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a poor farmer in the countryside ELECTRA: daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, married to the Peasant ORESTES: son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra PYLADES: a friend of Orestes CHORUS: Argive country women OLD MAN: an old servant of Agamemnon's who rescued Orestes MESSENGER: one of Orestes' servants CLYTAEMNESTRA: mother of Orestes and Electra. DIOSCOURI (Castor and Polydeuces): divine twin brothers of Helen and
Clytaemnestra SERVANTS: attendants for Orestes, Pylades, and Clytaemnestra
scene is set in the countryside of Argos, in front of the Peasant's hut.
It is just before dawn.]
PEASANT:O this old land, these streams of Inachus,
the place from where king Agamemnon once
set out with a thousand ships on his campaign
and sailed off over to the land of Troy.
He killed Priam, who ruled in Ilion
and took the famous town of Dardanus.* Then he returned home, back here to
and set up in high temples piles of loot
from those barbarians. Yes, over there
things went well for him. But then he was
in his own home, thanks to the treachery
of his wife, Clytaemnestra, at the hand
of Thyestes' son Aegisthus. So he died,
leaving behind Tantalus' ancient sceptre.* Aegisthus rules this country now.
Tyndareus' daughter, the dead king's wife.
As for those he left at home behind him
when he sailed to Troy, his son Orestes
and his daughter, too, Electra—well,
Aegisthus was about to kill Orestes,
but an old servant of his father's took him
and handed him to Strophius to bring up
in the land of Phocis. But Electra
stayed on in her father's house. When she
her young maturity, the suitors came,
the foremost ones throughout the land of Greece,
seeking marriage. Aegisthus was afraid
she'd bear a child to some important man,
who'd then seek revenge for Agamemnon.
So he wouldn't give her to a bridegroom,
but kept her in his home. Even this choice
filled him with fear, in case she'd give birth
to a noble child in secret. So he planned
to kill her. But though her heart is
her mother saved her from Aegisthus' hands.
She'd an excuse for murdering her husband,
but she feared that if she killed her children
she'd be totally disgraced.*
And that's why
Aegisthus came up with the following scheme—
he offered gold to anyone who'd kill
Agamemnon's son, who'd left the country
as an exile, and he gave Electra
to me to be my wife. My ancestors
were from Mycenae, so in this matter
at least I don't bear any of the blame.
My family was a good one but not rich,
and that destroys one's noble ancestry.
He gave her to a man who had no power.
In that way his fear could be diminished.
If some important fellow married her,
he might have woken up the sleeping blood
of Agamemnon, and then at some point
justice would have come here for Aegisthus.
But I've never had sex with her in bed—
and Cypris knows I'm right in this—and
Electra's still a virgin.*
I'd be ashamed
to take the daughter of a wealthy man
and violate the girl, when I'm not born
her equal. As for unfortunate Orestes,
who's now, according to what people say,
a relative of mine, I'm sorry for him,
if he should ever come back to Argos
and see his sister's wretched marriage.
Any man who says I'm just an idiot 
to bring a young girl here into my home
and then not touch her should know he's a fool,
measuring wisdom with a useless standard.
enters from the hut. She is carrying a water jug]
O pitch black night, nurse of golden stars,
Through you I walk towards the river streams,
holding up this jar I carry on my head.
This is not a task I am compelled to do,
but I will manifest to all the gods
Aegisthus' insolence, and I will send
into this great sky my sorrowing cries
out to my father. For my own mother, 
that murderous daughter of Tyndareus,
in her desire to please her husband,
has cast me from my home. With Aegisthus
she's given birth to other children and thinks
Orestes and myself of no account 80
inside her house.
You unfortunate girl,
why do you work like this to give me help,
carrying out these chores? In earlier days,
you were nobly raised. Why don't you stop,
especially when I mention this to you?
You're kind to me, and I consider you
the equal of the gods in that. For now,
when I'm in trouble, you don't demean me.
When human beings discover someone there
to soothe their miseries, as I have you, 90
then fate is doing something great for them.
So I should help you carry out the work
and give you some relief, to the extent
my strength permits, without you asking me,
so you can bear the load more easily.
There's work enough for you to do outside.
I should take care of things within the house.
It's nice when someone working out of doors
comes back in and finds things neat and tidy.
Well, if you think you should do it, then go.
The springs are no great distance from the house.
Once daylight comes, I'll drive the oxen out,
go to the farmlands, and then sow the fields.
No matter how much his mouth talks of gods, 
a lazy man can never gather up
the stuff he needs to live without hard work.
leaves for the spring, and the Peasant goes back to the house. Enter
Orestes and Pylades, with two servants]
among men I think of you
as a loving host, foremost in my trust.
For you're the only one of all my friends
who has dealt honourably with Orestes,
as I've been coping with these dreadful things
I've had to put up with from Aegisthus,
who killed my father . . . he and my mother,
that destructive woman. I've come here,
from god's mysterious shrine to Argive lands,
to avenge the killing of my father,
by murdering the ones who butchered him.
Last night I visited my father's tomb.
where I wept and started sacrificing
by cutting off a lock of hair. And then,
on the altar I made an offering of blood
from a sheep I slaughtered.
who control this land don't know I'm here.
I've not set foot within the city walls.
No. I've come out to these border regions
for two reasons which act on me as one—
so I may run off to another land
if someone sees me and knows who I am
and to find my sister, who's living here,
so they say, joined in marriage to a man, 130
no virgin any more. I could meet her, 
make her my accomplice in the murder,
and in this way get clear information
about what's happening inside the walls.
But now that Dawn is raising her bright eyes,
let's move aside to some place off the path.
We'll see a ploughman or a servant woman,
then ask them if my sister lives near here.
In fact, I can see a household servant—
her shaven head holds up a water jug.*140
Let sit and ask this female slave some questions,
Pylades—see if we can get some word
about the business which has brought us here.
Pylades move back. Electra enters, on her way back from the spring.
She does not see them at first. She starts to go through her ritual of
You must step quickly now—
it's time to move—
keep going, lamenting as you go.
Alas for me! Yes, for me!
I am Agamemnon's child.
I was born from Clytaemnestra,
Tyndareus' detested daughter. 150
Miserable Electra—that's the name
the citizens have given me.
Alas, alas! My wretched work 
and this detested way of life!
O father, you now lie in Hades,
Agamemnon, thanks to that murder
committed by Aegisthus and your wife.
Come now, raise the same lament,
seize the joy of prolonged weeping.
You must step quickly now— 160
it's time to move—
keep going, lamenting as you go.
Alas for me! Yes, for me!
O my poor brother, in what town, 
in what household are you roaming,
abandoning your abject sister
to such painful circumstance
in her ancestral home? Come to me,
in my unhappy wretchedness.
Be my deliverer from pain— 170
ah Zeus, Zeus—
be an avenger for my father,
the hateful shedding of his blood,
once the wanderer sets foot in Argos.
Take this water pitcher from my head
and set it down, so I may wail
my night laments, cries for my father,
wild shrieks, a song of death,
your death, my father. For you
beneath the earth, I cry out 180
chants of sorrow—day after day
I keep up this constant grieving,
ripping my dear skin with my fingernails,
while my hand beats my shaven head—
all this because you're dead.
Ah yes, mutilate your face, 
and, just as a swan sings out
beside the streaming river,
crying to its beloved father
who died ensnared within the web
of a deceitful net, so I cry out
for you, unhappy father,
your body bathing in that final bath,
your most pitiable couch of death.*
Ah me . . . ah me!
that bitter axe that hacked you,
father, the bitter scheme
of your return from Troy!
Your wife failed to welcome you
with victor's wreath and ribbons.
No. Instead she gave you up
to that disgraceful mutilation
by Aegisthus' two-edged sword
and got herself a treacherous mate.
the Chorus of Argive women]
O Electra, daughter of Agamemnon,
I've come here to your rural dwelling place.
A man's arrived, a milk-drinking man—
he's come here from Mycenae,
a man who walks the mountains.
He says the Argives have proclaimed
a sacrifice two days from now,
and every young bride has to go
to Hera's shrine in the procession.
My sad heart is beating fast, my friends,
but not for festive ornaments
or necklaces made out of gold.
I won't stand with the Argive girls
in choruses or beat my foot
as I whirl in the dance.
