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The Women in Agamemnon's Life Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Nandita Saikia, India Aug 3, 2003


For a long time now, I've been entranced by the story of four of the Women who were a part of the mythical Greek warrior: Agamemnon who was the leader of the Greek forces at Troy. According to Homer he was the king of Mycenae but other sources say that he was the king of Argos.

What fascinates me though isn't quite so much the warrior himself but the stories of the women who played a part in his life: his first wife, Clytemnestra whose name means 'praiseworthy wooing'; two of his daughters: Electra and Iphigenia; and also his second wife, the doomed prophetess Cassandra whose name means 'she who entangles men'.

While sailing for Troy, the Greeks somehow managed to offend the Artemis, Goddess of the hunt (or Diana, as she is also known). In her anger, Artemis kept the Greek fleet in the bay of Aulis and prevented it from sailing to Troy, and so, in order to appease her, the prophet Calchas advised Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the Goddess.

Agamemnon followed the advice but he was not honest about his intent to sacrifice Iphigenia. He told both his daughter and his wife Clytemnestra that he intended to get her to marry the famous warrior Achilles. It was only much later that they realized what he'd actually planned and not too surprisingly, both Clytemnestra and Achilles objected to the plan but Agamemnon, true to his name (which means 'very resolute'), did not change his mind.

Iphigenia too initially pleaded for her life saying, "... to gaze upon the light is man's most cherished gift; that life below is nothingness, and whoever longs for death is mad. Better live a life of woe than die a death of glory!" (Iphigenia to Agamemnon. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1250) while (Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1185) Clytemnestra asked Agamemnon: "... suppose you sacrifice the child; what prayer will you utter, when it is done? What will the blessing be that you will invoke upon yourself as you are slaying our daughter?"

The interesting thing about Iphigenia's story is that there are two versions. In one she is actually killed while being sacrificed but in the other, the Goddess Artemis transports her to Taurus, a city on the Black Sea where she served as a priestess and replaced Iphigenia herself with an animal which was then sacrificed.

In the process, although the Greek fleet managed to sail to Troy, Iphigenia was lost to her mother. And while Agamemnon went on to win the Battle of Troy, and bring home one of the daughters of the king and queen of Troy as a concubine, Clytemnestra had an affair with Aegisthus.

When Agamemnon returned to Mycenae from the Trojan War, Cassandra saw the danger he was in since she had been given the gift of prophecy by the God Apollo who had wanted to seduce her. However, when she refused his advances he deprived her of the power of persuasion and so she was unable to convince anyone of what she saw. And so, her prophecy was ignored by Agamemnon and both she and Agamemnon were murdered by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. In his play 'The Libation Bearers (c. 460 BCE), Aeschylus says that Clytemnestra later used the sacrifice of Iphigenia to justify the murder of Agamemnon even though Iphigenia may not have actually died.

Some sources say that she served as the priestess at the Temple of Artemis at Taurus where she had to perform barbaric customs such as sending strangers to be butchered at the Goddess' altar. However, she firmly believed that it was the people who were in the wrong and (according to Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 390) she said, "Men of this country, being murderers, impute their sordid practice to divine command. That any god is evil I do not believe."

Aegisthus then ruled Mycenae with Clytemnestra until both of them were murdered seven years later by Agamemnon's son Orestes who was helped by his sister Electra. The Erinyes or Furies followed Orestes everywhere he went after he killed his mother right up to the time he sought judgment and was subsequently acquitted for the crime at the Aeropagus in Athens. In addition to killing Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, Orestes is also said to have helped his sister escape more than twenty years after she was sacrificed to Diana.



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Nandita Saikia

Nandita Saikia has had two books published: one on Business Communication and the other on Human Rights. She has has contributed to a number of publications on a wide range of subjects although her primary interests are domestic violence and choice inhibition.
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