Agamemnon: Novel Summary: Lines 1577-1673
Enter Aegisthus, with his bodyguard. He joyfully praises the light of the day that has brought justice, the gods who do care about justice, since Agamemnon lies dead, trapped in the Furies' robes, paying for his father's deed. He tells the story of Atreus, Agamemnon's father, and Thyestes, his father, leaving out Thyestes's seduction of Atreus's wife, and dwelling on the horrible feast. Once Thyestes realized that the meat he had been eating was his children's flesh, he vomited and called down a curse on the house of Atreus. Now that curse has been fulfilled, and he, Aegisthus, planned this just murder. As an infant, the only remaining child, Atreus drove him out with his father, but now justice has brought him back. Now he is willing to die, having seen this man trapped by justice.
The Chorus Leader rebukes Aegisthus for exulting, and says that if he planned the murder, he will pay. Aegisthus taunts the Chorus with their age and powerlessness, and promises to teach them better sense with whips and hunger if they do not accept what has happened. The Leader calls him a woman, who has plotted against those who have had the courage to fight in the Trojan war, and again Aegisthus threatens. You are to be tyrant, says the Chorus, you who did not dare to kill Agamemnon yourself! Aegisthus defends himself: if Agamemnon had seen Aegisthus, an enemy, he would have been on his guard; it was clearly only a woman who could carry out the deception. Now, using Agamemnon's wealth, he will rule, and he will force anyone who resists to submit. The Leader again reproaches Aegisthus with cowardice for not killing Agamemnon himself, but having a woman do it, thus polluting the land. Is Orestes [Agamemnon's son] alive, the Leader asks, that he may kill both murderers?
Aegisthus threatens instant action; the Leader exhorts his comrades to resist; Aegisthus calls on his bodyguard; the Leader is ready to die, and Aegisthus accepts the idea. Then Clytemnestra begs Aegisthus to hold his hand: "Let us do no further harm" (1654). Enough has been done already. And she urges the elders to yield. They must accept what Aegisthus and Clytemnestra have done. If only the trouble could end here, she says. So speaks a woman, if anyone will listen.
Aegisthus hates to let the Chorus get away with speaking against him, and threatens later action, and the Leader replies that he won't be able to hurt them if Orestes comes back. After another brief exchange of taunts between Aegisthus and the Chorus Leader, Clytemnestra speaks, urging Aegisthus not to care what these helpless men say-the two of them will rule and "order all things for good" (1673).
Any shred of hope of lasting peace is gone with this last scene. Aegisthus comes in with the bodyguard that was the hallmark of the tyrant, and by the end of the scene it is clear that he has every intention of profiting from the justice that has been done by ruling the city ruthlessly. Clytemnestra may soften his actions to some extent, but she clearly intends to rule with him. Aegisthus speaks the word "justice" many times, and it was certainly the case that a son suffering for his father's sins had at this time traditionally been seen as just. The sense of the family as an organism of which the individual forms a part was much stronger then than now, and is still strong in more traditional societies than ours, and so the son was felt to inherit the father's guilt. In any case, the justice that demands that individuals take vengeance seems to have doomed the family of Atreus to ruin, and the hope the Chorus Leader expresses that Orestes will come is only a hope for continuation of the exacting of blood for blood. A man must kill his own mother? This is justice? What hope for real peace and reconciliation is there? And of course Clytemnestra's hope, expressed in the last words of the play, that all will now be well, as she and Aegisthus "order all things for good" (1673), is full of tragic irony.
The first audience knew that, according to the old story, Orestes did kill his mother and Aegisthus and take over the kingdom, but they must have wondered how Aeschylus was going to make that seem an acceptable outcome. So do many who read the Agamemnon for the first time. Yet the play is often read and performed alone, even though it raises so many questions and provides no answers; perhaps part of the reason is that modern audiences find questions easier to believe in than answers?