A Modern Heroine

A Modern Heroine

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A Modern Heroine

In today’s society, women have overcome many hardships to become able to vote, able to run for public office, and even able to hold high business positions. Some people believe that such accomplishments are because of literary examples that have, over the years, lead women to believe in themselves, motivate them-selves, and stand up for themselves. In Aeschylus’ infamous Greek tragedy, The Oresteia, Clytaemestra, the leading woman, overcomes the Greek society’s slighting attitude towards women, grasping the most powerful position attain-able in Argos. Even after gaining power, Clytaemestra clutches this leadership desperately, unrelenting in her hopes to keep it forever. Although Clytaemestra uses intellect, inner strength, and self-motivation to capture power, she does it evasively and by hurting others. Therefore, Clytaemestra is not a respectable woman role model.

In Agamemnon, the first book of The Oresteia, Agamemnon, Clytaemestra’s husband and the King of Argos, returns from ten years of fighting the Trojan War to find treachery reigns in Argos. Clytaemestra greets Agamemnon with a facade of exuberant tidings, claiming “a love [she] has for her husband”, while secretly she plans his murder (Oresteia 1.857). As the queen, she has a beautiful and expensive crimson carpet brought out to welcome her soon dead husband. Rolling out the carpet, she asks Agamemnon “step from your chariot [and] let not your foot/...touch the earth” (Oresteia 1.906-907). The wise warrior, knowing it would be wrong for a mere mortal to walk on such a Murray 2 priceless tapestry, argues with his vengeful wife, but is eventually convinced to walk “where Justice leads him” (Oresteia 1.911). As he walks on the carpet, ruining it, he asks that “no gods’ hatred strike [him] from afar” for acting higher than mortals should (Oresteia 1.947). His hope is in vain, because shortly after entering the house, Clytaemestra catches of the war hero at his weakest moment—in the bath. Taking advantage of a heroic figure, who is loved by all, is both cowardly and unfair, but Clytaemestra only worries with her pursuit of power. Soon after the murder, Clytaemestra appears again, proudly showing the slain King of Argos. All of these actions grant Clytaemestra the power she yearns, but are done in a very unrespectful and deceitful way.

In the next book of The Oresteia, The Libation Bearers, Clytaemestra again tries to hold her power and, this time, to escape death.

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Orestes, Clytaemestra’s son, returns after being sent off , to avenge his father’s death. Upon Orestes’ return, Orestes learns of his mother’s lack of popularity among Argos, and with his sister’s help, plans to take revenge on Clytaemestra. Knowing Clytaemestra’s desire for power, Orestes takes a disguise and visits her home to report on the death of the long lost son. When Clytaemestra finds out, she “put[s] a sad face on/... to hide the smile inside her eyes” (Oresteia 2.275-276). As she realizes the stranger is actually Orestes, she fears repayment for her scheming is approaching. Pleading for her life like an innocent victim, Clytaemestra uses guilt to try and stop Orestes. But Orestes realizes her ulterior plan and sees his mother for who she really is. As the chance arises, Orestes kills the deceitful woman, and explains his directions came from Apollo. By changing character Murray 3 traits, from courageous and strong to weak and pitiful, depending on her position of power, Clytaemestra illustrates qualities unwanted by other women. In this situation, Clytaemestra displays evidence of her flaws and unrighteous motives for power by such a swift switch of attitudes toward others.

Even after her death, in the third book of The Oresteia, The Eumenides, Clytaemestra achieves attention through her selfish motives. Clytaemestra’s ghost calls upon the Furies to follow Orestes until he too suffers. Baiting the Furies by claiming that Orestes is “laughing merrily at [them]”, Clytaemestra’s ghost tricks the Furies into chasing Orestes (Oresteia 3.113). Rage and bitterness take over Clytaemestra’s ghost’s thoughts as she taunts the Furies and soon Orestes must go to trial for his actions. As the trial begins, Apollo witnesses to the justice in Orestes’ deeds and eventually wins Athene, the judge, to his side. While the Furies writhe with contempt for Orestes (because of Clytaemestra), the vote is a tie and Orestes is set free. In the end, Clytaemestra’s deeds only result in her murder, instead of granting her the power she wants so badly.

Clytaemestra is a liberated character, but her motives are purely selfish and single-minded. By wanting to overcome the sex barriers of the time with vengeance and deceitfulness, Clytaemestra is shown as an unlikable and unrespectable woman, even though she obtains power for a short time. Such a short spurt of power can be attributed to the dishonest way Clytaemestra uses to achieve power. Women look up to other women in power positions because they overcome sex barriers and prove that men and women are equal by the same Murray 4 standards. Clytaemestra does just the opposite of this by using trickery and lies to get what she wants, only to prove that things not achieved on merit and worth are easily lost and unfruitful.


Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. The Oresteia. Eds.
David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953.

Aeschylus. The Libation Bearers. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. The Oresteia. Eds.
David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953.

Aeschylus. The Eumenides. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. The Oresteia. Eds.
David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953.
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