I pass my days in tears— 220
in my unhappiness my care
day after day is with my tears.
See if this filthy hair and tattered clothes
suit Agamemnon's royal child
or Troy, which bears the memory
of how my father seized the place.
The goddess is great. So come, 
borrow thick woven clothes from me
and put them on, with gold as well,
graceful ornaments—to favour me.
Do you think that with your tears
you can control your enemies
if you have no respect for gods?
My child, you'll find yourself a gentler life
by honouring the gods with prayers,
and not with sorrowful laments.
No god is listening to the cries
of this ill-fated girl or to the murder
of my father all that time ago.
Alas for that slaughtered man
and for the wanderer still alive
dwelling somewhere in a foreign land,
a wretched vagabond at a slave's hearth,
son of such a famous father.
And I am living in a peasant's house,
wasting my soul up on the mountain tops
in exile from my father's house.
My mother, married to another man,
lives in a bed all stained with blood.
Your mother's sister, Helen, brought the Greeks
so many troubles and your house, as well.*
and Pylades begin to move forward. Electra catches sight of them]
ELECTRA Alas, women, I'll end my lamentation.
Some strangers hiding there beside the house,
at the altar, are rising up from ambush.
Let's run off—escape these trouble makers.
You run along the path. I'll go in the
Stay here, poor girl. Don't fear my hand.
O Phoebus Apollo, I beseech you—
don't let me die!
And let me cut down
others I hate much more than you.
Don't put your hands on those you should not
There's no one I have more right to touch.
Then why wait beside my house in ambush,
with your sword drawn?
Stay here and listen.
Soon you'll be agreeing with me.
I'll stand here.
I'm yours, anyway, since you're the stronger.
I've come to bring you news about your brother.
Dearest of friends—is he alive or dead?
Alive. I'd like you to have good news
My you find happiness as your reward
for those most welcome words.
That's a blessing
I'd like to give to both of us together.
My unhappy brother—in
does he live in wretched exile?
He drifts around,
not settling for a single city's customs.
He's not lacking daily necessities?
No, those he has. But a man in exile
is truly powerless.
What's the message
you've come here to bring from him?
to see if you're alive and, if you are,
what your life is like.
Surely you can see,
first of all, how my body's shrivelled?
So worn with pain it makes me pity you.
And my hair cut off, shorn with a razor?
Perhaps your dead father and your brother
are tearing at you.
Alas! Who is there
whom I love more than those two men?
Ah yes, and what do you think you are
to your own brother?
He's not here,
and so no present friend to me.
Why live here,
so distant from the city?
it's a deadly state.
I pity your brother.
Did you marry someone from Mycenae?
No one my father ever hoped to give me.
Tell me. I'll listen and inform your
I live in his house, far from the city.
This is a house fit for a ditch digger
or for a herdsman.
He's poor but decent,
and he respects me.
Your husband's respect—
what does that mean?
Never once has he dared
to fondle me in bed.
Does he hold back
from some religious scruple, or does he think
you're unworthy of him?
No. He believes
it's not right to insult my ancestors.
But how could he not be overjoyed
at making such a marriage?
he thinks the person who gave me away
had no right to do it.
He fears that someday he'll be punished
He is afraid of that,
but he's a virtuous man, as well.
you've been talking of a noble man
who must be treated well.
Yes, if the man
who's far away from here right now comes back.
And your mother, the one who bore you,
how did she take this?
Women give their love
to their husbands, stranger, not their children.
Why did Aegisthus shame you in this way?
By giving me to such a man, he planned
the children I produced would not be strong.
Clearly so that you would not bear children
who could take revenge?
Yes, that's his plan.
I hope he'll
have to make that up to me!
You're a virgin—does your mother's husband
No. We hide that from him with our
These women listening to what we're saying
are friends of yours?
Yes. They'll keep well concealed
my words and yours.
If he came to Argos
what could Orestes do in all of this?
You have to ask? What a shameful question!
Isn't now a crucial time?
When he comes,
how should he kill his father's murderers?
By daring what my father's enemies
dared to do to him.
And would you dare
to help him kill your mother?
Yes, I would—
with the very axe that killed our father!
Shall I tell him this? Are you quite
Once I've shed my mother's blood, let me die!
Ah, if only Orestes were close by
and could hear this!
Stranger, if I saw him,
I would not know him.
That's not surprising.
You were youngsters when you separated.
Only one of my friends would recognize him.
The man who they say saved him from murder
by stealing him away?
Yes. An old man—
my father's servant long ago.
when he died, did he get a burial tomb?
Once he'd been thrown out of the house,
he found what he could find.
Alas! Those words of yours . . .
Awareness even of a stranger's pains 350
gnaws away at mortal men. Tell me this—
once I know, I can carry to your brother
the joyless story which he has to hear.
Pity does not exist with ignorance,
only with those who know. Too much
is not without its dangers for wise men.
My heart's desires are the same as his.
Out here, far from the city, I don't know
the troubles there. Now I want to hear
I will speak out, if that's acceptable—
and it is appropriate to talk with friends
about the burden of my situation
and my father's. And I beg you, stranger,
since you've the one who prompted me to speak,
tell Orestes of our troubles, mine and his.
First of all, there's the sort of clothes I wear,
kept here in a stall, weighed down with filth.
Then there's the style of house I'm living in,
now I've been thrown out of my royal home.
I have to work hard at the loom myself
to make my clothes or else I'd have to go
with my body naked—just do without,
bringing water from the springs all by myself,
with no share in the ritual festivals,
no place in the dance. Since I'm a virgin,
I keep married women at a distance
and felt shamed by Castor, who courted me,
his relative, before he joined the gods.* Meanwhile my mother sits there on her
with loot from Phrygia and Asian slaves,
my father's plunder, standing by her chair,
their Trojan dresses pinned with golden brooches.
My father's blood still stains the palace
it's rotted black—while the man who killed him
climbs in my father's chariot and drives out,
proud to brandish in his blood-stained hands
the very sceptre which my father used
to rule the Greeks. Agamemnon's grave
has not been honoured. It's had no
no myrtle branch, its altar unadorned.
But this splendid husband of my mother,
so they say, when he's soaking wet with drink,
jumps on the grave and starts pelting pebbles
at the stone memorial to my father,
and dares to cry out these words against us:
"Where's your son Orestes? Is he
to fight well for you and defend this tomb?"
And so absent Orestes is insulted.
But I beg you, stranger, take back this news.
Many are summoning him—I speak for them—
my hands and tongue, my grief-stricken heart,
my shaven head, and Agamemnon, too.
It would be disgraceful if his father
could destroy the Phrygians and yet he,
one against one, could not destroy a man,
when he's young and from a nobler father.
the Peasant, returning from the fields]
Look! I see a man—I mean your husband—
he's left his work. He's coming to the
Hold on. Who are these strangers I see
at the door? And why have they come here,
to a farmer's gate? What do they want from
It's shameful for a woman to be standing
with young men.
My dear friend, don't suspect me.
You'll hear what's going on. These
have come here from Orestes—they're messengers
with news for me. But forgive him,
for those words he said.
What are they saying?
Is the man still gazing at the daylight?
That's what they say, and I believe their news.
Does he still recall your father's troubles
and your own?
We can hope about those things,
but a man in exile has no power.
What message from Orestes did they bring
when they came here?
He sent them out as spies
to look into my troubles.
They're seeing some,
and I suppose you're telling them the rest.
They know—there's no shortage of them.
PEASANT Surely we should have opened up our doors
long before this point. Go inside the
In exchange for your good news, you'll find 430
the hospitality my house affords.
You servants, take the stuff inside the house. 
Do not refuse me—you are friends of ours
and you've come from someone who's a friend.
Even if I'm poor, I will not behave
like someone with an ill-bred character.
By the gods, is this the man pretending
you and he are married, who does not wish
to bring dishonour to Orestes?
he's the one who in my miserable state 440
they call my husband.
Well, nothing is precise
when it comes to how a man is valued—
men's natures are confusing. Before this,
I've seen a man worth nothing, yet he had 
a noble father, and evil parents
with outstanding children. I've seen famine
in a rich man's thinking and great spirit
in a poor man's body. So how can we
sort out these things and judge correctly?
