King of Mycenae
Commander of the Acheans
Fifth century BC depiction of Agamemnon seated while holding his scepter.
Personal information
OffspringOrestes, Iphigenia, Electra, and Chrysothemis

In Greek mythology, Agamemnon (/æɡəˈmɛmnɒn/; Greek: Ἀγαμέμνων Agamémnōn) was a king of Mycenae who commanded the Acheans during the Trojan War. He was the son (or grandson) of King Atreus and Queen Aerope, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Iphigenia, Iphianassa, Electra, Laodike, Orestes and Chrysothemis.[1] Legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area.[2] Agamemnon was killed upon his return from Troy by Clytemnestra, or in an older version of the story, by Clytemnestra's lover Aegisthus.


His name in Greek, Ἀγαμέμνων, means "very steadfast", "unbowed" or "resolute".[3] The word comes from *Ἀγαμέδμων (*Agamédmōn) from ἄγαν, "very much" and μέδομαι, "think on".[4]


In the account of Dares the Phrygian, Agamemnon was described as ". . .blond, large, and powerful. He was eloquent, wise, and noble, a man richly endowed."[5]

Ancestry and early life

Agamemnon was a descendant of Pelops, son of Tantalus.[6] According to the common story (as told in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer), Agamemnon and his younger brother Menelaus were the sons of Atreus, king of Mycenae, and Aerope, daughter of the Cretan king Catreus.[7] However, according to another tradition, Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Atreus' son Pleisthenes, with their mother being Aerope, Cleolla, or Eriphyle. In this tradition, Pleisthenes dies young, with Agamemnon and Menelaus being raised by Atreus.[8] Agamemnon had a sister Anaxibia (or Astyoche) who married Strophius, the son of Crisus.[9]

Agamemnon's father, Atreus, murdered the sons of his twin brother Thyestes and fed them to Thyestes 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 murdered Atreus, restored Thyestes to the throne, and took possession of the throne of Mycenae and jointly ruled with his father. During this period, Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus took refuge with Tyndareus, King of Sparta.[10]

Chryses attempting to ransom his daughter Chryseis from Agamemnon.

In Sparta Agamemnon and Menelaus respectively married Tyndareus' daughters Clytemnestra and Helen. In some stories (such as Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides) Clytemnestra was already married to Tantalus, and Agamemnon murders him and the couple's infant son before marrying Clytemnestra.[11][12]

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra had four children: one son, Orestes, and three daughters, Iphigenia, Electra, and Chrysothemis. 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 prince in Greece.[10]

Agamemnon's family history had been tarnished by murder, incest, and treachery, consequences of the heinous crime perpetrated by his ancestor, Tantalus, and then of a curse placed upon Pelops, son of Tantalus, by Myrtilus, whom he had murdered. Thus misfortune hounded successive generations of the House of Atreus, until atoned by Orestes in a court of justice held jointly by humans and gods.

Trojan War

Main article: Trojan War

Sailing for Troy

Charles de La Fosse - Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie

Agamemnon gathers the reluctant Greek forces to sail for Troy. In order to recruit Odysseus, who is feigning madness so as to not have to go to war, Agamemnon sends Palamedes, who threatens to kill Odysseus' infant son Telemachus. Odysseus is forced to stop acting mad in order to save his son and joined the assembled Greek forces.[13] Preparing to depart from Aulis, a port in Boeotia, Agamemnon's army incurs the wrath of the goddess Artemis, although the myths give various reasons for this. In Aeschylus' play Agamemnon, Artemis is angry for she predicts that so many young men will die at Troy, whereas in Sophocles' Electra, Agamemnon has slain an animal sacred to Artemis, and subsequently boasts that he is her equal in hunting. Misfortunes, including a plague and a lack of wind, prevent the army from sailing. Finally, the prophet Calchas announces that the wrath of the goddess can only be propitiated by the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia.

