the queen

The name Clytaemnestra, or Clytaemestra, is connected with kleos (glory), the adjective klytos (renowned, regal), and with mestor (experienced, wise), from the verb medomai (think, conspire, contrive deadly plans), from which the name Medea also derives.

Clytemnestre Her name describes her fate, for she was to be queen, spouse of the commander-in-chief in the Trojan War, wife of Agamemnon of the house of Atreus 'of fire and silence'.

The daughter of Leda, she was twin sister of Helen, though by a mortal father, the autocratic Tyndareus, whose decisions bore the strong stamp of patriarchal authority, a father who compelled her to marry Agamemnon, the murderer of her first husband and also of her child.

The old hatred was rekindled with the sacrifice of Iphigeneia. During the ten years that followed, until the return of the Achaeans, Clytaemnestra shut herself up in her palace, weaving the net of revenge.

Capable, determined, all-powerful in her perspicacity, she did not wait for Agamemnon or the next king to enter her house again but herself forced her way onto the stage and made herself queen.

The character of Clytaemnestra, is the only one in myth that retains its human features intact, without relying on divine or magical powers.

Clytaemnestra is moved by her own free will and acts within the framework of the law of revenge, refusing to accept that her crime will probably be punished. She refuses to invoke the demands of the gods as an alibi.

Clytemnestre Her strength allows her to accept in full the responsibility for the transgression of many accepted standards, to which her actions have led her: political, in that she took the rule and authority into her own hands, social, in that she offended against modesty and honour by taking Aegisthus as her consort, and finally, the standards of the fundamental moral code, not only because she murdered her husband, but because she murdered him in cold blood, after many years of preparation. She had woven the net with which she trapped her prey day and night, with lies and guile, methodically and shrewdly.

To the Chorus which, speechless, vainly tries to offer her the mitigation of drunkenness, Clytaemnestra vigorously and strongly reveals her face. A face that speaks, not one that is dumb. The face of a woman who holds her fate in her hands. In the shape of an axe. In the shape of a sceptre.

    'Ye are proving me as if I were a witless woman. But my heart quails not, and I say to you who know it well - and whether ye are minded to praise or blame me, 'tis all one - here is Agamemnon, my husband, done to death, the work of this right hand, a workman true. So stands the case.'

    Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1401-1406 (Loeb edition)


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From Medea to Sappho - Radical Women in Ancient Greece
Athens, National Archaeological Museum - 20 March - 30 June 1995