John Downman, The Ghost of Clytemnestra Awakening the Furies, 1781

In Greek mythology Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda the swan, the king and queen of Sparta. She was half-sister to Helen. Clytemnestra married Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, and they had children, one of whom was a son, Orestes. Agamemnon was brother to Menelaus, who married Helen, said to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

When Helen was stolen away to Troy, Agamemnon went with his brother Menelaus to fight to get her back. Meanwhile back at home, Clytemnestra found a lover in her husband’s cousin Aegisthus, and together they plotted Agamemnon’s death. When Agamemnon returned, Clytemnestra trapped him in a net in the bath and Aegisthus slayed him with a double-sided axe. Orestes later avenges his father’s death by killing both Aegisthus and his own mother Clytemnestra.

In Aeschylus’ version of the story, Clytemnestra is angry about her own murder and summons the Furies to take revenge on her son. She is depicted here as the ghostly white figure calling on the nine Furies to do her bidding. The Furies then pursue Orestes until he goes mad. He flees and finally ends up on trial at the acropolis at Athens. Athena is the deciding vote who saves him.

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