Classical dramatizations differ on how willing either father or daughter are to this fate; some include such trickery as claiming she was to be married to Achilles, but Agamemnon does eventually sacrifice Iphigenia. Her death appeases Artemis and the Greek army set out for Troy. Several alternatives to the human sacrifice have been presented in Greek mythology. Other sources, such as Iphigenia at Aulis, say that Agamemnon is prepared to kill his daughter but that Artemis accepts a deer in her place and whisks her away to Tauris in the Crimean Peninsula. However, this version is widely considered to be the work of an interpolator, and not Euripides himself.[14] Hesiod says she became the goddess Hecate.

During the war, but before the events of the Iliad, Odysseus contrives a plan to get revenge on Palamedes for threatening his son’s life. By forging a letter from Priam, king of the Trojans, and caching some gold in Palamedes tent, Odysseus has Palamedes accused of treason and Agamemnon orders him to be stoned to death.[15]

The Iliad.

Achilles' surrender of Briseis to Agamemnon, from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, fresco, 1st century AD, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum

The Iliad tells the story of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles in the final year of the war. In Book One, following one of the Achaean Army's raids, Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, one of Apollo's priests, is taken as a war prize by Agamemnon. Chryses pleads with Agamemnon to free his daughter but meets with little success. Chryses then prays to Apollo for the safe return of his daughter. Apollo responds by unleashing a plague over the Achaean Army. The Prophet Calchas tells that the plague may be dispelled by returning Chryseis to her father. After bitterly berating Calchas for his painful prophecies, first forcing him to sacrifice his daughter and now to return his concubine, Agamemnon reluctantly agrees. However, Agamemnon demands a new prize from the army as compensation and seizes Achilles' prize, the beautiful captive Briseis. This creates deadly resentment between Achilles and Agamemnon, causing Achilles to withdraw from battle and refuse to fight.

Agamemnon is then visited in a dream by Zeus who tells him to rally his forces and attack the Trojans (in Book Two). After several days of fighting, including duels between Menelaus and Paris, and between Ajax and Hector, the Achaeans are pushed back to the fortifications around their ships. In Book Nine, Agamemnon, having realized Achilles's importance in winning the war, sends ambassadors begging for Achilles to return, offering him riches and the hand of his daughter in marriage. Achilles refuses, only being spurred back into action when Patroclus is killed in battle by Hector, eldest son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. In Book Nineteen, Agamemnon, reconciled with Achilles, gives him the offered rewards for returning to the war. Achilles sets out to turn back the Trojans and to duel with Hector. After Hector's death, Agamemnon assists Achilles in performing Patroclus' funeral in Book Twenty-three. Agamemnon volunteers for the javelin throwing contest, one of the games being held in Patroclus' honor, but his skill with the javelin is so well known that Achilles awards him the prize without contest.

Although not the equal of Achilles in bravery, Agamemnon was a representative of "kingly authority". As commander-in-chief, he summoned the princes to the council and led the army in battle. His chief fault was his overwhelming haughtiness; an over-exalted opinion of his position that led him to insult Chryses and Achilles, thereby bringing great disaster upon the Greeks.[10]

Agamemnon was the commander-in-chief of the Greeks during the Trojan War. During the fighting, Agamemnon killed Antiphus and fifteen other Trojan soldiers, according to one source.[16] In the Iliad itself, he is shown to slaughter hundreds more in Book Eleven during his aristea, loosely translated to "day of glory", which is the most similar to Achilles' aristea in Book Twenty-one. Even before his aristea, Agamemnon is considered to be one of the three best warriors on the Greek side, as proven when Hector challenges any champion of the Greek side to fight him in Book Seven, and Agamemnon (along with Diomedes and Ajax the Greater) is one of the three Hector most wishes to fight out of the nine strongest Greek warriors who volunteer.

End of the war

The suicide of Ajax depicted on Greek pottery by Exekias, now on display at the Château-musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer

According to Sophocles's Ajax, after Achilles had fallen in battle, Agamemnon and Menelaus award Achilles' armor to Odysseus. This angers Ajax, who feels he is now the strongest among the Achaean warriors and so deserves the armor. Ajax considers killing them, but is driven to madness by Athena and instead slaughters the herdsmen and cattle that had not yet been divided as spoils of war. He then commits suicide in shame for his actions. As Ajax dies he curses the sons of Atreus (Agamemnon and Menelaus), along with the entire Achaean army. Agamemnon and Menelaus consider leaving Ajax's body to rot, denying him a proper burial, but are convinced otherwise by Odysseus and Ajax's half-brother Teucer.[17] 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.[10]

Return to Greece and death

The assassination of Agamemnon, an illustration from Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church, 1897.

