Who is Agamemnon in The Iliad? - Character Analysis & Description

Instructor: Dori Starnes

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

He never takes responsibility for anything, uses his power to bully others, and even kills his own daughter to get better sailing weather. His blunders nearly cost his side the war. This man is barely fit to rule, and yet he is one of the most powerful Achaean commanders.

More a Warrior than a King

Imagine the biggest bully you know. He's big and strong, but not so smart. He picks on those smaller or weaker than himself, throws his weight around, and basically does whatever he likes, just because he can. Now give that bully a kingdom and soldiers at his command, and you're pretty close to the character of Agamemnon in The Iliad.

Though he is a great warrior, he is not much of a king. He hurts his own family, makes many mistakes, ignores his commanders, and almost loses the Trojan War over his stubbornness. This lesson will focus on the role and character analysis of Agamemnon in Homer's The Iliad.

Agamemnon as a Family Man

Agamemnon is the brother of Menelaus of Sparta, who married the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. When Helen ran off to Troy with Paris, Agamemnon called all the Achaeans together to help Menelaus get her back, and this became the Trojan War.

But while he cares quite a bit for his brother (or his brother's honor), Agamemnon is not particularly caring about the rest of his family. He is married to Clytemnestra, the twin sister of Helen. They had four children, all of whom play some role in mythology, but only one of whom matters to this story. That is his oldest, his daughter Iphigenia. Legend has it that when Agamemnon wanted to sail to Troy, the winds were against him. So, he sacrificed his own daughter to gain favorable winds, and made an enemy of his wife forever.

The priest Chryses asks Agamemnon for the return of his daughter

Agamemnon's Big Blunder

Agamemnon, while a great warrior, is not the smartest man in the war. (Nor the nicest, see below). Before Book 1 of The Iliad, he took the woman Chryseis as a prize of war and made her his concubine. Her father, Chryses, a priest of the sun god Apollo, demands her return. Agamemnon refuses, so Apollo sends a plague down into the Achaean camp, and many soldiers die. Agamemnon's councilors Odysseus and Nestor tell Agamemnon to return the girl to her father, but he refuses.

Finally, in Book 1, Agamemnon is convinced to return Chryseis, but on only one condition. He demands that the woman Briseis, who is the concubine of the great hero Achilles, be given to him in her place. Agamemnon is insistent, and Achilles is furious. But as Agamemnon is his leader, Achilles has no choice and Briseis is brought to Agamemnon's tents.

This colossal blunder nearly costs Agamemnon the war. Achilles refused to fight for him after that, and the battle without Achilles was a devastating loss for the Achaeans. Without Achilles, many warriors lost heart, and the warrior Patrokles, Achilles' closest friend, was killed. In Book 9, Agamemnon realizes at last how his much his mistake has cost them. So, he sends poor Briseis back to Achilles, saying he had never touched her.

This saves the war. During the funeral games for his friend Patrokles, Achilles offers Agamemnon the prize without even holding the contest. He tells everyone that he knows Agamemnon is the best. After the funeral rites are completed, Achilles returns to battle, and the Achaeans ultimately win the Trojan War and sack the city of Troy.

Agamemnon and Achilles argue over the concubine Briseis
Agamemnon and Achilles argue about the concubine Briseis

Not a Great Leader

Agamemnon's reasoning for taking Briseis from Achilles tells us all we need to know about his character. The man is a bully, and he especially cannot stand for anyone to have more or better than he does. This is why he decides he must steal Achilles' woman. Agamemnon says, 'Find me then some prize that shall be my own, lest I only among the Argives go without, since that were unfitting. '

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