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Clytaemnestra and Medea:
Two women seeking justice
Clytaemnestra and Medea are two women who are seeking justice for a wrong committed by their husbands. Clytaemnestra?s husband, Agamemnon, did not wrong here directly but rather indirectly. Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia, in order to calm the Thracian winds. For Clytaemnestra this brought much hatred towards Agamemnon. Here Agamemnon had betrayed Clytaemnestra and their daughters trust, and for that she sought revenge. Medea?s husband, Jason, had dishonored her with his unfaithfulness. Medea sought to kill everything that was important in Jason?s life in order to seek justice. Clytaemnestra and Medea are similar but yet different in the ways that they define justice, setup up their victims, carry out the just sentence and in the end justify their actions.
Clytaemnestra feels the only justice for the death of her daughter, Iphigeneia, is the death of Agamemnon. ?Act for an act, wound for wound!? is the only justification that Clytaemnestra cans see (Agamemnon 1555). Medea also sees death as the only justification for her husbands? unfaithfulness. ?To stay here, and in this I will make dead bodies / Of three of my enemies, -father, the girl and my husband?(Medea 370-71). Medea says here that she wishes to kill Kreon, the father of the princess Jason will wed, the princess and Jason. Although she never kills Jason, she does successfully kill Kreon and the princess. Medea later says that she must also kill her children to cause Jason pain. In their defining justice Clytaemnestra and Medea both feel death is the only justice. However, with Medea she does not intend to kill Jason.
In order for Clytaemnestra to seek justice for her daughters? death, she had to make Agamemnon feel as though nothing was wrong. Clytaemnestra gives a big speech when Agamemnon arrives telling everybody how ?great the love she bore her husband, and the agonizing grief she had suffered in his absence?(Hamilton 253). She laid red tapestries for him to walk on, and made him feel as though he was worthy enough to walk on them. Like Clytaemnestra, Medea uses her words to make Kreon and Jason feel as though she is being sincere. Medea convinces Kreon to let her have another day before she is banished, by telling him that she needs to find a place to live and that she needs to ?look for support? for her children (Medea 337-339). Medea tells Jason that she is wrong for what she has said and that he is right for marrying a princess, because it will be better for their children (Medea 845-954). Clytaemnestra and Medea set their victims up by making them feel as though nothing is wrong.
Clytaemnestra decides the way to kill Agamemnon is while he is bathing, there he is defenseless. Clytaemnestra carries out the sentence that she sees just by slashing Agamemnon with a sword three times. Then she kills Cassandra, Agamemnon?s concubine he received for defeating Troy, whom she sees as a nuisance if left alive. Medea, on the other hand does not use brute force at first to kill like Clytaemnestra, instead she uses what she knows best, poison. Medea sends the children with Jason bearing gifts for the princess. These gifts consist of a dress and golden crown laced with poison, which will kill anyone who comes in contact with it. The princess and Kreon both die as a result of the poison laden gifts. When Medea finds out that the gifts killed the princess and Kreon she now uses brute force like Clytaemnestra, by turning the sword on her children. Clytaemnestra is not as cruel as is Medea. Clytaemnestra could have killed her son for whom she saw as a threat, but chose not to because she loved her children so much (Hamilton 257). Could Clytaemnestra have caused the pain on Jason with out killing her children?
Clytaemnestra and Medea have two different approaches to justifying their actions. Clytaemnestra ?? saw no reason to explain her act or excuse it. She was not a murderer in her own eyes, she was an executioner. She has punished a murderer, a murderer of his own child, ? he murdered for the Thracian winds, she feels it needs no explanation (Hamilton 255). She feels it is an ?Act for act, wound for wound? (Agamemnon 1555), therefore it is just. In Euripides? Medea the chorus does not find fault with Medea for punishing Jason for what he had done. But they do find fault with her killing her children, they see no justification in it. As for Medea, she believes it must be done for two reasons. First, the children?s fate was sealed when they delivered the gifts to the princess. It is possible that repercussions could have been brought against the children, either by death or being outcasts for their involvement. Second, and most importantly, the sheer fact of causing Jason pain.
It is not Agamemnon?s unfaithfulness that has spawned Clytaemnestra?s hatred for her husband, but rather ?a mothers love for a daughter, and a wife?s determination to avenge that death by killing her husband? (Hamilton 252). Clytaemnestra and Medea both feel that death is the only justifiable action for what their husbands have done. The difference is that Medea does not kill her husband, instead wants him to feel the pain of the death that surrounds him. Both Clytaemnestra and Medea use words to set up their victims but they do not carry out the sentences entirely in the same way. Clytaemnestra mostly uses brute force where Medea uses her knowledge of poison to do the major damage. In the end though, Medea does use brute force to kill her children. One thing is left to question, could Medea have brought this pain to Jason without killing her children? I do not believe so. Jason, seems to be most troubled by the death of his children than he does of either Kreon or the princess? death.
Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Agamemnon. Trans. Robert Fagles. Lawall 1: 521- 566.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. Rex Warner. Lawall 1: 642 ? 672.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heros. New York: Warner Books, 1969.
Lawall, Sarah and others, eds. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1999.
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