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Electra by Euripides

Electra by Euripides

Electra is a Greek tragedy written by the playwright Euripides c. It retells the classic myth concerning the plotting of Electra and her brother Orestes to kill their mother and her lover. This version of the story should not be confused with the play of the same name by his fellow playwright, Electra by Sophocles. Classicists are unsure which of the two plays was written first. As with most of plays of the period, the audience was well aware of the story of Agamemnon's return from the Trojan War and his death at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus.

In Euripides' version of the story, Electra has been thrown out of the royal house and married to a poor farmer to prevent her from having children of high enough status to avenge Agamemnon's death. One day two strangers arrive at her door. Although they do not identify themselves, they are in reality Electra's exiled brother Orestes and his friend Plyades. When she invites them in and tells them her story, an old servant recognizes Orestes from a childhood scar. Together Electra and Orestes plot their revenge. Electra sends word to her mother that she has given birth and wishes Clytemnestra to see the baby. Meanwhile, Orestes and Plyades find Aegisthus hunting and kill him, returning to Electra's home with the body. When Clytemnestra arrives, she is murdered, too. At the end of the play, Clytemnestra's deified brothers Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces in the play) appear and tell them they must cleanse their souls of their crime. Electra is to marry Plyades and leave her home while Orestes (who is being pursued by the Furies) must face a trial; he suffers a fate similar to that in Aeschylus' Oresteia.

Euripides

The story of the murder of Clytemnestra & Aegisthus was written about in three different plays.

Very little is known of Euripides' early life. He was born in the 480s BCE on the island of Salamis near Athens to a family of hereditary priests. Although he preferred a life of seclusion, alone with his books, he was married and had three sons, one of whom became a minor playwright. Many suspect that the son may have completed Iphigenia in Aulis after his father's death in 406 BCE. Unlike Sophocles, Euripides played little or no part in Athenian political affairs; the one exception was a brief diplomatic mission to Sicily. Of his 92 plays, 19 still exist in their entirety. The poet made his debut at the Dionysia in 455 BCE, performing over 22 times, only to win his first victory in 441 BCE. Unfortunately, his participation in these Greek theatre competitions did not prove to be very successful with only four victories; a fifth came posthumously for Iphigenia in Aulis. In contrast, Sophocles won over 24 times.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle called Euripides the most tragic of all of the Greek poets. Classicist Edith Hamilton in her book The Greek Way agreed when she wrote that he was the saddest of the poets, a poet of the world's grief. “He feels, as no other writer has felt, the pitifulness of human life, as of children suffering helplessly what they do not know and can never understand.” (205) With the war against Sparta still waging, Euripides left Athens in 408 BCE at the invitation of King Archelaus to live the remainder of his life in Macedonia. Some believe his disappointment at the Dionysia drove him to leave Athens. Although often misunderstood during his lifetime and never receiving the acclaim he deserved, he became one of the most admired poets long after his death, influencing not only Greek literature but Roman playwrights. The Greek comedy playwright Aristophanes often parodied him in many of his plays. It is said that children would learn language and grammar from both Homer and Euripides.

Cast of Characters

  • Electra
  • Farmer
  • Clytemnestra
  • Orestes
  • Plyades
  • Chorus of Argive Women
  • Old Man
  • Messenger
  • Castor and Polydeuces

The Play

The play opens in front of a small farmer's cottage near the Greek city of Argos. Next to the house is an altar to the Greek god Apollo. The farmer - Electra's husband - speaks aloud of the fallen king Agamemnon and his children Electra and Orestes. He relates how young Orestes was “snatched away and grew up in the land of Phocis” (194). A price was then placed on his head.

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Electra kept on waiting in her father's house, but when the burning season of young ripeness took her then the great princes of the land of Greece came begging her bridal. (194)

As a precaution she was given to the farmer as his wife; however, she remained untouched. “I would feel ugly touching the daughter of a wealthy man and violating her.” (195) When Electra exits her house, she acknowledges her husband who never takes advantage of her.

