Clytemnestra (/ˌklaɪtəmˈnɛstrə/; Greek:
Κλυταιμνήστρα, Klytaimnḗstra, [klytai̯mnɛ̌ːstra])
was the wife of
Agamemnon and queen of
Mycenae (or sometimes Argos) in
ancient Greek legend. In the
Oresteia by Aeschylus, she murdered
Agamemnon – said by
Euripides to be her second husband –
and the Trojan princess Cassandra, whom he had taken as war prize
following the sack of Troy; however, in Homer's Odyssey, her role in
Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more
4 Appearance in later works
Her Greek name Klytaimnḗstra is also sometimes Latinized as
Clytaemnestra. It is commonly glossed as "famed for her suitors".
However, this form is a later misreading motivated by an erroneous
etymological connection to the verb mnáomai (μνάoμαι, "woo,
court"). The original name form is believed to have been
Klytaimḗstra (Κλυταιμήστρα) without the -n-. The present
form of the name does not appear before the middle Byzantine
period. Aeschylus, in certain wordplays on her name, appears to
assume an etymological link with the verb mḗdomai (μήδoμαι,
Clytemnestra, John Collier, 1882
Clytemnestra was the daughter of
Tyndareus and Leda, the King and
Queen of Sparta, making her a Spartan Princess. According to the myth,
Zeus appeared to Leda in the form of a swan, seducing and impregnating
her. Leda produced four offspring from two eggs: Castor and
Clytemnestra from one egg, and Helen and Polydeuces (Pollux) from the
other. Therefore, Castor and
Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus,
whereas Helen and Polydeuces were fathered by Zeus.
Agamemnon and his brother
Menelaus were in exile at the home of
Tyndareus; in due time
Clytemnestra and Menelaus
married Helen. In a late variation, Euripides's
Iphigenia at Aulis,
Clytemnestra's first husband was Tantalus, King of Pisa; Agamemnon
kills him and his infant son, then made
Clytemnestra his wife. In
another version, her first husband was King of Lydia. The kings of
Lydia, according to Plutarch's The Greek Questions, 45, having
Omphale who had received from
Herakles Hippolyte's (the
queen of the Amazons') axe, carried this axe (called labrys by
Lydians) as one of their sacred insignia of office. In the tradition
following the Sicilian lyric poet Stesichorus's Oresteia
Clytemnestra used such a double-edged ax to assist her lover Aegisthus
in the killing of
Agamemnon (and later, to attempt to kill her son
Orestes, as he arrived to avenge his father's death), as depicted on
the mixing bowl (calyx krater) with the killing of
Classical Period – about 460 B.C.) by the Dokimasia Painter.
After Helen went (or was taken) from
Sparta to Troy, her husband,
Menelaus, asked his brother
Agamemnon for help. Greek forces gathered
at Aulis. However, consistently weak winds prevented the fleet from
sailing. Through a subplot involving the gods and omens, the priest
Calchas said the winds would be favorable if
Agamemnon sacrificed his
Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis.
Clytemnestra to send
Iphigenia to him, telling her he was going to
marry her to Achilles. When
Iphigenia arrived at Aulis, she was
sacrificed, the winds turned, and the troops set sail for Troy.
Trojan War lasted ten years. During this period of Agamemnon's
Clytemnestra began a love affair with Aegisthus, her
husband's cousin. Whether
Clytemnestra was seduced into the affair or
entered into it independently differs according to the respective
author of the myth.
Aegisthus began plotting Agamemnon's
Clytemnestra was enraged by Iphigenia's murder (and presumably
the earlier murder of her first husband by Agamemnon, and her
subsequent rape and forced marriage).
Aegisthus saw his father
Thyestes betrayed by Agamemnon's father
conceived specifically to take revenge on that branch of the family).
Murder of Agamemnon, painting by
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1817)
In old versions of the story, on returning from Troy,
murdered by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife, Clytemnestra. In some
Clytemnestra helps him or does the killing herself in
his own home. The best-known version is that of Aeschylus: Agammemnon,
having arrived at his palace with his concubine, the Trojan princess
Cassandra, in tow and being greeted by his wife, entered the palace
for a banquet while
Cassandra remained in the chariot. Clytemnestra
waited until he was in the bath, and then entangled him in a cloth net
and stabbed him. Trapped in the web,
Agamemnon could neither escape
nor resist his murderer.
Cassandra saw a vision of herself and
murdered. Her attempts to elicit help failed (she had been cursed by
Apollo that no one would believe her prophecies). She realized she was
fated to die, and resolutely walked into the palace to receive her
After the murders,
Agamemnon as king and ruled for
seven years with
Clytemnestra as his queen. In some traditions they
have three children: a son Aletes, and daughters Erigone and Helen.
