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  Euripides
Orestes
408 BC

The translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo British Columbia, Canada (now Vancouver Island University), may be downloaded for personal use, and teachers may distribute the text to their classes without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged.  There are, however, copyright restrictions on commercial publication of this text (for details consult the following link: Copyright).

Note that in the text below the numbers in square brackets refer to the lines in the Greek text; the numbers without brackets refer to the lines in the translated text.  In numbering the lines of the English text, the translator has normally counted a short indented line with the short line above it, so that two short lines count as one line.  The asterisks indicate links to explanatory endnotes provided by the translator.  

The translator would like to acknowledge the valuable help of M. L. West's commentary on the play (Aris & Phillips, 1987).

For comments, questions, suggestions for improvements, and so on please contact Ian JohnstonIf you would like to prepare this text as a small booklet rather than printing it from the screen, select Publisher filesThe text is also available free of charge as a Word or WordPerfect file.

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Euripides
Orestes

Dramatis Personae

Electra: daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, sister of Orestes.
Helen: wife of Menelaus, sister of Clytaemnestra.
Hermione: daughter of Menelaus and Helen.
Chorus: young women of Argos.
Orestes: son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra.
Menelaus: king of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, uncle of Orestes and Electra.
Tyndareus: father of Helen and Clytaemnestra, an old man.
Pylades: prince of Phocis, a friend of Orestes.
Messenger: an old man.
Phrygian: one of Helen's Trojan slaves, a eunuch.
Apollo: divine son of Zeus and Leto, god of prophecy.

[Scene: The action of the play takes place in Argos just outside the royal palace a few days after Orestes has avenged the murder of his father by killing his mother, Clytaemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus.  At the opening, Orestes is lying ill on a bed near the doors.  Electra is sitting close to him]

ELECTRA
      There's nothing terrible one can describe,
      no suffering or event brought on by god,
      whose weight humans may not have to bear.
      The blessed Tantalusand I don't mock him
      for his misfortunes—who was, so they say,
      born from Zeus, flutters in the air, terrified
      of a rock hanging right above his head.
      People claim he's paying the penalty,
      because, although he was a mortal man
      who was considered equal to the gods                                
         10
      in the feasts they shared together, he had
      a shameful illness—he could not control                                           
[10]
      his tongue.* Well, Tantalus fathered Pelops,
      and then from that man Atreus was born,
      the one for whom the goddess combing yarn
      spun out strife, making him the enemy
      of his own brother, Thyestes.*  But why
      should I describe these horrors once again?
      Then Atreus killed Thyestes' children
      and fed them to him.  Then, there's Atreus—                    
          20
      I won't mention what happened in between.
      With Aerope, who came from Crete, as mother,
      Atreus fathered glorious Agamemnon,
      if, indeed, he was a glorious man,
      and Menelaus, too.  Menelaus
      then wed Helen, a woman gods despise,                                            
[20]
      while lord Agamemnon, in a wedding
      notorious in Greece, took Clytaemnestra
      as his wife.  To him from that one woman
      were born three daughters—Chrysothemis,                               
30
      Iphigeneia, and me, Electra,
      and a son, as well, Orestes, all of us
      from an abominable mother who snared 
      her husband in a robe he could not escape
      and slaughtered him.  It's not appropriate
      for a young girl to talk of why she did it,
      and so I leave the matter indistinct
      for people to consider.  Why should one
      accuse Phoebus of injustice, even though
      he did persuade Orestes to strike down                                     
40
      the mother who had given birth to him,
      an act which did not earn him a good name                                       
[30]
      in all men's eyes?*  Still, he obeyed the god
      and killed her.  I helped with the murder, too,
      doing as much as any woman could,
      and Pylades assisted us as well.
      After that poor Orestes grew so ill.
      Infected with a savage wasting sickness,
      he's collapsed in bed and lies there, driven
      into fits of madness by his mother's blood.                                
50
      I am ashamed to name those goddesses,   
      the Eumenides, who keep driving him
      through terrible ordeals.* It's the sixth day
      since our mother perished in that slaughter
      and her body was purified in fire—                                                   
[40]
      in that time he's not swallowed any food
      or washed his skin.  He stays wrapped in a cloak.
      And when his body does find some relief
      and his mind clears from the disease, he weeps.
      At other times he leaps up out of bed                                       
60
      and bolts like a colt released from harness.
      Argos has proclaimed no one should shelter us,
      receive us by their hearths, or speak to us,
      since we killed our mother.  This very day
      will be decisive—the Argive city
      will cast its vote whether the two of us
      must be stoned to death or have our throats cut                                
[50]
      with a sharpened sword.  We do have one hope
      we won't die—the fact that Menelaus
      has reached this land from Troy—his flotilla                            
70
      now fills up the harbour at Nauplia, 
      where he rides at anchor by the headlands,
      after wandering for so long at random.
      But as for Helen, who caused such grieving,
      he sent her on ahead to our own house,                                             
[60]
      waiting until night, in case anyone
      whose children died at Troy might see her,
      if she went strolling there during the day,
      and injured her by starting to throw stones.
      She's inside now, weeping for her sister                                     
80
      and the troubles which have struck her family.
      Though she suffers, she has some consolation—
      Hermione, the daughter she left at home
      when she sailed off to Troy, who Menelaus
      brought from Sparta and gave to my mother
      to bring up, brings her great joy and helps her
      forget her troubles.  I keep on watching
      all the roads for the moment I can see
      Menelaus coming.  Unless he saves us,
      we don't have much strength to ride this out.                            
90
      A house plagued with bad luck has no defence.                          
      [70]