By riches? That would be a wretched test.
By those who have nothing? But poverty
is a disease. Through need it teaches men
to act in evil ways. So should I turn
to warfare? But when facing hostile spears,
who can testify which men are virtuous?
Best to dismiss such things, leave them to
This man is not great among the Argives,
nor puffed up by his family's reputation.
He's one of the crowd, yet has proved himself
an excellent man. So stop your foolishness,
those of you who keep wandering around
full of misguided ways of measuring worth.
Why not judge how valuable men are
by their behaviour and their company?
Men like this one govern homes and cities well,
while those with muscles and with vacant minds
are mere decorations in the market place.
In fights with spears the strong arm holds its
no better than the weak one does—such things
depend on a man's nature and his courage. 470
But because the man who is both absent
and yet present here is worthy of it—
I mean Agamemnon's son, for whose sake
we've come here—let's accept the lodging
in this home. You slaves, go inside the
May a poor but willing man be my host
rather than a man with wealth. I applaud
how this man has received me in his home,
although I could have hoped your brother,
enjoying prosperity, might lead me in 480
to a successful house. Perhaps he'll come.
The oracles of Loxias are strong.
But I dismiss mere human prophecy .*
Orestes, and their servants go into the house]
Now, Electra, our hearts are warm with joy—
more than they were before. Your fortunes
may perhaps advance, although that's difficult,
and end up standing in a better place.
Reckless man, you know how poor your house is—
why did you offer your hospitality
to people so much greater than yourself?
What's wrong? If they're as well bred as
won't they be just as happy with small men
as with the great?
Well, you're one of the small—
and since you've now committed this mistake,
go to that dear old servant of my father's.
He's been expelled from town and tends his flocks
by the Tanaus river, which cuts a line
between lands of Argos and of Sparta.
Tell him this—now these people have arrived,
he must come and provide our guests some food. 500
He'll be happy to do that and offer
prayers up to the gods, after he finds out
the child he rescued once is still alive.
From my mother and my ancestral home
we'd get nothing—we'd bring them bitter news
if that cruel-hearted woman were to learn
Orestes is still living.
All right then,
I'll take that message to the old man,
if that's what you think. But you should go
inside the house as soon as possible
to get things ready there. If she want to,
surely a woman can find many things
to make into a meal. Within the house
there's still enough to fill them up with food
for one day at least. It's at times like
when my thoughts can't sort out how to manage,
I think of the great power money has
for giving things to strangers and paying
to save a body whenever it falls sick.
The food we need each day doesn't come to much, 520
and, rich or poor, all men eat their fill
with the same amount of food.
Peasant and Electra move into the house, leaving the Chorus alone on stage]
famous ships which once sailed off to Troy
to the beat of countless oars,
leading the Nereids in their dance,
while the flute-loving dolphin leapt
and rolled around your dark-nosed prows,
conveying Achilles, Thetis's son,
whose feet had such a nimble spring,
and Agamemnon, too, off to Troy, 530
to the river banks of the Simois.*
Leaving Euboea's headland points,
Nereids carried from Hephaestus' forge
his labours on the golden shield and armour,
up to Pelion, along the wooded slopes
of sacred Ossa, where the nymphs keep watch,
and searched those maidens out,
in places the old horseman trained
sea-dwelling Thetis' son 
to be a shining light for Hellas, 540
swift runner for the sons of Atreus.*
I heard from a man who'd come from Troy
and reached the harbour in Nauplia
that on the circle of your splendid shield,
O son of Thetis, were these images,
a terror to the Phyrgians—
on the rim around the edge
was Perseus in his flying sandals 
holding up above the sea
the Gorgon's head and severed throat,
accompanied by Zeus' messenger
Hermes, Maia's country child.*
In the centre of the shield
the circle of the sun shone out
with his team of winged horses.
In the heavens stars were dancing,
the Pleides and Hyades,
a dreadful sight for Hector's eyes.
On his helmet made of hammered gold
in their talons sphinxes clutched
their prey seduced by song.
And on the breastplate breathing fire
a lioness with claws raced at top speed
eying a young horse of Pirene.*
And on his murderous sword
four horses galloped—above their backs
clouds of black dust billowed.
Evil-minded daughter of Tyndareus, 
your bed mate killed the king
of spear-bearing warriors like these.
And for that death the heavenly gods
will one day pay you back with death.
Yes, one day I will see your blood,
a lethal flow beneath your throat,
sliced through with sword of iron.
the Old Man.
Electra comes out of the house during his speech]
So where is she? Where is my young lady,
my mistress—the child
whom I once raised? How steep this path is
up to her place for a withered old man
going uphill on foot! Still, they are my
so I must drag my doubled-over spine
and tottering legs up here. O my daughter—
now I can see you there before the house—
I've come bringing here from my own livestock
this newborn lamb taken from its mother,
garlands, cheeses I got from the barrel,
and this ancient treasure from Dionysus—
it smells so rich! There's not much of it,
but still it's sweet to add a tankard of it
to a weaker drink. Go now. Let
take these things for guests inside the house.
I want to use a rag, a piece of clothing,
to wipe my eyes. I've drenched them with weeping.
Why are your eyes so soaking wet, old man?
I'm not reminding you about our troubles
after all this time? Or are you moaning
about Orestes in his wretched exile
and about my father, whom you once held
in your arms and raised, though your friends and
derived no benefits from it?
it didn't help us. But still, there's one
I could not endure. So I went to his tomb,
a detour on the road. I was alone,
so I fell down and wept, then opened up
the bag of wine I'm bringing for the guests,
poured a libation, and spread out there
some myrtle sprigs around the monument.
But then I saw an offering on the altar,
a black-fleeced sheep—there was blood as well,
shed not long before, and some sliced off curls,
locks of yellow hair. My child, I wondered
what man would ever dare approach that tomb.
It surely wasn't any man from Argos.
Perhaps you brother has come back somehow,
in secret, and as he came, paid tribute
to his father's tomb. You should go inspect
the lock of hair, set it against your own—
see if the colour of the severed hair
matches yours. Those sharing common blood
from the same father will by nature have
many features which are very similar.
What you've just said, old man, is not worth
You've no sense at all, if you think my brother,
a brave man, would sneak into this country
in secret, because he fears Aegisthus.
And how can two locks of hair look alike,
when one comes from a well-bred man and grew
in wrestling schools, whereas the other one
was shaped by woman's combing? That's
Old man, with many people you could find 630
hair which looked alike, although by birth
they're not the same.
Then stand in the footprint,
my child, and see if the impression there
is the same size as your foot.
How could a foot
make any imprint on such stony ground?
if it could, a brother's print
would not match his sister's foot in size.
The man's is bigger.
If your brother's come,
isn't there a piece of weaving from your loom
by which you might know his identity?
What about the weaving he was wrapped in
when I rescued him from death?
Don't you know
at the time Orestes left this country
I was still young? And if I'd made his
when he was just a child, how could he have
the same ones now, unless the robes he wore
increased in size as his body grew? No.
Either some stranger, pitying the grave,
cut his hair, or someone slipped past the guard.*
Where are your guests? I'd like to see them
and ask about your brother.
and Pylades come out of the house]
Here they are—
coming outside in a hurry.
They're well born,
but that may be misleading. Many men
of noble parentage are a bad lot.
But still I'll say welcome to these strangers.
Welcome to you, old man. So, Electra,
this ancient remnant of a man—to whom
among your friends does he belong?
this man is the one who raised my father.
What are you saying? Is this the man
who stole away your brother?
He's the one
who rescued him, if he's still alive.
Why's he inspecting me, as if checking
some clear mark stamped on a piece of silver?
Is he comparing me with someone?
It could be he's happy looking at you
as someone who's a comrade of Orestes.
Well, yes, Orestes is a friend of mine,
but why's he going in circles round me?
Stranger, as I watch him, I'm surprised as well.
O my daughter Electra, my lady—
pray to the gods.
What should I pray for,
something here or something far away?
To get yourself a treasure which you love,
something the god is making manifest.
Watch this then. I'm summoning the gods.
Is that what you mean, old man?
Now, my child,
look at this man, the one you love the most.
I've been observing for a long time now
to see if your mind is working as it should.
I'm not thinking straight if I see your brother?
