Tragic Heroines: Medea and Clytemnestra

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Aristotle (384-322 B.C. believed that tragedy, as an imitation or mimesis of life as it could be, held more importance than history, which simply records the past. He considered that performance of a tragedy provided the perfect cathartic experience for an audience, leaving them spiritually purified and inspired. He felt spectators seeing and experiencing great hardship befall the play’s hero or heroine would achieve this emotional state and benefit from it.
The tragic hero, according to Aristotle, must be essentially good and be of high or noble birth. The misfortune that precedes their downfall must evoke compassion and pity. The tragic hero must experience a peripeteia. Two of the most famous Greek tragic heroes (heroines) were
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The Chorus chants: "Are rivers flowing in reverse? Has everything gone upside down? It should...” (Medea pg. 321). As for Aristotle’s de rigueur error in judgment in the stories of Medea and Agamemnon, Clytemnestra’s hamartia is her decision to kill her husband. Her pronouncement that she and her lover Aegisthus will rule Argos is, perhaps, her worst and final choice. The Chorus laments about destiny, angering the Gods and punishment, “ deal in murder, while a woman's hand, staining and shaming Argos and its gods, availed to slay him? Ho, if anywhere the light of life smite on Orestes' eyes, Let him, returning by some guardian fate, hew down with force her paramour and her!”. Clytemnestra retorts, “Heed not thou too highly of them—let the cur-pack growl and yell: I and thou will rule the palace and will order all things well” (Agamemnon, pg. 41). Her choice of Aegisthus as a lover has disastrous results when her son becomes a man and kills him. The Greeks believed a familial curse spans generations. Ignorance or knowledge of the curse collides with predetermined fate and present choices. Destiny inevitably wins out. Similarly, Medea passionately loves Jason and is consumed by the desire to exact revenge for his abandoning her and their children to marry Glauce. Killing her brother seals Medea’s fate. Exiled from her homeland and, bereft of Jason's

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