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Clytemnestra Character Analysis

The queen of Argos, and its ruler in her husband Agamemnon’s absence. She murders Agamemnon to avenge the death of their daughter, Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed during the Trojan War to ensure his fleet’s passage into Troy. She also murders Cassandra, Agamemnon’s concubine. Clytemnestra is decisive, resolute, and aggressive, and her femininity is often called into question. However, she is able mask her anger in public moments in order to carry out her revenge plot. The nobility of her revenge is complicated by her affair with Aegisthus.

Clytemnestra Quotes in Agamemnon

The Agamemnon quotes below are all either spoken by Clytemnestra or refer to Clytemnestra. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvard University Press edition of Agamemnon published in 1926.
Lines 1-354 Quotes

Is this report reliable? Is there proof?
Of course there is. Unless some god deceives me.
Has some vision persuaded you of this,
something in a dream, perhaps?
Not at all.
As if I’d listen to some dozing brain.
Perhaps some unfledged rumour raised your hopes?
Now you’re insulting my intelligence,
as if I were a youngster, just a child.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 271-276
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Greek Chorus asks Queen Clytemnestra for news of the Trojan War. She replies that the war is won: Agamemnon's troops have finally stormed the city and accomplished their goals.

Strangely, the Greek Chorus seems to question the Queen's authority again and again--how is it possible, the Chorus asks, that she could have such specific news of the war? (In the following passage, Clytemnestra replies that a system of signal fires alerted her to Agamemnon's victory).

The Chorus's behavior is unusual in that it seems to be designed to clarify a potential plot-hole. It's a little implausible that Clytemnestra could know what happened in Troy before Agamemnon's return, but her forewarning is crucial to the plot of the play (she's been plotting even before Agamemnon returns). There are even some scholars who have argued that Clytemnestra is lying: she lit the fires herself. Another point to draw from the scene is that Clytemnestra's word is considered automatically questionable because she's a woman: in Clytemnestra's society, women are treated like second-class citizens (indeed, they're not citizens at all).


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Lines 355-782 Quotes

Some time ago I cried out in triumph,
rejoicing when that first messenger arrived,
the fiery herald in the night, who told me
Troy was captured and was being destroyed.
Some people criticized me then, saying,
“How come you’re so easily persuaded
by signal fires Troy’s being demolished?
Isn’t that just like a woman’s heart,
to get so jubilant?”

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker)
Page Number: 586-593
Explanation and Analysis:

Clytemnestra here spells out more distinctions between masculinity and femininity in her society. Although she correctly interprets the signal fires coming from Troy and concludes that Agamemnon has won the Trojan War, her announcement is not welcomed. Rather, people (including the old men who make up the Chorus) question Clytemnestra and suggest that she is jumping to conclusions because she's a woman (and therefore more likely to be flighty in her emotions).

Clytemnestra is a proud, fierce woman, but in her society, her innate talents can only get her so far. Her authority is always being questioned and reinterpreted in light of her gender. It's implied at several points that Clytemnestra plots to kill Agamemnon, not just because of her anger over Iphigenia but because of her desire for power--power that her current station (queen) doesn't provide. Furthermore, what's later considered to be Clytemnestra's great crime (killing her husband) is later inextricably linked to her lack of femininity and submission to gender roles.

Lines 783-1033 Quotes

Daughter of Leda, guardian of my home,
your speech was, like my absence, far too long.
Praise that’s due to us should come from others.
Then it’s worthwhile. All those things you said—
don’t puff me up with such female honours,
or grovel there before me babbling tributes,
like some barbarian. Don’t invite envy
to cross my path by strewing it with cloth.
That’s how we honour gods, not human beings.
For a mortal man to place his foot like this
on rich embroidery is, in my view,
not without some risk. So I’m telling you
honour me as a man, not as a god.
My fame proclaims itself. It does not need
foot mats made out of such embroideries.
Not even to think of doing something bad
is god’s greatest gift. When a man’s life ends
in great prosperity, only then can we declare
that he’s a happy man. Thus, if I act,
in every circumstance, as I ought to now,
there’s nothing I need fear.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: The Purple Tapestries
Page Number: 915-930
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Clytemnestra tries to convince her husband Agamemnon, newly returned from Troy, to walk along a purple tapestry that symbolizes his wealth and power. Agamemnon is highly reluctant to walk along the royal tapestry: he thinks that doing so would be showing off, and would anger the gods excessively. Agamemnon is savvy enough to know that the gods love to punish arrogant, proud people--he's trying to keep his head down to avoid divine retribution.

