Agamemnon, the Pathetic Despot: Reading Characterization in Homer

  Porter, Andrew. 2019. Agamemnon, the Pathetic Despot: Reading Characterization in Homer. Hellenic Studies Series 78. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

5. The Traditional Characterization of Agamemnon

What has emerged from a consideration of Agamemnon’s appearances in person, name, or through retrospective narrative, is the tenor of his characterization in the Iliad and Odyssey. As I have noted throughout the foregoing chapters, Agamemnon’s involvement in other story patterns, such as that contained in the Odyssey, provides helpful background for understanding Agamemnon’s characterization in the Iliad. In this chapter, after a review of Agamemnon’s character traits, I will further argue that particular story patterns such as Agamemnon’s kakos nostos, but also the miasma and cursed family history of the House of Atreus (potentially alluded to in both epics), are influencing the presentation (and reception) of Agamemnon in the Iliad (and Odyssey).

The picture of Agamemnon embedded within the Homeric epics, is, on the whole, quite unfavorable. Certain descriptive traits have recurred in the foregoing chapters. As a leader and character, there appears a rather consistent portrayal of Agamemnon as: 1. impetuous, thoughtless, foolish, and rash; 2. arrogant, imperious, irreverent, and insulting; and 3. inept and unconvincing. A better character trait, albeit still somewhat ambivalent, is Agamemnon’s “stalwart” nature when a warrior in battle, an attribute we will deal with fourth, if only to conclude our summary on a better note. While some of my English word choices to describe Agamemnon are influenced by Greek, a taxonomy based solely upon individual Greek words would prove insufficient. [1] There is, necessarily, also overlap in taxonomy. Yet the foregoing terms, their division and arrangement, allow us to look over our findings from various story contexts as threads woven back together to display a tapestry of Agamemnon’s characterization. Further, as we have seen, the poet often portrays Agamemnon with only limited direct comment by himself or another character. Instead, the audience is left to draw conclusions based upon its traditional knowledge and the tenor of the words or actions of a particular character in a local narrative moment as it transpires.

5.1 Impetuous, Thoughtless, Foolish, and Rash

In our consideration of Odyssey 11, we noted a string of interrogatives that ensued, employing the rhetorical device of the “erroneous question,” which would have struck the audience, who knew how Agamemnon died, with the full force of metonymic irony. [6] No less an emphasis was discernible in the priamel with its twist (cardinal point) and expanded narrative that formed Agamemnon’s sorry reply. The tension created for the poet’s audience (not to mention Agamemnon himself) underscored Agamemnon’s utter thoughtlessness in regard to the potential danger for himself and his men. They all experienced complete surprise at the bloody turn of events upon their homecoming. The focus of this scene was on Odysseus taking Agamemnon as an example to avoid and to do this by careful forethought. Further, the traditional idiom used by Agamemnon to introduce this second advisement to Odysseus, “But this other matter to you I speak, but you cast [this] in your heart” (ἄλλο δέ τοι ἐρέω, σὺ δ’ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσιν), was, as we saw, a formula that yielded important implications in context. In its other occurrences the formula was used by a character to suggest the presence of extremely fervent emotion and personal participation in the information being shared. It also provided some form of imminent consequences (almost always menacing). The formula was most often followed by a very strong warning or plea. I suggested that the strong emotion of Agamemnon coupled with an injunction to Odysseus to act prudently formed a metonymic caution. Through the idiomatic cue of an emotional warning then, we saw the poet’s portrayal of Agamemnon as an example to be avoided. The same paradigmatic portrayal of Agamemnon was noted, moreover, in our discussion of Odyssey 3. [7] There, Odysseus’ retort sought to reinforce Agamemnon as a paradigm that portended imminent danger to be avoided at all costs by thoughtful planning.