As the farmer leaves to tend his fields and Electra returns to the house, Orestes and his close friend Plyades enter and stand by the altar. Speaking of his mother's lover Aegisthus, he tells Plyades:

He killed my father - he and my destructive mother. I come from secret converse with the holy god to this outpost of Argos - no one knows I am here - to counterchange my father's death for death to his killers. (196)

Not knowing he is outside his sister's home, he hopes to find his sister. Hearing someone coming (Electra), he and Plyades hide. A distraught Electra addresses the chorus of Argive peasant women:

Not one god has heard my helpless cry or watched of old over my murdered father. Mourn again for the wasted dead, mourn for the living outlaw somewhere prisoned in foreign lands, passing from one laborer's hearth to the next though born of a glorious sire. (200)

She feels she has wasted her life in a peasant's hut. As she speaks, Orestes and Plyades appear from their hiding spot. Not recognizing her brother, she assumes the two strangers to be criminals, but Orestes (who does not identify himself) assures her that he would never hurt her. However, Electra, still fearful, asks why the two men were hiding, sword in hand. Realizing he is speaking to his sister, Orestes eases her distress: “I have come to bring you a spoken message from your brother…” (201) He tells her that her brother is alive. She is curious and asks: “Where is he now, attempting to bear unbearable exile?” Has he sent her a message? Orestes tells of her brother's concern for her: “Your brother's life and father's death both bite your heart.” (202)

Orestes is curious why she lives in a peasant's house. She admits that her wedding was “a wedding much like death” (203). However, her husband respects her and has never been violent or touched her. She further explains that the wedding - in Aegisthus' mind - would bring worthless sons. They would be too weak for revenge. Orestes wonders how - if her brother returns - he could help. She responds, “By being just as daring as once his enemies were” (208). Electra admits she would not know her brother if she saw him but she knows someone who would, the man who saved him from death, Agamemnon's tutor. As they speak Electra's husband appears and inquires about the two strangers. She eases his curiosity and says they bring news of Orestes. The farmer invites them into his home. Orestes replies:

This fellow here is no great man among the Argives, not dignified by family in the eyes of the world - he is a face in the crows, and yet I choose him champion. (209)

Electra sends the old farmer to find her father's servant. Shortly, an elderly man arrives with food. When he sees Electra, he tells her that he has been at Agamemnon's tomb where he found a lock of hair. He believes Orestes has been at the tomb, but Electra is doubtful. The old man tries to convince her that her brother is back from exile; he then asks to see the two strangers who have brought news of Orestes. As they speak, Orestes and Plyades exit the house and join them. Electra tells them that this is the man who saved Orestes from Aegisthus and certain death. The old man stares at Orestes and recognizes the stranger as Orestes from “The scar above his eye where he once slipped and drew blood as he helped you chase a fawn in your father's court.” (217) Orestes finally admits his true identity:

I am your sole brother and friend. Now if I catch the prey for which I cast my net! I'm confident. Or never believe in the gods' power again if evil can still triumph over good. (218)

The old man tells Orestes that he must kill his mother and her lover Aegisthus who lives in fear of Orestes' return. He says that Aegisthus is often in the meadow where he grazes his horses and, with only a few servants, he will be there sacrificing a bull for a feast. Orestes would have no trouble approaching him. As for Electra, her plan is to have the old man to go to Clytemnestra and inform her that her daughter is in bed after bearing a son.

She will come, of course, when she hears about the birth. ... She will come; she will be killed. All that is clear. (222)

She tells the old man to help Orestes but first go to Clytemnestra. He agrees and then promises to show Orestes where he can find Aegisthus. They exit, leaving Electra alone at home. As she awaits the appearance of her mother, a messenger arrives letting her know that Orestes is victorious and Aegisthus is dead. He tells her of the meeting between her brother and Aegisthus. The two men spoke and when Aegisthus bent over, Orestes killed him.

[Orestes] stretched up, balanced on the balls of his feet, and snatched a blow to his spine. The vertebrae of his back broke. Head down, his whole body convulsed, he gasped to breathe, writhed with a high scream, and died in his blood. (229)

Orestes turned to the servants and told them “I have only paid my father's killer back in blood” (230). Orestes soon arrives at Electra's home with Aegisthus' corpse. She speaks to the corpse of her mother's lover:

You ruined me, orphaned me, and him too, of a father, we loved dearly, though we had done no harm to you to cuckoldry though she had stained our father's bed adulterously. (232)

Orestes changes the subject to their mother. Fearing reprisal, he asks, “How can I kill her when she bore me and brought me up?” (234) Electra makes an effort to convince him that killing their mother is only avenging their father. Reluctantly, he agrees. About that time Clytemnestra arrives at Electra's home. Electra coolly greets her: “You threw me out of home like a war captive.” (237) Her mother tells of Agamemnon's arrival with Cassandra (Priam's daughter) and the sacrifice of Iphigenia. After her attempt to explain Agamemnon's death, she gives Electra permission to speak freely. She says:

