Setting the Stage
A summary of Agamemnon does not have to be another “old Greek tale” — the plot of the story mirrors that found on many of the more colorful episodes of talk shows like “Jerry Springer,” in which infidelities lead to violence. When your students come into the room, have four or five index cards with each of the following scenarios on them:
- Your husband goes off to war and returns, a decade later, with a new girlfriend in tow. You are expected to accept this and let her live under your roof.
- While you are off at war, your wife starts an affair with your cousin. While you are away, they plan to kill you when you return.
- Your husband kills your daughter, because she is interfering with his ability to go off to war.
- Your father-in-law killed your lover’s brothers, and fed them to their father.
- Your wife, who is much younger and more attractive than you, runs off with a handsome leader from a far-off country, to your utter humiliation.
With four index cards each, this activity works for 20 students; with five cards, 25 students. If you have more than this, make more index cards for each scenario. Have your students find the others in the class with the matching scenario (you can color-code the cards, or number them, to make this quicker).
Once the groups have formed up, give them ten minutes to come up with a consensus of the proper response to the scenario. What should the aggrieved person in each situation do, and why? Let each group have approximately five minutes to share.
Total time: 30-35 minutes
The Tragedy of Agamemnon
Hubris, or the pride that comes before a fall, is an element in much of Greek tragedy. People who give in to this pride only have terrible things happen to them. In a summary of Agamemnon, this sort of pride is everywhere.
Once the groups have shared their answers, it’s time for you to spend the next few minutes summarizing the story for the class. You can tell them that not only does one of the scenarios that you described take place in the story, all five are involved. All five!
Because here’s how it all got started. Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, ran off with Paris, the prince from Troy, when he came to visit her husband Menelaus’ court. Menelaus’ response was to rouse the rest of the Greek kings (including his brother, Agamemnon) and set out to Troy to bring her back, or burn the city trying.
Ships back then needed to be powered by wind. Agamemnon had slain one of the sacred hinds (deer) of Artemis (virgin goddess of hunting) and had boasted that he was a better hunter than the goddess, and so the winds were held back. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, also a virgin, to get the winds blowing in the right direction, and off the ships went.
Outraged, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, took up with his cousin, Aegisthus, who was already angry at Agamemnon. Aegisthus had slain Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, because Atreus had fed his cousins to their own father. However, Agamemnon and Menelaus had banded together to take back the kingdom of Mycenae from Aegisthus.
After a decade, Troy finally fell, and the Greeks headed home. Agamemnon came home with a new concubine, Cassandra, in tow, only to be slain in his bath by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.
It should take 15-20 minutes for you to tell this story, illustrate with a couple of family trees, and get your class familiar with the characters. Total time so far: 45-55 minutes.
Wrapping Things Up
Now that your class has a summary of Agamemnon in its collective memory, it’s time to get them writing about it. Have them write individually about a modern figure who has had a similar event happen that received publicity in the news. Have them write between 250 and 500 words about similarities and differences between the modern event and what they know, so far, about the events of Agamemnon. Building this level of connection and interest will prepare your class for a deeper literary analysis of this ancient play.