How Did the Greek King Agamemnon Die?

Clytemnestra in front of the corpse of Agamemnon and Cassandra
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King Agamemnon is a mythological character from Greek legend, most famously appearing in Homer's "The Illiad," but also found in other source material from Greek mythology. In the legend, he is the King of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek army in the Trojan War. There is no historical verification of either a Mycenaen king name Agamemnon, nor a Trojan Was as described by Homer, but some historians find tantalizing archeological evidence that they may be based in early Greek history.

Agamemnon and the Trojan War

The Trojan War is the legendary (and almost certainly mythical) conflict in which Agamemnon laid siege to Troy in an effort to retrieve Helen, his sister-in-law after she had been taken to Troy by Paris. After the death of some famous heroes, including Achilles, the Trojans fell victim to a ruse in which they accepted a large, hollow horse as a gift, only to find that Achean Greek warriors had hidden inside, emerging at night to vanquish the Trojans. This is tale is the source  of the term Trojan Horse, used to describe any supposed gift that contains the seeds of disaster, as well as the old saying, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts."  Yet another oft-used term to come out of this legend is "face that launched a thousand ships," which is a description used for Helen, and now sometimes used for any beautiful woman for which men will perform superhuman feats. 

The Story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra

In the most famous story, Agamemnon, 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 that he had sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to get fair sailing winds to sail to Troy.

Bitterly vengeful toward Agamemnon, Clytemnestra (Helen's half-sister), had taken Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus as her lover while her husband was away fighting the Trojan war. (Aegisthus was the son of Agamemnon's uncle, Thyestes, and Thyestes's daughter, Pelopia.) 

Clytemnestra had installed herself up as the supreme queen while Agamemnon was away, but her bitterness increased when he returned from the war not repentant, but in the company of another woman, a concubine—a concubine, the Trojan prophetess-princess—as well as (according to some sources) his children borne by Cassandra

Clytemnestra's vengefulness saw no bounds. Various stories tell different versions of the exact way Agamemnon died, but the essence is that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered him in cold blood, out of vengeance for Iphigenia's death and other slights he had perpetrated against them. As Homer recounts in the "Odyssey," when Odysseus saw Agamemnon in the underworld, the dead king complained, "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." Clytemnestra and Aegisthus also slaughtered Cassandra.

Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, demonized in later Greek tragedy, ruled Mycenae for a time after dispatching with Agamemnon and Cassandra, but when her son by Agamemnon, Orestes, returned to Mycenae, he murdered them both, as beautifully told in Euripides's "Oresteia."

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Gill, N.S. "How Did the Greek King Agamemnon Die?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). How Did the Greek King Agamemnon Die? Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "How Did the Greek King Agamemnon Die?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).