Characters Discussed

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Agamemnon (a-guh-MEHM-nahn), of the doomed House of Atreus, King of Argos and leader of the Greek expedition against Troy. When the Greeks were detained at Aulis, he had been commanded by the gods to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, so that the fleet might sail. This deed brought him the hatred of his wife, Clytemnestra, who plots his death. On his return to Argos after the fall of Troy, she persuades him to commit the sin of pride by walking on purple carpets to enter his palace. Once within the palace, he is murdered in his bath by Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus.


Clytemnestra (KLI-tuhm-NEHS-truh), the daughter of Leda and wife of Agamemnon. Infuriated by his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia, she murders him and rules Argos with her lover, Aegisthus, until she is killed by her son Orestes.


Cassandra (ka-SAN-druh), the daughter of King Priam of Troy. She is fated always to prophesy truth but never to be believed. Captured by Agamemnon and brought to Argos, she foretells the king’s death and is then killed by Clytemnestra.


Aegisthus (ee-JIHS-thus), a cousin of Agamemnon and the lover of Clytemnestra. After Agamemnon’s death, he rules Argos with her until he is slain by Orestes.


Orestes (oh-REHS-teez), the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. After his father’s murder, he is driven by his mother and her lover from his heritage of Argos. Returning from exile, he meets his sister Electra at their father’s tomb and tells her that he has been commanded by the oracle of Apollo to avenge Agamemnon by killing his murderers. He carries out this revenge, but he is driven mad by the Furies, who pursue him to the Delphi, where he takes refuge in the temple of Apollo. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, appears. Unable to decide the case, she calls in twelve Athenian citizens to act as judges. It is argued against Orestes that Clytemnestra, in killing Agamemnon, had not slain a blood relative of her family and thus did not deserve death. Apollo argues that Clytemnestra, having only nourished the father’s seed in her womb, was no blood relation of Orestes, and therefore the latter was innocent. The judges vote six to six, and Orestes is declared free of blood-guilt.


Electra (ee-LEHK-truh), the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and sister of Orestes. After the murder of her father and the exile of her brother, she is left alone to mourn Agamemnon’s death and to perform the rites at his tomb. There she meets Orestes, who has returned to Argos, but at first does not recognize him. Convinced at last of his identity, she urges him to avenge their father by killing their mother and her lover.

The Furies

The Furies or Eumenides (yew-MEHN-ih-deez), children of Night, whose duty it is to dog the footsteps of murderers and to drive them mad. They pursue Orestes but are balked by the judges’ decision that he is innocent. They rail against the younger gods who have deprived them of their ancient power. They are pacified by Athena, who promises them great honor and reverence if they will remain at Athens as beneficent deities.


Athena (uh-THEE-nuh), the goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens. She is always on the side of mercy. She defends the new law against the old in the case of Orestes, pacifies the Furies, and changes them into the Eumenides or “gracious ones.”


Apollo (uh-PAHL-oh), the god of poetry, music, oracles, and healing. It is he who commands Orestes to avenge his father’s death by killing his guilty mother. He then appears at Orestes’ trial and defends the accused with the argument that, by killing his mother, Orestes was not guilty of shedding family blood, for the mother, being only the nourisher of the seed, is no relation to her child. Family relationship comes only through the father.

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