What is the story of Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Orestes? Why is it repeated so many times in The Odyssey?

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clarendon | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Agamemnon is the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces fighting against Troy.  His brother is Menelaus, whose wife Helen is the cause of the whole affair. Clytemnestra is his wife; Orestes is his son.  While Agamemnon is at Troy, Clytemnestra has an affair with Aegisthus.  When Agamemnon returns from the war, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra kill him at a banquet (in violation of the all-important host-guest relationship).  In retaliation, Orestes kills Aegisthus.

Homer mentions this over and over to provide a series of foils to Odysseus and his family.  While Agamemnon is treacherously slain upon returning home, Odysseus finds a loyal wife and son and prevails.  Clytemnestra's infidelity makes Penelope's faithfulness all the more brilliant.  Orestes' action is mentioned by Athena in Book 1 to spur Telemachus on to action.

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thetall | (Level 3) Educator

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Clytemnestra was unfaithful to her husband Agamemnon who was in battle at Troy. Aegisthus was the apparent lover in the triangle who killed Agamemnon in order to establish an intimate relationship with his wife. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, knew of how his father died but waited strategically until the opportune time came, and avenged his father by killing Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, his mother.

The story about Agamemnon, the infidelity of his wife Clytemnestra with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s death at the hands of the two lovers, and the vengeance by his son Orestes on behalf of his father is repeated several times in the story because:

  • It is this story, and the courage of Orestes, that Athena employs to spur Telemachus into action regarding a similar situation facing his mother Penelope.
  • The story is also used to strike a close resemblance between Agamemnon’s situation and his eventual death, with what Penelope is going through at the hands of unwanted suitors.
  • The story is also used to show the difference between Clytemnestra and Penelope and also shows the benefits associated with fidelity and perseverance.
  • At some point, Nestor shares the full story of Agamemnon’s death with Telemachus in order to improve his understanding of how such a thing could happen to a noble man, and the importance to decisively face the situation.

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