The Characterisation of Clytaemnestra in the "Oresteia" Essays

The Characterisation of Clytaemnestra in the "Oresteia" Essays

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In this essay I intend to discuss how Aeschylus presents Clytaemnestra in the Oresteia and how he marks the extent to which traits of Clytaemnestra's character remain defiantly unchanged as she manipulates events and characters around her. Clytaemnestra is the only character who appears in all three plays in the trilogy, but despite her immense stage presence she remains a troublesome character to interpret due to the highly ambiguous nature of her words. I intend to show that the key to unlocking Clytaemnestra's manly heart lies in the fact that she hated Agamemnon, not simply because he had killed her child, nor because she loved Aegisthus, but out of a jealousy that was not a jealously of Cassandra, but of Agamemnon himself and his status as a man. Therefore, I intend to show how Aeschylus presents Clytemnestra as a character who ventures throughout the Oresteia to fight, think and talk like a man, but also plot with the wiles of a woman, act the role of faithful wife, and argue with passionate conviction of a bereaved mother.

Clytemnestra is the only female character in the Oresteia who conveys qualities associated with both women and men. That there is something androgynous about Clytaemnestra is suggested by the first reference to her in Agamemnon. The Watchman explains that he waits on the roof at the `command' of `that woman - she manoeuvres like a man' (Ag. 13). (The etymology of the verb command is significant because kratei in the original Greek suggests male command.) Thus, thirteen lines into the first play, Aeschylus already begins to portray Clytaemnestra with her `masculine' desire for political power. Later, the Chorus appease Clytaemnestra by telling her, `We've come, Clytaemnestra. We respect your power (kra...


... middle of paper ...


...es about Clytaemnestra is that she managed to wield this impressive manly lordship in all three of the plays - during Agamemnon's lifetime, after his murder, and even in her own death.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1977.

Anderson, Florence Mary Bennett. "The Character of Clytemnestra in the Choephoroe and the

Eumenides of Aeschylus." The American Journal of Philology 53.4 (1932), 301-319.

Cornford, Francis Macdonald. Thucydides Mythistoricus. London: Edward Arnold, 1907.

Fraenkel, Eduard. Agamemnon. Oxford: Clarendon, 1950.

Garvie, A. F. Aeschylus: Choephori. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

Konishi, Haruo. The Plot of Aeschylus' Oresteia. Amsterdam: Adolf Hakkert Publisher, 1990.

Winngton-Ingram, Robert P. "Clytemnestra and the Vote of Athena." The Journal of Hellenic

Studies 68 (1948): 130-147.

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