[Helen enters from the place]

HELEN
      Child of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon,
      poor Electra, you've remained unmarried
      such a long time now.  How are things with you
      and your unlucky brother Orestes,
      who killed his mother?  That was a mistake.
      But I ascribe it to Apollo, and so
      I don't risk pollution talking to you.
      And yet I do lament my sister's death,
      Clytaemnestra, whom I never saw                                              
100
      after I sailed off to Troy, driven there 
      by that fated madness from the gods.
      Now I've lost her, I weep for our misfortune.                                    
[80]

ELECTRA
      Helen, why should I now describe for you
      what your eyes can see—Agamemnon's home
      facing disaster?  I sit here sleepless
      beside this wretched corpse—his faint breathing
      makes the man a corpse.  Not that I blame him
      for his suffering.  You're the one who's lucky.
      Your husband's fortunate as well.  You've come                      
110
      when what's going on with us is miserable.

HELEN
      How long has he lying like this in bed?

ELECTRA
      Ever since he shed his mother's blood.

HELEN
                                                       Poor wretch!                                      
[90]
      And his mother, too, given how she died.

ELECTRA
      That's how it is.  He's broken by his troubles.

HELEN
      Girl, would you do something for me please,
      in the name of the gods?

ELECTRA
                                         I'm busy here,
      sitting with my brother.

HELEN
                                     Would you be willing
      to come with me to my sister's tomb?

ELECTRA
      To my own mother? Is that what you want?                            
120
      But why?

HELEN
                    So I can take an offering from me,
      hair and libations.*

ELECTRA
                                    Is it somehow wrong
      for you to visit a family burial mound?

HELEN
      I'm ashamed to show myself in public
      among the Argives.

ELECTRA
                                                         After all this time
      you're thinking wisely.  Back when you left home
      that was disgraceful.

HELEN
                                         What you say is right.                                       [100]
      But you're not talking to me as a friend.

ELECTRA
      What makes you feel shame among the people
      in Mycenae?*

HELEN
                                    I fear the fathers of those men                    130
      who died at Troy.

ELECTRA
                              That's a real fear.  In Argos
      it's on people's lips.

HELEN
                                     So relieve my fears.
      Do me that favour.

ELECTRA
                                  I couldn't do it
      look at my mother's grave.

HELEN
                                                      But for servants
      to take these offerings would be disgraceful.

ELECTRA
      Why not send Hermione, your daughter?

HELEN
      It's not good for an unmarried girl
      to walk around in public.

ELECTRA
                                         She'd be repaying
       the dead woman for looking after her.

HELEN
      What you say is right, girl.  You've convinced me.                  140        [110]
      I'll send my daughter.  Your advice is good.

[Helen calls in through the palace doors]

      Hermione!  Come on out, my child,
      out here in front.

[Hermione enters from the palace]

                                                Take the libation
      in your hands and this hair of mine, and go
      to Clytaemnestra's burial site.  Pour out
      the stirred-up honey, milk, and frothing wine.
      Then stand on top the mound and say these words,
      "Helen, your sister, offers these libations,
      fearing to come to your tomb in person,
      afraid of the Argive mob."  And ask her                                  150
      to look with kindness on you and me                                              [120]
      and my husband, and on this wretched pair
      some god has ruined. Promise funeral gifts,
      all the things I should give to my sister.
      You must leave now, my child, and go quickly.
      When you've offered libations at the tomb,
      return back here as quickly as you can.

[Hermione takes the offerings and leaves, going away from the palace.  Helen exits
into the palace]

ELECTRA
      O nature, how vicious you are in men,
      a saviour, too, for those who do possess
      what works to their advantage.  Did you see                             160
      how she's trimmed her hair only at the ends
      to preserve her beauty?  She's the woman
      she has always been.  May the gods hate you
      for ruining me and him and all of Greece!                                           [130]
      I'm so unhappy!

[The Chorus enters]

                                              Here they are again,
      my friends who sing with me in my laments.
      They'll soon end my brother's peaceful sleep
      and melt my eyes with tears once I see him
      in his mad fit.  You women, dearest friends,
      move with a quiet step and make no noise,                               170
      no unexpected sound.  Your kindness here
      is dear to me, but if you wake him up,
      what happens will be difficult for me.

CHORUS
      Keep quiet! Silence! let your steps be light.                                        [140]
      Make no sound at all.

ELECTRA
                                     Keep away from him 
      further from his bed, I'm begging you!

CHORUS
      There, I've done as you request.

ELECTRA
      Ah yes, but speak to me, dear friend,
      like the breathing of a tiny reed
      on a shepherd's pipe.

CHORUS [whispering]
                                                  There, you see.                              180
      I'm keeping my voice pitched soft and low.

ELECTRA
      Yes, that's fine.  Come over. Come on.
      Move gently.  Keep moving quietly.
      Tell me the reason why you had to come.                                           [150]
      He hasn't fallen asleep like this for ages.

CHORUS
      How is he?  Give us a report, dear friend.
      What shall I say has happened to him?
      What's ailing him?

ELECTRA
                                He's still breathing
      feeble groans.

CHORUS
                   What are you saying? The poor man!

ELECTRA
      You'll kill him if you distract his eyes                                       
190

      while he's enjoying sweet gifts of sleep.

