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Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon, Frederic Leighton c. 1869

Electra, also spelt Elektra (/əˈlɛktrə/;[1] Ancient Greek: Ἠλέκτρα, romanizedĒléktrā, lit.'amber'; [ɛː.lék.traː]), is one of the most popular mythological characters in tragedies.[2] She is the main character in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and Eugene O'Neill.[2] She is a vengeful soul in The Libation Bearers, the second play of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy. She plans out an attack with her brother to kill their mother, Clytemnestra.

In psychology, the Electra complex is named after her.


Electra's parents were King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Her sisters were Iphigenia and Chrysothemis, and her brother was Orestes. In the Iliad, Homer is understood to be referring to Electra in mentioning "Laodice" as a daughter of Agamemnon.[3]

Murder of Agamemnon[edit]

Orestes, Electra and Hermes at the tomb of Agamemnon, lucanian red-figure pelike, c. 380–370 BC, Louvre (K 544)

Electra was absent from Mycenae when her father, King Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War. When he came back, he brought with him his war prize, the Trojan princess Cassandra, who had already borne him twin sons. Upon their arrival, Agamemnon and Cassandra were murdered, by either Clytemnestra herself, her lover Aegisthus, or both. Clytemnestra had held a grudge against her husband for sacrificing their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis in exchange for a fair wind so that he could set sail for Troy. In some versions of this story, Iphigenia was saved by the goddess at the last moment.

Eight years later, Electra returned home from Athens at the same time as her brother, Orestes. (Odyssey, iii. 306; X. 542). According to Pindar (Pythia, xi. 25), Orestes was saved either by his old nurse or by Electra from being killed by his mother, and was taken to Phanote on Mount Parnassus, where King Strophius took charge of him. When Orestes was twenty, the Oracle of Delphi ordered him to return home and avenge his father's death.

Murder of Clytemnestra[edit]

According to Aeschylus, Orestes recognized Electra's face before the tomb of Agamemnon, where both had gone to perform rites to the dead, and they arranged how Orestes should accomplish his revenge.[4] Orestes and his friend Pylades, son of King Strophius of Phocis and Anaxibia, killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus (in some accounts with Electra helping).

Before her death, Clytemnestra cursed Orestes. The Erinyes or Furies, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety, fulfill this curse with their torment. They pursue Orestes, urging him to end his life. Electra was not hounded by the Erinyes.

In Iphigeneia in Tauris, Euripides tells the tale somewhat differently. In his version, Orestes was led by the Furies to Tauris on the Black Sea, where his sister Iphigenia was being held. The two met when Orestes and Pylades were brought to Iphigenia to be prepared for sacrifice to Artemis. Iphigeneia, Orestes, and Pylades escaped from Tauris. The Furies, appeased by the reunion of the family, abated their persecution. Electra then married Pylades.[5]

Adaptations of the Electra story[edit]

Electra and Orestes, from an 1897 Stories from the Greek Tragedians, by Alfred Church





  • Elektra (Laodice) is the unnamed protagonist and speaker in Yannis Ritsos's long poem Beneath the Shadow of the Mountain. This poem forms part of the cycle colloquially referred to as the New Oresteia.
  • Electra is the eponymous narrator of her story in the book 'Electra' by Henry Treece. (Bodley Head, 1963: Sphere Books., 1968).
  • Electra on Azalea Path is the title of Sylvia Plath's poem published in 1959, in reference to the Electra Complex
  • A central character in Donna Leon's crime fiction series is a present-day young woman named Elettra (the Italian form of "Electra"), who is highly resourceful and who bears some resemblance to the mythological character.
  • House of Names, by Colm Tóibín. A retelling of the story of Agamemnon's death and the resulting events. (Simon and Schuster, May 9, 2017. 275 pages[6])
  • Elektra, a novel by Jennifer Saint that tells the parallel story of Elektra's life, along with her mother Clytemnestra, and Cassandra of Troy

See also[edit]


  • Evans, Bergen (1970). Dictionary of Mythology. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-20848-3.
  • Vellacott, Philip (1963). Euripides: Medea and Other Plays. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044129-8.
  • Fagles, Robert (1977). Aeschylus: The Oresteia. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-044333-2.


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2000) [1990]. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (new ed.). Harlow, England: Longman. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-582-36467-7.
  2. ^ a b Evans (1970), p. 79
  3. ^ "Agamemnon" in Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, as quoted at eNotes.com
  4. ^ Fagles (1977), p. 188
  5. ^ Luke Roman, Monica Roman, Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology, Infobase Publishing, 2010, p.143.
  6. ^ Toibin, Colm (9 May 2017). House of Names: A Novel. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781501140211.

External links[edit]