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pg 103ELECTRA1

Enter orestes, pylades and the tutor, with two attendants

tutor. Here is the land of Argos. From this place

Your father Agamemnon led the Greeks

To Troy. How many years have you been longing

To see what now your eyes can look upon:

The ancient city Argos, once the home

Of Io and her father Inachus.*

Now look upon it: there, the market-place

That bears Apollo's name,* and to the left

Is Hera's famous temple.* The place where we

Are standing now—my son, this is Mycenae,

Golden Mycenae, and the blood-drenched palace

10Of Pelops' dynasty* is here, the place

From which your sister saved you, as a baby,*

When they had murdered Agamemnon. I

Took you to safety, I have brought you up

To manhood. Now you must avenge your father.

    So now, Orestes, you and Pylades

Your loyal friend, resolve with no delay

What you will do. For dawn has come; the stars

Have vanished from the darkness of the sky;

The birds are striking up their morning songs;

20People will soon be stirring. Little time

Is left to you; the hour has come for action.

orestes. My friend, my loyal servant:* everything

You say or do proclaims your true devotion.

Just as a horse, if he is thoroughbred,

Will keep his mettle even in old age,

Will never flinch, but in the face of danger

Prick up his ears, so you are ever first

To proffer help and to encourage me.

pg 104You then shall hear my plan, and as you listen

30Give it your sharp attention, to amend

Whatever seems amiss.

I went to Delphi,* and I asked Apollo

How best I might avenge my father's death

On these who murdered him. The god's reply

Was brief; it went like this: Not with an army

But with your own right hand, by stratagem

Give them what they have earned, and kill them both.

Therefore, since this is what the god has said,

Your part shall be to have yourself admitted

Inside the palace when the moment favours.

40Find out what is afoot; return to me

And tell me what you can.—They will not know you;

You have grown old, so many years have passed;

Your silver hair will keep them from suspecting.

Your story shall be this, that you have come

From foreign parts, from Phanoteus of Phokis*

For he is one of their most trusted allies;

Tell them Orestes has been killed, and give

Your oath that it is true: he met his death

Competing in the Pythian Games at Delphi,*

50Flung from his racing-chariot. Let this be

The tale. And for myself, the god commanded

That I should first go to my father's tomb

And pay my tribute with a lock of hair

And wine-libation. This then will I do;

And I will find the urn which you have told me

Lies hidden in a thicket, and with that

I will come back. This urn of beaten bronze

Shall bring them joy—though not for long; for it

(So we will tell them) holds the ash and cinders

Of this my body that the fire consumed.—

Why should I fear an omen,* if I say that I

Am dead, then by this story I fulfil

60My life's true purpose, to secure my vengeance?

No need to fear a tale that brings me gain.

For I have heard of those philosophers*

pg 105Who were reported dead: when they returned,

Each to his city, they were honoured more.

And so, I trust, may I, through this pretence,

Look down triumphant like the sun* in heaven

Upon my enemies.

Only do thou, my native soil; you, gods of Argos,

Receive and prosper me. House of my fathers,

70Receive me with your blessing! The gods have sent me,

And I have come to purify and purge you.

Do not reject me, drive me not away,

But let me enter into my possessions;

Let me rebuild my father's fallen house.

    Such is my prayer. My friend, go to your task

And do it well. We go to ours; for Time

Calls only once, and that determines all.

electra [within]. Ah me! Ah me!

tutor. Listen, my son: I thought I heard a cry

From near the gates, a cry of bitter grief.*

80

orestes. Electra, my unhappy sister! Could

It be her cry?—Let us wait and listen.

tutor. No. The command that God has given us,

That must come first, to offer your libations

At Agamemnon's tomb. His aid will bring

Victory to us, and ruin to his foes.

[Exeunt orestes, pylades, the tutor, and attendants Enter electra

electra [chants]. Thou holy light,

Thou sky that art earth's canopy,

90How many bitter cries of mine

Have you not heard,* when shadowy night

Has given place to days of mourning!

And when the night has come again

My hateful bed alone can tell

pg 106The tears that I have shed within

This cruel palace. O my father!

No Trojan spear,* no god of war,*

Brought death to you on foreign soil.

My mother killed you, and her mate

Aegisthus! As a woodman fells

An oak, they took a murderous axe

    And cut you down.

100And yet no other voice but mine

Cries out upon this bloody deed.

I only, father, mourn your death.

    Nor ever will

I cease from dirge and sad lament

So long as I behold the sun

By day and see the stars by night;

But like the sorrowing nightingale*

Who mourns her young unceasingly,

Here at the very gates will I

Proclaim my grief for all to hear.

  • 110You powers of Death! you gods below!*
  • Avenging Spirits, who behold
  • Each deed of blood, each faithless act
  • Dishonouring the marriage-vow,*
  • Desert me not. Come to my aid!
  • Avenge my father's death!
  • And send my brother; bring to me Orestes! For I can no more
  • 120Sustain this grief; it crushes me.
Enter the chorus [From here until line 250 everything is sung.]

Strophe 1

chorus. Electra, child of a most pitiless mother,

Why are you so wasting your life in unceasing

Grief and despair? Agamemnon

Died long ago. Treachery filled the heart,

Your mother's heart, that gave him,

pg 107Snared, entrapped, to a shameful supplanter who killed him.

    If I may dare to say it, may

    Those who did such a thing

    Suffer the same themselves.

electra. O my noble, generous friends,

130You are here, I know, to comfort me in my sorrow.

Welcome to me, most welcome, is your coming.

But ask me not to abandon my grief

    Or cease to mourn my father.

No, my friends; give, as always you give me, your love and devotion,

But bear with my grief; I cannot betray my sorrow.

Antistrophe 1

chorus. But he has gone to the land to which we all must

Go. Neither by tears nor by mourning can

He be restored from the land of the dead.

140Yours is a grief beyond the common measure,

    A grief that knows no ending,

Consuming your own life, and all in vain.

    For how can mourning end wrong?

Cannot you part yourself from your long

    Sorrow and suffering?

electra. Hard the heart, unfeeling the mind,

Of one who should forget a father, cruelly slain.

Her will my heart follow, the sad nightingale,*

    Bird of grief, always lamenting

    Itys, Itys,* her child.

150And O, Niobe,* Queen of Sorrow, to thee do I turn, as a goddess

Weeping for ever, in thy mountain-tomb.

Strophe 2

chorus. Not upon you alone, my child,

Has come the heavy burden of grief

pg 108That chafes you more than those with whom you live,

The two bound to you by kindred blood.

See how Chrysothemis lives, and Iphianassa,*

    Your two sisters within.

    He also lives, your brother,

160    Although in exile, suffering grief;

    And glory awaits Orestes, for

He will come by the kindly guidance of Zeus, and be

Received with honour and welcome, here in Mycenae.

electra. But I, year after year, waiting for him,

Tread my weary path, unwedded, childless,

Bathed in tears, burdened with endless sorrow.

For the wrongs he has suffered, the crimes of which

    I have told him,

170He cares nothing. Messages come; all are belied;

He longs to be here, but not enough to come!

Antistrophe 2

chorus. Comfort yourself, take comfort, child;

    Zeus is still King in the heavens.

He sees all; he overrules all things.

Leave this bitter grief and anger to him.

Do not go too far in hatred with those you hate,

    Nor be forgetful of him.

    Time has power to heal all wounds.

180    Nor will he who lives in the rich

    Plain of Crisa,* near the sea,

Agamemnon's son, neglect his own father.*

electra. But how much of my life has now been spent,

Spent in despair! My strength will soon be gone.

I am alone, without the comfort of children; no

190Husband to stand beside me, and share the burden;

Spurned like a slave, dressed like a slave, fed on the scraps,

I serve, disdained by all—in the house of my fathers!

pg 109Strophe 3

chorus. Pitiful the cry at his return,

    Your father's cry in the banquet-hall,

When the straight, sharp blow of an axe was

    launched at him.

    Guile was the plotter, lust was the slayer,

    Hideous begetters of a hideous crime,

    Whether the hand that wrought the deed

200Was a mortal hand, or a Spirit loosed from Hell.*

electra. That day of horrors beyond all other horrors!

Hateful and bitter beyond all other days!

    That accursed night of banqueting

    Filled with fear and blood!

My father looked, and saw two murderers aiming

    A deadly, cowardly blow at him,

    A blow that has betrayed my life

    To slavery, to ruin.

    O God that rulest Heaven and Earth,*

210    Make retribution fall on them!

    What they have done, that may they suffer.

    Leave them not to triumph!

Antistrophe 3

chorus. Yet you should be wise, and say no more,

    It is yourself and what you do

That brings upon yourself this cruel outrage.

Your sullen, irreconcilable heart,

    Breeding strife and enmity,

    Adds to your own misery.

220To fight with those that hold the power is folly.

electra. I know, I know my bitter and hateful temper;

But see what I have to suffer! That constrains me.

    Because of that, I cannot help

    But give myself to frenzied hate

So long as life shall last. My gentle friends,

pg 110    What words of comfort or persuasion

    Can prevail, to reconcile

    My spirit with this evil?

    No; leave me, leave me; do not try.

230    These are ills past remedy.

    Never shall I depart from sorrow

    And tears and lamentation.

Epode

chorus. In love and friendship, like a mother,

I beg you: do not make, my child,

    Trouble on top of trouble.

electra. In what I suffer, is there moderation?

To be neglectful of the dead, can that be right?

Where among men is that accounted honour?

    I'll not accept praise from them!

240    Whatever happiness is mine,

I'll not enjoy dishonourable ease,

    Forget my grief, or cease to pay

    Tribute of mourning to my father.

