The Tale of Agamemnon and Menelaus

Vine

Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Atreus and Aerope and are best known for the roles they played in Greece's ten year war with the city of Troy. Though Menelaus experienced his own share of life's difficulties, I think it is a fair proposal to suggest that the curse of Myrtilus rested more heavily upon the shoulders of Agamemnon. I hope you will enjoy this small glimpse inside of the lives of these two famous brothers.

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Helen and Clytemnestra

Leda and the SwanDuring the brief time of Thyestes' rule over the kingdom of Mycenae, Agamemnon and Meneluas were driven from the city and granted sanctuary from King Tyndareus of Sparta.

While living under the protection of the royal household, the brothers were each promised to receive a daughter of the king to be their wife. Though the princess Clytemnestra was considered to be the biological daughter of Tyndareus and his wife Leda, there were rumors concerning the paternity of her sister Helen.

According to some accounts both Helen and her brother Polyduces were thought to have been conceived during a romantic tryst between their mother and the god Zeus.

It seems that the god had been paying secret visits to the queen disguised in the shape of a snow white swan. As to be expected, Leda soon found herself to be with child, however when it came time for her to give birth a most unusual event took place.

Instead of bringing forth human children, Leda went on to lay two eggs. Curiously, from the first egg hatched Castor and Clytemnestra, the two mortal children of Tyndareus. Moments later the second egg split open and out popped Helen and Polyduces, the two semi-divine children of Zeus.

Helen of SpartaBecause Helen had been blessed with exceptional beauty, many rich and powerful suitors petitioned Tyndareus for her hand in marriage. They came from all parts of the world, each bearing lavish gifts and touting speeches designed to deem them the most qualified to be the maiden's husband.

In order to avoid any hard feelings from developing between himself and the bevy of admirers, Tyndareus declared that it would only be fair and just to choose the bridegroom through the act of drawing straws.

The men greeted this suggestion with enthusiasm and gathered about the king, each ready to take his chance at the prize. Before allowing the suitors to draw their lots, Tyndareus first made each man swear a never ending allegiance to the victor, regardless of whom he shall be.

Odysseus, Patroclus, Ajax the Great and Peirithous were just a few of the contenders found standing amongst the large crowd of hopefuls who, with a silent prayer to Tyche, stepped forward and breathlessly drew forth a straw.

When all the lots were secured, the rivals carefully opened up their hands only to reveal Menelaus as the winner. In the interest of keeping peace between the two brothers, Tyndareus thought it wise to simultaneously betroth his daughter Clytemnestra to Agamemnon.

Eventually Tyndareus chose to pass the crown to his son-in-law, making Menelaus the new king of Sparta. Once established in his new position of power, Menelaus gathered up his armies and together with Agamemnon attacked Mycenae and forced Thyestes into exile. Agamemnon then took his place upon the throne, and with that allowed the house of Atreus to once again regain rulership over the kingdom.

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The Judgement of Paris

The Apple of DiscordAfter the marriage of Menelaus and Helen, the nymph Thetis found herself betrothed to Peleus, the king of Aegina.

All of the Olympians had received an invitation to the celebration except the war god Ares and his sister Eris, the goddess of discord. Eris took this insult very much to heart and in order to teach the couple a lesson devised a plan that would bring ruin and misery to their happy day.

The spiteful goddess hid herself amongst the shadows, and just as the wedding feast was about to begin, quietly rolled a small golden apple into the hall. The brilliant sparkle emanating from the fruit mesmerized the guests until one of the procession attendants picked it up and read what was inscribed across its gilded middle.

"To The Fairest" he called out loudly as he raised the apple above his head. Naturally all of the goddesses thought themselves to be the most worthy of the prize and it was not long before a large squabble broke out amongst the group. After much discussion the choices were narrowed down to three; Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

The goddesses demanded that Zeus act as judge and award the coveted prize to the most deserving of the bunch. Being too wise to place himself in such a risky predicament, Zeus quickly suggested the trio journey to the city of Troy where Paris, the son of King Priam could be found tending his sheep.

Judgement of ParisOne day as Paris was busy minding his flocks, he was visited by the three bickering goddesses along with Zeus and his messenger Hermes.

As the rivals proudly paraded themselves before the startled shepherd, Hermes directed Paris to award the apple to the fairest of the three.

Each goddess, in order to improve her chances of winning offered the impressionable young man a bribe. Hera promised that if he chose her she would make him lord over all of Europe.

Athena promised that if he gave her the apple she would raise Troy up in victory against the Greeks, leaving their homeland in shambles and ruins. However Aphrodite, who was familiar with the wants and desires of young men, promised to give Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife.

Without hesitation Paris handed the apple to Aphrodite and followed the goddess back to Sparta where Helen was living comfortably with her husband Menelaus.