CHORUS
      Pitiful man, suffering for those hateful acts                                       
[160]
      inspired by a god.

ELECTRA
                                                 Yes, it's pitiful.
      An unjust god uttered unjust things
      in what he decreed, when Loxias
      from Themis' tripod passed his sentence,
      the unnatural murder of my mother.*

CHORUS
      Do you see?  His body's moving in his robes.

ELECTRA
      You wretch, you've forced him to wake up
      with your chatter.

CHORUS
                                 No, I think he's sleeping.                               200

ELECTRA
      Won't you just go away?  Leave the house.                                         [170]
      Retrace your steps, and stop the shuffling.

CHORUS
      He's asleep.

ELECTRA
                           You're right.  O sacred lady Night,
      who gives sleep to toiling mortal men,
      come from Erebus*, come, wing your way here
      to Agamemnon's home.  In misery
      and suffering we've gone astray.  We're lost.                                      
[180]
      You're making noise again.  O my dear friend,
      won't you keep quiet, stay silent, and take care
      to keep your voice some distance from his bed?                      
210
      Let him enjoy the peaceful gift of sleep.

CHORUS
      Tell us what's in store to end his troubles.

ELECTRA
      Death.  What else?  He's lost desire for food.

CHORUS
      Then this is obviously his fate.                                                          
[190]

ELECTRA
      Phoebus made us his sacrificial offering
      with his pitiful unnatural proposal
      to kill our mother, who killed our father.

CHORUS
      But it was just.

ELECTRA
                                      Yes, but not good.
      You killed, mother who bore me,                                              
      and were killed.  You wiped out                                              
220
      a father and children of your blood.
      We're done for, good as dead, destroyed.                                           
[200]
      You're with the dead, and my own life
      is gone—the greater part of it now spent
      with groans, laments, and tears each night,
      unmarried, childless—so pitiful—
      I drag out my life on and on forever.

CHORUS LEADER
      Electra, you're right beside your brother.
      Check if hasn't died without your knowing.                              
      I'm worried—he's looking too relaxed.                                      
230         [210]

ORESTES [waking up]
     
O lovely charms of sleep which bring such help
      against disease, how sweetly you came over me
      when I was in such need.  Sacred Oblivion,
      who removes all troubles, how wise you are,
      for those who suffer from misfortune,
      a goddess worth invoking in their prayers.
      But where did I come from to get here? 
      How did I reach this place?  I can't recall.
      I've lost all my earlier recollections.                                                 

ELECTRA
      Dearest one, how happy it made me feel                                 
240

      when you fell into that sleep.  Do you want me
      to hold you and to prop your body up?

ORESTES
      Yes, hold me.  Give me some support.  And wipe
      the dried up foam from my sore mouth and eyes.                               [220]

ELECTRA
      There.  It's sweet to be able to help out.
      I won't refuse to nurse my brother's limbs
      with a sister's hand.

ORESTES
                                   Support my side with yours,
      and push the matted hair out of my face.
      My eyes aren't seeing very well.

ELECTRA
      O this filthy hair, your poor suffering head—              
             250
      so much time has passed since it's been washed,
      you look just like a savage.

ORESTES
                                                               Put me back,
      on the bed again.  Once the madness leaves,
      I'm exhausted . . .  no strength in my limbs.

ELECTRA
                                                     There you are.
      The sick man loves his bed, a painful place,                           
                [230]
      but still it's necessary.

ORESTES
                                                        Set me up again.
      Turn my body round.   The sick are helpless
      that's why they're hard to please.

ELECTRA
                                                       Would you like
      to have me put your feet down on the ground?
      You haven't tried to walk for some time now.                          260
      A change is always pleasant.

ORESTES
                                                    Yes, do that.
      It's better if I look as if I'm well, 
      even though that's far from being true.

ELECTRA
      Now, my dear brother, listen to me,
      while the Erinyes let your mind stay clear.

ORESTES
      You've got some news.  If it's good, you'll help me
      if harmful, I've had enough misfortune.                                             
[240]

ELECTRA
      Menelaus has come, your father's brother.
      His ships are anchored at Nauplia.

ORESTES
      What are you saying?   Has he just arrived                               
270

      to be a light to save us from these troubles,
      yours and mine, a man of our own family,
      with a sense of gratitude to father?

ELECTRA
      He's come—y
ou can trust what I'm telling you
      and he's brought Helen from the walls of Troy.

ORESTES
      He'd be someone to envy even more
      if he'd managed to survive all by himself.
      By bringing back his wife, he's coming here
      with all kinds of trouble.

ELECTRA
                                                Yes, Tyndareus 
      fathered a race of notorious daughters,                                     280
      dishonoured throughout Greece.                                                        [250]

ORESTES
                                          Make sure you're different,
      not like those evil women.  You can be.
      But don't just say it.  You have to feel it.                    

ELECTRA
      Alas, brother, your eyes are growing wild.
      In an instant you've again gone mad,
      and just now you were thinking clearly.

ORESTES [in a fit]
      Mother, I'm begging you, don't threaten me,
      not those young snake girls with their bloodshot eyes.
      They're here!  They're closing in to jump on me!

ELECTRA
      Poor suffering wretch, stay still there on your couch.              
290

      You think you see them clearly, but it's nothing

      there's nothing there for you to see.

