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Agamemnon
By Aeschylus (525-456 BC)
A Study Guide
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Introduction
Mythology Background
Plot Summary
Setting
Characters
Protagonists
Antagonists
Themes
Climax
Symbols
Figures of Speech
Greek Theater: Structure
Author Background
Complete Free Text
Part 2 of Trilogy
Part 3 of Trilogy
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Introduction: Agamemnon as Part of The Oresteia Trilogy 

.......Agamemnon is a tragedy that was first performed in Athens, Greece, in 458 BC, along with two other plays: The Libation Bearers (also called Choephori, ChoŽphoroe, and Choephoroi in English transliterations from Greek) and The Eumenides. These three plays make up a set known as The Oresteia, considered Aeschylus's finest work and one of the greatest works in world literature. 
.......Although they are separate playseach one complete in itselfthe second play continues the story of the first and the third play continues the story of the second. In addition, the plays share a common theme: how the justice system of ancient Greece evolved from a crude, "eye for an eye" system to a civilized system with courts and trials. 
.......In ancient Greece, three plays with a related theme and plot were called a trilogy. We still use this word today to identify three plays, novels, films, etc., with related themes and continuing plots. The first three Star Wars movies are an example of a modern trilogy. The title of the Aeschylus trilogy is derived from the name of a pivotal character in The Libation BearersOrestes. 

Mythology Background

.......Aeschylus based the plot of Agamemnon and the other plays in The Oresteia (also spelled Orestea) on a mythological story well known to Greeks of his time. Because Aeschylus focused his plays only on a later part of this story, readers need to be familiar with the earlier part in order to understand the later part. Following is an abbreviated account of the story up to the time when Aeschylus picks up the story:
.......Agamemnon was the son of a man named Atreus. When Agamemnon and his younger brother, Thyestes, were adults, Atreus became King of Mycenae, a city in southern Greece on a peninsula today known as the Peloponnese. Atreus then drove his brother out of the city when the latter challenged him for the throne. One account of this tale says Thyestes had first seduced Atreus’s wife, AŽrope, to gain possession of a lamb with a golden fleece that conferred on its owner the rulership of Mycenae. When Thyestes left the city, he took with him Atreus’s child, Pleisthenes, and reared the boy. 
.......One day, Thyestes sent Pleisthenes on a mission to kill Atreus. But the murder plot was foiled and Pleisthenes was killed. Atreus did not immediately realize that the man who tried to kill him was his own son. However, after he discovered to his horror the identity of the assailant, Atreus hatched a plot to get even with his brother: He invited Thyestes to a banquet, pretending he was ready to reconcile with his brother. The main course turned out to be the cooked remains of the sons of Thyestes. Thyestes ate heartily of the fare. After he learned of his brother's treachery, he laid a heavy curse on Atreus and his descendants to get even for this unspeakable abomination. 
.......So it was that the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, inherited the sin and guilt of his father, just as Christians of later times inherited the sin and guilt of Adam and Eve. 
.......Thyestes then fathered another son, Aegisthus. When he grew up, he and Thyestes killed Atreus. Thyestes then seized the throne of Atreus and became King of Mycenae.
.......Meanwhile, Agamemnon went on to become King of Argos, a city in the Peloponnese, and later became general of all the Greek armies when Greece declared war on Troy. However, a cloud of doom—the curse pronounced by Thyestes—hovered over Agamemnon everywhere. It eventually manifested itself at Aulis, a Greek port city where Agamemnon's fleet had gathered to debark for Troy. There, the Olympian goddess Artemis—offended because Agamemnon had killed an animal sacred to her—stayed the winds, making it impossible for Agamemnon and his armies to sail to Greece. The only way to gain favorable winds, she said, was to sacrifice his young daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon did so and even gagged his daughter so that, with her last breath, she could not curse him for this deed. Her death enraged Agamemnon's wife, Queen Clytemnestra. After Artemis quickened the winds and Agamemnon sailed off to Troy, Clytemnestra never forgot what Agamemnon did. While he was fighting the Trojans, she took a lover—Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes. Together, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plotted Agamemnon's murder while he was fighting at Troy. When the Greeks at long last defeated the Trojans and Clytemnestra received word that Agamemnon would soon return home as a conquering hero, Clytemnestra set in motion the murder plan. It is at this point that Aeschylus picks up the story.

