The famous Trojan War was a decade-long conflict that tickled the imagination of Ancient Greeks more than any other story. It’s a significant event in Greek mythology involving both mortals and deities. Thanks to works like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” by Homer, events continue to captivate.
One important person to take part in the Trojan War was Agamemnon. Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae, which is also referred to as Argos. He’s most known for his contributions to the Greek side of the conflict, but his life is more complex than most realize.
The Origins of Agamemnon
Agamemnon experienced great suffering even as a young child. He was born into a life of privilege, but it didn’t last long.
He was the son of Atreus and Aerope, the king and queen of Mycenae. Agamemnon had a single brother called Menelaus.
Long before Agamemnon and Menelaus were born, their father, Atreus, started a years-long battle with his own brother. Atreus had a twin brother named Thyestes. At some point, Thyestes and Atreus’ wife, Aerope, had an affair. When Atreus found out about it, he slaughtered Thyestes’ sons and fed them to him.
This event set the stage for a tumultuous future. Thyestes eventually fathered another son with his own daughter, Pelopia. That son was called Aegisthus. Aegisthus vowed to get revenge for his father, and he finally got the opportunity when Agamemnon was just a child.
Aegisthus murdered Atreus and took the throne of Mycenae. Agamemnon, his brother Menelaus, and his mother Aerope had no choice but to flee the city they called home. The trio found refuge with king the king of Sparta, Tyndareus.
Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus found peace in Sparta with King Tyndareus. They eventually married the king’s daughters. Agamemnon wed Clytemnestra. Meanwhile, Menelaus married Helen.
Clytemnestra and Agamemnon had several children. Their son was named Orestes. Meanwhile, their daughters were Iphigenia, Chrysothemis, and Electra.
After the death of King Tyndareus, Menelaus took over as the leader of Sparta. However, Agamemnon had unfinished business in his hometown. With Menelaus at the helm of Sparta, the two brothers returned to Mycenae. They drove out their cousin, Aegisthus, and their uncle, Thyestes.
Finally, Agamemnon sat on the Mycenae throne and reclaimed his father’s kingdom.
The Start of the Trojan War
If you’re even remotely familiar with the legends of Greek mythology, you already know what happens next. Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus, is the same Menelaus who triggers the start of the Trojan war. When Paris of Troy takes Helen, Menelaus’ wife, with the assistance of Aphrodite, Menelaus declares all-out war on the Trojans.
Agamemnon agrees to help his brother and uses his forces to fight on the side of the Achaeans.
The Wrath of Artemis
After recruiting Odysseus, Agamemnon and his forces depart from Aulis. But when they do, they encounter the goddess Artemis. There are a few different versions of why Artemis is enraged with Agamemnon and his forces. Some accounts say that it’s because she’s angry with all the men who will die. Other retellings day it’s because Agamemnon killed an animal that Artemis held dearly.
Either way, Artemis unleashed a slew of misfortunes onto the Mycenaean king and his forces. The goddess stopped the wind to prevent ships from moving. She also unleashed a plague and caused havoc. The misfortunes essentially prevented Agamemnon from proceeding to Troy and assisting his brother.
Eventually, the prophet Calchas informs Agamemnon that the only way to appease the goddess is to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia.
What happens next varies from one retelling to the next. In some retellings, Iphigenia willingly accepts her fate and is sacrificed. However, some stories say that Agamemnon tricked Iphigenia by telling her to marry the hero Achilles.
Another lighter version says that Agamemnon offered Iphigenia to Artemis. But instead of killing her, the goddess accepts a deer in her place and whisks the poor girl off to Tauris in the Crimean peninsula.
No matter which version of events is correct, Agamemnon uses Iphigenia to appease Artemis.
During the Trojan War, Agamemnon was a commander-in-chief to the Greek army. He’s not as skilled of a fighter as Achilles, but he is still respected among Greeks and Trojans. He’s even one of the warriors listed by Hector for a duel. More importantly, however, is his contributions as a strategist. According to Homer, Agamemnon single-handedly kills hundreds. The king’s contributions ultimately help the Greeks win the war.
After the Trojan War
After Achilles falls to battle and the Trojan War ends, Agamemnon returns home to Mycenae. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a happy ending. He goes back home with Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam. But upon his arrival, he realizes that his wife was unfaithful.
Like his father before him, Agamemnon’s wife has an affair that challenges his position as leader. Who’s the man that Clytemnestra has an affair with? It’s none other than Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus.
When Agamemnon retook Mycenae, he did not kill Aegisthus. Ultimately, that would be a decision he regretted.
Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plot to kill Agamemnon upon his return. How this occurs varies. Homer says that Aegisthus ambushes Agamemnon in a feasting hall under false pretenses. Meanwhile, Clytemnestra kills the captured Cassandra.
Other versions say that it was Clytemnestra is the one who killed Agamemnon. She slays him in the bath after hurling a blanket or net to ensnare him.
Either way, Agamemnon dies and his cousin, Aegisthus, reclaims the Mycenaean throne once more. Agamemnon’s son would eventually kill both betrayers.
Agamemnon Facts & Trivia:
Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae, also known as Argos.
His father was Atreus and Aerope, the king and queen of Mycenae. His Agamemnon’s brother was Menelaus.
Agamemnon and Menelaus fled Mycenae after their cousin, Aegisthus, took the throne.
Agamemnon married Clytemnestra, who was the daughter of Spartan king Tyndareus.
Clytemnestra and Agamemnon had four children. They included a single son, Orestes, and three daughters, Iphigenia, Chrysothemis, and Electra.
Eventually, Agamemnon would retake Mycenae and become king.
As the brother of Menelaus, Agamemnon fought alongside for Greeks during the Trojan War.
Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess Artemis.
He had an argument with Achilles over a slave called Briseis. The argument caused internal conflict that gave Trojans an advantage.
Agamemnon was betrayed by his wife and cousin, leading to his demise.
His family is thought to be the target of a multi-generational curse.
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