(MENELAUS and OLD SERVANT enter, wrestling with the tablet.)
OLD SERVANT: Menelaus, this is outrageous! You have no right!
MENELAUS: Get away from me! You are too loyal to your master!
OLD SERVANT: It is an honor that you think so.
MENELAUS: You’ll regret it if you continue to interfere!
OLD SERVANT: You had no right to look at the message I was carrying.
MENELAUS: And you had no right to be carrying a message that will bring harm to all your countrymen.
OLD SERVANT: Argue that question with others, but give me the tablet.
MENELAUS: I will not let go.
OLD SERVANT: Neither shall I.
MENELAUS: I will break your head open with my scepter.
OLD SERVANT: Then I will have had a glorious death, serving my master.
MENELAUS: Let go! You talk too much for a slave!
(MENELAUS wrests the tablet away from the OLD SERVANT.)
OLD SERVANT: Agamemnon! Help! This man has stolen your tablet from me, and he won’t listen to reason!
AGAMEMNON: What is all this commotion?
MENELAUS: I have the right to speak. He has none.
AGAMEMNON: You, Menelaus? What led you into an argument with this old man? Why are you being so violent with him?
(AGAMEMNON motions for the OLD SERVANT to leave. He does.)
MENELAUS: Look me in the eyes, Agamemnon. Then I will begin to tell you.
AGAMEMNON: Do you think I am afraid to look at you? I am a son of Atreus.
MENELAUS: Then look at this tablet. Look at this treason!
AGAMEMNON: I am looking. Give it to me.
MENELAUS: No, not until I show it to every Achaean soldier here.
AGAMEMNON: So, you have read my message, and now you know what you have no right to know.
MENELAUS: Yes, to your shame, I have discovered your betrayal.
AGAMEMNON: What lowly trick did you use to discover my servant’s task?
MENELAUS: I was waiting for your daughter to arrive from Argos.
AGAMEMNON: How contemptible! What right do you have to spy on my affairs?
MENELAUS: I wanted to do it, so I did. I am not your slave.
AGAMEMNON: This is beyond tolerance! You will not let me govern my own house?
MENELAUS: No, because you are not to be trusted. Not now, not ever.
AGAMEMNON: You are very clever with your quick retorts. There’s nothing worse than wickedness dressed with a ready wit.
MENELAUS: You bark at me because you want to evade the truth: that you are unreliable, that your mind changes from one moment to the next. But let me speak, and I promise I will not be too harsh with you. You remember, when we first set out for Troy, how eager you were to lead—yes, I know you made a pretense of indifference, but I knew what was in your heart. How humble you were, unlocking your door so that every common man could enter, taking them each by hand, even those who did not wish it, and offering each of them the opportunity to talk to you. You hoped that this show of openness would win the hearts of the citizens. Then, as soon as you had secured your position, suddenly you were not so available to everyone who called, you dropped the friends who were not useful to you, and you hardly stayed at home at all. But a true man does not change who he is when he finds success, he stays loyal to his friends and helps them when he himself has profited.
This is the first way in which I have found your actions dishonorable. Then, here in Aulis, you became helpless and impotent when the wind grew uncooperative. You were nothing without the help of the gods. When our countrymen demanded to return home, I saw your face fall in disappointment. How distressed you were that you might lose your opportunity to lead a thousand ships to Troy. “What should I do?” you asked me. “What plan can we devise?” You were willing to do anything, just so you would not miss your chance at glory. So when Kalchas suggested that the fleet would sail if you sacrificed your daughter, you were happy, yes, overjoyed to agree.
AGAMEMNON: I was forced to it!
MENELAUS: So you claim now, but you sent your messenger by your own volition. It was you, too, who thought up the tale of the marriage to Achilles. And now you have sent a new message, to gainsay the first? Now you have decided you will not be your daughter’s murderer? Well, the gods have witnessed your duplicity. Countless men like you have achieved great power, only to then fail. Some were brought down by fools, but some deserved their fate for failing at their duty to keep their cities safe. Good connections do not make a good leader. You must show a good mind and good sense.
CHORUS LEADER: How terrible it is to see brothers using words as daggers against each other.
[CHORUS A: They’re going to fucking kill each other.]
AGAMEMNON: Now I will speak. And when I speak, I will not raise my head too high, and I will speak with modesty, as a brother should speak to a brother. Tell me, why do you stare at me with bloodshot eyes while you huff and puff with fury? Who has wronged you? What do you want? A virtuous wife? I cannot give you one. You had enough trouble controlling the one you had. Must I pay for your mistakes? You are not bothered by my supposed ambition. You are bothered by the fact that you can’t hold a beautiful woman in your arms. For her, you’ve abandoned common decency. You’ve degraded yourself for base pleasures. And is it mad of me to turn and realize I have committed a terrible mistake? No, you’re the one who is mad. You’re mad for wanting back this wife of yours. The gods have been kind enough to take her off your hands. Yes, her suitors were so eager for her that they swore her father’s oath. The goddess of foolish hopes led them to that pledge. And now they feel compelled to honor it. But an oath elicited through force or trickery is not an oath at all. No, I will not slay my child. I will not spend my days and nights in tears so that you can punish your worthless wife. That is all I have to say. I think it is easy to understand. If you choose not to listen, that is your choice. But I must do as my conscience tells me.
- CHORUS LEADER: You have changed your mind, but for the better. It is a noble desire to keep one’s child from harm. -
[CHORUS LEADER: It is a noble desire to keep one’s child from harm.
CHORUS B: He can’t kill his little girl.]
MENELAUS: I see I am alone and friendless.
AGAMEMNON: You have friends. But do not try to destroy them.
MENELAUS: Will you not prove to me you are my brother?
AGAMEMNON: We are brothers in reason, not in madness.