Of all Greek women, you were the only one I know to hug yourself with pleasure when Troy's fortunes rose, but when they sank to cloud your face in sympathy you wanted Agamemnon never to come home. ... If murder judges and calls for murder, I will kill you - and your son Orestes will kill you - for Father. (239)

Electra then invites her mother into the house to see her son. Shortly, Clytemnestra cries out. She is dead. As Electra and Orestes rejoice, the Dioscuri (Castor and Polydeuces) appear above the house. They are the twin brothers of Clytemnestra and the sons of Zeus. Castor addresses the fate of both Electra and Orestes. Electra is to marry Plyades, leave Argos, and go to Athens to stand trial where they will be found not guilty. Orestes is forbidden to ever see his sister again. He, too, must stand in judgment: “I am forced from my father's house. I must suffer foreigners' judgment for the blood of my mother.” (248) Electra holds her brother. “… the curses bred in a mother's blood dissolve our bonds and drive us from home.” (248) They depart.

Conclusion

The story of the murder of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus was written about in three different plays: Aeschylus' Libation Bearers (part of his Oresteia), Sophocles' Electra, and Euripedes' Electra. All three tell a different version of the same events: Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have killed Agamemnon. Years later, Electra waits for the return of her exiled brother Orestes so they can seek revenge against their mother. While the story is the same, the manner in which the duo meets their demise varies.

In Aeschylus' version, Orestes and his friend Plyades meet Electra and tell her he has been commanded by the oracle of Apollo to kill their mother. The two pose as travelers and arrive at the palace door. They tell Clytemnestra of the death of Orestes. When Aegisthus is summoned to the palace, the two kill him and then turn on Clytemnestra. Orestes is chased out of Argos by the Furies and the story is completed in Eumenides.

In Sophocles' version, a second sister, Chrysothemis, enters the picture but she refuses to be part of any plot. Similar to Aeschylus, Orestes and Plyades pose as travelers with news of Orestes' death. Carrying an urn into the palace, they kill Clytemnestra. When Aegisthus arrives at the palace, he, too, is murdered. In both versions, Electra does not seem to be an active participant in the murders.

Finally, in Euripides' story, Orestes and Plyades arrive at Electra's home and are soon identified by an old servant. A scheme is quickly plotted. Orestes and Plyades find Aegisthus out hunting and kill him, taking his body to Electra's home. Electra, who is married in this version, lures her mother to her home with news of a baby and, with Orestes' help, kills her. In this account, however, Orestes is initially reluctant to kill Clytemnestra. Hounded by the Furies, Orestes is forced to leave Argos while Electra is told she must marry Plyades and leave.


Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra

Electra (Elektra) was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the king and queen of Mycenae during the Trojan war. Homer refers to her as Laodice(Laodike). In Homer, Iliad , 9.114 Agamemnon offers one of his daughters for Achilles to marry: “Three daughters have I in my well-builded hall, [145] Chrysothemis, and Laodice, and Iphianassa of these let him lead to the house of Peleus which one he will, without gifts of wooing, and I will furthermore give a dower full rich, such as no man ever yet gave with his daughter.”

The name ‘Electra’, (Ήλέκτρην) means ‘light play’ and comes from Indo-European: ‘wlek-‘, ‘light’ and ‘ter-3’, ‘To cross over, pass through, overcome’. The name also applies to the substance amber probably because of the way amber transmits light. Our word for electron and electricity comes from amber rather than from an ancient Greek woman.

The mother of electra, Clytemnestra, had a lover who conspired with her to murder Agamemnon. Electra had some premonition of these happenings and managed to remove her brother Orestes and entrust him to Strophius. Strophius was the husband of Anaxibia, the sister of Agamemnon. and the father of Pylades. The details of this are intwined in the following passage in Homer, Odyssey 3.303 “but meanwhile Aegisthus devised this woeful work at home. Seven years he reigned over Mycenae, rich in gold, after slaying the son of Atreus, and the people were subdued under him but in the eighth came as his bane the goodly Orestes back from Athens, and slew his father’s murderer, the guileful Aegisthus, for that he had slain his glorious father. Now when he had slain him, he made a funeral feast for the Argives over his hateful mother and the craven Aegisthus and on the self-same day there came to him Menelaus, good at the war-cry, bringing much treasure, even all the burden that his ships could bear.”