Next, in Iliad 11, even the otherwise stalwart nature of Agamemnon as a warrior in that book’s action is tainted somewhat with a rash impetuousness. [15] I remarked that the whole assault by the Achaians, led without preamble by Agamemnon, lacked many traditional elements of an anticipatory battle sequence: the sacrifice, the meal, the gathering of the army, the review of the troops, and the exhortation to battle. All that the troops ever got was a quick yell. There appeared a suggestive peculiarity in the brevity of the whole scene, in the dearth of traditional cues or expectable elements—hardly what we might expect from the poet in a scene involving such a central character. It is ironic that the longest of the arming scenes in the Iliad should be accompanied by so little else, other than the Achaian leader fervently rushing ahead of his forces. Ironic too, was the placement of this scene in the Iliad poet’s song. After all, as I suggested, one could hardly credit the tradition with the minute ordering of aristeia within the poet’s story as a whole. The poet perhaps meant to show, not Agamemnon’s lack of fighting prowess (which is never really in doubt), but rather, his impetuous leadership style. The rash leadership style of Agamemnon comes to the fore again in book 14, when Agamemnon, however much he wished to deny the import of his authoritarian call for a nostos, does a poor job in his attempt to revise the past. [16] Despite Agamemnon’s plea and assurance that he had not in fact issued an authoritative command for a general nostos but just an open-ended offer and non-coercive invitation, he was plainly backtracking. He had acted rashly, and from a leadership perspective, foolishly and thoughtlessly. He miscalculated the reaction of his philoi, and he was doing all he could afterwards simply to save face.

5.2 Arrogant, Imperious, Irreverent, and Insulting

Further, we noted that Agamemnon was also excessively harsh as the implications of one idiom suggested. It was not good enough for Agamemnon to send the priest away with a stern warning, but there was also a threatening boast in his tone. The priest’s daughter was to be taken “far from [her] fatherland” (τηλόθι πάτρης). We saw that this expression is always associated with the misery of permanent separation experienced by an individual because of the loss of one’s fatherland, but also the effect that this loss has on another. It assumes Chryseïs’ loss of a homeland, but also a significant disruption of the oikos and its normal function for Chryses himself. The priest’s daughter would not be married off, but taken as booty, and Chryses would be left at a loss. Yet, none of this concerned Agamemnon. He instead taunted Chryes with the future repeated rape of his daughter (ἐμὸν λέχος ἀντιόωσαν). His brash and irreverent response had unfortunate consequences, however, in the ensuing narrative, not just for himself but also for the whole Greek expedition. They too would experience loss. Apollo’s plague ensued, resulting in the burning of continual pyres (αἰεὶ δὲ πυραὶ νεκύων καίοντο θαμειαί), a penalty prayed for by the priest.

Further, while grudgingly agreeing to return his concubine Chryseïs to her father to save the warrior host, Agamemnon imperiously demanded that he receive a compensatory geras, even though as Achilles immediately observed, the distribution of the spoils had already been made. Agamemnon simply ignored Achilles’ response. The immediate effect of Agamemnon’s imperiousness was intense eris between the two that formed the backdrop for much of the Iliad. We noted that Agamemnon’s rejection of Achilles’ response (that it was not just for Agamemnon to take his geras) brought together words that denoted a complete rejection of any need for Achilles at all. The joining of “I do not care” (οὐκ ἀλεγίζω) and “I do not have regard” (οὐδ’ ὄθομαι) created an emphatic response by Agamemnon. Agamemnon’s arrogant imperiousness was resolute. Second, the proverbial comment of Achilles, that it is better for humans to obey the gods since this brings their active attention and response, stood in direct opposition to Agamemnon’s irreverent reaction to the priest of Apollo. Agamemnon’s irreverence also stands in opposition to the voices of his own army, which he ignored. [18] We need also to think, as I noted in Chapter 4, of the placement of this scene at the outset of the singer’s rendition. [19] Its placement is a function of the singer’s choice where to begin (“from which point” in the prooimion). The singer is in competition with his peers in producing the most impressive story, and where he begins suggests that he has an interest in displaying aspects of Agamemnon’s character.

While uttered in the heat of argument, nevertheless we considered how Achilles’ use of “dog-face” (κυνῶπα) in Iliad 1 was especially suggestive of Agamemnon’s hubristic actions and attitude. We saw that dogs are most strongly characterized as animals that act to scavenge the corpses of fallen heroes. The use of this term for humans carried connotations that suggested the basest of qualities and a very negative stigma. It placed Agamemnon in the adversary’s camp as one who was working against the Achaians’ best interests and was the object of disgust. Further, the traditional term “dog-face” (κυνῶπα) used in book 1 appeared to have affected the poet’s choice of words in book 9. There, the poet had Achilles say of Agamemnon: “He would not certainly / dare, dog though he is, to look upon my face” (οὐδ’ ἂν ἔμοιγε / τετλαίη κύνεός περ ἐὼν εἰς ὦπα ἰδέσθαι). Agamemnon’s “dog-likeness” was not the only point of resonance with book 1 that I noted. Rather, within two lines, Achilles described Agamemnon’s character as one of “constant shamelessness” (αἰὲν ἀναιδείην, 9.372), uttering the same charge he used eight books earlier (ἀναιδείην, 1.149; ἀναιδές, 1.158). It was no coincidence that the poet had Achilles yell “dog-face” and “shameless” in almost the same breath on two separate occasions. The association of these two terms, rare in Homer, but really quite apposite, suggests that the poet was attached to the sort of referential qualities these words bring forward for Agamemnon.

