Greek-American Stories: Analyzing a Classic

December 17, 2019
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

I wonder how many Greeks have read Agamemnon, by Aeschylus. It’s no longer on the New York Times best seller list. Recently in the library in my neighborhood, I attended a program where a professor came to analyze for the listeners the story of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, telling it in his own words. Being very British and soft spoken, several times I had to lean over and ask my friend, ‘What did he say?” Or, “Who did what?” Embarrassing, to say the least. If I had brought my 12 year old granddaughter, Alexandra, with me, she’d find excuses to go to the water fountain, yawn until she got lockjaw, or tell me she’d wait in the car. I know because that’s what I thought of doing, too. But, I persevered and stayed listening with the group of about twenty. Cakes and iced tea were served afterwards, sort of a reward for endurance, I think. But, I came away wondering about all of you out there who might have come but couldn’t. So, addressing those who might not know the story allow me to tell you my rendition just in case the professor decides to come to a library near you. (Try the peach cake. It was really good.)

We began with beautiful Helen, who we’re told, was kidnapped by the King of Troy, named Paris. She was already married to Menelaus. But, King of Argos, Agamemnon said, “Hey! No one takes my brother’s wife and gets away with it! Get the troops!” That started a ten year war. Ten years! In all that time, I wondered, couldn’t she get away, call 911? Did she even try to get away? Weren’t there ferries running from Troy to Argos? Or, and this is my own theory, she decided, Hey! Paris isn’t such a bad guy. At least he doesn’t snore. Troy’s not a bad town, either. So, I have to conclude, she liked where she was.

Anyway, from the roof of the Argos palace, a signal was given that the war was over and the Greeks won. Wife of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, awaits her victorious husband’s return with open arms, professing her undying adoration for him, how she missed him (ten years!) and lays a carpet down for him to walk on. And, he walks in with his new girlfriend from Troy, Princess Cassandra. He looks down, acts cold towards his wife and refuses to walk on the rug, saying, “Can’t do it! It’s like showing off!’ Gotta admit the guy has some principles. She’s miffed, to say the least. But, I don’t know for what; not walking on the carpet? Or coming home with the new chick, Cassandra? Just before his voyage, her husband, Agamemnon, had sacrificed their teen aged daughter, Euphegenia, so that his sea voyage to Troy would appease the gods and be safe from stormy weather. He had to; there was no insurance at that time. I mean, the girl’s assumed dead. His own daughter, we’re talking about! What about the return journey? Who gets it then? Thing was, stormy weather knocked a couple of his ships around, anyway. Some of his ships didn’t even make it to Troy. His ship made it! Guess the others didn’t have daughters to sacrifice. Yet, in all this turmoil Clytemnestra was more irritated over the ignored carpet and/or the new girlfriend. Finally, realizing that Agamemnon wasn’t the bargain she beefed him up to be, she plots to get rid of him in cahoots with (and, this proves that two can play the game of footsies) her paramour, Aegithus, a guard at the palace, and, coincidently, Agamemnon’s cousin. They form a plot. Talk about hanky panky! While Agamemnon is in the bathtub, relaxing, Clytemnestra rubs his back as Aegithus sneaks up on him and stabs him dead with a long spear! He, Aegithus, felt no guilt, however, in committing this heinous murder. He just happened to recall that his two brothers were killed and cooked and served as dinner to Aegithus’ father by Agamemnon’s father. So, you can understand why he didn’t mind rubbing him out. I mean, this is really the height of family dysfunction. With all that to digest (no pun intended) we’re informed, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’ (Drum roll) Orestes, Clytemnestra’s son, is coming to take revenge on his father which can only mean that it’s, ‘like father, like son’ After listening to so much horrific drama; the cooking of cousins, dispensing of a daughter for more clement weather and bathtub rub outs, going to my car, I began to feel that the nightly news isn’t so disturbing anymore.


JANUARY 22ND: On this day in 1788, Lord Byron (née George Gordon Byron), the famous philhellene, poet, and satirist, was born in London, England.

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