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2005
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.......A night watchman on the roof of King Agamemnon’s palace in Argos sees a mountain-top fire reddening the horizon. It is a signal that the Trojan War has ended in a Greek victory and that Agamemnon will soon return home. 
.......After the watchman hurries into the palace to report the sighting to Queen Clytemnestra, a chorus of old men walks to the front of the palace and points out that ten years have passed since Agamemnon left Argos to lead the Greeks in the war. The elders remember a seer’s prophecy that the king would sacrifice his and Clytemnestra’s daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis in order to gain favorable winds for his fleet on its journey to Troy. For this act, it was foretold, there would be retribution. When the time came for his ships to debark. Artemis withheld the winds because Agamemnon had killed a stag sacred to her. To loose the winds, the goddess decreed, he had to pay for his offense by sacrificing Iphigenia. Agamemnon did so. This horrible act was made even worse when he gagged Iphigenia to prevent her from pronouncing a curse on him. So enraged was Clytemnestra that her anger never subsided during the ten years that Agamemnon was at war. The chorus of elders suspects that the queen is plotting against her husband:

    At home there tarries like a lurking snake, [snake: Clytemnestra]
    Biding its time, a wrath unreconciled, 
    A wily watcher, passionate to slake,
    In blood, resentment for a murdered child. 
In addition to recalling the seer's prophecy, the chorus also recalls the prophecy that the Greeks would win the war but commit evil in doing so. However, the old men point out that it was a young Trojan, Paris, who provoked the war. While visiting Greece, he violated divine and human laws by running off with the beautiful Helen, wife of Agamemnon’s brother, King Menelaus of Sparta. Such an act was not only an offense against Menelaus as the husband of Helen but also against Menelaus as the host of Paris. The Spartan king deserved respect on both accounts. 
.......While the old men recount these events of a decade ago, Clytemnestra leaves the palace [through a door at the center of the stage] and lights fires on a sacrificial altar. She had decreed that similar sacrificial fires be kindled throughout Argos. When the chorus asks why, she informs them that she has received notice of a Greek victory in the Trojan War. The message arrived via a series of signal fires kindled by sentinels posted by her on mountain tops between Troy and Greece. Even as she speaks, she says, the Greeks are in Troy celebrating victory. She lit her own sacrificial fire, she says, to pray that the Greeks are gracious in victory and respect the gods Troy holds dear. 
    Yet let them reverence well the city's gods,
    The lords of Troy, tho' fallen, and her shrines;
    So shall the spoilers not in turn be spoiled.
    Yea, let no craving for forbidden gain
    Bid conquerors yield before the darts of greed. 
After asking the chorus likewise to pray for a righteous treatment of the Trojan gods, she returns to the palace. The chorus then offers of a prayer which thanks Zeus for the victory and reminds the audience that he punishes all who commit an ungodly offense like that of Paris when he caused the war. 
.......Days later, a herald arrives at the palace to confirm that the war has ended and that Agamemnon is in Greece and soon will return to Argos. The herald also reports that other returning warriors are unaccounted for, having apparently been blown off course or lost at sea. There is an implication here that the gods may have punished them for desecrating Troy's shrines. When Clytemnestra comes forth, she pretends that she is joyful at the prospect of reuniting with her husband:
    What day beams fairer on a woman's eyes
    Than this, whereon she flings the portal wide,
    To hail her lord, heaven-shielded, home from war? 
.......Clytemnestra speaks here with verbal irony, of course, for she plans to kill Agamemnon to avenge the death of Iphigenia. 
.......When Agamemnon finally appears, he is riding in a chariot at the head of a procession that includes a chariot carrying a captive princess, the prophetess Cassandra, who is Agamemnon's concubine. That Agamemnon would bring home a mistress to live in the same house with his wife further enrages the queen. After the chorus greets him, Agamemnon salutes his native land and the gods who helped Greece win its victory and who watched over him when he sailed home.