What are you talking about, old man,
making such an unexpected claim?
I'm looking at Orestes, Agamemnon's son.
What mark do you see which will convince me?
A scar along his eyebrow. He fell one day
and drew blood. He was in his father's
chasing down a fawn with you.
What are you saying?
I do see the mark of that fall. . . .
Then why delay
embracing the one you love the most?
No. I'll no longer hesitate—my heart
has been won over by that sign of yours.
moves over to Orestes and they embrace]
You've appeared at last. I'm holding you .
beyond my hopes.
After all this time,
I'm embracing you.
I never expected this.
This was something I, too, could not hope for.
Are you really him?
Yes. Your sole ally.
If in my net I can catch the prey I'm after . . .
But I'm confident. For if wrongful acts
overpower justice, then no longer 700
should we put any faith in gods.
You've come, ah, you've come, this
day we've waited for so long.
You've shone out and lit a beacon
for the city, the man who long ago
went out in exile from his father's house
to roam around in misery.
Now a god, my friend, some god 
brings victory. Lift up your hands,
lift up your words, send prayers 710
up to the gods for your success,
good fortune for your brother
as he goes in the city.
Well, I've had the loving joys of welcome.
In time I'll give them back to you again.
You, old man, you've come at a good time.
Tell me this—what should I do to repay
my father's murderer and my mother,
his partner in this sacrilegious marriage? 720
Do I have any friends who'll help in Argos?
Or are they all gone, just like my fortune?
Who can I make my ally? Do we meet
during the day or at night? What pathway
do I turn towards to fight my enemies?
My child, in your bad times you've got no
It's a great benefit to find someone
who'll share with you the good times and the bad.
But since, as far as your friends can see,
you and the foundations of your house 730
have been wiped out completely and you've left
no hope for them, then pay attention to me.
Know this—the only things which you possess 
to win back your father's home and city
are your own hands and your good fortune.
How does this advance your mother's murder?
When she learns I've been through birthing pains,
she'll come here.
Why would she do that? My child,
do you think she cares for you?
Yes. And she'll weep
because my child is born so common.
But come back to the point of what you're saying.
If she comes, then clearly she'll be killed.
Well, she'll come to your house, right to the
So it won't take much for her to turn aside
and go to Hades, will it?
Once I see that,
then let me die!
But first of all, old man,
you must lead my brother . . . .
To where Aegisthus
is now offering gods his sacrifice.
. . . then go to my mother. Tell her my
I'll do it so the very words will seem
as if they came from your own mouth.
Now it's up to you. You've drawn first lot
in this murder sweepstakes.
Then I'll be off,
if someone will lead me to the road.
I'm quite willing to take you there myself. 810
O Father Zeus, scatter my enemies . . . .
Pity us—we've suffered pitifully.
Yes, have pity on them, your descendants.
And Hera, who rules Mycenae's altars . . .
Give us victory, if what we seek is just.
Yes, give them justice to avenge their father.
You, too, father, living beneath the earth
through an unholy slaughter.
And Lady Earth,
whom I strike with my hands.
Defend these two.
Defend these children whom you love the most.
Come now, with all the dead as allies.
Those who in that war and by your side
destroyed the Phrygians.
And all those
who hate the sacrilegious and profane.
Are you listening, those of you who suffered
such terrors at the hand of my own mother?
Your father hears it all, I know. Time to
He knows everything. You must be a man.*
And I'll tell you this—Aegisthus has to die.
If in the struggle with him you fall dead, 830
then I die as well. Do not think of me
as still alive. I'll take my two-edged
and slice into my heart. I'll go inside
and get things ready. If you send good news
the whole house will ring with cries of triumph.
But if you die, things will be different.
These are my words to you.
Pylades, the Old Man, and the attendants leave. Electra turns to face the
And you women,
give a good shout to signal this encounter.
I'll be ready waiting, gripping a sword.
If I'm defeated, I'll never submit,
surrendering to my enemies the right
to violate my body.
goes back into the house]
Among our ancient stories,
there remains a tale how Pan,
keeper of the country side,
breathing sweet-toned music
on his harmonious flute,
once led a golden lamb
with the fairest fleece of all
from its tender mother
in the hills of Argos.
Standing on the platform stone
a herald with a loud voice cried,
"Assemble now, you Mycenaeans,
move into assembly, and see there
the terrifying and marvelous things
belonging to your blessed kings."
So choruses gave out their tributes
to the House of Atreus.
Altars of hammered gold were dressed,
while in the city fires blazed
with Argive sacrifice—a flute,
the Muses' servant, piped graceful notes,
and seductive melodies arose
in honour of the golden lamb,
which now belonged to Thyestes.
He'd secretly talked into bed 
the well-loved wife of Atreus.
then carries home the marvelous prize,
and, going to the assembly, says 870
he now possesses in his house
the horned sheep with its fleece of gold.*
But then, at
that very moment,
Zeus changed the paths
of all the shining stars,
the radiant glory of the sun,
and dawn's bright shining face. 
Across the western reaches of the sky
he drove hot flames from heaven.
Rain clouds moved up to the north, 880
so Ammon's lands were dry—
all withered up, deprived by Zeus
of his most lovely showers of rain.*
People speak about these tales,
but in such things my faith is small—
that the sun's hot throne of gold
turned round, to punish human beings,
in a cause involving mortal men.
But tales which terrify mankind
are profitable and serve the gods. 890
When you destroyed your husband
your mind was unconcerned with them,
you sister of such glorious brothers.*
Wait! Hold on! Did you hear a shout, my
Or has some vain notion overtaken me,
like Zeus' rumbling underneath the ground?
Look, breezes are coming up—that's a sign.
My lady, come out of the house! Electra! 
[Electra comes out of the house]
What is it, my friends? How are we faring
in the struggle?
There's only one thing I know—
I heard the scream of murder.
I heard it, too.
It came from far away, but I could hear it.
Yes, a long way off, but it was clear.
Was it someone from Argos moaning,
or some of my friends?
I've no idea.
People are shouting. Things are all
What you say means my death. Why do I
Hold on until you clearly know your fate.
No. We're beaten. Where are the messengers?
They'll be here. It's no trivial matter
to assassinate a king.
[Enter a Messenger on the run]
O you victorious daughters of Mycenae,
I can report to all Orestes' friends
that he has triumphed, and now Aegisthus,
Agamemnon's murderer, has fallen.
But we must offer prayers up to the gods.
Who are you? How can I trust what you've
Don't you know me on sight—your brother's
You best of friends! I was too full of fear
to recognize your face. But now I know you. 920
What are you saying? Has that hateful man,
my father's murderer, been killed?
I've given you the same report twice now.
Obviously you like the sound of it.
O you gods, and all-seeing Justice,
you've come at last. How did Orestes kill
Thyestes' son? What was the murder like?
I want to know.
After we'd left this house,
we walked along the two-tracked wagon path
to where Mycenae's famous king might be.
He happened to be walking in his garden,
a well-watered place, cutting soft myrtle shoots
to place in his own hair. When he saw us,
he called out, "Greetings, strangers.
Who are you?
are you from? What country is your home?"
Orestes said, "We are from Thessaly,
on our way to the Alpheus river,
to offer sacrifice to Olympian Zeus."
After hearing that, Aegisthus answered,
"You must be my guests, share this feast
with us. 940
It so happens I'm now offering an ox,
sacrificing to the Nymphs. If you get up
out of bed at dawn, you'll be no worse off.
So come, let's go inside the house."
he grabbed our arms and led us off the road,
insisting that we must not turn him down.
Once we were inside the house, he said, 
"Let someone bring in water right away,
so these guests can stand around the altar
by the basin where they purify their hands."
But Orestes said, "We've just cleansed
in pure water from a flowing river.
If strangers must join with the citizens
in making sacrifice, then, Aegisthus,
we are ready and will not refuse, my lord."
Those were the words they spoke in public.
The slaves guarding my master with their spears
set them aside, and they all lent a hand
to do the work, some bringing in the bowl
to catch the blood, others fetching baskets, 960
still others kindling fire and setting basins
around the hearth. The whole house echoed.
Then your mother's consort took barley grain,
sprinkled it across the altar, and said,
"Nymphs of the rocks, may I and my wife,
Tyndareus' daughter, in our home
offer frequent sacrifice, enjoying success,
as we do now, and may my enemies
do badly"—he meant you and Orestes.