For if the dead shall lie there, nothing but dust and ashes,

And they who killed him do not suffer death in return,

    Then, for all mankind,

250Fear of the gods, respect for men, have vanished.

chorus. Your cause I make my own. So, if my words

Displease you, I recall them and let yours

Prevail; for I will always follow you.

electra. My friends, these lamentations are a sore

Vexation to you, and I am ashamed.

But bear with me: I can do nothing else.

What woman would not cry to Heaven, if she

Had any trace of spirit,* when she saw

Her father suffering outrage such as I

Must look on every day—and every night?

pg 111260And it does not decrease, but always grows

More insolent. There is my mother: she,

My mother! has become my bitterest enemy.

And then, I have to share my house with those

Who murdered my own father; I am ruled

By them, and what I get, what I must do

Without, depends on them. What happy days,

Think you, mine are, when I must see Aegisthus

Sitting upon my father's throne, wearing

My father's robes, and pouring his libations

270Beside the hearth-stone* where they murdered him?

And I must look upon the crowning outrage,

The murderer lying in my father's bed

With my abandoned mother—if I must

Call her a mother who dares sleep with him!

She is so brazen that she lives with that

Defiler; vengeance from the gods is not

A thought that frightens her! As if exulting

In what she did she noted carefully

The day on which she treacherously killed

My father, and each month, when that day comes,

280She holds high festival and sacrifices

Sheep to the Gods her Saviours.* I look on

In misery, and weep with breaking heart.

This cruel mockery, her Festival

Of Agamemnon, is to me a day

Of bitter grief—and I must grieve alone.

And then, I cannot even weep in peace:

This noble lady bids me stop, reviles

Me bitterly: 'You god-forsaken creature!

You hateful thing! Are you the only one

290Who ever lost a father? Has none but you

Ever worn black? A curse upon you! May

The gods of Hades give you ample cause

To weep for evermore!'—So she reviles me.

But when she hears from someone that Orestes

May come, she flies into a frenzied rage,

Stands over me and screams: 'It's you I have

To thank for this, my girl! This is your work!

pg 112You stole Orestes from my hands, and sent

Him secretly away. But let me tell you,

I'll make you pay for this as you deserve.'

So, like a dog, she yelps, encouraged by

300That glorious bridegroom who stands at her side,

That milksop coward, that abomination,

That warrior who shelters behind women.

    My cry is for Orestes and his coming

To put an end to this. O, I am sick

At heart from waiting; he is holding back,

And his delay has broken all my hopes.

Enduring this, my friends, how can I follow

Wisdom and piety? Among such evils

How can my conduct not be evil too?

310

chorus. Come, tell me: is Aegisthus here, that you

Say this to us, or is he gone from home?

electra. If he were here, I'd not have dared to come

Outside the palace. No, he's in the country.

chorus. If that is so, why then, I might perhaps

Myself be bold, and speak with you more freely.

electra. Say what you will; Aegisthus is not here.

chorus. Then tell me of your brother: is there news

That he is coming, or is he still waiting?

electra. He promises—and that is all he does.

320

chorus. So great an enterprise is not done quickly.

electra. Yet I was quick enough when I saved him!

chorus. He'll not desert his friends. Have confidence.

electra. I have. If I had not I should have died.

chorus. Hush, say no more! Chrysothemis is coming,

Your sister,* from the palace, carrying

Grave-offerings, that are given to the dead.

Enter chrysothemis

pg 113

chrysothemis. Why have you come again outside the gate,

Spreading your talk? O, will you never learn?

330Will nothing teach you? Why do you indulge

This vain resentment? I am sure of this:

Mine is as great as yours. If I could find

The power, they soon would learn how much I hate them.

But we are helpless; we should ride the storm

With shortened sail, not show our enmity

When we are impotent to do them harm.

Will you not do the same? The right may lie

On your side, not on mine, but since they rule,

340I must submit, or lose all liberty.

electra. Shameful! that you, the child of such a father

Should have no thought for him, but only for

Your mother! All the wise advice you give me

You learn of her; none of it is your own.

But you must make your choice: to be a fool,

Like me, or to be prudent, and abandon

Those dearest to you. If you had the power,

You say, you'd show them how you hate them both—

And yet when I do all I can to avenge

350Our father, do you help me? No; you try

To thwart me, adding cowardice on top

Of misery. Come, tell me—or let me

Tell you: if I give up my grief, what should

I gain? Do I not live? Barely, I know,

But well enough for me; and I give them

Continual vexation, and thereby

Honour the dead, if there is any feeling

Beyond the grave. You hate them, so you tell me:

Your tongue may hate them; what you do supports

Our father's enemies and murderers.

I will not yield to them, no, not for all

360The toys and trinkets that give you such pleasure.

Enjoy your luxuries, your delicate food!

pg 114It is enough for me if I may eat

What does not turn my stomach. I have no

Desire to share in your high privileges.

And you would scorn them, if you knew your duty.

You might be known as Agamemnon's child,

But let them call you Clytemnestra's daughter,

And recognize your treason, who abandon

Your murdered father and your family.

chorus. Do not give way to anger. Each of you

370Can with advantage listen to the other.

chrysothemis. I am well used to her tirades, my friends;

I would not have provoked her, but that I

Know that the gravest danger threatens her:

They are resolved to end her long complaints.

electra. What is this awful thing? If it is worse

Than this I will not say another word.

chrysothemis. I'll tell you everything I know.—

    They have determined,

If you will not give up these protestations,

To imprison you in such a place that you

380Will never see the sun again, but live

To sing your own laments in some dark dungeon.*

So think on this, or, when the blow has fallen,

Do not blame me. Now is the time for prudence.

electra. Will they do that to me?

chrysothemis. They will; it is

Decreed, the moment that Aegisthus has returned.

electra. Then let him come at once, for all I care!

390

chrysothemis. How can you say it? Are you mad?

electra. At least,

I shall be out of sight of all of you.

chrysothemis. But to give up the life you lead with us!

pg 115

electra. A marvellous existence! One to envy!

chrysothemis. It could be, if you would behave with sense.

electra. You'll not teach me to abandon those I love.

chrysothemis. Not that, but to give in to those who rule us.

electra. Let that be your excuse; I will not make it!

chrysothemis. It is a duty, not to fall through folly.

electra. I'll fall, if fall I must, avenging him.

400

chrysothemis. Our father will not blame me, I am sure.

electra. Only a coward would rely on that!

chrysothemis. Will you not listen, and let me persuade you?

electra. Never! I hope my judgement will not fall

As low as that.

chrysothemis. Then I will say no more.

I'll leave you now, and go upon my errand.

electra. Where are you going, with those offerings?

chrysothemis. I am to lay them on our father's tomb;

Our mother sent me.

electra. She? Give offerings

To him who is her deadliest enemy?

chrysothemis. Say next: 'The husband slain by her own hand'!

electra. Who thought of this? Or who persuaded her?

410

chrysothemis. She had a dream, I think, that frightened her.

electra. Gods of our race! Be with us now, at last!

pg 116

chrysothemis. Do you find cause of hope in this bad dream?

electra. Tell me the dream, and then perhaps I'll

know.

chrysothemis. I cannot tell you much.

electra. But tell me that!

The safety or the ruin of a house

Will often turn upon a little thing.

chrysothemis. They say that in her dream she saw our father

Returned to life and standing at her side;

He took the sceptre which he used to hold

420Himself—the one that now Aegisthus carries—

And planted it beside the hearth; from that

There grew, and spread, an over-arching tree

That gave its shelter to the whole of Argos.

At sunrise, to allay her fear, she told

Her vision to the sun-god:* one who stood

Nearby and heard reported it to me.

I cannot tell you more, except that I

Am sent because the dream has frightened her.

    So now, I beg you, in the name of all

The gods we worship, do as I advise:

Give up this folly which will be your ruin.

If you reject me now, you will return

430To me when nothing I can do will help you.

electra. Dear sister, do not let these offerings

Come near his tomb; it is a thing that law

And piety forbid, to dedicate

To him gifts and libations that are sent

By her, his deadliest, bitterest enemy.

Bury them in the ground, or throw them to

The random winds, that none of them may reach him.

No; let them all be kept in store for her

In Hell, a treasure for her when she dies.

pg 117If she were not the most insensate woman

440The world has ever seen, she'd not have dared

To try to crown the tomb of him she killed

With gifts inspired by enmity. Think: would they

Cause any gratitude in him? Did she not kill him?

And with such hatred, and with such dishonour,

That she attacked even his lifeless body

And mangled it?* You cannot think that gifts

Will gain her absolution from her crime?

Impossible! No, let them be, and make

A different offering at our father's grave:

Give him a lock of hair for token, one

450Of yours, and one of mine*—no lordly gifts,

But all I have; and give him too this girdle,

Poor, unadorned; and as you give them, kneel

Upon his grave; beseech him, from the world

Below, to look with favour on us, and

To give his aid against our enemies;

And that his son Orestes may be saved

To come in triumph and to trample on

His foes, that in the days to come we may

Grace him with gifts more splendid far than those

That we can offer now. For I believe,

I do believe, that in this dream, to her

460So terrifying, the spirit of our father

Has played some part. However that may be,

My sister, do this service to yourself,

To me, and to the one we love beyond

All others, him who now is dead—our father.

chorus. My child, if you are wise, you will do all

She bids you, for she speaks in piety.

chrysothemis. Do it I will; when duty's clear, there is

No cause to argue, but to do it quickly.

But, O my friends, I beg you, keep it secret,

This that I undertake. If it should come

470To Clytemnestra's knowledge, then I fear

I should pay dearly for this enterprise.

[Exit chrysothemis

pg 118Strophe 1

chorus [sings]. If I have any foresight, any judgement to be trusted,

Retribution* is at hand; her shadow falls before she comes.

