In Greek mythology,¬†Clytemnestra was the wife of¬†Agamemnon, who was King of¬†Mycenae (who gained the throne through marrige to Clytemnestra, who was already queen), and best known for declaring war on Troy when his brother’s wife (Helen, “the face who launched a thousand ships”) was taken by Paris, the Prince of Troy.
Though Clytemnestra is only mentioned once in Homer’s Illiad, she appears again in his Odyssey, where she plays a pivotal role in Agamemnon’s death, though she is ultimately a rather weak and secondary figure. Seduced by¬†Aegisthus during a war with no end in sight, Clytemnestra eventually succumbed to his advances, and kills¬†Agamemnon upon his eventual return. In retaliation, Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, kills Aegisthus, while¬†the fate of Clytemnestra is unclear.
In¬†Aeschylus’s¬†Orestia trilogy,¬†Clytemnestra is a stronger, more interesting player. Upon Agamemnon’s return, she kills him, not only because of her relationship with Aegisthus, but also because Agammenon sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to appease the goddess Artemis, who had prevented the fleet from sailing to Troy. To further Clytemnestra’s¬†anger, Agamemnon didn’t return home alone, but rather with another wife, Cassandra, whom he had recieved as spoils of war. Clytemenestra kills them both, and marries Aegisthus, who becomes king in name, but serves as Clytemnestra’s puppet. She rules over Mycenae until Orestes returns and kills both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
For more information on Clytemnestra and other women of Ancient Greece, be sure to check out¬†The Role of Women in the Art of Ancient Greece.
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