Electra lived for eight years after the murder of her father with
a strong feeling of humiliation and vengeance. Ultimately she was able to help her brother, Orestes, take the vengeance she sought. It was Orestes who came home and murdered Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Ultimately he was tried for this crime. Electra stood by her brother and defended him during entire trial. Though the court was divided he was freed by a single vote. Electra’s desire for revenge was very destructive, but her compassion for her
brother was her redemption. Later she was given in marriage to Pylades by her brother Orestes. She was the mother of Medon and Strophius. Later she was able to bring her father’s sceptre to Phocis.


Biography

Kannicht 2004 provides the fullest collection of sources on Euripides’ life. Most people agree that he was born between 485 and 480 BCE his first tragedies, including the now-fragmentary Peliades, came in last in the 455 BCE competitions, and he ended his life at the court of the king of Macedonia between 408/7 and 405/4 BCE . Scullion 2003 casts doubt on this last claim, and Lefkowitz 2012 is generally very skeptical of the ancient biographical tradition. Storey and Allan 2005 offers a readable account of his life that is less austere than Lefkowitz 2012. Stevens 1956 discusses his reputation among his contemporaries.

Kannicht, R., ed. 2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Vol. 5.1. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Comprehensive collection of ancient sources on Euripides’ life on pp. 45–145. Text is in Latin.

Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2012. The lives of the Greek poets. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

Extensively updated version of the author’s influential investigation of ancient biographical tradition, originally published in 1981. Argues that very little ancient biography is factually based. Euripides is discussed on pp. 88–104.

Scullion, S. 2003. Euripides and Macedon or, The silence of the Frogs. Classical Quarterly, n.s., 53.2: 389–400.

Argues against the tradition that Euripides died at the court of King Archelaus. Available online by subscription.

Stevens, P. T. 1956. Euripides and the Athenians. Journal of Hellenic Studies 76:87–94.

Convincingly refutes the traditional idea that the Athenians genuinely hated Euripides. Available online by subscription.

Storey, I. C., and A. Allan, eds. 2005. A guide to ancient Greek drama. Blackwell Guides to Classical Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

A handbook for the general reader. Discusses Euripides’ life on pp. 131–134.

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Customer reviews

Top reviews from the United States

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The murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes is unique in Greek mythology because we have versions of the tale staged by all three of the Greek tragic poets. One of the things that makes this remarkable, especially given how few of the ancient plays have survived to the present day (think of what it would be like if Shakespeare's work was reduced to about five plays), is that after Aeschylus wrote his version for "Cheophoroe," the central member of the "Orestia" triptych, any one would want to give a different telling of the tale. I think this interpretation is supported by two key points: first, that both Sophocles and Euripides titled their plays "Electra," focusing on the daughter/sister of the two main characters, and, second, that both of these other versions avoid having the pivotal scene between Clytemnestra and Orestes that is the dramatic highpoint of the Aeschylus play.

The Euripides version of "Electra" is certainly representative of his dramatic work overall in that it focuses more on the psychology and emotions of the characters rather than the philosophical or spiritual implications. The murder of Clytemnestra by her son is no longer another sordid chapter in the curse on the house of Atreus and the appearance of the Dioscuri as a deus ex machina stands in stark contrast to the rest of the "Orestia." Still, Euripides ends the play on themes of sorrow as both Orestes and Electra can only speak of their remorse over what has happened and say their pathetical farewells to one another. Having finally found each other after years of separation, they are again forced apart by fate. As the chorus says at the end: "The moral who can fare well, not broken by trouble met on the road, leads a most blessed life."

There are those who characterize this "Electra" as being more of a melodrama than a traditional tragedy, and that is certainly a valid interpretation. The Euripides version is clearly the weakest of the three, but that is almost by default. Aeschylus is creating the greatest trilogy in Greek history and Sophocles focuses on an Electra who is debating whether or not the responsibility for avenging the death of her father means that that the obligation to slay Clytemnestra falls to her. For Euripides the key twist is that when Electra reached maturity Aegisthus, the lover of Clytemnestra, feared that the young girl would marry some powerful prince and seek vengeance for the murder of Agamemnon. Aegisthus seeks to solve this problem by marrying Electra off to a peasant, who knows he is unworthy of the honor and has never consummated the marriage.

