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The cause which she holds sacred is elaborately ar-
raigned and defended in the scene with Clytaemnestra. Sophocles portrays the queen in a manner very distinct from that of Aeschylus; a difference due not merely to the general tendencies of the poets, but also to the dramatic setting. Aeschylus created his Clytaemnestra in the Agamemnon, where she is seen just before and just after the murder. There is a fascination in her dreadful presence of mind; what an adamantine purpose can be felt under the fluent eloquence with which she welcomes her husband1! How fearful, again, is her exultation in the deed, when she tells the Argive elders that she rejoices in the blood upon her robe ‘as a cornfield in the dews of spring2,’ or when she imagines Iphigeneia advancing to greet Agamemnon in the shades, and kissing him3! Sophocles had to show Clytaemnestra, not at a crisis of action, but as she lived and felt in the years which followed her crime. Electra's fortitude was to be illustrated by withstanding and denouncing her. The Clytaemnestra of Aeschylus was ill-suited to such a situation. If she had been confronted with a daughter who impugned her deed, scorn and hatred would have flashed from her; but she would not have argued her case in detail, and then listened to a reply. The almost superhuman force of that dark soul would have been fatal to the dramatic effect of any woman opposed to her. In the Choephori Aeschylus has taken care that Electra shall have no dialogue with Clytaemnestra. Sophocles clearly felt this. The Clytaemnestra whom he draws is strong and wicked, but her temperament is not one which separates her from ordinary humanity. She feels at least a pang of maternal grief when she first hears that Orestes is dead4, even though a little later she can address heartless taunts to Electra. She has not the Aeschylean queen's cynical contempt for public opinion; thus she complains that Electra misrepresents her, and seeks to justify herself5. When she meets her daughter in argument, she is forcible, but the better cause has the advantage which it deserves6. A desire to avenge Iphigeneia is the plea which she puts forward, and which Electra refutes; but the women of Mycenae had already given voice to the popular belief that guilty love was the true motive of the crime7. Sophocles has thus avoided investing Clytaemnestra with a tragic interest which would have required that her punishment, rather than her paramour's, should form the climax.

The Chorus.
The function of the Chorus is naturally to some extent the same as in the Choephori,—viz., to sympathise with Electra and to assert the moral law: but there is a difference. The Trojan slave-women of the Aeschylean Chorus hate the tyrants and are friendly to Electra's cause, but have no further interest in the vengeance. The Sophoclean Chorus consists of freeborn women, belonging to Mycenae, but external to the palace. They represent a patriotic sentiment in the realm at large, favourable to the son of Agamemnon, and hostile to the usurper. The city is sympathetic with the family8.

1 Ag. 855—913.

2 ib. 1390 ff.

3 ib. 1555 ff.

4 El. 766 ff. Contrast her hypocritical rhetoric at the corresponding moment in Aesch. Cho. 691 ff.

5 Soph. El. 520 ff.

6 ib. 516—609.

7 ib. 197 “δόλος <*>ν φράσας, ἔρος κτείνας”.

8 Cp. the words of the Chorus in v. 1413, “ πόλις, γενεὰ κ.τ.λ.” In v. 1227 Electra addresses them as “πολίτιδες”. Their feeling towards Orestes as the heir is seen in 160 ff.: cp. too 251 ff. (n.).

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hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
    • Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 855
    • Aeschylus, Libation Bearers, 691
    • Sophocles, Electra, 520
    • Sophocles, Electra, 766
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