The Iliad

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Agamemnon Character Analysis

King of Mycenae and leader of the Achaean armies. Agamemnon is the wealthiest of any of the Achaean kings and also commands the largest army. However, his leadership can be questionable at times. He quarrels with Achilles, and more than once he suggests that the Achaeans should sail for home in defeat.

Agamemnon Quotes in The Iliad

The The Iliad quotes below are all either spoken by Agamemnon or refer to Agamemnon. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Iliad published in 1998.
Book 1 Quotes

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighter’ souls, but made their body carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Related Characters: Achilles, Zeus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 1.1-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the beginning of the poem, Homer establishes the task ahead of him. Homer will describe the history of the great hero Achilles, who fought alongside his peers the Achaeans (in modern terms, the Greeks) against the Trojans, commanded by the great king Agamemnon.There's a lot to notice here. First, consider that the first word of the poem is "rage." The Iliad is a poem about the savagery and brutality of war, which could be considered the "rage" between different kingdoms. But the poem is also about the rage of individuals: great men like Achilles, who were inspired by their emotions to fight in battle, often achieving great glory in the process. Homer, it's been suggested, both approves of rage and questions what its purpose is. Rage, he says, results in one thing: death (the "carrion feasts"). Yet Achilles's rage also ensures that he'll be remembered forever--as evidenced by the Iliad itself. Finally, it's crucial to notice that Homer is asking the goddess (sometimes translated as "muse") of poetry for inspiration. Homer doesn't see himself as a writer in the modern sense of the word: he's not inventing a story to entertain his audience. Instead, Homer sees himself as merely transcribing the poetry of the gods--an epic, larger-than-life story about the greatest Greeks of history.

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Book 2 Quotes

I and Achilles…Ah if the two of us
could ever think as one, Troy could delay
her day of death no longer, not one moment.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 2.448-452
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon expresses some regret for having argued with Achilles. Agamemnon knows that Achilles is enormously valuable to the Achaean war effort: the Acheans really can't win the war with Troy without him. Agamemnon makes an interesting point: if he and Achilles could just work together, the Trojan War would be over in a day.

Agamemnon makes an interesting point about leadership. The implication of the passage is that Greece isn't big enough for two giant egos: Agamemnon and Achilles are bound to fight because they're both proud, powerful men. (The critic Franco Moretti has argued that the disagreement between Achilles and Agamemnon symbolizes the divisions between soldiers and governors in all complex societies.) And notice also that Agamemnon isn't speaking to a big group--he's just talking to Odysseus (another hero with a big ego). Agamemnon knows that he can't apologize to Achilles: he's too proud and noble for that. The best he can do is express his regret privately.

Book 7 Quotes

But about the dead, I’d never grudge their burning.
No holding back for the bodies of the fallen:
once they are gone, let fire soothe them quickly.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker)
Page Number: 7.471-473
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Agamemnon agrees to a temporary truce with the Trojans. During the neutral hours, the Trojans will be allowed to tend to their dead, giving the fallen soldiers a proper funeral (a funeral of fire, Agamemnon notes). Agamemnon's decision to allow the Trojans to take care of their dead is important, because many of Agamemnon's followers believe that they should press their advantage, denying the Trojans any break from the fight.

In general, then, the passage shows the unwritten code of honor and respect between the two sides of the war. Agamemnon is at war with King Priam, but he knows that all human beings deserve the opportunity to take care of their dead comrades. Agamemnon's speech alludes to common human nature, which he would be a fool to disrespect. The passage is also important because it alludes to 1) the climactic scene of the poem, in which Priam begs Achilles for the opportunity to tend to Hector's dead body, and 2) the events that follow Agamemnon's return from the war, as described in Aeschylus's Oresteia: in these stories, burying the dead will become vitally important.

Book 9 Quotes

Cronus’ son has entangled me in madness, blinding ruin—
Zeus is a harsh, cruel god.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 9.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Agamemnon cries out that Zeus is punishing him: the Trojans have begun to defeat the Achaeans in battle, and it seems that the war is about to end with Agamemnon's defeat. Agamemnon doesn't take personal responsibility for his actions--instead, he blames Zeus (the son of Cronus) for the defeat.

