Both Clytemnestra and Medea are tragic characters who have been deeply hurt at the hands of their husbands. Clytemnestra’s much loved daughter was sacrificed by her husband for reasons that debatably weren’t necessary. And Medea’s husband left her for another woman, leaving Medea without anything. Both these acts cause the women to cite revenge. On top of the sacrifice of their daughter, Agamemnon had left Clytemnestra to fend for herself while he went off to war.
She hasn’t seen her husband for the ten years he’s been awa, and when he finally does come home after being victorious, he brings with him a sex-slave; Cassandra, so not only does Clytemnestra have to live with the knowledge that her husband has been unfaithful, she gets the privilege of meeting the woman that has been entertaining him. Even though this unfaithfulness does little to enrage her in comparison to the sacrifice, it does push Clytemnestra over the edge, and so with her lover she plots the murder of Agamemnon and his concubine.
She seems like a level-headed character because her ten year planning appears to be justified because she has been hurt in the worst possible way; by having her child murdered. Therefore, under the circumstances, it’s easy to be sympathetic with her because one can see where she’s coming from. The method Clytemnestra uses to carry out the murder of Agamemnon is a secretive and sneaky one. She treats Agamemnon the way he wants to be treated, like a glorious king. She praises him and makes him believe he is worthy of walking on the red carpet she has laid out for him.
Therefore Agamemnon has no reason to believe he is in any danger. However the brutal part of the plan, she commits once Agamemnon is vulnerable, when he’s taking a bath. She brutally stabs him. After the success, she celebrates her act and she broadcasts it loudly, still firmly believing what she’s done was fair; an eye for an eye. She also thinks what she did was in the will of the gods, because she was getting revenge not only for her daughter, but also her lover Aegisthus who’s father had been desecrated by Agamemnon’s father.
She also felt that she would be favoured by the gods for ridding the world of the man who felt he was important enough to walk along the tapestries she’d laid out for him. In this time, it was thought disrespectful not to avenge loved ones- the entire Trojan War began because of acts of vengeance leading to more acts of vengeance until it exploded into a war. Therefore Clytemnestra’s rage was encouraged by her own culture and so she was driven to murder her husband and Cassandra. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that Clytemnestra’s act wasn’t fully justified.
Medea on the other hand seems like a completely different case. There are similarities between the two women, but at the same time there are many differences. Both are scorned women, betrayed by their husbands, and both want to get revenge, but they go about it in different ways. They both feel that death is the only justifiable action for what their husbands have done. The big difference is that Medea doesn’t want to kill her husband. She wants him to live a long life of pain- pain caused by death that will occur around him, his new wife, his step-father and most importantly, his sons.
I feel this is a worse punishment than the quick way out through death. In her opening speech, the Nurse tells the audience that Medea is unstable. She is presented more like a dangerous character than a tragic one. Any of her tragic flaws could damage other characters more than herself, and that’s exactly what happens. Later on the Nurse warns the children to avoid their mother because of her dangerous mood, and soon after, Medea even curses the children herself. She’s clearly in a hazardous state. After this, before she has even committed her biggest crime we can see that she should not be scorned.
Someone so unstable could do anything to get their revenge, and that’s exactly what she does. After killing Glauce and her father, she has left Jason without the spouse, and the royalty of Creon’s kingdom. This seems like an apt punishment, because Jason deprived Medea of her spouse and royalty too. By leaving Medea, Creon became convinced [rightfully so] that Medea would be dangerous to Creon and Glauce. Therefore Creon forced exile on Medea. Now that both parties were back on equal terms, without spouse or kingdom, a sane, level-headed, impartial person would believe that they were even.
Medea however possesses none of the above characteristics. She has to take things one step further to make Jason just as miserable as she feels she is. She kills the children she gave birth to with Jason. This denies Jason the sons that could one day inherit his throne, and carry on his family and heritage. He’s now a bit too old to find a new wife and father more children, and so now he too is left with nothing. Medea has emasculated him; now he is weak without his sons, and he must feel the torture forever.
After getting her revenge, Medea at first seems triumphant that she’s got her own back, but she quickly becomes miserable when she realises she will never be able to love again- she is too old to get married, or have any more children, and she’s hated both in this city, and in her homeland because of her actions here, and the fact she left her homeland and killed her brother for Jason. In some respects she seems to suffer worse than Jason, because now she doesn’t even have a place to go, and so she must take to the skies and hide out with the help of her divine relatives.
The idea that she suffers worse adds to the argument that she is unstable, and her actions are not only unjustifiable, but they don’t seem to make sense. She has killed her own sons and as a result, brought more pain on herself, and she seems to be worse off than Jason. Such reasoning could only be thought up by a dangerous character. Clytemnestra shows no regret for her actions, whereas Medea does. This may make her seem like a more frightening and cold character, but because Medea does show regret, I feel it makes her actions seem more unjustifiable, because she has done things that she knows she would suffer for, but she does them anyway.
We can also forgive Clytemnestra more easily because her main victim was guilty of wronging her. It’s fair to say that Cassandra did nothing to upset Clytemnestra of her own freewill, but as a slave she isn’t taken into account in this context. The repercussions of Medea’s actions however are felt on a much wider scale. She kills her husband’s new bride, she kills Creon; and later she kills her children. It’s hard to sympathize with these acts because for the most part, the victims are innocent, and the murders are all out of proportion to Medea’s reasoning.
They show Medea to be unstable, dangerous, and clearly out of her mind. While Clytemnestra comes across has sympathetic, and maybe in some opinions heroic, Medea seems to be a barbaric, cold-blooded killer, killing innocent people that don’t need to killed for her revenge to be effective. There are more deaths and more repercussions, in the short term at least [i. e Agamemnon and Clytemnestra won’t die until much later on], for everyone as a consequence of Medea’s scorn. As a result, I feel the quote is more apt to Medea.