.......Clytemnestra comes out of the palace and says she endured great agonies when rumors spoke of Greek woes at Troy, one of which even reported the death of Agamemnon. (If she did experience agony, it was probably born of disappointment that she would be denied the opportunity of killing Agamemnon herself.) She wept. When sleepingon the rare occasions when she could sleepshe jumped awake at the slightest sound, she says. After she has her say, she welcomes her husband and orders handmaidens accompanying her to lay down a path of finest purple cloth for him to walk on from his chariot to the palace. Agamemnon thanks his wife for her greeting but declines her invitation to walk on the makeshift carpet. To do so would be to exhibit great pride offensive to the gods:
    A mortal man to set his foot
    On these rich dyes? I hold such pride in fear,
    And bid thee honour me as man, not god. 
.......But Clytemnestra tells him he well deserves to enter the palace like a god. As an all-conquering hero, he has earned the right to enjoy a stately, majestic homecoming. Agamemnon gives in. After attendants remove his sandals, he proceeds into the palace on the purple walkway. Clytemnestra follows.
.......The chorus, still suspicious of Clytemnestra’s motives, senses that death has entered the palace with Agamemnon, for “these wild throbbings of my heart and breast / Yea, of some doom they tell.”
.......Clytemnestra returns and orders Cassandra to enter the palace. When Cassandra does not respond, Clytemnestra leaves it to the chorus to persuade the girl to accept the invitation, then goes back inside. After the old men importune Cassandra to obey the command, she prophesies that she and Agamemnon both will die if she sets foot inside the palace. Nevertheless, she agrees to go inside, stoically accepting the fate she knows awaits her. Before entering the palace, she makes another prediction: The day will come when deadly vengeance is exacted against those about to murder her and Agamemnon. 
.......Shortly after Cassandra enters the palace, the chorus hears Agamemnon crying out that he has been struck down. Moments later, he cries out again after suffering another blow. The members of the chorus fear that their own lives are in danger. While they try to decide what to do, Clytemnestra opens the palace door, revealing the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra.
.......Without qualm, she admits killing her husband, saying she struck him three times in all and that the blood spurting forth was as sweet as “the rain of heaven to cornland.” When the chorus asks what drove her to kill her husband, Clytemnestra, as expected, cites Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia as the primary reason. But she says she did the deed for another reason as well: Agamemnon had been unfaithful to her and even had the audacity to bring Cassandra, his paramour, back to Greece with him. Now both of them have received their just deserts.
.......The chorus accuses her of having ensnared Agamemnon in a “spider-web of treachery” and predicts an avenger will one day visit its wrath upon her. Clytemnestra answers that she was merely the agent of vengeance, an executioner who carried out a just sentence on a man condemned by his own actions. 
.......Clytemnestra’s second motive for killing Agamemnon, infidelity, rings of hypocrisy, for she herself was guilty of infidelity when Agamemnon was at Troy. She took a lover, Aegisthus, who conspired with her to murder Agamemnon. Aegisthus had long thirsted for Agamemnon’s blood as a result of the deadly feud between his and Agamemnon’s family.
.......Aegisthus now takes his place at the side of Clytemnestra, declaring that he too exults in the death of Agamemnon. Defiantly, he admits “plotting and planning all that malice bade.” The chorus condemns him:
    Thou womanish man, waiting till war did cease, 
    Home-watcher and defiler of the couch, 
    And arch-deviser of the chieftain’s doom! 
 Clytemnestra ends the play by telling Aegisthus:
    Heed not thou too highly of them—let the cur-pack growl and yell: 
    I and thou will rule the palace and will order all things well..
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.Setting