ORESTES
                                                                O Phoebus,                              
[260]
      they're killing me, those dreadful goddesses,
      the fierce-eyed, bitch-faced priestesses of hell.

ELECTRA [holding Orestes]
      I'll not let go.  I'll keep my arms around
      and stop you writhing in this painful fit.

ORESTES
      Let go!  You're one of those Furies of mine,
      grabbing me around the waist to throw me
      down into Tartarus!

ELECTRA
                                             I feel so wretched.
      What help can I get when divine power                                   
300
      is ranged against us?

ORESTES
                                 Give me my horn-tipped bow,
      Apollo's gift—he said I should use it
      to defend myself against these goddesses
      if they frightened me with bouts of madness.                                    
[270]
      One of those divine women will get hurt
      by a human hand if she doesn't move
      out of my sight.  Aren't you paying attention?
      Don't you see the feathered arrows speeding
      from my far-shooting bow?  Ah . . . ah . . .
      Why are you waiting then?  Use your wings                             
310
      and soar into the upper air, and blame
      Apollo's oracles.  But wait a moment!
      Why am I raving and gasping for air?
      Where . . . where have I jumped?  Out of bed?
      After the storm I see calm water once again.
      Sister, why wrap your head in your dress and cry?                             
[280]
      I'm ashamed to make you share my suffering,
      to bring distress to an unmarried girl
      with this sickness of mine.  Don't pine away 
      because of my misfortunes.  Yes, it's true                                
320
      you agreed to do it, but I'm the one
      who shed our mother's blood.  I blame Apollo,
      who set me up to carry out the act,
      which was profane.  His words encouraged me,
      but not his actions.  And I think my father,
      if I'd looked him in the eye and asked him
      if I should kill my mother, would've made
      many appeals to me, reaching for my chin,                                        
[290]
      not to shove my sword into the neck 
      of the woman who'd given birth to me,                                   
330
      since he would not return into the light
      and I'd be wretched, suffering ills like these.
      So now, sister, take that veil off your head.
      And stop your crying, even though our plight
      is desperate.  When you see me in a fit,
      you must reduce the harsh destructive parts
      inside my mind and soothe me.  When you groan,
      I must be beside you and comfort you
      with my advice.  When people are close friends                            
[300]
      it's a noble thing to offer help like that.                                   
340
      But now, you poor girl, go inside the house.
      Lie down and let your sleepless eyelids rest.
      Have some food to eat and wash your body.
      For if you leave me or catch some illness
      by sitting here with me, then I'm done for.
      You're the only help I've got.  As you see,
      all the others have abandoned me.

ELECTRA
      I won't leave.  I choose to live here with you,
      even to die. The choice remains the same.
      If you die, what will I, a woman, do?                                       
350
      How will I be saved all on my own,
      without a brother, father, or my friends?
      Still, I must do it, if you think it's right.                                             
[310]
      But set your body back down on the bed,
      and don't fret too much about the terror,
      the agony that drives you from your bed.
      Lie still here on the couch.  For even if
      you're not really sick but think you're ill,
      that still makes people tired and confused.

[Electra goes into the house]  
  
CHORUS
      Aaaiiii . . . .you winged goddesses                                            
360
      roaming in that manic frenzy,
      your god-appointed privilege,
      not some Bacchic ritual                              
      but one with tears, cries of grief—                                                    
[320]
      you
dark skinned kindly ones,
      racing through the wide expanse of air
      demanding justice for blood,
      a penalty for murder,
      how I beseech you, beg you,
      let the son of Agamemnon lose                                                370
      all memory of furious madness.
      Alas! What harsh work you strove for,
      you poor man, when you received,
      from Phoebus' tripod, the oracle                                                       [330]
     
which he delivered in his shrine,
      that cavern where, so people say,
      one finds the navel of the earth.*

      O Zeus, what pitiful event,
      what bloody struggle is now here,
      goading you in your misfortune—                     
                       380
      an avenging spirit bringing tears
      to add to all your tears, sending
      your mother's blood into your home
      and driving you to raving madness?
      I grieve for you—how I grieve for you.
      Among mortal men great prosperity                                                 
[340]
      never lasts.  No. Some higher spirit
      shatters it like the sail on a fast ship
      and hurls it into waves of dreadful sorrow,
      as deadly as storm waves out at sea.                                        
390
     
What other house should I still honour
      as issuing from marriage with the gods
      apart from those who come from Tantalus?*

[Menelaus enters, with an escort]

CHORUS
      But look, the king is now approaching—
      lord Menelaus.  His magnificence                                                   
[350]
      makes it plain to see that by his blood
      he comes from the sons of Tantalus.
      Hail to you, who with a thousand ships
      set off in force for Asian land, and find  
      good fortune now among your company.                                 
400
      With god's help you've managed to achieve
      all those things you prayed for.

