Electra (Sophocles)

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This article is about the play by Sophocles. For other uses, see Electra (disambiguation).
Electra
Electra and Orestes - Project Gutenberg eText 14994.png
Electra and Orestes by Alfred Church
Written by Sophocles
Chorus Women of Mycenae
Characters Orestes
Electra
Chrysothemis
old man
Clytemnestra
Aegisthus
Mute Pylades
handmaid
attendants
Place premiered City Dionysia
Original language Ancient Greek
Genre Tragedy
Setting Mycenae, before the palace of the Pelopidae

Electra or Elektra (Ancient Greek: Ἠλέκτρα, Ēlektra) is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes (409 BC) and the Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC) lead scholars to suppose that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career.

Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan war, it is based around the character of Electra, and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

Background[edit]

When King Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War with his new concubine, Cassandra, his wife Clytemnestra (who has taken Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus as a lover) kills them. Clytemnestra believes the murder was justified, since Agamemnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia before the war, as commanded by the gods. Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, rescued her young, twin brother Orestes from her mother by sending him to Strophius of Phocis. The play begins years later when Orestes has returned as a grown man with a plot for revenge, as well as to claim the throne.

Storyline[edit]

Orestes arrives with his friend Pylades, son of Strophius, and a pedagogue, i.e. tutor (an old attendant of Orestes, who took him from Electra to Strophius). Their plan is to have the tutor announce that Orestes has died in a chariot accident, and that two men (really Orestes and Pylades) are arriving shortly to deliver an urn with his remains. Meanwhile Electra continues to mourn the death of her father Agamemnon, holding her mother Clytemnestra responsible for his murder. When Electra is told of the death of Orestes her grief is doubled, but is to be short-lived.

After a choral ode Orestes arrives, carrying the urn supposedly containing his ashes. He does not recognize Electra, nor she him. He gives her the urn and she delivers a moving lament over it, unaware that her brother is in fact standing alive next to her. Now realizing the truth, Orestes reveals his identity to his emotional sister. She is overjoyed that he is alive, but in their excitement they nearly reveal his identity, and the tutor comes out from the palace to urge them on. Orestes and Pylades enter the house and slay Clytemnestra. As Aegisthus returns home, they quickly put her corpse under a sheet and present it to him as the body of Orestes. He lifts the veil to discover who it really is, and Orestes then reveals himself. They escort Aegisthus off set to be killed at the hearth, the same location Agamemnon was slain. The play ends here, before the death of Aegisthus is announced.

Similar works[edit]

The story of Orestes' revenge was told at the end of the lost epic Nostoi, and the events are also brought up in the Odyssey. It was a popular subject in Greek tragedies, and there are surviving versions from all three of the great Athenian tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The first is the Libation Bearers in the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus (458 BC). Euripides wrote an Electra play. He tells a very different version of this same basic story as Sophocles despite their being written in close proximity and around the same time.

Commentaries[edit]

Translations[edit]

  • Lewis Campbell, 1883 - verse
  • Richard C. Jebb, 1904 - prose: full text
  • Francis Storr, 1912 - verse
  • Francis Fergusson, 1938 - verse
  • E.F. Watling 1953 - prose
  • David Grene, 1957 - verse
  • H. D. F. Kitto, 1962 - verse
  • J. H. Kells, 1973 - verse (?)
  • Frank McGuinness, 1997 - verse
  • Henry Taylor, 1998 - verse
  • Anne Carson, 2001 - verse
  • Jenny March, 2001 - prose (acting edition)
  • Tom McGrath, 2003 - prose; full text
  • M. MacDonald and J. M. Walton, 2004 - verse
  • G. Theodoridis, 2006 - prose: full title
  • Eric Dugdale, 2008 - verse (acting edition)
  • Timberlake Wertenbaker, 2009
  • Nick Payne, 2011

Adaptations[edit]

External links[edit]