The Fate Of King Agamemnon, The Mythical Leader Of The Greeks During The Trojan War


The Odyssey, written by Homer (flourished c. 800 BCE), focused on the long journey home of Odysseus after the Greek victory in the Trojan War and the events happening in his homeland of Ithaca during his absence. Despite this focus, the epic poem also briefly mentioned the fates of other Greek leaders. Through dialogue and plot, the reader (or in Homer’s day, the listeners) learns of how figures such as Nestor, Menelaus and Agamemnon all fared after they returned home from war. While the first two of the above-mentioned people lived out the rest of their days, the last, Agamemnon, was met with a treacherous end.

Agamemnon’s wife, Clytaemnestra (or Clytemnestra), was a stark contrast of character to Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus. While Penelope tricked and avoided suitors for the many years while Odysseus was away, Clytaemnestra succumbed to the advances of a seducer named Aegisthus. Not only did she have an affair with the man, but also she conspired with him against her husband. In her defense, however, Homer wrote that the gods were determined to make her fall for Aegisthus.

According to Homer, when Agamemnon returned to his homeland of Mycenae, the treacherous Aegisthus set out to greet the king with all the fanfare he could muster. He picked up Agamemnon with a chariot and transported him back to the palace, where a huge banquet had been prepared to welcome the tired king home. Not suspecting a thing, Agamemnon stuffed his belly with rich food and hazed his mind with splendid wine while dining with his enemies. After the king became thoroughly inebriated, Aegisthus gave a signal and twenty hidden assassins rushed into the room, murdering Agamemnon and all of his loyal followers. A second version of the myth gave Clytaemnestra a much more active role in her husband’s death. The Greek dramatist, Aeschylus (c. 525-455 BCE), rewrote the story so that Clytaemnestra murdered Agamemnon with a knife while he bathed.

After Agamemnon’s death, Aegisthus declared himself to be the tyrant of Mycenae and he successfully managed to keep power for seven years. Aegisthus’ luck, however, ran dry during his eighth year of power, for that year Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, decided to take revenge. Urged on by the desire for vengeance and given encouragement by the gods, Orestes left from where he had been staying in Athens to kill both Aegisthus and his own mother, Clytaemnestra. Orestes later featured in numerous other myths relating to the consequences of his matricide.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (The Wrath of Achilles, painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


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