Plot: Agamemnon is returning from the ten-year siege of Troy, bringing with him the Trojan women of the royal family including the prophetess Cassandra. But things have changed at home during that time : his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus are laying a trap.
My version was from Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 2, ISBN 9780226013602)
My thoughts : Despite the name of the play, Agamemnon plays little direct time on stage, with much of the play looking at Clytemnestra’s wavering determination to kill her husband and rule in his place alongside her lover, and the plight of Cassandra. It also describes how the Greek fleet was scattered and destroyed by the supernaturally wild storm on their way home. (The sacrifices of Polyxena and Astyanax as shown in The Trojan Women were obviously not enough to guarantee safety)
The most dramatic scene for me was not the murderous climax but the storm-wracked ships, including the death of Ajax.
“lashed by rising waves, the waters swell; when suddenly the moon is hidden, stars obscured, and night is doubled: dense fog overwhelms the darkness … the winds swoop down and churn the sea up from its lowest depths … You’d think the world in its entirety was being ripped up from its roots, the gods themselves were falling from the shattered sky….”
Eurybates, Act 3, lines 469-487
Ajax, the only one unconquered by disaster, fights back. While he’s reducing canvas with a tightened halyard, he’s grazed by hurtling flame. Another thunderbolt is poised: with all her force Pallas, drawing back her hand, launches it unfailingly … it pierces Ajax and his ship … Unperturbed he stands up in the sea-salt like a towering crag scorched. He parts the maddened sea and breasts the waves and as he grabs his ship he catches fire … At last he climbs up on a rock and thunders furiously … While he ventured more in fury, father Neptune lifting up his head from deepest waves, with his trident struck and undermined the rock, destroying the crag. And as he fell, he took it with him, and he now lies conquered by the earth and fire and sea.” Eurybates, Act 3, lines 532-556
Personal rating: The story is very dramatic but I’m only giving this a 4 out of 10. Bring on some new stories.
Next : Thyestes by Seneca