Only the dead know the end of war.
Plato, c.428 - 347 B.C.
Call no man happy till he dies, he is at best fortunate.
Solon, c.640 - c.558 B.C.
In the beginning of the world, Ouranos was the king of the gods. He was the sky, and Gaia, the earth, was his wife. Of this period little is known. In time he and his age declined and disappeared, and Cronos [his son] ruled in his place. Cronos and his wife Rhea had many children, but, knowing one of them would supplant him, Cronos swallowed them all at birth. Finally - Zeus was born - and Rhea hid the baby, handed Cronos a stone instead. And when Zeus grew up, he made Cronos disgorge the stone, and all the rest of his children, and with them he waged war against his father. The battle lasted ten years. Shaking the universe to its foundations.
Zeus is now supreme head of the Gods.
Zeus, Cloud-Gatherer, is infatuated with a sea-nymph. Zeus, Thunderer-On-High, chases her until Zeus, Hurler-Of-Thunderbolts, hears someone say the son she bears will be more powerful than his father. Immediately he marries her off to a mortal. All the Gods are invited to the wedding except for Eris [strife]. Understandable, but unfortunate. Because Eris [strife] arrives anyway.
And here our troubles start.
She brings with her a golden apple, marked "For the most beautiful". Three Goddesses - Hera [wife to Zeus], Athene [Goddess of war and wisdom], and Aphrodite [Goddess of love] - fight for it. Zeus sends them to Paris, prince of Troy [and most beautiful of mortal men], to settle the dispute. Each of the Goddesses tries to bribe Paris, Hera with greatness in government, Athene with supremacy in war, Aphrodite with the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife. Aphrodite wins, you guessed. This begins the Trojan War.
Life isn't simple. Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, is already someone else's wife. She will have to be stolen.
Helen, a brief history:
Tyndareos, king of Sparta, thinks Helen is his daughter. She isn't. Helen is the daughter of Zeus, who coupled with Tyndareos' wife, Leda, in the shape of a swan.
Poor Helen, how she suffers for her extraordinary looks. In her youth Theseus carried her off, and she had to be rescued by her brothers. Then every leading man in Greece wanted her, and they all stood around her doorstep, arguing, fighting, keeping the neighbours awake. Eventually they decided to leave the choosing to her, and each man swore armed service to her husband, should his possession of her ever be threatened. And Helen? She picked
Menelaus, of the house of Atreus.
An odd choice. Why Helen would want this man is not too clear - he was a good fighter, but quiet, not clever, not handsome, not funny. Almost the only thing we know about him is that he had auburn hair. And then there's his family...
The house of Atreus, an even briefer history:
The facts are these. Pelops, the founder of the house was cursed. His father Tantalus was cursed. His sons Atreus and Thyestes are cursed. So Thyestes seduces Atreus' wife. And Atreus murders Thyestes' children and serves him their flesh at a banquet [one child is left alive, he turns up later on]. Atreus himself has two sons - Menelaus, who marries Helen, and - Agamemnon [finally we get there], who marries [pay attention now] Clytemnestra, Helen's sister.
The war begins:
Paris, Prince of Troy travels to Sparta and meets Helen. Helen's husband, with his usual stupidity, decides to sail away on state business, leaving Helen and Paris alone. The lovers elope: Aphrodite keeps her promise. Menelaus returns, and calls upon his fellow-suitors to keep theirs, to join him in rescuing Helen and burning Troy [that stronghold of lust and treachery] to the ground. From every city-state in Greece, the armies gather, with Agamemnon, king of Argos, as their commander-in-chief.
With everything ready for the start, the wind changes to the north. The Greeks and their long ships are stranded. The usual sacrifices have no effect. Days turn into months, and still northern winds keep the fleet trapped at harbour. Finally Agamemnon is told he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease a goddess. Agamemnon protests, then Agamemnon relents. As he slaughters his child, the wind changes. The fleet sets off.
The war lasts ten years.
In the ninth year Paris is killed.
In the tenth year Troy falls.
Meanwhile, back at home in Argos:
Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra weeps over her murdered daughter and plots Agamemnon's death and sleeps with another man who has reasons of his own for wanting to kill her husband.
Much is to come:
Agamemnon will be murdered by his wife; she will be murdered by their son.
But for now:
The city of Troy has fallen.
The play begins.
Aeschylus [525-456 B.C], the founder of Greek tragedy, wrote some eighty or ninety plays. Seven survive. Agamemnon is the first play of his trilogy ORESTEIA [or "plays about Orestes". Orestes is the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He doesn't appear in this play [sorry]], which won first prize at the Athens Dramatic Competition in 458 B.C.
Arzanne De Vitre
Vijay B Natesan
Abhishek "Bob" Shetty