1 Masculinity INDIAN J SOC and DEV, Femininity VOL. 14, of Clytemnestra No. 1 (JANUARY-JUNE in Agamemnon 2014), Salma Parvin Suma * Abstract: The role of woman in ancient Greek life was considered to be insignificant compared to that of Greek men. And yet, in tragedies, women were often written major characters, revealing insights on how women were treated and thought of in society. Many well known Greek plays contain several well written, complex, female characters. Each female character takes upon herself, the role of villain, the role of victim, and the role of heroine. Clytemnestra is one of the most recognizable female characters in literature because of the murder of her husband and his female consort. In this paper I seek to create an understanding of this mythological character Clytemnestra, as she was portrayed by Aeschylus in Agamemnon. Through this discussion I endured to show how this female character plays masculine role in her femininity in order to achieve her desires. Introduction In the Oresteia the first play is Agamemnon, which opens in Argos a few hours after the capture of Troy; and its climax is the murder of Agamemnon, on his return, by Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra is the most powerful, indeed, in all dramatic literature, whenever we meet Clytemnestra; we find her as vivid and fully developed a personality as the great heroes of The Iliad. (Aeschylus, Intro-13) Mythological Background of the Play Agamemnon One of the most powerful Greek cities in the second millennium BC was Argos, in the Peloponnese. There were two brothers Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus was the king of Argos. Once, Thyestes seduced Atreus wife. Atreus reckoned that the score would be settled once for all if he could trick Thyestes into committing some unclean or sacrilegious act which would render him permanently taboo in the eyes of the Argive citizens. He secretly murdered Thyestes two young sons, and served their flesh to Thyestes at a banquet. After that Thyestes went into exile and died there; but he had a third son, an infant called Aegisthus, whom he took with him and brought up in exile. Atreus himself got away with murder; but such debts are not forgotten. His eldest son, Agamemnon, inherited the throne of Argos and with it the curse that had settled on the family. (Aeschylus, Intro-12) Mythological Background of the Character Clytemnestra Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda, the king and queen of Sparta. According to the myth, Zeus appeared to Leda in the form of a swan, seducing and * Lecturer, Department of English, Asian University of Bangladesh,
2 46 Salma Parvin Suma impregnating her. Leda produced four offspring from two eggs. From one of those two eggs Castor and Clytemnestra comes out, Helen and Polydeuces from the other egg. Therefore, Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus, where as Helen and Polydeuces were fathered by Zeus. Agamemnon and Menelaus were in exile at home of Tyndareus. In due time the brothers married Tyndareus two daughters, Agamemnon marrying Clytemnestra and Menelaus marrying Helen. (Wikipedia 09 Oct 2013). Clytemnestra s marriage to Agamemnon did not last for long. Time went by and soon after Calchas declared that Iphigenia must be sacrificed to Airtimes before the Greeks go to war. Clytemnestra strongly disagreed to this ludicrous statement and protested but to no vail and so Iphigenia was still sacrificed and the Greeks went to war. During the Trojan War, Clytemnestra met Aegisthus with whom she committed adultery with due to the effect of the curse laid upon her by Aphrodite and also as protest or payback for the sacrifice of her daughter, Iphigenia. After the Trojan War ended, Clytemnestra conspired with Agisthus to murder her husband after she heard rumors that Agamemnon was going to bring a concubine, which was revealed to be Cassandra. Importance of the Studies This paper exposes the fact that all the female characters in Classical Literature are not like Dido or Phaedra, that they will submit themselves to their fate or they will commit suicide to hide their misfortune. Clytemnestra is different than those female characters. She didn t submit herself; instead she made a plan to take her revenge. She also presented the fact that female can sometimes be compared even in Ancient Literature with the male through their masculine activities. I I have used some terms and terminologies in this paper which are very much related with the subject matter of this paper. To make reader understand the paper, this terms and terminologies are explained bellow: Greek Mythology Greek mythology is the body of Greek myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. (Wikipedia 28 Sep 2013). Classical Literature Classical literature refers to the great master pieces of the Greek, Roman and other ancient civilizations. Homer s Iliad, Ovid s Metamorphosis, Virgil s Aeneid, Oedipus the king by Sophocles, along with works by other ancient writers in epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, pastoral and other forms. Classical literature is important
