Under the Greek Skin: A Search for the Real Clytemnestra

Publication Year



Literature, Greek mythology, Clytemnestra, English, drama, literary criticism


Ancient History, Greek and Roman through Late Antiquity | Classics | Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Women's Studies


Originating in classical mythology, Clytemnestra is a tragic heroine with her major roots in ancient Greek drama. Her story is just a part of the sad history of the House of Atreus, which has seized the imaginations of authors in subsequent ages and has resulted in an anthology which spans about 2,500 years.

Yet while there have been many works in which Clytemnestra has been featured, the authors have by no means agreed in their assessments of the Argive queen. Moses Hadas, for example, in commenting on Aeschylus' Agamemnon, says, "The carpet scene itself is a magnificent piece of theatre, Clytemnestra displaying her tragic fault of strength and Agamemnon his weakness." Homer's treatment, however, is altogether different. Richard Lattimore says, "It is surely no accident that the parts which he leaves out are those which would complicate and confuse his simple picture of Aegisthus as a conspiring villain, Orestes as an avenging hero, and Clytemnestra as a woman who yielded to her weakness." Such obvious disagreements in character portrayals summon our attention and promise a challenging comparative study. Therefore the purpose of this paper is to make an in-depth character analysis as she appears in the plays of the three authors. The tools of my analysis will be the elements of tragedy that are discussed and defined in Aristotle's Poetics. Specifically it will require that I give my attention to such matters as (1) the flaw, (2) fate, and (3) the fall. By applying these to each author's Clytemnestra, I will arrive at a clear-cut character portrait of each.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

English: Literature and Writing

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