She is coming, and she brings with her a power invincible.

    Confidence rises in my heart;

480    The dream is good; it makes me glad.

The King, your father, is not sunk in dull forgetfulness,

Nor does the rusty two-edged axe* forget the foul blow.

Antistrophe 1

  • 490She will come swiftly and strongly, springing on them from an ambush,
  • The Vengeance of the gods, coming in might. For they were swept
  • By a passion for a lawless and bloody mating into crime.
  •     Therefore I feel glad confidence;
  •     The omen has not come in vain.
  • 500For evil doers must pay. Oracles and prophecies
  • Only deceive, if this dream is not now fulfilled.

Epode

  • That chariot-race of Pelops*
  • Has become the cause of sorrow
  • And of suffering without end.
  • Since Myrtilus* was thrown from
  • 510His golden car, and dashed to death into
  • The sea that roared beneath him,
  • Cruel violence and bloodshed
  • Have been quartered on this house.
Enter clytemnestra, with a servant carrying materials for a sacrifice

pg 119

clytemnestra. At large again, it seems—because Aegisthus

Is not at home to stop you. So you go

Roaming about, putting us all to shame!

But in his absence, you are not afraid

520Of me! And yet you say to everyone

That I am cruel and tyrannical,

That I heap outrage both on you and yours.

I do no outrage; if my tongue reviles you,

It is because my tongue must answer yours.

Your father: that is always your excuse,

That he was killed by me.—By me! Of course;

I know he was, and I do not deny it—

Because his own crime killed him, and not I

Alone. And you, if you had known your duty,

Ought to have helped, for I was helping Justice.

530This father of yours, whom you are always mourning,

Had killed your sister,* sacrificing her

To Artemis,* the only Greek* who could endure

To do it—though his part, when he begot her,

Was so much less than mine, who bore the child.

So tell me why, in deference to whom,

He sacrificed her? For the Greeks, you say?

What right had they to kill a child of mine?

But if you say he killed my child to serve

His brother Menelaus, should not he

Pay me for that? Did not this brother have

540Two sons, and should they rather not have died,

The sons of Helen* who had caused the war

And Menelaus who had started it?

Or had the god of death some strange desire

To feast on mine, and not on Helen's children?

Or did this most unnatural father love

His brother's children, not the one I bore him?

Was not this father monstrous, criminal?

You will say No, but I declare he was,

And so would she who died—if she could speak.

Therefore at what has happened I am not

pg 120550Dismayed; and if you think me wrong, correct

Your own mistakes before you censure mine.

electra. This time at least you will not say that I

Attacked you first, and then got such an answer.

If you allow it, I'll declare the truth

On his behalf and on my sister's* too.

clytemnestra. I do allow it. Had you always spoken

Like this, you would have given less offence.

electra. Then listen. You admit you killed my father:

Justly or not, could you say anything

560More foul? But I can prove to you it was

No love of Justice that inspired the deed,

But the suggestions of that criminal

With whom you now are living. Go and ask

The Huntress Artemis why she becalmed

The fleet at windy Aulis.*—No; I will tell you;

We may not question gods.

My father once, they tell me, hunting in

A forest that was sacred to the goddess,*

Started an antlered stag. He aimed, and shot it,

Then made a foolish boast, of such a kind

570As angered Artemis. Therefore she held up

The fleet, to make my father sacrifice

His daughter to her in requital for

The stag he'd killed. So came the sacrifice:

The Greeks were prisoners, they could neither sail

To Troy nor go back home; and so, in anguish,

And after long refusal, being compelled,

He sacrificed her. It was not to help

His brother. But even had it been for that,

As you pretend, what right had you to kill him?

580Under what law? Be careful; if you set

This up for law, Blood in return for blood,

You may repent it; you would be the first

To die, if you were given your deserts.

But this is nothing but an empty pretext;

pg 121For tell me—if you will—why you are doing

What is of all things most abominable.

You take the murderer with whose help you killed

My father, sleep with him and bear him children;*

Those born to you before, in lawful wedlock,

590You have cast out. Is this to be applauded?

Will you declare this too is retribution?

You'll not say that; most shameful if you do—

Marrying enemies to avenge a daughter!

But there, one cannot even warn you, for

You shout aloud that I revile my mother.

You are no daughter's mother, but a slave's

Mistress to me! You and your paramour

600Enforce on me a life of misery.

Your son Orestes, whom you nearly killed,

Is dragging out a weary life in exile.

You say I am sustaining him that he

May come as an avenger: would to God

I were! Go then, denounce me where you like—

Unfilial, disloyal, shameless, impudent.

I may be skilled in all these arts; if so,

I am at least a credit to my mother!

610

chorus. She is so furious that she is beyond

All caring whether she be right or wrong.

clytemnestra. Then why should I care what I say to her,

When she so brazenly insults her mother,

At her age too?* She is so impudent

That there is nothing that she would not do.*

electra. Then let me tell you, though you'll not believe it:

I am ashamed at what I do; I hate it.

But it is forced on me, despite myself,

620By your malignity and wickedness.

Evil in one breeds evil in another.

clytemnestra. You shameless creature! What I say, it seems,

pg 122And what I do give you too much to say.

electra. 'Tis you that say it, not I. You do the deeds,

And your ungodly deeds find me the words.*

clytemnestra. I swear by Artemis* that when Aegisthus comes

Back home you'll suffer for this insolence.

electra. You see? You give me leave to speak my mind,

Then fly into a rage and will not listen.

630

clytemnestra. Will you not even keep a decent silence

And let me offer sacrifice in peace

When I have let you rage without restraint?

electra. Begin your sacrifice. I will not speak

Another word. You shall not say I stopped you.

clytemnestra. [to the servant] Lift up the rich fruit-offering to Apollo

As I lift up my prayers to him, that he

Will give deliverance from the fears that now

Possess me.

Phoebus Apollo, god of our defence:

Hear my petition, though I keep it secret;

There is one present who has little love

640For me. Should I speak openly, her sour

And clamorous tongue would spread malicious rumour

Throughout the city. Therefore, as I may

Not speak, give ear to my unspoken prayer.

Those visions of the doubtful dreams that came

When I was sleeping, if they bring good omen,

Then grant, O Lord Apollo, that they be

Fulfilled; if evil omen, then avert

That evil; let it fall upon my foes.

If there be any who, by trickery,

Would wrest from me the wealth I now enjoy,

650Frustrate them. Let this royal power be mine,

pg 123This house of Atreus.* So, until I die,

My peace untroubled, my prosperity

Unbroken, let me live with those with whom

I now am living, with my children round me—

Those who are not my bitter enemies.

    Such is my prayer; accept it graciously,

O Lord Apollo; give to all of us

Even as we ask. And there is something more.

I say not what it is; I must be silent;

But thou, being a god, wilt understand.

Nothing is hidden from the sons of Zeus.

A silence, while clytemnestra makes her sacrifice. Enter the tutor

660

tutor. [to the chorus] Might I inquire of you if I have come

To the royal palace of the lord Aegisthus?

chorus. You have made no mistake, sir; this is it.

tutor. The lady standing there perhaps might be

Aegisthus' wife? She well might be a queen!

chorus. She is indeed the queen.

tutor. My lady, greeting!

One whom you know—a friend—has sent me here

To you and to Aegisthus with good news.

clytemnestra. Then you are very welcome. Tell me first,

Who is the friend who sent you?

tutor. Phanoteus

670Of Phokis.—The news is of importance.

clytemnestra. Then sir, what is it? Tell me. Coming from

So good a friend, the news, I'm sure, is good.

tutor. In short, it is Orestes. He is dead.

electra. Orestes, dead? O this is death to me!

pg 124

clytemnestra. What, dead?—Take no account of her.

tutor. That is the news. Orestes has been killed.

electra. Orestes! Dead! Then what have I to live for?

clytemnestra. That's your affair!—Now let me hear the truth,

Stranger. What was the manner of his death?

680

tutor. That was my errand, and I'll tell you all.

He came to Delphi for the Pythian Games,

That pride and glory of the land of Greece.

So, when he heard the herald's voice proclaim

The foot-race, which was first to be contested,

He stepped into the course, admired by all.

And soon he showed that he was swift and strong

No less than beautiful, for he returned

Crowned with the glory of a victory.

But though there's much to tell, I will be brief:

That man was never known who did the like.

690Of every contest in the Festival*

He won the prize, triumphantly. His name

Time and again was heard proclaimed: 'Victor:

Orestes, citizen of Argos, son

Of Agamemnon, who commanded all

The Greeks at Troy.' And so far, all was well.

But when the gods are adverse, human strength

Cannot prevail; and so it was with him.

For when upon another day, at dawn,

There was to be a contest of swift chariots,

700He took his place—and he was one of many:

One from Achaea,* one from Sparta, two

From Libya,* charioteers of skill; Orestes

Was next—the fifth—driving Thessalian mares;*

Then an Aetolian* with a team of chestnuts;

The seventh was from Magnesia;* the eighth

From Aenia*—he was driving bays;

The ninth was from that ancient city Athens;

The tenth and last was a Boeotian.

pg 125They drew their places. Then the umpire set them

710Each at the station that had been allotted.

The brazen trumpet sounded; they were off.

They shouted to their horses, shook the reins;

You could hear nothing but the rattling din

Of chariots; clouds of dust arose; they all

Were bunched together; every driver

Goaded his horses, hoping so to pass

His rival's wheels and then his panting horses.

Foam from the horses' mouths was everywhere—

On one man's wheels, upon another's back.