3 Masculinity and Femininity of Clytemnestra in Agamemnon 47 because of the way it has shaped our literature today. Without classical literature we would have no basis of modern literature. Classics usually refer to older books. (Answer.ask.com 28 Sep 2013). Oresteria The last greatest work of Aeschylus is the Oresteria, which also has the interest of being the only complete trilogy preserved to us. It is a three act drama of family fate; the acts are the sin, the revenge, the reconciliation. The Oresteria tells the story of the house of Atreus. In the Oresteria first play is, Agamemnon, the second play is, Choephori, and the third play is, Eumenides,. Tragedy (Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Sep 2013) Tragedy is a type of play in which the protagonist is usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities who falls to disaster through the combination of a personal feeling and circumstances with which he cannot deal. Prologue A prologue, sometimes referred to as a preface, is an introduction at the beginning of a literary work. This type of introduction generally gives information to the reader or audience, assisting in the ability to understand what is to follow in the main body of the work. It may introduce the setting, preview the characters, or establish a theme or moral for the work. In the Greek tragedy, the prologue is the opening section of a drama that precedes the first choral ode. II In Aeschylus s play Agamemnon, part of his Oresteria trilogy, Clytemnestra is driven to murder Agamemnon partly to avenge the death of her daughter Iphigeneia, whom Agamemnon had sacrificed for the sake of success in the war, partly because of her adulterous love for Aegisthus and partly as an agent for the curse on Agamemnon s family, the House of Atreus. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 09 Oct 2013). After Helen went (or was taken) from Sparta to Troy, her husband, Menelaus, asked his brother Agamemnon for help. Greek forces gathered at Aulis. However consistently weak winds prevented the fleet from sailing. Through a subplot involving the goods and omens, the priest Calchas said the winds would be favorable if Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis, Agamemnon persuaded Clytemnestra to send Iphigenia by deceptively telling her that the purpose of his daughter s visit was to marry her to Achilles. When Iphigenia arrived at Aulis, she was sacrificed. The winds turned, and the troops set sail for Troy. Clytemnestra learned of this event and grieved for her daughter. The Trojan War lasted ten years. During this period of Agamemnon s long absence, Clytemnestra began a love affair
4 48 Salma Parvin Suma with Aegisthus, her husband s cousin. Clytemnestra and Aesisthus began plotting Agamemnon s demise. Clytemnestra was enraged by Iphigenia s murder and Aegisthus saw his father Thyestes betrayed by Agamemnon s father Atreus. Though the title of this book is Agamemnon but Clytemnestra contributes important role to the development of the play. Her character is presented on the stage more time on the stage than other characters throughout the play. She is presented as a contrast to a typical Greek woman. Sometimes she takes over the role of the man in the play which is very bold and courageous. This is exemplified by her strive for justice (the vengeance of her daughter, Iphigenia), which she finally achieves with little or no help from Aegisthus, the tone in which she address people and the way in which she is able to rule and control palace (123helpme.com, 21 Sep, 2013). At the very beginning of the play the Watchman through prologue clarified her character to the audience though he didn t give clear idea about the play. He said about Clytemnestra, in whose woman s heart a man s will nurses hope (Aeschylus 41). In this play we also find Clytemnestra as an intelligent lady. She has the ability to control the kingdom at the time of her husband s absence. In her conversation with the Chorus about the victory over Troy, She shows her intelligence. Technically she talked about her plan of vengeance. Though the soothsayer Calchus said, The scale of justice falls in equity. /The killer will be killed (Aeschylus 51). But till now Clytemnestra s plan is not clear to the Chorus. So the Chorus said. Madam, your words are like a man s, both wise & kind. (Aeschylus 55). She contributes to the development of all the other characters in the play. This can be demonstrated by her conversation with Agamemnon and the Chorus. In relation to Agamemnon, she acts as a form of a temptation as she lures him into committing hubris by convincing him to walk on the crimson tapestries she says, Now, dearest husband, come step from your Chariot./ But do not set to earth, my lord, the conquering foot /That trod down Troy servants, do as you have been bidden;/ Make haste, carpet his way with crimson tapes tries, /spread silk before your master s feet; (Aeschylus 73) Agamemnon disagreed at first. He says, I count it dangerous, being mortal, to set foot/ On rich embroidered silks. I would be reverenced/ As man not god. (Aeschylus 74) But Clytemnestra makes him bound to walk on that through her argument. And Agamemnon compares this argument as a combat. He says, It does not suit a woman to be combative. (Aeschylus 75) But lastly Clytemnestra got her victory in the combat of argument. So she is again here compared with a man. After the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra when Clytemnestra comes out from the palace, she herself announce about the murder: I said, not long since, many things to match the time. / All which, that time past, without shame I here unsay./ How else, when one prepares death for an enemy/ who seems a friend how else net round the deadly trap./ High enough to forestall the victim s highest leap./ A great while I have pondered on this trail of strength./ At long last pitched battle came, and victory:/ Here where I struck I stand and see my task achieved. / yes this is my work, and I claim it. (Aeschylus 90).
