Agamemnon in Herodotus and Thucydides: Exploring the historical uses of a mythological paradigm

Vasiliki Zali


This paper explores the use of the myth of Agamemnon in Herodotus and Thucydides. I argue that the deployment of Agamemnon in their works is shaped by, and sheds additional light on, the historians’ attitude toward myth (and its use in rhetoric), their narrative aims and historical outlook. Herodotus’ readiness to embrace myth in both narrative and speeches, his representation of complex motivation, his description of the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, and his panhellenic outlook, influence the function of Agamemnon: as king of Sparta and the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War, he reflects the idealistic and pragmatic motivation of the Spartans in the context of the Persian Wars. Agamemnon’s function in Thucydides is different since it is affected by the general avoidance of mythological argument – especially in rhetoric – and its merely relative significance, the description of a war between the Greeks, Thucydides’ pragmatism, and his writing for posterity: aptly replaced by Sparta’s Dorianism in the context of the war against Athens, Agamemnon becomes a contemporary tyrant king who may represent any city or individual yearning for power and empire.


Agamemnon, history, rhetoric, politics

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