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Thursday, August 24, 2023


I can recommend this novel highly, for anyone interested in the Greek myths and legends, and for everyone who loves a stirring story of love, loyalty, revenge, grief and a strong woman with a heart of gold and nerves of steel! (Review by Dee Stead)

There will come a time when songs are sung about her, about the people she loved and the ones she hated. But it doesn’t matter. She was there. She knows songs never tell the truth.

A refreshing and welcome departure from the time-honoured story of the bloody assassination of King Agamemnon in his bathtub, orchestrated by his crazed wife Clytemnestra and her sinister lover, Aegisthus. Clytemnestra, the first novel penned by Constanza Casati, takes us to the ancient city-state of Sparta, where Clytemnestra and her siblings, children of King Tyndareus and Queen Leda, grew up.

Sparta, located in the south-eastern Peleponnese region of ancient Greece was the main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia. Filled by the snowmelts from Mount Taygetus to the west, and Mount Parnon to the east, the perennial river maintained the fertility of the Eurotas Valley, ensuring the survival of any crops, and the forests abounding with wildlife, covering the surrounding uplands.

These natural defences protected Sparta and its inhabitants from sacking and invasion. Despite having this advantageous natural fortress, the Spartans were a strongly militaristic people and children were raised to be strong and healthy “survival, courage and strength are your duties”. Boys were taken away from home at an early age, and spent their days in training with weapons, and in hours of physical training and contact sports, like wrestling. Girls were brought up by their mothers, taught to run, wrestle, handle weapons and also to dance and play musical instruments. Basic literacy and numeracy skills were taught as women had to manage their households strongly and efficiently, their men living most of their lives in military barracks, training for war. Another important custom applied to Spartan women, and to no women anywhere else in Greece – the girls were taught to speak their minds, to make decisions, to enjoy freedom, to own properties, to select the mates they favoured.

Growing up with such freedom, good health, physical activity, Clytemnestra and her five siblings enjoyed an idyllic youth. Clytemnestra was favoured by her father, King Tyndareus, who encouraged her to attend meetings with the Elders and audiences with the populace. She was permitted to give her opinion on many matters, and her words were respected.

The entire First Book of the novel plays out in Sparta, when the young Royals are teenagers. Beautiful Helen and Clytemnestra are the closest and most loving sisters. Their brothers, Castor and Polydeuces are devoted to their sisters and unfailingly loyal to each other. We learn that the young King of Maeonia, Tantalus, is coming to visit Sparta. Tantalus and Clytemnestra fall in love and are joyously wed. Tantalus has to return to Maeonia, but will return to take Clytemnestra back with him after their child is born. This is the happy situation in Sparta, when the Atreidi, the brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus, seeking refuge in Sparta, arrive from Mycenae.

This is the turning point in the story. Menelaus wants Helen, and Agamemnon covets Clytemnestra, despite her marriage and pregnancy. The brothers are of the clan of Atreus, known for their cruelty and single-minded ambitions. It is a “cursed clan”. Helen’s beauty is famous throughout Greece and the islands. Suitors come from far and near to pay court to her and bring gifts – Odysseus the cunning, clever, King of Ithaca devises a plan to force all of the suitors to swear loyalty to whomever Helen selects – and thus is the seed for the great Greek army and its attack on and siege of Troy sown!

The Second Book begins 15 years later. Betrayals, betrothals, births and have happened. Clytemnestra is Queen of Mycenae. Helen has eloped with Paris to Troy. The great Greek Armada is amassed and is waiting for the wind to fill their sails at Aulis. It is for you to read, and for me to remain silent, for the rest of this review. Be warned, it is a gripping, bloody story!

Casati’s descriptions of nature and the seasons is loving and lyrical.  She has a delicate but detailed touch that is very evocative. She has also provided a good map  (I love it when an author does that!), a Glossary of Greek terms, two clear Family Trees and lists of the main characters in the House of Tyndareus, the House of Atreus and Other Characters, which are all extremely helpful.

I can recommend this novel highly, for anyone interested in the Greek myths and legends, and for everyone who loves a stirring story of love, loyalty, revenge, grief and a strong woman with a heart of gold and nerves of steel! - Dee Stead

Clytemnestra is published by Penguin RandomHouse South Africa - ISBN 9780241554777