5.3 Inept and Unconvincing

The first sure indication of Agamemnon’s inept and unconvincing leadership style came in the first book of the Iliad. [26] Within the quarrel Agamemnon intends to move from argument to action with the “rhetorical fulcrum” “But now come!” (νῦν δ’ ἄγε, 141). His order will not be followed by Achilles or his army immediately as he envisions, and his directive fails to convince. He talks of appeasing the archer god, but he speaks as though his abusive behavior could suddenly be forgotten in the wake of his despotic command. Consequent upon this moment of Agamemnon’s imperious order and following the eventual breakdown of the assembly, Achilles was visited by Agamemnon’s embassy. In the hospitable address and conversation with Agamemnon’s emissaries, Achilles absolved them of blame, but complains that Agamemnon had chosen a thoughtless course of action that would spell destruction for the army. Achilles portrayed Agamemnon’s modus operandi as inept, since he seemed incapable of discerning “before and after” (πρόσσω καὶ ὀπίσσω). As we saw, this traditional language cue pointed not just to Agamemnon’s thoughtlessness (though it did do this), but also to an innate inability for carrying out his duties as hegemon over the Greek forces at Troy. The poet, familiar with the formula’s connotations and intent on foreshadowing the coming disaster originating from the eris of Iliad 1, placed it in the mouth of Achilles. It reminded the poet’s audience of the inherent nature of Agamemnon as a personality within the larger tradition.

In book 9, moreover, in the midst of the Achaian host’s “panic” (φύζα) and “fear” (φόβος), Agamemnon encouraged flight and a nostos. Unlike in Iliad 2, however, this time it was not a test, but the response of a commander incapable of controlling his own fear. Agamemnon is overwhelmed by the immediate crisis. The poet commented that Agamemnon was struck with a great grief in his heart (ἄχεϊ μεγάλῳ βεβολημένος ἦτορ) and painted a vivid picture of a hegemon who was as terrified as the common soldier. Agamemnon’s grief was accompanied by tears and a formulaic description “deeply groaning” (βαρὺ στενάχων) indicating deep distress. The response of the troops was the thematic silence that we saw represents both their collective grievance over the last enticement to flee (when their acceptance was met with stern rebuke) and the fact that a representative reply would follow. In this case, the spokesperson for the common angst was Diomedes, who gave voice to his own repressed grievance. We saw that he turned the tables on the paramount basileus, indicting him for his inability to help provide assistance and protection (alkē) for his warrior community. Diomedes was immediately followed by Nestor who reprimanded Agamemnon for not following his earlier authoritative muthos.

Agamemnon’s portrait is further painted for us as later readers by the opening lines of book 10. Agamemnon, sleepless, was struck as he lay there by what he saw. The Trojans were making merry while the Achaians waited in virtual paralysis. His response was sorrowful lamentation. He pulled out his hair in distress, an act that clearly signified his helplessness. It was an action that had both a mythic and possibly a cultic parallel, as I noted. It suggested a fear of imminent death. The poet followed up this vignette portraying the royal aporia with Agamemnon’s decision to go to Nestor to seek someone to assist him with a “plan” (μῆτις), one that would ward off evil for the Danaäns in their dilemma. Agamemnon headed off to Nestor, utterly distraught. His whole being was “thus shaken by fear” (σαλευόμενος οὕτως ὑπὸ τοῦ φόβου), as ancient commentators noted. His heart was jumping out of his chest and his knees were knocking. His was in a condition comparable to that of Andromache who feared Achilles had killed her husband, or better yet, Patroklοs who had been placed in a vulnerable position by Apollo and Delusion; or even to Hera and Athena in Zeus’ menacing description (albeit imagined) of their fearful response should he serve them up a thunderbolt. While one accepts that going to Nestor for a conference with the senior warrior is a wise decision, Agamemnon’s condition upon arriving suggested incompetence. He was wholly distraught. Fortunately, sensing his fear, the aged hero rose to the occasion, and after this, we heard no more from Agamemnon in book 10 despite the significant events that ensued (the night raid). His leadership added little that was productive to the action that followed. Yet, as I noted, at least he didn’t ruin things, something we have seen to be quite within his capacity as a leader.