720    So far no chariot had been overturned.

But now, the sixth lap finished and the seventh

Begun, the Aenian driver lost control:

His horses, hard of mouth, swerved suddenly

And dashed against a Libyan team. From this

Single mishap there followed crash on crash;

730The course* was full of wreckage. Seeing this,

The Athenian—a clever charioteer—

Drew out and waited, till the struggling mass

Had passed him by. Orestes was behind,

Relying on the finish. When he saw

That only the Athenian was left

He gave his team a ringing cry, and they

Responded. Now the two of them raced level;

First one and then the other gained the lead,

But only by a head. And as he drove,

740Each time he turned the pillar at the end,

Checking the inside horse he gave full rein

To the outer one, and so he almost grazed

The stone.* Eleven circuits now he had

Safely accomplished; still he stood erect,

And still the chariot ran. But then, as he

Came to the turn, slackening the left-hand rein

Too soon, he struck the pillar. The axle-shaft

Was snapped in two, and he was flung headlong,

Entangled in the reins. The horses ran

Amok into mid-course and dragged Orestes

Along the ground. O, what a cry arose

pg 126750From all the company when they saw him thrown!

That he, who had achieved so much, should meet

With such disaster, dashed to the ground, and now

Tossed high, until the other charioteers,

After a struggle with the horses, checked them

And loosed him, torn and bleeding, from the reins,

So mangled that his friends would not have known him.

  •     A funeral-pyre was made; they burned the body.
  • Two men of Phokis, chosen for the task,
  • Are bringing home his ashes in an urn—
  • A little urn, to hold so tall a man*
  • 760That in his native soil he may find burial.
  • Such is my tale, painful enough to hear;
  • For those of us who saw it, how much worse!
  • Far worse than anything I yet have seen.

chorus. And so the ancient line of Argive kings

Has reached its end, in such calamity!

clytemnestra. O Zeus! Am I to call this happy news,

Or sorrowful, but good? What bitterness,

If I must lose a son to save my life!

tutor. My lady, why so sad?

clytemnestra. There is strange power

770In motherhood: however terrible

Her wrongs, a mother never hates her child.

tutor. So then it seems that I have come in vain.

clytemnestra. No, not in vain! How can you say 'In vain'

When you have brought to me the certain news

That he is dead who drew his life from mine

But then deserted me, who suckled him

And reared him, and in exile has become

A stranger to me? Since he left this country

I have not seen him; but he charged me with

His father's murder, and he threatened me*

pg 127780Such that by day or night I could not sleep

Except in terror; each single hour that came

Cast over me the shadow of my death.

    But now …! This day removes my fear of him—

And her! She was the worse affliction; she

Lived with me, draining me of life. But now

Her threats are harmless; I can live in peace.

electra. O my Orestes! Here is double cause

For grief: you dead, and your unnatural mother

790Exulting in your death! O, is it just?

clytemnestra. You are not! He is—being as he is!

electra. Nemesis!* Listen, and avenge Orestes.

clytemnestra. She has heard already, and has rightly judged.

electra. Do outrage to me now: your hour has come.

clytemnestra. But you will silence me, you and Orestes!

electra. Not now, alas! It is we that have been silenced.

800

clytemnestra. My man, if you have stopped her mouth, you do

Indeed deserve a very rich reward.

tutor. Then I may go back home, if all is well?

clytemnestra. Back home? By no means! That would not be worthy

Of me, or of the friend who sent you here.

No, come inside, and leave this woman here

To shout her sorrows—and her brother's too!

[Exeunt clytemnestra, her servant and the tutor into the palace

electra. What grief and pain she suffered! Did you see it?

pg 128How bitterly she wept, how wildly mourned

Her son's destruction! Did you see it? No,

She left us laughing. O my brother! O

My dear Orestes! You are dead; your death

Has killed me too, for it has torn from me

810The only hope I had, that you would come

At last in might, to be the avenger of

Your father, and my champion. But now

Where can I turn? For I am left alone,

Robbed of my father, and of you. Henceforth

I must go back again, for ever, into bondage

To those whom most I hate, the murderers

Who killed my father. O, can this be justice?

Never again will I consent to go

Under their roof; I'll lie down here, and starve,

Outside their doors; and if that vexes them,

820Let them come out and kill me. If they do,

I shall be glad; it will be misery

To go on living; I would rather die.

[From here until line 870 everything is sung.]

Strophe 1

chorus. Zeus, where are thy thunderbolts?

Where is the bright eye of the Sun-

God? if they look down upon this And see it not.

electra.  

                              [An inarticulate cry of woe]

chorus. My daughter, do not weep.

electra.                                           [Cry, as before]

830

chorus. My child, say nothing impious.

electra. You break my heart.

chorus. But how?

electra. By holding out an empty hope.

Who now can avenge him?

His son Orestes is in his grave.

pg 129There is no comfort. O, let me be!

You do but make my grief the more.

Antistrophe 1

chorus. But yet, there was a king of old,

Amphiareus:* his wicked wife

Tempted by gold killed him, and yet

Though he is dead …

840

electra.                                         [Cry, as before]

chorus. He lives and reigns below.

electra.                                         [Cry, as before]

chorus. Alas indeed! The murderess …

electra. But she was killed!

chorus. She was.

electra. I know! I know! Amphiareus

Had a champion* to avenge him;

But I have none now left to me.

The one I had is in his grave.

Strophe 2

chorus. Your fate is hard and cruel.

850

electra. How well I know it! Sorrow, pain,

Year upon year of bitter grief!

chorus. Yes, we have seen it all.

electra. O offer not, I beg you,*

An empty consolation.

No longer can I look for help

From my noble and loyal brother.

Antistrophe 2

860

chorus. Yet death must come to all men.

pg 130

electra. But not like this! Dragged along,

Trampled on by horses' hooves!

chorus. No, do not think of it!

electra. O what an end! In exile,*

Without a loving sister

To lay him in his grave, with none

870To pay tribute of tears and mourning.

Enter chrysothemis

chrysothemis. Great happiness, dear sister, is the cause

Of my unseemly haste; good news for you,

And joy. Release has come at last from all

The sufferings that you have so long endured.

electra. And where can you find any help for my

Afflictions? They have grown past remedy.

chrysothemis. Orestes has come back to us! I know it

As surely as I stand before you now.

electra. What, are you mad, poor girl? Do you make fun

880Of your calamity, and mine as well?

chrysothemis. I am not mocking you! I swear it by

Our father's memory.* He is here, among us.

electra. You foolish girl! You have been listening to

Some idle rumour. Who has told it you?

chrysothemis. No one has told me anything. I know

From proof that I have seen with my own eyes.

electra. What proof, unhappy girl? What have you seen

To be inflamed with this disastrous hope?

chrysothemis. Do listen, I implore you; then you'll know

890If I am talking foolishly or not.

electra. Then tell me, if it gives you any pleasure.

pg 131

chrysothemis. I'll tell you everything I saw. When I

Came near the tomb, I saw that offerings

Of milk had just been poured upon the mound,

And it was wreathed with flowers. I looked, and wondered;

I peered about, to see if anyone

Was standing near; then, as I seemed alone,

900I crept a little nearer to the tomb,

And there, upon the edge, I saw a lock

Of hair; it had been newly cut.

Upon the moment, as I looked, there fell

Across my mind a picture, one that I

Have often dreamed of, and I knew that these

Were offerings given by our beloved brother.

I took them up with reverence; my eyes

Were filled with tears of joy; for I was sure,

As I am now, that none but he has laid

This tribute on the grave. Who else should do it

910But he, or you, or I? It was not I,

That is quite certain. You have not been there;

How could you? Even to worship at a shrine

They do not let you leave the house, unpunished.

As for our mother, she has little mind

To make such offerings—and we should have known it.

No, dear Electra, they are from Orestes.

Therefore take courage! There is no such thing

As joy unbroken, or unbroken sorrow.

We have known sorrow—nothing else; perhaps

Today great happiness begins for us.

920

electra. O you unhappy girl! You little know!

chrysothemis. Unhappy? Is this not the best of news?

electra. The truth is very different from your fancy.

chrysothemis. This is the truth. Mayn't I believe my eyes?

electra. Poor girl! He's dead! We cannot look to him

For our deliverance; our hopes are gone.

pg 132

chrysothemis. Alas, alas! … Who told you this?

electra. One who was there; a man who saw him killed.

chrysothemis. Where is the man? This fills me with dismay!

electra. At home; and, to our mother, very welcome.

chrysothemis. Alas, alas! Who could it then have been

930Who put those many offerings on the tomb?

electra. It will be someone who has laid them there

As a memorial of Orestes' death.

chrysothemis. O, this is ruin! I came hurrying back,

So happy, with my news, not knowing this

Calamity. But all the woes we had

Before are with us still, and worse are added!

electra. Yet even so, if you will work with me,

We can throw off the weight that wears us down.

chrysothemis. 940What, can I bring the dead to life again?

electra. That's not my meaning; I am not a fool.

chrysothemis. Then what assistance can I give to you?

electra. I need your courage in a certain venture.

chrysothemis. If it will help us, I will not refuse.

electra. Remember: nothing prospers without effort.

chrysothemis. You may command whatever strength I have.

electra. This then is what I have resolved to do.

You know, as I do, we have no support

Of friends; of what we had we have been stripped

950By death. We two are left; we are alone.

pg 133For me, while I had news about our brother,

That he was well and strong, I lived in hope

That he would some time come and punish those

Who killed our father. Now that he is dead,

I turn to you, that you will join your hand

With mine, your sister's; help me, do not flinch:

Aegisthus, who has murdered our dear father—

We'll kill him! There's no reason now to keep

It back from you. You cannot wait, inactive,

Hoping for—nothing. What hope was left to you

That is not shattered? This is what you have

Lasting resentment that you have been robbed

960Of all the wealth that rightly should be yours;

Anger that they have let you live so long

Unmarried—and do not think that this will change:

Aegisthus is no fool; he can foresee,

If you or I had children, they would take

Revenge on him. Marriage is not for us.

