What I love about Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati:
• I fell in love with the powerful heroine
• I don’t usually like romantic moments in books/movies, but the few that are here are poetic, rich with sensory detail and a refreshing juxtaposition to the violence of daily life in ancient Greek mythology
• The details and dialogue illuminate beliefs and traditions that built these complex mythologies
• This book was quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I also learned about a subject that can be somewhat inaccessible without a skilled guide
• Beach book for feminist smarties, dark academia/Classics vibes that remind me toppling the patriarchy is a daily task
Throughout the politics and power struggles were gorgeous descriptions of daily life, romance, terrible tragedy, and inner struggles amongst the Greeks. Detail and dialogue pulled me into the characters complex existence.
When she turns to him, he is staring at her, motionless. He has the stillness of animals about him. She wants to lean forward and trace the scar on his cheekbone. The desire is so strong that she can almost feel it under her finger—it is like a crumpled leaf. “My queen,” he says. Nothing else. The morning sun falls on his olive skin, makes his eyes glisten like snow in the sunlight. She is breathless, and she can’t bear it. She picks up her dagger and walks away.
Clytemnestra herself is someone who was raised to be a fierce warrior (which Spartans had a very specific definition of, but she was a warrior in every senses of the word), and yet she still had to suffer through patriarchal oppression and violence. Her power didn’t save her from being a pawn, sacrificed by her own family. In ways, she fought against the inequality inflicted upon her, but she did not escape its effect on her worldview and self-image. When a man discussed his failings with her for the purpose of connection and intimacy, she was disgusted by his vulnerability.
“It shocks her, when he speaks of his failings and weaknesses. The only other men she has known to do that were Tantalus and Odysseus, but they would do it in a way that asserted their power. They spoke of their mistakes to achieve something, to soften and bend the world to their will. That was what Tantalus had done to win her over. Aegisthus doesn’t speak of his failures to gain a reward. His purposelessness appalls her.”
Because Clytemnestra held all of the qualities of a great leader, within the paradigms which she was born, she saw vulnerability as a poor choice, a lack of skill, weakness. It was a necessity to keep iron walls around one’s tender spots, and she showed us how this was done again and again. There are plentiful insights throughout the story that give the reader a deeper sense of the world and struggles in which the characters live.
“It is noble to be gentle, to save others from pain. But it is also dangerous. Sometimes you have to make life difficult for others before they make it impossible for you.”
“Your hatred consumes you,” Castor says gently. “But it also keeps you alive.”
Clytemnestra stops pacing. She can’t help smiling. “You say you don’t understand politics, Aileen, but you understand people. They are one and the same.”
If I were to change the novel, it would be to add more scenes in different locations, additional insights into the development of various relationships, and filling in the jump in time between Clytemnestra leaving her home of Sparta and becoming the captured wife of a tyrant. I wanted to see more of what was happening in detail in other characters lives at times. I wanted to travel to other locations and meet more magical enemies, but the story centered mostly on Clytemnestra’s home bases. I’m sure this is following the actual origins of her story, but I found myself wishing for more, more, more.
I absolutely recommend this book to lovers of retellings of Greek and Roman mythology, fans of dark academia (afterall, I always imagine myself studying the Classics while reading The Secret History), and readers who enjoys beautiful, descriptive writing.