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Let us now see how the subject is treated by Euripides.

The scene is laid before the cottage of a husbandman, or small farmer (“αὐτουργός”), who lives in Argolis, but near the borders (v. 96), and far from the city of Argos (v. 246). The time is dawn.

Analysis. I. Prologue: 1— 166. (1) 1st scene, 1— 53.
The play is opened by a speech of the farmer. Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra have given him Electra in marriage; fearing that, if she wedded a richer1 spouse, he or his offspring might avenge Agamemnon. The worthy man adds that respect for the family has forbidden him to regard the union as more than formal2.

(2) 2nd scene, 54 —81.
Electra comes out of the cottage, poorly clad, with her hair cut short (in sign of mourning), and bearing a water-jar upon her head. She is not forced, she says, to do these menial tasks, but she wishes to show the insolence of Aegisthus to the gods (v. 58). The farmer deprecates such work for her, and she expresses her grateful esteem for him. Then she goes on her way to the spring, and he to his plough.

(3) 3rd scene, 82 —166.
Orestes enters, with Pylades3 (who is a mute person throughout). An oracle of Apollo (he says) has sent him. He does not dare to go within the walls of the city. But in the night he has secretly sacrificed at Agamemnon's tomb, and has placed a lock of hair upon it. He has now come to find Electra, of whose marriage he has heard, and to seek her co-operation. —He now sees a woman, apparently a slave, approaching, and proposes to seek information from her. This is Electra, returning with her water-jar from the spring. In a lyric lament she speaks of Agamemnon's fate and her brother's exile. Orestes, listening, soon learns who she is, for she introduces her own name.

The Chorus enters. It consists of fifteen maidens from

Parodos: 167—212.
the neighbourhood, who hold a lyric dialogue with Electra. They invite her to a festival of the Argive Hera, but she excuses herself, on the ground of her sorrow, and also of her poor attire. They offer to lend her better clothes, but she replies by reminding them of the unavenged wrongs which she is mourning4.

Electra now perceives that two armed strangers are near her

II. First episode: 213—431. (1) 1st scene, 213 —340.
cottage, and is disquieted. Orestes does not reveal himself, but says that he has come to bring her news of her brother. Having heard his tidings, she speaks of her own fortunes. If Orestes returned, she would help him to slay their mother (vv. 278 f.). She describes how Aegisthus insults Agamemnon's tomb, and mocks at Orestes.

The farmer now reappears, and is somewhat disconcerted

(2) 2nd scene, 341 —431.
at first, but quickly recovers himself, and gracefully offers hospitality to the strangers. Orestes accepts the invitation, after moralising on the nobility of nature which may lurk under a rustic exterior. The two guests having gone in, Electra reproves her husband for having invited them, when he knew the poverty of the household. He must now go, she says, and look for a certain old man in the neighbourhood, who is capable of bringing some better fare for the visitors. This old man, it seems, had been an attendant of Agamemnon when the latter was a boy (v. 409). The farmer obeys, and goes forth—to be seen no more.

<*> staslmon: 432 —486.
The Chorus sing of the voyage of the Greek heroes to Troy, and the shield of Achilles. They end with imprecations upon Clytaemnestra, who slew the leader of such a host.

III. Second episode: 487—698. (1) 1st scene, 487 —552.
The old retainer of Agamemnon, for whom the farmer went, now arrives, bringing lamb, cheeses, and some good wine for the guests; but, though he can provide these comforts, he is clad, after Euripidean fashion, in rags (v. 501).

On his way he has visited Agamemnon's tomb, and has been surprised by finding recent offerings there. One of these, a lock of hair, he brings with him, and suggests that, since it is like Electra's, it may be from the head of Orestes. She ridicules his surmise; and here follows the well-known satire on the other signs used by Aeschylus for the ‘recognition5.’

(2) 2nd scene, 553 —595.
Orestes and Pylades come out of the cottage. Electra introduces the old man to the strangers as one who formerly saved her brother's life. The old man recognises Orestes by a scar over one eyebrow (v. 573), caused by a fall in childhood, when he and Electra were chasing a fawn. The joy of the recognition is compressed into very narrow limits; but the Chorus sings a short ode (vv. 585—595).

