Clytemnestra of Troy, Queen of Mycenae

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Clytemnestra of Troy, Queen of Mycenae

Death: (Date and location unknown)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Tyndareus, King of Sparta and Leda, Queen of Sparta
Wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae
Partner of Aegisthus
Mother of Iphegenia of Greece; Orestes, King of Argos, Mycenae and Sparta; Chrysothemis of Greece; Electra; Aletes and 1 other
Sister of Timandra ...; Philonoe ...; Phoebe ... and Castor of Sparta
Half sister of Pollux / Polydeuces and Helen of Troy

Managed by: Joseph Kinner Harmon
Last Updated:

About Clytemnestra of Troy, Queen of Mycenae

Clytemnestra (or Clytaemnestra) (Eng. /klaɪtəm'nɛstɹə/) is the traditional, but mistaken, English form for what is properly "Clytaemestra". "Her name in Greek is Κλυταιμήστρα Klytaiméstra . . . the form with μν first appeared in the middle Byzantine period . . . and is due to a false etymological connection with μναoμαι 'woo, court'. Aeschylus . . . sometimes plays on an etymological link (which may or may not be correct) with μήδoμαι, 'scheme, contrive' "[1] She was the wife of Agamemnon, king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae or Argos. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, she was a femme fatale who murdered her husband, Agamemnon—said by Euripides to be her second husband—and the Trojan Princess Cassandra, whom he had taken as war prize following the sack of Troy. However, in Homer's Odyssey, her role in Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more subdued.

Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda and mother of Iphigeneia, Orestes, Chrysothemis, and Electra. According to the myth, Zeus appeared to Leda in the form of a swan, raping and impregnating her. Leda produced four offspring from two eggs: Castor and Polydeuces from one egg, and Helen and Clytemnestra from the other. Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus whereas Polydeuces and Helen were fathered by Zeus. In Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, Clytemnestra's first husband was Tantalus, who was slain by Agamemnon, King of Pisa (in the western Peloponnese), who then made Clytemnestra his wife.

Agamemnon was leading Greek forces in the Trojan War in Troy. However, consistently weak winds prevented his ships from sailing. Through a subplot involving the gods, he was told that the winds would return if he sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia to the goddess Artemis. He persuaded Clytemnestra to send Iphigeneia by deceptively telling her that the purpose of his daughter's visit was to marry her to Achilles. When Iphigeneia arrived, she was sacrificed. Clytemnestra learned of this event and grieved for her daughter.

Murder of Agamemnon, painting by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin.

During this period of Agamemnon's long absence, Clytemnestra began a love affair with Aegisthus, her husband's cousin (they produced a daughter; Erigone). Whether Clytemnestra was seduced into the affair or entered into it independently differs according to the respective author of the myth. Nevertheless, Clytemnestra, enraged by Iphigeneia's murder (and presumably the earlier murder of her first husband by Agamemnon, and her subsequent rape and forced marriage), and Aegisthus, hungry for power, began plotting Agamemnon's demise.

Finally returning from Troy, Agamemnon arrived at his palace and was greeted by his wife. In tow was his concubine, the princess Cassandra. (Whether Clytemnestra was jealous of Cassandra is unknown. It was quite normal at the time for men to take concubines, usually acquired as war prizes, when on campaign.) Upon his arrival, he entered the palace for a banquet while Cassandra remained in the chariot. Clytemnestra waited until he was in the bath, and then entangled him in a cloth net and stabbed him. Entangled in the web, Agamemnon could neither escape nor resist his murderer. In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Clytemnestra does the foul deed herself, but other texts, such as Homer's "Odyssey," mention others (see "Controversy").

Meanwhile, Cassandra saw a vision of herself and Agamemnon being murdered. Her attempts to elicit help failed (she had been cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her prophecies). She realized that she was fated to die, and resolutely walked into the palace to accept her death.

After the murders, Aegisthus replaced Agamemnon as king and ruled for a few years with Clytemnestra as his queen. She was eventually killed by her own son Orestes. 9/1/09