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In the case of Sophocles there was a further reason. He reverts to the epic view that the deed of Orestes is simply laudable, and therefore final. It suited this aim to concentrate the sympathies of the spectators against Clytaemnestra as well as Aegisthus. And nothing could be more effective for that purpose than to show how their long oppression had failed to break down the heroic constancy of Electra.

We will now trace the plot of Sophocles.

Analysis of the play. I. Prologue: 1—120.
The scene is laid before the palace of the Pelopidae at Mycenae. Three persons enter,—on the left of the spectator, for they are travellers from a distant place. These are, Orestes, who is about twenty years of age; his Phocian friend Pylades (son of Strophius, king of Crisa near Delphi—from whose home they come); and an old man, a faithful retainer of Agamemnon, who had been the paedagogus of Orestes, and had secretly carried him, as a child, away from Mycenae to Crisa, at the time when Agamemnon was slain.

The old man points out to Orestes the chief features in the landscape before them, and then exhorts the two youths to concert their plan of action without delay; already it is the hour of dawn, and the morning-song of the birds is beginning.

Orestes, in reply, states the purport of the oracle given to him at Delphi. Apollo commanded him to ‘snatch his righteous vengeance by stealth,’ without the aid of an armed force. He then sets forth his plan. The old man is to enter the palace in the guise of a messenger sent by Phanoteus, a Phocian prince friendly to Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. He is to announce that Orestes has been killed in a chariot-race at the Pythian games. Meanwhile Orestes and Pylades will make offerings at the tomb of Agamemnon near the palace. They will then present themselves in the house, bearing a funeral urn. They, like the old man, will pretend to be Phocians, who have brought the ashes of Orestes to Mycenae.

A female voice of lament is now heard in the house (v. 77). Orestes asks if it can be Electra's, and proposes to wait and listen; but the old man dissuades him. All three now leave the scene (v. 85).

Electra comes out of the house; she is alone, for the Chorus

(“θρῆνος ἀπὸ σκηνῆς:” 86—120.)
have not yet appeared. Greeting the ‘pure sunlight and the air,’ to which her sorrow has so often been uttered at dawn, she speaks of the grief which ceases not, day or night, for her father, whom the wicked pair struck down, ‘as woodmen fell an oak.’ She invokes the Powers of the nether world to avenge him,— and to send her brother; for her own strength is well-nigh spent.

The Chorus, composed of fifteen Mycenaean women, had

Parodos: 121—250.
entered as Electra's lament was closing. They sympathise with her; and they do not conceal their abhorrence of the deed which she mourns. But they remind her that grief cannot restore the dead to life: they urge her to be calm, trusting in the gods, and hoping for the return of Orestes. She must not aggravate her lot by waging a fruitless strife with the rulers.

Electra replies that to abandon her grief would be disloyalty. If her father is not to be avenged, there will be an end to reverence for gods or men.

The Chorus say that they spoke only for her good; she

II. First episode: 251—471.
knows best, and she shall be their guide. Electra then justifies her conduct by describing what she has to see and suffer daily in the house;—Aegisthus in her father's place; her mother living with Aegisthus, and keeping the death-day of Agamem non as a festival. Hardship and insult are her own portion continually. The Chorus cautiously inquire if Aegisthus is at home; and, on learning that he is absent in the country, ask Electra whether she thinks that Orestes will return. ‘He promises,’ she answers, ‘but does not keep his promise.’ ‘Courage,’ they reply: ‘he is too noble to fail his friends.’

At this moment Chrysothemis approaches, bearing funeral offerings. She begins by sharply chiding her sister for this ‘vain indulgence of idle wrath,’—in public, too, at the palacegates. But she admits that she herself feels anger against the tyrants; were she strong enough, she would let them know it. Electra has right upon her side: only, if one is to live in freedom, one must yield to the stronger.

Electra tells her that the choice is between loyalty to the dead and worldly prudence. ‘Canst thou, the daughter of Agamemnon, wish to be only the daughter of Clytaemnestra?’ The Chorus timidly deprecate a quarrel. Chrysothemis says that she is used to Electra's vehemence. She would not have spoken, but that she had to convey a warning. As soon as Aegisthus returns, Electra is to be imprisoned in a dungeon, at a distance from Mycenae—unless she becomes more docile. Electra declares that she would welcome such a doom;—‘that I may escape,’ she says, ‘far from you,’—thus identifying her sister with the oppressors.

