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The House of Atreus

The Curse That Precipitated the Trojan War





The Trojan War > Agamemnon and His Family

Agamemnon was from the House of Atreus, that cursed family that stemmed from Tantalus, a son of Zeus. Tantalus had spitefully served the gods a feast with an awful main course, the cooked body of his own son Pelops. Demeter was upset at the time because her daughter, Persephone, had disappeared. This left her distracted, so unlike all the other gods and goddesses, she failed to recognize the meat dish as human flesh. As a result, Demeter ate some of the stew. Afterwards, the gods put Pelops back together again, but there was, of course, a missing part. Demeter had eaten one of Pelops' shoulders, so she replaced it with a piece of ivory. Tantalus did not get off unscathed. His well-suited punishment helped inform the Christian vision of Hell.

Tantalus' family's behavior remained unimproved through the generations. Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus (Helen's husband) were among his descendants.

Raising the ire of the gods seems to have come very naturally to all the descendants of Tantalus. The Greek troops heading for Troy, under the lead of Agamemnon, waited at Aulis for a wind that just wouldn't come. Eventually a seer named Calchas deduced the problem: The virgin huntress and goddess, Artemis, had been offended by a boast Agamemnon had made about his own hunting skills. To appease Artemis, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia. Only then would the winds come to fill their sails and let them set off from Aulis to Troy.

To put his daughter Iphigenia to the sacrificial knife was hard for Agamemnon the father, but not for Agamemnon the military leader. He sent word to his wife that Iphigenia was to marry Achilles at Aulis. (Achilles was left out of the loop.) Clytemnestra and their daughter Iphigenia went happily to Aulis for a wedding to the great Greek warrior. But there, instead of a marriage, Agamemnon performed the deadly ritual. Clytemnestra would never forgive her husband.

The goddess Artemis appeased, favorable winds filled the sails of Achaean ships so they could sail to Troy.

Next: The Trojan War - 10 Years of Battle | The Trojan War - The Trojan Horse

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