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The Deadliest Femme Fatales in Ancient Greek Mythology

deadliest women greek mythology circe clytemnestra medea
“Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus,” by John William Waterhouse, 1891. Circe was among one of the most famous femme fatales in Greek mythology. Credit: Public Domain

There are many strong and powerful women, or femme fatales, who became known for their ruthlessness and cunning ways in Greek mythology, such as Circe, Clytemnestra, and Medea.

These women were powerful and often deadly forces despite the fact that Greek mythology is filled with references to strong men who conquered kingdoms, fought for their freedom, and did not hesitate to kill.

Clytemnestra, one of the most ruthless figures in Greek mythology

deadliest women greek mythology femme fatales clytemnestra
“Clytemnestra Hesitates Before Killing Agamemnon,” by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. Clytemnestra is one of the most notorious femme fatales in Greek mythology. Credit: Public Domain

Clytemnestra was every man’s worst nightmare. According to the legend, Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. He sailed to Troy as commander of the Greek Army to help his brother Menelaus take back his wife Helen, who had been abducted by Paris of Troy.

Before leaving Greece, as the story goes, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis, to appease her after he accidentally killed one of the goddess’s sacred stags.

While Agamemnon was fighting the Trojan War, Clytemnestra, who was enraged at the murder of her daughter, began plotting his murder with her new lover, Aegisthus.

Upon the king’s return, the two lovers ambushed him and slit his throat. Choking on his own blood, the king called Clytemnestra a name that can only be translated as “bitch-face.”

Even though she has been portrayed as a villain in numerous ancient Greek tragedies, few could truly blame her for avenging her daughter’s death.

Artemisia of Caria

women ancient greek mythology femme fatales
The Battle of Salamis. Painting by Wilhelm on Kaulbach, 1868. Artemisia can be seen wearing white and wielding a bow-and-arrow near the middle of the work. Credit: Public Domain

Artemisia, the Queen of Halicarnassus, was a real historical figure, but her legacy is legendary.

She fought in the Battle of Salamis for her Persian overlord Xerxes as one of his closest naval advisors.

Even though she was opposed to the attack, she fought bravely and refused to back down.

With her cunning tactics, she fought through the Greek ships fearlessly while the other Persian admirals dissolved into hysteria.

Although she may not have been on the right side of history, the Athenian fighters who sailed against her showed a lot of respect for Artemisia.

Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology

The battle between Penthesilea and Achilles. Credit: Marie-Lan-Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Penthesilea was the queen of Amazons. She went almost suicidally mad after she caused the death of her sister during a hunting accident.

Driven by the demons haunting her, she decided to go on a suicide mission to fight in the Trojan War.

Eventually, she got her wish, but not before killing her way through the Greek troops and heroes.

She even held her own in a fight against Telamonian Ajax. She was eventually defeated by the Greek demigod Achilles, according to mythology.

Medea, the most notorious femme fatale of all Greek mythology

“Medea,” by Frederick Sandys. Credit: Public Domain

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Medea was the wife of Jason who, like many ancient Greek husbands, was sleeping around.

He had many mistresses, but when he decided to marry one of them, he stepped over the line.

In order to get revenge, the heartbroken Medea, who was deeply in love with her husband, murdered the children that she and Jason had together.

Circe lured men to her island and turned them into hogs

According to ancient Greek legends, Circe, a sorceress, was the most well-known femme fatale of that time. She would seduce men, luring them onto her island.

When the men, driven mad by their desire to touch her, visited the island, she would catch them off guard and use a spell to transform them into hogs, trapping them forever in their ignominious bodies.

The only man who was ever able to escape her magic was Odysseus, who had been forewarned by the ancient Greek god Hermes.

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