Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and commander-in-chief of the Achaean army, resembles Achilles in some respects. Though not nearly as strong, he has a similarly hot temper and prideful streak. When Agamemnon’s insulting demand that Achilles relinquish his war prize, Briseis, causes Achilles to withdraw angrily from battle, the suffering that results for the Greek army owes as much to Agamemnon’s stubbornness as to that of Achilles. But Agamemnon’s pride makes him more arrogant than Achilles. While Achilles’ pride flares up after it is injured, Agamemnon uses every opportunity to make others feel the effects of his. He always expects the largest portions of the plunder, even though he takes the fewest risks in battle. Additionally, he insists upon leading the army, even though his younger brother Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was stolen by Paris, possesses the real grievance against the Trojans. He never allows the Achaeans to forget his kingly status.
Agamemnon also differs from Achilles in his appreciation of subtlety. Achilles remains fiercely devoted to those who love him but devotedly vicious to those who do him harm; he sees no shades of gray. Agamemnon, however, remains fundamentally concerned with himself, and he has the cunning to manipulate people and situations for his own benefit. He does not trust his troops blindly, but tests their loyalty, as in Book 2. Although he reconciles with Achilles in Book 19, he shirks personal responsibility with a forked-tongued indictment of Fate, Ruin, and the gods. Whereas Achilles is wholly consumed by his emotions, Agamemnon demonstrates a deft ability to keep himself—and others—under control. When he commits wrongs, he does so not out of blind rage and frustration like Achilles, but out of amoral, self-serving cunning. For this reason, Homer’s portrait of Agamemnon ultimately proves unkind, and the reader never feels the same sympathy for him as for Achilles.
More characters from The Iliad
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