Some critics have made light of Clytemnestra's refusal to condone the execution of her daughter given the fact she murdered her husband. But given that the prime reason for Agamemnon's murder was his sanctioning the sacrifice of their oldest daughter Iphigenia, the queen's decision seems consistent to me. This also fits with the idea that Electra is indeed the central character of the drama, even when Orestes arrives upon the scene. Euripides is clearly interested in the story of a royal princess who effectively loses her entire family and becomes a frustrated, embittered woman. She desires not merely justice, but rather a cruel vengeance (which, significantly, repudiates the lesson of the "Orestia"). There is a sense in which Clytemnestra deserves to die in this play, not because of the murder of Agamemnon, but because of her callous treatment of her surviving daughter. Yet, even this does not make Electra much of a sympathetic figure since she is consumed by the idea of her mother being murdered. When this is achieved, there is nothing left to the character and she is a hollow shell.

"Electra" is not going to be one of the first Euripides plays you would read, and I have found that most times when it is considered it is within the context of comparing it to the parallel works by Aeschylus and Sophocles. However, an analog with Euripides' "Medea" would also be informative for students. As always, the key consideration would be which of the various Greek tragedies you had access to in your classroom.

The murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes is unique in Greek mythology because we have versions of the tale staged by all three of the Greek tragic poets. One of the things that makes this remarkable, especially given how few of the ancient plays have survived to the present day (think of what it would be like if Shakespeare's work was reduced to about five plays), is that after Aeschylus wrote his version for "Cheophoroe," the central member of the "Orestia" triptych, any one would want to give a different telling of the tale. I think this interpretation is supported by two key points: first, that both Sophocles and Euripides titled their plays "Electra," focusing on the daughter/sister of the two main characters, and, second, that both of these other versions avoid having the pivotal scene between Clytemnestra and Orestes that is the dramatic highpoint of the Aeschylus play.

The Euripides version of "Electra" is certainly representative of his dramatic work overall in that it focuses more on the psychology and emotions of the characters rather than the philosophical or spiritual implications. The murder of Clytemnestra by her son is no longer another sordid chapter in the curse on the house of Atreus and the appearance of the Dioscuri as a deus ex machina stands in stark contrast to the rest of the "Orestia." Still, Euripides ends the play on themes of sorrow as both Orestes and Electra can only speak of their remorse over what has happened and say their pathetical farewells to one another. Having finally found each other after years of separation, they are again forced apart by fate. As the chorus says at the end: "The moral who can fare well, not broken by trouble met on the road, leads a most blessed life."

There are those who characterize this "Electra" as being more of a melodrama than a traditional tragedy, and that is certainly a valid interpretation. The Euripides version is clearly the weakest of the three, but that is almost by default. Aeschylus is creating the greatest trilogy in Greek history and Sophocles focuses on an Electra who is debating whether or not the responsibility for avenging the death of her father means that that the obligation to slay Clytemnestra falls to her. For Euripides the key twist is that when Electra reached maturity Aegisthus, the lover of Clytemnestra, feared that the young girl would marry some powerful prince and seek vengeance for the murder of Agamemnon. Aegisthus seeks to solve this problem by marrying Electra off to a peasant, who knows he is unworthy of the honor and has never consummated the marriage.

Some critics have made light of Clytemnestra's refusal to condone the execution of her daughter given the fact she murdered her husband. But given that the prime reason for Agamemnon's murder was his sanctioning the sacrifice of their oldest daughter Iphigenia, the queen's decision seems consistent to me. This also fits with the idea that Electra is indeed the central character of the drama, even when Orestes arrives upon the scene. Euripides is clearly interested in the story of a royal princess who effectively loses her entire family and becomes a frustrated, embittered woman. She desires not merely justice, but rather a cruel vengeance (which, significantly, repudiates the lesson of the "Orestia"). There is a sense in which Clytemnestra deserves to die in this play, not because of the murder of Agamemnon, but because of her callous treatment of her surviving daughter. Yet, even this does not make Electra much of a sympathetic figure since she is consumed by the idea of her mother being murdered. When this is achieved, there is nothing left to the character and she is a hollow shell.

"Electra" is not going to be one of the first Euripides plays you would read, and I have found that most times when it is considered it is within the context of comparing it to the parallel works by Aeschylus and Sophocles. However, an analog with Euripides' "Medea" would also be informative for students. As always, the key consideration would be which of the various Greek tragedies you had access to in your classroom.


