Virtue and honour : the gender division ; Aeschylus' Oresteia
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Clytemnestra is first associated with Agamemnon's murder in Homer's ‘Odyssey’, though her participation in the deed is ambiguous, until Agamemnon reveals that she was an active agent. He compares his faithless wife to Odysseus' Penelope, who represents the 'perfect' wife in her behaviour. A brief examination of Penelope and of her fidelity to her absent husband reveals a series of duties that comprise wifely virtues in a woman. It has long been recognized that Aeschylus' ‘Oresteia’ is written through and against paradigms derived from the ‘Odyssey’. I argue that Clytemnestra can only be properly understood with reference to the virtues attributed to Penelope. An important but often neglected motivation for her revenge against Agamemnon lies in his failure to acknowledge his wife's virtue, by killing Iphigeneia and bringing Cassandra into the oikos as a concubine. Aeschylus uses society's expectations of the virtues of a wife and creates the terrifying character of a woman who throws away virtue to possess honour. I examine the ‘Agamemnon’ to highlight Clytemnestra's attempts to redefine herself as worthy of masculine honour, through her `manly' behaviour, both in word and action, in reaction to Agamemnon's disregard for Clytemnestra's wifely virtue. The consequences of Clytemnestra's rejection of virtue is at the heart of the ‘Choephoroi’; her children suffer from her disavowal of the duties of wife and mother. Orestes returns to avenge his father; to punish the mother who was no mother to him, and her lover; to set his disordered oikos to rights. The ‘Eumenides’ completes the marginalization of Clytemnestra, as she is replaced by the Erinyes and Athena, and her desire for honour and vengeance is replaced by the larger issue of the place of vengeance in society, and returning the oikos to its original order.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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