The Curse
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Trojan War
Death of Agamemnon
Death of Clytemnestra
Iphigenia in Tauris
Upon his return to Argos, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra and her new lover Aegisthus, who have taken control of the kingdom, kill him.

Aeschylus: Perverted Ritual

In Agamemnon Clytemnestra performs a semi-ritualized slaughter of her husband that takes on elements of animal sacrifice. She thereby re-enacts the sacrifice of Iphigenia that she seeks to avenge, transforming Agamemnon, the old perpetrator, into the victim. Evoking the customary preference for willing animal victims, Clytemnestra painstakingly persuades her homecoming husband to tread voluntarily across the textiles she has strewn at the palace entrance. Having lured him indoors to his bath, she catches him up in a netlike robe and kills him: Twice I struck him, and with two groans his limbs relaxed. Once he had fallen, I dealt him yet a third stroke to grace my prayer to the infernal Zeus, the savior of the dead (1384-7). As Froma Zeitlin has argued*, Clytemnestra’s three blows evoke the custom of pouring three libations after feasting: one to the Olympians, one to the Chthonians, and one to Zeus the Savior. In this case, the libations are Agamemnon’s blood.

Sophocles: Family Values and Memory-Making

As in Aeschylus, the Clytemnestra of Sophocles’ Electra claims justice for Iphigenia as her motive. But in this play, her claim is challenged by her daughter Electra. Each woman grounds her claim to justice in an articulation of family values. For Clytemnestra, her husband’s killing of their shared offspring is an unforgivable breach of family ties, demanding revenge. Agamemnon, she complains to Electra, had the heart to sacrifice your own blood, your sister, to the gods - he, who, when sowing his seed, felt none of the pains I did when I gave birth (530-3). But for Electra, Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon, together with her taking of a new lover, constitutes a violation of proper family bonds. For tell me, if you please, she demands,
what crime it is that you requite by doing the most shameless deeds of all: sharing your bed with that blood-guilty one, with whom you first destroyed my father and now bear his children while you have cast out the earlier born, the pious offspring of a pious marriage? (585-90)
She thus narrates the killing as her mother’s revolt against a stable family structure. In this way, the memory of Agamemnon’s killing becomes a space for the women to dispute the priority and nature of familial relations. Here, as in the pair's dispute over the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Sophocles demonstrates how history and memory are constructed after the fact, through conflicting narratives.

*The Motif of the Corrupted Sacrifice in Aeschylus' Oresteia, 1965
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