Agamemnon

Understanding Agamemnon from Ancient Greek Mythology

In Homer’s Illiad, Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek army during the Trojan War. His portrayal is as a great warrior but a selfish leader. He is famous for upsetting his unbeatable champion Achilles, which kept the war going and made his men suffer. Unfortunately, there is no record of a Mycenaean king by that name, but the city was prosperous in the Bronze Age, and there may have been an actual attack on Troy led by the Greeks, even if it was much shorter. Archaeological evidence shows that both of these ideas are true. However, the famous gold mask found in a shaft grave at Mycenae and known as the “Mask of Agamemnon” was made 400 years before any possible Agamemnon candidate that fits a timeline of the Trojan War.

Early Life of Agamemnon

Agamemnon's family
Credit: Pixabay

Prophecies cast a shadow over Agamemnon’s life. Atreus, Agamemnon’s father, killed all of his twin brother Thyestes’s children, except Aegisthus, and fed them to Thyestes. Thyestes vowed to get back at Atreus’s children in a horrible way. Aegisthus took the throne of Mycenae, and he and Thyestes ruled together. During this time, King Tyndareus of Sparta took Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus in. There, they married Clytemnestra and Helen, who were Tyndareus’s daughters.

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra had four kids. One was a boy named Orestes, and the other three were girls named Iphigenia, Electra, and Chrysothemis. Menelaus took over for Tyndareus in Sparta, while Agamemnon, with the help of his brother, drove Aegisthus and Thyestes out of the kingdom to get it back for his father. He took over more land and became the most powerful prince in Greece.

Agamemnon’s family history was full of rape, murder, incest, and betrayal. This dark history was because their ancestor Tantalus had done a terrible thing, and then Pelops, Tantalus’s son, was cursed by Myrtilus, whom he had killed. So, bad luck followed the House of Atreus for many generations until Orestes made up for it in a court of law of both gods and humans.

Family

Agamemnon was either the son or grandson of Atreus, in which case Pleisthenes was his father. His mother, Aerope, was from Crete, which helped connect the Mycenaean culture of the Greek Peloponnese with the Minoan civilization of Bronze Age Crete. He was married to Clytemnestra and had three daughters with her. Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa are their names in one version, but Chrysothemis, Electra, and Iphigeneia are later versions. Menelaos, who was king of Sparta, was Agamemnon’s brother.

Personality of Agamemnon

Agamemnon is like Achilles; he has a short fuse and is very proud. He isn’t as strong as Achilles and is not a particularly good warrior. Agamemnon is very stubborn, which some might say makes him very proud. Even though Agamemnon doesn’t take many risks in battle, he still makes some progress for the Greeks. As king, Agamemnon’s insistence on leading a fight for his brother Menelaus’s stolen bride is loyal, but it’s also possible that this is just a cover for a raid to steal stuff. Unlike Achilles, Agamemnon cares most about himself, so he looks at other people based on how they affect him.

Mycenae

Mycenae
Credit: Greeka

Homer says that Zeus gave Agamemnon the king’s scepter and the right to rule over Mycenae and all the Achaean Greeks. Agamemnon is said to be a great warrior and a good leader of men because of this. Plato says his name comes from the Greek word menein, which means “to endure.” Mycenae, which is 15 km from the sea in the northern Peloponnese, did well, and Homer calls it a “well-built citadel,” “wide-wayed,” and “golden.” This mythical wealth has its backing from finding more than 15 kilograms of gold objects in shaft graves on the fortified acropolis, which still towers over the plain today. More digging has shown that the city was once 30,000 square meters big and had its initial inhabitation during the Neolithic era.

Agamemnon Gave the Gods His Daughter as a Gift

The sad story of Agamemnon’s life goes on. He is in charge of the Greek forces, but there is no wind at this crucial time, so the ships can’t sail to Troy. Agamemnon had angered Artemis by bragging that he was a better hunter, so she stopped the wind as a punishment. Agamemnon has to make a hard choice to break the curse and make the goddess happy. He sends Iphigenia, his daughter, to the port. The girl is happy because she thinks her father is making plans for her to marry the famous war hero Achilles. In the middle of all this trickery, Agamemnon gives his daughter to the gods as a sacrifice. Then, the wind starts to blow, and the Greeks set sail for Troy.

