Hollywood did not invent the sequel. The ancient Greeks did. Their trilogies consisted of a play followed by two sequels.
The tragic poet Aeschylus wrote a trilogy that has survived to this day. The first tragedy was his Agamemnon. It was followed by Choephoroi and finally Eumenides (Links to English translations).
In separate articles, I have already treated Agamemnon and Eumenides (Links to my articles). The reason why I am treating Choephoroi last is because it is not included in my anthology of Greek drama. Now, however, I managed to find an English translation on the Internet. It is presented by Classical Authors. I do not have access to the original Greek.
Choephoroi is usually translated “libation-bearers.” This is close enough for the purpose of this article.
In the first drama of the trilogy, Clytemnestra kills her husband Agamemnon with the connivance of her paramour Aegisthus. By the time that the action of the second drama begins, Orestes has grown to adulthood. After spending most of his childhood as an exile in Phocis, he has returned to Argos, accompanied by his friend Pylades.
Orestes approached the tomb of Agamemnon. He had cut two locks of hair off his head. One of them he laid on his father’s grave as a sign of mourning.
Electra, the sister of Orestes, approached with the chorus. The chorus consisted of slave women whom Agamemnon had captured during the Trojan War. Orestes and Pylades concealed themselves and watched them.
In a choral section, the slave women revealed that Clytemnestra had sent them to offer a libation on the tomb of Agamemnon. She had a dream that troubled her. The seers who interpreted her dream told her that the dead were angry at the people who killed them.
The chorus knew that this libation was futile. It was not sufficient to atone for the murders. [Two murders had been committed. Cassandra was slain at the same time as Agamemnon.]
Electra did not like to pour the libation in behalf of her father’s murderers. After discussing the matter with the chorus, she decided not to pour the libation in Clytemnestra’s name. Instead, she prayed a prayer of her own. She prayed that Orestes would return from exile and that the murderers of Agamemnon would be slain.
Electra noticed the lock of hair lying on the grave. She suspected that it came from the head of her brother Orestes. Then she noticed footprints that were similar to her own. She suspected that her sibling had made them.
At this point, Orestes and Pylades entered the scene. When Orestes identified himself, she refused to believe him. However, Orestes easily proved that her incredulity was anomalous. She seemed to recognize his footsteps and his lock of hair, but she did not recognize his face. This argument convinced Electra.
A lengthy conversation then occurred involving the two siblings and the chorus. There is little forward movement in the plot. The following are some of the topics that they discussed.
Orestes explained that an oracle of Apollo had commanded him to avenge his father’s death. In fact, Apollo assured him that he would suffer dire punishment if he failed to do so.
Orestes and Electra offered various prayers for vengeance. They addressed these prayers to such beings as Zeus, the Furies, and especially the shades of Agamemnon.
They occasionally complained of their own plight after the death of their father. They wanted to reestablish themselves in their own house. Orestes wanted to rule as the rightful lord of Argos. He was afraid that the royal line of his ancestors would come to an end if he died.
The siblings thought that their father had died in a dishonorable manner. Both Electra and Orestes believed that it would be better if he had died during the Trojan War. Such a death would have clothed their father with honor.
They asked Agamemnon to appear to them so that he could give them his help and counsel. They asked the Earth and other deities to let him come.
The chorus related the contents of the dream that terrified Clytemnestra. She dreamed that she gave birth to a serpent that sucked blood together with its mother’s milk. Orestes recognized that he was the serpent about who would shed her blood.
Though Clytemnestra was trying to escape her fate, they vowed that they would show no mercy. Her belated desire to appease the shades of Agamemnon would not avert her doom.
After discussing the foregoing topics, Orestes told Electra to return to the palace. He and Pylades would come later. They would gain admittance by pretending that they were travelers from Phocis. [It would be easy for them to imitate the speech of the Phocians. Pylades was a Phocian, and Orestes had lived there during his exile.]
In an interlude, the chorus comments on the crime of Clytemnestra. They compared her deed to that of Althea, Scylla, and the women of Lemnos, all of whom caused the death of people who were close to them.
When Orestes came to the palace, he told Clytemnestra that he had met a traveler on the way. The traveler supposedly asked him to inform them that Orestes had died. His ashes were supposedly in an urn, and Clytemnestra was supposed to decide whether or not they should be transported to Argos.
Clytemnestra pretended to grieve, but she was actually glad. She cordially accepted the supposed strangers as her guests.
Clytemnestra sent Kilissa to fetch Aegisthus, so that he could question the guests concerning the death of Orestes. Kilissa, who had been Orestes’ nurse, was very sad when she learned about the reported death of Orestes.
Clytemnestra wanted Aegisthus to come with an armed guard, but the chorus persuaded Kilissa to tell him to come quickly, without telling him to bring an armed guard.
After a choral interlude, Aegisthus arrived. He asked the chorus whether the news was true. The chorus suggested that he go and talk to the strangers.
As the chorus was rejoicing over the impending victory of Orestes, a cry emanated from the palace. A slave came out and reported that Aegisthus was dead.
Clytemnestra came out to learn what had happened. The slave told her that the dead had come to slay the living. Clytemnestra understood what she meant.
Orestes then appeared with a bloody sword. He hesitated to slay his mother, so he first asked the advice of Pylades. Pylades reminded him about Apollo’s command.
Clytemnestra and Orestes then engaged in an unedifying altercation.. Then Orestes drove Clytemnestra into the palace and killed her.
Orestes defended his deed. To prove the guilt of Clytemnestra, he showed the chorus the robe in which Agamemnon was murdered.
Nevertheless, because he had killed his mother, the Furies began to torment him. The chorus could not see them, but Orestes could. He finally could not stand it any longer and rushed away.
This ending reminds me of some movies that I have seen in which the final scene lets the viewers know that a sequel is sure to come. The sequel, of course, is Eumenides.