The Eumenides

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The ghost of Clytemnestra Character Analysis

The murderous wife of Agamemnon who was in turn killed by Orestes, Clytemnestra returns from the dead to urge the Furies to punish her son for her death. She represents the old system of vengeance and bloodshed, reminding the audience of the events in The Eumenides’ prequels, Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers.

The ghost of Clytemnestra Quotes in The Eumenides

The The Eumenides quotes below are all either spoken by The ghost of Clytemnestra or refer to The ghost of 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 vs. Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Eumenides published in 1975.
Lines 64-234 Quotes

You—how can you sleep?
Awake, awake—what use are sleepers now?
I go stripped of honour, thanks to you,
Alone among the dead. And for those I killed
The charges of the dead will never cease, never—
I wander in disgrace, I feel the guilt, I tell you,
Withering guilt from all the outraged dead!
But I suffered too, terribly, from dear ones,
And none of my spirits rages to avenge me.
I was slaughtered by his matricidal hand.
See these gashes—Carve them in your heart!

Related Characters: The ghost of Clytemnestra (speaker), Orestes, The Furies
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 97-107
Explanation and Analysis:

The Furies sleep, exhausted from chasing Orestes, even as their prey is spirited away by Apollo and Hermes. As they slumber, however, the ghost of the murdered Clytemnestra emerges and berates them for failing in their task.

Her speech helps audiences and readers to understand the Furies' motivation, and their purpose in life. In their worldview, the dead cannot rest until they are avenged. Clytemnestra is a tortured ghost precisely because her murderer (and son) still lives, unpunished, despite having corrupted his familial bond with his mother.

Clytemnestra's appearance also emphasizes the vivid presence of the dead in The Eumenides, a fact that is true in many Greek dramas. To the characters in the play, the dead are still an active and powerful presence, and letting them down or going against their wishes can have terrible consequences. 


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Marriage of man and wife is Fate itself,
Stronger than oaths, and Justice guards its life.

I say your manhunt of Orestes is unjust.
Some things stir your rage, I see. Others,
Atrocious crimes, lull your will to act.

Related Characters: Apollo (speaker), Orestes, The Furies, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 215-221
Explanation and Analysis:

As Apollo and the Furies continue their debate, they touch on the difference between the bonds of mother and child, and those of man and wife. The Furies argue that because Orestes killed his own flesh and blood, he is at fault. Apollo, however, responds that the connection between a husband and a wife is fated to be, and that their bond is guarded by "Justice" itself. (Implicit in these arguments is also the sexism that undergirds Greek society at the time—Apollo is seen as more "correct" here because Clytemnestra not only violated a sacred bond in killing her husband, but also acted distinctly un-feminine.) This debate illustrates the tangled web of allegiances that vengeance creates. Although Apollo and the Furies are each trying to convince the other, they will never actually agree on who is in the right.

Apollo also brings up another crucial concept: the idea of justice. In accusing the Furies--goddesses of vengeance--of being unjust, he is implying that there is a difference between vengeance and justice. This attitude differs from Apollo's beliefs in The Eumenides' prequel, The Libation Bearers, in which he commands Orestes to perform an act of vengeance (killing his mother) in order to bring about justice. This shift highlights the evolution in The Eumenides towards a system of justice, rather than a system of vengeance.

Lines 235-566 Quotes

You’ll give me blood for blood, you must!
Out of your living marrow I will drain
My red libation, out of your veins I suck my food,
My raw, brutal cups—
Wither you alive,
Drag you down and there you pay, agony
For mother-killing agony!
And there you will see them all.
Every mortal who outraged god or guest or loving parent:
Each receives the pain his pains exact.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 262-269
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Furies find Orestes cowering at the shrine of Athena, they threaten him, demanding their vengeance. Their brutal, bloody language vividly illustrates their violent worldview. The language they use also illuminates their eye-for-an-eye mentality. The Furies' logic is very simple: since Orestes has shed his mother's blood, his blood must be shed in turn. Or in their words: "Each receives the pain his pains exact."

This point of view contrasts with that of Apollo and Orestes, who believe that since Orestes was avenging his father, he does not deserve to be punished for his own murder of his mother. It is this debate that will become central as the play continues. 

Lines 567-1043 Quotes

You’d force this man’s acquittal? Behold, Justice!
Can a son spill his mother’s blood on the ground,
Then settle into his father’s halls in Argos?