5.4 Stalwart

Much more was noted about the quality of Agamemnon as a warrior in his aristeia in Iliad 11.91–283. We observed there that Agamemnon’s hands were given the heroic epithet “redoubtable” (ἀάπτους), when he was “eagerly” (σφεδανόν) chasing the Trojans who were running, desiring to reach the safety of their city. The formulaic phrase used to portray Agamemnon in action—“but with gore he was bespattering [his] redoubtable hands” (λύθρῳ δὲ παλάσσετο χεῖρας ἀάπτους)—I remarked, was just the stuff of a proper aristeia and needs to be read as part of any heroic “snapshot” of a warrior at the peak of his glory. The same or similar formulaic collocations were used to describe the heroic moments of other central heroes in Homer. We saw that “gore” was a good thing for a foremost hero absorbed in his rush for glory through continual slaughter (even in the case of metonymic references to the brutality surrounding the fall of Troy). Further, in due course, the Trojan Koön wounded Agamemnon in the arm, yet still he fought on, hurling the traditional large stones that so amazed the poet as he described events of the epic past. All action points to Agamemnon as a stalwart warrior. Yet the placement of this scene, like the former, is problematic. His aristeia, consequently, is rendered less impressive, as we saw, especially considering its relative brevity.

The predicament of highlighting Agamemnon’s excellence actually exists at most every turn, as we have seen in Chapters 2 to 4, even in the matter of his otherwise stalwart qualities as a warrior. Of course, even in the case of his acting as any good field commander might, the sorts of virtues that are needed to head a charge into battle are not otherwise the same as those required to plan or lead. One finds, beyond the occasional positive comment (e.g. Iliad 7.321–322), difficulty in highlighting any consistently favorable attributes for Agamemnon as paramount basileus that are not offset in the same or immediately surrounding scenes by the overwhelming presence of negative, or at best, ambivalent character traits. Some narrative moments are neutral, but more often than not, Agamemnon seems to fall precipitously into a great many scenes and come out rather scathed, at least as regards his characterization. The picture we have of Agamemnon through word and deed, even from his few good moments, does not, for the most part, impel Homer’s audience to cheer. We are left asking why this is the case, a question we address in what follows.

5.5 The Pathetic Despot

The purpose of this section is to suggest further implications from our study of Agamemnon’s character for how we are to read Agamemnon’s character and characterization in the Homeric epics generally. As we have seen, the presentation of Agamemnon’s character in the Iliad is affected by the impinging tradition from his past and future, and the Iliad poet’s narrative (like the tradition behind his poetic rendition) has been molded by this awareness. Just as we saw in Chapters 1 and 2 that Odysseus could not leave behind his known, but chronologically later, “Odyssey” adventures when involved in the Iliad story, so Agamemnon could not leave behind his larger epic legacy. The poet of the Iliad is aware of much else and presents us with an Agamemnon after the development (rather than the commencement) of a mature and deep performance tradition. Imbedded references to this tradition, while difficult for us to tease out as later readers, inform the early audience’s experience as they hear the aoidos. This has implications for how Homer’s core audience heard epic poetry and how we should read the Iliad (and Odyssey). It may provide one answer for the query of why Agamemnon is presented with so many ignoble character attributes.

