Day 26: Favourite classical female character
Clytemnestra (The Oresteia, Aeschylus). She kind of has a point. I’m aware that she’s a villain, or presented as one. Her motives are questionable. I choose to interpret the murder of her husband, Agamemnon, as retaliation for his sacrifice of her daughter during the Trojan War. Agamemnon tricked Clytemnestra into sending Iphigenia to him to be married to Achilles, but killed her in exchange for his fleet being able to chase after Helen. We have no true idea of why, during the war, she began an affair with her brother-in-law. Loneliness? Power? Revenge? Coercion?
When Agamemnon arrives home Clytemnestra invites him in, forcing him first to walk across purple tapestries. When he enters she kills him by trapping him in a net and stabbing him, and then kills Cassandra, his concubine, who can of course fully predict her death and must fulfill her own prophecy. I’ve heard of a performance where, after Agamemnon enters, Clytemnestra’s servants pick up the tapestries to show embroideries telling the tale of Iphigenia’s murder. There is another version where the purple cloth is Iphigenia’s stitched-together dresses.
Clytemnestra announces the murder of Agamemnon using filthy, low Greek, which Tony Harrison’s version interprets as “Shagamemnon”, which is pretty fun. She presents the murder as another kind of sacrifice. Clytemnestra gets all of the best lines. In my basic edition she says:
“If it were possible to pour a libation to the corpse from what is fitting, it would justly be from this blood - no, more than justify: so great a mixing-bowl in his house did this man fill with curse-laden evil, and now on his return he drinks it up himself.” She then justifies her actions by focusing on his careless murder of her daughter. I love that her anger as a mother has led her to take revenge - evem if her children eventually murder her in return, she believes herself to be truly justified and I am given to agree with her, although perhaps not with her murder of Cassandra.