My master prayed for quite the opposite, 970
not saying the words aloud, so he might win
his ancestral home. Then from a basket
Aegisthus took a sacrificial knife,
sliced off some of the calf's hair, and set it
with his right hand on the sacred fire.
His servants raised the calf onto their
he cut its throat and spoke out to your brother,
"People claim this about men from
they're exceptional at butchering bulls
as well as taming horses. So, stranger, 980
take this knife and demonstrate to us
if that report about Thessalians is true."
Orestes gripped the well-made Dorian knife,
tossed from his shoulders his fine-looking cloak, 
and chose Pylades to help him in the work.
Pushing slaves aside, he took the calf's hoof,
and, stretching out his arms, cut open
the beast's white flesh and then stripped off the
faster than any runner could complete
two circuits on a track for racing horses. 990
He opened up the flanks, and Aegisthus
picked up the sacred entrails in his hands
to have a look at them. But on the liver
the lobe was missing. There were signs of
which the man inspecting them could see
close to the gall bladder and the portal vein.
Aegisthus was upset. My master asked,
"Why are you upset?"
"Stranger," he replied,
"what I'm afraid of is foreign treachery.
Most of all I hate Agamemnon's son,
an enemy of my house." My master said,
"Do you really fear an exile's trickery,
you, lord of the city? Let someone bring
a Phthian axe to replace this Doric knife
and let me split apart the breast bone,
so we can feast upon the inner organs."
He took the axe and struck. Then Aegisthus
picked up and separated out the innards
and peered at them. As he was bending down,
your brother, standing on tip toe, hit him
on the spine and cut through his vertebrae.
His whole body went into convulsions,
shaking up and down, and he kept screaming,
he was dying in his own blood, a brutal death.
The servants saw and rushed to get their spears
for a fight of many men against just two.
But Pylades and Orestes stood there,
brandishing their weapons with great courage.
Then my master said, "I have not come here
as an enemy, not to the city
or my servants, but to avenge myself
on the man who murdered my own father.
I am unfortunate Orestes. You men, 
old servants of my father, don't kill me."
After the servants heard Orestes' words,
they pulled back their spears. Then an old
who'd been a long time in the household
recognized him. At once they placed a
on your brother's head, shouting and rejoicing,
and he's coming here carrying a head
to show it to you—not the Gorgon's head,
but from the person you so hate, Aegisthus.
So the bitter debt of murderous bloodshed
is paid by the man who's just been slaughtered.
[The Messenger leaves]
O my friend, set your feet to dancing,
leaping nimbly up to heaven with joy. 
Your brother has emerged victorious
and now he's won himself a crown,
in a competition surpassing those
which happen by Alpheus' streams.*1040
Come, as I perform my dance
sing out a song of glorious victory.
O light! O blazing chariot of the sun!
O earth and night whom I gazed at before!
I've freedom now to open up my eyes—
Aegisthus, the man who killed my father,
is fallen. Come, my friends, let's bring
whatever I keep stored up in the house
as decorations for my brother's hair.
I'll make a crown for his triumphant head. 1050
Bring on your decorations for his head.
and we'll keep up the dance the Muses love.
Now those dear kings we had before
will rule this land of ours with justice.
They've cast down those who broke our laws.
So let's sing out in joyful harmony.
[Orestes and Pylades enter with their
attendants, who are carrying the body of Aegisthus]
O Orestes, you glorious conqueror,
born from a father who was victorious
in the war at Troy. Take these ribbons
for your locks of hair. You've come back
and your run around the stadium racetrack
has not been in vain. You've killed
the man who killed our father, yours and mine,
our enemy. And you, who stood by him,
Pylades, reared by a pious father,
receive from my own hand this wreath. Your
in this competition matched Orestes.
I hope I see you always prospering.
First of all, Electra, you must believe
the gods were leaders in what's happened here.
Then praise me as a servant of the gods
and circumstance. I have returned back home
and killed Aegisthus, not in word but deed.
To underscore the truth of what I've said,
I've carried out the dead man's corpse for you.
If it's what you want, lay him out as prey
for wild beasts or impale him on a stake,
a prize for birds, those children of the sky.
In earlier days he was called your master,
and now he is your slave.
I feel ashamed, 1080
but nonetheless I wish to speak.
What is it?
Speak up. There's nothing you need to fear.
To insult the dead—in case someone
might heap reproaches on me.
But no one
would blame you in the slightest.
But the city
is hard to please and loves to criticize.
Speak, sister, if you want to say something.
We are his enemies—there are no rules
in our relationship with him.
ELECTRA [to the corpse of Aegisthus
how shall I first begin to speak about 1090
the evil you have done? Where do I end?
What words shall I use for the central part?
It's true that in the dawn I never stopped
rehearsing what I wished to say to you,
right to your face, if I were ever free
from my old fears. Well, now I am free. 
So I will pay you back, abusing you
the way I wanted to when you were living.
You ruined me, taking away from me
and from this man here our dear father, 1100
although we hadn't done you any wrong.
You made a shameful marriage with my mother,
then killed her husband, who was the general
who led the Greeks. You never went to Troy.
And you were so idiotic you believed
that with my mother you would get a wife
who was not evil, though she was betraying 
my father's bed. But you must know this—
when any man corrupts another's wife,
having sex with her in secret, and then 1110
is compelled to take her as his wife,
such a man is foolish if he believes
that, though she was not virtuous before,
she will be now with him. You were living
an agonizing life, although it seemed
as if the way you lived was not so bad.
You knew well you'd made a profane marriage.
My mother realized she had in you
a sacrilegious man. You are both evil,
and so you both acquired each other's traits.
She shares your wickedness, and you share hers.
You heard these words from all the Argives— 
"That woman's husband," not "that
And this is truly shameful—when the wife
controls the home rather than the husband.
I hate those offspring whom the city calls
children of their mother instead of saying
sons of their father. Still, when any man
makes a distinguished marriage well above
his station, no one talks of him, 1130
but only of his wife. But most of all,
you were so ignorant you were deceived
in claiming to be someone because your strength
was in your wealth. But that's not worth a
its presence is short lived. What stays
is nature, not possessions. It stands
beside you, and takes away your troubles.
But when riches live with fools unjustly,
they bloom a little while, then flee the house.
As for your women, I will say nothing— 1140
it's not good a virgin speak about such things.
But I'll provide a hint, a simple riddle.
You were abusive, with your royal home,
your seductive looks. May I never have
a husband with the face of a young girl,
but one who has the look of a real man.
His children hold onto a life of war. 
The pretty ones are only ornaments
to decorate the dancing choruses.
So get out of here, and stay ignorant
how you were found in time and punished.
And let no man committing wicked acts
believe that, if he runs the first lap well,
he is defeating justice, not before
he get to the finish, when he completes
the last turn in his life.
What this man's done
is dreadful, and he's paid a dreadful price
to you and to Orestes. For Justice
has a power that's enormous.
Well, you servants must take up the body
and hide it inside, somewhere in the dark,
so when my mother comes over here
she won't see his corpse before she's killed.
[Pylades and the attendants take Aegisthus'
body into the house]
ORESTES [looking off stage]
Wait a moment. Here's another thing
we need to deal with.
What? Are those men I see
reinforcements coming from Mycenae?
No. That's the mother who gave birth to me.
She's moving neatly right into our net.
How splendid she looks in that carriage,
such fine clothes.
What are we going to do?
Kill our mother?
You're not overcome with pity 1170
now you've seen our mother in the flesh?
Ah, how can I kill her? She gave birth to
She raised me.
Just as she killed our father, 
yours and mine.
O Phoebus Apollo,
that prophecy of yours was so foolish.*
Where Apollo is a fool, what men are wise?
You instructed me to kill my mother,
but killing her is wrong.
On the other hand,
if you're avenging your own father
how can you be harmed?
I'll be prosecuted 1180
for slaughtering my mother. Before now
I've been free of all impiety.
But if you don't defend your father,
you're a guilty man.
But my mother?
If I kill her, how will I be punished?
What will happen to you if you give up
avenging your own father?
Could it have been
a demon in the likeness of a god
Sitting on the sacred tripod? 
I don't think so.