I propose that the character of Agamemnon in the Iliad exudes the consequences known to the audience of the effects of both past bloodguilt and a future demise at his wife’s hand. The past bloodguilt is most clearly narrated in later poetry as a curse on the House of Atreus. [39] Homer was, I am arguing, aware of the violent and cursed history of the House of Atreus (noted in Chapters 3 and 4), although he does not explicitly refer to it and call it a “curse.” The first clear reference to a “curse” (ἀρά=Ionic ἀρή) infecting the House of Atreus comes in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and is most fully explicated by Aigisthos. Seeing his role as avenger of past wrongs (Agamemnon 1577–1582), he relates, in the vividness of historical presents, the former imprecation of Thyestes who had just been fed his own children by Atreus (1600–1602):

This “intolerable doom” (μόρος ἄφερτος) upon Pelops’ race, which embraces through dramatic irony Thyestes’ own house by Aigisthos’ eventual death as Aeschylus’ theatai know, includes a curse that is played out in the subsequent Oresteia. [

The latter end of Agamemnon’s life (his kakos nostos), but also the events following his death, so the other events of the Oresteia, are recorded in some detail in the Odyssey text. As we saw in Chapter 3, Agamemnon’s death is said to have been “most pitiable” and “doomed,” indicating a terrible end. [45] It was presumably apprehended beforehand by the traditional audience of the Iliad from earlier poetic performances of the Odyssey song. As we noted in detail in Chapter 3, Agamemnon’s role in the Odyssey is that of an example to be avoided. Yet, there may even be a reference to the kakos nostos of Agamemnon in the Iliad. In Chapter 4, in the opening scene of the Iliad, we observed Agamemnon in a state of hubris. [46] He insisted upon his preference for Chryseïs over his own wife and was intending to take her home. This association of Chryseïs with Clytemnestra may have resonated with implications for Homer’s core audience well aware of Clytemnestra’s infidelity (so patently a theme in the Odyssey). For them, the admission must have resounded with metonymic irony and created a sardonic reaction. Not only was Agamemnon upsetting the stability of his (Iliadic) warrior culture through his insulting reaction to the priest and army’s requests, but he was also potentially upsetting the stability of his own oikos. Agamemnon’s attitude and actions were in some symbolic sense parallel to that of his wife. The significance of traditional background may be further inferred if we recall the observation that the singer may have been intending a link between Agamemnon’s callousness here and the seer’s earlier activity at Aulis, including his prophecy (an event of the epic cycle’s Cypria briefly outlined in Proclus’ epitome). Homer may be pointing to the sacrifice of Iphigenia (or as he would say, Iphianassa). The impact of the theme of the kakos nostos on the Odyssey outlined in detail in Chapter 3 needs no further amplification here.

It is possible, then, to see the character of Agamemnon memorialized in the Iliad as a prequel to the story of Agamemnon in an oral Odyssey. He will soon be destroyed shamefully by his own wife, and his character in the Iliad confirms this eventuality. In this sense, Agamemnon is a pathetic despot, in that he experiences extreme pathos on his homecoming and it is a pathos that is seen everywhere in the history known to Homer and his core audience familiar with the Odyssey. [51] Agamemnon is destined, so the Iliad poet is well aware, to experience suffering. [52] Far from merely being a typical king, then, Agamemnon was a doomed king in a bad homecoming. The Iliad gives us a character appropriate for meeting such a dismal end. In good Greek fashion, the Iliad shows that the seeds of Agamemnon’s own destruction lie partially in events beyond his control (his family history and the scheme of Aigisthos and Clytemnestra), but, at least partly too, in his own errant actions and innate character. Agamemnon is a character who is pathetic as a leader in the Iliad: he causes pathos through his own words and deeds and experiences pathos in his role as hegemon of the Greek forces. As we noted in Chapter 4, for Homer, divine will or fate and human choice are usually inextricably linked in a co-terminus telos, a veritable “double motivation,” no less. [53] The human causes for Agamemnon’s bad end are embodied in Agamemnon’s negative character attributes that have become part of Homer’s tradition. This is, I propose, the reason we receive such a dismal picture of Agamemnon in the Iliad.

Our study, then, reinforces what we began saying in Chapters 1 and 2. Characters have a life outside of their present place in one epic rendition, a life known to the poet and too expansive to be contained in any singular epic memorialization. As we have observed since Chapter 1, Homer’s core audience had the advantage of knowing an intricate web of traditional stories, but also traditional characters. Audience members listened with their minds already predisposed to the sort of character they were hearing vividly presented at a particular narrative moment. A singer could take advantage of this by his choice of language, his use of rhetorical devices, his handling of type scenes, and his own creative presentation against the backdrop of traditional stories. Tradition-based components carried idiomatic meaning that provided cues for the audience’s reception of character. We have seen that this is unquestionably the case for a great number of traditional characters in Homer, including Agamemnon.


