Agamemnon (very resolute) In Greek mythology, king of Mycenae and Argos; son of Atreus and Aerope; married to Clytemnestra; father of Chrysothemis, Electra, Iphigeneia, Iphianassa, and Orestes, father of Chryses by his slave Chryseis, and father of Pelops and Teledamas by Cassandra; and brother of Menelaus. Agamemnon was commander of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Driven from Mycenae after the murder of Atreus by Atreus’s brother Thyestes, Agamemnon and Menelaus fled to Sparta, where King Tynadaeos gave them his daughters: Clytemnestra to Agamemnon and Helen to Menelaus. Menelaus inherited Tynadaeos’s kingdom, and Agamemnon drove out his uncle Thyestes from Mycenae; as king he extended the country’s boundaries. According to Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon, though vain and arrogant, was chosen to lead the Greek expedition to rescue his sister-in-law Helen, who
had been abducted by Paris. The expedition was stalled at Aulis because Agamemnon had offended Artemis. Calchas, a soothsayer, told Agamemnon that the goddess could be appeased only by the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia (or Iphianassa). Agamemnon tricked his wife, Clytemnestra, into sending Iphigenia to Aulis by telling her that Iphigenia was to be married to Achilles. But at Aulis Iphigenia was sacrificed despite the protest of Clytemnestra. Some accounts say that Artemis spared Iphigenia when the goddess beheld the girl’s innocence. Agamemnon displayed further arrogance and invited another plague on the expedition when he refused to accept a ransom from a priest of Apollo, Chryses, who wanted to redeem his daughter Chryseis, who had been given to Agamemnon as a war prize. Agamemnon then took Briseis, Achilles’ mistress. In response Achilles laid down his arms and withdrew from the war, though he eventually relented and became the major hero of the Trojan War. After the Greek victory at Troy, Agamemnon brought home his spoils, including the captive princess Cassandra, who had warned him that he would be killed by his wife. True to the curse of Cassandra (to be always right and never believed), he ignored her warning. His wife, Clytemnestra, prepared a welcoming bath of purification. When he stepped from the bath, she wrapped him in a binding garment, and her lover, Aegisthus, stabbed Agamemnon while Clytemnestra killed Cassandra. Agamemnon was worshipped by the Greeks as a hero. He appears in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (book 4); Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Choephoroe, Euripides’ Electra, Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenia in Tauris, and Orestes; Sophocles’ Electra and Ajax; Vergil’s Aeneid (book 6); Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 12); Seneca’s Agamemnon; and a host of modern works such as T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion, based on the Greek plays; Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra; Sartre’s Les Mouches (The Flies); and works by Giraudoux, Robinson Jeffers, Hofmannsthal, Racine, Shakespeare, and Tennyson.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow-Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante