Electra

by

Sophocles

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Clytemnestra Character Analysis

Clytemnestra is Electra, Orestes, Iphigenia, and Chrysothemis’s mother, the wife of Aegisthus, and the former wife of Agamemnon. After Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis to aid the Greeks during the Trojan War, Clytemnestra began an affair with Aegisthus. When Agamemnon returned home from the war after ten years, Aegisthus killed Agamemnon on Clytemnestra’s behalf, supposedly as revenge for Iphigenia’s murder; however, Electra claims that the murder really allowed her mother to continue her relationship with Aegisthus and retain control of Mycenae. When the play begins 20 year’s after Agamemnon’s death, Clytemnestra does not deny having murdered him, and she seems to enjoy abusing and imprisoning Electra for keeping his memory alive through her constant, and often public, lamentations. Clytemnestra is completely unapologetic about Agamemnon’s murder, and she only sends libations to his grave after she has a disturbing dream in which Agamemnon came back to life and struck his staff on the hearth, which made a large tree grow over the whole of Mycenae. Clytemnestra’s dream reflects her guilt and fear that Orestes will return to exact revenge for the murder of Agamemnon and reclaim his rightful role as king, and she only sends offerings to Agamemnon’s grave to curry favor with the gods and protect her from Orestes’s vengeance. Clytemnestra is a selfish and hypocritical woman who demands her children respect her, then prays to the gods that “evil rebound on [her] foes,” who also happen to be her children. Clytemnestra is easily duped by the old slave when he arrives disguised as a messenger bearing (false) news of Orestes’s death, and while she displays maternal grief for a moment, she mostly relieved and pleased to hear of her son’s death. With Orestes gone, Clytemnestra no longer has to worry that he will return and kill her to avenge Agamemnon’s murder. Of course, Orestes’s isn’t dead, and he sneaks into the palace and kills Clytemnestra during the climax of the play. Clytemnestra ultimately serves to illustrate the shortsightedness of the “blood for blood” system of justice in Greek culture, as it invariably leads only to more killing.

Clytemnestra Quotes in Electra

The Electra 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:
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Electra published in 2008.
Lines 1-85 Quotes

To the left the famous temple of Hera. The place
We have reached you may call Mycenae, rich in gold,
And here the palace of Atreus, rich in blood.
From here, some years ago, when your father was murdered,
Your sister Electra handed you into my care.
I carried you off, I saved your life, and then
I brought you up as my own, until you reached
Your prime of manhood, to avenge your father’s murder.

Related Characters: Old Slave (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Atreus, Pelops, Zeus
Page Number: 7-14
Explanation and Analysis:

Our crafty tale will bring them the glad tidings
That my body has been cremated and now consists
Of nothing but charred remains. What harm does it do me
To say I’m dead? None, if the outcome proves
My real salvation and wins me a glorious prize.
In my opinion, no word can be a bad omen
If it leads to gain. A false report of death
Is a trick I’ve often seen used by clever philosophers.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Old Slave, Pylades, The Furies
Page Number: 56-63
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 86-120 Quotes

But I shall never
End my dirges and bitter laments
While I still see the twinkling,
All-radiant stars and the daylight,
Nor cease to keen like the nightingale
Who killed her young, crying my sorrow
To the world here by the royal gateway.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: The Nightingale
Page Number: 103-109
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 121-250 Quotes

CHORUS:
But how, how will dirges and prayers
Help to summon your father back,
Up from the Lake of Death which none escapes?
No, in your limitless grief you are fatally
Parting from reason for pain without remedy.
This sighing offers no release from suffering’s chains.
So why, why court such senseless anguish?

ELECTRA:
None but a fool forgets their
Parents grievously gone to the underworld.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 137-146
Explanation and Analysis:

The shame of your present wretched state,
Is all of your own making.
Your trials are worse than they need to be.
Your sullen soul keeps breeding wars
Which cannot be won. Don’t fight with the strong.
How can you come near them?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 215-220
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 251-470 Quotes

Women, all these laments of mine must make
Me seem so very embittered. I feel ashamed.
I’m forced to do it, though. You must forgive me.
A woman of noble birth could not act otherwise.
When she sees the troubles that haunt her father’s house
Not fading away but growing day and night.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, The Chorus, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Atreus, Pelops
Page Number: 254-260
Explanation and Analysis:

Here you are again, holding forth
At the palace gateway! Electra, what are you doing?
Haven’t you learned by now? Your anger’s pointless.
Don’t indulge it for nothing. I must admit
This situation distresses me too. If only
I had the strength, I’d show them how I feel.
But things are bad. It’s wiser to trim my sails,
Not pose as a threat without any power to harm.
I wish you’d do the same. I know full well
That right is on your side, but if I want
To be free, our lords and masters must be obeyed.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 328-340
Explanation and Analysis:

Well, I’ll tell you all that I know myself.
Their plan is this: if you won’t stop lamenting,
They’ll send you where you’ll never see the sun,
Buried alive in a cave across the frontier,
To chant your miseries there. You’d better think
About it carefully. Don’t blame me when you suffer
Later on. You need to be sensible now.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus
Page Number: 378-384
Explanation and Analysis:

They say she saw our father beside her again,
Restored to life. He then took hold of the staff
He used to carry and now Aegisthus wields,
And planted it on the hearth. This sprouted up
And grew to a leafy branch which overshadowed
The whole of Mycenae. So much I learned
From someone present when she revealed her dream
To the god of the Sun. That’s all I know, except
That our mother’s frightened enough to send me out.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Apollo
Page Number: 417-427
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 516-822 Quotes

Your constant pretext is simply this: I killed
Your father. Yes, I did. I’m well aware of that
And won’t pretend to deny it. Justice determined
His death; I wasn’t alone. And you should have taken
The side of Justice, if you’d had any sense.
Listen! This father of yours whom you’re always lamenting
Committed the most barbaric crime: he sacrificed
Your sister to the gods. Iphigenia’s birth
Never cost him the pains of labour that I went through.
Very well. Now answer this question. Why did he sacrifice her?
To help the Greeks? But they enjoyed no right
To kill a daughter of mine. Or did he kill
My child to help his brother Menelaus?
In that case, didn’t he owe me some satisfaction?

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Electra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Menelaus
Page Number: 525-538
Explanation and Analysis:

Very well, then, listen. You say you killed my father.
What admission could be more shameful than that,
Whether or not justice was on your side?
I put it to you, it wasn’t justice that drove
You to kill him. No, you were seduced by the evil man
Who is now your partner. Ask Artemis, the hunter
Goddess, why she becalmed the fleet at Aulis,
As none of the winds would blow. What was she punishing?
I’ll give you the answer. We can’t cross-question her.
My father, as I’ve been told, was out on a hunt
In Artemis’ sacred grove, when his footfall startled
A dappled stag from its covert. After he’d shot it,
He accidentally let fall some boastful words.
This made the goddess angry, and so she held
The Greek fleet up, to make my father atone
For the stag by sacrificing his daughter.
That’s how it occurred. It was the only solution.
The ships couldn’t sail back home or across to Troy.
He sacrificed Iphigenia under compulsion;
With great reluctance. It wasn’t for Menelaus.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Menelaus, Artemis
Page Number: 558-576
Explanation and Analysis:

CHORUS LEADER [to ELECTRA]:
I see she’s fuming with anger. She looks to me
No longer concerned whether she’s in the right.

CLYTEMNESTRA:
Why should I feel any concern for her
When she has hurled these insults against her mother?
She’s old enough to know better. Utterly shameless!
Don’t you believe she’d stoop to anything?

ELECTRA:
Let me assure you, however it looks to you,
I am ashamed of my actions and very aware
Of being untrue to myself. But your hostility
And cruel treatment force this behaviour on me.
Shameful ways are learned by shameful example.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 610-621
Explanation and Analysis:

These visions that came to me last night,
These doubtful dreams, Lycean Lord,
If they boded good, grant them fulfilment;
If evil, let them rebound on my foes.
If any by craft would steal the wealth
That I now enjoy, let it not be.
Vouchsafe me always to live as I am,
With life unharmed, to govern the house
Of Atreus’ sons and all this realm.
To dwell in prosperous joy with the friends
I love, who presently share my home.
And with those of my children who bear
No malice against me nor cause me pain.
These prayers, Lycean Apollo, graciously hear
And grant us our humble requests.