I cannot believe
this prophecy was good.
You must be a man.
Don't give way to cowardice. Set for her
the same trap you used to kill her husband,
when you destroyed Aegisthus.
I'll go in.
I'm about to launch a terrible act
and do dreadful things. Well, so be it,
if the gods approve of this. But to me
this contest is a bitter one, not sweet.
[Orestes goes into the house.
Clytaemnestra arrives in a chariot with attendants]
Greetings lady, child of Tyndareus,
queen of this country of the Argives, 1200
sister of those noble twins, 
Zeus' sons, who live in heaven
among the fiery constellations
and have the honourable task
of saving mortals in the roaring waves.* Welcome! I worship you
no less than I revere the gods
for your great wealth and happiness.
My queen, it's now appropriate
that we attend to your good fortunes. 1210
Get down from the carriage, women of Troy,
and take my hand, so I, too, may step down
out of this wagon. The houses of the gods 
may be adorned with Phrygian trophies,
but I obtained these female slaves from Troy,
the finest in the land, as ornaments
within my household, small compensation
for the child I lost.*
Mother, is it all right
for me to take that blessed hand of yours,
given I live in this decrepit house, 1220
just like a slave, now I've been cast out
of my ancestral home?
The slaves are here.
Don't exert yourself on my behalf.
Why not? After all, I'm a captive, too,
you sent away from home. Like these women,
I was taken when my house was seized 
and left without a father.
Well, your father
brought that about with plots against the ones
he should have loved the most, his own family.
I'll describe it to you, though when a woman 1230
gets an evil name, her tongue grows bitter,
and that, it seems to me, is no bad thing.
But you should learn the facts of what's gone on
and then despise it, if it's worth your hate.
If not, why hate at all? Tyndareus
gave me to your father, not intending
that I or any children I might bear
should die. But that man, when he left his
convinced my daughter to accompany him,
by promising a marriage with Achilles, 1240
and took her to the anchored fleet at Aulis.* There he had Iphigeneia stretched out
and slit her pale white throat above the fire.
If he'd killed one girl for the sake of many,
to protect the city from being taken,
or to help his house or save his family,
I'd have pardoned him. But he killed my
because of Helen's lust, because the man
who'd taken her as wife had no idea
how to keep his treacherous mate controlled. 1250
For all of that, although I had been wronged,
I'd not have grown enraged or killed my husband.
But he came back to me with some mad girl—
possessed by gods—and put her in his bed,
so he could have two brides in the same house.* Women are foolish. I'll concede
But given that, when a husband goes astray,
rejecting his domestic bed, his wife
may well wish to follow his example
and find another man to love. And then 1260
the blame makes us notorious—the men
who caused it all are never criticized.
If someone had carried Menelaus
away from home in secret, should I then
have killed Orestes to save Menelaus,
my sister's husband? How would your father
have put up with that? So is it not right
for him to die? He slaughtered my own
I would've kept on suffering at his hands.
I killed him. The road lay open to me, 1270
and so I turned towards his enemies.
After all, which one of your father's friends
would have joined me to commit the murder?
Speak up, if you wish, and answer frankly.
In what way was your father's death unjust? 
There's justice in your words, but that justice
is disgraceful. If she has any sense,
a woman should give way in everything
to her own husband. Those who disagree
I don't take into account in things I say.
Bear in mind, mother, the last thing you said,
offering me a chance to be frank with you.
Yes, my child. And I won't take that back.
I'll repeat it now.
You'll hear me out, mother,
and won't punish me?
No, I won't,
not if I'm giving pleasure to your heart.
Then I'll speak, starting with an opening
O mother, I do wish you had more sense.
Your beauty brings you praise that's well
the same is true for Helen—but you two 1290
were born twin sisters, both very silly,
quite unworthy of your brother Castor.
She was willing to be carried off and ruined,
and you destroyed the finest man in Greece,
using the excuse you killed your husband
for your child, since people do not know you
the way I do. But before it was decided
that your daughter would be sacrificed,
no sooner had your husband left his home,
than you were fixing your fine locks of hair 1300
seated at your mirror, and any wife
who primps her beauty when her husband's gone,
you can scratch her off the list as worthless.
There's no call for her to show her pretty face
outside the home, unless she's seeking mischief.
Of all the women in Greece, I believe
you were the only one who was happy
whenever Trojan fortunes were successful
and whose eyes would frown when they got worse,
because it was your hope that Agamemnon 1310
would not get back from Troy. But
you could have stayed a truly virtuous woman. 
The husband you had was in no way worse
than that Aegisthus, and he'd been chosen
by the Greeks themselves to lead the army.
When your sister Helen did what she did,
you had an opportunity to gain
great glory for yourself, since bad conduct
sets a standard for our noble actions
and makes them something everyone can see. 1320
But if, as you are claiming, our father
killed your daughter, how have you been wronged
by me and by my brother? Why is it,
once you'd killed your husband, you didn't give
our father's home to us, but filled your bed
with someone else's goods and for a price
bought yourself a marriage? And why is it
this husband has not been made an exile
for banishing your son? Why is he not dead
instead of me? The way I'm living now 1330
has killed me twice as often as my sister.
If justice says that murder pays for murder,
your son Orestes and myself must kill you
to avenge our father. If your act was just,
then this one must be, too. Any man
watching out for wealth and noble birth
who gets married to a vicious woman
is a fool. A virtuous, humble marriage
is better for the home than something grand.
Marrying women is a matter of chance.
Some, I notice, work out well, others badly.*
My child, it was always in your nature
to love your father. That how thing turn
Some are their fathers' children, while others
love their mothers rather than their fathers.
I'll forgive you. I don't get much delight,
my child, from what I've done. But why are you
so filthy, your body dressed in such poor
You've just been confined and given birth.* Alas, my schemes have made me
I urged my anger on against my husband 
more than I should have.
Well, it's too late now
to moan about it. There's no remedy.
My father's dead. But why don't you bring
that exile from this land, your wandering son?
I'm too afraid. I'm looking after me,
not him. And he's angry, so people say,
about the murder of his father.
Why let your husband be so cruel to me?
That's how he is. You've a stubborn nature.
Because I'm suffering. But I'll stop being
Then he'll no longer behave harshly to you.
He's got ideas of grandeur, living there 
inside my home.
You see? Once again
you're kindling a new quarrel.
I'll be silent,
my fear of him being what it is.
Stop this talk.
Why have you sent for me, my child?
You've heard, I think, that I have given birth.
Please offer up a sacrifice for me—
I don't know how to do that—on the tenth day, 1370
as is our custom with an infant child.
I've had no children before this, and so
I lack experience.
That task belongs
to the person who delivered the child.
I was by myself in labour, so I bore
the child all on my own.
Is this house here
so remote there are no friendly neighbours?
No one wants poor people as their friends.
Well, I'll go and make the gods a sacrifice
for the full term of the child. When I'm
carrying out this favour for you, I'll leave,
off to the field where my husband's offering
sacrifices to the Nymphs. You servants,
take this team away. Put them in the pens.
When you think I've finished sacrificing
to the gods, stand ready. I must satisfy
my husband's wishes, too.
Enter this poor home.
For my sake take care the soot-stained walls 
don't stain your clothes. You'll give the
the sacrifice you ought to make.
[Clytaemnestra goes into the house]
And now 1390
the basket's ready and the knife is keen,
the one which killed the bull you'll lie beside
when you're struck down. In Hades' home
you'll be wedded to the man you slept with
while you were alive. I'll be offering you
this favour, and you'll be giving me
retribution for my father.
[Electra goes into the house]
Evils are repaid. Winds of fortune
for this house are veering round.
Back then my leader, my very own, 1400
fell murdered in his bath.
Roof and stone walls of the house 
resounded, echoing his cries—
"You vicious woman, why kill me
now I've come to my dear land
after ten harvest seasons?"*
The flow of
justice has reversed itself
and brings to judgment for adultery
the killer of her unhappy husband
when he finally returned back home,
to the towering Cyclopean walls.
With her own hand she murdered him,
the sharpened edge of a keen axe
gripped in her fists. Poor sad husband!
What evils overtook this wretched woman? 
She did it like a mountain lion
prowling through a wooded meadow.
CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]
By the gods, children, don't kill your mother.