By modern standards, Agamemnon's behavior looks pretty irresponsible: he plays the "blame game" instead of accepting responsibility for his troops' defeat (it was Agamemnon, after all, who forced Achilles out of the army). By Homeric standards, Agamemnon's real crime isn't refusing to accept responsibility for his actions (in ancient Greece, the gods are responsible for everything, at the end of the day) but rather giving up the fight too soon. As we'll see, Diomedes is able to rally his troops and win the battle, showing that Agamemnon is "throwing in the towel" too soon.

Book 19 Quotes

Ruin, eldest daughter of Zeus, she blinds us all,
that fatal madness—she with those delicate feet of hers,
never touching the earth, gliding over the heads of men
to trap us all. She entangles one man, now another.
Why, she and her frenzy blinded Zeus one time,
highest, greatest of men and gods, they say

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 19.106-111
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon speaks with Achilles for the last time. Agamemnon tries to apologize for his argument with Achilles, but without ever really apologizing. Instead, Agamemnon claims to have been manipulated by the goddess Ruin (Atë, the eldest daughter of Zeus, but whose mother is unknown)--a figure who was long ago cast out of Olympus, and who wanders among men, causing misery and argument between them.

For not the first time in the poem, Agamemnon is blaming the gods and destiny instead of taking individual responsibility for his actions. Agamemnon's refusal to accept responsibility seems particularly cowardly by modern standards: a good leader, we've been taught, doesn't "pass the buck" to some else, even if the "someone else" is a goddess. Perhaps Agamemnon's greater error is in making excuses of any kind. At this point in the poem, Achilles isn't expecting an apology of any kind from the king--he's totally indifferent to the argument with which the poem began. Agamemnon, not knowing this, babbles on about fate and Ruin, unaware that his explanations are pointless. Achilles is fighting for himself and his own glory, no matter what happens.

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Agamemnon Character Timeline in The Iliad

