Mythology Mondays: Agamemnon and the Oresteia

I’m going to start this story with the early history of Helen. So Queen Leda catches the eye of Zeus. Zeus comes down to seduce Leda… as a swan. Leda has sex with the swan, but also with her husband the same night. A while later she gives birth to two eggs. One egg contains the dioscuri - Castor and Polydeuces. Castor is mortal, while Polydeuces is immortal. The second egg contains Helen and Clytemnestra. Helen is immortal (sort of) and Clytemnestra is a mortal.

There are a lot of stories that can go in here: the various adventures of the dioscuri, Theseus abducting Helen and the oath of the horse…. But those are all other Mondays. For now, it will suffice you to know that Helen was married off to Menelaus of Sparta, and Clytemnestra was married to Agamemnon of Mycenae, the sons of Atreus.

So Paris takes Helen off to Troy and the Trojan War starts (that’s next Monday). Agamemnon is the leader of all of the Greeks. They’re getting ready to leave for Troy (launching a thousand ships) but they can’t get a good wind. So Agamemnon gets an oracle that he needs to appease Artemis, and that to do this he has to sacrifice his daughter Iphegenia. So he does this, and off they sail to Troy. They wage war for ten years, until they eventually win and return home.

Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, is understandably angry that he’s killed her daughter. While he’s away, she takes Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin and Thyestes’ son, as her lover. They plan to kill Agamemnon in revenge when he returns.

Agamemnon returns to Mycenae with Cassandra, the princess of Troy with a gift for prophecy.

Apollo, Apollo!
Lord of the ways, my ruin.
Where have you led me now at last? What house is this?
The house of the Atreidae. If you understand
not that, I can tell you; and so much at least is true.
No, but a house that God hates, guilty within
of kindred blood shed, torture of its own,
the shambles for men’s butchery, the dripping floor.
-Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

Clytemnestra stabs him to death. And Cassandra too.

In the Greek world, a son is bound by honour to revenge his father’s murder. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, is therefore bound to kill Clytemnestra. But there’s a problem. Seeing as Clytemnestra is his mother, he’ll be cursed if he kills her, and Aegisthus too. Anyway, eventually Orestes does kill his mother, in The Libation Bearers. And then throughout The Eumenides, he’s chased by the furies and cursed for his mother’s death. Eventually, he makes penance for his actions, and finally, Orestes is the one who breaks curse of the Tantalids.


  • By Ambles, April 13, 2009 @ 9:06 pm


    How in the world do you remember all that? I’m impressed.

    Also, I’ve always wanted to study these things, but I’ve never known what to read! Should I start with the sources you quoted?

  • By Faebala, April 13, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    THe most I know about all this Myth stuff is Oedipus, and that’s because I chose to do an essay on him in college. From which we can sum up that ancient Greece and Rome was all about death and incest and long, tongue twister names that starts to hurt my head. Hehe.

    But I do enjoy your Myth Monday’s by H. Monty! I wish I was interesting enough to come up with theme posts every week.

  • By Hezabelle, April 13, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

    Ambles - I only remember these things because I’ve been studying them for four years. Hahaha. And even then I sometimes have to look it up.

    You should try starting with something more basic, there are a lot of really good mythology books that have the basics of the main myths from Greece (and Rome, but the Romans pretty much just stole the Greek).

    Another good thing is if you want to read Ovid’s Metamorphoses - if you get the Oxford edition it’s not hard to read, though it is in verse. But basically he retells most of the main myths in the first ten books (the next few books are slightly boring).

    AND the plays are awesome, and a quick read, but it’s sort of like Shakespeare, it helps if you have a background knowledge first.

  • By Sebastian, April 14, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

    Wow, those myths are quite tame compared to the Norse ones!

    But the swan was quite creative, certainly :)

    I hope that, in three thousand years, when civilisation looks back at our generation, we’ve created some good myths for them to enjoy.

    I just hope they center around more powerful characters than Paris… Hilton. We need a modern-day Helen!

  • By Hezabelle, April 14, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    Yeah, honestly… Who WOULDN’T do a swan/Zeus? The problem with our time is that there’s a distinct lack of omnipotent gods shape shifting and fighting/fucking amongst each other. Or so I think. Marie Phillips would disagree.

  • By Sebastian, April 14, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

    There were no gods goosing around back then either, Hezabelle!

    People were perhaps just slightly less conservative then… :)

    Maybe if I goof around enough, myths will begin to surround my life, and eventual death.

  • By Hezabelle, April 14, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    Seb, I volunteer myself to be your Official Mythologizer. With a degree in Communications AND Classics, I’m sure you’ll find I’m more than qualified.

    I work in prose, poetry and best of all, TRAGEDY. And I work for chocolate. ;)

    I just need a title for my great work. The Sebiad? hahaha.

  • By Sebastian, April 14, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

    Sebiad, not bad! I was thinking maybe The Best Testament… or The Greatest Testament…

    Or a Nordic ‘Sebba’, perhaps.

    I like the sound of ‘Sephesus’, if I ever get to have a city named after me.

  • By Hezabelle, April 14, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    The Sebba I could go with, but I don’t know about the Testaments. I don’t do testaments. haha.

    Sephesus reminds me of Sisyphus. But I suppose it’s better than Sebastria. hahaha.

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Other Links to this Post

  1. Hezabelle » Mythology Mondays: Absolution of guilt — June 15, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  2. Hezabelle » Mythology Mondays: 1200 BCE, a Greek Odyssey — June 22, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  3. Hezabelle » Mythology Mondays: Telemachus sets sail — June 29, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

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