Martha Graham Dance Company “Clytemnestra”

Nov 09, 2009

I don't know about you, but I'm not up on my Greek mythology, so in anticipation of seeing the famed MGCD perform Clytemnestra, I thought we could briefly go over this Greek tragedy.

Clytemnestra was originally married to Tantalus, who was a ruler of a Greek city. He was slain by Agamemnon, who was king of Mycenae (or other places, depending on the versions, but what is agreed upon is that he was a king). Agamemnon then made Clytemnestra his wife and they had four children (among them Electra, after whom the "Electra complex" is named).

Agamemnon led the Greek forces during the Trojan War. In an effort to win the favor of Artemis, goddess of wisdom and war, to grant him strong winds to set sale for the battle, he sacrificed one of he and Clytemnestra's daughters, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was very angry and grief-stricken with this deed and mourned the loss of her daughter. While Agamemnon was away, Clytemnestra began an affair with his cousin Aegisthus, and had a daughter with him. When Agamemnon returned, he brought his war prize, a mistress named Cassandra back with him. Aegisthus, who was hungry for power, plotted the murder of both Agamemnon and Cassandra.

Again, there are different versions on the death of Agamemnon and his concubine Cassandra. In some versions Aegisthus murders Agamemnon and Clytemnestra takes care of Cassandra. In some versions Aegisthus does it all, in some versions, Clytemnestra. And in other versions still, Cassandra escapes unharmed.

Following Agamemnon's death, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra ruled of Mycenae. However, this is a tragedy, so rest assured this did not last long. Orestes, the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon was not present during the murder of his father. He returned to Mycenae some 8 years later to avenge his father's death by killing his mother as well as her lover, Aegisthus. In some versions Electra aids her brother in the murders.

Orestes is then pursued by the Furies, female deities of vengeance and anger, and is driven to madness. To rectify this he must acknowledge the goddess Artemis (who caused all this mess in the first place, by demanding his sister as a sacrifice), and he is allowed to live, taking his place on the throne after his father and uncle.

So, now you have a rough sketch of the story before you head out to see Graham's interpretation of the tragedy on November 12!


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