[ back ] 1. The ancients did not always have a single term for everything, as for example the phenomenon of the “priamel” (Race 1982:10), nor is it usual in any case to find complete correspondence between any one Homeric term and an English “equivalent.” Further, in Homer’s lexicon, traditional elements are often greater than any singular adjective in Greek or English.

[ back ] 2. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.3 Nestor’s Stories of Quarrel, Nostoi, and Oresteia: 3.136–310.

[ back ] 3. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.4 Menelaos’ Delay and Agamemnon’s Death: 4.90–92.

[ back ] 4. It is also possible also to see Agamemnon’s thoughtlessness in the act of his being taken by a “ruse strategist” (something we considered under this heading in Chapter 3, in our discussion of Odyssey 1.299–300).

[ back ] 5. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.6 Agamemnon’s Joy: 8.75–82.

[ back ] 6. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466.

[ back ] 7. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.9 Avoiding Agamemnon’s Nostos: 13.383–385.

[ back ] 8. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 9. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.2 Agamemnon’s Dream and the Testing of the Troops: 2.16–440.

[ back ] 10. See Chapter 2, s.v. Impetuous Agamemnon; and Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.5 Agamemnon’s Address to the Troops: 4.231–418.

[ back ] 11. See especially 2.2.4 Menestheus and Odysseus: 4.327–364.

[ back ] 12. See Chapter 2, s.v. Impetuous Agamemnon, for Diomedes’ “inexorable courage.”

[ back ] 13. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.6 Grievances against Agamemnon—Revisiting His Past Wrongs: Book 9.

[ back ] 14. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.6 Grievances against Agamemnon—Revisiting His Past Wrongs: Book 9.

[ back ] 15. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.8 Agamemnon’s Aristeia: 11.91–283.

[ back ] 16. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.9 Agamemnon’s Third Call for a Nostos: 14.41–134.

[ back ] 17. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 18. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 19. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 20. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.4. Agamemnon’s Prayer, Oath, and Sacrifice: 3.267–302.

[ back ] 21. Cf. the related discussion earlier in Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 22. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.5 Agamemnon’s Address to the Troops: 4.231–418 and 4.2.6 Grievances against Agamemnon—Revisiting His Past Wrongs: Book 9, respectively.

[ back ] 23. This is a comment that festers and reemerges as we observed, in Diomedes’ grievance in book 9.

[ back ] 24. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.8 Agamemnon’s Aristeia: 11.91–283.

[ back ] 25. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.7 The People of Agamemnon of the Greatest Fame: 9.263–266.

[ back ] 26. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 27. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.2 Agamemnon’s Dream and the Testing of the Troops: 2.16–440.

[ back ] 28. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.9 Agamemnon’s Third Call for a Nostos: 14.41–134.

[ back ] 29. See Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.4 Menestheus and Odysseus: 4.327–364.

[ back ] 30. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.10 Agamemnon and Atē: 19.76–144.

[ back ] 31. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.3 Agamemnon, the Preeminent Leader in Battle: 2.477–483.

[ back ] 32. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.2 Agamemnon’s Dream and the Testing of the Troops: 2.16–440.

[ back ] 33. Agamemnon is also portrayed as a basileus-type, but his family history makes him a specific basileus with a particular story. For the basileus typology, see e.g. Iliad 1.80, 165, 231, 2.196–197, 204–206, etc., but also the discussion of typical versus specific characterization in Chapter 2.

[ back ] 34. Minchin 2011a.

[ back ] 35. Haubold (2000:28) comments: “Throughout the surviving texts of early Greek hexameter, single agents are assigned the task of guaranteeing the well-being of the people.” His list of examples includes (see 28n59): Iliad 1.117, 4.184 (negative), 5.643 (negative), 8.246, 9.98–99, 424, 681, 10.14–16, 13.47, Odyssey 11.136–137, 22.54, 23.283–284, Hesiod Theogony 84–87, Panyassis fr. 12.7–8 (Davies 1988), Callinus fr. 1.18 (West), Tyrtaeusfr. 11.13 (West 1989–1992).