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Chrysothemis, Agamemnon, Atreus, Apollo
Page Number: 644-656
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 1098-1383 Quotes

O Lord Apollo, graciously hear their prayers
And mine besides. Many a time I have stood
In supplication before your holy altar
And offered there such gifts as I could afford.
So now, Lycean Apollo, with what I have,
I pray, beseech and supplicate your godhead.
Vouchsafe to aid us in this enterprise
And show to all mankind what recompense
The gods bestow on sinful wickedness.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, Clytemnestra, Apollo
Page Number: 1375-1383
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Electra LitChart as a printable PDF.
Electra PDF

Clytemnestra Character Timeline in Electra

The timeline below shows where the character Clytemnestra appears in Electra. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 86-120
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...source of her constant mourning for her deceased father. This is because Electra’s own mother, Clytemnestra, and her second husband, Aegisthus, murdered Electra’s father, Agamemnon. (full context)
Lines 251-470
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...because she is a woman who comes from a noble family. Electra and her mother, Clytemnestra, are now enemies, and Electra is forced to live with Agamemnon’s murderers and watch Aegisthus... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
 Electra claims that Clytemnestra even appears to take pleasure in her despicable behavior. Every month, Clytemnestra dedicates the day... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Whenever Clytemnestra hears rumors that Orestes is coming back, she becomes furious and blames Electra for taking... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...powerful than themselves. Electra, however, accuses her sister of forgetting Agamemnon and thinking only of Clytemnestra(full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...Agamemnon’s murderers is a way of honoring his memory. Her sister says that she hates Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, but Electra claims that Chrysothemis’s hatred is just an act. In Electra’s opinion,... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...where she’s going, and to whom she’s bringing offerings. Chrysothemis says that she is carrying Clytemnestra’s libations for Agamemnon’s grave. Electra is shocked and wants to know why her mother is... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...hide them deep in the earth where they will be unable to reach Agamemnon’s grave. Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon cruelly, Electra reminds Chrysothemis, so there’s no way gifts can undo that harm.... (full context)
Lines 473-515
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...chorus says that it must have been “Justice” that sent the nightmare about Agamemnon to Clytemnestra. They mention a “fearsome Fury” waiting to attack Agamemnon’s murderers, whose union they say is... (full context)
Lines 516-822
Gender and Society Theme Icon
 Clytemnestra exits the palace and, seeing Electra, she scolds her for being outside and “off the... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
However, Clytemnestra claims that she had to kill Agamemnon because “Justice” dictated it. According to Clytemnestra, Agamemnon... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Electra claims that Clytemnestra didn’t really kill Agamemnon for “justice.” Rather, she says her mother committed the crime because... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Even if Agamemnon did sacrifice Iphigenia to help Menelaus, that still does not make Clytemnestra in the right, Electra maintains. “What was your justification?” Electra asks her mother. “Blood for... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...chorus says that Electra no longer seems to care whether she’s right or wrong, and Clytemnestra claims her daughter is “utterly shameless.” Electra, however, is unmoved. She says that she is... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Clytemnestra swears by Artemis that Electra’s behavior will eventually catch up to her, but for now,... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...palace belongs to Aegisthus. When the chorus confirms that it does, the old slave tells Clytemnestra that he has been sent from Phocis to inform her that Orestes is dead. “Orestes... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Clytemnestra can’t decide if Orestes’s death is sad or happy news, since she acknowledges that it’s... (full context)
Lines 1098-1383
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...Orestes confirms that they indeed are there to deliver the urn containing the remains of Clytemnestra’s son. Electra begs to hold they urn so that she may weep with it in... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...tells Electra that she must continue to act as if he is dead so that Clytemnestra doesn’t suspect anything, adding that they can celebrate after their plan succeeds. Electra agrees, saying... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...slave again orders them to stop talking, saying that it’s time to take action instead. Clytemnestra is alone in the palace, and it is the perfect time to strike. Orestes, Pylades,... (full context)
Lines 1398-1510
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...and the chorus begs to know what’s going on inside. Electra tells the women that Clytemnestra is “dressing the urn,” and Orestes and the others are nearby. The women wonder why... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...immediately where the men from Phocis are, and Electra tells him that they’re inside with Clytemnestra. She also tells Aegisthus that the men have brought Orestes’s remains. Aegisthus asks if he... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...the remains of Orestes. As the doors open, Orestes exits the palace with Pylades, carrying Clytemnestra’s corpse covered with a shroud. Aegisthus says to remove the shroud, adding: “Kinship requires some... (full context)