.......The action takes place in Argos, Greece, at the palace of King Agamemnon. Argos is a city on a mountainous peninsula, the Peloponnese, that makes up southern Greece. The peninsula is south of the Gulf of Corinth and north of the Mediterranean Sea. Argos is in the northeastern part of the peninsula. Citizens of Argos were called Argives

Characters
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Clytemnetra Queen of Argos. She plans to murder her husband, King Agamemnon, because he sacrificed their innocent daughter, Iphigenia, to gain favorable winds from the gods for his sea voyage to Troy. Clytemnestra is strong-willed and ruthless, a man in womanly dress. 
Agamemnon King of Argos and general of all the Greek armies that defeated the Trojans in a long war. He is the son of Atreus, who was cursed by his brother, Thyestes, after Atreus killed his sons. Agamemnon inherited this curse
Chorus Elderly men of Argos who express views in unison to reflect the views of the citizens of Argos. 
Leader of the Chorus Member of the chorus who individually addresses Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Cassandra, and the herald. 
Cassandra Daughter of the King of Troy. Agamemnon brings her home with him as a captive concubine.
Aegisthus Clytemnestra's paramour and son of Thestes, who pronounced the curse on the House of Atreus
Watchman Sentinel who sees the mountain-top beacon fire signaling the end of the Trojan War.
Herald Messenger who announces the arrival of Agamemnon in Argos.
Attendants, Bodyguard of Aegisthus

Protagonists: Clytemnestra, Agamemnon

.......A typical Greek play written by an author after the time of Aeschylus has only one protagonist, a person of noble lineage who suffers a downfall partly because of a flaw (or flaws) in his character. Usually, when the protagonist suffers his downfall, he experiences a moment of enlightenment in which he acknowledges the flaw. 
.......In this play, King Agamemnon suffers a downfalla humiliating deathpartly because of flaws in his character that caused him to make bad decisions. But he does not experience a moment of enlightenment (unless one interprets his passive, compliant demeanor upon his return to Argos as a signal that he realizes he has sinned, that his wife desires revenge, and that he expects to be punished.) 
As for Queen Clytemnestra, she does not suffer a downfall in this play and does not experience a moment of enlightenment. However, she does have flaws and is prophesied to suffer a downfall. This downfall, her death, occurs in the second play of the Oresteia trilogy. 
Which character, then, is the main character (protagonist)?
.......One could argue in favor of either characterAgamemnon for the aforementioned reasons, as well as the fact that he is the title character and that his past actions and family history dominate the choral songs; Clytemnestra for her flaws and predicted downfall, as well as the fact that she speaks far more lines than Agamemnon and comes under greater psychological scrutiny.
.......However, because Aeschylus wrote Agamemnon before the Greeks canonized the requirements for tragedysome of which he introduced to Greek dramahis characters cannot be measured by later standards. In the end, it may be more sensible to identify both Clytemnestra and Agamemnon as protagonists (when using protagonist as a synonym for main character). 

Antagonists: The Curse, the "Eye for an Eye" Ethic 

.......The overall theme of the Oresteiathe evolution of the Greek justice systemsuggests that the forces operating against Agamemnon and Clytemnestra are the antagonists. These forces include the curse of inherited guilt that dogs Agamemnon and the overpowering desire for vengeance that drives Clytemnestra and the gods offended by human actions. 

