The Libation Bearers

Clytemnestra Character Analysis

The queen of Argos, widow of Agamemnon, and mother to Orestes and Electra, Clytemnestra is a dominant female character who has only increased in power since she murdered her husband. She rules over her palace—including her lover Aegisthus and her daughter Electra—with a dominant will, behaving in ways that the Greeks would have considered deeply transgressive and unfeminine. She does, however, show cracks in her façade, such as when she sends libations to Agamemnon’s tomb after having a nightmare, or when she mourns the (falsely reported) death of Orestes—although it is difficult to tell the genuineness of either of these gestures.

Clytemnestra Quotes in The Libation Bearers

The The Libation Bearers 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Libation Bearers published in 1966.
Lines 1-585 Quotes

What to say when I pour the cup of sorrow?
What kindness, what prayer can touch my father?
Shall I say I bring him love for love, a woman’s
love for her husband? My mother, love from her?
I’ve no taste for that, no words to say
as I run the honeyed oil on father’s tomb.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 86-91
Explanation and Analysis:

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For our enemies I say,
raise up your avenger, into the light, my father—
kill the killers in return, with justice!
So in the midst of prayers for good I place
this curse for them.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, The Chorus, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Agamemnon’s Burial Mound and Shroud
Page Number: 147-151
Explanation and Analysis:

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You light to my eyes, four loves in one!
I have to call you father, it is fate;
and I turn to you the love I gave my mother—
I despise her, she deserves it, yes,
and the love I gave my sister, sacrificed
on the cruel sword, I turn to you.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Orestes, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia
Page Number: 240-245
Explanation and Analysis:

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If the serpent came from the same place as I,
and slept in the bands that swaddled me, and its jaws
spread wide for the breast that nursed me into life
and clots stained the milk, mother’s milk,
and she cried in fear and agony—so be it.
As she bred this sign, this violent prodigy
so she dies by violence. I turn serpent,
I kill her. So the vision says.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra
Related Symbols: Serpents and Snakes
Page Number: 530-537
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 586-652 Quotes

Oh but a man’s high daring spirit,
who can account for that? Or woman’s
desperate passion daring past all bounds?
She couples with every form of ruin known to mortals.
Woman, frenzied, driven wild with lust,
twists the dark, warm harness
of wedded love—tortures man and beast!

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 579-585
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Clytemnestra: Wait, my son—no respect for this, my child?
The breast you held, drowsing away the hours,
soft gums tugging the milk that made you grow?
Orestes: What will I do, Pylades?—I dread to kill my mother!
Pylades: What of the future? What of the Prophet God Apollo,
the Delphic voice, the faith and oaths we swear?
Make all mankind your enemy, not the gods.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra (speaker), Pylades (speaker), Apollo
Page Number: 883-889
Explanation and Analysis:

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Clytemnestra: Watch out—the hounds of a mother’s curse will hunt you down.
Orestes: But how to escape a father’s if I fail?

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra (speaker), Agamemnon, The Furies
Page Number: 911-912
Explanation and Analysis:

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But she who plotted this horror against her husband,
she carried his children, growing in her womb
and she—I loved her once
and now I loathe, I have to loathe—what is she?
Some moray eel, some viper born to rot her mate
with a single touch, no fang to strike him
just the wrong, the reckless fury in her heart!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: Serpents and Snakes
Page Number: 983-989
Explanation and Analysis:

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Live with such a woman, marry her? Sooner
the gods destroy me—die without an heir!

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra
Page Number: 999-1000
Explanation and Analysis:

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Clytemnestra Character Timeline in The Libation Bearers

The timeline below shows where the character Clytemnestra appears in The Libation Bearers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-585
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...warning them that the dead are calling out for revenge. They relate how the impious Clytemnestra has sent them to the tomb, fearful of the dead’s vengeance, but they call her... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...She begins to lament her father’s death, adding that she cannot bring him love from Clytemnestra as she pours sacred oil over his tomb. She then tries a more traditional prayer... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...instruct Electra to pray that either a “god or man” punish “the murderers” (Aegisthus and Clytemnestra). Electra wonders how she can pray for vengeance and “keep my conscience clear,” but the... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...the spirit of Agamemnon to pity both her and Orestes, whom she feels her mother Clytemnestra has sold in exchange for her murderous lover Aegisthus. She describes her near enslavement and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...dead for the appearance of an avenger to free the house from the corruption of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...is not only her brother, but now he must also replace her father (dead at Clytemnestra’s hands), her mother (a betrayer), and her sister (Iphigenia, dead at Agamemnon’s hands). Electra prays... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
The Chorus leader warns Orestes and Electra to be wary of Aegisthus’ and Clytemnestra’s spies. Orestes responds that he is under the protection of Apollo, and that the god’s... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...father had died an honorable, warrior’s death at Troy. The Chorus prophecies the end of Clytemnestra’s and Aegisthus’ reign, and then all three begin to beg the gods for violent, bloody... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...and honor. Growing more incensed, the two remember the plot that doomed Agamemnon, in which Clytemnestra used a net to trap the king while he was in a bath. The leader... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Before leaving, Orestes wonders why Clytemnestra sent libations to Agamemnon’s tomb, considering her impiety and her hatred of her dead husband.... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...wonders if he himself is the serpent, and if this dream has in fact predicted Clytemnestra’s death at his hands. The leader of the Chorus encourages him to share his plan... (full context)
Lines 586-652
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...stories of various women who destroyed men with their feminine wiles. The Chorus turns to Clytemnestra in particular, remembering how she overcame Agamemnon despite his “warlord’s power,” and they assert that... (full context)
Lines 653-718
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Clytemnestra enters, attended by Electra, and offers Pylades and Orestes a place to stay for the... (full context)
Lines 719-1065
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
...before noticing Cilissa, Orestes’ nurse when he was a child, in tears. She recounts how Clytemnestra is looking for Aegisthus so that he can go speak to (the disguised) Orestes, and... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Cilissa then reveals that Clytemnestra has told Aegisthus to bring his bodyguards with him when he talks to Orestes, but... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...his master’s death. He attempts to open the door to the women’s quarters to warn Clytemnestra, but failing at that, he calls out her name until she emerges. As the Chorus... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...of the palace open to reveal Orestes and Pylades with the body of Aegisthus. Giving Clytemnestra no time to mourn, Orestes drags his mother towards her lover’s body. She begins to... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Turning back to Clytemnestra, Orestes tells her that he will kill her on top of Aegisthus’ body. She continues... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...they turn to time, anticipating a future of prosperity and peace, free of Aegisthus’ and Clytemnestra’s corruption. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
Orestes and Pylades reemerge, standing over the bodies of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Orestes remembers how the two killed his father, adding that it is appropriate... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
The Chorus ominously states that although Clytemnestra is dead, Orestes’ suffering has only just begun. (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...Orestes describes his manic state of mind, and his terror. He states that he killed Clytemnestra because Apollo ordered him to, and because she killed Agamemnon—his actions, in short, were just.... (full context)
Revenge Theme Icon
Fate, the Gods, and Piety Theme Icon
Familial Bonds Theme Icon
Violence, Death, and the Dead Theme Icon
...These are the Furies, the goddesses of vengeance, who have come to punish him for Clytemnestra’s death. Confused, the leader of the Chorus tries to calm Orestes, but is unsuccessful. Orestes... (full context)