1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agamemnon

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AGAMEMNON, one of the most distinguished of the Greek heroes, was the son of Atreus (king of Mycenae) and Aërope, grandson of Pelops, great-grandson of Tantalus and brother of Menelaus. Another account makes him the son of Pleisthenes (the son or father of Atreus), who is said to have been Aërope’s first husband. Atreus was murdered by Aegisthus (q.v.), who took possession of the throne of Mycenae and ruled jointly with his father Thyestes. During this period Agamemnon and Menelaus took refuge with Tyndareus, king of Sparta, whose daughters Clytaemnestra (more correctly Clytaemestra) and Helen they respectively married. By Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon had three daughters, Iphigeneia (Iphianassa), Electra (Laodice), Chrysothemis, and a son, Orestes. Menelaus succeeded Tyndareus, and Agamemnon, with his brother’s assistance, drove out Aegisthus and Thyestes, and recovered his father’s kingdom. He extended his dominion by conquest and became the most powerful prince in Greece. When Paris (Alexander), son of Priam, had carried off his brother’s wife, he went round to the princes of the country and called upon them to unite in a war of revenge against the Trojans. He himself furnished 100 ships, and was chosen commander-in-chief of the combined forces. The fleet, numbering 1200 ships, assembled at the port of Aulis in Boeotia. But Agamemnon had offended the goddess Artemis by slaying a hind sacred to her, and boasting himself a better hunter. The army was visited by a plague, and the fleet was prevented from sailing by the total absence of wind. Calchas announced that the wrath of the goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of Iphigeneia (q.v.). The fleet then set sail. Little is heard of Agamemnon until his quarrel with Achilles (q.v.). After the capture of Troy, Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, fell to his lot in the distribution of the prizes of war. On his return, after a stormy voyage, he landed in Argolis. His kinsman, Aegisthus, who in the interval had seduced his wife Clytaemnestra, invited him to a banquet at which he was treacherously slain, Cassandra also being put to death by Clytaemnestra. According to the account given by Pindar and the tragedians, Agamemnon was slain by his wife alone in a bath, a piece of cloth or a net having first been thrown over him to prevent resistance. Her wrath at the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, and her jealousy of Cassandra, are said to have been the motives of her crime. The murder of Agamemnon was avenged by his son Orestes (q.v.). Although not the equal of Achilles in bravery, Agamemnon is a dignified representative of kingly authority. As commander-in-chief, he summons the princes to the council and leads the army in battle. He takes the field himself, and performs many heroic deeds until he is wounded and forced to withdraw to his tent. His chief fault is his overweening haughtiness, due to an over-exalted opinion of his position, which leads him to insult Chryses and Achilles, thereby bringing great disaster upon the Greeks. But his family had been marked out for misfortune from the outset. His kingly office had come to him from Pelops through the blood-stained hands of Atreus and Thyestes, and had brought with it a certain fatality which explained the hostile destiny which pursued him. 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 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 characterized by the sceptre and diadem, the usual attributes of kings.

See articles in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie and Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie.