How Did the Greek King Agamemnon Die?

Or, Other Reasons Not to Tick Off Your Wife


Question: How Did Agamemnon Die?

Answer: Not happily, in short. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus, came home to a very unhappy household in his kingdom of Mycenae after the Trojan War. His wife, Clytemnestra, was still justifiably furious with him that he'd acquiesced to sacrifice their daughter, Iphigenia, to get fair sailing winds to sail to Troy.

What mother would forgive her husband for killing their child?

Not Clytemnestra (who just happened to be Helen's half-sister). While Agamemnon was in Troy for ten years, the queen took a lover - his creepily incestuous cousin, Aegisthus (the son of Agamemnon's uncle, Thyestes, and Thyestes's daughter Pelopia). 

Clytemnestra set herself up as queen supreme while Agamemnon was away, but he had to come home sometime, right? To add insult to injury, though, her husband didn't return repentant; instead, he brought another woman - a concubine, the Trojan prophetess-princess Cassandra - into their home...and, according to some sources, his kids by Cassandra. How much more could Clytemnestra take?

Not much more. Various stories tell different versions of the the exact way Agamemnon died, but the gist is this: Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered him in cold blood, in vengeance for Iphigenia's death and all the grief he'd given them both. As Homer recounts in the Odysseywhen Odysseus sees Agamemnon in the underworld, the dead king complains, "Brought low by Aegisthus’ sword I tried to lift my arms in dying, but bitch that she was my wife turned away, and though I was going to Hades's Halls she disdained even to close my eyelids or my mouth." They also slaughtered Cassandra.

Clytemnestra, demonized in later Greek tragedy, and Aegisthus ruled Mycenae for a bit, but then her son by Agamemnon, Orestes, returned and murdered them both, as beautifully told in Euripides's Oresteia.

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-Edited by Carly Silver