The timeline below shows where the character Agamemnon appears in The Iliad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...ransom back his daughter, whom the Achaeans had captured and gave to the Achaean chief Agamemnon as a spoil of war. All the Achaeans advise Agamemnon to give up the girl,... (full context)
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Agamemnon protests, saying he prefers the girl to his wife, but gives in for the good... (full context)
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Agamemnon tells him that he doesn’t care if Achilles leaves, and that he will take Achilles’... (full context)
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Agamemnon calls two heralds and tells them to go to Achilles’ camp and take away Briseis.... (full context)
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...Achilles prays to his mother Thetis, a sea goddess, to help him get revenge on Agamemnon. He says that because he knows his life will be short, he should at least... (full context)
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...the captain Odysseus sails to the island of Chryses, returns the priest’s daughter, and conducts Agamemnon’s sacrifice to Apollo. The men feast and then sail back to the Achaean camp. (full context)
Book 2
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...to honor Achilles by harming the Achaeans. He decides to send a treacherous dream to Agamemnon. The dream, taking the form of the wise Nestor, tells Agamemnon that Troy will fall... (full context)
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Agamemnon repeats his dream to the assembled captains, and Nestor supports his plan. Before attacking, Agamemnon... (full context)
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...ranks. He is described as obscene, ugly, and insubordinate. In front of everyone, he criticizes Agamemnon for hoarding treasure while the soldiers of Achaea are slaughtered, and suggests that the Achaeans... (full context)
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Odysseus makes a speech to Agamemnon and the troops. He criticizes the men for being so ready to depart from Troy... (full context)
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...organize themselves by tribe, as men fighting with their kin will show their true bravery. Agamemnon agrees and also expresses some regret for quarreling with Achilles, stating that the argument came... (full context)
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Agamemnon orders the men to eat and then ready themselves for battle. The armies disperse and... (full context)
Book 3
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...happily agrees and strides out in front of the battle to declare a temporary truce. Agamemnon sees Hector come forward and tells his archers to stop firing. Hector asks all of... (full context)
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Helen names for him Agamemnon, Odysseus, Great Ajax, and Idomeneus, noting the strength and special qualities of each man. Priam’s... (full context)
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...call Priam out to the battlefield to oversee it. Shuddering, Priam reaches the front, where Agamemnon consecrates the sacrifice and swears again that the war will end when the duel is... (full context)
Book 4
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...graze its target. Menelaus sees his own blood, but realizes the wound is not serious. Agamemnon also sees the bleeding and curses the Trojans for breaking their oath. Menelaus reassures Agamemnon... (full context)
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Agamemnon goes out on foot among the troops, rousing them to battle. He praises the Cretan... (full context)
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Agamemnon meets Diomedes and similarly prods him for shirking his place in battle. He compares Diomedes... (full context)
Book 5
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...Athena further assists Diomedes by luring Ares away from the battlefield. Multiple Achaean captains, including Agamemnon, Idomeneus, and Menelaus, kill their Trojan counterparts. (full context)
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...by Diomedes, Odysseus, and the Aeantes (the plural of Ajax). The two sides trade kills: Agamemnon kills a comrade of Aeneas, and Aeneas kills two Achaean captains. Next, Nestor’s son Antilochus... (full context)
Book 6
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...kill several Trojans. Menelaus almost spares the Trojan Adrestus’ life in exchange for ransom, but Agamemnon convinces Menelaus to kill him. The Achaeans push forward. (full context)
Book 7
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...brave enough to accept the challenge until Menelaus stands up on behalf of the Achaeans. Agamemnon checks him, knowing that Menelaus is not strong enough of a fighter to battle Hector.... (full context)
Book 8
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...On the battlefield, the Achaeans are pushed back to their fortifications. Hera sends inspiration to Agamemnon, who encourages his troops to stand fast. Agamemnon prays to Zeus to save the Achaean... (full context)
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...together as a team, with Teucer hiding behind Ajax’ massive shield. Teucer kills several Trojans. Agamemnon praises Teucer’s bravery. Teucer aims for Hector, but is only able to kill the men... (full context)
Book 9
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The Achaeans, sensing defeat, are panicked and despondent. Agamemnon summons a meeting of the armies and tearfully declares the war a failure, stating that... (full context)
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At the meeting of captains, Nestor proposes that Agamemnon make peace with Achilles in order to bring him back into battle. Agamemnon agrees with... (full context)
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Agamemnon’s emissaries reach Achilles’ camp, where they find Achilles playing the lyre and singing. Achilles’ friend... (full context)
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The embassy returns to Agamemnon’s camp. The embassy gives Agamemnon the news of Achilles’ refusal. The soldiers are dispirited by... (full context)
Book 10
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As night falls, the Achaeans sleep soundly, except for Agamemnon, who watches the Trojan fires. Restless, he seeks out Nestor to create a new plan... (full context)
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Agamemnon goes to Nestor and tells him about his anguish. Nestor tells him to wake other... (full context)
Book 11
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As dawn rises, Zeus sets the goddess Strife upon the Achaeans, encouraging them to fight. Agamemnon puts on his exquisite armor and shield. Zeus causes the sky to rain blood and... (full context)
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The Achaeans begin to make progress against the Trojan lines. Agamemnon begins to kill many men, including two sons of Priam. Agamemnon is described as being... (full context)
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...messenger Iris to Hector, telling the soldier to hold back and command his men until Agamemnon is wounded. After Agamemnon’s injury, Hector will be given the strength to drive the Achaeans... (full context)
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Agamemnon’s charge continues, but soon Coon, a son of Antenor, slashes his arm. Agamemnon kills Coon,... (full context)
Book 14
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...tent and immediately sees the carnage surrounding the Achaean camp. He meets the wounded captains Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes. Agamemnon, afraid that Hector’s forces will prevail, suggests again that the Achaeans... (full context)
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Poseidon comes to Agamemnon’s side and reassures him that the Trojans will be turned back. On Olympus, Hera watches... (full context)
Book 16
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...for the Achaean losses. Achilles tells him he has no reason to grieve, saying that Agamemnon’s men are “repaid for their offenses.” Patroclus replies that Achilles’ anger is too stubborn. Patroclus... (full context)
Book 19
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Achilles calls an assembly of the Achaean troops. Agamemnon comes to the meeting, and Achilles says the time has come to reconcile. Agamemnon agrees,... (full context)
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...Odysseus replies that the men must eat first, so as to fortify themselves for battle. Agamemnon agrees, but Achilles says he has no taste for food until he satisfies himself in... (full context)
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Agamemnon’s gifts are brought to Achilles’ camp. Briseis, returned to Achilles, sees that Patroclus has died... (full context)
Book 23
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...not pray to Apollo. Last, the men begin the spear throwing competition. Achilles intercedes, telling Agamemnon that he is the greatest spearmen by far. Agamemnon is automatically awarded first prize. (full context)