Friday, September 26, 2014

Yo, Agamemnon

Our Humanities Honors students recently read Agamemnon, Aeschylus’s inquiry into the high price of wisdom. To aid my preparation for our discussion, I banged together this pseudo-script. A quickly written adaptation, this version plays fast and loose with a number of passages. So I can’t promise to surface every important theme. But I wanted to share this draft all the same. As time allows, I’ll add detail and nuance. In the meantime, let’s sail off to Argos!

Watchman: Dude! I think the Trojan War is over. Can you believe it? Ten years since Agamemnon’s been gone. Ten years of our queen Clytemnestra and her wacky antics. The stuff I’ve seen, man. The stuff. Man.

Chorus: Yeah, well we’re old men of the city, and we don’t know what’s going on. So to pass the time we’ll retell the tragic tale of how Paris snatched Helen. Again. So here goes: Paris comes to Argos – a guest in our house! And of course he has to take a souvenir. Trojans, you know. Anyway, does he settle for soaps or silverware? No, he steals Helen, wife of Menelaus, jewel of our city. Just takes her, like she’s some bathroom towel. But Helen’s monogrammed, yo. She belongs to Argos! So Menelaus and Agamemnon round up a thousand ships and sail off to Troy. At least they try to. But first they’ve got to get past Artemis, who’s stopped the winds: “No sailing today, boys, unless you’re willing to pay the price.” And what’s the price? What will set those ships free? Agamemnon’s daughter, that’s what: Poor, sweet, innocent kid. Always there with a libation for the gods. And now she’s gotta die. So dad does the deed and the ships set off. And, yeah, the Greeks are gonna win. But innocent blood was spilt that day, folks, and there’s a price to be paid.

Clytemnestra: War’s over, boys!

Chorus Leader: You don’t say?

Clytemnestra: I do say! And about damned time! I’ve ordered those signal fires to burn, I’ve waited and waited, scrimped and saved, ran this whole household on my own. And, oh, how I’ve suffered alone – well, alone-ish – here in this drafty castle. But now, thank the gods, my husband’s coming home. And so long as he hasn’t mistreated the Trojans, I’m sure there are no further debts to be paid. Of course, what do I know? I’m just a woman.

Chorus Leader: Could have fooled us! You’ve certainly acquired some manly qualities these past few years.

Chorus: Enough of this. Let’s thank Zeus for his blessings. The gods, you know, they sometimes take their sweet time to deliver justice. But men always pay in the end, with their lives, and sometimes with the lives of their children. Rich or poor: There’s no escape. So our men sailed off to Troy, for Helen, and the blood did spill. Now Clytemnestra announces good news at long last. Well, we’ll just wait and – say, is that a herald approaching?

Herald: Hey! I just got back from Troy. We won!

Chorus Leader: Alright! Now we know for sure. And now, at last, we can put an end to our suffering.

Herald: Oh yeah, it must have been awful for you, here in this safe castle by the sea. Did you run low on lobster? Not enough mineral water in the fridge? Nothing but reruns on the telly? Yeah, it must have been miserable for y’all on the homefront.

Clytemnestra [sing-songy]: Oh, enough of this bickering, boys. My hubby’s coming home. Hey Harold –

Herald– Herald, ma’am.

Clytemnestra [double-take]: Herald. Now I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re here, safe and sound in Argos.

Herald: Yeah, it was quite a –

Clytemnestra So, Herald, it’s time to shuffle back to Troy with the most important news of the day: Tell Agamemnon that I’m waiting for him. Oh, and be sure to tell him how faithful I’ve been these past ten years.

Chorus Leader: Wait, wait. We’ve got to know: Did Menelaus make it?

Herald: Probably not. Check it out: We won the war. Kicked those Trojans back to the gates. Took the town. And would you believe it? A storm blew up, just as we started for home. Turned our ships into kindling.

Chorus: Yep, that’s how it goes. You get some good news. You think everything’s gonna be OK. But don’t be too sure. You can store up your treasure. Lock it tight. But if you’ve sinned, never forget, Justice will find you… [in Liam Neeson accent] Justice has a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very long career. Let the daughter go and justice won’t look for you. Justice won’t pursue you. But kill that kid and justice will look for you. Justice will find you. And justice will kill you.

Agamemnon: Just – hold on a minute. I’m back!

Chorus: Welcome home, King.

Agamemnon: [In Marty McFly accent] Hey, hey, hey! Dad’s home!