At the end of his speech, Agamemnon makes an interesting point: we can only measure the happiness of a man's life by waiting to see how his life ends. In other words, a man who is happy and prosperous now might not necessarily die that way. Agamemnon's words (an allusion to the Greek legend of Solon, later repeated in the Histories by Herodotus) are important because they reinforce the play's themes of punishment and uncertainty. Happiness and contentment are never certain at all--they can always be replaced with misery and pain. Agamemnon here tries to escape divine punishment, but as we'll see, his attempts are all in vain.

Lines 1034-1330 Quotes

But we’ll not die without the gods’ revenge.
Another man will come and will avenge us,
a son who’ll kill his mother, then pay back
his father’s death, a wanderer in exile,
a man this country’s made a stranger.
He’ll come back and, like a coping stone,
bring the ruin of his family to a close.
For gods have made a powerful promise—
his father’s stretched out corpse will bring him home.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes
Page Number: 1279-1287
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Trojan prisoner Cassandra goes quietly to be murdered, knowing that nothing she does can prevent her inevitable death. Cassandra sees a "light at the end of the tunnel," however. Even if she herself will be killed, there will eventually come an end to the cycle of death and "blood for blood" that has cursed the House of Atreus. After Agamemnon and Cassandra's death, Orestes will come to avenge his father's murder by killing Clytemnestra. Somehow, Cassandra claims, Orestes' actions will not set off any further cycles of revenge.

Cassandra's allusions to Orestes would be well-known to Aeschylus's original Greek audiences. What's equally interesting is the way Cassandra accepts her fate--all her knowledge of the future isn't enough to save her from murder. Cassandra sees the future, but can't change it; and that's her curse.

Lines 1331-1675 Quotes

Before this moment I said many things
to suit my purposes. I’m not ashamed
to contradict them now. How else could I
act on my hate for such a hateful man,
who feigned his love, how else prepare my nets
of agony so high no one could jump them?
I’ve brooded on this struggle many years,
the old blood feud. My moment’s come at last,
though long delayed. I stand now where I struck,
where I achieved what I set out to do.
I did all this. I won’t deny the fact.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon
Page Number: 1373-1380
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Clytemnestra dramatically reveals the truth about her actions: she's been plotting for years to kill Agamemnon, who murdered their daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was sure that she could get away with the murder because Agamemnon was already cursed: the gods were already predisposed to punish the king for his sins.

The passage represents Clytemnestra's greatest moment of pride and assertiveness--and her break from the traditional feminine role of the submissive, loyal wife. She's been planning Agamemnon's murder for years now (Iphigenia was murdered at least ten years earlier), and in this speech, she emphasizes the sheer satisfaction of successfully avenging her daughter and killing her husband. Clytemnestra's speech contrasts markedly with the Chorus's talk of fate and destiny. Clytemnestra, quite aside from being dominated by destiny, has used her own free will and intelligence (putting up a cunning act of being a loyal wife) to achieve her goals. But as Cassandra has already told us, even Clytemnestra isn't free from the rules of fate--in due time, she'll be punished for her act of murder and meet the same fate as her husband. Nobody, it seems, can escape the ironclad law of "blood for blood."


O that some Fate would soon come,
free from suffering and quick,
bringing endless sleep,
our last eternal sleep,
now our gracious lord is dead.
For a woman’s sake
he suffered much, and now
by a woman’s hand he died.