Main Themes of the Trilogy

Retribution and Revenge

.......The gods of ancient Greece required humankind to pay for its sins. Sons and daughters of sinners could inherit the sins of their parents, just as the descendants of Adam and Eve were destined to inherit original sin in Christian theology. But of course each Greek also had free will, enabling him or her to choose good or evil. Agamemnon inherited the sin of his father, Atreus, in the form of a curse pronounced on Agamemnon by his brother, Thyestes. In the Aeschylus play, Agamemnon thus seems doubly cursed. On the one hand, he bears the guilt of his father; on the other, he bears his own guilt for sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia, and for participating in the destruction of Troy’s holy places. 
.......One could argue that the circumstances forcing him to decide whether to sacrifice his daughter arose as a result of the curse pronounced on the House of Atreus by Thyestes. Whatever the case, Agamemnon lives under the weight of inherited sin and sin that he wills. Of course, killing his daughter and defiling Troy’s altars are not his only sins; he also commits adultery and indulges his own pride by walking on the purple carpet. After Clytemnestra murders him, she defends her action by saying she represented the gods carrying out a divine sentence. But it is obvious that she is also a human avenger getting even for the murder of her daughter and for Agamemnon’s infidelity. Ironically, Clytemnestra has also been unfaithfulwith the son of the man who was wronged by Atreus. At the end of the play, the chorus declares that another avenger will appear to exact revenge against Clytemnestra. 

Evolution of Personal Vengeance Into a Civilized Court System

.......In very early Greek history, as well as in the myths and legends recounted by early Greek writers, it was up to individuals to mete out justice for wrongs committed against them. Courts and trials as we know them today did not exist. In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra takes justice into her own hands; she believes she has a right to kill Agamemnon in retaliation for his killing of their daughter, Iphigenia. In her own mind, Clytemnestra has tried and convicted her husband. When she kills him, she becomes an executioner. In short, she personifies the entire justice system. In The Libation Bearers, Oresteswith the support of his sister, Electraassumes the role of judge, jury, and executioner, condemning and killing his mother to avenge the death of his father. In The Eumenides, the Furies attempt to avenge the death of Clytemnestra. However, two powerful gods, Apollo and Athena, intervene. Athena establishes a court to try Orestes for his alleged crime. Apollo testifies for Orestes and the Furies against him. In the end, Orestes is exonerated, and the court system replaces the old "eye for an eye" system. 

Gender Rivalry

.......In Agamemnon, Argos is a male-dominated society that reduces women to subservient roles. However, Clytemnestra is a strong woman who rules the kingdom while Agamemnon is away. When he returns from the war to resume his rule, Clytemnestra is expected to yield to him. It may well be, though, that Clytemnestra is wedded to the throne, as it were, and has decided to kill Agamemnon not only as an act of vengeance but also as an act of ambition. This motif receives further attention in The Libation Bearers. In this play, Clytemnestra is described as a tyrant who oppresses the citizens of Argos and enslaves her own daughter. It almost appears as if testosterone, not estrogen, drives her. When Orestes plots her death, he cites reclamation of the throne from a woman as one of one of his goals. After killing Clytemnestra, Orestes is pursued by female deities, the Furies, and saved by a male deity, Apollo. Of course, a female deity has the last word: In The Eumenides, the goddess Athena votes to acquit Orestes, the pacifies the enraged Furies. Her action not only establishes a new order of justice but also reconciles the warring sexes.

Importance of Heeding the Will of the Gods

.......In Agamemnon, the title character faces doom in part because he sometimes failed to respect the gods and their laws. First, he killed an animal sacred to Artemis (an act alluded to but not described in detail in the Aeschylus play). For this offense, she prevented Agamemnon and his armies from gaining favorable winds for their voyage to Troy. The only way for him to reverse her action, she decreed, was to sacrifice his daughter. Second, he exhibited excessive pride on several occasions as commander of the Greek forces. Third, he allowed his soldiers to desecrate the holy places of Troy. After his return to Argos, he allowed his pride to get the better of him again, this time by walking in triumph on the purple carpet. Pride was considered a grave sin in ancient Greece because it placed too much emphasis on individual will, thereby downplaying the will of the state and endangering the community as a whole. In The Libation Bearers, Orestes hesitates when the time comes to kill Clytemnestra. His friend, Pylades, convinces him of the necessity of the act by reminding him that Apollo ordered the killing. In The Eumenides, everyoneincluding the Furiesaccepts the will of Athena.