5 Masculinity and Femininity of Clytemnestra in Agamemnon 49 She also said, she is jubilant and her job is acknowledged by the justice. After hearing these Chorus became very angry and cursed her. The Chorus said, she is a vile woman. But till now her voice is very strong and she also complains against the Chorus and says, Why, once before, did you not dare oppose this man?/ Who with as slight compunction as men butcher sheep,/ When his own fields were white with flocks, must sacrifice/ his child and my own darling,/ He killed her for a charm to stop the Thracian Wind!/ He marked with his daughter s blood, was ripe for punishment. (Aeschylus 92). And the last point of this speech she becomes stronger and like a strong warrior she invites the chorus for fighting. She says, Your threats doubt less rely on force You have your men/and weapon: try your strength in fair fight against mine. /Win, and you may command me. (Aeschylus 92)Clytemnestra herself thinking that in her job she is right. Because it was in the destiny of Agamemnon that he will be punished for his father Atreus sin, sin of killing his brother s sons. Even when the Chorus called her a deceitful lady, then she says: The guile I used to kill him, / he used himself the first, (Aeschylus 95). Clytemnestra said this because Agamemnon took Iphigenia to the ship from her by telling the lies. Even in the last part of the play in the argument between the Chorus and Aegisthus, it becomes very clear that in comparison between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Aegisthus is compared with woman and Clytemnestra is compared with man, according to their job. The Chorus said to Aegisthus, You woman! / Who after plotting the king s murder, did not dare/ To lift the sword yourself? / If you are so bold, why not yourself with your own hands plunder your enemy? / Instead, a woman (Aeschylus 99). Through this discussion we explore the case that build against her innocents by exploring the killing of Agamemnon and Cassandra and the boastful expression about the killings. This action causes a great deal of rage in Clytemnestra. One could very well understand why she would act this way. Clytemnestra see s the killing for her husband s gain. She also feels that he could have chosen a different virgin to sacrifice. And also in the play calchas describes the journey of the Greek to Troy is only, To help a war fought for a faithless wife. (Aeschylus 50) So if we explain from this way then it would be very easy to understand that why Clytemnestra did it. She did it because she loved her daughter. In another place the Chorus said about Helen, The outlaw wife; / A friend sent by the god of host and guest, /whose law her lover had transgressed, /To break his heart, and break the pride of Troy. (Aeschylus 68) As she said to the Chorus, after murdering Agamemnon, when his own fields were white with flocks, must sacrifice, /His child and my own darling, whom my pain brought forth-/ He killed her for a charm to stop the Thracian wind! (Aeschylus 92 )The last exclamation mark is showing her mentality about Helen. Again she says about Agamemnon s job- when he by guile uprooted/ The tender plant he gave me,/ And made this house accurst. When on my virgin daughter/ His savage sword descended, / My tears in rivers ran ; (Aeschylus 95).
6 50 Salma Parvin Suma So through these lines we can get reason why did Clytemnestra kill Agamemnon. But why did she kill Cassandra? She has also created her relation with Aegisthus, then where is the problem. Actually she created her relation with Aegisthus after the murder of Iphigenia for her revenge against Agamemnon. The killing of Cassandra was not exactly in Clytemnestra s plan. When Clytemnestra saw Cassandra she was filled with rage, for the simple fact that this woman had taken to bed her husband. (123helpme.com21Sep2013) So, as it is impossible for a mother to agree with any harm of her children in the same way it is also impossible for a lady to share her husband with another lady. Though the Chorus and the watchman called her as man and same times through some of her jobs we compared her with man but the above description can disclose us the fact that she has the femininity in her with her masculinity. Conclusion Agamemnon gets a shout-out in the play s title, but Clytemnestra becomes its most interesting character. This interesting doesn t mean likable, technically speaking she is a liar, a two-timer, and a murderer. Aeschylus depicted Clytemnestra as a strong independent woman who believed with all her heart that killing of Agamemnon would bring justice and peace to her as well as the city of Argos. (123helpme.com 17 Feb 2011) Clytemnestra is one of the most powerfully presented characters of the Greek drama. Her manly courage, her vindictive and unshaken purpose, her hardly hidden contempt for her tool and accomplice, Aegisthus, her cold scorn for the feebly vacillating elders, and her unflinching acceptance of inevitable fate, when she faces at last the avowed avenger, are all portrayed with matchless force her very craft being scornfully assumed, as needful to her purpose, and contemptuously dropped when the purpose is served. (Ancient History 28 Sep 2013) Clytemnestra is a highly controversial character in mythology because of her masculinity and femininity at the same time and because of her intelligence and courage. She plays masculine role and uses masculine language of law courts in order to bend the other characters in the play to her will. But all over the play we find not only her courage and masculinity but also her femininity through her motherly affection for Iphigenia for what she becomes revengeful and through her jealous against Cassandra. So in my paper, I have tried to portray Clytemnestra as a character who has the quality, masculinity and femininity in her. References Aeschylus, the Oresteian Trilogy, London, Penguin Books, Trans, Reprinted in Oresteia by Aeschylus, 28 Sep 2013 < a/oresteia.html> Clytemnestra-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 09 Oct What is Classical Literature-Ask.com 28 Sep Greek Mythology, 28 Sep 2013 < Aeschylus, Orestes, 28 Sep topic/431802/oresteia
7 Masculinity and Femininity of Clytemnestra in Agamemnon 51 Clytemnestra (Greek mythology) Encyclopedia Britannica /Clytemnestra Should Aeschylus Agamemnon Be Called Clytemnestra? 123 Help Me. com. 09 Oct 2013 < The Oresteia by Aeschylus: Guilty or Innocent. 123 Help Me. com. 09 Oct