Alas for you, Helen, frantic woman.
On your own, beneath Troy’s walls,
you slaughtered many lives,
and more than many.
Now you wear your final garland—
one long remembered for the blood
which will never wash away.
Back then in this house
lived a spirit of strife,
a power that broke our king.

Don’t torment yourself like this, invoking
death and fate, or redirect your rage
on Helen, as if she killed those men,
all those Danaan lives, all by herself,
and brought us pain past remedy.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Agamemnon, Helen
Page Number: 1448-1468
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus and Clytemnestra argue over the true source of the tragedy that's fallen on the House of Atreus. The Chorus (made up of old, crotchety men) insists that Helen is to blame for the present disaster: if Helen hadn't been abducted, then there would have been no war, and Agamemnon would still be alive. Clytemnestra angrily disagrees with the Chorus--she points out that Helen herself killed no one; it was the soldiers who fought in the Trojan War who truly set in motion the events of the play we've been reading.

The passage illustrates the structures of blame and scapegoating that are closely tied to the rule of "blood for blood." Whenever there's a big tragedy, somebody (usually a woman) gets stuck with the blame--even if that person isn't totally responsible for the tragedy. In this case, Helen is assigned with the blame for the tragedy of the Trojan War. By the same token, whenever a tragedy occurs, the Furies need to know who to punish. Clytemnestra's explanation of the "cause" of the Trojan War is a lot more convincing than the Chorus's, but the Furies would never be satisfied with such a "diffused" explanation (i.e., the explanation that the Trojan War was the result of many different complex motivations and responsibilities): there can only ever be one scapegoat at a time.

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Clytemnestra Character Timeline in Agamemnon

The timeline below shows where the character Clytemnestra appears in Agamemnon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-354
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...done, as he has been stationed there for a full year. The queen of Argos, Clytemnestra, has instructed him to watch for a signal fire from Troy. The signal fire would... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Watchman feels that Clytemnestra has unsettlingly masculine qualities, and explains that he cannot sleep because of his deep sadness... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...state, cries out that the Trojan War is over, and he jumps up to inform Clytemnestra. Then his mood changes abruptly as he wishes Agamemnon a safe return, and once again... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...Troy. In order to appease Artemis, the army’s prophet suggested that Agamemnon sacrifice his and Clytemnestra’s daughter Iphigenia, and Agamemnon did so. The Chorus then finishes by reminding us that these... (full context)
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Chorus implores Clytemnestra to tell them what has happened, and she gives them the good news that Agamemnon’s... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Clytemnestra describes to the Chorus the system of signal fires that was used in order relay... (full context)
Lines 355-782
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Clytemnestra appears and scolds the Chorus for not believing her about the war’s end earlier. She... (full context)
Lines 783-1033
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
As Agamemnon begins to descend from the chariot, Clytemnestra stops him and addresses the crowd. She recounts the intense grief, worry, and suicidal thoughts... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Agamemnon chides Clytemnestra for speaking too much and refuses to walk on the tapestries, telling her that this... (full context)
Lines 1034-1330
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Clytemnestra comes out of the palace and orders Cassandra to descend from the chariot and go... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
...she senses that the Furies are at work initiating revenge. She then sees herself as Clytemnestra’s second victim. Although she seems ecstatic and her words are unclear, Cassandra’s prophecy seems to... (full context)
Lines 1331-1675
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The palace doors open, revealing a blood-soaked Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytemnestra openly confesses to killing Agamemnon... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
The Chorus calls Clytemnestra ambitious and arrogant. Unfazed, Clytemnestra interrupts them and goes on to reveal that Agamemnon’s cousin... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...and connects this murder to all the destruction that the Chorus blames Helen for inciting. Clytemnestra comes to Helen’s defense, saying that Helen did not kill anyone herself. But the Chorus... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Clytemnestra continues to justify her revenge to the Chorus and admits no guilt for the murder.... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
War and Its Aftermath Theme Icon
Fate and the Gods Theme Icon
Aegisthus threatens the Chorus with his soldiers, but Clytemnestra stops the moment from escalating into more violence. As Aegisthus and Clytemnestra enter into the... (full context)