Therefore be with me in my resolution.

This you will win: the praise of our dead father,

And of our brother, for your loyalty;

970The freedom that is yours by right of birth;

A marriage worthy of your station, since

All look admiringly upon the brave.

Do you not see what glory you will win

Both for yourself and me by doing this?

For all will cry, Argive or foreigner,

When they behold us: 'See! there are the sisters

Who saved their father's house from desolation;

Who, when their enemies were firmly set

980In power, avenged a murder, risking all.

Love and respect and honour are their due;

At festivals and public gatherings

Give them pre-eminence, for their bravery.'

So we shall be acclaimed by everyone;

As long as we shall live our glory will

Endure, and will not fade when we are dead.

    My sister, give consent! Stand by your father,

Work with your brother, put an end to my

pg 134Calamities and yours; for to the noble

A life of shameful suffering is disgraceful.

990

chorus. In such a case, in speech or in reply,

Forethought and prudence are the best of helpers.

chrysothemis. Before she spoke at all, my friends, if she

Had any prudence she might have preserved

Some caution, not have thrown it to the winds.

For what can you be thinking of, to arm

Yourself with utter recklessness, and call

On me to help you? Do you not reflect

You are a woman, not a man? how weak

You are, how strong your foes? that day by day

Their cause grows stronger, ours diminishes

1000And dwindles into nothing? Who can hope,

Plotting to overthrow so powerful

A man, not to be overwhelmed himself

In utter ruin? Our plight is desperate

Already; you will make it worse, far worse,

If you are heard saying such things as this.

It brings us nothing, if when we have won

That glorious repute, we die ignobly.

Mere death is not the worst; this is the worst,

To long for death and be compelled to live.

No, I implore you, keep your rage in check

1010Before you bring destruction on us both

And devastation to our father's house.

What you have said shall be as if unsaid,

Of no effect; and you, before it is

Too late, must learn that since you have no strength

You have to yield to those that are in power.

chorus. You must indeed. There is no better thing

For anyone than forethought and good sense.

electra. I had expected this; I thought that you

Would spurn the offer that I made. And so

My hand alone must do it—for be sure,

1020It is a task that cannot be neglected.

pg 135

chrysothemis. A pity you were not as bold as this

Before! You might have thwarted the assassins!

electra. I was too young to act. I had the will!

chrysothemis. Then try once more to be too young to act.

electra. It seems you are determined not to help me.

chrysothemis. Not in a venture that would be our ruin.

electra. How wise you are! And what a coward too.

chrysothemis. Some day you'll praise my wisdom. I will bear it!

electra. I'll never trouble you so far as that!

1030

chrysothemis. Who's wise, and who is foolish, time will show.

electra. Out of my sight! You are no use to me.

chrysothemis. I am, if you were wise enough to listen.

electra. Go to your mother; tell her everything!

chrysothemis. No; I refuse my help, but not from hatred.

electra. But in contempt! You make that very plain.

chrysothemis. Trying to save your life! Is that contempt?

electra. Am I to do what you imagine right?

chrysothemis. Yes; and when you are right, I'll follow you.

electra. To be so plausible—and be so wrong!

1040

chrysothemis. These are the very words I'd use of you.

electra. The right is on my side. Do you deny it?

pg 136

chrysothemis. The right may lead a man to his destruction.

electra. That is no principle for me to follow.

chrysothemis. You'll think the same as I—when you have done it.

electra. Do it I will. You shall not frighten me.

chrysothemis. Give up this folly! Be advised by me!

electra. No! There is nothing worse than bad advice.

chrysothemis. Can I say nothing that you will accept?

electra. I have considered, and I have determined.

1050

chrysothemis. Then I will go, since you do not approve

Of what I say, nor I of what you do.

electra. Go then, for your ways never can be mine

However much you wish. It is mere folly

To go in quest of the impossible.

chrysothemis. If this, to you, is wisdom, follow it;

But when it leads you to disaster, then

At last you'll learn mine was the better wisdom.

[Exit chrysothemis

Strophe 1

chorus [sings]. We see the birds of the air, with what

Sure instinct they protect and nourish

1060Those who brought them to life and tended them.

    How can man disobey the laws of Nature?

    The anger of the gods, the law established,

    Enthroned in Heaven,* will bring them

    retribution.

    There is a Voice the dead can hear:

Speak, O Voice, to the King, to Agamemnon,

A message of shame and sorrow and deep dishonour.

pg 137Antistrophe 1

  • 1070His house already was near to falling;
  • Now a new cause of ruin threatens:
  • Discord comes to divide his champions.
  •     Now no longer is daughter joined with daughter
  •     In loyalty and love, but strife divides them.
  •     Electra stands alone to face the tempest.
  •     Never has she ceased to mourn,*
  • 1080Faithful, careless of life, if she may purge this
  • Palace of those two Furies,* a foul pollution.*

Strophe 2

  •     He that is noble in spirit scorns
  •     A life ignoble, darkened by shame,
  •     And chooses honour, my daughter,
  •     As you chose to cleave to your father,
  •     Accepting a life of sorrow.
  • Spurning dishonour, you have won a double fame:
  •     Courage is yours, and wisdom.

Antistrophe 2

  • 1090    Still may I see you triumph, raised
  •     Above your foes, restored to the power
  •     And wealth of which they have robbed you.
  •     You have known nothing but sorrow;
  •     And yet by observing those great
  • Laws of the gods,* in piety* and reverence,
  •     You crown your sorrow with glory.
Enter orestes, pylades, and attendants

orestes. Ladies, we wish to know if we have been

Rightly directed to the place we look for.

1100

chorus. What is that you wish to find?

orestes. Aegisthus,

If you could tell us where to find his palace?

pg 138

chorus. But it is here. You have been guided well.

orestes. Could one of you perhaps tell those within

That we have come, whom they have long awaited?

chorus. [indicating electra] She best might do it;

she is nearest to them.*

orestes. Madam, we are from Phokis; tell them, pray,

That we have certain business with Aegisthus.

electra. Alas, alas! You have not come with something

To prove it true—the rumour that we heard?

1110

orestes. Of 'rumours' I know nothing. I am sent

By Strophius,* Orestes' friend, with news.

electra. O, tell me what it is! You frighten me.

orestes. We bring him home; this little urn contains

What now is left of him; for he is dead.

electra. Ah, this is what I feared! I see your burden;

Small weight for you, but heavy grief to me.

orestes. It is—if that which moves your sorrow is

Orestes' death: in that we bring his ashes.

electra. Then give it me, I beg you! If this vessel

1120Now holds him, let me take it in my arms.*

orestes. Men, give it her, whoever she may be:

A friend; perhaps, one of his family.

This is no prayer of one who wished him evil.

[electra advances to the front of the stage. orestes and pylades retire near the palace gate

electra. Orestes! my Orestes! you have come

To this! The hopes with which I sent you forth

Are come to this! How radiant you were!

1130And now I hold you—so: a little dust!

O, would to God that I had died myself,

And had not snatched you from the edge of death

To have you sent into a foreign land!

pg 139They would have killed you—but you would have shared

Your father's death and burial; not been killed

Far from your home, an exile, pitiably,

Alone, without your sister. Not for you,

The last sad tribute of a sister's hand!

Some stranger washed your wounds, and laid your body

1140On the devouring fire; the charity

Of strangers brings you home—so light a burden,

And in so small a vessel!

O, my brother,

What love and tenderness I spent on you!

For you were my child rather than your mother's;

I was your nurse—or you would not have had

A nurse; I was the one you always called

Your sister—and it has come to nothing.

One single day has made it all in vain,

1150And, like a blast of wind, has swept it all

To ruin. You are dead; my father too

Lies in his grave; your death is death to me,

Joy to our enemies: our mother—if

She is a mother! —dances in delight,

When you had sent me many a secret promise

That you would come and be revenged on her.

But no! A cruel fate has ruined you,

And ruined me, and brought it all to nothing:

The brother that I loved is gone, and in

His place are ashes, and an empty shadow.

1160O pity! pity, grief and sorrow!*

How cruel, cruel, is your home-coming,

My dearest brother! I can live no longer.

O take me with you! You are nothing; I

Am nothing, now. Let me henceforward be

A shade among the shades, with you. We lived

As one; so now in death, let us be one,

And share a common grave, as while you lived

We shared a common life. O, let me die;

1170For death alone can put an end to grief.

pg 140

chorus. Your father died, Electra; he was mortal:

So has Orestes died; so shall we all.

Remember this, and do not grieve too much.

orestes. What answer can I make to this? What can

I say? I must, and yet I cannot, speak.

electra. Sir, what has troubled you? Why speak like this?

orestes. Are you the Princess? Can you be Electra?

electra. I am Electra, though I look so mean.

orestes. To think that it has gone so far as this!

1180

electra. But why such words of pity over me?

orestes. Treated so harshly and with such dishonour!

electra. Ill words well spoken, stranger—of Electra.

orestes. How cruel! Kept unmarried, and ill-used!

electra. Sir, why do you look at me so fixedly,

And in such pity?

orestes. Little did I know

My own unhappiness, how great it was.

electra. What words of mine have made you think of that?

orestes. No words; it is the sight of all you suffer.

electra. The sight of it? What you can see is nothing!

orestes. How? What can be more terrible than this?

