In Greek mythology, leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War; king of Mycenae (or Argos). He and Menelaus were sons of Atreus and suffered the curse laid upon Pelops. Agamemnon married Clytemnestra, and their children were Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes. To win favorable winds for the ships sailing against Troy, he sacrificed Iphigenia to Artemis and thus incurred the hatred of Clytemnestra.

After arriving at Troy, he quarreled bitterly with Achilles over possession of the captive princess Briseis. Agamemnon was forced to yield the girl to Achilles after the latter withdrew, with his troops, from the war. On his return home, Agamemnon was treacherously murdered by Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. To avenge his death, Orestes and Electra killed their mother.


Agamemnon appears in the legends primarily as the king placed, in the Iliad, in supreme command of the Achaean army. He is sometimes of Pelops or again of Tantalus (Table 2). In the Iliad he appears as king of Argos, or sometimes of Mycenae, and gives the throne of Argos to Diomedes (this last version comes in the Catalogue of Ships, a section which had been interpolated and is later than the rest of the poem). Finally, in the last version of all, Agamemnon was said to be the king of the country Lacedaemon, with his capital of Amyclae.

For his ancestry, see Aerope and Atreus. Agamemnon was married to Clytemnestra, who plays a very large part in his story. She was the sister of Helen and, like her, a daughter of Leda and Tyndareus (Table 19). She was first married to Tantalus the son of Thyestes, but Agamemnon simultaneously killed both Tantalus and a newly born son of Tantalus and Clytemnestra. After this double murder and the marriage of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon, which was far from welcome, her brothers, the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, pursued Agamemnon who had to take shelter with his father-in-law Tyndareus. Eventually Castor and Pollux agreed to make their peace with Agamemnon, but Clytemnestra's marriage, which had started with a crime, was under a curse, as the unfolding of the legend proves.

Once married to Clytemnestra, Agamemnon had three daughters, Chrysothemis, Laodice and Iphianassa, and a son, Orestes, the last child to be born. This is the earliest version of the legend. Subsequently there appeared on the scene Iphigenia (not the same person as Iphianassa) and finally, in place of Laodice, the tragic poets name Electra, a figure completely unknown to the author of the Iliad. Of all these children, the tragedians were most vividly aware of Iphigenia, Electra and Orestes.

The Trojan War: When a crowd of suitors was seeking to win Helen, Tyndareus, on the advice of Ulysses, bound them on oath to respect her decision and not to argue with the chosen suitor about who should have had her hand. Furthermore, should he be attacked, the others were obliged to come to his aid. After Paris had abducted Helen Menelaus came to Agamemnon to ask for his help, and Agamemnon reminder the former siutors of the oath they had taken and they formed the nucleus of the army which later attacked Troy. Agamemnon was unanimously chosen as commander-in-chief, either because of his personal bravery or as a result of a clever electoral campaign. The forces gathered at Aulis. In the Iliad Zeus immediately sent a favourable omen: after a sacrifice to Apollo, a snake leapt from the altar towards a nearby tree and swallowed eight small sparrows in the nest with their mother, making nine in all. Then the snake turned into a stone. The seer Calchas interpreted this as meaning that Zeus was intentionally giving a sign that Troy would be captured after ten years. Aeschylus had heard of another magic sign: a doe-hare big with young, torn to pieces by two eagles. Calchas interpreted this as meaning that Troy would be destroyed but that Artemis would be hostile to the Greeks.

According to a poem later than the Iliad (doubtless the Cypriot Songs), the Greeks, who did not know the way to Troy, made their first landing in Mysia and, after various skirmishes, were scattered by a storm, each man making his way back to his own country (see Achilles). Eight years after this setback the Greeks gathered at Aulis, but the ships could not sail because of a persistent calm. Calchas, when asked for the reason, replied that the calm was due to the wrath of Artemis. This anger had several possible causes: either that Agamemnon, when he killed a doe, had claimed that Artemis could have done no better, or that Atreus had not sacrificed the golden lamb to Artemis (see Atreus), or that Agamemnon had promised to sacrifice the most beautiful produce of the year to Artemis in the year in which his daughter Iphigenia had been born and had on that account not carried out his promise. For all these reasons the goddess required a sacrifice, namely Iphigenia. Agamemnon agreed to this either out of ambition or from anxiety for the general good and it swelled still further the grievances of Clytemnestra against her husband.

Once the expedition was under way the fleet put in at Tenedos where the latent hostility between Achilles and Agamemnon surfaced for the first time in a quarrel which foreshadowed the enmity which was to put the Greeks in grave danger before Troy. On Lemnos at about the same time, Agamemnon abandoned Philoctetes because his wound was malodorous and his cried disturbed the sacrifices.

