Clytemnestra's Role in the Oresteia Term Paper

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In the second part, the role of Clytemnestra changes somewhat, but she is still depicted as a weak woman. The weakness of her position in society is further illustrated by the fact that her son, Orestes, confesses freely to his mother's murder, and also that he never shows any remorse. It is clear that to Orestes, his father, not his mother, is of importance to him, that he finally claims as his sole parent. Any persuasive capabilities of Clytemnestra are overcome by Orestes in the Choephoroe, as she is unable to successfully defend herself when he tries to kill her. In another related play Electra and her brother Orestes hatch a plan to kill their mother and step father. Clytemnestra is said to treat Electra really badly, almost like a beggar or someone living in poverty because she is still grieving at the death of her father. Electra deceives Clytemnestra by telling her that Orestes is dead. Thus, Clytemnestra is deceived again by someone in her own family. This is a ploy to lead her into a false security that her son is dead which is part of his plan to kill her (Encyclopedia Beta, 2007). Orestes kills Clytemnestra while Aegisthus is not there so he doesn't know what is happening so before he returns. Electra covers the body of Clytemnestra under a sheet and presents to Aegisthus the apparent dead corpse of Orestes (Encyclopedia Beta, 2007). Once he pulls back the sheet, he realizes that it is Clytemnestra and Orestes reveals his identity to Aegisthus (Encyclopedia Beta, 2007).

In the second play, Clytemnestra is shown as even weaker still when her other daughter, Electra, assists Orestes when he kills her. Thus, she is shown no loyalty by either of two children. In the first play, Clytemnestra deceives her husband, but in the second play, the male figure succeeds. Her role is weakened when Orestes taunts her dead corpse. Thus, even in death she is not respected by even her own son. The second play shows her true tragedy, because she has essentially lost her three children; one is sacrificed, and the other two side with their father and assist in her own murder. Her role goes from one as a powerful mistreated woman in the first play to that of a once-again deceived victim in the second play.

In the third play, Clytemnestra is once again depicted as being overcome because even in death she is not successful. This is illustrated when Athena and Apollo side with Orestes that her murder was justified.

Even the Furies cannot seek retribution by torturing the soul of Orestes. Thus in the third play Clytemnestra is once again reduced to a weak role because the law and justice are not on her side. It is also demonstrated in the third play that women in general played a weak role because even Athena is not able to persuade Apollo and it appears that she does not even try; that Apollo persuades her in his logic that only the father is a child's blood kin and the mother is merely the nurse, or caregiver of the child. In the third part of the play, Clytemnestra's death is not respected enough to gain retribution on those that caused it. All three of these plays set the atmosphere for the ultimate role that Clytemnestra plays in the Oresteia.


Historians and scholars have commented that Clytemnestra's role can be compared to the role of women in general in society. Clytemnestra does not mourn as a woman is supposed to, but is instead acting like a man. However, Clytemnestra, wronged by the sacrifice of her daughter, can no longer act like a woman is supposed to act, but instead acts like a man. She does this by murdering not only Agamemnon also Cassandra, who is innocent in regards to the crimes of the family. The plays begin by giving women some power; Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon, the Furies have power to control blood-debt, and Athena runs the court. However, at the end of the plays, Clytemnestra's role is that of no power, for the court holds that women are merely vessels for children, and that a child is actually blood kin to their father. At the end of the third play, Athena and Apollo have convinced the Furies to give up blood-debt, become the Eumenides, the "kind ones," and to take up a plot of land (Encyclopedia Beta, 2007). The Furies have, in effect, been pacified and their threat ceased (Encyclopedia Beta, 2007).

Thus, Clytemnestra's role is ultimately one of a weak woman in society; one who although she is queen, and is very persuasive, remains unsuccessful in the end. Her role in the Oresteia is a tragic one, one that is typical to the current role of a woman that operates in reaction to her emotions. Clytemnestra is unable to prevail over the dominant men in her life, and even the women like her daughter Electra and the goddess Athena, cannot side with her. When she attempts to avenge her daughter's death, she has power for one moment, until Orestes kills her. Finally, Clytemnestra's role is to serve the wishes of the men, and even in revenge she lacks power.


McClure, L. (1999). Spoken like a woman. Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama.

Encyclopedia Beta. (2007). Clytemnestra Greek wife of Agamemnon. Retrieved April 9, 2007 at

Thalmann, W. (1985). Speech and Silence in the Oresteia. Phoenix, Vol. 39(3).

Zeitlin, F. (1965). The Motif of the Corrupted…[continue]

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