The Odyssey by Homer is an epic about a man’s return home after fighting in war. The protagonist of the epic is Odysseus, but interactions with and stories of his fellow veterans abound. The story of Agamemnon’s death upon returning home is retold and referred to numerous times and serves as a warning to Odysseus of the dangers that could exist for him in Ithaka. The ghost of Agamemnon is encountered by Odysseus in the land of the dead and is quite changed from the friend he knew and fought with at Troy. Despite his high place in life and exploits in war, Agamemnon demonstrates the suffering of the returning veteran.
Agamemnon survived the ten year long Trojan War, even as other great warriors such as Achilleus fell. Tales of the war are widespread and it is described by both its veterans and non-participants in glorified terms. Agamemnon is often singled out for leadership and accomplishments. Demodokos sings of the “famous actions/ of men on that venture” and “that lord of men, Agamemnon” while performing for Odysseus on Alkinoos.(VIII, 73-74, 77). Agamemnon stands out as one of “the leaders of the bronze- armored Achaians” who fought at Troy and is recognized as a major hero of the war (IV,496).
Like other heroes of the war, Agamemnon is a powerful king. He was able to raise men to follow him to Troy. He is referred to by the epithet “sheperd of people” (III, 156). In the underwold, Achilleus tells Agamemnon,
Son of Atreus, we thought that all your days you were favored
beyond all other heroes by Zeus who delights in the thunder,
because you were lord over numerous people, and strong ones,
in the land of the Trojans, where we Achaians suffered hardships. (XXIV, 24-27)
Achilleus acknowledges Agamemnon in this conversation as both a skilled warrior in Troy and powerful king in Sparta. He is not the king of a tiny dominion in an obscure part of the Greek world. It is clear from the descriptions of “widely ruling Agamemnon” that the king had power and his loss was significant (III, 248).
Agamemnon shows that he is honor-bound in a way that contrasts with the treachery of Aigisthos. Achilleus fell in battle in Troy and Agamemnon ensured that he was properly memorialized. Achilleus’ body was brought away from the fighting after he was killed and was anointed with unguents. The Greeks cut their hair short and mourned the death for days. After eighteen days his body was burned in an elegant ceremony. Agamemnon describes the whole process with tenderness and a sense of devotion to his fallen friend. Agamemnon is similarly devoted to his homeland. After Troy, he “stepped rejoicing on the soil of his country/ and stroked the ground with his hand and kissed it, and his thronging/ hot tears streamed down, so dear to him was the sight of his country” (IV, 521-523). The loyalty to his brothers-in-arms and his country show that he is guided by a sense of honor that is totally denied him in his death.
Agamemnon in Hades does not...