Sunday, June 22, 2014

TFBT: Agamemnon's Refusal of Chryses' Ransom

At Hour 25, Harvard and the Center for Hellenic Studies' community-development project we are discussing Agamemnon's Refusal of Chryses' Ransom. 
If you don’t know the story you can read more about it in the Iliad.  Chryses, the priest of Apollo comes to the Achaean camp before the walls of Troy to ransom his daughter.  The Greeks called her Chryseis; that is Miss Chryses.  Agamemnon refused the ransom and sent the priest way with dire threats.  No too smart!  His decision and threats “brought countless woes upon the Achaeans, and sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes, and made them themselves spoil for dogs” (Iliad 1.2)  I would like to suggest that for Agamemnon, Chryseis was not  “a girl, just one girl”, but rather the latest in a series of “daughters” he’d lost.  He simply couldn’t lose one more. 

Loud rang the battle-cry they uttered in their rage, just as eagles scream which, in lonely grief for their brood, rowing with the oars of their wings, wheel high over their bed, because they have lost the toil of guarding their nurslings' nest. Aeschylus (Agamemnon 47) 

Helen was barely of marrying age when she married Agamemnon’s younger brother.  However, the most beautiful woman who ever lived was kidnapped by a prince from Troy.  At the discovery of her disappearance, the poet compares Agamemnon to an eagle that’d lost a fledgling, that is a father eagle that’d lost a child. 

Not long afterwards Agamemnon loses his own daughter Iphigenia at the Port of Aulis.  Regardless of the gory details, Agamemnon the father lost another daughter.   

In the opening scene of the Iliad Agamemnon is faced with the loss of Chryseis.  She is replaced with golden-haired Briseis, Miss Briseus.  But later Agamemnon makes a great “oath, that never went he up into her bed, neither had dalliance with her” (Iliad 9.278) Is it possible that he never touched Chryseis?  That for all his protestations of love it was actually fatherly love he felt for Chryseis.   

And that when her father came for her Agamemnon could not face the loss of one more daughter?


  1. I have wondered why the condition of Chryseis was not discussed upon her return to her father. On the other hand, if Agamemnon had raped her, there was no way he could undo his deed; he could just give a compensation, which he did anyway.
    I am glad that you wrote this post attempting to humanize Agamemnon. I feel the poor guy is a victim of injustice - nobody likes him! Not that I do :-).
    I could compare Agamemnon to Creon from the Antigone. Both are military leaders who sacrifice a child to ensure the success of the respective campaign. After that, they become incompetent leaders, to the point of challenging gods. Is it a surprise? Apparently, such loss fathers should be removed from command. They move to a parallel reality and become inadequate. And it is likely that the Erinyes are after them.

    1. Maya,
      Expect more "humanization" of Agamemnon in the next few weeks. I have more to say about the guy and I am sure others in the book club will too.

      Another perspective that I am looking into is Agamemnon (and Menelaus) as furies sent to Troy by Zeus to revenge Paris' violation of the Laws of Hospitality. Which would explain Agamemnon's bouts of Ate, cause Furies only have one thing on their mind; blood.

  2. BTW, Holway in the book Becoming Achilles stresses that captives like Chryseis and Briseis are "daughter-like". However, he does not think that this quality excludes sexual possession of the captive women.