Agamemnon vs. Achilles in The Iliad: Relationship & Differences

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  • 0:03 Agamemnon: Family & Loyalty
  • 1:05 Achilles: Divine Origins
  • 1:59 Fighting Over Briseis
  • 3:03 War Without Achilles &…
  • 4:32 Differences Between…
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

One is a bully and a warrior, the other is a lover and a thinker. In ''The Iliad,'' the two most important men of the Trojan War are as different as can be, and they're heading right into conflict - with each other.

Agamemnon: Family & Loyalty

A king vs. a hero, a bully vs. a thinker, a warrior vs. a lover. These describe the two most important and very different Achaean heroes, Agamemnon and Achilles, in Homer's epic poem The Iliad. This lesson focuses on the relationship and differences between the two.

Agamemnon is a powerful king of the Achaeans, and he's also powerful through family and marriage. His younger brother is Menelaus of Sparta, who won the hand of Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman ever. Helen falls in love with the Trojan prince Paris and runs away with him. So Agamemnon, who commands considerable power, gets his ships together and sails for the city of Troy. The ensuing Trojan War lasts 10 years but ends in victory for Agamemnon and Menelaus.

Agamemnon marries Clytemnestra, Helen's twin sister. Together, they have four children. When he cannot get a favorable wind to sail for Troy, Agamemnon sacrifices his eldest daughter, Iphigenia.

Achilles: Divine Origins

Achilles is the son of the sea goddess, Thetis, and her mortal husband, Peleus. Though he is still a human, Achilles is stronger than many. He is the leader of the Myrmidons.

Achilles has a childhood friend named Patroclus, who has come to war with him. Earlier in the war, before the start of the events in The Iliad, Achilles captured a princess named Briseis. The two have fallen in love, and Briseis imagines they will be married upon his return to his home of Phthia.

Achilles has a strange fate hanging over him. He has two choices: fight in the Trojan War and become a hero but die young or stay out of the war and live a long life but win no glory. Achilles chooses the former.

In short, Achilles is a very different type of man and leader than the older Agamemnon. The differences in their personalities and leadership play a huge role in the conflict between them.

Fighting over Briseis

Though they're the leaders of different tribes, both Achilles and Agamemnon are Achaeans. This means that they are both commanders of large groups of men, though Agamemnon is superior in rank and brings them into direct conflict with each other.

Problems between Agamemnon and Achilles start right around the same time as the events in The Iliad. Agamemnon has captured Chryseis a daughter of Chryses, a priest of the sun god Apollo. Chryses demands the return of his daughter and is met with derision and mockery from Agamemnon. Apollo, angry at this treatment, decides to send a plague into the Achaean camp.

Agamemnon doesn't act, so Achilles calls a meeting of the Achaean commanders. When the soothsayer says that the only way to end the plague is to return Chryseis, Agamemnon tells the assembled captains that he'll take one of their concubines if they make him return Chryseis. Achilles tells him that this is a terrible idea, so Agamemnon shouts back that he'll take Achilles' Briseis. Enraged, Achilles withdraws from the fighting the moment they take Briseis from his tents.

War Without Achilles & Reconciliation

Achilles turns to Patroclus for advice and comfort. The war, without Achilles or his Myrmidons in it, goes badly. A Trojan victory seems certain. Achilles asks his mother to help the Trojans and prepares to leave. Many men, including Agamemnon's councilor, Nestor, and Patroclus, try to convince Achilles to fight, since it's clear they won't win without him.

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