After a stormy voyage, Agamemnon and Cassandra land in Argolis, or, in another version, are blown off course and land in Aegisthus's country. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, has taken Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, as a lover. When Agamemnon comes home he is slain by Aegisthus (in the oldest versions of the story)[18] or by Clytemnestra. According to the accounts given by Pindar and the tragedians, Agamemnon is slain in a bath by his wife alone, after being ensnared by a blanket or a net thrown over him to prevent resistance.[19]

Orestes slaying Clytemnestra

In Homer's version of the story in the Odyssey, Aegisthus ambushes and kills Agamemnon in a feasting hall under the pretense of holding a feast in honor of Agamemnon's return home from Troy.[20] Clytemnestra also kills Cassandra. Her motivations are her wrath at the sacrifice of Iphigenia (as in the Oresteia and Iphigenia at Aulis) and her jealousy of Cassandra and other war prizes taken by Agamemnon (as in the Odyssey and works by Ovid).[10][21]

Aegisthus and Clytemnestra then rule Agamemnon's kingdom for a time, Aegisthus claiming his right of revenge for Atreus's crimes against Thyestes (Thyestes then crying out "thus perish all the race of Pleisthenes!",[22] thus explaining Aegisthus' action as justified by his father's curse). Agamemnon's son Orestes later avenges his father's murder, with the help or encouragement of his sister Electra, by murdering Aegisthus and Clytemnestra (his own mother), thereby inciting the wrath of the Erinyes (English: the Furies), winged goddesses who track down wrongdoers with their hounds' noses and drive them to insanity.

The Curse of the House of Atreus

Agamemnon's family history is rife with misfortune, born from several curses contributing to the miasma around the family. The curse begins with Agamemnon's great-grandfather Tantalus, who is in Zeus's favor until he tries to feed his son Pelops to the gods in order to test their omniscience, as well as stealing some ambrosia and nectar. Tantalus is then banished to the underworld, where he stands in a pool of water that evaporates every time he reaches down to drink, and above him is a fruit tree whose branches are blown just out of reach by the wind whenever he reaches for the fruit.[23] This begins the cursed house of Atreus, and his descendants would face similar or worse fates.[24]

Family Tree of the House of Atreus

Later, using his relationship with Poseidon, Pelops convinces the god to grant him a chariot so he may beat Oenomaus, king of Pisa, in a race, and win the hand of his daughter Hippodamia. Myrtilus, who in some accounts helps Pelops win his chariot race, attempts to lie with Pelops's new bride Hippodamia. In anger, Pelops throws Myrtilus off a cliff, but not before Myrtilus curses Pelops and his entire line.[23] Pelops and Hippodamia have many children, including Atreus and Thyestes, who are said to have murdered their half-brother Chrysippus. Pelops banishes Atreus and Thyestes to Mycanae, where Atreus becomes king. Thyestes later conspires with Atreus's wife, Aerope, to supplant Atreus, but they are unsuccessful. Atreus then kills Thyestes' son and cooks him into a meal which Thyestes eats, and afterwards Atreus taunts him with the hands and feet of his now dead son. Thyestes, on the advice of an oracle, then has a son with his own daughter Pelopia. Pelopia tries to expose the infant Aegisthus, but he is found by a shepherd and raised in the house of Atreus. When Aegisthus reaches adulthood Thyestes reveals the truth of his birth, and Aegithus then kills Atreus.[25]

Atreus and Aerope have three children, Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Anaxibia. The continued miasma surrounding the house of Atreus expresses itself in several events throughout their lives. Agamemnon is forced to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods and allow the Greek forces to sail for Troy. When Agamemnon refuses to return Chryseis to her father Chryses, he brings plague upon the Greek camp. He is also later killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, who conspires with her new lover Aegisthus in revenge for the death of Iphigenia. Menelaus's wife, Helen of Troy, runs away with Paris, ultimately leading to the Trojan War. According to book 4 of the Odyssey, after the war his fleet is scattered by the gods to Egypt and Crete. When Menelaus finally returns home, his marriage with Helen is now strained and they produce no sons.[20] Both Agamemnon and Menelaus are cursed by Ajax for not granting him Achilles's armor as he commits suicide.[17]

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra have three remaining children, Electra, Orestes, and Chrysothemis. After growing to adulthood and being pressured by Electra, Orestes vows to avenge his father Agamemnon by killing his mother Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. After successfully doing so, he wanders the Greek countryside for many years constantly plagued by the Erinyes (Furies) for his sins. Finally, with the help of Athena and Apollo he is absolved of his crimes, dispersing the miasma, and the curse on house Atreus comes to an end.[24]

Other stories

Athenaeus tells a tale of how Agamemnon mourns the loss of his friend or lover Argynnus, when he drowns in the Cephisus river.[26] He buries him, honored with a tomb and a shrine to Aphrodite Argynnis.[27] This episode is also found in Clement of Alexandria,[28] in Stephen of Byzantium (Kopai and Argunnos), and in Propertius, III with minor variations.[29]

The fortunes of Agamemnon have formed the subject of numerous tragedies, ancient and modern, the most famous being the Oresteia of Aeschylus. In the legends of the Peloponnesus, Agamemnon was regarded as the highest type of a powerful monarch, and in Sparta he was worshipped under the title of Zeus Agamemnon. His tomb was pointed out among the ruins of Mycenae and at Amyclae.

In works of art, there is considerable resemblance between the representations of Zeus, king of the gods, and Agamemnon, king of men. He is generally depicted with a sceptre and diadem, conventional attributes of kings.

Agamemnon's mare is named Aetha. She is also one of two horses driven by Menelaus at the funeral games of Patroclus.[30]

In Homer's Odyssey Agamemnon makes an appearance in the kingdom of Hades after his death. There, the former king meets Odysseus and explains just how he was murdered before he offers Odysseus a warning about the dangers of trusting a woman.[31]

Agamemnon is a character in William Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan War.

In Frank Herbert's Dune, the House of Atreides trace themselves back to the House of Atreus. At a key point in Children of Dune, Alia Atreides, in a struggle with her ancestral memories, hears Agamemnon shouting "I, your ancestor Agamemnon, demand audience!"

In media and art

Visual arts

General works

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin - Clytemnestra and Agamemnon