1190

electra. To live, as I do, with the murderers.

orestes. What murderers? Who are these guilty men?

electra. My father's.—And they treat me as their slave!

orestes. But who has forced you to this servitude?

pg 141

electra. She who has the name of mother—nothing else!

orestes. What does she do? Oppression? Violence?

electra. Violence, oppression, everything that's evil!

orestes. You have no champion? no one to oppose them?

electra. The one I had is dead: here are his ashes.

orestes. A cruel life! How much I pity you.

1200

electra. You are the only one who pities me!

orestes. I am the only one who shares your sorrow.

electra. Who are you? Can it be you are some kinsman?

orestes. If I may trust these women I would tell you.

electra. Yes, you may trust them: they are friends, and loyal.

orestes. Give back the urn, and I will tell you all.

electra. No, no, I beg you; do not be so cruel!

orestes. Do as I ask; you will do nothing wrong.

electra. It is all I have! You cannot take it from me!

orestes. You may not keep it.

electra. O, my dear Orestes,

1210How cruel! I may not even bury you.

orestes. Your talk of burial, your tears, are wrong.

electra. How is it wrong to mourn my brother's death?

orestes. You must not speak of him in words like these.

electra. Must I be robbed of all my rights in him?

pg 142

orestes. You are robbed of nothing! This is not for you.

electra. Yes, if I hold Orestes in my arms!

orestes. This is Orestes only by a fiction.

electra. Then where is my unhappy brother's grave?

orestes. Nowhere. The living do not have a grave!

electra. My friend!* What do you mean?

1220

orestes. I mean—

the truth.

electra. My brother is alive?

orestes. If I'm alive!

electra. You are Orestes?

orestes. Look upon this ring—

Our father's ring.*—Do you believe me now?

electra. O day of happiness!

orestes. Great happiness!

electra. It is your voice?—And have you come?

orestes. My voice,

And I am here!

electra. I hold you in my arms?

orestes. You do—and may we nevermore be parted.

electra. O look, my friends! My friends of Argos, look!

It is Orestes!—dead, by artifice,

And by that artifice restored to us.

1230

chorus. To see him, and to see your happiness,

My child, brings tears of joy into my eyes.

[From here until line 1288, electra sings, orestes speaks.]

pg 143Strophe

electra. My brother is here! the son of my own dear father!

You longed to see me, and now, at last,

You have found me! O, you have come to me!

orestes. Yes, I have come: but wait;* contain your joy

In silence; they will hear us in the palace.

electra. O by the virgin-goddess, by Artemis,

1240I despise them, those in the palace—

Women, useless and helpless!

O, why should I fear them?

orestes. Remember: women may not be too weak

To strike a blow.* You have seen proof of it.

electra. Ah me! The foul crime, that no

    Darkness can ever hide, that no

    Oblivion can wash away, no

1250    Power on earth remove.

orestes. All this I know; but we will speak of it

When we can speak of it without restraint.

Antistrophe

electra. Each moment of time, now or to come, is time

    To proclaim aloud the abomination.

    At last, at last, I can speak with freedom.

orestes. You can; and yet,* until the hour has come,

By speaking freely we may lose our freedom.

1260

electra. How can I chain my tongue and repress my joy?

    Can I look upon you and be silent,

    Safe returned, my brother?

    It is more than I dared hope.

orestes. I waited long, but when the voice of God

Spoke, then I made no more delay.*

pg 144

electra. O, this is joy crowning joy, if

    Heaven has brought you home to me!

    I see the hand of God

1270    Working along with us.

orestes. To stem your flood of joy is hard, but yet

There is some danger in this long rejoicing.

Epode

electra. So weary was the time of waiting!

    Now when you have come at last

    And all my sorrows have reached their end,*

    O, do not check my happiness.

1280

orestes.     Nor would I do it—but we must be prudent.*

electra. My friends, I heard my brother's voice,

    And I had thought

That I would never hear his voice again:

    How could I restrain my joy?

Ah, now I have you; I can look upon

The well-loved face that I could not forget

    Even in darkest sorrow.

orestes. How much there is to hear!—our mother's sin

And cruelty, that our ancestral wealth

1290Is plundered, ravished, wantonly misused

By that usurper. Yet our time is short

And their misdeeds are more than can be told.

But tell me what may help our present venture:

Where can I hide, or where can I confront

Our foes, to turn their laughter into silence?

And see to this: our mother must not read

Our secret in your face. Conceal your joy

When we go in; look sad, and mourn, as if

The tale that you have heard were true. There will

1300Be time enough to smile when we have conquered.

pg 145

electra. My brother, what seems good to you shall be

My law; your pleasure shall be mine, for mine

Is nothing, except what you have brought to me,

And to win all there is I would not cause

A moment's pain to you, nor would that serve

The favour of the gods, which now is with us.

    Now as to what you ask.—You surely know

Aegisthus is abroad, not in the palace;

But she is there, and you need have no fear

1310That she will see a look of happiness

Upon my face. The settled hatred which

I have for her will banish any smile.

I shall be weeping!—though my tears will be

Of joy at your return. My tears today

Flow in abundance; I have seen you dead,

And now alive. So strange the day has been

That if our father came and greeted us

I should not think it was a ghost; I should

Believe it. Therefore, being yourself a miracle

In your return, command me as you will;

For had you died, had I been left alone,

1320I should myself have ventured all, and found

Glorious deliverance, or a glorious death.

orestes. Hush! I can hear the steps of someone coming

Out of the palace.

electra. You are welcome, strangers.

Enter; the burden that you bring is such

As no one could reject—and no one welcome.

Enter the tutor, from the palace

tutor. You reckless fools! What, have you got no sense?

Do you not care whether you live or die?

Are you demented? Don't you understand

1330The peril you are in? Not one that threatens;

No, it is here! Had I not stood on guard

Inside the door they would have known your plot

pg 146Before they saw you. As it is, I took

Good care of that. So, make an end of talk

And these interminable cries of joy.

Go in; delay is dangerous at such

A moment. You must act, and make an end.

orestes. When I go in, how shall I find it there?

1340

tutor. All's well. Rely on this: they will not know you.

orestes. You have reported, then, that I am dead?

tutor. I have; in their eyes you are dead and gone.

orestes. And are they glad? Or what have they been saying?

tutor. We'll speak of that hereafter. All is well

Within the palace—even what is shameful.

electra. In Heaven's name, who is this man, Orestes?

orestes. Do you not know him?

electra. I cannot even guess.

orestes. You know the man to whom you gave me once?

electra. Which man? What are you saying?

orestes. The man

by whom

1350You had me secretly conveyed to Phokis.

electra. What, this is he?—the only one I found

    Remaining loyal at our father's murder?

orestes. That is the man; no need to ask for proof.

electra. How glad I am! Dear friend, to you alone

he house of Agamemnon owes deliverance.

How come you here? Can you be really he

That saved us both from all that threatened us?

Come, let me take your hands, those faithful hands,*

pg 147My friend! How could I not have known you, when

1360You came to bring me joy—but joy concealed

In words of deadly grief? I'll call you father,

Give you a daughter's greeting—for to me

You are a father. How I hated you

A while ago; how much I love you now!

tutor. It is enough. Though there is much to tell,

There will be many days and many nights

In which, Electra, you may tell it all.

    One word with you, Orestes, Pylades:

This is your moment; now she is alone,

No men-at-arms are near. But if you wait,

1370Then you will have to face not only them,

But many more—men trained to use their weapons.

orestes. Pylades, there is no longer time for talk;

It seems the hour has come. So, let us go;

And as I go I give my reverence

To all the gods that stand before the house.*

[orestes enters the palace with pylades, praying before images on either side of the gate. electra goes to the altar where Clytemnestra's offerings are still visible.                                        Exit the tutor

electra. O Lord Apollo, listen to their prayers,

Be gracious to them! Listen too to mine!

How often have I been thy suppliant

Bringing what gifts I had; and therefore now,

Although my hands are empty, I beseech thee,

1380I beg thee, I implore thee, Lord Apollo:

Give us thy favour, help our purposes,

And show mankind what chastisement the gods

Inflict on those who practise wickedness.

[Exit electra, into the palace

Strophe

chorus [sings]. Look where the god of death* makes his way,

pg 148Fierce and implacable.

The Furies, champions of Justice,

Hounds of the gods, hot on the trail of crime,

    Have entered the palace.

    Before me rises a vision:

1390    Soon shall I see fulfilment.

Antistrophe

  • The minister of the gods,* with stealthy foot,
  •     Ushered within the palace,
  •     The ancient home of his fathers,
  • Holds in his hand a keen whetted sword,
  •     With Hermes to guide him,*
  •     To shroud his designs in darkness
  •     And lead him straight to vengeance.
Enter electra

electra. My friends, keep silent; wait. It will not be

For long. Their hands are ready; soon they'll strike.

chorus. What are they doing now?

1400

electra. She has the urn,

Preparing it for burial; they are near her.

chorus. And why have you come out?

electra. To stand on guard;*

To give the warning if Aegisthus comes.

clytemnestra [within]. Ah …! So many

Murderers, and not a single friend!

electra. Someone inside is screaming. Do you hear it?

chorus. I heard. … It makes me shudder; it is fearful.

clytemnestra. Aegisthus! O where are you? They will kill me!

electra. There, yet another scream!

pg 149 1410

clytemnestra. My son, my son!

Take pity on your mother!

electra. You had none

For him, nor for his father!

chorus. [sings] O my city! Ill-starred race of our kings!

So many years a doom has lain on you:

    Now it is passing away.

clytemnestra. Ah! … They have struck me!

electra. Strike her again, if you have strength enough!

clytemnestra. Another blow!

electra. Pray God there'll be a third,

And that one for Aegisthus!

chorus. [sings] The cry for vengeance is at work; the dead are stirring.