There followed the first nine years of the siege. In the tenth year Agamemnon and Achilles took part in various piratical expeditions against the neighboring villages. From the spoils they brought back, Achilles took Briseis and Agamemnon took Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, the priest of Apollo. Chryses asked to be able to ransom his daughter but Agamemnon refused the request and, to punish him, Apollo caused a plague in the Greek army. At this point the Iliad begins. The general opinion of the army compelled Agamemnon to give up Chryseis but in return he demanded that Achilles should give him Briseis. This was the pretext for Achilles' anger; he refused and retired to his tent. Agamemnon the took steps to demand Briseis formally through two heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates. Achilles had no option but to give the girl back but he refused to fight. In compliance with a request from Thetis Zeus caused Agamemnon to have a misleading dream which allowed him to believe that he would be able to capture Troy without Achilles. Moreover, there was an ancient oracle which told Agamemnon that Troy would fall when discord arose in the Achaean camp.

The fighting began: Agamemnon took part in person and performed a number of remarkable feats but was wounded and had to withdraw from the battle. After the attack on the camp, he realized that total defeat faced him unless Achilles returned to fight alongside him; he made his peace with Achilles, restoring Briseis, promising him the hand of one of his daughters, and giving him rich gifts. From this moment onwards Agamemnon is hardly mentioned in the Iliad and Achilles becomes the central figure.

Later epics speak of other occasions on which Agamemnon was involved in the events which followed Hector's and Achilles' deaths, especially the fighting which broke out over Achilles' body and the disputes over who should have his weapons (see Ajax, son of Telamon, and Odysseus). The Odyssey tells how, after the capture of Troy, Agamemnon had as part of his share Cassandra, the prophetess and daughter of Priam, who bore him twins, Teledamus and Pelops.

The return of Agamemnon and his departure fro the Troad also gave rise to epic narratives. The Odyssey refers to a quarrel between him and Menelaus, who wanted to leave as soon as the war was ended, while Agamemnon wanted to stay on for a while to win the favour of Athena by giving her gifts. Poems about Agamemnon's return also told how, on the very point of embarking, he saw the ghost of Achilles who sought to make him stay by predicting all his future misfortunes. At the same time the apparition called for the sacrifice of Polyxena, one of the daughters of Priam.

When Agamemnon arrived back in his own country a spy, stationed by Aegisthus, his wife's lover, was on the look-out for him. Aegisthus invited Agamemnon to a great feast and, assisted by twenty men hidden in the banqueting hall, killed him and his companions. Other versions of the same legend speak of Clytemnestra taking part in Agamemnon's murder as well as that of her rival Cassandra. Pindar adds that she hated the whole family of Agamemnon so bitterly that she wanted to kill Orestes, her own son, as well. The accounts given by the tragic poets differ from each other. Sometimes, following Homer, Agamemnon is struck down while at table; sometimes he is killed in his bath, hampered by the shirt with sewn-up sleeves which Clytemnestra had given him. Hyginus says that the main figure in the murder was Oeax who was trying by these means to avenge his brother Palamedes; the latter had been stoned to death on Agamemnon's orders. Oeax seems to have told Clytemnestra that Agamemnon was preparing to replace her by Cassandra, and made her resolve to resort to crime. She is said to have killed him with an axe while he was sacrificing, and to have killed Cassandra at the same time. This story bears a very close resemblance to that of Aegiale and Diomedes.

Eventually Agamemnon was avenged by his son Orestes.


Table of Sources:
- Euripides, IA passim, esp. 1149fff, 337ff.
- Apollod. Epit. 2, 15; 3, 7
- Paus. 2, 18, 2; 2, 22, 2ff.
- Hyg. Fab. 88
- Hom. Il. 9, 142ff.
- Sophocles, El. 157
- Euripidea, Or. 23
- Hom. Il. 2, 299f
- Cic. De Div. 2, 30
- Ovid, Met. 12, 11ff.
- Aeschylus Agamemnon passim
- schol. on Hom. Il. 1, 59
- Apollod. Epit. 3, 17ff
- Sophocles, El. 566ff.
- Hyg. Fab. 98
- Euripides, IA 99
- schol. on Hom. Il. 1, 108
- Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 183
- Sophocles, Achaion Syllogos and Syndeipnoi (lost tragedies, Jebb-Pearson I p. 94ff. and II p. 198ff.)
- Sophocles, Philoct. passim
- Hom. Il. 1, 366ff.; Od. 8, 75ff.; Il. 2, 1ff.; 9, 92ff.; 19, 56ff.; Od. 11, 422; 547ff.; 3, 141ff.
- Paus. 2, 16, 6
- Hom. Od. 3, 263ff.; 4, 524; 11, 421ff.
- Pind. Pyth. 11, 17ff. (25ff.)
- Aeschylus, Ag. 1417
- Sophocles, El. 530
- Apollod. Epit. 6, 23
- Seneca, Ag. 875ff.
- Serv. on Virgil, Aen. 11, 268ff.
- Hyg. Fab. 117
- See M. Nilsson, Homer and Mycenae (London, 1933)
- P. Mazon, Iliad (edn; Paris, 1949), intro.
- L. Marrie, Arch. f. relig. Wiss. 23, p. 359ff.
- D. L. Page, History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley, 1959), pp. 127f. and 254f.

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