Fickleness of the Gods

.......The gods of Greek mythology could be fickle and hypocritical, just like humans. Not infrequently, they violated laws which they commanded humans to obey. For example, they frequently committed infidelity. They also lied, promoted violence, and displayed inordinate pride. In Agamemnon, the goddess Artemis exhibited hypocrisy when she withheld favorable winds from Agamemnon for killing one of her sacred animals. To understand her hypocrisy in this case, one must understand what her roles were. First, she was a protector of wild animals while also serving as the patron deity of hunters. She herself was a huntress. Yet she penalized Agamemnon for doing what she often did: kill an animal. Second, as a virgin goddess, she was the patron of chastity. Yet she told Agamemnon that she would not cancel her penalty unless he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, a virgin. Artemis thus exhibited hostility toward two humans she was supposed to favor: a hunter and a virgin. In Agamemnon, Aeschylus does not explicitly address the issue of divine hypocrisy, but he does allude to itintentionally or unintentionallyin choral songs.

Infidelity: A Motif in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers

.......Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra commit adulteryhe with Cassandra, whom he brings home from Troy as a captive, and she with Aegisthus, the son of the bitter enemy of Agamemnon’s father. Although Agamemnon's infidelity is not the main reason that Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon, it helps her to drive her weapon into his skull. Before Orestes kills Clytemnestra in The Libation Bearers, he cites his mother's his mother's infidelity with Aegisthus as one of his motives, although it is not the main motive. 

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Climax

.......The climax of the play is the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra.

Symbols

Darkness and Light

.......Aeschylus uses images of darkness and light to symbolize the emergence of Greece from the primitive age of personal revenge and vigilante justice, during which powerful monarchs ruled city states, to the civilized age of law courts, during which the people ruled through democracy. In the Oresteia, the transition from one age to the other begins in the first play, Agamemnon, when the watchman observes a mountain-top signal fire lighting the night sky to alert Argos that the Trojan War has ended. Dawn follows shortly thereafter. From then on, images of darkness and light vie with each other, symbolizing the cultural and social struggle taking place. 
There is a kind of birth going on, and there are labor pains. The newborn child finally sees the light of day, for good, in the third play of the trilogy. 

The Purple Carpet and Cassandra's Saffron Robe

.......The color of the carpet on which Agamemnon walks into the palace is significant. The Greek word Aeschylus used to described this color has been rendered in English as purple by some translators and red by other translators. Both translations are correct insofar as some purples appear reddish and some reds appear purplish. In fact, purple is sometimes used as a synonym for crimson, a shade of deep red. Since ancient times, purple has signified imperial, godlike power, as indicated by the purple robes kings and emperors have worn. It has also been associated with strong emotion and blood. (The association of purplea mixture of blue and redwith blood seems scientifically sound, for deoxygenated blood takes on a bluish or purplish hueas in cyanosisand oxygenated blood becomes bright red). The purple carpet therefore appears to symbolize (1) the pride, or hubris, that afflicts Agamemnon as conqueror of Troy and King of Argos; (2) the wrath of Clytemnestra; and (3) the bloody death that awaits Agamemnon. The saffron-colored robe worn by Cassandra also appears to symbolize the coming bloodbathfor her as well as Agamemnon. A saffron is a flower with large purple leaves. 

Animal and Insect Images

.......In Agamemnon, eagles, hares, spiders, and other creatures exhibit the behavior patterns of humans, figuratively speaking, and thus become symbols for those humans. For example, spiders and snakes are associated with Clytemnestra because she has spun a web of treachery (like a spider) and has poised herself (like a coiling snake) to strike at Agamemnon. Eagles that prey on a pregnant hare are associated with Agamemnon and his brother, Menelaus, because they are fierce warriors destined to destroy Troy (the hare) and its future (the hare's offspring). In the third play of the trilogy, The Eumenides, the spider-web metaphor appears again when the god Apollo describes how Clytemnestra trapped Agamemnon:

    She spread from head to foot a covering net,
    And in the endless mesh of cunning robes
    Enwound and trapped her lord, and smote him down. 