At home, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, is understandably very angry. The sacrifice of their daughter makes her hate her husband even more, and while Agamemnon is fighting in the Trojan War, she has an affair with his cousin Aegisthus.

Clytemnestra and Agamemnon

While Agamemnon is in exile in Sparta, he marries Clytemnestra, the daughter of the Spartan King. According to some versions of the tale, Clytemnestra was previously married, and to win her hand in marriage to Agamemnon, he had her former husband and their newborn boy put to death. This story helps to understand the hostility that exists in their marriage. Despite this, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra are the parents of four children: a male named Orestes, as well as three girls named Iphigenia, Electra, and Chrysothemis.

Menelaus & Helen

Menelaus & Helen
Credit: Greek Legends and Myths

In the meantime, in Greek mythology, Helen, Clytemnestra’s sister, is described as the most beautiful lady in the world. As a result, Sparta attracts suitors from far and wide who compete for the opportunity to win her hand in marriage. To forestall a bloody quarrel or war, each candidate must take the Oath of Tyndareus, in which she swears to defend her new spouse. Menelaus, Helen’s future husband and Agamemnon’s brother, becomes the heir apparent to the throne of Sparta due to their marriage. Menelaus was a favorite of Helen’s father.

The Trojan War’s Start

Homer’s Iliad, written in the 8th century BCE but based on an older oral tradition, is our principal source on the Trojan War. Ancient Greeks believed the 13th-century BCE battle was genuine. The myth represented the Greeks’ battle against foreign powers and talked of a period when men were better, more competent, and more honorable. After Homer, the Trojan War remained a regular motif in Greek and Roman literature, appearing in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Euripides’ Trojan Women, and Virgil’s Aeneid. Later authors, like Aeschylus, changed the narrative for a dramatic impact on a familiar audience. Artists in the following millennium also favored war scenes.

Paris, a Trojan prince, kidnapped Helen, Menelaus’s wife, from Sparta. Paris saw her as his compensation for choosing Aphrodite over Athena and Hera at Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. Menelaus begged Agamemnon to form a coalition of Greek troops and rescue Helen. Agamemnon did this, and forces from Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rhodes, and elsewhere in Greece went in a great fleet to Anatolia.

Agamemnon offended Artemis when he killed one of her holy stags and bragged he was a more excellent hunter than her. Artemis becalmed the Greek fleet as punishment, and only Iphigeneia’s sacrifice appeased her. Agamemnon presented his daughter as a sacrifice, but the goddess replaced a deer and appointed Iphigeneia a priestess at Tauris. In Aeschylus’ version, Agamemnon kills his young daughter, ensuring his wife’s lifelong hostility and his death.

The Differences between Achilles and Agamemnon

Achilles and Agamemnon
Credit: Pixabay

When the Greeks finally got to Troy, they spent most of the next nine years laying siege to the well-defended city. After that, some skirmishes didn’t lead anywhere, but the Iliad says that the most critical parts of the war were coming up soon.

But after another fight that didn’t end, things got more interesting when Menelaus fought Paris and Paris’ brother Hector, and then Ajax fought Paris’ brother Hector. In neither duel, someone died.

Even though he had skills, Koon stabbed Agamemnon in the arm. Koon’s punishment was losing his head, so the king returned to his camp. The next big thing was when the Trojans attacked the Greek camp and set fire to their ships. The Greeks were having a terrible time, and Agamemnon was mostly to blame. He had angered Achilles, the best fighter in all of Greece, when he broke the rules and stole the hero’s war booty, Briseis, a woman.

Because of this, Achilles got mad and wouldn’t fight. So Agamemnon sent Odysseus to get Achilles back into the fight by offering him a lot of money. Achilles said no, and Hector killed his best friend, Patroclus. Achilles put on his armor and killed Hector to give the Greeks the lead back in the war. Still, the war continued, and it wasn’t until Odysseus’ trick with the Wooden Horse, which let the Greeks get inside the city, that Troy finally fell.

Archaeology and the Trojan War

There may have been a war between the Mycenaeans and the Hittites in Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age. Excavations at Troy have shown that Troy VI (1750-1300 BCE), one of the many layers of the site’s history, is the most likely candidate for the city that Homer’s Trojan War tells. Homer’s description of “strong-built Troy” is a good match for impressive walls with several towers. The lower town is a vast 270,000 square meters protected by a rock-cut ditch. It looks like a grand city like the Troy of legend.

