The Electra of Sophocles was a favourite with Greek and Roman readers, as traces in literature indicate1. It was translated into Latin by a poet named Atilius, who lived probably in the early part of the second century B.C.2 This version, though it is unfavourably judged by Cicero3, seems to have acquired some popularity, since, according to Suetonius, it was one of two pieces from which the verses sung at the funeral of Julius Caesar were adapted,—the other being the Armorum Iudicium of Pacuvius4.
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1 Cephisodorus (circ. 340 B.C.), the pupil of Isocrates, alludes to verse 61 of the Electra (Athen. p. 122 C). Machon of Corinth (circ. 270 B.C.), who became eminent at Alexandria as a comic poet, tells a story of which the point turns on the first two verses of the play (Athen. p. 579 B). Dioscorides (circ. 230 B.C.), in a well-known epigram (Anthol. Pal. 7. 37), imagines the tomb of Sophocles surmounted by the figure of an actor, holding in his hand a tragic mask of the type called “ἡ κούριμος παρθένος” (Pollux IV. § 139), i.e., with the hair clipped in sign of mourning. Of this mask, the actor says:— “εἴτε σοι Ἀντιγόνην εἰπεῖν φίλον, οὐκ ἂν ἁμάρτοις, εἴτε καὶ Ἠλέκτραν: ἀμφότεραι γὰρ ἄκρον”. Cicero's judgment (De Fin. 1. 2) is cited below. The Electra of Propertius (3. 6. 5 f.) is the Sophoclean:—Electra, “salvum cum aspexit Oresten, | cuius falsa tenens fleverat ossa soror” ( Soph. El. 1126 ff.).
3 De Fin. 1. 2 “A quibus (viz., the depreciators of Latin literature) tantum dissentio ut, cum Sophocles vel optime scripserit Electram, tamen male conversam Atilii mihi legendam putem.” In the same passage Atilius is described (by a critic whom Cicero quotes) as a ‘ferreus scriptor,’ and in Epp. ad Att. 14. 20, § 3, as ‘poeta durissimus.’ Cicero's brother Quintus wrote an Electra—one of four tragedies which he finished in sixteen days (Ad Qu. Fr. 3. 5, § 7).
4 Iul. Caes. 84.
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