Unaware of Paris' true motives, Menelaus kindly welcomed the young visitor into his home. The two men felt such a strong kinship to each other that Menelaus insisted they swear a bond of allegiance to celebrate their newly founded friendship.

A few days later, Menelaus received word that he was needed on the island of Crete. Confident that his new associate could be trusted to watch over Helen during his absence, the king naively assembled a crew and calmly commenced upon his journey.

With Menelaus safely out of the way, Paris boarded Helen upon his ship and without giving the matter another thought the two quietly disappeared into the stillness of the evening.

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The Sacrifice of Iphigenia

Paris and HelenWhen Menelaus returned home he found both his wife and houseguest to be suspiciously missing from the palace. Feeling angry and humiliated he called upon his brother Agamemnon to help him return Helen back to Sparta.

Because Agamemnon was considered to be the most powerful leader in the ancient world, none of the other city-states dared challenge his bid for assistance in resolving the unfortunate plight of his brother.

Word spread quickly, and in a short amount of time a huge brigade containing the bravest warriors in Greece formed itself inside of the harbor of Aulis.

As to be expected, Agamemnon was chosen to act as commander over the vast armies of men eagerly waiting to avenge Menelaus and penalize the land of Troy.

As the sailors prepared their vessels for the pending journey, Agamemnon was heard boasting that his hunting skills clearly exceeded those of the goddess Artemis. Finding these words to be especially sharp, the disgruntled goddess chose to punish Agamemnon by calming the winds, thus grounding the ships and putting an end to the fleet's impending departure.

Each day the generals would gather by the water's edge in hopes of finding the weather fit for sailing, but unfortunately no changes were ever detected. Positive that this hindrance could only be the work of an offended deity, Agamemnon summoned the seer Calchus to appear before the restless group of expectant seamen.

The augur informed Agamemnon that as punishment for his prideful remarks against the goddess Artemis, the winds would remain still until he consented to offer his youngest daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice.

IphigeneiaThough his heart was heavy with sorrow, Agamemnon knew he had no other choice but to fulfill the wishes of the goddess. He called before him two of his best warriors, King Odysseus of Ithaca and King Diomedes of Argos, and instructed the men to carry a message back to his wife Clytemnestra.

However the tidings they bore proved to be far less than truthful, for the story Agamemnon crafted was shrouded in lies and false promises. When the heralds arrived in the city, they excitedly divulged to Clytemnestra that the brave and noble warrior Achilles desired to have Iphigenia as his wife.

Having no reason to doubt the word of her two guests, Clytemnestra enthusiastically dressed Iphigenia up in the finest of garments and sent her on her way. But when the trio arrived back at the harbor, Iphigenia was surprised to find that Achilles was nowhere in sight.

Instead of the handsome bridegroom, Iphigenia found only her grief stricken father standing quietly before the crowd of soldiers. The men watched with sorrow as Agamemnon slowly led his daughter to the base of the sacrificial altar.

In spite of her fear, Iphigenia laid herself down upon the offering stone and calmly awaited her fate. Agamemnon regretfully raised his sword high in the air, but before he had a chance to bring it down upon the maid, Artemis quickly whisked Iphigenia away to Tauris and left a helpless stag to serve as her replacement.

All watched in amazement as Agamemnon offered the life of his newly found victim, for when the first drops of blood spilled upon the altar, the winds were released and a steady breeze began to blow. Without haste, the anxious men collected their belongings and voraciously boarded their vessels for Troy.

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The Fall of Troy

Building the HorseThe Greeks waged war upon the Trojans for ten long years. Believing that the battle would never end, Odysseus shrewdly devised a plan that would dissolve the stalemate and grant the Greek troops the victory they so desired.

Under the supervision of the architect Epeius the Greeks fashioned a colossal wooden horse complete with a hollow belly and a trap door on its side. It was then inscribed with the words "For their return home the Achaeans dedicate this thank-offering to the goddess Athena" and placed atop of a wheeled platform.

After its completion, thirty of the best Greek soldiers climbed inside and strategically hid themselves within the confines of the massive stomach. The mock peace offering was then pushed forward and quietly left standing outside of the gates of Troy.

Leaving one man behind to act as a sentry, the rest of the army set fire to their tents and then sailed off on an imaginary retreat back to their homelands.

Overjoyed to see the Greek ships drifting away from their shoreline, the curious Trojans peered through the city gates at the strange object they found standing upon the sand. According to some accounts, the priest Laocoon tried his best to dissuade the Trojan people from accepting this highly unusual peace offering.

IphigeneiaWhen he saw that his words of warning were being ignored, he picked up a spear and began to strike it heavily against the belly of the horse.

His interference in the matter so angered the god Poseidon (or sometimes Athena, as the circumstances seem to change from story to story) that a slew of tremendously large serpents were sent to strangle the life out of Laocoon and his two sons. Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam also begged her father not to have any interaction with the mysterious gift, but as usual her advice was not taken seriously.