Figures of Speech
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The plays of Aeschylus are rich in a wide range of figures of speech that infuse his writing with dignity and majesty. Here are examples from Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers.

Metaphor, Personification, Paradox, Hyperbole, Synecdoche

As saith the adage, from the womb of Night................[womb of Night: metaphor, personification]
Spring forth, with promise fair, the young child Light.....[womb of Night / child Light: paradox
Ayfairer even than all hope my news....................[fairer even than all hope: hyperbole
By Grecian hands is Priam's city ta'en!.......................[by Grecian hands: synecdoche

Speaker and play: Clytemnestra in Agamemnon, referring to the Greek victory over the Trojans

Apostrophe, Personification, Metaphor

O mighty Hermes, warder of the shades,..................[O mighty Hermes: apostrophe]
Herald of upper and of under world,
Proclaim and usher down my prayer's appeal
Unto the gods below, that they with eyes
Watchful behold these halls. My sire's of old
And unto Earth, the mother of all things,...................[Earth, the mother: personification, metaphor]
And loster-nurse, and womb that takes their seed. 

Speaker and play: Electra in The Libation Bearers while praying at the tomb of Agamemnon.

Author Information
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.......Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) was the first of ancient Greece's great tragedians. Because of the standards of excellence he established and because of innovations he made in the staging of Greek drama, he is often referred to as the "father of Greek tragedy." Before Aeschylus wrote and staged his plays, Greek drama consisted primarily of choral songs, recitations, and dances, as well as dialogue expressed by a single actor who generally played more than one part. (The actor wore a mask that signified which character he was playing at a given time. When he switched characters, he changed masks.) Aeschylus added a second actor, enabling the first actor to engage in dialogue with the second actor and providing greater latitude for plot development. He also increased the dialogue portions of plays, reduced the lyrical portions of the chorus, and designed stage sets and costumes. 
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Greek Theater: Structure

Definition and Background

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.....The Greek theater was an open-air stone structure with tiered seating, a stage, and a ground-level orchestra. It was an outgrowth of festivals honoring the god Dionysus. In these festivals, called Dionysia, the Greeks danced and sang hymns called dithyrambs that sometimes told stories. One day, Thespis, a choral director in Athens, used spoken words, or dialogue, to accompany the singing and dancing in imitation of poets who had done so before. Soon, the dialogues of Thespis became plays, and he began staging them in a theater. 
....."A contest of plays in 535 [B.C.] arose when Pisistratus, the ‘tyrant' whom the common people of Athens invested with power, brought a rustic festival into the city [Athens]," drama critic John Gassner writes in Masters of Drama. Such contests became regular features of the festivals, and the theaters in which they were held were specially built to accommodate them. 

Major Sections of the Theater
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.....(1) A tiered, horshoe-shaped seating area called a theatron. The theatron faced the east to allow the audience to view playsusually staged later in the daywithout squinting. 
.....(2) A stage called a proscenium. The staged faced the west to allow the midday sun to illuminate the faces of the actors. 
.....(3) An orchestra in front of the proscenium to accommodate the chorus.
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Other Theater Sections

.....Skene: Building behind the stage. First used as a dressing area for actors (and sometimes an entrance or exit area for actors), the skene eventually became a background showing appropriate scenery. 
.....Paraskenia: Extensions or annexes on the sides of the skene. 
.....Parados: Passage on the left or right through which the chorus entered the orchestra. 
.....Thymele: Altar in the center of the orchestra used to make sacrifices to Dionysus. 
.....Machine: Armlike device on the skene that could lower a "god" onto the stage from the heavens. 
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