THE HOUSE OF AGAMEMNON
 THE Greeks had won back Fair Helen, and had burned the city
of Troy behind them, but theirs was no triumphant voyage
home. Many were driven far and wide before they saw their
land again, and one who escaped such hardships came home to
find a bitter welcome. This was the chief of all the hosts,
Agamemnon, king of Mycenæ and Argos. He it was who had
offered his own daughter Iphigenia to appease the wrath of
Diana before the ships could sail for Troy. An ominous
leave-taking was his, and calamity was there to greet him
He had entrusted the cares of the state to his cousin
Ægisthus, commending also to his protection Queen
Clytemnestra with her two remaining children, Electra and
Now Clytemnestra was a sister of Helen of Troy, and a
beautiful woman to see; but her heart was as evil as her
face was fair. No sooner had her husband gone to the wars
than she set up Ægisthus in his place, as if there were no
other king of Argos. For years this faithless
pair lived arrogantly in the face of the people, and
controlled the affairs of the kingdom. But as time went by
and the child Orestes grew to be a youth, Ægisthus feared
lest the Argives should stand by their own prince, and drive
him away as an usurper. He therefore planned the death of
Orestes, and even won the consent of the queen, who was no
gentle mother! But the princess Electra,
sus-  pecting their plot, secretly hurried her brother away to the court of
Strophius in Phocis, and so saved his life. She was not,
however, to save a second victim.
The ten years of war went by, and the chief, Agamemnon, came
home in triumph, heralded by all the Argives, who were as
exultant over the return of their lawful king as over the
fall of Troy. Into the city came the remnant of his own men,
bearing the spoils of war, and, in the midst of a jubilant
multitude, King Agamemnon sharing his chariot with the
captive princess, Cassandra.
Queen Clytemnestra went out to greet him with every show of
joy and triumph. She had a cloth of purple spread before the
palace, that her husband might come with state into his home
once more; and before all beholders she protested that the
ten years of his absence had bereaved her of all happiness.
The unsuspicious king left his chariot and entered the
palace; but the princess Cassandra hesitated and stood by in
fear. Poor Cassandra! Her kindred were slain and the doom
of her city was fulfilled, but the curse of prophecy still
followed her. She felt the shadow of coming evil, and
there before the door she recoiled, and cried out that there
was blood in the air. At length, despairing of her fate,
she too went in. Even while the Argives stood about the
gates, pitying her madness, the prophecy came true.
Clytemnestra, like any anxious wife, had led the travel-worn
king to a bath; and there, when he had laid by his arms, she
and Ægisthus threw a net over him, as they would have
snared any beast of prey, and slew him, defenceless. In the
same hour Cassandra, too, fell into their hands, and they
put an end to
 her warnings. So died the chief of the great
army and his royal captive.
The murderers proclaimed themselves king and queen before
all the people, and none dared rebel openly against such
terrible authority. But Ægisthus was still uneasy at the
thought that the Prince Orestes might return some day to
avenge his father. Indeed, Electra had sent from time to
time secret messages to Phocis, entreating her brother to
come and take his
rightful place, and save her from her cruel mother and
Ægisthus. But there came to Argos one day a rumor that
Orestes himself had died in Phocis, and the poor princess
gave up all hope of peace; while Clytemnestra and Ægisthus
made no secret of their relief, but even offered impious
thanks in the temple, as if the gods were of their mind!
They were soon undeceived.
Two young Phocians came to the palace with news of the last
days of Orestes, so they said; and they were admitted to
the presence of the king and queen. They were, in truth,
Orestes himself and his friend Pylades (son of King
Strophius), who had ventured safety and all to avenge
Agamemnon. Then and there Orestes killed Ægisthus and
Clytemnestra, and appeared before the Argives as their
But not even so did he find peace. In slaying
Clytemnestra, wicked as she was, he had murdered his own
mother, a deed hateful to gods and men. Day and night he was
haunted by the Furies.
HE WAS HAUNTED BY THE FURIES
These dread sisters never leave Hades save to pursue and
torture some guilty conscience. They wear black raiment,
like the wings of a bat; their hair writhes with serpents
fierce as remorse, and in their hands they carry flaming
torches that make all shapes
 look greater and more fearful
than they are. No sleep can soothe the mind of him they
follow. They come between his eyes and the daylight; at
night their torches drive away all comfortable darkness.
Poor Orestes, though he had punished two murderers, felt
that he was no less a murderer himself.
From land to land he wandered in despair that grew to
madness, with one only comrade, the faithful Pylades, who
was his very shadow. At length he took refuge in Athens,
under the protection of Athena, and gave himself up to be
tried by the court of the Areopagus. There he was acquitted;
but not all the Furies left him, and at last he besought the
Oracle of Apollo to befriend him.
"Go to Tauris, in Scythia," said the voice, "and bring from
thence the image of Diana which fell from the heavens." So
he set out with his Pylades and sailed to the shore of
Now the Taurians were a savage people, who strove to honor
Diana, to their rude minds, by sacrificing all the strangers
that fell into their hands. There was a temple not far from
the seaside, and its priestess was a Grecian maiden, one
lphigenia, who had miraculously appeared
there years before, and was held in especial awe by Thoas,
the king of the country round about. Sorely against her
will, she had to hallow the victims offered at this shrine;
and into her presence Orestes and Pylades were brought by
the men who had seized them.
On learning that they were Grecians and Argives (for they
withheld their names), the priestess was moved to the heart.
She asked them many questions concerning the fate of
Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and the warriors against Troy,
which they answered
 as best they could. At length she said
that she would help one of them to escape, if he would swear
to take a message from her to one in Argos.
"My friend shall bear it home," said Orestes. "As for me,
I stay and endure my fate."
"Nay," said Pylades; "how can I
swear? for I might lose this letter by shipwreck or some
"Hear the message, then," said the high-priestess. "And
thou wilt keep it by thee with thy life. To Orestes,
son of Agamemnon, say Iphigenia, his sister, is dead indeed
unto her parents, but not to him. Say that Diana has had
charge over her these many years since she was snatched away
at Aulis, and that she
waits until her brother shall come to rescue her from this
duty of bloodshed and take her home."
At these words their
amazement knew no bounds. Orestes embraced his lost sister
and told her all his story, and the three, breathless with
eagerness, planned a way of escape.
The king of Tauris had already come to witness the
sacrifice. But Iphigenia took in her hands the sacred image
of Diana, and went out to tell him that the rites must be
delayed. One of the strangers, said she, was guilty
of the murder of his mother, the other sharing his crime;
and these unworthy victims must be cleansed with pure
sea-water before they could be offered to Diana. The
sacred image had been desecrated by their touch, and that,
too, must be solemnly purged by no other hands than hers.
To this the king consented. He remained to
burn lustral fires in the temple; the people withdrew
to their houses to escape pollution, and the priestess with
her victims reached the seaside in safety.
 Once there, with the sacred image which was to bring them
good fortune, they hastened to the Grecian galley and put
off from that desolate shore. So, with his new-found sister
and his new hope, Orestes went over the seas to Argos, to
rebuild the honor of the royal house.