File:Klytaimnestra Erinyes Louvre Cp710.jpg

Clytemnestra or Clytaemnestra (Template:Pron-en; Template:Lang-el), in ancient Greek legend, was the wife of Agamemnon, king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae or Argos. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, she was a femme fatale who murdered her husband, 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 subdued.

The name form Κλυταιμνήστρα (Klytaimnēstra) is commonly glossed as "famed for her suitors". However, this form is a later misreading motivated by an erroneous etymological connection to the verb μναoμαι 'woo, court'. The original name form is believed to have been Template:Polytonic (Klytaimēstra), without the -mn-, and the modern form with -mn- does not occur before the middle Byzantine period.[1] Aeschylus, in certain word plays on her name, appears to assume an etymological link with the verb μήδoμαι, 'scheme, contrive'.


Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda and mother of Iphigenia, Orestes, Chrysothemis, and Electra. 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 Polydeuces from one egg, and Helen and Clytemnestra from the other. Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus whereas Polydeuces and Helen were fathered by Zeus. Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus were in exile at the home of Tyndareus, who was the king of Sparta. In due time the brothers married Tyndareus' two daughters, Agamemnon marrying Clytemnestra and Menelaus Helen. (In a late variation, Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, Clytemnestra's first husband was Tantalus, King of Pisa (in the western Peloponnese), who was slain by Agamemnon. Agamemnon also murdered her infant son. He then forcibly made Clytemnestra his wife.)


Agamemnon was leading Greek forces in the Trojan War in Troy. However, consistently weak winds prevented his ships from sailing. Through a subplot involving the gods, he was told that the winds would return if he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. He persuaded Clytemnestra to send Iphigenia by deceptively telling her that the purpose of his daughter's visit was to marry her to Achilles. When Iphigenia arrived, she was sacrificed. Clytemnestra learned of this event and grieved for her daughter.

File:Gérin Clytemnestre hésitant avant de frapper Agamemnon endormi Louvre 5185.jpg

During this period of Agamemnon's long absence, Clytemnestra began a love affair with Aegisthus, her husband's cousin (they produced a daughter, Erigone). Whether Clytemnestra was seduced into the affair or entered into it independently differs according to the respective author of the myth. Nevertheless, Clytemnestra, enraged by Iphigenia's murder (and presumably the earlier murder of her first husband by Agamemnon, and her subsequent rape and forced marriage), and Aegisthus, whose father Thyestes was horribly betrayed by Agamemnon's father Atreus, and who was conceived specifically to take revenge on that branch of the family, began plotting Agamemnon's demise.

Finally returning from Troy, Agamemnon arrived at his palace and was greeted by his wife. In tow was his concubine, the princess Cassandra. (Whether Clytemnestra was jealous of Cassandra is unknown. It was quite normal at the time for men to take concubines, usually acquired as war prizes, when on campaign.) Upon his arrival, he 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. In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Clytemnestra does the foul deed herself, but some texts, such as Homer's "Odyssey," mention others.

Meanwhile, Cassandra saw a vision of herself and Agamemnon being 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 death.

After the murders, Aegisthus replaced Agamemnon as king and ruled for a few years with Clytemnestra as his queen. She was eventually killed by her own son Orestes.

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Remorse of Orestes (1862).jpg
  • Different versions of the myth vary in their depiction of the murder; some suggest that Clytemnestra alone killed Agamemnon, others suggest that it was a joint effort with Aegisthus or Aegisthus entirely. [2]
  • According to some scholars, Cassandra was not murdered along with Agamemnon, but left Mycenae unharmed.
  • Clytemnestra's personality differs between tellings, as weak and submissive (Homer's Clytemnestra), or ruthless and manipulative (Aeschylus' Clytemnestra). This affects her role in the affair with Agamemnon.

Clytemnestra has been the subject of many artistic 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 Apollo and the Furies in the final play.
  • The American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham created a two-hour ballet, Clytemnestra (1958), about the queen.
  • Most recently, playwright/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.
  • Clytemnestra Sutpen was the daughter of Thomas Sutpen and his negro slave in William Faulkner's work Absalom, Absalom!
  • 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.
  • Ismail Kadare in his novel The Successor draws upon the Clytmemestra myth while sardonically commenting on the political climate of communist Albania


  1. "Oresteia", Loeb edition by Alan Sommerstein, intro, p.x, 2008.
  2. Homer, and Stanley Lombardo. Odyssey. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 2000.


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