  • Publisher &rlm : &lrm Oxford University Press (March 3, 1994)
  • Language &rlm : &lrm English
  • Paperback &rlm : &lrm 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 &rlm : &lrm 0195085760
  • ISBN-13 &rlm : &lrm 978-0195085761
  • Lexile measure &rlm : &lrm 1020L
  • Item Weight &rlm : &lrm 3.7 ounces
  • Dimensions &rlm : &lrm 5.38 x 0.25 x 8 inches

Top reviews from the United States

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The murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes is unique in Greek mythology because we have versions of the tale staged by all three of the Greek tragic poets. One of the things that makes this remarkable, especially given how few of the ancient plays have survived to the present day (think of what it would be like if Shakespeare's work was reduced to about five plays), is that after Aeschylus wrote his version for "Cheophoroe," the central member of the "Orestia" triptych, any one would want to give a different telling of the tale. I think this interpretation is supported by two key points: first, that both Sophocles and Euripides titled their plays "Electra," focusing on the daughter/sister of the two main characters, and, second, that both of these other versions avoid having the pivotal scene between Clytemnestra and Orestes that is the dramatic highpoint of the Aeschylus play.

The Euripides version of "Electra" is certainly representative of his dramatic work overall in that it focuses more on the psychology and emotions of the characters rather than the philosophical or spiritual implications. The murder of Clytemnestra by her son is no longer another sordid chapter in the curse on the house of Atreus and the appearance of the Dioscuri as a deus ex machina stands in stark contrast to the rest of the "Orestia." Still, Euripides ends the play on themes of sorrow as both Orestes and Electra can only speak of their remorse over what has happened and say their pathetical farewells to one another. Having finally found each other after years of separation, they are again forced apart by fate. As the chorus says at the end: "The moral who can fare well, not broken by trouble met on the road, leads a most blessed life."

There are those who characterize this "Electra" as being more of a melodrama than a traditional tragedy, and that is certainly a valid interpretation. The Euripides version is clearly the weakest of the three, but that is almost by default. Aeschylus is creating the greatest trilogy in Greek history and Sophocles focuses on an Electra who is debating whether or not the responsibility for avenging the death of her father means that that the obligation to slay Clytemnestra falls to her. For Euripides the key twist is that when Electra reached maturity Aegisthus, the lover of Clytemnestra, feared that the young girl would marry some powerful prince and seek vengeance for the murder of Agamemnon. Aegisthus seeks to solve this problem by marrying Electra off to a peasant, who knows he is unworthy of the honor and has never consummated the marriage.

Some critics have made light of Clytemnestra's refusal to condone the execution of her daughter given the fact she murdered her husband. But given that the prime reason for Agamemnon's murder was his sanctioning the sacrifice of their oldest daughter Iphigenia, the queen's decision seems consistent to me. This also fits with the idea that Electra is indeed the central character of the drama, even when Orestes arrives upon the scene. Euripides is clearly interested in the story of a royal princess who effectively loses her entire family and becomes a frustrated, embittered woman. She desires not merely justice, but rather a cruel vengeance (which, significantly, repudiates the lesson of the "Orestia"). There is a sense in which Clytemnestra deserves to die in this play, not because of the murder of Agamemnon, but because of her callous treatment of her surviving daughter. Yet, even this does not make Electra much of a sympathetic figure since she is consumed by the idea of her mother being murdered. When this is achieved, there is nothing left to the character and she is a hollow shell.

"Electra" is not going to be one of the first Euripides plays you would read, and I have found that most times when it is considered it is within the context of comparing it to the parallel works by Aeschylus and Sophocles. However, an analog with Euripides' "Medea" would also be informative for students. As always, the key consideration would be which of the various Greek tragedies you had access to in your classroom.

The murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes is unique in Greek mythology because we have versions of the tale staged by all three of the Greek tragic poets. One of the things that makes this remarkable, especially given how few of the ancient plays have survived to the present day (think of what it would be like if Shakespeare's work was reduced to about five plays), is that after Aeschylus wrote his version for "Cheophoroe," the central member of the "Orestia" triptych, any one would want to give a different telling of the tale. I think this interpretation is supported by two key points: first, that both Sophocles and Euripides titled their plays "Electra," focusing on the daughter/sister of the two main characters, and, second, that both of these other versions avoid having the pivotal scene between Clytemnestra and Orestes that is the dramatic highpoint of the Aeschylus play.