1420        Those who were killed of old now

    Drink in return the blood of those who killed them.

chorus. [speaks] See, they are coming, and the blood-stained arm

Drips sacrifice of death. It was deserved.

Enter orestes and pylades

electra. How is it with you both?

orestes. All's well, within

The palace, if Apollo's oracle was well.

electra. Then she is dead?

orestes. No longer need you fear

Your mother's insolence and cruelty.*

chorus. Be silent! I can see Aegisthus coming.

electra. Stand back, Orestes.

pg 1501430

orestes. Are you sure you see him?

electra. Yes, he is coming from the town. He smiles;

We have him in our hands.

chorus. [sings] Back to the doorway quickly! One

    Task is accomplished; may the second prosper too!

orestes. It will. No fear of that.

electra. Then, to your station.

orestes. I go at once.

electra. And leave the rest to me.

[orestes and pylades enter the palace

chorus. [sings] Speak some gentle words to him

1440        That he may fall, unawares,

    Into the retribution that awaits him.

Enter aegisthus

aegisthus. They tell me that some men have come from Phokis

With news about Orestes; dead, they say,

Killed in a chariot-race. Where are these men?

Will someone tell me? [To electra.] You! Yes, you should know;*

It will have special interest for you!

electra. I know. Of course I know. I loved my brother;

How then should I make little of his death?

1450

aegisthus. Then tell me where these men are to be found.

electra. In there.

They've won their way to Clytemnestra's heart.

aegisthus. And is it true that they have brought this message?

pg 151

electra. More than the message: they brought Orestes too.

aegisthus. What, is the very body to be seen?

electra. It is; I do not envy you the sight.

aegisthus. Our meetings have not always been so pleasant!

electra. If this proves to your liking, you are welcome.

aegisthus. I bid you all keep silence. Let the doors

Be opened.

The palace doors open to disclose orestes and pylades, standing over the shrouded body of clytemnestra

                        Citizens of Argos, look!

1460If there is any who had hopes in him,

That hope lies shattered. Look upon this body

And learn that I am master—or the weight

Of my strong arm will make him learn the lesson.

electra. I need no teaching; I have learned, at last,

That I must live at peace with those that rule.

aegisthus. Zeus! Here is one laid low, before our eyes,

By the angry gods—and may no Nemesis

Attend my words, or I unsay them.—Now,

Turn back the shroud, and let me see the face.

It was a kinsman, and I too must mourn.

1470

orestes. This you should do; it is for you, not me,

To look upon this face and take farewell.

aegisthus. It is indeed for me, and I will do it.—

Call Clytemnestra, if she is at hand.

orestes. She is not far away; look straight before you.

[aegisthus takes the shroud from the face

aegisthus. God! What is this?

pg 152

orestes. Some stranger, frightening you?

aegisthus. Who are you, that have got me in your clutches

For my destruction?

orestes. Have you not seen already?

Someone you thought was dead is still alive.

1480

aegisthus. Ah.… Now I understand.—You, who speak,

You are Orestes!

orestes. You could read the future

So well,* yet were so blind.

aegisthus. Ah.… You have come

To kill me! Give me time, a little time,

To speak.

electra. No, by the gods, Orestes! No

Long speech from him! No, not a single word!

He's face to face with death; there's nothing gained

In gaining time. Kill him at once! And when

You've killed him, throw the body out of sight,

And let him have the funeral he deserves.

Animals shall eat him! Nothing less than this

1490Will compensate for all that he has done.

orestes. Sir, come with me into the house; this is

No time for talk. My business is your life.

aegisthus. Why to the house? If you are not ashamed

At what you do, then do it openly.

orestes. You shall not order me. Go in, and die

On the same spot on which you killed my father.

aegisthus. This house of Atreus* must, it seems, behold

Death upon death, those now and those to come.*

orestes. It will see yours; so much I can foresee.

pg 1531500

aegisthus. You did not get this foresight from your father!

orestes. You have too much to say; the time is passing.

Go!

aegisthus. Lead the way.

orestes. You must go before me.

aegisthus. That I may not escape you?

orestes. That you may not

Be killed where you would choose. You shall taste all

The bitterness of death.—If retribution

Were swift and certain, and the lawless man

Paid with his life, there would be fewer villains.

[Exeunt orestes, pylades, electra, aegisthus

chorus. [chants] Children of Atreus, now at last

Your sufferings are ended. You have won

Your own deliverance; now once more

1510Is the line of your fathers restored.