With Iphigenia

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Sacrifice of Iphigenia

With Achilles

Jacques-Louis David - The Anger of Achilles

Portrayal in film and television

See also


  1. ^ Homer, Iliad 9.145.
  2. ^ Leeming, David (2005). "Argos". Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515669-2.
  3. ^ Graves, Robert (2017). The Greek Myths - The Complete and Definitive Edition. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 418 & 682. ISBN 9780241983386.
  4. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 8.
  5. ^ Dares Phrygius, History of the Fall of Troy 13
  6. ^ For a discussion of the house of Tantalus see Gantz, pp. 531–556. For Agamemnon's genealogy see, Grimal, p. 526, Table 2, and p. 534, Table 13.
  7. ^ Grimal, s.v. Menelaus; Hard, pp. 355 Archived 2022-01-13 at the Wayback Machine, 507 Archived 2021-05-19 at the Wayback Machine, 508 Archived 2021-05-06 at the Wayback Machine; Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 517; Gantz, p. 552; Parada, s.v. Agamemnon; Euripides, Helen 390–392 Archived 2021-05-17 at the Wayback Machine, Orestes 16 Archived 2021-04-30 at the Wayback Machine; Hyginus, Fabulae 97 Archived 2019-03-29 at the Wayback Machine; Apollodorus, E.3.12 Archived 2021-04-30 at the Wayback Machine; Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (citing "Homer" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most) and Scholia on Tzetzes' Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (citing "Homer" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137c Most). They are also the sons of Atreus, in the Iliad and Odyssey, see for example Iliad 11.131 Archived 2021-04-30 at the Wayback Machine, Odyssey 4.462, although Aerope is not mentioned (see Gantz, p. 522). See also Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 4–5 Archived 2021-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, (Atreus as father, no mention of mother); Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 138 Most [= fr. 195 MW], and Sophocles, Ajax 1295–1297 Archived 2021-05-02 at the Wayback Machine (Aerope as mother, no mention of father).
  8. ^ Hard, pp. 355 Archived 2022-01-13 at the Wayback Machine, 508 Archived 2021-05-06 at the Wayback Machine; Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 517; Collard and Cropp 2008b, p. 79; Gantz, pp. 552–553; Parada, s.v. Agamemnon. For Aerope as mother see: Apollodorus, 3.2.2 Archived 2021-12-17 at the Wayback Machine; Dictys Cretensis, 1.1 Archived 2020-11-11 at the Wayback Machine; Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (citing "Hesiod" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most) and Scholia on Tzetzes' Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (citing "Hesiod" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137c Most). For Cleolla, see Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (citing "Hesiod, Aeschylus, and some others" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most). For Eriphyle see Gantz, p. 553 (citing Scholia on Euripides Orestes 4).
  9. ^ Hard, p. 566 Archived 2021-06-24 at the Wayback Machine; Gantz, p. 223; Parada, s.vv. Anaxibia 4, Astyoche 6. For Anaxibia as the sister's name see Pausanias, 2.29.4; Dictys Cretensis, 1.1 Archived 2020-11-11 at the Wayback Machine; Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most); Scholia on Tzetzes' Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137c Most). For Astyoche, as the sister's name, see Hyginus, Fabulae 117 Archived 2019-03-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  11. ^ Euripides. "Iphigenia in Aulis, lines 1148-1152". Poetry in Translation.
  12. ^ Tzetzes, John. "Chiliades 1.18 line 463-465". Classical Texts Library.
  13. ^ "APOLLODORUS, THE LIBRARY EPITOME - Theoi Classical Texts Library". Archived from the original on 2021-05-18. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  14. ^ Richard Rutherford, in John Davie (tr.), Euripides: The Bacchae and Other Plays, London, Penguin, 2005, pp. 174, 326–7.
  15. ^ "Ovid, Metamorphoses XII-XV". Archived from the original on 2022-03-03. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  16. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 114 Archived 2019-03-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ a b "Sophocles - The Seven Plays". Archived from the original on 2021-06-05. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  18. ^ Homer, Odyssey 3:266
  19. ^ Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1381–1385 Archived 2022-03-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ a b Homer (2003). The Odyssey. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. pp. 48–49, 140. ISBN 9781593080099.
  21. ^ Haynes, Natalie (March 28, 2022). "Is Clytemnestra an Archetypically Bad Wife or a Heroically Avenging Mother?". Literary Hub. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  22. ^ Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1602.
  23. ^ a b "Pindar, Olympian, Olympian 1 For Hieron of Syracuse Single Horse Race 476 B. C." Archived from the original on 2021-02-27. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  24. ^ a b "The Project Gutenberg eBook of The House of Atreus by Aeschylus". Archived from the original on 2021-02-10. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  25. ^ "Apollodorus, Epitome, book E, chapter 2". Archived from the original on 2021-06-05. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  26. ^ Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles. "Argynnus". A Latin Dictionary. Perseus Project. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  27. ^ Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae ('The Learned Banqueters') 13.603d-e.
  28. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus II.38.2
  29. ^ Butler, Harold Edgeworth & Barber, Eric Arthur, eds. (1933) The Elegies of Propertius. Oxford: Clarendon Press; p. 277
  30. ^ Pausanias, 5.8.3 Archived 2022-03-19 at the Wayback Machine; Plutarch, Moralia. How the Young Man Should Study Poetry 12.
  31. ^ Homer, Odyssey 11.385–465 Archived 2022-03-19 at the Wayback Machine.

General references

Secondary sources

Primary sources