clean stroke and then--
I close my eyes.
CHORUS : That was a long speech. But your wisdom does not falter.
On the other hand, if you know you have an appointment with death why stride so calmly to the altar?
KASSANDRA : There is no escape.
CHORUS : No, you still have time.
KASSANDRA : The day is come. Flight would be pointless.
CHORUS : Brave girl.
KASSANDRA : People never say that to a lucky person do they?
CHORUS : What about the glamour of a noble death?
KASSANDRA : Alas for my glamorous father and his noble children.
CHORUS : What's the matter? Why do you jump back?
KASSANDRA : [scream] [scream]
CHORUS : Why do you scream? You seem suddenly disgusted.
KASSANDRA : The house is reeking blood!
CHORUS : Well yes, they're sacrificing animals at the hearth.
KASSANDRA : I know that smell! It isn't animals!
CHORUS : Incense maybe?
KASSANDRA : Here I go. To raise a funeral song for me and Agamemnon.
My life is over.
Oh my friends, I'm not making a fuss like a bird at a bush--
you can testify to that after I'm dead.
I speak as one about to die:
there will be other deaths in consequence of me, a woman then a man.
Remember what I was.
CHORUS : How I pity you and your death foretold.
KASSANDRA : One thing left.
I want to sing my own dirge.
I pray to the sun, to this last minute of life:
let my enemies pay with blood for what they did to me--
I'm just a killed slave, easy fistful of death.
O human things--
when a man is happy, a shadow could overturn it.
When life goes wrong, a wet sponge erases the whole picture.
CHORUS : No human ever has enough good fortune.
No one ever bars it from his door.
Agamemnon won from gods the right to capture Priam's city.
If he must shed his blood to pay for others in the past
and then by dying pass the debt to others in the future,
who in the world can say that he is safe?
[Cry from within.]
AGAMEMNON : [scream] I am struck!
CHORUS : Silence! Who cries out?
AGAMEMNON : [scream] Again! I am hit a second time!
CHORUS : [severally]--Those screams imply the deed is done but let's go slow.
--My advice is summon the townsfolk here.
--I say burst in and catch them unaware.
--Something like that, something like that, I agree.
--It's obvious they're laying the ground for tyranny.
--And we're wasting time while they defy the goddess named Delay.
--Oh I don't know what to do or what to think or what to say.
--Me neither. Words can't raise the dead.
--Do you want those criminals down on your head?
--Unendurable. Death is better.
--So from two screams we're saying the king's a dead letter?
--Well let's not get upset till we clarify this thing.
--That's my vote. Find out what's going on with our king.
[Dead bodies of AGAMEMNON and KASSANDRA are displayed on the stage with KLYTAIMESTRA standing over them.]
KLYTAIMESTRA : I said a lot of things before that sounded nice.
I'm not ashamed to contradict them now.
How else devise damage for an enemy who passed himself off as a friend?
How else fence up nets high enough to catch him?
It's a long long time I've been pondering this.
Crisis of an ancient feud.
Finally, I say finally!
I stand where I struck with the deed done!
I did it. I make no denial.
So he could neither flee nor save himself
I threw round him a cloth with no way out--a sort of dragnet--evil wealth of cloth.
I strike him twice.
Two screams and his limbs go slack.
He falls. I strike him one more time--three for Zeus the savior of corpses!
And as he sputters out his life in blood he sprays me with black drops like dew gladdening me no less than when the green buds of the corn feel showers from heaven!
That's how things stand, old men of Argos.
Rejoice if you want to. I am on top of the world!
And this man has the libation he deserves.
He filled this house like a mixing bowl to the brim with evils, now he has drunk it down.
CHORUS : Your mouth is amazing.
Who would boast like this over a husband?
KLYTAIMESTRA : Don't squawk at me. I'm not some witless female.
I am fearless and you know it.
Whether you praise or blame me I don't care.
Here lies Agamemnon, my husband, a dead body, work of my righteous right hand.
That's how things stand.
CHORUS : What poison did you eat or drink to make you so insane?
You've cast off, cut off, everything--you will be cityless,
accursed, an object of hatred, toxic to your own people.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Oh now you pull out your code of justice--call me accursed, demand my exile!