MENELAUS
                                                         O my home—
      I look on you with joy, now I've come back
      from Troy, but I'm also full of sorrow
      at the sight, for never have I seen
      another home surrounded in this way
      with such harsh disaster.  For I learned                                           
[360]
      of Agamemnon's fate, the death he suffered
      at his wife's hand, as I steered my ship 
      towards Malea.* The sailors' prophet,                                 
410
      truthful Glaucus, Nereus' seer, 
      told me from the waves. He placed himself
      in open view and then said this to me:
      'Menelaus, your brother's lying dead—
      collapsed inside his bath, the final one
      his wife will give him.'  His words made us,
      me and my sailors, weep many tears.
      When I touched land at Nauplia, with my wife                               
[370]
      already coming here, I was expecting  
      to give a loving greeting to Orestes,                                        
420
      Agamemnon's son, and to his mother.
      I assumed that they were doing well.
      But then I heard from some fisherman
      about the profane murder of the child
      of Tyndareus. Tell me now, you girls,
      where he may be, Agamemnon's son,
      who dared this horrible atrocity.
      For back then, when I left home for Troy,
      he was a babe in Clytaemnestra's arms.
      So I wouldn't know him if I saw him.                                      
430

[Orestes moves over unsteadily from his bed and crouches down
in front of Menelaus]


ORESTES      
      Menelaus, I am Orestes—the man                                                   
[380]
      you asked about.  I'm willing to reveal
      all the suffering I've been through. But first,
      I clasp your knees in supplication,
      and offer prayers from the mouth of a man
      who holds no suppliant branch.*  Rescue me.
      It's the crucial moment of my suffering,
      and you've arrived in person.

MENELAUS
                                                                O gods,
      what's this I see?  Which of the dead  
     
am I now looking at?

ORESTES
                          What you say is true.                                            
440
      With the agony I'm in, I'm not alive,
      though I see daylight.

MENELAUS
                                     You're like a savage,
     
you poor man, with that tangled hair.

ORESTES
                                           It's not my looks
     
which cause me grief.  It's what I've done.

MENELAUS
                                     Your ravaged eyes—

      that look of yours is dreadful.

ORESTES
                                        My body's gone.                                               
[390]
      But my name has not abandoned me.

MENELAUS
     
You're an unsightly messnot what I expected.

ORESTES
     
Here I am, my wretched mother's killer.

MENELAUS
      So I've heard.  Don't talk about it—such evils  
     
should be mentioned only sparingly.                                         450

ORESTES
     
I'll not say much.  But the divine spirit
      fills me with afflictions.

MENELAUS
                                     What's wrong with you?
     
What's the sickness that's destroying you?

ORESTES
     
It's herein my mindbecause I'm aware
      I've done something horrific.*

MENELAUS
                                                What do you mean?
     
Wisdom comes from clarity.  It's not obscure.

ORESTES
     
It's the pain that's truly destroying me.

MENELAUS
     
She's a fearful goddess, but there are cures.

ORESTES
      Mad fits—retribution for my mother's blood.               
                 [400]

MENELAUS
      When did this frenzy start?  What day was it?                           460

ORESTES
     
On the day I was raising up the mound
      on my miserable mother's grave.

MENELAUS
     
Were you in the house or sitting down
      keeping watch beside her fire?

ORESTES
                                          It was at night,
     
while I was waiting to collect the bones.

MENELAUS
     
Was someone there as your support?

ORESTES
                                                           Yes.
     
Pylades was therehe acted with me
      in shedding blood, my mother's murder.

MENELAUS
      You're sick from phantom apparitions.
     
What are they like?

ORESTES
                          I thought I saw three girls—                                
470

      they looked like Night.

MENELAUS
                                  I know the ones you mean.
     
But I have no wish to speak their names.

ORESTES
      No.  They incite awe.  You acted properly                                     
[410]
     
in not mentioning them.

MENELAUS
                                     Are they the ones
     
driving you insane family murder?

ORESTES
     
How miserably I suffer their attacks

MENELAUS
     
But harsh suffering is not unusual
      for those who carry out such dreadful acts.

ORESTES
      But we do have a way out of our troubles.

MENELAUS
     
Don't talk of death—that's not wise.

ORESTES
           
                           It was Phoebus                                         480
      who ordered me to carry out the act,
      my mother's murder.

MENELAUS
                        Showing his ignorance
      of what's good and right.

ORESTES
                                       We are mere slaves
     
to the gods, whatever the gods are.

MENELAUS
     
In this suffering of yours does Loxias
      offer some relief?

ORESTES
                                      He's planning to.                                             
[420]
     
That's the nature of the gods.

MENELAUS
                                                And your mother

      how long is it since she stopped breathing?

ORESTES
      This is the sixth day.  Her burial fires
     
are still warm.

MENELAUS
                                    How quickly the goddesses                        
490

      came for you because of your mother's blood.

ORESTES
     
God is not wise, but by nature he is true
      to those who are his friends.*

MENELAUS
                                        And your father

      does he help you out for avenging him?

ORESTES
     
Not yet.  And if he's still intending to,
      I call that the same as doing nothing.

MENELAUS
     
After what you've done how do you stand
      with the city?

ORESTES
                            I am so despised
     
that people will not talk to me.

MENELAUS
                                               Have you cleansed  
      your hands of blood in the appropriate way?                            
500

ORESTES
      No.  Wherever I go, doors are shut to me.                                      
[430]

MENELAUS
      Which citizens are forcing you to leave?

ORESTES
      Oeax, who holds my father responsible
      for that hateful war at Troy.

MENELAUS
                                                                   I see.  
      He seeks revenge for Palamedes' murder.*

ORESTES
      I had no part of that—
I'm being killed,
      but that death is two removes from me.

MENELAUS
                                                      Who else?
      Some of Aegisthus' friends, I imagine?

ORESTES
      They slander me.  Now the city listens.

MENELAUS
      Agamemnon's sceptre—does the city                                      
510

      let you keep it?

ORESTES
                                How could they do that?
      They won't let me stay alive.

