Another Well-Known Family

The Odyssey is a complicated poem. We have focused on the main storyline: Odysseus's wanderings, Telemachus's search for his father and his growth as a young man, and their successful return—as father and son—to reclaim their home. Naturally, we have left out many of the twists and turns in Homer's epic.

But here, in our conclusion, we want to single out a minor chord in The Odyssey's symphony. Throughout The Odyssey, we hear mentions of one other family, of another Greek hero who went to Troy and who had a difficult homecoming. This family—the family of the Greek leader Agamemnon—is the shadow of the family of Odysseus.

At the very beginning of The Odyssey, the gods on high Olympus discuss Agamemnon's fate. He led the Greeks to Troy. (The gods do not mention it, but we know from other stories that, upon his launch, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to win the gods' favor for his expedition.) After 10 years besieging and then destroying Troy, he left with the main army and sailed home. But in the meantime, his wife, Clytemnestra, had taken up with another lord, Aegisthus. When Clytemnestra and Aegisthus heard that Agamemnon was returning, they prepared him a feast, pretended that all was well, and once Agamemnon had begun to eat and drink and let down his guard, they slaughtered him at his table.

The troubles did not end there. Agamemnon's son, Orestes, a hero in his own right, heard what his mother and her lover had ...

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