The Euripides version of "Electra" is certainly representative of his dramatic work overall in that it focuses more on the psychology and emotions of the characters rather than the philosophical or spiritual implications. The murder of Clytemnestra by her son is no longer another sordid chapter in the curse on the house of Atreus and the appearance of the Dioscuri as a deus ex machina stands in stark contrast to the rest of the "Orestia." Still, Euripides ends the play on themes of sorrow as both Orestes and Electra can only speak of their remorse over what has happened and say their pathetical farewells to one another. Having finally found each other after years of separation, they are again forced apart by fate. As the chorus says at the end: "The moral who can fare well, not broken by trouble met on the road, leads a most blessed life."

There are those who characterize this "Electra" as being more of a melodrama than a traditional tragedy, and that is certainly a valid interpretation. The Euripides version is clearly the weakest of the three, but that is almost by default. Aeschylus is creating the greatest trilogy in Greek history and Sophocles focuses on an Electra who is debating whether or not the responsibility for avenging the death of her father means that that the obligation to slay Clytemnestra falls to her. For Euripides the key twist is that when Electra reached maturity Aegisthus, the lover of Clytemnestra, feared that the young girl would marry some powerful prince and seek vengeance for the murder of Agamemnon. Aegisthus seeks to solve this problem by marrying Electra off to a peasant, who knows he is unworthy of the honor and has never consummated the marriage.

Some critics have made light of Clytemnestra's refusal to condone the execution of her daughter given the fact she murdered her husband. But given that the prime reason for Agamemnon's murder was his sanctioning the sacrifice of their oldest daughter Iphigenia, the queen's decision seems consistent to me. This also fits with the idea that Electra is indeed the central character of the drama, even when Orestes arrives upon the scene. Euripides is clearly interested in the story of a royal princess who effectively loses her entire family and becomes a frustrated, embittered woman. She desires not merely justice, but rather a cruel vengeance (which, significantly, repudiates the lesson of the "Orestia"). There is a sense in which Clytemnestra deserves to die in this play, not because of the murder of Agamemnon, but because of her callous treatment of her surviving daughter. Yet, even this does not make Electra much of a sympathetic figure since she is consumed by the idea of her mother being murdered. When this is achieved, there is nothing left to the character and she is a hollow shell.

"Electra" is not going to be one of the first Euripides plays you would read, and I have found that most times when it is considered it is within the context of comparing it to the parallel works by Aeschylus and Sophocles. However, an analog with Euripides' "Medea" would also be informative for students. As always, the key consideration would be which of the various Greek tragedies you had access to in your classroom.


Euripides

are loyal to their absent lord, with the nobly born but arrogant usurpers. Aeschylus too makes use of this, for one of the homeliest characters in Greek tragedy is surely his Cilissa, who comes out lamenting that all her labor on Orestes—including washing his diapers—has been lost. Neither she nor the Chorus of slaves has acquiesced in the new regime, and they play an important role in the revenge.

In much the same way the common people in Euripides’ play are shown to be on Orestes’ side: the Farmer whose loyalty to Agamemnon and Orestes leads him to connive in a sham marriage with Electra the Old Man, Agamemnon’s old tutor, who ransacks his cupboards to bring food for Electra’s guests and takes a large part in the plot against the usurpers and even the anonymous attendants of Aegisthus, who welcome Orestes when they learn he is their rightful lord. The mythical shape of the plot is as visible here in the countryside as when the story is enacted before a palace, and new mythical connections become possible as well. The Chorus, for instance, sing of the arrival of the rustic god Pan in Argos, bringing a golden lamb to Atreus as the sign of his rightful kingship. Just a few lines earlier the audience had seen another rustic arrive, and he too was burdened with a lamb offered to a rightful king. Tragedy is most commonly enacted before a palace, as epic most commonly on a battlefield, but either can on occasion adopt a different location without ceasing to be itself.

