Thursday, October 3, 2019

Agamemnon, His Daughter, and Abraham's Myth

The movie Troy, made in 2004, isn't really fair to Agamemnon of the House of Atreus. True, He really did have a falling out with Achilles, but that doesn't necessarily make Him a bad person or "unheroic." Hollywood has portrayed Him as an old, overweight, over indulgent, and even cowardly tyrannical thief, whose greed for power cannot be satisfied. But the fact of the matter is that we don't even know what He looked like, and the so called Mask Of Agamemnon is speculation at best, as it predates the Trojan War by hundreds of years. What we mostly know about Him comes from Homer. In The Iliad, Agamemnon is a fantastic warrior, whose courage and strength on the battlefield sent many Trojans "down to Haides," as Homer might put it. While Gods like Apollon had to teach Agamemnon a lesson in humility at times, He is hardly disgraced in the eyes of the ancients. While He does have His selfish points, He is considered a Hero, as all of the Homeric warriors are classified as such.

However, one of the most infamous myths about the man is concerning His daughter, Iphigenia. In the story, Agamemnon once again finds Himself at odds with a God, this time Artemis after He kills a deer in an area sacred to the Goddess (I myself have always believed deer to be sacred to Artemis, which is why I will not kill or eat them). Artemis steps in and sends the winds into unfavorable manifestations, literally beaching His fleet. To atone for His offense, Agamemnon decides on a human sacrifice of His own daughter. Only then, He thought, would Artemis allow the Greek navy to even begin sailing for the Trojan coast. In one version, He goes through with the sacrifice and the winds then open their course toward Troy. In another, Artemis replaces Iphigenia with a deer on the altar, thus saving her life and taking the sacrifice of the animal in her place.

One thing that's really interesting is how this framework mirrors the old testament story of Abraham, who was going to sacrifice his own son to God, but at the last minute, an angel sends his attention in the direction of a ram, which is sacrificed in his son's place. It is estimated that Genesis, the part of the bible in which the story occurs, was written around 1450 to 1400 BCE. While Agamemnon would have lived later, around 1260 to 1180 BCE, the Jews do not appear to have had contact with the Greeks until much later, around the 4th century. And, if Moses was indeed the author of Genesis, he is estimated to have lived anywhere from 1550 to 1200 BCE, meaning it's possible that Agamemnon predates him. Of course, there were many versions and oral traditions of the bible and Greek religious stories throughout the ages, so it's not possible to tell really which one of these stories may have been told first, and certainly no evidence that one stole from the other.

Agamemnon is one of those Heroes who comes to us through the good and the bad, meaning that sometimes, human Heroes are made through their triumphs and also their tragedies, especially if their tragedies are something they learn from and can be used to teach people valuable lessons. Agamemnon can teach us how to destroy our enemies, but also the importance of living a life with humility and compassion, as He spent a lot of time learning of the hardships of hubris and selfishness.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.