What about them? What about him?
This man who, without a second thought, as if it were a goat dying, sacrificed his own child, my most beloved, my birthpang, my own--and he had flocks of animals to charm the winds of Thrace!
Isn't it this man you should have sent into exile, to pay for that polluted deed?
Instead you pass judgment on me!
Well I warn you, threaten me all you like and yes, if you crush me, you'll be giving the orders.
But if some god ordains the opposite, however late, old men, I'll teach you your place.
CHORUS : You swaggering egotist.
Your mind is mad with killing.
I see a stain of blood upon your eye.
But you know one day when you've lost both friends and honor, you'll have to repay blow for blow.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Listen and keep listening: this I swear to you.
By the Justice of my child, by Ruin, by Revenge--
the three gods for whom I slaughtered him--
hope does not walk the halls of fear in me so long as Aigisthos lights the fire on my hearth.
Aigisthos is loyal. A good defender.
My personal shield.
Here lies the man who despoiled me, darling of every fancy girl at Troy.
And by his side the little prophetess who sweetened his sheets.
Sweetened the whole army's sheets, I shouldn't doubt.
They got what they deserve those two.
Yes here he lies. And she like a swan that has sung its last song beside him, his truelove, his little spiceberry.
You know, to look at them kind of excites me.
CHORUS : How I wish that I could fall asleep and not wake up.
Our guardian is gone, the gracious man who for a woman's sake suffered so much and by a woman's hand is now cut down.
Helen! wild mad Helen, you murdered so many beneath Troy.
Now you've crowned yourself one final perfect time, a crown of blood that will not wash away.
Strife walks with you everywhere you go.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Oh stop whining.
And why get angry at Helen?
As if she singlehandedly destroyed those multitudes of men.
As if she all alone made this wound in us.
CHORUS : I call upon the evil demon who besets this house,
who besets the sons of Tantalos, you whose power comes from women, whose voice is like a crow, you perch upon the corpse harshing out your hymn of joy!
KLYTAIMESTRA : Now you're making sense--
to call upon the thricegorged evil demon of this family.
Deep in its nerves is a lust to lick blood and no wound heals before the next starts oozing.
CHORUS : This demon you admire sits heavy on the house, heavy with anger,
a ruinous insatiable thing.
[scream] For the sake of Zeus!
Zeus is the cause,
Zeus is the action.
Whatever happens for mortals without Zeus?
What part of all this is not godaccomplished?
O how shall I lament you O my king?
My heart is full of love.
But you lie in this spider's web leaking out your life--
a death unholy, a bed unworthy, a blade coming out of your own wife's hand.
KLYTAIMESTRA : You call this deed mine?
And I his wife? You're wrong!
Some ancient bitter spirit of revenge disguised as Agamemnon's wife arose from Atreus' brutal feast to sacrifice this man for those little children.
CHORUS : You are guiltless of this murder?
Who is your witness? I don't think so!
Oh yes, some spirit of vengeance may have been your secret sharer.
Ares is black with wading through blood and he will get justice for the clotted gore of children used as food.
O how shall I lament you O my king?
My heart is full of love.
But you lie in this spider's web leaking out your life--
a death unholy, a bed unworthy, a blade coming out of your own wife's hand.
KLYTAIMESTRA : His death was nothing unworthy!
Did he not bring lies and ruin on this house?
My poor little green shoot Iphigeneia--
she's the one who suffered unworthy.
He has nothing to complain about.
He paid by the sword for what he himself began.
CHORUS : I am at a loss. I have no idea where to turn, everything's falling apart.
A storm of blood beats on the roof--no more little drops!
Justice is sharpening a second sword on a second whetstone.
O earth I wish you had wrapt me away before I saw my king sprawled in a bath! Who will bury him? Who will mourn him--you?
You'd have the nerve to sing his lament as if you were doing him a favor?
Who in the world will shed true tears at this man's tomb?
KLYTAIMESTRA : That's not your concern.
By me he fell, by me he died, I shall bury him.
Not with wailing from this house.
No, Iphigeneia will open her arms and run to meet him in Hades--
a father-daughter embrace, won't that be perfect!
CHORUS : She shoots back taunt for taunt.
