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The House of Agamemnon
by [?]

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 Mycenae 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 home again.

He had entrusted the cares of the state to his cousin Aegisthus, commending also to his protection Queen Clytemnestra with her two remaining children, Electra and Orestes.

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 Aegisthus 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, Aegisthus 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, suspecting their plot, secretly hurried her brother away to the court of King 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 Aegisthus 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 Aegisthus 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 Aegisthus. 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 Aegisthus 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.