In recent years, several authors have written books that humanize mythological Greek characters. In works of fiction, Madeline Miller, Jennifer Saint, and Pat Barker have realistically brought to life Achilles, Ariadne, Circe, and other legendary people and creatures. With her novel “Clytemnestra,” Costanza Casati gives us another author to dance around, eagerly joying in her debut and anticipating her next offering.
I knew that Clytemnestra married Agamemnon, who later killed their oldest daughter so that the gods would send wind that would drive forward Greek ships to fight the city-state of Troy. While her husband was in Troy, Clytemnestra plotted with Agamemnon's cousin, Aegisthus, to kill Agamemnon when he returned home in retaliation for the murder of his daughter.
Later, in true Greek tragic form, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's son kills both his mother and Aegisthus in retaliation for his father's murder. That's the bare bones of the story that most people know. Readers rightly might recognize the origins of Shakespeare's “Hamlet” in this 4,000-year-old Greek story.
Ancient Greek sensibility is foreign to 21st century Western culture. Without Westernizing the setting, characters or world view of her characters, Constanza Casati brings them to life. It is no small feat to write this well-known story in such a way as to make the reader, if not approve, at least understand the decisions and actions of the weak, the strong, and the merely human people who inhabit the old stories.