(3) 3rd scene, 596 —698.
Orestes now consults the old man as to a scheme of vengeance. It would be impossible (says the old man) for Orestes to enter the guarded stronghold of the usurpers (615 ff.). But Aegisthus is now in the country, about to sacrifice to the Nymphs. He has no guards with him,—only servants. Orestes must present himself at the sacrifice, and take his chance of being asked to assist. Clytaemnestra is at Argos. But Electra undertakes to send her a message which will bring her to the cottage (v. 652). It was customary that, ten days after the birth of a child, offerings should be made to Eileithyia. The old man must tell Clytaemnestra that her daughter entreats this pious office at her hands, as she herself is unacquainted with the ritual (v. 1125).

The old man promises to take this message. He will also guide Orestes to Aegisthus. The brother and sister pray to the gods. Electra then enters the house, while Orestes sets forth with his guide.

The Chorus recite the legend of the golden lamb, the cause

Second stasimon: 699—746. IV. Third episode: 747— 1146. (1) 1st scene, 747 —958.
of the quarrel between Atreus and Thyestes.

A messenger tells Electra how Orestes has slain Aegisthus. The tyrant welcomed the youth and his comrade (Pylades), who described themselves as Thessalians going to Olympia. Orestes was asked to assist in dismembering a bull; and, while Aegisthus was stooping to scan the omens, felled him from behind. The slaves, on hearing the name of Orestes, acclaimed him as their rightful king.

The Chorus and Electra express their joy. Orestes enters (v. 880) with a ghastly trophy—the body6 of Aegisthus, carried by attendants. Electra expresses her hatred in a long speech over the corpse (vv. 907—956).

Clytaemnestra now approaches from Mycenae (v. 963), in a

(2) 2nd scene, 959 —1146.
chariot, with a retinue. Orestes is seized with shuddering at the thought of slaying his mother. Electra nerves him; reminds him of his duty to his father, and of Apollo's oracle. He enters the cottage—resolved to do the deed, and yet shrinking from it.

The Chorus briefly greet Clytaemnestra with pretended reverence. She bids her Trojan handmaids assist her to alight, but Electra claims the office, remarking that she herself is virtually a slave. Then follows a dispute between mother and daughter as to the fate of Iphigeneia and of Agamemnon (1011—1099). But the queen is presently touched by Electra's misery, and expresses regret for the past. Electra, however, is not softened. Then Clytaemnestra enters the house, to perform the rite on behalf of the (supposed) child. Electra bids her be careful that in the smoky cottage her robes are not soiled—and presently follows her in (v. 1146).

Kommos: 1147— 1237.
The Chorus recall the death of Agamemnon, and foretell the vengeance. In the midst of their chant, Clytaemnestra's dying shriek is heard from within.

Orestes and Electra are now shown (by the eccyclema) standing by the corpse of Clytaemnestra; that of Aegisthus lies near.

Orestes is full of anguish and despair. He describes how he drew his cloak over his eyes as he slew his mother. Electra, on the contrary, is in this scene almost a Lady Macbeth. She tells how she urged her brother on, and even guided his sword when he covered his eyes7. Then she throws a covering over her mother's body.

Exodos: 1238— 1359.
At this moment the Chorus greet the apparition of two bright forms in the air. These are the Dioscuri. Clytaemnestra, they say, has been justly slain, and yet Orestes is defiled. Apollo gave him an unwise oracle; though, as that god is their superior, they will say no more8. Electra is to marry Pylades, and go to Phocis—taking with her the good farmer, who is to receive a large estate (v. 1287). Orestes is to go to Athens, where, under the presidency of Pallas, he will be tried and acquitted; he will then settle in Arcadia9. Aegisthus will be buried by the Argives; Clytaemnestra, by Menelaüs and Helen, who have just arrived at Nauplia from Egypt.

1292— 1359.
The play ends with a most curious dialogue in anapaests between the Dioscuri and the other persons. The Chorus bluntly ask the demigods why they did not avert murder from their sister Clytaemnestra? Well, they reply, the blame rests on Fate, and on the unwise utterances of Phoebus10. Electra then asks why she—to whom no oracle had been given—was involved in the guilt of matricide? The only answer which occurs to them is that she suffers through the hereditary curse upon the whole house of Pelops11. Orestes changes the awkward subject by taking leave of Electra, whom he is not to see again. The Dioscuri have words of comfort for each. And then they warn Orestes to hasten away; already dark forms can be seen approaching, with snaky arms12. The Dioscuri themselves ‘will go with speed to the Sicilian sea, to save the ships13.’

