Study Guide

Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia The Hero's Journey

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is a framework that scholar Joseph Campbell came up with that many myths and stories follow. Many storytellers and story-readers find it a useful way to look at tale. (That's actually putting it lightly. Some people are straight-up obsessed.) Chris Vogler adapted Campbell's 17 stages of a hero's journey, which many screenwriters use while making movies. Vogler condensed Campbell's 17 stages down to 12, which is what we're using. Check out a general explanation of the 12 stages.

The story of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia doesn't fit perfectly into the Hero's Journey structure, but we're giving it a shot. As the gross old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

Ordinary World

Agamemnon's sitting pretty as the top dog in Mycenae. He's living the life with a beautiful wife and daughter.

Call To Adventure

Turns out, Agamemnon's brother's wife got snatched by some Trojan whippersnapper, and he's got to hop across the pond and get her back. Along with like, ten thousand ships. However, he's got to sacrifice his beloved daughter, Iphigenia, in order to set sail.

Refusal Of The Call

Surely, no father would jump into the task of slaughtering his own child without hesitating at first. Things are dire for King A, but his political obligations eventually outweigh his paternal affection.

Meeting The Mentor

No one exactly teaches Agamemnon how to kill Iphigenia, but you don't have to go far back in his family tree to find a lot of child-killing. His great-grandfather, Tantalus, tried to kill Pelops, Agamemnon's grandfather, by cutting him up and serving him to the gods. Similar atrocities were enacted upon kids. So perhaps Agamemnon's thinking back to his forefathers as he puts his daughter under the knife.

Crossing The Threshold

He goes through with terrible deed, and there's no turning back. Now the Greeks are free to set sail for the most famous war in human history.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

While Agamemnon encounters his fair share of tests, allies and enemies while he's abroad cutting the heads off Trojans, it's when he returns home that he must face his wife Clytemnestra, who's still fuming over the fact that he killed their kid. Can't this lady get over it already?

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Agamemnon enters his palace at Mycenae, having not set foot there for many years. Little does the poor idiot know, he's walking into a trap. The tragic irony is revved up by the face that he walks on a purple robe to his chambers, as if his royalty were being trampled with each step.


Clytemnestra snares Agamemnon with a net in the bathtub before giving her hubby the coup de grace with a wallop from an ax. We don't care who you are, that's a pretty crummy way to go, especially if you're a victorious general and the head honcho of the Greek world.


Although he believes Cassandra, the Trojan princess he brought home for a sex puppet, is his reward, Agamemnon's ultimate prize is an ax to the chest from his bride. Let this be a lesson to you Shmoopers and Shmoopettes: if you sacrifice your daughter, even if it's to a goddess, you're gonna get your butt kicked in a bathtub.

The Road Back

There is no victory lap for Agamemnon, since he's sprawled naked and dead, chopped down like a cherry tree beneath a teenage George Washington.


But we know that Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, are still alive, and they carry his life force in some sense. They may represent the last hope of revenge for the fallen king. Or, just maybe, the resurrection is represented by the version of the myth where Iphigenia turns out to never die at all.

Return With The Elixir

Whether or not someone shows up to Mycenae to deliver justice to the wicked, ax-wielding Clytemnestra is up in the air. You'll have to pop over to the next phase in the seemingly-never ending story of blood and revenge to find out what happens next.

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