MENELAUS
                                             What will they do?
      Can you give me a definite idea?

ORESTES
     Today there'll be a vote against us.                                                  
[440]

MENELAUS
      For you to leave the city? Or a vote
      to kill or spare you?

ORESTES
                                      For death by stoning
      by all the citizens.

MENELAUS
                                 Why not escape

      flee across the border?

ORESTES
                                We're surrounded
      by soldiers, fully armed.

MENELAUS
                                                 Private enemies    
      or by a force of Argives?

ORESTES
                                                  The whole city—                          520
      to make sure I die.  There's no more to say.     

MENELAUS
      Poor wretch.  You're facing total disaster.

ORESTES
      My hope to get out of this emergency
      rests on you.  You've come loaded with success.
      So share your prosperity with your friends                                      
[450]
      in desperate straits.  Don't accept the benefits
      and keep them for yourself alone.  Take on,
      in your turn, a portion of these troubles,
      paying back my father's kindnesses for those  
      to whom you have an obligation.  Those friends                     
530
      who, when misfortune comes, aren't there to help
      are friends in name but not in deed.

[Enter Tyndareus with attendants]

CHORUS LEADER
                                                     Look

      the Spartan Tyndareus is coming here,
      shuffling on his old legs, wearing black robes,
      with short hair, in mourning for his daughter.

ORESTES
      I'm done for, Menelaus.  Look at this—
      Tyndareus is coming up to us.                                                         
[460]
      I feel particularly ashamed to come
      into his sight because of what I've done.
      For he raised me when I was still a child.                                
540
      He filled my life with love and carried me,
      the child of Agamemnon, in his arms.
      And Leda did the same.  They honoured me
      no less than they did those twins from Zeus.*
      O my miserable heart and spirit!
      I have not paid them back a good return.
      What darkness can I find to hide my face?
      What sort of cloud can I set in front of me
      to escape the eyes of that old man? 

[Tyndareus and his attendants move up to the palace]

TYNDAREUS
      Where can I catch a glimpse of Menelaus,                               
550  [470]
      my daughter's husband?  Where?  I was pouring
      libations on the grave of Clytaemnestra
      when I heard he'd arrived at Nauplia
      with his wife, home safe after all these years.
      Take me to him.  I want to stand beside him,
      on his right hand, and greet him as a friend
      whom I'm seeing again after all these years.

MENELAUS
      Welcome, old man whose head shared the same bed
      as Zeus himself.

TYNDAREUS 
                                Welcome to you, too,
      Menelaus, my kinsman.  Ah, it's bad                                        
560
      we don't know what it is the future brings.
      Here's that dragon snake who killed his mother,
      right outside the house, with his eyes flashing                                
[480]
      that sick glitter—an abomination to me.
      Menelaus, you're not talking to him,
      not to that impious wretch?

MENELAUS
                                          Why would I not?
      He's the son of a father whom I loved.

TYNDAREUS
      His natural son?  And he turned out like this?

MENELAUS
      Yes, he's his son by birth.  If he's in trouble,
      I must respect him.

TYNDAREUS
                                        You're a barbarian—                              
570

      you've been so long among the savages.

MENELAUS
      In Greece we always honour relatives.

TYNDAREUS
      And we don't wish to be above the law.

MENELAUS
      But among those with some intelligence
      anything that's forced is something slavish.

TYNDAREUS
      You hold to that.  I'll not subscribe to it.

MENELAUS
      Your anger and old age are not being wise.

TYNDAREUS
      What's a dispute about such foolishness
      have to do with him?  If what's good or bad
      is plain to all, who has been more stupid                                 
580
      than this fellow?  He didn't figure out
      what justice required.  Nor did he turn to
      the common practices among the Greeks.
      When Agamemnon took his final breath,
      after my daughter struck him on his head—
      a shameful act, which I never will defend—
      he should have gone after just punishment                                     
[500]
      for bloodshed and followed what's appropriate
      in our religion, throwing his mother  
      out of the house.  He would've won himself,                           
590
      instead of this disaster, some credit   
      for moderation.  And he'd have followed
      the law and been a righteous man.  But now,
      he's come to the same fate as his mother.
      He was right to think that she was wicked,
      but he's made himself more evil killing her.
      I'll ask you this question, Menelaus.
      If a man's wedded wife should murder him
      and the son, in his turn, killed his mother,                                    
[510]
      and after that the son pay for the murder                                      
600
      with his death, where will these disasters end?
      Our ancestors dealt with these issues well.
      They did not let a man with bloody hands
      come in their sight or cross their path.  Instead,
      they purified him, not by killing him
      as a punishment, no, they banished him.
      Otherwise, the man who has pollution
      on his hands last is always going to face
      his own murder.  I hate an evil woman,                                      
      especially my daughter who slaughtered                                  
610   [520]
      her own husband.  And I'll never approve
      of Helen, your wife, or even speak to her.
      I don't think much of your voyage to Troy
      for the sake of that worthless woman.
      But with all my power I'll defend the law
      to put an end to this bestial killing,
      which always destroys the land and city.

