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
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*
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
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.