Chorus: Lord of the manor.

Agamemnon: Hello, hello!

Chorus: King of the castle.

Agamemnon: Hello. So, how’s the city? Anything out of order? Anyone committing any sins? Because I’m ready to clean house!

Clytemnestra: So glad you’re back, honey! I’ve been so lonely without you! So many rumors, and so few children here to keep me company. But you’re home at last. Home, home, home. So kick your feet up, sweetie! Hop on out of that carriage and stroll into your castle – on some tapestries – some bloody red tapestries! After all, your feet trampled the soil of Troy, my king. They should never touch the ground again!

Agamemnon: Just like a woman. I do the deed and you repay me with words. Oh, and who do you think I am, some barbarian? I don’t need no red carpet. I’m not some god or Hollywood starlet.

Clytemnestra [sweetly]: No, you’re a king, Aggy.

Chorus: Lord of the manor.

Agamemnon: [Overlapping with Chorus] Ah jeez…

Clytemnestra: You’re my king!

Chorus: King of the castle.

Agamemnon: [Overlapping with Chorus] Gimme a break…

Clytemnestra [to chorus]: Quiet! [sweetly to Agamemnon] I’m just saying that you deserve a little recognition for what you’ve done!

Agamemnon: And you’d better prepare the house for a guest. Here she is, direct from Troy, daughter of Priam, and proof that your hubby’s done good: Cassandra!

Clytemnestra: You see? That’s what I’m talking about! Valiant, victorious Agamemnon, a god on earth! See what your pride hath wrought!

Chorus: Yeah, that’s not good.

[Agamemnon goes inside]

Clytemnestra: So you’re Cassandra: Once a princess and now a slave. Well, well, welcome to Argos, honey. And have no fear. Go right on inside!

Cassandra: Umm…

Clytemnestra: Hop to it! I don’t have all day.

Chorus leader: You know, ma’am, she doesn’t speak Greek.

Clytemnestra: Either do we!

Chorus leader: I mean 

Clytemnestra And now it's time to give my husband a special gift!

[Clytemnestra goes inside]

Cassandra: Oh Apollo! Why must I suffer like this?

Chorus Leader: Look, we don’t know what you’re raving about, but you can relax now. This place isn’t so bad. Why it’s a –

Cassandra: - It's a slaughterhouse! This place is a tomb!

Chorus Leader: You know, you’re making a lot of sense.

Cassandra: [to Chorus Leader] How could you allow this to happen?

Chorus Leader: You're not making sense anymore!

Cassandra: Then just listen! This house is cursed, cursed I tell you.

Chorus Leader: How do you know?

Cassandra: Well let’s just say that Apollo gave me some wonderful parting gifts after we broke up. He gave me the gift of sight, the ability to tell the future. Problem is, no one will listen to me!

Chorus Leader: Say, d’y’all hear a buzzing sound?

Cassandra: Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Well, I’m sick of waiting for a future I can’t change. Today’s the day. As soon as I set foot in that house, I’m gonna die. Might as well get started. 

[Cassandra goes inside]

Chorus Leader: Hmmm. I wonder what that portends for Agamem–

Agamemnon– What the hell?

Chorus: And... now he's dead.

Clytemnestra: Yeah, I killed him. And Cassandra too.

Chorus: Curses!

Clytemnestra: And he deserved it too. Remember how my loving husband convinced Artemis to let the winds blow? Remember that little sacrifice? I sure do. Agamemnon killed my daughter! So I killed him.

Chorus: If only Zeus would strike you down!

Clytemnestra: Yeah, more vengeance. That’s what we need.

Aegisthus: [In Ned Flanders voice] Hi ho, chorister-inos! Don’t blame everything on the little lady here. You see, I planned this whole thing years ago, after Agamemnon’s father tricked my father into eating his children for dinner. Mur-diddly-urdler! So we plotted and planned and waited for daddy to come home. He crossed the red river and got what he doodily-deserved.

Chorus Leader: What is this, an episode of the Maury Povich show?

Aegisthus: No, it’s the way it is, folks! Me and my lady-friend here, we run this place now. And there’s nothing you can do about it.  

Chorus: Just wait. Wait ‘til Agamemnon’s son gets home.

AegisthusOkally Dokally-Doo!

Chorus: Um, you know this is the first part of a trilogy, don’t you?

Aegisthus: Oh boy…

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