The Sophoclean Electra resembles Antigone in heroism and in loyalty to the dead, but the modes in which their characters are manifested differ as widely as the situations. Antigone is suddenly required to choose between omitting a sacred duty and incurring death; within a day she has chosen, and died. The ordeal of Electra is that of maintaining a solitary protest through years of suffering. Her timid sister's sympathy is only secret; the tyrants ill-treat her, and she witnesses their insults to her father's memory. Meanwhile there is only one feeble ray of light for her, the hope that Orestes may return; but it becomes fainter as time goes on. One of the finest traits in the delineation of Electra by Sophocles is the manner in which he suggests that inward life of the imagination into which she has shrunk back from the world around her. To her, the dead father is an ally ever watchful to aid the retribution; when she hears of Clytaemnestra's dream, it at once occurs to her that he has helped to send it1. The youthful Orestes, as her brooding fancy pictures him, is already invested with the heroic might of an avenger2. There are moments when she can almost forget her misery in visions of his triumph3. Like Antigone, she is contrasted with a weaker, though amiable, sister. Chrysothemis is of the same type as Ismene; her instincts are right, and respond to the appeal of Electra, whom she loves; only she is not heroic. The stronger nature, when brought into conflict with the feebler, almost inevitably assumes, at certain moments, an aspect of harshness4: yet the union in Electra of tenderness with strength can be felt throughout, and finds expression in more than one passage of exquisite beauty5. When she believes that Orestes is dead, and that it rests with her alone to avenge Agamemnon, she calls upon Chrysothemis to co-operate, who reproves her as forgetting that she is a woman6. But when Orestes is restored to her, she submits herself in all things to his wishes7. Hers is the part which Aeschylus gives to the Chorus, of speaking with Aegisthus on his way to the house. She is present almost from the beginning to the end of the play, and the series of her emotions is the thread which gives unity to the whole.
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1 Vv. 459, 460.
3 See on v. 814.
4 Vv. 391; 1027 ff. Cp. Introduction to the Antigone, p. xxix.
5 See especially the kommos, 823—870; and her lament, 1126—1170.
7 1301 ff. 4 Electra played the chief part in another play also of Sophocles,—the “Ἀλήτης”, to which Attius was probably indebted in his Agamemnonidae and Erigona. A sketch of the plot is conjecturally recognised in Hyginus Fab. 122.Aletes, son of Aegisthus, sends Electra a false message to the effect that Orestes (who is in exile) is dead, and that Aletes therefore accedes to the throne at Mycenae. Electra goes to consult the oracle at Delphi. She there meets a woman who (she is told) has slain Orestes; and is about to blind her with a brand snatched from the altar, when Orestes rushes between them—reveals himself—and tells her that the woman is her sister Iphigeneia. Orestes slays Aletes, whose daughter Erigona goes to Attica; and Pylades marries Electra. (Cp. Roscher, Lex.p. 1238.) The time supposed in the “Ἀλήτης” was apparently just after the year of exile (“ἀπενιαυτισμός”） imposed upon Orestes by the slaying of his mother. Here, then (as in the presence of Iphigeneia), would be proof that in his Aletes the poet followed a different conception of the story from that which he adopts in his Electra.
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