Agamemnon’s Wife Speaks From Hades

by Sybil Baker

With you, Agamemnon, sex was no great shakes. You fell on top of me when I was half asleep, my body as still as a vase trying not to shatter. You were dry and heaving, smelling like sour milk, grinding into me until I was dust. Why would I save myself for ten years for that? Ten years in Ancient Greek age is like fifty years in the future. I always figured Odysseus was a great lover, why else would Penelope wait so long, so patiently? He probably made sure she came first, early and often.

And then Aegisthus appeared. We took our time, spent hours in bed, feeding each other apricots and olives, licking each other clean like cats. He brought cup after cup of wine to my lips, kissing the drops as they slid down my neck. He asked me questions like who do I remember, what is the color of my last dream, what happened to dawn, what were my dead daughter’s first words, where did she kiss me last? I pointed to my cheek. Here. He kissed it. And here and here and here. Throat, ear, breasts. Slowly, tenderly, he worshipped my body, rubbed oil on it, kissed all those places you didn’t know. Each night it was my body, my pain, my skin he peeled away. He never once said that I was old, never plucked my gray hairs or followed the tracks of skin stretched across me. Again, again, again. That’s what he said.

And you, arriving in your carriage with your latest prize, Cassandra, a stolen lover I was to embrace, a woman younger than Iphegenia would have been had you not killed her. Poor girl, how could I let her waste her years with you and your parsimonious ministrations? How to share you when there was nothing left to share? But even that, all of that, my happiness with my lover, your own mistress kidnapped (because how else would a woman sleep with you) that was not enough for me to take the knife and gut you like a pig. No, that was for our daughter, the one you whose hands you tied and mouth you stuffed with a rag to keep her from crying out. At least I let you cry out, at least the Gods heard you. But what about our dead daughter, silenced, sacrificed to Gods who have already decided everything, have foretold the way the world will end. If only I could have held her one last time, brushed the curls off her forehead, pulled the lobes of her ears before I whispered to her to never trust them. And yes, I admit, I wanted power, wanted to rule the land. You men, you understand that at least, the lust for power, but what you will not understand is this: that is not the half of it.

Sybil Baker is the author of Talismans and The Life Plan. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, upstreet, and The Writer’s Chronicle. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. After living in South Korea for twelve years, she now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she is an Assistant Professor of English.

What was the inspiration for this “Agamemnon’s Wife Speaks From Hades”? What challenges did compression play in its transformation from inspiration to this wonderful finished piece? I read the Oresteia for the first time a year and a half ago in preparation for a freshman humanities class I occasionally teach. I was fascinated by Clytemnestra—I always felt there was more to her than simply being ruthless and power hungry, or at least I wanted to allow her more than that. This piece came from playing around with what else that “more” might be.

For most writers I know, form follows function, and that is also true for me. Although I generally write longer pieces, as soon as I had the idea for this piece, I knew that it would best work in a compressed form. My challenge was to do service to a form I’m just starting to work in, so I read a lot of short pieces in this journal and others for models and inspiration.

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