Chrysothemis, finding her counsels repelled, is about to proceed on her errand, when Electra asks her whither she is taking those offerings. ‘Our mother sends me,’ is the answer, ‘with libations to our father's grave.’ It then appears that Clytaemnestra has been terrified by a dream. Agamemnon returned to life; he planted his sceptre at the hearth; a branch blossomed from it, and overshadowed the land.

Electra feels a sudden joy. This dream, she believes, has been sent by the gods below, and by the spirit of the dead. ‘Dear sister,’ she cries, ‘cast those impious offerings away; take, instead of them, such gifts as we can give,—and pray at the tomb that our father's spirit may come to help us, and that Orestes may live to conquer.’

Chrysothemis is touched and subdued. She agrees to do as her sister bids; only Electra and the Chorus must keep the secret; she dreads her mother's anger.

The Chorus, encouraged by Clytaemnestra's dream, predict

First stasimon: 472—515.
the vengeance. Agamemnon's spirit is not forgetful. The Erinys, now lurking in ambush, will come. The curse upon the house of Pelops claims yet more victims.

Clytaemnestra enters, followed by a handmaid bearing

III. Second episode: 516— 1057. (1) 1st scene: 516—659.
offerings of various fruits for Apollo Lykeios, whose altar stands in front of the house. ‘At large once more, it seems!’ is her greeting to Electra;—‘since Aegisthus is not here to restrain thee.’ She defends her murder of Agamemnon. ‘Justice slew him, and not I alone.’ Had he not slain her daughter, Iphigeneia, in the cause of his brother Menelaüs?

Electra replies that her father acted therein under constraint from the goddess Artemis; but that, even if he had been a free agent, Clytaemnestra's plea would not avail. Then, passing from argument to reproach and defiance, Electra avows her wish that Orestes might come as an avenger; though she also shows the anguish which she feels at the attitude towards a mother which is forced upon her.

An angry dialogue ends by Clytaemnestra enjoining silence, in order that she may make her offerings to Apollo. She prays that the god will rule the issues of the vision for her good, and for the discomfiture of her foes. Other wishes, too, she has, but will not utter them; the god can divine them...

Here the Paedagogus enters, disguised as a Phocian mes-

(2) 2nd scene: 660—803.
senger from Phanoteus. He relates how the young Orestes, after wonderful feats at the Pythian games, was killed in the chariot-race. Other Phocians are on their way to Mycenae with his ashes.

Clytaemnestra hears the news with feelings in which joy is crossed by at least a touch of natural grief; but the joy quickly prevails, and she openly recognises that the news is good. At last she will be safe from Orestes—and from Electra, who has been even a worse foe.

Electra invokes Nemesis to avenge her brother; while Clytaemnestra cruelly taunts her, and then conducts the Phocian messenger into the house.

(3) 3rd scene: 804—870.
Left alone with the Chorus, Electra gives free vent to her anguish and despair. She will enter that house no more, but cast herself down at the gates, and await death—which cannot come too soon.

Kommos: 823—870.
In the lyric dialogue which follows, the women of Mycenae gently endeavour to suggest comfort. Was not the seer Amphiaraüs betrayed to death by a false wife? And is not his spirit now great beneath the earth? Alas, Electra answers, there was a son to avenge him, and to slay the murderess; but Agamemnon can have no such avenger. Orestes has perished, in a foreign land, without receiving the last offices of sisterly love.

(4) 4th scene: 871— 1057.
Chrysothemis enters hurriedly, in a flutter of joyful excitement. On reaching the tomb, with her sister's gifts and her own, she found that unknown hands had just been honouring it. Libations of milk had been poured there; the mound was wreathed with flowers; and on the edge of it lay a lock of hair. These gifts can be from no one but Orestes!

With pitying sorrow, Electra breaks to her the news which has come from Phocis. Probably the gifts at the tomb were brought by some one in memory of the dead youth. And now, as the delusive hope vanishes from her sister's mind, Electra seeks to replace it by a heroic resolve. Will Chrysothemis aid her in the purpose which she has formed—to slay the two murderers with her own hand? Electra reminds her of the joyless lot which otherwise awaits both Chrysothemis and herself; and pictures the noble renown which such a deed would achieve.