pg 154

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Verse lines are numbered according to the Greek text (see Introduction, p. xxxv).
Editor’s Note
103 Io and her father Inachus: Inachus was the earliest king of Argos known to Greek mythology. Zeus became enamoured with his daughter Io, but turned her into a heifer in order to protect her from the jealousy of his wife Hera. Sophocles dramatized this story in his lost Inachus: Io makes an appearance in her bovine form in the Prometheus tragedy attributed to Aeschylus.
Editor’s Note
the market-place | That bears Apollo's name: corroborative evidence that a temple of Apollo stood in the market-place at Argos is to be found in Pausanias 2. 19. 3.
Editor’s Note
Hera's famous temple: Hera was the tutelary deity of Argos and intimately associated with the city in mythology.
Editor’s Note
Pelops' dynasty: Pelops was the father of Atreus, grandfather of Agamemnon, and therefore great-grandfather of Orestes. See further below, note to p. 118.
Editor’s Note
as a baby: the translation is misleading. The Greek here implies that Orestes was a child when he was given by Electra to the tutor, but it is clear from Clytemnestra's words at 778–80 that the boy had already been capable of threatening her.
Editor’s Note
my loyal servant: boys were entrusted to the care of male slaves whose duty was to oversee their upbringing and education. In tragedy they act as the equivalent of the 'nurses' who often attend aristocratic females. 'Tutor' is an approximate translation of the Greek term paidagōgos, 'pedagogue'.
Editor’s Note
104 I went to Delphi: i.e. to consult the famous oracle of Apollo.
Editor’s Note
Phanoteus of Phokis: this obscure mythical figure was thought to have had a feud with his brother Crisus, beginning with a fight in their mother's womb. Since Crisus fathered Strophius, who had taken in the exiled Orestes, Phanoteus would be a natural choice for an ally of Orestes' enemies, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Editor’s Note
The Pythian games at Delphi: from 582 bc athletics competitions modelled on the more famous games at Olympia were held every four years as part of the festival of Pythian Apollo at Delphi.
Editor’s Note
104 Why should I fear an omen: it would normally be considered an inauspicious invitation to disaster for a living person to be described as dead.
Editor’s Note
those philosophers | Who were reported dead: there were several stories of this type. Pythagoras, for example, was reputed to have reappeared after concealing himself in a chamber beneath the earth, thus engendering rumours that he was dead.
Editor’s Note
105 like the sun: the Greek actually says 'like a star'.
Editor’s Note
a cry of bitter grief: in the Greek the tutor suggests that the cry is specifically that of a slave-woman.
Editor’s Note
Have you not heard: the translation omits the gruesome detail which Electra adds here. She describes the wild blows she strikes against her breast, making it bleed—a conventional sign of mourning.
Editor’s Note
106 No Trojan spear: Electra regrets that her father was not killed in battle at Troy, in which case he would have received the honour of a warrior's funeral.
Editor’s Note
no god of war: the Greek explicitly names Ares.
Editor’s Note
the sorrowing nightingale: in myth Procne, an Athenian princess, was supposed to have been turned into a nightingale after murdering her son Itys. She killed the boy in order to avenge herself on her husband Tereus, who had raped and mutilated her sister Philomela. The nightingale's song was explained as her unceasing laments for Itys. Sophocles wrote a famous drama portraying this story, his Tereus.
Editor’s Note
You powers of Death! You gods below!: The Greek text mentions by name Hades, Persephone, Hermes (the only Olympian who could pass between the upper and lower worlds) and a personified Curse.
Editor’s Note
Avenging spirits … marriage-vow: the Erinyes (see above, note to p. 37). These agents of divine retribution were responsible for the punishment of misdemeanours to do with the family, both intra-familial murder and, as here, adultery.
Editor’s Note
107 the sad nightingale: Procne. See above, note to p. 106.
Editor’s Note
Itys: son of Procne and Tereus. See above, note to p. 106.
Editor’s Note
Niobe: see above, note to p. 29.
Editor’s Note
108 Iphianassa: this is the only mention in the play of a living sister of Electra other than Chrysothemis. She is named as a daughter of Agamemnon in the Iliad (9. 145).
Editor’s Note
Plain of Crisa: an area of land to the south-west of Delphi which was kept unploughed as sacred to Apollo, and on which the horse races at the Pythian games are later said to have been run (see below, note to p. 124).
Editor’s Note
his own father: the Greek adds that along with Orestes neither the dead Agamemnon nor Hades himself will neglect the situation in Mycenae.
Editor’s Note
109 a Spirit loosed from Hell: an extravagant paraphrase of the plain Greek 'a god'.
Editor’s Note
O God that rulest Heaven and Earth: Zeus, the chief Olympian.
Editor’s Note
110 Had any trace of spirit: the Greek is more accurately rendered 'was a woman of high birth and character'.
Editor’s Note
111 the hearth-stone: banquets were customarily opened and closed with libations poured to Hestia, goddess of the family hearth.
Editor’s Note
the Gods her Saviours: especially Zeus in his capacity as Saviour (Sōtēr) and Apollo, to whom Clytemnestra later prays for protection (p. 122).
Editor’s Note
112 Your sister: the Greek adds for clarity 'by the same father and mother', thus distinguishing Chrysothemis from Electra's half-siblings borne by Clytemnestra to Aegisthus (see line 588).
Editor’s Note
114 in some dark dungeon: in the Greek the punishment is to be even worse. Electra is to be held captive in exile, 'beyond the borders of this land'.
Editor’s Note
116 the sun-god: Helios. It was conventional to narrate frightening dreams to him, as the god whose light dispels nocturnal fears and expiates them. Compare Euripides, Iphigeneia in Tauris 42–3.
Editor’s Note
117 mangled it: the Greek term makes it clear that Agamemnon's corpse had been subjected to a ritual mutilation practised by murderers, probably taking the form of having his extremities removed and hung from his arm-pits and neck. This custom may have been intended to prevent the victim from retaliation after death, or to provide a gesture towards atonement.
Editor’s Note
and one of mine: the Greek adds the pathetic detail that Electra's hair is unkempt.
Editor’s Note
118 Retribution: a rough translation of the Greek Dikē (see above, note to p. 16).
Editor’s Note
two-edged axe: even the murder weapon is imagined as bearing a grudge against its users. In Athenian law inanimate objects could be put on trial for causing death (Aeschines 3. 244).
Editor’s Note
chariot-race of Pelops: Sophocles is using a version of the myth which referred the recurrent disasters afflicting this royal house back to a curse incurred by Pelops, Agamemnon's grandfather (see also above, note to p. 105). He had competed in a chariot-race against Oenomaus, king of Pisa, for the hand of Oenomaus' daughter Hippodameia. He won the race and the woman by treachery; he had bribed Myrtilus, Oenomaus' charioteer, to sabotage the rival chariot. Oenomaus died in the ensuing accident; Myrtilus was thrown into the sea and drowned, but not before he had cursed Pelops. This myth may have suggested to Sophocles the means by which Orestes is said to have died in the 'false' messenger speech delivered by the tutor, pp. 124–6.
Editor’s Note
Myrtilus: see note above.
Editor’s Note
119 your sister: Iphigeneia, the eldest of Agamemnon's daughters.
Editor’s Note
Artemis: the virgin goddess, in charge of female rites of passage, hunting, and wild animals. She is not, however, named here in the Greek, which says only vaguely 'to gods'.
Editor’s Note
the only Greek: human sacrifice was regarded by Sophocles' contemporaries as a barbarism permitted only in uncivilized, non-Greek lands.
Editor’s Note
The sons of Helen: in Homer Helen and Menelaus had only one child, a daughter (Odyssey 4. 14). There was, however, another attested tradition older than Sophocles that they had one son, Nicostratus.
Editor’s Note
120 my sister's: Iphigeneia's (not Chrysothemis').
Editor’s Note
windy Aulis: a site on the eastern coast of Greece in Boeotia with a large natural harbour, at which the Greek forces had traditionally mustered before their expedition to Troy.
Editor’s Note
a forest that was sacred to the goddess: probably meant to be understood as the precinct of Artemis close to her temple at Aulis.
Editor’s Note
121 bear him children: different versions of the myth variously give Aegisthus and Clytemnestra a son Aletes and a daughter Erigone. Sophocles composed plays about both. This ambiguous reference could be taken to imply that vengeance for the deaths of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus might await Orestes; it is one of several subtle ways in which Sophocles subverts the apparently satisfactory situation at the end of Electra.
Editor’s Note
At her age too: i.e. at her stage of maturity (not of youthfulness).
Editor’s Note
She is so impudentnot do: This sentence takes the form of a direct question in the Greek.
Editor’s Note
122 'Tis you that say it … find me the words: the translation of these two lines has been borrowed from John Milton's An Apology Against a Pamphlet (Otherwise known as Apology for Smectymnus), in Douglas Bush et al. (eds.), Complete Prose Works of John Milton (New Haven/London 1953), i. 905.
Editor’s Note
by Artemis: Artemis was the divinity thought to be responsible for the deaths of women. This adds weight to Clytemnestra's threat.
Editor’s Note
123 Atreus: the father of Agamemnon and uncle of Aegisthus.
Editor’s Note
124 in the Festival: the translation here omits a corrupt line, which cited two events—some kind of race and the pentathlon.
Editor’s Note
Achaea: the term here designates a specific area in southern Thessaly.
Editor’s Note
Libya: the generic name for the Greek colonies in North Africa.
Editor’s Note
Thessalian mares: Orestes is given horses from Thessaly, which reputedly produced the finest horses and most skilled cavalry in the Greek world (see e.g. Herodotus 7. 196).
Editor’s Note
an Aetolian: Aetolia was a large inland district of mainland Greece.
Editor’s Note
Magnesia: a mountainous district on the east coast of Thessaly.
Editor’s Note
Aenia: an area in southern Thessaly.
Editor’s Note
125 The course: the Greek says 'the plain of Crisa' (see above, note to p. 108).
Editor’s Note
And as he droveThe stone: These lines have been transposed, following many editors, from after line 719.
Editor’s Note
126 so tall a man: ancient heroes were thought to have been far greater than later people in size and strength (Homer, Iliad 5. 303, Herodotus 1. 68—specifically on Orestes' extraordinary stature).
Editor’s Note
126 he threatened me: this implies that Orestes had outgrown infancy when Electra had him sent away. See above, note to p. 103.
Editor’s Note
127 Nemesis: the goddess Nemesis' special responsibility was to oversee the rights of the dead, and avenge any wrong done to them.
Editor’s Note
129 Amphiareus: an Argive hero. He married Eriphyle, sister of Adrastus, king of Argos. When Amphiareus refused to help Polyneices (Antigone's brother) in the campaign against Thebes, Polyneices bribed Eriphyle with a golden necklace. She then cajoled her husband into joining the expedition, which resulted in his death.
Editor’s Note
a champion: Alcmaeon. Amphiareus' death was eventually avenged by his son Alcmaeon, who killed his mother Eriphyle. Sophocles composed plays bearing the names of all three mythical figures.
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I beg you: the translation omits here an interjection by the chorus, 'What are you saying?'
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130 In exile: the translation omits another choral interjection, 'Alas!'
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Our father's memory: the Greek says literally 'our father's hearth'. See above, note to p. 111.
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136 The anger of the gods … Enthroned in Heaven: this is a periphrasis diverging greatly from the Greek, which names the lightning-bolt of Zeus (with which he punishes miscreants), and Themis, a female divinity responsible for the safeguarding of law and order, often conceptualized as enthroned beside Zeus and sometimes described as a wife of his.
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137 Never has she ceased to mourn: the Greek once again likens Electra to a nightingale, engaged in incessant lamentation (see above, note to p. 106).
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those two Furies: Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. The Greek language could transfer the name of the Furies or 'Erinyes', the spirits who oversee acts of blood-vengeance, to both the victims of a crime and to those who had perpetrated it.
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a foul pollution: the translation omits a hypothetical question delivered by the chorus here, 'Who else would be so noble?' (i.e. as Electra).
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Laws of the gods: once again Sophocles refers to the supreme 'unwritten laws', as at Antigone 454–5 (see also above, note to p. 5) and Oedipus the King 865–7.
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in piety: the Greek adds 'towards Zeus', the supreme overseer of the 'unwritten laws'.
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138 nearest to them: i.e. she is their nearest relation by blood.
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Strophius: Pylades' father, the old friend of Agamemnon to whom the exiled Orestes had been entrusted, named only here in this play. See above, note to p. 104.
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in my arms: the translation omits two lines here. Electra continues, 'so that I may weep and wail, not only for these ashes but along with them for myself and for my entire family.'
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139 sorrow: in the Greek the metre changes for this line, probably indicating that in the emotion of the moment Electra briefly begins to chant rather than speak.
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142 friend: the Greek word should be translated 'child' or 'son', which is more appropriate to the pathos of this recognition scene.
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Our father's ring: the Greek makes it explicit that it is a signet ring with a recognizable seal-mark.
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143 but wait: the translation here omits a lyrical interjection by Electra, 'What is the matter?'
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women … To strike a blow: the Greek actually says 'Ares dwells in women too.'
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and yet: the translation omits another lyrical interjection by Electra, 'What shall I do?'
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then I made no more delay: these words have been supplied by the translator to fill in a line missing from the Greek.
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144 their end: the translation here omits an interjection by Orestes, 'What are you asking of me?'
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be prudent: the translation here omits two lines. Electra asks, 'Do you grant what I ask?', and Orestes responds, 'Why not?'
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146 those faithful hands: the translation, perhaps prudently, omits here a remark by Electra referring to the tutor's feet as 'kindly messengers'.
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147 the gods that stand before the house: images of gods placed at the front of the palace. They included Apollo (addressed by Clytemnestra at line 637) and Hermes, the god who always presided over entrances.
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147 the god of death: the Greek names rather Ares, the god of war and violence.
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148 The minister of the gods: i.e. Orestes.
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With Hermes to guide him: the chorus prays that Hermes will assist Orestes in his capacity as Hermes dolios (the god of trickery).
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To stand on guard: Sophocles finds a reason to have Electra on stage during the murder of Clytemnestra, so that her bloodthirsty reactions can be fully appreciated.
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149 cruelty: at least three lines are probably missing from the Greek between here and Orestes' question at line 1430, 'Are you sure you see him?' The translation has been designed to offer a performable text.
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150 you should know: the translation here omits a harsh phrase addressing Electra as 'you who were formerly so bold'.
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152 You could read the future | So well: there appears to have been a tradition that Aegisthus had some special mantic powers.
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This house of Atreus: the Greek names, rather, the house of Pelops, in accordance with the play's tracing of the sufferings of the family back to the original curse on Pelops' head (see above, note to p. 118. Aegisthus, as son of Thyestes, Atreus' brother, was of course also a Pelopid.
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those to come: an implication that the deaths of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra may not put an end to the family's calamities. See above, note to p. 121.
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