Clytemnestra (pronounced kleye-tem-nest-ra)
Although Clytemnestra appears as a character in Faulkner’s work Absalom, Absalom! The ending to this Greek tragedy was involved in the title of As I Lay Dying.

Clytemnestra in Greek Mythology:

Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, the king of the ancient land of Mycenae and the daughter of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. She bore several children, including: Electra, Orestes, Iphigenia, and Chrysothemis. Her daughter Iphigenia was to be a part of a prophecy that the ancient clairvoyant Calchas foresaw. He found that she must sacrificed, so that the Greeks may set sail to Troy during the Trojan war. He revealed this prophecy to Agamemnon who, at first resisted, but quickly realized it could not be avoided. He was told by Odysseus to fool her and Clytemnestra into believing she would be the new consort of Achilles, then when brought before him, Achilles was disgusted by this trickery and tried to defend Iphigenia (“Iphigenia”). Clytemnestra tried her hardest as well, but of course, it was to no avail and she was sacrificed in Aulis only a few moments later. Subsequently the Greek army, along with Agamemnon set sail for Troy, and our poor Clytemnestra was alone, left to grieve for her sacrificed daughter (“Clytemnestra”).
Bereaved, she would up falling into the arms of Aegisthus, while her husband was away. Robert Bell, author of Women of Classical Mythology wrote that the rage of losing her daughter accompanied by the fact that, “Clytemnestra was already under the curse of Aphrodite…their father had once neglected an important sacrifice to Aphrodite, and she resolved that all three of his daughters would be adulteresses” (Bell 135) explains why this disloyalty took place. Clytemnestra would wind up bearing a daughter by Aegisthus, named Erigone (Bell 135). Unbeknownst to her, while at war, her husband took a woman named Cassandra as his concubine. Upon their return from war, Aegisthus convinced Clytemnestra that they should execute them both, which they did, quite brutally in fact. Aegisthus had also formulated a plot to kill Clytemnestra’s infant son Orestes as well, but his sister Electra found out and salvaged her brother. She sent him to Phocis with her aunt Astyochea to live out the rest of his days (“Clytemnestra”).
When Orestes matured he was instructed by Apollo to slay his mother and Aegisthus for the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Apollo was seeking revenge for his murdered prophetess Cassandra already, so he figured he was just killing two birds with one stone. So Orestes returned to Mycenae with his comrade Pylades, where Aegisthus and Clytemnestra reigned. He stormed into their palace and plunged his sword into Aegisthus the second he spotted him. When he reached his mother and told her who he was, she pleaded that he show her mercy, and if it wasn’t for Pylades reminding him of his quest, he would have. He then gored Clytemnestra and fled the castle, this obviously is the end of Clytemnestra (“Clytemnestra”).

Clytemnestra in Absalom, Absalom!

“Clytemnestra Sutpen: Daughter of Thomas Sutpen and a negro slave” (AA Genealogy in the corrected text).
Clytemnestra is described as "the cold Cerberus of [Sutpen's] private hell — the face without sex or age because it had never possessed either: the same sphinx face which she had been born with...." (AA 109) is the daughter of Thomas Sutpen and the “heir” to Sutpen’s Hundred. Clytemnestra was Cerberus as the protector of the estate itself, but also the protector of those inside the home as she watched over her sister Judith along with Henry and Jim Bond until her death in 1910. Her name was purposeful because naming her Clytemnestra technically makes him her father in Greek mythology, Tyndareus, king of Sparta. This is not just a guess Sutpen even “named her himself” (AA 61). In Greek mythology Tyndareus had no heir to his throne. Faulkner may have been attempting to use this to foreshadow his later concerns of having no heir to carry out the Sutpen name (Urgo 31). Faulkner when asked if Sutpen saw her as a daughter said, “No…The important thing to him was he should establish a line of dukes, you see” (William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook). Sutpen also saw Clytemnestra as a reminder of the poor background he came from. This could be why when Sutpen returns from war he only acknowledges Judith as “daughter” and not Clytemnestra. To keep the Greek mythology comparisons going Rosa was later said by Shreve to represent Cassandra, “instead of a widowed Agamemnon to her Cassandra an ancient stiff-jointed Pyramus to her eager though untried Thisbe” (AA 177). Clytemnestra wounds her leading to her death just like in the story. Instead of Rosa trying to take over the Sutpen name by getting to Henry, Clytemnestra burns the house with herself and Henry in it(William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook). Also Clytemnestra went down with her legacy, the Hundred, as Clytemnestra fell inside her legacy, Mycenae. No matter what was sacrificed for the lands they lived in they were taken down there rendering all their work to get there useless. It also seemed fitting that a woman compared to as Cerberus would be taking someone ready to die with her to hell. In the destruction of the Hundred Clytemnestra kills the only remaining Sutpen members “who...are similar to the mythical Orestes in their attemps to expiate the old crimes, their own sins and those they inherit from their father” (William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook).
On a less mythological level Clytemnestra and Rosa have represented the whole of black and white relationships to the South at that time (William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook). Rosa refused to see her as equal, even going to far as to call her “nigger” (AA 112) even though it was Rosa who was technically below her. Rosa would be out on the streets if it was not for the Sutpen family taking her in, but this shows how no matter where they are in life white supremacy still runs the south. In this epic scene when Clytemnestra does the disrespect of calling Rosa, Rosa instead of “Miss” Rosa dominates herself as a white woman by using this racial slur. This is pushed further because Clytemnestra put her hands on Rosa, literally breaking the barrier of race between them (William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook). Clytemnestra although seeming like a proud black woman seemed to be at war with herself in terms of race. “With that curious blend of savageness and pity, of yearning and hatred…scrubbing at him with repressed fury as if she were trying to wash the smooth faint olive tinge from his skin…” (AA, 161). It seems that no matter how much land she owns or how many people she rules over she will never be seen as equal. After all not only is she African American, but she was also a woman, two things that did not a successful person make in that time. This repressed rage eventually comes out in the destruction of Sutpen’s Hundred. Not only did Rosa come back, but she came back with others who she thought knew nothing of the family history and that could have also set her off. It seemed as though she was a ticking time bomb; a mix of racial conflict, losing one of the only people she had left, seeing Rosa trying to take him away, and to put it all together Rosa brought people she didn’t know and never cared to know. She wanted to keep the Sutpen family together by any means necessary and away from impurities like Rosa and Quentin and this was a last attempt at doing so.

Greek Mythology in As I Lay Dying:

The title of the novel, As I Lay Dying was taken from a line in Homer’s The Odyssey. When Clytemnestra’s husband Agamemnon reached Hades, he told Odysseus of his untimely fate: “As I lay dying, the woman with a dog’s eyes would not close for me” (Homer).


Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1996. Print.

Bell, Robert. Women of Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.

"Clytemnestra." www.stanford.edu. N.p.. Web. 17 Oct 2013.

"Iphigenia." http://www.stanford.edu. N.p.. Web. 17 Oct 2013.

Urgo, Joseph. Reading Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom!. Jackson: UP of Mississippi,
2010. Print.

William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.
Print.