[Tyndareus moves up to Orestes]

      You miserable creature, what was in your mind
      when your mother exposed her breasts to you    
      and begged?  I did not see that dreadful sight,                          620
      but still my ancient eyes dissolve in tears.
      And there's one thing which supports my case—                            [530]
      the gods do hate you, and you're being punished
      for your mother with roaming fits of fear
      and madness.  Why do I need to attend to
      other witnesses, when I can see it
      for myself?  So you should keep this in mind,
      Menelaus—don't act against the gods
      by wanting to assist this man.  Let him 
      be stoned to death by the citizens,                                            630
      or else don't set foot on Spartan land.
      My daughter's dead.  And that deed was just.
      But she should not have died at that man's hand.
      I was born a fortunate man in all things                                           [540]
      except my daughters.  There I've been unlucky.

CHORUS LEADER
      The man who's fortunate in his children,
      who does not get ones which bring on him
      notorious trouble
—that's a man to envy.

ORESTES
      I'm afraid to talk to you, old man,
      at a time when I'm bound to pain your heart.                          
640
      Let your age, which hinders me from speaking,
      be set aside, and I'll proceed.  But now,
      your gray hair makes me too hesitant.
      I know my mother's murder has made me
      unholy, and yet, in another sense,
      a pious man who avenged his father.                                              
[550]
      What should I have done?  Set these two things
      against each other. My father planted me,
      your daughter bore me—she was the plough land 
      who received the seed from someone else.                              
650
      Without a father there would never be
      a child.  I reasoned that I ought to take
      the side of the one who gave me being,
      rather than the woman who undertook
      to raise me.  Now your daughter—I'm ashamed
      to call her mother—went to a man's bed
      in a private and an unwise marriage.
      When I say bad things against her, I speak
      against myself, but nonetheless I will.                                           
[560]
      At home Aegisthus was her secret husband.                            
660
      I killed the man, and then I sacrificed
      my mother.  I did an unholy act,
      but I did get vengeance for my father.
      As for the reasons you now threaten me
      with death by stoning, you should listen to
      how I am benefiting all of Greece.
      If women grow so bold they start to kill
      their husbands and then seek to find safety
      with their children, fishing for sympathy    
      with their breasts, they'd start killing husbands                        
670
      for any reason and would pay no price.                                          
[570]
      You claim I committed a dreadful crime,
      but I've put an end to practices like that.
      I hated my mother and killed her justly.
      She betrayed her husband, who was away
      with the army, commander of all Greeks,
      and didn't keep his bed free of dishonour.
      When she understood the mistake she'd made
      she didn't face up to the penalty.
      No.  In order to escape being punished,                                   
680
      she murdered my father.  By the gods!
      It's not a good thing to recall the gods
      in a defence against a charge of murder,
      but if by saying nothing I endorsed                                                 
[580]
      my mother's act, what would the murdered man
      have done to me?  Would he now hate me
      and terrify me with his band of Furies?
      Or does my mother have those goddesses
      as her allies, but he does not, although  
      he's the one who's been more greatly wronged.                       
690
      You've destroyed me, old man—yes, you have—
      you're the father of a wicked daughter.
      Thanks to her outrageous act, I have lost
      a father and become my mother's killer.
      You notice Telemachus did not kill
      Odysseus' wife, for she did not marry
      husband after husband, and in their home                                      
[590]
      their bedroom remained quite unpolluted.
      Do you see Apollo, who makes his home     
      at earth's navel stone and gives mortal men                             
700
      the clearest spoken words, whom we obey
      in all he says—I was obeying him
      when I killed my mother. Call him impious,
      and kill him.  It was his mistake, not mine.
      What should I have done?  Or is the god
      not good enough to cleanse me of my crime
      when I turn to him?  Where else can one flee,
      if he who commanded me to do it
      cannot rescue me from death?  So don't say 
      this action was not done appropriately,                                    
710  [600]
      but rather that it didn't work out well
      for those who did it.  Among mortal men,
      when marriages are properly set up,
      their life is blessed.  But those whose marriages
      fall out badly have no luck, indoors and out.

CHORUS LEADER
      Women by nature always interfere
      in the affairs of men, with bad results.

TYNDAREUS
      Since you speak so boldly and hide nothing,
      but give me answers which will pain my heart,
      you'll spur me on to bring about your death.                            
720
      I'll count that as an extra benefit                                                    
[610]
      in the work for which I came here, to dress
      my daughter's grave.  I'll go to the Argives,
      to their assembly, set them against you
      and your sister, against their will or not—
      you'll pay the penalty, death by stoning.
      She deserves to die even more than you.
      She incited you against your mother,
      always carrying stories for your ears 
      to make you hate her more, reporting dreams                          
730
      of Agamemnon and her sexual life
      with Aegisthus—may gods below the earth
      despise it—it was bitter up here, too,                                             
[620]
      until she set the house ablaze with flames
      not kindled by Hephaestus.  I tell you this,
      Menelaus, and I will do it, too.
      So if you give my hatred any weight
      and my relationship to you through marriage,
      don't act in opposition to the gods—
      do not protect this man from death.  Leave him                      
740
      for the citizens to kill by stoning,
      or don't set foot on Spartan land.  Listen,
      and understand this well.  You must not choose
      ungodly men as friends, pushing aside
      the ones who act more righteously.  You men,
      lead me away.  Take me from this house.

[Tyndareus and his attendants leave]

ORESTES
      Well, be off with you, so that what I say                                         
[630]
      may reach this man without interruption,  
      quite free from your old age.  Menelaus,
      why are you walking around, lost in thought,                           
750
      going back and forth, as if quite divided
      in what you're thinking?

MENELAUS
                                            Leave me alone.
      I'm debating with myself.  I'm not sure
      which course of action I should follow.