Do you hear that cry from inside the house?
CLYTAEMNESTRA [screaming from inside]
Ah . . . my god . . . ah . . . not me . . . 1420
I moan, too, as her children beat her down.
The god indeed dispenses justice,
whenever it may come.
You've suffered horribly, sad lady, 
but you carried out unholy acts
against your husband.
[Orestes, Pylades, and Electra and
Attendants emerge slowly from the house with the bodies of Aegisthus and
But here they come, moving from the house,
stained with fresh-spilt blood from their own
a trophy, proof of their harsh sacrifice.
There is no house, not now or in the past,
more pitiable than the race of Tantalus.
O Earth and Zeus, who sees all mortal men,
look on these abominable and bloody acts,
these two corpses lying on the ground 
struck down by my hand, repayment
for everything I've suffered.
Too much cause to weep, my brother,
and I have made this happen.
In my wretchedness my fiery rage
burned on against my mother 1440
who gave birth to me, her daughter.
Alas for fortune, for your fortune,
a mother who has given birth to pain beyond enduring,
bearing wretched misery and more
from your own children, and yet it's just—
you've paid for murdering their father. 
Alas, Phoebus, that justice you sang of
had an obscure tone, but the pain you caused
was clear enough—you've given me 1450
an exile's fate, far from these Greek lands.
To what other city can I go?
What host, what man with reverence
will look at me, who killed my mother?
Alas, alas for me! Where do I go?
To what wedding or what choral dance?
What husband will take me to a bridal bed?
Your spirit is shifting back once more
changing with the breeze. Your thoughts
are pious now, although profane before.
You've done dreadful things, my friend,
to your own reluctant brother.
Did you see that desperate woman,
how she threw her robe aside
and bared her breasts for slaughter?
Alas for me! The limbs which gave me birth
collapsing down onto the ground.
And her hair, I . . .
You had to go through torments,
hearing your mother's screaming,
the one who bore you.
She stretched her hand toward my chin
and cried, "My son, I beg you."
She clung onto my cheeks—
the sword dropped from my hands.
Poor lady! How could you dare
to watch your murdered mother
breathe her last before your eyes.
I threw my cloak over my eyes,
then sacrificed her with the sword.
I shoved it in my mother's neck.
I was encouraging you—
my hand was on the sword, as well.
You have inflicted suffering
of the most dreadful kind.
Take this robe, hide our mother's limbs.
Close up her wounds. You gave birth
to your own murderers.
ELECTRA [covering Clytaemnestra's
There, with this cloak I'm covering up 
one who was loved and yet not loved.
A end of the great troubles for this house.
[Castor and Polydeuces, the Dioscouri,
appear above the building on the stage]
But there above the roof beams of the house
something's coming. Spirits or gods from
That path does not belong to mortal men.
Why are they coming into human view?
DIOSCOURI: [from the top of the house]* Son of Agamemnon, you must listen.
The twin sons of Zeus are calling you,
Castor and his brother Polydeuces, 
your mother's brothers. We've just reached
after calming down a roaring storm at sea,
a dreadful threat to ships, after we had seen
the murder of our sister and your mother.
She's had justice, but you've not acted justly.
As for Phoebus, Phoebus, I'll say nothing.
He is my master. Although he's wise,
the prophecy he made to you was not.
You must accept these things and later on
act on what Fate and Zeus have set for you.
Give Electra to Pylades as his wife,
to take back home. And you must leave
It's not right for you, who killed your mother,
to set foot in the city. The Keres,
those fearful dog-faced goddesses of death,
will hound you everywhere, a wanderer
in a mad fit.*
You must go to Athens
and embrace Athena's sacred image.
She'll guard you from their dreadful writhing
and stop them touching you, by holding out
her shield with the Gorgon's face above your
And there's the hill of Ares, where the gods
first sat down to cast their votes on bloodshed,
when savage Ares slaughtered Halirrothius,
son of the god who rules the sea, enraged
at the unholy raping of his daughter.* That place is where decisions made by
are most secure and sacred to the gods.
Here you must go on trial for murder.
The process will result in equal votes
so you'll be saved from death, for Apollo
will take responsibility himself.
His oracle advised your mother's murder.
This law will be established from then on—
those accused will always be acquitted
with equal votes. Struck by the pain of
those fearful goddesses will then sink down
into a chasm right beside the hill,
a reverent and holy shrine for men.
You must settle an Arcadian city
by Alpheus' streams, near the sacred shrine
of Lycaean Apollo, and that city 1540
will get its name from you. I'll tell you
As for Aegisthus' corpse, the citizens
in Argos here will place it in a grave.
But in your mother's case, Menelaus,
who's just arrived at Nauplia, so long
after he seized the territory of Troy,
will bury her, with Helen's help. She's
from Proteus' home, leaving Egypt.
She never went to Troy. It was Zeus' wish
to stir up war and bloodshed among men. 1550
So he sent Helen's image off to Troy.* Since Pylades now has got a virgin
let him go home and leave Achaean land,
with the man they call your brother-in-law
to the land of Phocis. He must give him
a great weight of riches. But as for you,
you must leave along the narrow Isthmus
and go to the blessed hill of Cecrops.* Once you're completed your appointed
for doing the murder, you'll find happiness 1560
and be released from troubles.
O sons of Zeus, are we permitted
to come near and speak to you.
That is allowed—you're not defiled
by this murder here.
And me, sons of Tyndareus,
may I join in what's said?
You may. It's to Apollo
I ascribe this bloody act.
How is that you two gods,
brothers of this murdered woman,
did not keep death's goddesses 
far from her home?
Destiny and Fate brought what must be—
and Apollo's unwise utterance.
What Apollo and what prophecies
ordained that I must be
my mother's murderer?
You worked together
and shared a single fate. 1580
One ancestral curse
has crushed you both.
After such a lengthy time
I've seen you, my sister,
and immediately must lose 
your love, abandoning you,
as you abandon me.
She has a home and husband,
and will not suffer piteously,
except she leaves the Argives' city. 1590
What else brings one more grief
than moving out beyond the limits
of one's native land?
But I'll go from my father's house,
then undergo a trial by strangers
for murdering my mother.
Be brave. You'll reach
Athena's sacred city. 
Just keep enduring all.
Hold me, my dearest brother,
your breast against my breast.
The curses of a slaughtered mother
divide us from our father's home.
Throw your arms around me.
Give me a close embrace.
Then mourn for me as if I'd died,
and you were at my burial mound.
Alas, alas! You've said things
dreadful even for the gods to hear.
I and those in heaven have pity
for mortals who endure so much.
I'll not see you any more.
I'll not come into your sight.
These are the final words
I'll ever say to you.
Farewell, my city! A long farewell
to you my fellow countrywomen!
Are you going already,
my most faithful sister?
Yes, I'm leaving now
my soft eyes wet with tears.
Farewell, Pylades. Be happy.
Go and get married to Electra
The marriage will be their concern.
You leave for Athens to escape these hounds,
with their dark skins and hands made up of
They're on a dreadful hunt to chase you down
and bring you harvests of horrific pain.
We two are off to the Sicilian sea.
We'll hurry there to rescue ships at sea.
As we pass through the flat expanse of air,
we bring no help to those who've been defiled.
We do protect the men who way of their life
reveres what's just and holy, releasing them
from overbearing hardships. Let no one
wish to act unjustly or to get on board
with men who break their oaths. It's as a
that I address these words to mortal men.
and Polydeuces disappear. Orestes leaves the stage. Electra and
Pylades move off in a different direction. The attendants go with them]
Farewell. Any mortal who can indeed fare
without being ground down by misfortune,
that man will find his happiness.
