Agamemnon

Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae, who commanded the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Parents: Atreus and Aerope
Siblings:
Menelaus
Consort:
Clytemnestra
Children:
Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes and Chrysothemis

The so-called Mask of Agamemnon which was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae, now believed to pre-date the legendary Trojan War by 300 years.

Early Life

Atreus murdered the sons of his twin brother Thyestes and fed them to him after discovering Thyestes’ adultery with his wife Aerope. Thyestes fathered Aegisthus with his own daughter, Pelopia, and this son vowed gruesome revenge on Atreus’ children. Aegisthus successfully murdered Atreus and restored his father to the throne. Aegisthus took possession of the throne of Mycenae and jointly ruled with Thyestes. During this period, Agamemnon and his brother, Menelaus, took refuge with Tyndareus, King of Sparta. There they respectively married Tyndareus’ daughters Clytemnestra and Helen. 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 king in Greece.

Sailing for Troy

When Paris took Menelaus’ wife, Helen, Agamemnon gathered the Greek forces to sail for Troy at Aulis, which was a port in Boeotia. However, Agamemnon incurred the wrath of the goddess Artemis because he had slain an animal sacred to Artemis. 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, which he did himself. The Greeks were then allowed to sail to Troy.

A fresco of Iphigenia's Sacrifice
Roman fresco of the sacrifice of Iphigenia. From Pompeii in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

The Trojan War

Agamemnon was the commander-in-chief of the Greeks during the Trojan War. He was considered to be one of the three best warriors on the Greek side.

 In the last year of the war, Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, one of Apollo‘s priests, was taken as a war prize by Agamemnon. He pleaded with Agamemnon to free his daughter but was met with little success. Chryses then prayed to Apollo for the safe return of his daughter, which Apollo responded to by unleashing a plague over the Greek Army. After learning from the prophet Calchas that the plague could be dispelled by returning Chryseis to her father, Agamemnon reluctantly agreed and released his prize. However, as compensation for his lost prize, Agamemnon demanded a new prize. As a result, Agamemnon stole a slave called Briseis, one of the spoils of war, from Achilles.

Roman fresco of Achilles’ surrender of Briseis to Agamemnon. From the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 1st c. AD, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Achilles withdrew from battle in response to Agamemnon’s actions and put the Greek army at risk of losing the war. Agamemnon, having realized Achilles‘ importance in winning the war against the Trojans, sent ambassadors begging for Achilles to return, offering him riches and the hand of his daughter in marriage, but Achilles refused, only being spurred back into action when his closest friend, Patroclus, was killed in battle.

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

Return to Greece

Whilst Agamemnon had been away, his wife, Clytmenestra, had become the lover of Aegisthus, her husband’s mortal enemy, and they had jointly ruled the kingdom of Mycenae.

On his return, they killed both him and Cassandra.