Odyssey: The Ghost of Agamemnon

This story is part of the Odyssey unit. Story source: Homer's Odyssey, translated into English by Tony Kline. (2004).

The Ghost of Agamemnon

When sacred Persephone had dispersed the female spirits, the ghost of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, came sorrowing, and other ghosts were gathered round him, those who met their fate alongside him, murdered in Aegisthus’ palace. Drinking the black blood he knew me, and wept loudly, shedding great tears, stretching his hands out in his eagerness to touch me. But all his power and strength was gone, all that vigour his body one possessed.

I wept when I saw him, and pitied him, and spoke to him with winged words: “Agamemnon, king of men, glorious son of Atreus, what pitiless stroke of fate destroyed you? Did Poseidon stir the cruel winds to a raging tempest, and swamp your ships? Or perhaps you were attacked in enemy country, while you were driving off their cattle and fine flocks, or fighting to take their city and its women?”

He answered my words swiftly: “Odysseus of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, Poseidon stirred no cruel winds to raging tempest, nor swamped my ships, nor was I attacked in enemy country. Aegisthus it was who engineered my fate, inviting me to his palace for a feast, murdering me with my accursed wife’s help, as you might kill an ox in its stall. I died wretchedly, and round me my companions were slaughtered ruthlessly, like white-tusked swine for a wedding banquet in the hall of some rich and powerful man, or at a communal meal, or a great drinking session. You yourself have witnessed the killing of men, in single combat or in the thick of the fight, but you would have felt the deepest pity at that sight, the floor swimming with blood where our corpses lay, by the mixing bowl and the heavily-laden tables. But the most pitiful cry of all came from Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, whom treacherous Clytemnestra killed as she clung to me.

"Brought low by Aegisthus’ sword I tried to lift my arms in dying, but bitch that she was my wife turned away, and though I was going to Hades’ Halls she disdained even to close my eyelids or my mouth. Truly there is nothing more terrible or shameless than a woman who can contemplate such acts, planning and executing a husband’s murder. I had thought to be welcomed by my house and children, but she with her mind intent on that final horror has brought shame on herself and all future women, even those who are virtuous.”

To this I answered: “Indeed, from the very beginning, Zeus the Thunderer has tormented the race of Atreus, through women’s machinations! So many men died for Helen’s sake while Clytemnestra plotted in your absence.”

I spoke, and he made answer swiftly: “So don’t be too open with your own wife, don’t tell her every thought in your mind, reveal a part, keep the rest to yourself. Not that death will come to you from wise Penelope, Icarius’ daughter, she who is so tender-hearted, and circumspect. A newly wedded bride she was when we left for the war, with a baby son at her breast who must be a man now and prospering. His loving father will see him when he returns, and he will kiss his father as is right and proper. But that wife of mine did not even allow me to set eyes on my son before she killed me. Let me say this too, and take my words to heart, don’t bring your ship to anchor openly, when you reach home, but do it secretly, since women can no longer be trusted. Come tell me, in truth, have you heard if my son is still alive, maybe in Orchomenus or sandy Pylos, or in Menelaus’ broad Sparta: that my noble Orestes is not yet dead?”

To this I answered: “Son of Atreus, why ask this of me? I cannot tell if he is dead or living, and it is wrong to utter empty words.”

(700 words)

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