To Chrysothemis this is sheer madness. She foresees only certain failure and a terrible death. In vain she seeks to dissuade Electra, who declares that she will make the attempt unaided. With a parting word of compassionate warning, Chrysothemis enters the house. Electra remains outside.

Second stasimon: 1058— 1097.
The Chorus lament the weaker sister's failure in that natural piety which the very birds of the air teach us. A sorrowful message for Agamemnon in the shades will be this quarrel between his daughters. How noble is Electra,—all alone, yet unshaken, in her loyalty! May she yet win the reward which she has deserved!

Orestes enters, with Pylades, followed by two attendants, one

IV. Third episode: 1098— 1383. (1) The recognition: 1098 —1287.
of whom carries the funeral urn (v. 1123). He asks for the house of Aegisthus, and, on learning that he has reached it, requests that their arrival may be announced. The Chorus suggest that Electra should do this. A dialogue ensues between Electra and the disguised Orestes. She learns that the strangers come from Strophius, king of Crisa, with her brother's ashes; and she is allowed to take the urn into her hands1. She then utters a most touching lament, recalling the memories of her brother's childhood,—the close affection which bound them to each other,—her care for him, and her bright hopes, which have thus ended. ‘Therefore take me to this thy home, me, who am as nothing, to thy nothingness... When thou wast on earth, we shared alike; and now I fain would die, that I may not be parted from thee in the grave.’

The disguised Orestes finds it hard to restrain himself. In the dialogue which follows, he gradually prepares her mind for the discovery,—leading her through surprise, conjecture, and hope, to conviction. The scene is one of exquisite art and beauty (vv. 1176—1226).

In lyrics, Electra now utters her joy,—which reaches the

μέλος ἀσκηνῆς”: 1232— 1287.
height, when Orestes tells her that he has been sent by Apollo. He endeavours to check her transports (though he is loth to do so), lest she should be overheard.

At length he succeeds in recalling her to their scheme of

The plan of action: 1288— 1383.
action, and warns her against allowing Clytaemnestra to perceive her happiness. She promises obedience in all things. The old Paedagogus now comes out, and scolds them both for their imprudence. When Electra learns that the faithful servant is before her, she greets him warmly, as the preserver of their house. Then, by his advice, Orestes and Pylades enter the palace, after saluting the ancestral gods in the porch; and the old man follows them. Electra addresses a brief prayer to Apollo Lykeios, and then she also enters.

Third stasimon: 1384— 1397.
The Chorus, now alone, sing a short ode. The Erinyes have passed beneath the roof; the Avenger is being led by Hermes, in secrecy, to his goal.

V. Exodos: 1398— 1510. Kommos: 1398— 1441.
Electra rushes forth to tell the Chorus that Orestes and Pylades are about to do the deed Clytaemnestra is dressing the funeral urn for burial, while the two youths stand beside her. In another moment her dying shrieks are heard. Orestes, with Pylades, then comes out; and, in answer to his sister's question, says: ‘All is well in the house, if Apollo's oracle spake well.

Aegisthus is seen approaching, and the youths quickly reenter the house. He is exultant, for he has heard the report that Orestes is dead. Electra confirms it, adding that the body has been brought to Mycenae; Aegisthus can satisfy his own eyes. The tyrant orders the palace-doors to be thrown wide, in order that his subjects may see the corpse, and know that all hope from that quarter is over.

The doors are opened; a corpse, hidden by a veil, lies on a bier; close to it stand the two Phocians who are supposed to have brought it. Aegisthus lifts the veil—and sees the dead Clytaemnestra. He knows that he is doomed, and that Orestes stands before him. Nor is he suffered to plead at length: though some bitter words pass his lips, before Orestes drives him in, to slay him in the hall where Agamemnon was slain. The Chorus rejoice that the house of Atreus has at last found peace.

General comparison with the Choephori.

1 This was the scene in which the famous actor Polus , when playing the part of Electra, used an urn which contained the ashes of a son whom he had recently lost (Aulus Gellius 7. 5). See Soph. O. T., Introd., p. xxxi (3rd ed.).

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