MENELAUS: Friends share in each other’s misfortunes.
AGAMEMNON: Behave like a friend and brother to me, do me good instead of harm.
MENELAUS: For your daughter, you are determined to abandon every other Achaean?
AGAMEMNON: Both you and Achaea are the victims of some god’s hatred.
MENELAUS: What a proud king you must be, now that you’ve abandoned your brother. I will find help elsewhere, from other friends.
MESSENGER: King Agamemnon, commander of all Achaea! I have brought you your daughter, Iphigenia, your wife, Klytemnestra, and your baby boy, Orestes! May the sight of them give you great joy, after their long absence! They are resting and bathing their feet, after the long journey. Their mares are in the pasture, grazing. Their arrival has created great excitement among the soldiers. Everyone wants to see those whom fortune has so blessed. “Is there going to be a wedding?” they ask. “Or does King Agamemnon love his child so deeply that he cannot bear to be away from her?” Others have noticed that offerings are being made to Artemis, but wonder, if she is to be a bride, who is to be her bridegroom? Come, let us celebrate! King Menelaus, prepare for the marriage feast! Put a garland on your head, King Agamemnon! Let us play the pipes and dance! Today is a happy day for your girl!
AGAMEMNON: Thank you for your news. Now go inside. All will be well. All that is fated to be well will be well.
How can I speak, for misery? How can I even begin? I have been caught in the net of fate. I planned, but the gods planned more craftily. How lucky are those who are low born. They can weep without hesitation. But a king must show dignity, even in the darkest times. We are slaves to the people we rule. I cannot weep, but I cannot fail to weep, for failing to weep at such a time is sickness.
(AGAMEMNON has given in to tears.)
What will I say to my wife when I see her? How can I look at her, welcome her, let her see into my eyes? I did not intend to invite her here, too. Why did she have to come? It will be my undoing. But of course she is here, what mother would not accompany a daughter so treasured to her wedding? So this is how my wife will learn of my betrayal.
And my poor maiden daughter—why do I call her that?—she will not be long a maiden, now that Hades will take her for his bride. I can hear her pleading to me piteously, “Father? Can you truly mean to kill me? Then I hope you and everyone you love is married to Death, as I am today.” And my baby Orestes will be there, too young to even walk, but not too young to scream and cry, not too young for me to know the meaning of his cries. Oh, what destruction Paris has brought! It is he and Helen who set this all in motion!
- CHORUS LEADER: Even I, a foreigner, lament for this king. -
[CHORUS B: This is all Helen’s fault.
CHORUS A: That fucking bitch.
CHORUS LEADER: Even I, a foreigner, lament for this king.]
Brother, give me your hand.
(AGAMEMNON gives him his hand.)
You may have it. You have won, and I must bear my misery.
I swear by Atreus our father, and Pelops his father, that now I will say just what is in my heart, without any subterfuge or evasion. When I saw you weep, I wept. I take back my former words. I am with you. You must not kill your child. Not for my sake. I cannot see you grieve for her death while my children still give me pleasure. What good would it do me? Would it bring me a wife? I can marry again. Shall I destroy my brother to bring back Helen, destroy a man I treasure to bring back a wicked woman? I was being rash and childish. But now I understand what a thing it is to kill one’s own child. And she is my own niece, she who would lose her life to bring back Helen. What is Helen to her? Let’s abandon this mission, disband our army, and go home. Brother, do not cry. It makes me cry as well. It is your concern what the oracles say, not mine. I give you any interest I may have had in it. You see, my threats and anger are gone. I have changed. It’s only natural to change, when you love your brother. It is the right thing to do.
[CHORUS B: This is why he’s a king.
CHORUS A: I bet Zeus was the same way.
CHORUS B: That’s his great-grandfather, right.
CHORUS A: No, that’s Tantalus.]
CHORUS LEADER: Your words are noble and worthy of your ancestor Tantalus, the son of Zeus himself.
AGAMEMNON: Thank you, Menelaus. I had lost hope that you would say those words to me.
MENELAUS: I hate it when brotherly love is infected with bitterness. Too often inheritance or a dispute over love stands between brothers.
AGAMEMNON: But I have no choice now. I must kill my daughter.
MENELUAS: What? Who will force you to kill your child?
AGAMEMNON: The entire assembled army.
MENELAUS: Not if you send her back to Argos.
AGAMEMNON: Perhaps I could manage to send her back in secret. But there is one thing that cannot be kept secret from the soldiers.
MENELAUS: You cannot live in fear of the mob.
AGAMEMNON: Kalchas will tell them what the oracle prophesied.
MENELAUS: He won’t speak if he’s dead, and we can see to that.
AGAMEMNON: Yes, there’s a whole tribe of these prophets, and they are an ambitious lot.
MENELAUS: Half of what they say is useless, and the rest only brings misery.
AGAMEMNON: But there’s something else that worries me. Does it worry you, too?
MENELAUS: What? You have to tell me what it is.
AGAMEMNON: The son of Sisyphus knows everything.
MENELAUS: Odysseus? He will do us no harm.
AGAMEMNON: He is unreliable. He loves being popular with the masses.
MENELAUS: It is power he loves. It is an evil addiction.
AGAMEMNON: I can see him telling the soldiers the whole story, every word that Kalchas said, and how I offered Artemis a victim then reneged. He will tell the army to kill us both and then slaughter the girl, and if we run to Argos, they will raze it to the ground, Cyclopean walls and all. This is the trap in which I am ensnared. Almighty gods, how helpless you have made me! But if this must be, do me one favor, Menelaus. Make sure Klytemnestra knows nothing, at least until the deed is done and my girl has gone to Hades. I need no more tears than necessary. And you, women of Chalkis, make sure you speak nothing of this either.
(AGAMEMNON and MENELAUS exit.)