The Libation Bearers

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Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe Symbol Analysis

Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe Symbol Icon

Upon being informed that her palace is under attack and her lover Aegisthus has been killed, Clytemnestra immediately calls for her “man-axe” in order to defend herself. Within the patriarchal world of the Greek tragedy, Clytemnestra’s willingness to take up arms is evidence of her lack of femininity, and her overbearing dominance. It was this same “unfeminine” desire for power and willingness to commit violence that led Clytemnestra to conspire to kill Agamemnon. The man-axe thus represents Clytemnestra’s “man-killing” qualities: those which allow her to avenge her daughter and seize power over Argos, but which also condemn her in the eyes of the Greeks and lead to her ultimate downfall.

Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe. 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 Penguin Books edition of The Libation Bearers published in 1966.
Lines 719-1065 Quotes

Ah, a riddle. I do well at riddles.
By cunning we die, precisely as we killed.
Hand me the man-axe, someone, hurry!

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker)
Related Symbols: Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe
Page Number: 874-876
Explanation and Analysis:

The first part of his plan complete, Orestes kills Aegisthus, half-avenging his father's death. With the halls of her palace in tumult, Clytemnestra emerges and calls for her "man-axe." To the Greeks, Clytemnestra's desire for a weapon would have been a massive violation of her role as a woman. An emasculating and dangerous presence, she is calling for a weapon that does not belong to her gender, proof (to the Greeks) of her evil and ambition. 

Despite all her negative qualities, it is also important to note that Clytemnestra is a deeply intelligent and perceptive character. She knows almost instantly what is happening, and reacts to her fate with calculation and resolve. To the last, she is a violent and active character, exemplifying everything that a woman should not be within the Greek tradition. 

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Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe Symbol Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clytemnestra’s Man-Axe appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 719-1065
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead  Theme Icon
...warns that Clytemnestra’s doom is next, the queen orders the servant to bring her a “man-axe” in order to defend herself. He dashes out. (full context)