Clytemnestra has been mythologised as the OG bad wife. Taking a lover while her husband was fighting at Troy, and murdering him upon his victorious return, may fairly provide the grounds for this reputation. What this does not consider is Clytemnestra’s motives: upon discoverin that Agamemnon murdered their beloved daughter, Iphigeneia, in order to appease the gods, we may somewhat reconsider. Upon being told that Agamenon in fact made something of a
habit of murdering Clytemnestra’s children, our loyalties may begin to seriously shift.

Clytemnestra utilised the ten years Agamemnon is at war to deftly plot her revenge. Set on murder, and whiling away the days until she can take this revenge with a lover in her bed, she was the embodiment of Greek men’s ancient neurosis about women: unfaithful, dishonest, and bloodthirsty. It may be said that this neurosis lingers today.

Upon his eventual return, Agamemnon presents his war prize: the Trojan princess Cassandra who he has taken as his sex slave. Clytemnestra feigns delight in her husband’s return. She runs him a warm bath, very convincingly playing the part of dutiful wife. Once he is in this fatal bath, Clytemnestra entraps him in a cloth net, before murdering him with an axe (or in some versions, a sword). The inclusion of this cloth net in Agamemnon’s murder is fascinating. Here, Clytemnestra turns convention on its head. In the ancient world, the practice of weaving embodied the ‘good wife’. Here, it becomes a weapon of brutal slaughter by that same fair hand.

Still not satisfied, Clytemnestra goes on to kill Cassandra too. This is a dark deed, perpetrated upon a woman who had been brought into Clytemnestra’s house against her will, but by a woman driven to such destruction by an all-consuming grief.

Why is Clytemnestra the OG bad wife, and yet Agamemnon has escaped history's animosity almost unscathed? Surely he is one of the worst husbands...ever? And yet we don’t remember it that way. Why? Context matters. Clytemnestra was bad because Agamemnon was worse.

Clytemnestra is an unequivocally unlikeable character. She plots, cheats and murders. However, when we consider what drove her to these extremes (the unprompted murder of her children - yes, more than one - by her own husband) we may begin to see her less as a wanton murderer, and more as an avenging queen.

Perhaps, we can go even further. Natalie Haynes believes so: “for wronged, silenced, unvalued [women], she is something of a hero: a woman who refuses to be quiet when her child is killed, who disdains to accept things and move on, who will not make the best of what she has” (2020:171). In this way, Clytemnestra is a thoroughly modern woman. She is scorned, angry, underestimated. She is real.

What we want to know, is:
Who is Clytemnestra today?

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