ABC — Authors Book Corner An occasional column featuring Ōtaki writers
Local author Penelope Haines was featured recently in the Ōtaki Mail with the publication of her book The Lost One. Her second book, hot on its tail is Helen Had a Sister and a very different book.
If you enjoy the tales of myths and legends, gods and goddesses, you will know about Clytemnestra, the wife who murdered her husband and was subsequently murdered by her son. That was the way of ancient Greece where blood feuds abound and revenge is normal. It’s a man’s world and Clytemnestra’s motive for murdering her husband is usually presented as a political plot to bring her lover Aegisthus to power, or alternatively as jealous rage because Agamemnon brings Cassandra back from Troy with him. Penelope has a different interpretation. The more obvious motive, at least in her mind, was vengeance for her daughter Iphigenia’s murder by her husband to assuage the gods.
Penelope writes of an adventurous princess from a famous family. Clytemnestra’s courageous spirit, passionate love and lust for life mark her as a unique heroine. From Homer’s Iliad comes the story of one woman’s fight for her family, her kingdom, for justice and her own survival.
When her husband, Agamemnon, his army stranded in Greece because of unfavourable winds, sends for his daughter Iphigenia under the guise of having her married to Achilles and has her sacrificed to propitiate Artemis, Nestra swears revenge and takes an oath 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, with whom she always had a strained relationship, encourages her son Orestes to flee, in case he too is murdered. Orestes grows up torn between his deep love for 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.
A worthy follow-on from her first book, this would make a good Christmas present to lovers of Homer or for anyone who just likes to delve into the mysterious past of gods, goddesses, rituals, love, revenge and murder.