Aragorn vs. Agamemnon

by Varda, with responses

Among the many comparisons between Troy and The Return of The King is a very interesting parallel between the two kings, Aragorn and Agamemnon.

The politics in Troy are ruthless, nasty and violent; you could say that it is closer to 'real life' than the politics in The Lord of The Rings. But the end result is chaos; the Greeks win but at terrible cost; they lose their leaders and so their much-vaunted unity. Aragorn follows rather than leads, gaining support by fighting side by side with his potential subjects or allies, and in the end gains victory and lasting unity.

Compared to Aragorn, Agamemnon (Brian Cox in the film) is a monster, and not just because of his hairstyle, which for a moment I thought was the Greeks' real secret weapon. When we first see him he is in a palace surrounded by golden booty from his wars. Unfortunately this makes it look like an antique shop, but that does not prevent you realising this is a very dangerous man, a million miles from the gracious, courteous royal family of Troy in their light-filled palace looking out over the sea. But like Aragorn, Agamemnon aims for unity; the unity of Greece. It means power for him, but oddly he is the same as Aragorn here, because he says, of Achilles;
'He is the past and I am the future'. and Aragorn, or Elessar, will bring in the next age of Middle Earth with his reign.

So although he is horrible, misusing the priestess Briseis, gloating over the death of Patroclus and disgusting even the cynical Odysseus, Agamemnon has a lot in common with Aragorn. Tolkien drew a good deal on the Saxon king Alfred for Aragorn, the king who unites his people against an enemy, and Agamemnon unites the Greeks against a common enemy as well.

In a way, Boromir is Aragorn's Achilles. Agamemnon finds it difficult to deal with Achilles
'He can't be controlled' he says, and in the same way Aragorn knows he has no real control over Boromir, who is the Steward's son and heir. In the Council of Elrond Boromir shows he does not think much of the rest of the West and their war effort, which he sees as nil, and Aragorn does not argue with him. It is no surprise that in one draft Tolkien had them end up fighting each other. Also, like Achilles, Boromir is the past, the rule of the Stewards.

It is Achilles who holds the key to victory for the Greeks, and in a way Boromir does too for Aragorn. By trying to take the ring, he sends Frodo off on his own, which Frodo knows he has to do, but is unable to take the step himself. Boromir also sends the two little hobbits, Pip and Merry, off to Fangorn, unleashing the Ents who will check Saruman in the West, giving the allies valuable breathing space. Boromir's death also forces Aragorn to evaluate his leadership and even his very soul, making him develop and change and become a more empathetic person.

The problem is it is hard to see similarities because Agamemnon is such a horrible guy. Even Menelaus, his brother, is a more sympathetic character. He, after all, has been deceived by his wife, while generously entertaining the Trojan princes in a good-hearted attempt to foster peace with their city-state. His desire to get her back is understandable, and Agamemnon's use of him to further his own ambitions is another example of his ruthlessness.

As Eilenach pointed out in her post, modern stories always take the worst view of people; Faramir would have slain the hobbits and taken the Ring; Aragorn would have taken advantage of Éowyn, and so on. The heroes in The Lord Of The Rings behave in an honourable, decent manner. Is this totally unrealistic? In Troy we see the 'heroes' behave in despicable ways (apart from the noble Hector, and he ends up dead) which we sadly admit are more true to life.

I think Tolkien delved to a deeper reality. Truces and peace agreements don't make great news, or even get noticed by historians. We only remember the bad stuff. When Faramir restrains himself from taking the Ring, or from killing Sam and Frodo, he is admitting he is not all-knowing or all-powerful; in truth, he plays a waiting hand. He is not ruthless, but he is not innocent either. He knows that Gondor is losing its war, and this weapon will destroy it from within as well. By letting Frodo and Sam go, he is taking a risk but it is worth it; the alternative is without all hope. As Gandalf says, better a fool's hope than none at all.

And so with Aragorn; he has many chances to take advantage of people and hasten his ascent to power; not just Éowyn but Théoden too. But he waits, and observes a code of honour, and comes to the throne by a slow, circuitous route which leaves him no enemies at his back, but only friends who love him.

Are there two or three 'm's in Agamemnon?

Response from Orangeblossom Took:

I would like to think that there is still honor left in the world of men but, like Odyesseus, I am cynical on that point. That is a great part of LOTR's appeal. I, for one appreciate that the we have such honorable heros.

I was fascinated by Greek myth when I was a child. I also knew the stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey, albeit in a somewhat sanitized picture book for kids. I always hated Agamemnon and Achilles. Interstingly enough, both Boromir and Achilles were more sympathetic in movie than in book. At least Hector is noble but he dies. *sniff*  LOTR has a much more satisfying ending, despite the sadness of Frodo leaving.

Response from Indis:

I am sure there are peacemakers and leaders who lead by good example instead of power out there even today, but you don't hear of them much because the Agamemnons of this age simply kick them out of the race before they can do any good.

Reply to Indis from Varda:

Tsk tsk, such pessimism! and yet did our own heroic taoiseach not cause peace to break out by merely wearing yellow pants?

Reply to Varda's comment from Vison:

 Now, about those yellow pants.....

Well, well. To each his own. Best say naught. You know, if you can't say naught nice, say naught?
I haven't seen the movie Troy, but having read and loved the Iliad (and the Odyssey) in various forms all my life, I am curious to see one day what's been done with the tale. Agammenon and Achilles are hard to love. These men aren't really much like men are now, these guys are unreconstructed testosterone monkeys, all that we shudder at in men was admired in them. Go figure. No wonder the ancient world so often seemed awash in blood.

Like nowadays, it isn't. Right? Why do we learn so little?
Like so many others, I gave my heart to Odysseus, that wily fellow. Ulysses, as he is also known.

Response from sarahstitcher:

Agamemnon (yep, 2 m's) is another example of a power-over "leader". He may have the goal of uniting Greece, but as you say it's for his own aggrandizement. Aragorn is a power-with guy. He supports the power of his allies, so the whole will be stronger. And he leads by serving, not by ordering others about.
I have to chuckle and agree with you about Agamemnon's hair! Somehow I hadn't imagined dredlocks in ancient Greece, although of course why not?
I guess I never quite understood Achilles myself. He does seem to have his own particular code of honor... and I did like that he was willing to stand up to Agamemnon (an even bigger jerk) but somehow being better at killing other people than anyone else, never struck me as so wonderful. I really enjoyed my time as a classics major, but I never really got the Homeric concept of a hero. (whoever has the worst case of testosterone poisoning wins?) I did like that the movie made Achilles more sympathetic than I had found him in the book. But Hector was still much more sympathetic. I was a lot sorrier when he died, and felt more for his dilemmas.

Response from Gandalf 921:

Using my definition, I would not describe any of the characters in Troy heroic (apart from Hector) because none of them acted like heroes, although some of them were the leaders. In LOTR yes its true that there are a lot more "heroes" then there would be in real life usually. But then again, maybe the heroes were appointed because they were heroes.

I found that I developed a lot of sympathy for Hector in Troy, enough to make Achilles my least favourite character (I haven't read the book Iliad in a while, so I'm just using the film version here sorry!), and almost half-wishing that the spear he threw at Odysseus actually hit him. Then Achilles would never have ended up going there! Ok thats going a bit too far. But I never watch past Hector's death scene, because the movie tends to go downhill ("It is a gift, we should take it to the temple of Posiedon" "Burn it my prince its a gift to the Gods!") , well not in quality but its hard for me to watch.

I don't really think that you can compare Aragorn and Agammenmon because although they are in the same position, it is entirely a coincidence and their minds are polar ends apart. Agammenmon united Greece simply so he could be the ruler of all of Greece, and was fighting simply so he could have an empire as large as possible. Aragorn was fighting for freedom and peace, Agammenmon was fighting to remove all freedom and peace, and his enemies were fighting for freedom and peace. Aragorn never really wanted to the King of Middle Earth, it was a position he took really because he had to.