Compare/contrast Clytemnestra and Medea.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One point of comparison between both Clytemnestra and Medea is that both of them feel wronged by their husbands.  Clytemnestra feels that Agamemnon has committed unspeakable acts towards her.  She feels disrespected and mistreated.  She cannot look past how he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to please the gods in order to commence his war against the Trojans. Clytemnestra feels that actions like this one reduced the bond that existed between them, something that Euripides suggests that she cannot overlook:  "I never loved you! Tantalus you slew, My first dear husband; and my little son,You tore him from my breast."  The language that Euripides employs in describing her hurt, images such as "You tore him from my breast," articulates the level of pain that she feels towards her husband.  In much the same way, Medea feels a betrayal towards Jason that represents an almost insurmountable gulf.  Medea feels wronged when Jason abandons her for another woman.  Similar to Clytemnestra, her anger resides on profound levels conveyed through profound language: "Woman, on the whole, is a timid thing:
[…] but, wronged in love, there is no heart more murderous."  To be "wronged in love" connotes a violation of trust on the deepest of levels, something that she articulates to Jason, himself: "I can unload some venom from my heart
and you can smart to hear it. To begin at the beginning, […] I saved your life." In both Clytemnestra's and Medea's cases, the level of hurt and betrayal they feel they husbands caused has created a violation that can only be remedied through revenge.

I think that a significant difference between both women is in how they carry out their revenge. Medea acts on her own.  She does not use anyone else's hope to carry out the plan of killing their children and making Jason emotionally suffer.  Clytemnestra uses Aegisthus, and whether she is the agent of action or someone who assists him is dependent on one's interpretation.  She kills her husband, something that Medea does not do.  There is a conspiracy against Agamemnon that Medea lacks in her own actions.  This is a significant difference for while it is clear that both of them experience hurt and rage, they take different paths of execution when acting upon such emotions.

Another significant difference between both women is the retributive actions that ensue as a result of their revenge.  Medea is not really subject to much in way of judgmental actions towards her.  She flies off at the end of the narrative, left to be judged by the Chorus and the reader.  Yet, there is not a real clear sense of moral justice having been exacted as a result of her actions.  For Clytemnestra, vengeance is not shown to be fruitful, as the same rage and anger she felt towards Agamemnon is something that Orestes feels towards her.  Clytmenstra's own death is a statement that vengeance is not justice, a statement that is not as evident in Medea's narrative.

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