The kingdoms of ancient Greece feud and fight for territory, and across in Asia Minor the great city of Troy is becoming ever more formidable. This is the world of Homer’s Iliad. A culture of war, violence and blood feud where the highest aspiration for a man is to become a hero and his destiny is defined by his House and family name.
Clytemnestra, known to friends and family as Nestra, is born a princess of the Royal House of Sparta. Her mother Leda is so famous a beauty that Zeus himself is reputed to have coupled with her in the guise of a swan. Helen, her sister, grow up to be the most beautiful woman in the world, the “face that launched a thousand ships” and ultimately brings about the fall of Troy.
Given such a pedigree, Nestra was never going to settle for being ordinary. She is twelve when the Atreides brothers, Agamemnon and Menelaus seek refuge in Sparta. Granted sanctuary by Nestra’s father, the brothers bring the story of their family’s bloody tragedy, their wealth and a vision of a world outside Sparta’s mountainous valley. Nestra is both repelled and enthralled by their exotic history and finds herself drawn towards the complex, charismatic Agamemnon.
When Helen is abducted by Theseus of Athens, Nestra, a warrior herself, insists on going with the troop sent to rescue her sister. The short, brutal, recovery operation is successful, and the shared mission serves to deepen the bond between Nestra and the Mycenean prince. After Agamemnon wins back his kingdom of Mycenae, Nestra becomes his bride.
As Queen of Mycenae, Nestra faces many challenges, not least the complex nature of her husband. She draws on her native courage and strength to master her situation, and focusses her energies on serving Mycenae.
When Helen, now married to his brother Menelaus, decides to run away with the Trojan Prince Paris, Agamemnon has the excuse he needs to draw the armies of Greece together and invade Troy. When the armies depart for Troy, leaving Nestra and her three children, Nestra is in left in charge of the city
Agamemnon, his army stranded in Greece because of unfavourable winds, sends for his daughter Iphigenia and has her sacrificed to propitiate Artemis. Nestra swears revenge for this appalling betrayal, and takes an oath in front of the gods to kill Agamemnon when he returns. Helped by her lover Aegisthus, she takes her revenge and murders her husband when he returns to the city.
Her action triggers a response from her children which she hadn’t anticipated. Her daughter Electra encourages her son Orestes to flee in case he too is murdered and Orestes grows up torn between his deep love of his mother, and his knowledge that he must avenge his father by killing her.
Clytemnestra’s story has fascinated people from classical Greece to contemporary times. Almost always portrayed as evil, she has been the subject of several plays, paintings and even a ballet. This retelling of her life is an attempt to see the woman behind the myth.
Targeted Age Group:: 14+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Nestra’s story was one I always knew I would write. I have been fascinated by Ancient Greek myths and stories since I was a child. My father, who loved Classical Greek culture and literature, told me many of the myths as bedtime stories. When I was seven, my parents took me to Greece on holiday, and I vividly remember going to Delphi where the oracles were delivered; Crete, where the Minotaur was slain; and Delos where Apollo was born. The physical historical evidence of these sites made the stories even more compelling to my childish imagination.
At some point in my teens I was rereading The Odyssey and realised how interconnected the tales were. The Trojan War provided a focus around which other myths were massaged to make a coherent narrative. Generations of storytellers adapted the tales to fit this pivotal event. Thus Theseus, famous for slaughtering the Minotaur, is brought into the story as the first abductor of Helen of Sparta. The house of Atreides with its terrible history becomes Agamemnon’s heritage. My own namesake, Penelope, the long-suffering wife of Odysseus, is cousin to Helen of Troy and her sister Clytemnestra.
These three women, with their vastly different reputations and fortunes, intrigued me, and I knew then it was a story I wanted to tell.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Homer wrote his Illiad and Odyssey some three thousand years ago, so these a characters will a long history. Subsequently dramatists were intrigued by the story and the Trojan War and its protagonists became part of classical Greece’s legacy to the world. In telling this story I’ve kept to the main tradition, although my interpretation of characters’ motivations are my own.
It is pleasantly cool on the terrace. The balustrade and pillars hold the warmth of the day’s sun and press comfortably against my back as I sit on the railing here in the twilight. Beyond, in the shrubbery, I can hear the susurrations of little night creatures starting to go about their business. The scent of jasmine hangs in the still air and it is magically beautiful. Moonrise will be early tonight. Last night it was full and lit my room with its silver light.
The palace is hushed. The usual domestic sounds of food preparation, children wailing and slaves readying the house for the night are missing. Many of the servants have fled. Charis came in a while ago bringing a shawl, spiced wine and sweetened cakes, setting them out on the table as if laying places for guests. Perhaps she is. I would have refused the food, but I knew it kindly meant.
When she had finished, she came and knelt at my feet. “Lady, let me stay with you,” she pleaded.
I looked at her kneeling form, reached out and touched her soft, dark hair. I love this girl, she is all I have left of my eldest daughter. “You cannot stay. This is for me alone, Charis. If you stay, you will be killed. You must go.”
She looked up at me, her eyes red and swollen. “Lady, please, I beg you.”
“Go, Charis.” I was firm. “I need no innocents on this journey. Don’t weep for me. All here is as it should be.”
She sighed, but eventually left.
Aegisthus died some hours ago. The screams first alerted me. I sent Charis to investigate the uproar, and she came running back, white with shock, to report his bloody body lay in the forecourt. The slaves, after their initial outcry, faded from the scene. They will have found some safe place to hide and tomorrow will emerge to serve whoever survives the night.
My murderer is in the palace already. I wonder what he’s been doing in these hours. Has he gone to the bathhouse to pay his respects to the shade of his father? Does he pray? Is he afraid of what he has come to do? He must know I will not resist him. Of all who ever lived, he is the one man forever safe from me.
I have loved him most truly, treasured his embraces, valued his opinions and rejoiced and shared in his goals. He left me seven years ago, and the pain of missing him has been the greatest grief to me.
I feel Aegisthus’s presence, and it comforts me. He will wait until I join him so we can walk the dark road together. It won’t be long now. I try in these moments to steady myself. I seek some pattern or meaning in the skein of my days, but my mind is restless, its processes near inchoate. I remember myself as queen, lover, mother and avenger. How did I become murderer and monster; hated by my children and reviled? At the end I will die as a victim. If there was some plan or working to make me what I am, I cannot see it. Truly, we may simply be the gods’ playthings.
The sun set an hour ago, and I watched as its edge dipped below the horizon, knowing I saw it for the last time. I will not be alive when it rises tomorrow.
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