Klytemnestra and Kronos

Klytemnestra (Clytemnestra, Clytaemnestra, Klytaimnḗstra, Klytaimḗstra) was the wife of the great hero Agamemnon, mother of Iphigenia, ElektraOrestes, and Chrysothemis, and Queen of Mycenae. Her parents were King Tyndareus and Queen Leda of Sparta.

Zeus famously took on the form of a swan to couple with Leda. Since Leda slept with both Tyndareus and Zeus on that same night, she produced two eggs, with two kids each. One egg produced Klytemnestra and Helen; the other produced Castor and Pollux.

Accounts vary on who fathered whom, and which ones were Divine and which half-immortal. The only consistencies are that Helen was fathered by Zeus, and that if only one of the boy/boy twins is Divine, it’s Pollux.

Leda and the Swan, by Francesco Bacchiacca

Klytemnestra married Agamemnon, and Helen married his brother Menelaus, when they were hiding from their double-cousin Aegisthus. He’d murdered their father, King Atreus, and sworn gruesome revenge upon his children.

According to Euripides, Klytemnestra’s first husband was King Tantalus of Pisa, whom Agamemnon murdered before marrying her. The infant son she’d had with Tantalus was also murdered by Agamemnon. In another version, Klytemnestra’s first husband was the King of Lydia.

Before the Trojan War, Agamemnon killed a deer in a sacred grove of Artemis. She punished Agamemnon by interfering with the winds and making it impossible for his fleet to sail to Troy.

The seer Calchas told Agamemnon to sacrifice his oldest daughter Iphigenia to appease Artemis. This horrified Agamemnon, and he refused to do it until he succumbed to intense pressure from the other commanders. Iphigenia was tricked into coming to Aulis with Klytemnestra, believing she was going to marry Achilles.

The Anger of Achilles, by Jacques-Louis David, 1819

Agamemnon tried to back out of it, and Achilles was pissed when he discovered he’d been used as part of this most dastardly plot. He and Klytemnestra pled with Agamemnon to spare Iphigenia. In some versions, Iphigenia was spared.

During the ten years of the Trojan War, Klytemnestra began an affair with Agamemnon’s evil cousin Aegisthus. Her heart burnt with hatred on account of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, and her first husband’s murder.

Agamemnon arrived home with his own side lover, the seer Kassandra, who had a horrible vision of their murders. Sadly, no one believed her prophecies, due to a curse from Apollo. In the best-known version, Klytemnestra murders Agamemnon in the bathtub. Aegisthus then took the throne, and had three kids with Klytemnestra.

Clytemnestra Hesitates Before Killing the Sleeping Agamemnon, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1817

Klytemnestra’s only son by Agamemnon, Orestes, eventually murdered her and his half-brother Aletes.

Klytemnestra is derived from klytos (noble, famous) and mnester (wooer, courter). The original form, Klytaimestra, may have a link to medomai (to scheme, to court).

Kronos was the youngest of the first generation of Titans, the son/nephew of Gaia and Uranus, and the father of Zeus. His Roman name is Saturn.

Uranus hated his kids, and hid them within Gaia’s body, causing her great pain. That all changed when Gaia made an adamantine sickle for Kronos and bade him hide in ambush. When Uranus approached Gaia to couple with her, Kronos sprang out and castrated him. The dripping blood produced the Furies, Meliae (ash tree nymphs), and Giants. Aphrodite was born from Uranus’s severed genitals falling into the sea.

Kronos’s queen was his sister Rhea. They ruled Ancient Greece’s Golden Age, the first of five Ages of Man [sic]. We’re currently in the Iron Age, a period of sadness, strife, turmoil, and brute force, comparable to Hinduism’s Kali Yuga. There was no need for laws during the Golden Age, since everyone did the right thing automatically.

Kronos knew he’d be overthrown by his kids, just as he’d overthrown Uranus. Thus, he swallowed each right after birth. With Gaia’s help, Rhea switched Zeus with a stone wrapped in swaddling-clothes. After Zeus grew to manhood, raised away from Kronos, he either cut Kronos’s stomach open or gave him an emetic to free his older siblings Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, Hera, and Hestia.

Zeus and his siblings waged war against Kronos and the other Titans, with the help of their newly-freed siblings the Cyclopses and Hecatonchires (Hundred-Handed Ones). All but six of the Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus. Accounts vary on Kronos’s fate.

Kronos may be derived from the Proto–Indo–European ker, “to cut.”


4 thoughts on “Klytemnestra and Kronos

  1. Such a lot going on. Families didn’t ever just get along with each other, did they? So this is the Iron Age, according to the Ancient Greeks? A time of turmoil and brute force… that’s pretty prescient.

  2. I didn’t realize Klytemnestra was the sister of Helen. Wow. They both got dreadful husbands…though I think Klytemnestra might’ve ended up with the worst of the two. Menelaus was mostly weak and whiny, but I don’t remember him killing anyone like Agamemnon. No wonder Helen was eager to get away.

  3. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Onomastics Outside the Box

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