Orestes has struck some critics of the play as deliberately sub-heroic, especially in his vacillation and indecisiveness, and the conclusion is drawn that he is a caricature of the more traditional Orestes of Aeschylus. One piece of


Based on the conviction that only translators who write poetry themselves can properly recreate the celebrated and timeless tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the Greek Tragedy in New Translations series offers new translations that go beyond the literal meaning of the Greek in order to evoke the poetry of the originals. Under the general editorship of the late William Arrowsmith and Herbert Golder, each volume includes a critical introduction, commentary on the text, full stage directions, and a glossary of the mythical and geographical references in the plays.
This vital translation of Euripides' Electra recreates the prize-winning excitement of the original play. Electra, obsessed by dreams of avenging her father's murder, impatiently awaits the return of her exiled brother Orestes. When he arrives, the play mounts toward its first climax, a tender recognition scene. From that moment on, Electra uses Orestes as her instrument of vengeance. They kill their mother's husband, then their mother herself—and only afterward see the evil inherent in these seemingly just acts. But in his usual fashion, Euripides has imbued myth with the reality of human experience, counterposing suspense and horror with comic realism and down-to-earth comments on life.

New in the Greek Tragedies in New Translations Series


Sophocles Electra: full reading

A full reading of Sophocles’ Electra (translation by Paul Woodruff, courtesy of Hackett Publishing Company).

Reading Greek Tragedy Online is presented by the Center for Hellenic Studies (chs.harvard.edu), the Kosmos Society (kosmossociety.chs.harvard.edu/), and Out of Chaos Theatre (out-of-chaos.co.uk). For more information about outreach opportunities through the Reading Greek Tragedy Online project, contact [email protected]

Orestes: Tim Delap
Chrysothemis: Tabatha Gayle
Tutor: Rob Matney
Electra: Evelyn Miller
Pylades: Paul O’Mahony
Clytemnestra: Eunice Roberts
Aegisthus: René Thornton Jr
Chorus: Carlos Bellato, Damian Thompson, Sara Valentine


Electra by Euripides - History

Electra was written towards Sophocles last years. Although an exact date can not be established, specialists usually consider that the tragedy was written around 409 B.C.

The play constructs another powerful character – Electra. The subject was very popular to ancient literature.

The events are presented in the Odyssey, but the story appears in the work of all three great tragedians- Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Because both the date of Sophocles' Electra and Euripides' are uncertain, one of the debates of the critics was which play influenced the other, without leading to an exact answer.

Sophocles follows the main lines of Aeschylus' Choephoroe and bases his play on a very popular story for Greek audiences, the legend of the House of Atreus.

Some of the things important to the story take place before the first line of the play

King Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War with a new concubine, Cassandra. During the war, his wife, Clytemnestra, has taken Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus to be her lover.

Cassandra kills the king and his concubine, believing the adultery was justified, since Agamemnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia before the war, for the gods commanded this way.

Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, manages to rescue her infant brother Orestes from her mother, by sending him to Strophius of Phocis.

The tragedy begins, years later, with Orestes returning for revenge. Orestes arrives together with his friend Pylades, son of Strophius and his tutor. Their plan is to announce Orestes has died in a chariot accident, and to deceive everybody he and his friend are just two men delivering the urn with remains.

Electra continues hoping one day her brother will return for revenge and she is devastated when she hears the news of his death.

On the contrary, Clytemnestra is relieved to hear it. Orestes arrives with the urn but he does not recognize Electra, nor she recognizes him.

He gives her the urn, realizes who she is and reveals his identity to his sister. She is overwhelmed that her brother is alive.

Orestes and Pylades enter the house and kill Clytemnestra. When Aegisthus returns home, they present her corpse, covered in a sheet as being the body of Orestes. He lifts the veil and discovers Clytemnestra’s body.

Orestes also reveals himself and decides Aegisthus should be slain in the same location where Agamemnon was killed. The play ends here, before the death of Aegisthus is announced.


After King Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover and relative Aegisthus, the daughter Electra decides to get even, with the help of her brother Orestes and his cousin Pylades. They attack Aegisthus at a festival to Bacchus and invite Clytemnestra to Electra's house where, despite the fact that she is his mother, they stab her to death as well. At the end, however, the siblings find that they feel only grief and remorse for their actions.

    as Elektra as Orestes
  • Aleka Katselli as Klytaemnistra as the tutor
  • Notis Peryalis as Elektra's husband
  • Fivos Razi as Aegisthus
  • Takis Emmanuel as Pylades
  • Theano Ioannidou as chorus leader
  • Theodoros Dimitriou (Theodore Demetriou) as Agamemnon
  • Elsie Pittas as young Elektra
  • Petros Ampelas as young Orestes


Watch the video: Electra by Euripides - Summary (December 2021).