It seems that many years before the war between Greece and Troy, the god Apollo found himself to be very attracted to Cassandra and vowed to bless the young princess with the gift of prophecy in exchange for sharing her bed with him.

However, when it came time to pay up her part of the bargain, Cassandra refused to follow through. In return for her fickle behavior, Apollo cursed the unfortunate maiden by refusing to allow her accurate predictions of future events to ever be taken to heart.

Because the Trojan people thought Cassandra to be nothing more than a firebrand, they instinctively turned a deaf ear to her hysterical rantings and recklessly wheeled the massive token inside of the city gates.

The aura of sadness and despair that once hung heavy over the land of Troy seemed to vanish as quickly as their enemies. The sounds of celebration and merriment rung out loudly throughout the crowds of delighted spectators and the fragrant smell of burnt offerings filled the air.

CassandraWith the approaching shadows of night at hand, the weary Trojans ended the day's festivities and sleepily retired back to their homes. Then, when all was determined to be still, the Greek soldiers climbed out of the belly of the horse and quietly opened the gates, allowing their comrades to enter and take the city by surprise.

Once inside, the men were free to attack the unsuspecting Trojans and turn the inattentive city into a fortress of death. It was as if ten years of anger and frustration had all come together at this one moment, empowering the Greeks to wage an unrelenting assault against their unsuspecting victims.

When all was said and done, all that remained of the great city were large piles of rubble heaped randomly upon the earth. Those who had not been slaughtered were readily gathered up and distributed between the men.

Included amongst the spoils of war was none other than the Princess Cassandra, whom Agamemnon publicly claimed as his concubine. And so, with the once great empire of Troy left in ruins, the victorious Greeks had nothing more to do than reclaim Helen and happily set sail for home.

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Helen and Menelaus

Helen and MenelausThe fate of Helen after the fall of Troy varies throughout the ancient texts. The most commonly accepted version tells us that after the death of Paris, Helen was given in marriage to his younger brother Deiphobus.

Though Helen, who often exhibited ambiguous behavior throughout the course of the battle appeared to show allegiance to the Trojans, she deceitfully chose to hide her new husband's sword away just as the Greek forces began to infiltrate the city.

Left unarmed, Deiphobus was easily captured by Menelaus (or by some indications Odysseus) and put to death. It has also been speculated that Helen herself was responsible for the death of Deiphobus, as she was not fond of her new spouse and imagined that life would be much more comfortable under the care of Menelaus.

It is said that when Menelaus was finally reunited with his fickle wife, his first reaction was to slay her as punishment for her infidelities. But just as he raised his sword to pierce her heart, Helen cleverly allowed her robe to seductively slip down from her shoulders.

Unable to resist the sight of her beauty, Menelaus instantly dropped his sword and whisked her off to Sparta. According to Homer, Helen was still present in the palace of Menelaus when Telemachus came looking for news of his father Odysseus.

However there is another variation which states that Helen had expired many years before this visit, having been brought to Mount Olympus just a short time after Menelaus returned back to his homeland.

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The Death of Agamemnon

ClytemnestraDuring the time that Agamemnon was away leading the Greek battle against the Trojans, his wife Clytemnestra became romantically involved with his young cousin Aegisthus.

You see, Clytemnestra never believed the eyewitness accounts regarding the sudden disappearance of her daughter Iphigenia and therefore held Agamemnon responsible for her death.

Unable to forgive Agamemnon for the loss of their daughter, Clytemnestra swore an oath of vengeance against her wayfaring husband. Together with her new lover, she meticulously planned for the day when Agamemnon would end his long absence and once again return to Mycenae.

In order to stay abreast of the situation, the pair kept a watchman stationed atop of the road leading to the city. After a year's time had passed, the couple finally received word that Agamemnon and his entourage were making their way toward the palace gates.

Leaving Cassandra behind in his chariot, Agamemnon entered into the foyer where he was warmly greeted by Clytemnestra. He found that a magnificent feast had been laid out in pretense of the welcome celebration that was to take place in his honor.

Feigning concern for her husband's well being, Clytemnestra led Agamemnon off to soak in the warm bath that had been drawn for him. Unaware of his wife's true intentions, Agamemnon climbed into the tub and relaxed his tired body in the water.

What happens next depends entirely upon who is telling the story. According to Homer, Aegisthus, under the direction of Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon as he was resting in the bath.

In later writings, the story names Clytemnestra as the sole killer of Agamemnon and describes how she took to entangling his limbs with a woven net before hacking him to death with an ax.

As for Cassandra, it is said that she clearly envisioned her own death while waiting for Agamemnon to return from inside the palace. Knowing she could not escape her fate, the princess voluntarily entered the fortress and so too fell victim to Clytemnestra's fury.

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