How to judge? The thief is robbed, the killer pays his price.
But here's the key: while Zeus sits on his throne the doer must suffer. That is the law. Who could drive the curse out of this family?
These people are glued to ruin.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Well, that's a good point.
But I for one propose to swear a truce with the demon of this house.
I'll be content with where we've got to now, hard though it is to bear.
Let the demon go grind out murders on some other family.
I'm happy with a tiny share of the wealth here if I can stop us all killing one another.
AIGISTHOS : O welcome day of justice! Now I can say the gods are handling miscreants as they should, when I see this fellow lying in robes that the Furies wove--
it's payback for his father's crimes.
I am oh! quite pleased.
For Atreus you know, who was ruler of this land and this man's father, drove Thyestes, who was my father and this man's brother--am I making myself clear?--
out of his city and away from his home.
Then when he (Thyestes) returned as a suppliant to his (Atreus') hearth
Atreus set before my dad, with hospitality more zealous than kind, a merry meal of his own children's flesh.
The toes and fingers he chopped up especially small.
Thyestes took a chunk and ate it, not knowing.
That meal ruined our family, as you can see.
He suddenly saw what he'd done, shrieked aloud, fell back
vomiting carnage and called out a curse upon this house, kicking over the table to emphasize it:
May the entire race of Pelops perish this same way!
So that's why you see this man lying here dead.
I planned it. Righteously.
For he exiled me too, along with my poor father, when I was quite young.
Justice brought me back.
From exile I laid my finger on this man, devising every detail of his doom.
And you know, even death would be sweet to me now
I've seen him caught in the nets of Justice.
CHORUS : Aigisthos, your roostering repels me.
You say you intended to kill this man, plotted his pitiful murder all alone.
And I say you're a candidate for stoning. Know it.
The people will bring you to justice.
AIGISTHOS : Don't squawk at me from your seat on the lowest rowing bench:
I run this ship. Know it.
You may be old but you'll learn to control your impulses.
Bondage and hunger are wonderful teachers.
Have you eyes? Don't you see? If you kick against the pricks, you'll hurt yourself.
CHORUS : Woman! You skulk at home while men are off at war.
You foul the bed of our king and plot his death!
AIGISTHOS : You'll be sorry you said that.
You're the opposite of Orpheus, whose voice could charm.
Your silly yelping infuriates me.
But you will be rendered acquiescent.
CHORUS : As if you could ever be my master--you who dreamed of a king's murder but had not the nerve to do the deed yourself!
AIGISTHOS : Well, no. To entrap him was the wife's work, obviously.
An old enemy like me would have been instantly suspicious.
But with his wealth I plan to rule this state and whomever does not obey me
I'll yoke to a heavy collar. Hunger and darkness will break him down.
CHORUS : Given the rot in your soul, why not kill the king yourself?
Instead a woman has polluted our land and our gods.
Does Orestes somewhere look upon the light?
I pray he come back and put you two to death!
AIGISTHOS : If that is your attitude, you'll soon learn--
CHORUS : Come! Men! There's work to do!
AIGISTHOS : [To his guards.] Swords up!
CHORUS : Death, you say! We're ready.
AIGISTHOS : Good, you'll soon taste it.
KLYTAIMESTRA : No, no, no, no, my dear darling, no more evil.
The harvest is in: we have enough pain, enough bloodshed.
Venerable elders, go back to your homes, before you suffer.
What we did had to be done.
And if it ends here, we're content.
Some demon of luck has clipped us with a sharp hoof.
That's a woman's opinion, for what it's worth.
AIGISTHOS : You mean these creatures are permitted to pelt me with insults heedlessly, randomly, treating it like a game?
CHORUS : You won't see men of Argos cringe before a coward!
AIGISTHOS : I'll come after you!
CHORUS : Not if the gods bring Orestes back!
AIGISTHOS : Empty hope! The food of exiles!
CHORUS : Go on, be yourself, grow fat, pollute justice, now is your chance!
AIGISTHOS : One day you'll pay.
CHORUS : Brag away! You're like a cock beside his hen.
KLYTAIMESTRA : Ignore their yelpings.
You and I, as masters of this house, will dispose all things as they should be.