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It is in this closing scene, where the Dioscuri are cross-
Drift of Euripides —adverse to Apollo.
examined, that the drift of Euripides is most patent. The dialogue is equivalent to an epilogue by the dramatist, who, in effect, addresses the audience as follows:—‘I have now told you this story in my own way—adhering to the main lines of the tradition, but reconciling it, as far as possible, with reason. And now, having done my best with it, I feel bound to add that it remains a damning indictment against Apollo, and a scandal to the moral sense of mankind.’

Euripides could not relieve Orestes from the guilt of matri-

His Orestes and Electra.
cide; tradition forbad; but he has sought to modify that guilt. He has divided the responsibility between Orestes and Electra in such a manner as to make the sister appear the more coldblooded of the two. It is she who plans the snare into which her mother falls. While Orestes wavers and falters, Electra never hesitates for a moment. She unflinchingly bears her part in the murder, when her brother is fain to cover his eyes while he strikes. Yet (as is brought out in the dialogue with the Dioscuri) she had not his excuse. No oracle had been given to her. Her ruling motive appears as an inflexible hatred of her mother. The Electra of the two other dramatists has in deed that feeling, but the noble and gentle side of her character is far more prominent1. The general result, then, is this:— Euripides gives up Apollo, who told Orestes to commit matricide, as indefensible; while, by a skilful contrast with a more odious person, he contrives to increase our commiseration for Orestes, the hapless instrument of the god.

General estimate of the play.
The play was unduly depreciated by Schlegel, and a reaction has long since made itself felt2. Yet a critic who is second to none, either in appreciation for the genius of Euripides or in power of interpreting it,—Professor von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff,—has said that, when one passes from Aeschylus to the Euripidean Electra, it is like turning from Goethe to Heine, —not merely to a less elevated strain, but rather to a wholly different tone,—sordid, trivial, and (from a Greek point of view) blasphemous3. We may recognise to the utmost the bold originality of Euripides, the inventive power, and the skilful execution; but his Electra, viewed as a Greek tragedy, cannot be pronounced a success.

Did it precede and influence the Electra of Sophocles?

1 The Electra of Sophocles, standing outside of the house, hears the shriek of Clytaemnestra, whom Orestes is at that moment slaying within; and exclaims, “παῖσον, εἰ σθένεις, διπλῆν” (v. 1415). That is, to modern feeling, the most repellent trait which Sophocles has given to her. But it is as nothing in comparison with the part which the Euripidean Electra bears in the actual deed; and it is also an isolated utterance at a moment of extreme tension.

2 Among the earlier exponents of this reaction may be mentioned Hartung (Euripides restitutus, vol. II. pp. 305 ff.), and Halévy (Grèce Tragique, vol. I. pp. 90 ff.). See also Patin, Sophocle, p. 340.

3 Hermes, vol. XVIII. p. 233. Es ist als käme man von Goethe zu Heine, als läse man nicht sowohl eine geringere Poesie, als eine Umsetzung ins Meskine Frivole Blasphemische.

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