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Examine critically the dramatic structure and relevance of the Cassandra scene in the Agamemnon

Cassandra, was a daughter of Hecuba and King Priam, the rulers of Troy during the Trojan War according to Homer’s Iliad. Cassandra was a beautiful young woman, blessed with the gift of prophecy by Apollo, who was infatuated with her. Unfortunately, she shunned Apollo at the last minute and he added a twist to her gift; Cassandra was doomed to tell the truth, but never to be believed. I promised consent to Apollo but broke my word… and ever since that fault I could persuade no one. [Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1208ff. ] Have I missed the mark, or, like true archer, do I strike my quarry?

Or am I prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door? [Cassandra. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1194] For this reason Cassandra was not believed when, near the end of the Trojan War, she said that there was an armed force hidden in the wooden horse that the Achaeans had abandoned. King Priam did not know what to do with her, so he tried to keep Cassandra locked up and out of the way of the warriors of Troy. When Troy finally fell to the Greek invaders, Cassandra was attacked and supposedly raped by the Greek warrior Ajax of Locris, but eventually avenged by Athena.

When Cassandra accompanied the Greek hero Agamemnon as his mistress to his homeland, she was killed by his vengeful wife, Clytaemnestra. Aeschylus’s Agamemnon tells the story of the Greek hero Agamemnon’s fateful return home to Myceneae, where his wife Clytaemnestra waits to kill him. Cassandra is a powerful figure in this play, foretelling the doom of the hero and herself through visions of a curse upon his household. On his arrival Agamemnon fell victim of a conspiracy conceived by his own wife Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, who murdered both Agamemnon and Cassandra.

This too Cassandra predicted: .. or me waits destruction by the two-edged sword. [Cassandra. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1149] The tragedy begins with Clytaemnestra awaiting Agamemnon’s return from Troy, her secret lover and accomplice Aegisthus waiting for her instructions in the palace. Clytaemnestra has perfectly legitimate reasons for despising Agamemnon; he killed her former husband, Tantalus, and her baby, he married her by force, he ordered the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigeneia in order to calm the winds when the Greeks prepared to set sail for Troy, and he left her alone, sailing away to a war which lasted ten years.

Euripides Iphigeneia in Aulis 1148, Sophocles Electra 531) Plus, Clytaemnestra hears that Agamemnon is bringing back with him a concubine who was said to be a prophetess. Agamemnon and Cassandra enter the stage in a great parade. The parade is important to visualise the transformation in Agamemnons fortune. Three visual images represent three stages in his downfall: the parade, the purple cloths, and the tableau exhibiting the dead bodies. The intensity of these images is built up progressively. The more impressive the procession and the treading upon the purple cloths, the steeper the fall.

The procession leads both characters and audience into the web, impelling Agamemnon towards his death and the city into chaos. The procession is a starting point as well as an end: Agamemnons and Cassandras entrance from Troy in the beginning finds its closure in the tableau of the exposure of the bodies. A movement that started with a victorious parade ends in death and defeat. The reversal of mans destiny is clearly manifested on the stage: the victorious procession becomes a slaughterhouse. When Agamemnon and Cassandra arrive, Clytaemnestra greets them warmly and tries to comfort her in her misery of slavery.

But Cassandra ignores Clytaemnestra, ready to face her fate. During the dialogue between Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Cassandra is present and silent. Her silence reinforces the power of her role as witness to the double meanings and irony in the encounter. Her presence augments the already heightened tension on stage and moves the meeting between the two into a multiplicity of triangles: the royal king, queen, and war prisoner; the husband, wife, lover; the religious king, queen, and the virgin priestess.

Cassandras silent presence throughout the arrival scene of Agamemnon fills the scenic space with tension. Cassandra own journey represents the conjunction of all the twists in the story. She is a Trojan woman, enslaved after the defeat, brought to Argos as slave and concubine. Like Agamemnon, and in a direction opposite to that of Iphigeneia, she is compelled to move from the outside to the inside. Considered public property, as a prisoner of war, she is given to Agamemnon as private property, and after being exposed in the public space she is called inside, to be slaughtered.

This recalls Iphigeneias contrasting movement from the secure inside of the palace to the army camp, to the war. Being a prophetess of Apollo she represents the god/ man relationship that is activated in the scene of her ecstatic visions. In her prophetic state Cassandra links heaven and earth, god and man, inside and outside, past, present and future. When Clytemnestra re-enters the palace after urging Cassandra to enter and join Agamemnon near the palace hearth, everything comes together.

Cassandra enters a state of prophetic ecstasy. She calls Apollo her god, her destroyer, and blames him for bringing her to this house (1072-1080). Apollo, my destroyer, for you have destroyed me… [Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1080] It is interesting to note that during much of her ecstatic state there is practically no contact between Cassandra and the chorus. She is isolated in the sphere of prophecy. She is telling of hidden things; the chorus does not understand her. They are outsiders.

Although we can not reconstruct Cassandras precise movements on stage, a basic pattern is established: first of all the movement to and from the house described by the chorus; then her ecstatic state, which can be described according to visual scenes on vases depicting ecstasy and madness by a special movement of the head upwards in a diagonal line towards the sky. This movement symbolises the fact that the person is out of himself, inhabited by a god, and was attributed to prophets, musicians, madmen and the possessed.

We witness the contrast between reality as grasped by our senses, and the possibility of the madman or the prophet opening up this reality into other realities, far beyond our mortal abilities of comprehension. Cassandra, by her special prophetic power can bring the opposites into collision. She can bring the inside out, and the unknown into the open, to public knowledge. She knows her own cruel fate but cannot change it (1309; 1311; 1315-1321). Her final act before entering the palace is dismantling (1264-1267).

She breaks her wand, she throws it and the other insignia of her prophetic office upon the ground, trampling them underfoot. The accessories of priesthood fall in front of the door to the palace, where the purple cloth had previously been strewn, symbolically mixing the dismantling with the stream of blood, and accentuating the tragic moment of Cassandras preparation for her death. This activity is clearly shown by the text, and the actors movements form a visual image for the spectators. As Beckerman writes: What is a visual signal to the spectator… is a muscular activity for the performer.

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