Chorus carries the bodies back into the house]
. . . Dardanus: Ilion is an alternative name for Troy, and Dardanus is
the name of a famous ancestor of Priam, king of Troy. Hence, the Trojans
were often called Dardanians. [Back to
. . . ancient sceptre: Tantalus was the legendary founder of the royal
family of Argos, called the Pelopids after Tantalus' son Pelops. Tantalus
was Agamemnon's and Menelaus' great-great-grandfather. [Back
. . . totally disgraced: Clytaemnestra's excuse for killing Agamemnon is, of
course, the fact that he sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia in order to enable
the fleet to sail to Troy. [Back to
. . . still a virgin: Cypris is a common name for Aphrodite, the goddess of
sexual love. The name comes from the goddess' frequent association with
Cyprus. [Back to Text]
. . . a water jug: the shaven head may be a token of mourning or a sign of
Electra's low status now or both. [Back to Text]
. . . couch of death: Agamemnon was killed in his bath, trapped under his
cloak, as if under a hunting net. [Back
* . . . your house, as well: Helen
and Clytaemnestra were twin sisters born to Leda, but with different fathers—Tyndareus,
king of Sparta and Leda's husband, was Clytaemnestra's father, but Zeus, who in
the form of a swan raped Leda, was Helen's. [Back
. . . Castor: Castor and Polydeuces (also called Pollux), the Dioscuri,
were twin brothers of Helen and Clytaemnestra, all born at the same time to
Leda, queen of Sparta (hence Castor is an uncle of Electra). Polydeuces
and Helen were children of Zeus, while Castor and Clytaemnestra were children of
Tyndareus. When Castor was killed (before the Trojan war), Polydeuces
turned down immortality, but Zeus allowed them to alternate, living among the
gods and men, changing each day. [Back
. . . oracles of Loxias: Loxias is another name for Apollo, the god whose
shrine Orestes consults before coming to Argos (as he mentions at line 115
above). But we do not know the text of the oracle (although we later learn
it encouraged him to commit the revenge murders), and Electra is, one assumes,
ignorant of Orestes' visit to the shrine. [Back
. . . Nereids: These are sea goddesses, daughters of Nereus. Achilles'
mother, Thetis, was one of them. [Back
. . . sons of Atreus: These lines refer to the centaur Chiron (or Cheiron),
half man and half horse, who in the region described, educated Achilles and
other heroes. Pelion and Ossa are two famous mountains. Hephaestus is the
god who made Achilles' divine armour (at the request of Achilles' mother, the
goddess Thetis) after his own armour worn by Patroclus had been captured by
Hector, the leader of the Trojan forces. [Back
to the Text]
. . . Maia's country child: Perseus was the hero who killed Medusa, the
most ferocious of the Gorgons (her face turned men to stone). Hermes,
divine son of Zeus, assisted Perseus in the exploit. He is called a
"country child" because he is associated with farming and hunting.
[Back to Text]
. . . racing lioness: This is a reference to the monster Chimaera, a
fire-breathing lioness with a goat's body and head growing out of its back. The
Chimaera was killed by the hero Bellerophon. The reference to Hector is a
reminder that he had to face Achilles' shield in his final and fatal encounter
with Achilles (described in Book 22 of the Iliad). [Back
. . . slipped past the guard: This line is corrupt and makes little sense in
the Greek. The words "someone slipped past the guard" have been
put in to make sense of Electra's words, turning the line into a suggestion that
some citizen may have eluded Aegisthus' sentries and paid a tribute to
Agamemnon. As Cropp points out, omitting the line makes it read as if the Old
Man is interrupting Electra, a dramatically implausible action. [Back to Text]
. . . Thyestes' son: Aegisthus is the son of Thyestes (brother of
Agamemnon's father, Atreus). Atreus and Thyestes quarreled, and Atreus
killed Thyestes' sons and served to him at dinner. Aegisthus survived the
slaughter or (in other accounts) was born after the notorious banquet.
Euripides' play makes no direct mention of this important part of the
traditional story. [Back to Text]
. . . I'll accept those words: Cropp suggests that Orestes' rather odd
phraseology in this speech and the previous one stems from the fact that he is
using the language of ritual, as if he were consulting an oracle, first hoping
that he gets a good pronouncement which he can understand and then accepting the
"utterance." [Back to
. . . some new birth: the Nymphs, minor country goddesses, were
associated with physical health, including childbirth and childhood. [Back
. . . ten days ago: the "quarantine," Cropp notes, was a period
immediately after childbirth in which the mother was kept in seclusion to avoid
contamination. [Back to Text]
. . . be a man: There is some confusion and argument about the allocation
and position of this line, which in the Greek comes after this speech of
Electra's and is divided between Orestes and Electra. I have followed
Cropp's suggestion and given the entire line to Electra at the beginning of her
speech to Orestes. [Back to Text]
. . . fleece of gold: Thyestes and Atreus were brothers who quarreled.
Thyestes seduced Atreus' wife, Aerope, and, in revenge, Atreus killed Thyestes'
sons and served them up to him for dinner. Aegisthus is Thyestes'
surviving son. The golden lamb in question seems to be the symbol of the right
to rule in Mycenae. [Back to
. . . Ammon's land: This is a reference to North Africa, where Ammon's
shrine was located. [Back to
. . . glorious brothers: Clytaemnestra's brothers are Castor and Polydeuces,
the Dioscuri, twin brothers of Helen and Clytaemnestra, all born at the same
time to Leda, queen of Sparta (hence Castor is an uncle of Electra).
Polydeuces and Helen were children of Zeus, while Castor and Clytaemnestra were
children of Tyndareus. When Castor was killed (before the Trojan war),
Polydeuces turned down immortality, but Zeus allowed them to alternate, living
among the gods and men, changing each day. [Back to
. . . Alpheus: Cropp suggests that this is a reference to the Olympic
games. [Back to Text]
is a common name for Apollo, the god whose oracle Orestes consulted before
coming to Argos. The god advised him to carry out the revenge murders. [Back
. . . noble twins: This is another reference to Castor and Polydeuces (or
Pollux) twin brothers of Clytaemnestra. Strictly speaking only one of them
was a child of Zeus (as was Helen, Clytaemnestra's sister). Clytaemnestra
and Castor were children of Tyndareus. The twins occupied a position among
the stars (we call them the Gemini), and hence were an aid to navigation. [Back
. . . the child I lost: This is a reference to Clytaemnestra's daughter
Iphigeneia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed at the start of the Trojan expedition in
order to persuade the gods to change the winds so that the fleet could sail.
Clytaemnestra gives details of the story in her next long speech. [Back to Text]
. . . Aulis: This was the agreed meeting point for the great naval
expedition to Troy. Bad winds delayed the fleet for so long that the
entire enterprise was jeopardized. The gods demanded a sacrifice from
. . . in the same house: The young girl was Cassandra, daughter of Priam,
king of Troy, given as a war prize to Agamemnon. She was a prophetess
under a divine curse: she always spoke the truth, but no one ever believed her.
She is an important character in Aeschylus' treatment of this story in the Agamemnon.
[Back to Text]
. . . others badly: These lines of pithy moralizing at the end of
Electra's speech and in this speech by the Chorus Leader sound very out of place
here. Some editors have removed them as a later addition to the text. [Back to Text]
. . . given birth: Some editors find these two and half lines a very odd
change of subject for Clytaemnestra, who is now dwelling on her own sorrow.
Cropp moves them to the opening of Clytaemnestra's speech at 1380 below, where
they do seem more appropriate. [Back
. . . harvest times?: At this point in the manuscript two lines appear to be
missing. [Back to Text]
It is not clear which of the twin brothers speaks to the human characters or
whether they alternate or speak together. [Back to Text]
. . . mad fit. The Keres are the children of Night, death spirits who
prey on living human beings. Although they are different from the Furies
(who chase down those who have committed murder in the family), here their
function seems quite similar. [Back
. . . of his daughter: Ares, son of Zeus and god of war, killed Poseidon's
son, Halirrothius, over the attempted rape of Ares' daughter, Alcippe. Ares was
put on trial on Olympus and acquitted by the gods. [Back
. . . off to Troy: In Homer's account (in the Odyssey) Menelaus
and Helen take a long time to get home from Troy, being blown off course and
spending a few years in Egypt. Proteus is the Old Man of the Sea, who
helps Menelaus in Egypt. The story of Helen's being detained in Egypt on
her way to Troy and never going to the city at all is not in Homer's epic, but
was known before Euripides makes use of it here and in his play Helen. [Back to Text]
. . . blessed hill of Cecrops:
The Isthmus is the Isthmus of Corinth, a narrow strip of land joining the
Peloponnese (where Argos is situated) with the main part of Greece.
Cecrops is the mythical first king and founder of Athens. The Cecropian
Hill is a reference to the Acropolis in Athens. [Back