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Agamemnon in The Iliad by Homer, Role of Agamemnon

Character of Agamemnon in The Iliad

Character of Agamemnon in The Iliad

Q. Discuss the Character of Agamemnon in The Iliad

Answer: Agamemnon is the king of Sparta. He inherited the rule from his father and it is to him that the entire Hellenic world looks up to for resolution of disputes, judgment, stability and leadership. He is automatically the person who is at the helm of the council meetings. At the same time, he is also like the warrior kings of the Bronze Age, the commander of the Achaean army that reaches Troy. 

Yet we also come to recognize almost immediately that although Agamemnon has inherited the role from his father, he is a man with many failings. He is overtly emotional, passionate and proud, and also has a degree of jealousy in him; which he often brings in the way of the best interests for him and his troops. We recognize this at the outset, in the way he is adamant at keeping Chryseis even at the face of divine wrath clearly show his passionate and weak side of nature. When he says he is willing to part only if Achilles on his part leaves Breises shows him to be worse.

Despite his failings, Nestor as an elder counselor and Odysseus as the resourceful and intelligent commander provide him continuous support, in the form of counsel and military power –simply because they think that Agamemnon’s position at the helm of the Greek troops will ultimately stabilize the troops, which is necessary to win the war. They are aware of the many failings of Agamemnon’s character, but are yet tolerant with the greater interest in mind.

The role of Agamemnon is best understood in contrast to Achilles. It is best understood so, since Homer has balanced the narrative largely on those lines. Iliad is as much a narrative about the battle between the Trojans and the Achaeans as between Achilles and Agamemnon. The epic, in fact, starts with the wrath of Achilles. 

Menaleus in Troy

By placing him right at the center, Homer provides him with a heroic position, which he denies to Agamemnon despite his position. This contrast between the two is where the central conflict and tragic import of the epic lies. Agamemnon is more in position but less in ability, while Achilles is more in ability but enjoys a position lower than he deserves. Achilles is aware of this irony and he is often directly confrontational to Agamemnon, which Nestor and Odysseus with great patience and act.

As a king, Agamemnon has a tendency to put his personal whims over the general good. Although he has some good qualities, as is manifest in his genuine concern for his brother Menaleus, yet he is always in an abusive mood towards Achilles, in whom he sees a threat to his authority. Achilles becomes a constant source of Agamemnon’s insecurity and fear. 

Thetys, Sea Goddess in Greek Mythology

Even as a general, he is never attributed the kind of heroism or exploits that the other heroes of the epic are honored with. Perhaps, Homer is keen to work out the contrast between authority that is received as birth right and what is achieved through one’s action. Agamemnon comes across in a very poor light in this scale. Zews exploits him to carry out his own commitment to Thetys and agenda against Hera, knowing full well that with all his impulsiveness and immaturity, Agamemnon is the one who will directly walk within his trap, and he does so. He almost fashions as Achaean defeat –a walkover rather –unless Nestor and Odysseus reverses the situation.

Hera, Goddess of Marriage in Greek Mythology

Thus, Agamemnon in the first two books of the Iliad and also in the remaining part of the epic, is an immature, impulsive, jealous and avaricious ruler who rules and commands the Hellenic world by the right of birth, but lacks quality of character that make him suited to that role. He comes across as a weak despot and is driven to success only by the velour, courage and resourcefulness of other generals of his troops, particularly Achilles, Odysseus and Nestor.  


Read also:

👉 The Book of Assembly Hall - Dharma, Dicing and Draupadi 

👉 Mahabharata – Discussion in the light of Epic Tradition 

👉 The Illiad, (Book – I and Book II): The Character of Achilles 

👉 Abhijnanasakuntalam – Short Answer Type Questions and Answers (2 Marks) 

👉 Abhijnanasakuntalam – Sakuntala’s departure from the Hermitage of Kanva 

👉 Abhijnanasakuntalam – Role of Kanva in Abhijnanasakuntalam (CC - I) 

👉 Oedipus Rex by Sophocles – Oedipus as a tragic hero 

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