[ back ] 36. I disagree with Taplin (1990) that Agamemnon is not the supreme leader of the expedition against Troy. There does, against Taplin’s view, appear to be a hierarchy in the Iliad, although I agree that there are mutual obligations that are expected in his relationship with the basileis who are following him (cf. the role envisioned by Elmer 2013:63–85). Each basileus is of course supreme in his own “communauté politique,” as Carlier (1984:145) notes (although I do hold to the overly authoritarian position proposed for Agamemnon in Carlier 2006:106). The problem is not the hierarchy in any case, but rather, Agamemnon’s abuse of his position and inability to be an effective leader. Van Wees’s (1988:19) position, essentially that Agamemnon inherited the leading position but did not prove “deserving” of it, is more likely. For further discussion, see Schadewaldt 1966:37–39, Carlier 1984:135–230 (esp. 136–139), and Morris 1986:98–99.

[ back ] 37. Patera (2012:79) notes this verse in the specific context of the greater expectation for basileis offering sacrifice, but also in other contexts, such as the present one, when Basileis are to be “plus généreux que les autres,” something Patera notes Nestor had to remind Agamemnon about in Iliad 9.69–70.

[ back ] 38. Nb. the hemistich χολώσατο κηρόθι μᾶλλον at Odyssey 17.457.

[ back ] 39. For a general overview of the House of Atreus myth, see Gantz 1993:489, 540, 544–556.

[ back ] 40. The actual place of Pleisthenes in the family tree of Pelops is in dispute. What is not in dispute is that his descendants (his “race”) represent here for Thyestes the object of his cursing, whether, depending on the tradition, that is as the father to Atreus, or as a son of Atreus whom Thyestes raised as his own and sends to seek revenge (in this version of the story, Pleisthenes is unaware of just who his real father is). Thyestes, like Achilles (who gains honor at the cost of Patroklos’ death), does not realize that his curse will include the death of his own son through Orestes.

[ back ] 41. It is not necessary to state that the curse of Thyestes was the only curse on the House of Atreus, since Atreus’ ancestry includes a grandfather, Pelops, served up by his father Tantalos in order to test the gods. On this see Pindar Olympian 1, Pausanias 5.13.1–17, Apollodorus Epitome 2.2–9, and Burkert 1983:99. This earlier curse, however, is not mentioned in Homer even indirectly, as far as I can discover.

[ back ] 42. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.2 Agamemnon’s Dream and the Testing of the Troops: 2.16–440.

[ back ] 43. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.5 Proteus’ Account of Agamemnon’s Death: 4.512–537.

[ back ] 44. The name “Thyestes” (cf. θύος) also suggests a link between myth and ritual, although in contrast to Pelops and the Olympic games, there is no clear historical evidence of such a connection (Burkert 1983:93–109).

[ back ] 45. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466.

[ back ] 46. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344.

[ back ] 47. See Chapter 3, but especially s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466.

[ back ] 48. This is something we considered in some detail in Chapters 1 (s.v. 1.4 The Relation of the Iliad and Odyssey) and 2 (s.v. 2.2 Typical and Specific Appeals—in particular 2.2.4 Menestheus and Odysseus: 4.327–364).

[ back ] 49. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.11 Nekuia Deutera: Odyssey 24.19–97.

[ back ] 50. See Chapter 1, s.v. 1.4 The Relation of the Iliad and Odyssey, where I made reference to the Iliad poet’s mention of a nostos beyond what was fated, in Iliad 2.155.

[ back ] 51. Cf. e.g. inter alia, from Chapter 3 on the Odyssey, the metonym of “death and baleful fate” (θάνατον καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν), discussed s.v. 3.2.3 Nestor’s Stories of Quarrel, Nostoi, and Oresteia: 3.136–310; the pathetic simile of Proteus noted s.v. 3.2.5 Proteus’ Account of Agamemnon’s Death: 4.512–537; the pathetic priamel, s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466; the kakos nostos, s.v. 3.2.9 Avoiding Agamemnon’s Nostos: 13.383–385; and the pathos of Agamemnon, s.v. 3.2.11 Nekuia Deutera: 24.19–97.

[ back ] 52. Cf. the insightful comments of Scodel (2002:24) about Telamonian Ajax and Locrian Ajax at the funeral games for Patroklos: “Telamonian Ajax, doomed to kill himself after Achilles’ armor is awarded to Odysseus, is wounded, fighting against Diomedes; Locrian Ajax, who will die miserably at sea, falls into a pile of manure.”

[ back ] 53. See Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.10 Agamemnon and Atē: 19.76–144 and Porter (2017).

[ back ] 54. Cf. Chapter 1.