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Chorus
How else could she have nurtured you, murderer, beneath her belt? Do you reject the nearest kinship, that of a mother?

Orestes
Apollo, give your testimony now. Explain, on my behalf, whether I was justified in killing her. [610] For I do not deny that I did it, as it is done. But decide whether this bloodshed was, to your mind, just or not, so that I may inform the court.

Apollo
I will speak justly before you, Athena's great tribunal,—since I am a prophet, I cannot lie. [615] I have never yet, on my oracular throne, said anything about a man or woman or city that Zeus, the father of the Olympians, did not command me to say.

Learn how strong this plea of justice is; and I tell you to obey the will of my father; [620] for an oath is not more powerful than Zeus.1

Chorus
Zeus, as you say, gave you this oracular command, to tell Orestes here to avenge his father's murder but to take no account at all of the honor due his mother?

Apollo
Yes, for it is not the same thing—the murder of a noble man, [625] honored by a god-given scepter, and his murder indeed by a woman, not by rushing arrows sped from afar, as if by an Amazon, but as you will hear, Pallas, and those who are sitting to decide by vote in this matter. [630]

She received him from the expedition, where he had for the most part won success beyond expectation,2 in the judgment of those favorable to him; then, as he was stepping from the bath, on its very edge, she threw a cloak like a tent over it, fettered her husband in an embroidered robe, and cut him down. [635]

This was his death, as I have told it to you—the death of a man wholly majestic, commander of the fleet. As for that woman, I have described her in such a way as to whet the indignation of the people who have been appointed to decide this case.

1 The oath taken by the judges (489) may pronounce Orestes guilty as to the fact; but as his deed was done at the command of Zeus, whose representative is his son, Zeus therefore assumes all moral responsibility.

2 Literally “trafficked better”—“better” either “than his foes, the Trojans”; or “beyond expectation” (since he was guilty of the death of his daughter); or possibly, without any implicit comparative force, simply “well.”

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Electra, 95
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Trachiniae, 423
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