Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TFBT: Agamemnon's Bath

I assume my readers, if any, are bibliophiles; lovers of books.  If so, I am sure you had this experience.  On a long flight or in a remote location you get stuck reading a book that is a piece of propaganda full of lies and half-truths.  In order to save someone else from getting sucked into this mess you toss it into the garbage rather recycling or donating it to the library.   Or is it badly written and has a lame ending.  Or it is full of illogic and bad science.  Or the author makes a state of general and universal application that this is an "obvious projection of..." If it is so obvious why must the authoress point it out?    I read one of these books recently.  (Walker 1983). I would have tossed it but I was on a five hour flight. In between the waves of nausea and disgust there were a few interesting if odd insights on Greek mythology.  This is the third in a series of blogs investigating these possible gems in the rubbish.

"The ritualistic manner of his (Agamemnon's) death showed it was more than simple murder". (B. Walker 1983).  

Let me start by pointing out that in Greek myth women and goddesses bath by skinny-dipping with their girlfriends.  Men are given a solitary bath by a woman.  

Hence, Hera bathes regularly in the spring of Canathus, the mountain nymphs bathe naked to make sure that everyone in their company is a woman, finally Artemis and Athena both got caught at different times in the nude by unfortunate hunters.   

Meanwhile; Baby Zeus was bathed by his mother Rhea in the river Nepa, Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra, Telemachus by Nestor's daughter, Odysseus by Nausicaä’s maids, Odysseus by his nanny, Odysseus after exacting a "solemn oath from Circe" is given  "a deliciously warm bath, wine in golden cups, and a tasty supper". Helen of Troy got the disguised Odysseus to her house, where she bathed, anointed and clothed him.  

In the examples above "peeping toms" died or suffered when stumbling upon the frolicking nymphs. But no hero died getting a bath from a babe.  So the quote for this blog is somewhat unusual;
 “The ritualistic manner of Agamemnon's death showed it was more than simple murder".   

If you don't know of Agamemnon's death, here's the short version.  He led the Greek forces at Troy.  To gain favorable winds for the fleet, he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. This was second of his wife's children that he killed.  When he returned home in victory, his wife Clytemnestra literally rolled out the red carpet, wrapped him in a luxurious robe, tossed him the bath tub and stabbed him to death. If Agamemnon died in a "ritualistic manner" you'd think other guys died in the tub.  But they didn't.  

The only way I can explain the authoress' statement, was that she confounded “bath tub and “cauldron”.  Visually this is not too much of an intellectual leap if you've ever been in a wood-fired hot tub.  (See attached photo.) 

So the only way I can support her statement is by analogy or what Nagy calls metonymy (2015).  Ritual deaths involving cauldrons and female attendants?  That we can find references to; The boy Pelops was diced up and tossed into a boiling cauldron; he was restored by the Fate Clotho.  Under the direction of the witch Medea, Pelias’ daughters diced him up and tossed him into a boiling cauldron; that didn't work too well for him.  The spell worked much better on Medea' father-in-law Aeson.   

So it appears there was a ritual (magical) bath followed by death (or immortality.)
 If only Agamemnon had treated his step-children better!


  1. I am also thinking of the ritual of sacrifice. Both Agamemnon and Cassandra have all reasons to avoid the red carpet / the house, yet they walk voluntarily to their deaths, as a sacrificial animal should. The Chorus, trying to dissuade Cassandra, asks in plain text, "Why do you go there like a sacrificial cow?" (Yet nobody offers her any alternative.) Clytemnestra says that there is no time to waste because sacrificial sheep are standing by the fireplace, awaiting the knife. After the murder, she says that she covered Agamemnon with his cloth to make him helpless. Before that, the Chorus describes Iphigenia's clothes being used the same way.

  2. Maya,

    This is the best argument I read for the sacrifice theme. Thanks