When this play is compared with the Choephori, the first difference which appears is broader than any that could arise from divergent views of the particular story. It concerns the whole stamp of the drama, and illustrates the difference, in bent of genius, between the two poets. Aeschylus exhibits in grand outline the working of an eternal law, full of mystery and terror. Justice, Destiny, the Erinys, are the paramount agencies. The human agents are drawn, indeed, with a master's hand, but by a few powerful strokes rather than with subtle touches or fine shading. Nor is much care shown for probability in minor details of the plot. With Sophocles the interest depends primarily on the portraiture of human character. The opportunities for this are contrived by a series of ingenious situations, fruitful in contrasts and dramatic effects. We have seen that the Greek art of the sixth century B.C. knew a version of this legend in which Talthybius, the herald of Agamemnon, saved the young Orestes from murder,—receiving him, doubtless, from the hands of the nurse—and in due time conducted the heir home again; a version which Stesichorus had probably popularised. It suited Aeschylus to leave out Talthybius, while keeping the part of the nurse. Sophocles revives the old herald in the person of the trusty Paedagogus, who received the child, not from a nurse, but from Electra herself, and carried him to Crisa. This change is a source of large advantage to the plot. It is a weak point in the Choephori that the story told by Orestes was not likely to impose upon Clytaemnestra, and does not, in fact, disarm her suspicion. The Sophoclean stratagem is of a different order. When the old man, as an envoy from Phanoteus, gives Clytaemnestra his circumstantial account of her son's death, he plays his part to perfection. He evinces some natural feeling for the tragic death of a brilliant youth, but at the same time shows that he is disappointed when the queen hesitates whether to rejoice or to mourn. ‘Then it seems that I have come in vain,’ he says, half aggrieved; and she hastens to re-assure him. A little later the two ‘Phocians’ arrive with the urn, as envoys from Strophius, the old ally of Agamemnon. This device of two independent missions, each from an appropriate quarter, was really fitted to win belief. It also provides a keen interest for the spectator, who is in the secret. The Aeschylean Electra is from the outset the accomplice of the avengers. But here she is herself deceived by them. And from the belief that her brother is dead springs the resolve which shows her spirit at the highest—to execute the vengeance without aid. In the Choephori, again, Electra is still trembling between hope and doubt, when Orestes steps forward, and almost at once reveals himself. Here, she is convinced that his ashes are in the urn which the young Phocian permits her to handle; the irresistible pathos of her lament over it compels him to shorten her probation; and then comes the dialogue, so characteristic of Sophocles, which gently leads up to the recognition. Like the poet of the Odyssey, Sophocles regards the venge ance as a deed of unalloyed merit, which brings the troubles of the house to an end. Clytaemnestra's part is much larger than in the Choephori; but it is the death of Aegisthus which forms the climax. Sophocles reverses the Aeschylean plan. Here it is Clytaemnestra whose dying shriek is heard; it is Aegisthus whose doom is preceded by a dialogue with Orestes.
The stain of matricide is ignored.