The bards sing of the heroes of the Trojan War. Mighty Achilles, who vanquished Hector, Cunning Odysseus who surmounted the walls that challenged Olympus .But what of their leader?
Through the eyes of his brother Menelaus, we see Agamemnon as he really was. A visionary leader intent on unifying the Greeks and a conqueror of Troy with grander designs.
But the hegemon of Mycanae was a man befor his time, and for that, the end destined for him will prove more tragic than the ambitious plans he laid out.
Book I: The House of Atreus
I was there from the beginning. Invincible Achilles, Wise Odysseus, Mighty Ajax, and Noble Diomedes. These were all men who fought by my side at the shores of Illium, sharing moments of laughter and tears of despair. For a decade, we fought this mindless war, forgetting its cause in our long years of exhaustion.
I was the least of these men, but even the heroes had their moments of weakness. The bravest of us would sulk in his tent for months and not give battle for the sake of a woman, and those of us with the greatest foresight would be blinded by love of his own family. We were such a factitious lot that without our leader, we may very well have been squabbling over our own wretched shores and never really be of much threat to Troy, this greatest city of Asia.
I tell you this, Lycurgus, so that one day, you will know of the feats accomplished by the people you conquer today. That you know we are not fisherman rabble but warriors who once aspired to conquer the mighty nations of Asia. We Spartans did not shirk behind the safety of our comrade’s shield, and if you spare my people today, they will pay their dues not in gold and silver, of which there is little left, but in blood and valour, for which this city has in abundance.
It all started one fall at Mycannae. My father Atreus and his brother Theyetes stood boldly on the open fields of the royal palace, where the nobles of that great city assembled. The House of Eurytheus, sworn enemy of your own noble line descended from the hero Hercules himself, had died off with no direct heir. Called forth from Tiryns, my father and Theyetes were the closest of their blood.
“Come, Theyetes,” Atreus bellowed. “Let the lords decide which of us is worthy of kingship.”
Theyetes cut a handsome figure, his eyes shining strong blue, his locks shining golden in the dancing sun. Younger though he was, there was a good chance the Mycaneans would chose him over Atreus.
“Yes, brother. Let it be decided today. I shall challenge you to three races: archery, chariot riding, and sword combat. Let the great nobles be the judge of us today he who be the judge of them in days to come.”
My brother twelve-year-old Agamemnon, he was brave even in those early days. Young as he was, he did not share my awe of formidable Theyetes, but walked up to challenge our uncle. “Let me take up that challenge, Uncle, for you will be no match for my noble father Atreus!”
Theyetes gave his nephew a stunned look, while Atreus looked at his son with a mixture of pride and humor and calmed him down with the words, “Now, now, my son. There will be a day you can show your valour, but this is not that day. Let this be between me and your uncle.”
And so the two princes of Tiryns walked to the shooting range, where the contest would begin. It was a Greek custom to let the younger go first. Theyetes pulled the bow to its full length before releasing. The arrow stuck right at the center of the target.
“Bull’s eyes!”, a noble in the audience shouted, and a chorus of applause followed the handsome prince who now seemed to be the favorite of the nobility. I took in the sight with dismay, for I so much wanted my father to win this contest. But my brother Agamemnon looked at Theyetes in the shooting range, and there was confidence in his eyes, as if to say, “Victory will be ours, no doubt about that.”
Atreus was shorter and darker than Theyetes, but Father, equally confident as my brother, walked up to the shooting range and pulled the bow. It seem like the bow would crack under his immense strength, but just when the bow seemed at wit’s ends, he released it. The arrow flew true. No…truer than truer, for it split Theyetes’ arrow into two!!
Nestor, the wise king of Pylos who was there as an honorary guest and witness, could not believe his eyes. He rose and applauded our father, “One victory for Prince Atreus!! One step closer to the throne for you.” The nobles took in the sight with great astonishment, but a few seconds later, they too applauded Atreus, for such skill was not seen since the time of Hercules.
Atreus has won his first contest against Theyetes. In a few days, they would match their horsemanship in the favorite Mycanean sport: the chariot race.