1 Euripides seeks to soften the strangeness of the alliance by vv. 37 f., where the “αὐτουργός” says that his ‘Mycenaean fathers,’ though poor, were “λαμπροὶ ἐς γένος”. No doubt the invention of the “αὐτουργός” was primarily suggested to the poet's mind by his feeling that Aeschylus had violated probability when he made Orestes adventure himself in the lion's (or wolf's) den, by going to the palace. But, if Orestes was not to do that, his meeting with Electra could be managed only by fixing her abode somewhere else, at a safe distance from the palace; and how was this to be done?

2 Vv. 43 ff.: “ἣν οὔποθ᾽ ἁνὴρ ὅδε, σύνοιδέ μοι Κύπρις”, | “ᾔσχυνεν εὐνῇ: παρθένος δ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἐστὶ δή”. | “αἰσχύνομαι γὰρ ὀλβίων ἀνδρῶν τέκνα” | “λαβὼν ὑβρίζειν, οὐ κατάξιος γεγώς”.

3 Though Pylades is with him, Orestes is not supposed to come, directly at least, from Crisa; he is a wandering exile (233 f.), on whose head Aegisthus has set a price (v. 33).

4 This Parodos has been made famous by the story in Lysander 15. After the surrender of Athens in the spring of 404 B.C., the Peloponnesian leaders were deliberating on its fate, when they chanced to hear this ode sung, and were softened towards the city which had produced such a poet. (“παρὰ πότον τινὸς Φωκέως ᾁσαντος ἐκ τῆς Εὐριπίδου Ἠλέκτρας τὴν πάροδον, ἢς ἀρχὴ Ἀγαμέμνονος κόρα..., πάντας ἐπικλασθῆναι κ.τ.λ.”)

5 Eur. El. 524—544. The fact that two locks of hair are “ὁμόπτεροι”—by which she means, ‘of the same colour’—is, she reminds him, no proof of kinship. When he suggests that she should go and see whether the footprints tally with her own, she observes that (1) the soil is too hard to receive a footprint, and (2) a brother's foot is likely to be larger than his sister's. When he lastly suggests that Orestes may have a garment woven for him long ago by his sister, she replies that by this time it must be much too small for him. Dr Verrall (Choephori, pp. xxxv ff.) thinks that the meaning of Aeschylus was subtler than that fixed upon him by Euripides. (1) The resemblance between the hair of Orestes and that of Electra was not in colour merely, but in some Asiatic quality by which the foreign race of Pelops could be distinguished from Achaeans. (2) So as to the footprints: the resemblance meant was not in size, but in the character of the outline. (3) The “ὔφασμα” was not a garment, but a small specimen of Electra's work which the brother had with him. Euripides himself seems to make a slip here. Electra reproves the old man for suggesting that Orestes would have deigned, through fear of Aegisthus, to conceal his visit to the tomb (524—526). That, however, is what Orestes had done (90).

6 M. Patin doubts this, Sophocle, p. 355. But it is proved by v. 959 (“τοῦδε σῶμ̓”), and by 1178 ff. “ἴδετε...δίγονα σώματα”.

7 1224 f. “ΗΛ. ἐγὼ δέ γ᾽ ἐπεκέλευσά σοι”, | “ξίφους τ᾽ ἐφηψάμην ἅμα”.

8 1245 “ἀλλ᾽ ἄναξ γάρ ἐστ᾽ ἐμός”, | “σιγῶ: σοφὸς δ᾽ ὢν οὐκ ἔχρησέ σοι σοφά”.

9 1273 f. “σὲ δ᾽ Ἀρκάδων χρὴ πόλιν ἐπ᾽ Ἀλφειοῦ ῥοαῖς” | “οἰκεῖν Λυκαίου πλησίον σηκώματος”. The city meant is Tegea, where there was a temple of Zeus “Λυκαῖος”, and where the supposed relics of Orestes were found ( Her. 1. 68).

10 1302 “Φοίβου τ᾽ ἄσοφοι γλώσσης ἐνοπαί”.

11 1305 ff. “κοιναὶ πράξεις, κοινοὶ δὲ πότμοι:” | “μία δ᾽ ἀμφοτέρους” | “ἄτη πατέρων διέκναισεν”.

12 1345 “χειροδράκοντες, χρῶτα κελαιναί”. This description of the Erinyes is exactly illustrated by a vase-painting given in Baumeister's Denkmäler p. 1116. They grasp the snakes, which are coiled round their arms, near the head, so that snake and arm are, as it were, one.

13 1347 ff. The play was probably produced at the great Dionysia of March, 413 B.C.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Euripides, Electra, 524
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.68
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