Clytemnestra: Not Another Homeric Savage Essay

Clytemnestra: Not Another Homeric Savage Essay

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The Greek interpretation of what makes a man “civilized” and what makes him “savage” is a recurring theme throughout the ancient epics, battle narratives, and dramas, including Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. In this first installment of The Oresteia, the chorus of Argive elders expresses keen outrage at the killing of Agamemnon, which suggests that they equate savagery with the madness they see in Clytemnestra: “just as your mind is maddened by the bloody deed, the blood-fleck in your eyes is clear to see” (1426-1427). In many places throughout the play, however, Clytemnestra proves that she does not fit the description of savage that is defined in Homer’s literature, for example and instead gives evidence that she is a very complex, rational woman. The chorus ignores the many admirable qualities of their queen —her skill at running the estate and her compassion for those who have suffered, among other things— simply because she is a woman. These qualities may not entirely excuse Clytemnestra from taking a life, but they combine to form a more noble picture of the queen than the chorus chooses to portray. Clytemnestra has relatable motives and displays empathy and respect for many different people, including the husband who she just killed, which sets her apart from the classical Greek definition of a savage —a designation forced on Clytemnestra by the chorus, but not necessarily to be believed.
While Clytemnestra’s crime would be violent and shocking to the Argive men and to the Greek audience, her motivations for murdering her husband are not completely incomprehensible and are not without some roots in justice. After stabbing the king, Clytemnestra draws the chorus’ attention back to the other murder witnessed earlier in the play: the...


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...omer’s idea of savages taken from The Odyssey include people such as the Laestragonians who devour men routinely, without conscious thought for morality or consequence and men like the suitors who have committed crimes against xenia. Up until the sacrifice of Iphigeneia where she reaches her breaking point, Clytemnestra has not outrageously offended the gods, ruthlessly harassed members of other households, or acted thoughtlessly in any way, and even after this pivotal event, she carries out her plans with an impressive amount of mental assiduity. Throughout the Agamemnon, the chorus is unfair and imprecise when they accuse her of madness and savagery; she is not insane or barbaric but instead quite logical and mindful. These are qualities that at the very least deserve respect from an audience that can resist the biased judgements from the chorus of Argive elders.

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