Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda and therefore was Helen's half-sister.
Clytemnestra married Tantalus, son of the king of Mycenae named Thysetes (or Broteas). Agamemnon later murdered Tantalus as well as Tantalus and Clytemnestra's child (Tripp 28). Agamemnon then proceeded to marry Clytemnestra, thus gaining the throne of Mycenae for himself.
Clytemnestra gave birth to Electra, Orestes, Iphigenia, and Chrysothemis.
When Calchas decreed that Iphigenia must be sacrificed before the Greeks set sail to Troy, Clytemnestra resisted but eventually Iphigenia was sacrificed and the Greek fleet set sail.
During the Trojan War, Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, wooed Clytemnestra who succumbed to his advances. Robert Bell states that Clytemnestra's adultery was because "Clytemnestra was already under the curse of Aphrodite, along with her sisters Helen and Timandra. Their father had once neglected an important sacrifice to Aphrodite, and she resolved that all three of his daughters would be adulteresses" (135). Bell suggests that Clytemnestra's anger with Agamemnon over the sacrifice of Iphigenia might also have been a cause for her adultery.
Clytemnestra bore Aegisthus a daughter, Erigone, who would later have a son, Penthilus, by Orestes (Bell 135).
When Agememnon returned home with Cassandra, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra murdered both king and concubine.
Hyginus, in his Fabluae, suggests that Clytemnestra killed her husband and Cassandra at the prompting of Oeax, who had told her that Cassandra was being brought as a concubine.
Hyginus states that Oeax did this in order to "avenge the injustices of his brother." Odysseus, wanting no part of the Trojan War, had pretended to be insane. Palamedes, Oeax's brother, exposed Odysseus' ruse and forced Odysseus to join the war. In doing so, Palamedes gained the wrath of Odysseus. To seek revenge, Odysseus framed Palamedes by making him out to be a traitor, and Agamemnon turned Palamedes over to be stoned to death (Hornblower, 1099).
Hyginus also suggests that Cassandra, in fact, was not being brought back as a concubine but, nonetheless, Clytemnestra planned the murders with Aegisthus. Hyginus writes:
Clytaemnestra Tyndarei filia Agamemnonis uxor cum audisset ab Oeace Palamedis fratre Cassandram sibi paelicem adduci, quod ementitus est, ut fratris iniurias exsequeretur, tunc Clytaemnestra cum Aegistho filio Thyestis cepit consilium, ut Agamemnonem et Cassandram interficeret, quem sacrificantem securi cum Cassandra interfecerunt.
At Electra Agamemnonis filia Orestem fratrem infantem sustulit, quem demandavit in Phocide Strophio, cui fuit Astyochea Agamemnonis soror nupta.
Clytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus and wife to Agamemnon, had heard from Oeax, brother of Palamedes, that Cassandra was to be brought as a concubine for Agamemnon, which [tale] Oeax fabricated in order to avenge the injustes of his brother. Then Clytemnestra held council with Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, in order to kill Agamemnon and Cassandra, whom, while [Agamemnon was] sacrificing, with Cassandra, they killed with an ax.
But Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, lifted her infant brother Orestes, whom she entrusted to Strophius in Phocis, to whom Astyochea, sister of Agamemnon, was a bride.
The painting below shows Aegisthus urging Clytemnestra to kill the sleeping Agamemnon.
Although Aegisthus had planned that Orestes be murdered, too, Electra, as described the in Fabulae passage above, anticipated this and helped him escape.
When Orestes reached adulthood, Apollo commanded him to avenge his father. He returned to Mycenae with an urn full of ashes and claimed that they were those of Orestes (Bell, 136). When Aegisthus appeared, however, he killed Aegisthus.
Clytemnestra, realizing that her son, Orestes, had returned, begged for her life. Pylades, Orestes' companion, reminded Orestes of Apollo's decree, and Orestes killed his mother as well.
Clytemnestra is a highly controversial character in mythology. While it is true that she committed adultery, that can be blamed on Aphrodite's curse. It is also true that she killed her husband, though that, too, can be blamed on the fact Agamemnon killed her daughter and returned with Cassandra. It is harder to reconcile Clytemnestra's approval of the plan to murder her son, Orestes, because she had protested the sacrifice of Iphigenia so vehemently.
Robert Bell sides with Clytemnestra, and states: "In all respects Clytemnestra was a victim, not only of her insensitive husband and her scheming lover, but also her own wounded vanity and self-esteem" (136).
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