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Orestes, Apollo, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 659-662
Explanation and Analysis:

After Apollo has testified in Orestes' favor, the Furies once again take the stand, mocking what the god has just said. While Apollo has argued that Orestes in fact carried out justice by killing his mother, the Furies find this argument laughable. To them, the fact that Orestes has killed his mother is unforgivable. They believe that he should be cast out of society altogether, rather than eventually take his father Agamemnon's place as king of Argos. 

The Furies' powerful argument illustrates the true difficulty of this case. Although Orestes seeks justice, he himself is a murderer, and an agent of vengeance. Apollo calls for justice, but the Furies point out his hypocrisy, given his investment in vengeance in this play's prequel, The Libation Bearers.

The woman you call the mother of the child
Is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed,
The new-sown seed that grows and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life—the one who mounts.

Related Characters: Apollo (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 666-669
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of the trial, Apollo tries to explain why the death of Orestes' father outweighs his murder of his mother. In doing so, he turns to a common Ancient Greek idea about parenthood: that a child is incubated in the womb of its mother, but truly belongs only to its father, who provided the "seed" for its conception.

Although tremendously sexist (and unscientific), it is this argument that eventually wins the day. Apollo has essentially proved that Orestes' familial bond to his father was more important than that to his mother; and that therefore, it made sense for him to turn against his mother after she killed his father. 

It is important to note that the trial of Orestes v. the Furies, along with the ideological struggle of justice v. vengeance, also contains the age-old struggle of male v. female. Just as Apollo proves that male trumps female in terms of family ties (and social power), so too will male triumph over female in the trial (which is judged only by men), as Orestes prevails over the Furies. 

I will cast my lot for you.
No mother gave me birth.
I honour the male, in all things but marriage.
Yes, with all my heart I am my Father’s child.
I cannot set more store by the woman’s death—
She killed her husband, guardian of their house.
Even if the vote is equal, Orestes wins.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Orestes, The ghost of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Zeus
Page Number: 750-756
Explanation and Analysis:

With the jury split down the middle, Athena casts the deciding vote for Orestes. Greek myth has it that the goddess was born from her father Zeus' head, hence her statement that, "No mother gave me birth." Although she is a woman, Athena still believes that children belong to their fathers, and views men as the dominant gender.

Given these facts, Apollo's argument--that a father matters more to a child than a mother--has been successful, and Orestes wins. Although modern readers may view this reasoning as appallingly sexist, ancient audiences would have approved of it as traditional and correct.

It is important, too, that Athena casts the dividing vote in the trial. The Athenian court is as even-handed as the justice that it serves: blind and impartial. They have clearly understood the difficulties of the case, and it is up to Athena, a god, to make the final decision. The brand-new Athenian court is a fair and balanced one.

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The ghost of Clytemnestra Character Timeline in The Eumenides

The timeline below shows where the character The ghost of Clytemnestra appears in The Eumenides. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 64-234
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The Power of the Polis Theme Icon and decide whether or not he is guilty of matricide (for killing his mother, Clytemnestra). Orestes responds that he trusts Apollo to do what is right. Apollo reveals Hermes, asking... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The ghost of Clytemnestra appears on top of the Navelstone, cursing the Furies for their laziness. She tells them... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...They ask why the god would help a criminal, and remember their terrifying dream of Clytemnestra. They lament the fact that the Olympians—the young gods—control the world. They then see that... (full context)
Lines 235-566
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...for his sin. Orestes then goes on to explain his history, recounting how his mother, Clytemnestra, killed his father, Agamemnon. He boldly states that he did indeed murder his mother in... (full context)
Lines 567-1043
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
The Power of the Polis Theme Icon
...has come as a witness for the defense, explaining that he commanded Orestes to kill Clytemnestra, and subsequently purged the mortal of all guilt. He urges Athena to serve justice. (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
...order to avenge his father. He then questions why the Furies did not turn on Clytemnestra, but they again respond that she did not share blood with Agamemnon. When Orestes wonders... (full context)
Revenge vs. Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
The Power of the Gods Theme Icon
Orestes begs Apollo to explain to the jury why he killed Clytemnestra, adding that his murder was really justice. Apollo agrees, asserting that Orestes was in fact... (full context)