Troy VI was also partially destroyed. There was evidence of fire, and bronze arrowheads, spear tips, and slingshots embedded in the fortification walls, which strongly suggests some conflict. Herodotus’ dates for the Trojan War match the dates of these events (1250 BCE) and the site’s destruction. Homer’s ten-year war is unlikely to have happened, but the myth may get its basis from more minor, more frequent wars between the Mycenaeans and Hittites as they fought over trade routes in the Aegean.

Death and Return to Home

After a stormy trip, Agamemnon and Cassandra either landed in Argolis or went off course and landed in Aegisthus’ country. Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, was having an affair with Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes. When Agamemnon got home, either Aegisthus or Clytemnestra killed him. Pindar and the tragedians say that Agamemnon was killed in a bath by his wife alone. First, he was incapacitated by being wrapped in a blanket or net. Clytemnestra also killed Cassandra. People say that she did what she did because she was jealous of Cassandra. Also, she was angry that the killing of Iphigenia happened and that Agamemnon had gone to war over Helen.

Aegisthus and Clytemnestra then ruled Agamemnon’s kingdom for a while. Aegisthus claimed he had the right to get revenge because Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, had fed Thyestes his children. Thyestes said, “So perish all the race of Pleisthenes!” making Aegisthus’s Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, later killed Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, his mother, to get revenge for his father’s death. He did this with the help or encouragement of his sister Electra. This act angered the Erinyes, winged goddesses who used hound noses to find the evilest people and drive them crazy.

The Mask of Agamemnon and His Tomb

mask of agamemnon
Credit: Greece Is

The so-called “Death mask of Agamemnon” is a funeral mask made of beaten gold found in Grave Circle A, Mycenae. It dates back to the middle of the 16th century BCE. The mask, one of five, was made 400 years before Agamemnon. But it still shows that Homer was right when he said that Mycenae was “rich in gold”. Heinrich Schliemann dug up both Troy and Mycenae in the 18th century CE. He was the first person to say that it belonged to Agamemnon. Some experts think that putting a mask on the face of the dead person is one of Europe’s earliest attempts at making a portrait. The mask is always on display at the Athens National Archaeological Museum.

The famous tholos tomb called the Treasury of Atreus is just outside the acropolis of Mycenae. It is a large circular building with a corbelled roof that is 14.6 m in diameter and 13.5 m high. Reaching it was possible through a 36-m-long, 6-m-wide corridor with walls but no roof. Again, it is too early to be linked to the mythical Agamemnon because there are no written or pictorial records of it, and its making happened in the 14th century BCE. However, even though the Mycenaeans had been gone for a long time, Agamemnon cults started in later centuries. It happened especially at Mycenae, where his tomb was considered present. There were also considerations that the tomb of this great mythical king who had ruled Greece in the age of heroes is present at Chaeronea, Klazomenai, Tarentum, and Laconian.

Different Stories of Agamemnon

Athenaeus tells a story about how Agamemnon felt when his friend Argynnus died in the river Cephisus. He put him to rest and built a tomb and shrine to Aphrodite Argynnis in his honor. This story is also told, with minor changes, in Clement of Alexandria, Stephen of Byzantium (Kopai and Argunnos), and Propertius III.

Agamemnon’s life has been the subject of many old and new tragedies. The most famous of these is the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Moreover, Agamemnon was regarded as the most powerful sort of ruler in Peloponnesian tales and got reverence as Zeus Agamemnon in Sparta. Finally, his tomb got pointed out in the ruins of Mycenae and Amyclae.

In another story, he is the son of Pleisthenes, the son or father of Atreus, and the first husband of Aerope.

Art shows numerous similarities between Zeus, the ruler of the gods, and Agamemnon, the king of people. For example, his depiction is usually with a scepter and a crown, which are things that kings generally have.

Aetha was the name of Agamemnon’s horse. She was also one of the two horses that Menelaus rode at Patroclus’ funeral games.

Conclusion

Agamemnon is the King of Mycenae and a hero of the Trojan War in Greek mythology. Greek mythology tells about how good Agamemnon was on the battlefield. It also tells us how his pride and a fight with Achilles almost killed him. After Agamemnon gets home, his wife is known to have killed him.

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