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The so-called ' Mask of Agamemnon'. Discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae. Whether it represents an individual, and who, remains unknown.

In Greek mythology, Agamemnon ("very resolute") / (ancient Greek: Ἀγαμέμνων) is the son of King Atreus of Mycenae and Queen Aerope; the brother of Menelaus and the husband of Clytemnestra; different mythological versions make him the king either of Mycenae or of Argos. When Helen, the wife of Menelaus, was abducted by Paris of Troy, Agamemnon was the commander of the Achaeans in the ensuing Trojan War. Upon his return from Troy he was murdered (according to the fullest version of the oldest surviving account,Odyssey Book 11, l.409f.) by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife Clytemnestra, who herself slew Cassandra, Agamemnon's mistress, as she clung to him. In old versions of the story: "The scene of the murder, when it is specified, is usually the house of Aegisthus, who has not taken up residence in Agamemnon's palace, and it involves an ambush and the deaths of Agamemnon's followers too". In some later versions Clytemnestra herself does the killing, or they do it together, in his own home.

Historical prototype

Hittite sources mention URUAkagamunaš, ruler of URUAhhiyawa (land of Achaeans) in the fourteenth century BC. This is a possible prototype of the Agamemnon of mythology.

Early life

Atreus was murdered by Aegisthus, who took possession of the throne of Mycenae and ruled jointly with his own father Thyestes, Atreus´twin brother. During this period Agamemnon and his brother, Menelaus, took refuge with Tyndareus, king of Sparta. There they respectively married Tyndareus's daughters Clytemnestra and Helen. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra had four children: one son, Orestes, and three daughters, Iphigenia, Electra and Chrysothemis. Menelaus succeeded Tyndareus in Sparta, while Agamemnon, with his brother's assistance, drove out Aegisthus and Thyestes to recover his father's kingdom. He extended his dominion by conquest and became the most powerful prince in Greece.

Agamemnon's family history had been marred by rape, murder, incest, and treachery, a result of the curse placed upon Pelops by Myrtilus, whom he had murdered. Thus misfortune hounded the entire House of Atreus.

The Trojan War

Agamemnon gathered the reluctant Greek forces to sail for Troy. Preparing to depart from Aulis, which was a port in Boeotia, Agamemnon's army incurred the wrath of the goddess Artemis. There are several reasons throughout myth for such wrath: in Aeschylus' play Agamemnon, Artemis is angry for the young men who will die at Troy, whereas in Sophocles' Electra, Agamemnon has slain an animal sacred to Artemis, and subsequently boasted that he was Artemis's equal in hunting. Misfortunes, including a plague and a lack of wind, prevented the army from sailing. Finally, the prophet Calchas announced that the wrath of the goddess could only be propitiated by the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia. Classical dramatisations differ on how willing either father or daughter were to this fate, some include such trickery as claiming she was to be married to Achilles, but Agamemnon did eventually sacrifice Iphigenia. Her death appeased Artemis, and the Greek army set out for Troy. Several alternatives to the human sacrifice have been presented in Greek mythology. Other sources, such as Iphigenia at Aulis, claim that Agamemnon was prepared to kill his daughter, but that Artemis accepted a deer in her place, and whisked her to Taurus in Crimea. Hesiod said she became the goddess Hecate.

Agamemnon was the commander-in-chief of the Greeks during the Trojan War. During the fighting, Agamemnon killed Antiphus. Agamemnon's teamster, Halaesus, later fought with Aeneas in Italy. The Iliad tells the story of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles in the final year of the war. Agamemnon took an attractive slave and spoil of war Briseis from Achilles. Achilles, the greatest warrior of the age, withdrew from battle in revenge and nearly cost the Greek armies the war.

Although not the equal of Achilles in bravery, Agamemnon was a dignified representative of kingly authority. As commander-in-chief, he summoned the princes to the council and led the army in battle. He took the field himself, and performed many heroic deeds until he was wounded and forced to withdraw to his tent. His chief fault was his overwhelming haughtiness. An over-exalted opinion of his position led him to insult Chryses and Achilles, thereby bringing great disaster upon the Greeks.

After the capture of Troy, Cassandra, doomed prophetess and daughter of Priam, fell to Agamemnon's lot in the distribution of the prizes of war.

Return to Greece

Orestes slaying Aegisthus

After a stormy voyage, Agamemnon and Cassandra landed in Argolis or were blown off course and landed in Aegisthus' country. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, had taken a lover, Aegisthus, and they invited Agamemnon to a banquet at which he was treacherously slain. According to the account given by Pindar and the tragedians, Agamemnon was slain by his wife alone in a bath, a blanket of cloth or a net having first been thrown over him to prevent resistance. Clytemnestra also killed Cassandra. Her wrath at the sacrifice of Iphigenia, her jealousy of Cassandra, and the possibility of going to war for Helen's affection are said to have been the motives for her crime. Aegisthus then ruled Agamemnon's kingdom for a time, but the murder of Agamemnon was eventually avenged by his son Orestes with the help of his daughter Electra by murdering their own mother.


Genealogy of Agamemnon

Other stories

Athenaeus tells a story of how Agamemnon mourned the loss of his eromenos Argynnus, a beautiful Boeotian boy, when he drowned in the Cephisus river. He buried him, honored with a tomb and a shrine to Aphrodite Argynnis. (The Deipnosophists of Athenaeus of Naucratis, Book XIII Concerning Women, p. 3) This episode is also found in Clement of Alexandria (Protrepticus II.38.2), in Stephen of Byzantium (Kopai and Argunnos), and in Propertius, III with minor variations.

The fortunes of Agamemnon have formed the subject of numerous tragedies, ancient and modern, the most famous being the Oresteia of Aeschylus. In the legends of the Peloponnesus, Agamemnon was regarded as the highest type of a powerful monarch, and in Sparta he was worshipped under the title of Zeus Agamemnon. His tomb was pointed out among the ruins of Mycenae and at Amyclae.

Another account makes him the son of Pleisthenes (the son or father of Atreus), who is said to have been Aerope's first husband.

In works of art there is considerable resemblance between the representations of Zeus, king of the gods, and Agamemnon, king of men. He is generally characterized by the sceptre and diadem, the usual attributes of kings.

The most recent interpretation, Troy, depicts Agamemnon in a completely different light: in this adaptation, he is the primary villain of the movie, a cruel and power-hungry warlord who seeks to control the Aegean, for which he has to conquer Troy. He cares nothing for Menelaus' marriage and sees it as a mere excuse to go to war with Troy. In the end, during the Sack of Troy, he attacks Briseis, whose romance with Achilles nearly cost him the Trojan War, and tells her she will be his personal slave. In response, she stabs and kills him. He was portrayed by Scottish actor Brian Cox.

Agamemnon´s mare was named Aetha, that was also one of the pair driven by Menelaus at the funeral games of Patroclus.

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