Clytemnestra was eventually killed by her son by Agamemnon, Orestes.
The infant Helen was also killed. Aletes and Erigone grow up at
Mycenae, but when Aletes comes of age,
Orestes returns from Sparta,
kills his half-brother, and takes the throne.
Orestes and Erigone are
said to have had a son, Penthilus.
Orestes Pursued by the
Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Clytemnestra was killed by
Orestes and the
Furies torment him for this
Appearance in later works
She is one of the main characters in Aeschylus's Oresteia, and is
central to the plot of all three parts. She murders
Agamemnon in the
first play, and is murdered herself in the second. Her death then
leads to the trial of
Orestes by a jury composed of
Athena and 10
Athenians in the final play.
Alexandre Soumet's tragedy Clytemnestre was successfully produced in
The fictional protagonist Becky Sharp plays
Clytemnestra in a charade
described in chapter 51 of William M. Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair.
In Ferdinando Baldi's The Forgotten Pistolero, a Spaghetti Western
adaptation of the Oresetia,
Clytemnestra is named Anna Carrasco and is
portrayed by Luciana Paluzzi.
The American modern dancer and choreographer
Martha Graham created a
Clytemnestra (1958), about the queen.
Most recently, playwright and actor Corey Allen wrote a contemporary
adaptation of Aeschylus' earlier work entitled Clytemnestra.
The story has also been adapted into an opera;
Cromwell Everson a
South African composer wrote the first
Afrikaans opera, Klutaimnestra,
in 1967. It is an opera in four acts and premiered on November 7,
1967, in Biesenbach Hall, Worcester, Western Cape, South Africa.
Rhian Samuel composed a 1994 work for voice and ensemble adapting
Aeschylus' work from Clytemnestra's viewpoint.
John Eaton composed an opera in one act entitled The Cry of
Clytemnestra recounting the events leading up to and including
Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon.
She is a character in Jean-Paul Sartre's play The Flies.
She is mentioned in comparison with a character from Agatha Christie's
Nemesis (1971) by the name of Clotilde Bradbury-Scott. She often muses
that she can see her planning and murdering her husband in a tub, but
not a young girl.
In the 2003 miniseries Helen of Troy,
Clytemnestra is played by Katie
Blake. As in the myth, she murders
Agamemnon in revenge for
sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia.
She is the narrator of the first and last sections of Colm Tóibín's
2017 novel "House of Names," a retelling of the story of Agamemnon,
Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Orestes, and Electra.
^ "Definition of CLYTEMNESTRA". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved
^ "Clytaemnestra", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. VI,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878, p. 44 .
^ "Oresteia", Loeb edition by Alan Sommerstein, intro, p.x, 2008.
^ "The Roman and Greek Questions: The Greek Questions: 40-49".
www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
^ Davies, M.. (1987). Aeschylus' Clytemnestra: Sword or Axe?. The
Classical Quarterly, 37(1), 65–75.
^ "Mixing bowl (calyx krater) with the killing of Agamemnon". mfa.org.
13 September 2016. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Clytemnestra.
Servius. In Aeneida, xi.267.
Iphigenia in Aulis and
Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides
Iphigenia in Aulis
Iphigénie en Aulide
Iphigénie en Aulide (1774, Gluck)
The Songs of the Kings
Alcmaeon in Corinth
Bash: Latter-Day Plays
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Iphigenia in Tauris
Iphigénie en Tauride (1699, Desmarets and Campra)
Ifigenia in Tauride (1771, Jommelli)
Iphigénie en Tauride (1779, Gluck)
Iphigénie en Tauride (1781, Piccinni)
Iphigenia in Tauris (1779)
The Forgotten Pistolero
The Forgotten Pistolero (1969)
Electra, My Love
Electra, My Love (1974)
The Travelling Players
The Travelling Players (1975)
Idoménée (1712, Campra)
Idomeneo (1780, Mozart)
Oresteia (1895, Taneyev)
Elektra (1909, Strauss/von Hofmannsthal)
Leben des Orest (1930, Krenek)
Electra (1967, Levy/Butler)
Oresteia (458 BC, Aeschylus)
Electra (c. 413 BC, Euripides)
Orestes (c. 408 BC, Euripides)
Electra (c. 405 BC, Sophocles)
Electra (1937, Giraudoux)
The Flies (1943, Sartre)
Elektra (1971, Wijesinha)
Electra (1931, O'Neill)
Elektra (1981, Marvel)
Orestes and Electra