ORESTES
      Don't decide on what seems to be the case.
      First listen to the things I have to say
      and then make up your mind.

MENELAUS
                                           You're right.  Speak up.  
      There are times when silence may be better, 
      but there are also times when speaking    
     
is preferable to silence.  

ORESTES
                                           Then I'll speak.                                    760
      A long speech is better than a short one                                          [640]
      and it's much clearer for the listener, too.
      You don't have to give me anything of yours,
      Menelaus, just pay back what you took, 
      what you got from my father—not property,
      that's not what I mean.  If you save my life,
      that's the dearest thing I own.  I've done wrong.
      To counter this bad act, I have to get
      an unjust deed from you, for my father,
      Agamemnon, did wrong when he gathered                              
770
      those Greeks to go to Troy, and not because
      he made mistakes himself, no, but to heal                                      
[650]
      the error and injustice of your wife.*
      And for this one act you should pay me back.
      For he willingly sacrificed his life,
      as family members should for those they love,
      toiling hard in battle right beside you,
      so you could have your wife back.  Pay me back  
      in the same way for what you received there,
      working hard for just one day, not ten years.                           
780
      Stand up, and save me.  As for what Aulis took

      with my sister slaughtered as a sacrifice,
      I'll let you have that.  You don't have to kill
      Hermione.  For in my present plight,                  
      you must have the upper hand.  That I grant.
      But offer my poor father my own life
      and my sister's.  For a long time now                                              
[660]
      she's been unmarried, and if I die,
      I'll leave my father's house without an heir.
      You'll say it can't be done.  But that's the point.                     
790
      Kinsmen must help their friends when things are bad.
      When fortune gives success, what need of friends?
      When god is keen to help, then his assistance
      is quite sufficient.  All of Greece believes
      you love your wife—and I'm not saying this                                   
[670]
      to win your favour with mere flattery—
      but I am appealing to you in her name.
      O this wretched situation I am in!
      How did I get into something like this?
      What then?  Well, I have to go through with it.                       
800
      I'm making this appeal for my whole house.
      O uncle, you're brother to my father.
      Imagine if, from his grave, the dead man
      is listening to this and if his spirit
      is hovering above you and saying  
      what I say with these laments and tears
      in this misfortune.  I've given my speech
      and pleaded to be saved, chasing after
      what all men seek, not just myself alone.

CHORUS LEADER
      Although I'm just a woman, I too beg you                                  
810   [680]
      to help these people when they're in such need.
      You have the power to do that.

MENELAUS
                                                     Orestes,
      I do respect you, and I want to share
      these troubles with you.  Besides, it's right
      to help one's family members in bad times,
      if god gives one the power, by killing
      their enemies and even dying oneself.
      I need to get that power from the gods.
      I'm here without a group of fighting spearmen,
      after roaming through thousands of troubles                           
820
      with the small help of my surviving friends.                                    
[690]
      In any fight we could not overcome
      Pelasgian Argos.  If we could prevail
      with reassuring words, then that's where
      I'd place my hopes.  For how can any man
      achieve great things with small resources?
      It's foolishness to even wish for that.
      For when people fall into a frenzy
      it's like a blazing fire, hard to put out.
      If one, in responding to the tension,                                        
830
      gently eases off one's grip, backs away,
      and times things right, it may blow itself out.
      If the winds die down, you could easily get                                     
[700]
      whatever you want from them.  For people
      do have pity, as well as their great passion,
      a quality of utmost value to the man
      who looks for it.  And so on your behalf
      I'll go and try to convince Tyndareus
      and the city to act on their passions                                           
      wisely.  For a ship can take on water                                       
840
      if the sheet is pulled too tight, but if 
      one eases off the rope, then that ship
      will once more right itself.  The god does hate
      excessive zeal, as do the citizens.
      I must save you—I don't deny the fact—
      but by using cleverness, not by force                                               
[710]
      against a stronger group.  I'd not save you
      with power alone, as you perhaps may think.
      It's not easy to take a stand and win 
      with a single spear against the troubles                                    
850
      which afflict you.  It never was my style
      to try to soften up the Argive state,
      but now it must be done—the wise man
      is a slave to circumstance.

[Menelaus and his attendants leave]

ORESTES
                                       You're useless,
      except to head up an expedition
      for a woman's sake, the worst of men
      in helping out your friends.  Are you turning
      your back on me and running off,                                                   
[720]
      so Agamemnon's cause has disappeared?
      O father, once things have turned out badly                           
860
      you have no friends.  Alas, I've been betrayed,
      and there's no longer any hope for me
      of turning somewhere and escaping death
      at Argive hands. For that Menelaus
      was my refuge, my way of being saved.

[Pylades enters]

      But I see Pylades, my greatest friend,
      rushing here from Phocis.  A welcome sight!
      A man who can be trusted in hard times
      is finer to behold than tranquil waters  
      for men at sea. 

PYLADES
                                  I've come through the city,                          
870
      and I had to move quickly once I heard                                          
[730]
      and clearly witnessed for myself the crowds
      of citizens gathering there against you
      and your sister so they can kills you both
      without delay.  What's going on? How are you?
      What are you doing? Of people my own age,
      friends and relatives, you are my favourite.
      You're all those things to me.

ORESTES
                                                            I am done for—
      those few words make clear to you my troubles.                        

PYLADES
      Then you must do away with me as well.                                 
880
      Friends share things in common.

ORESTES
                                                           Menelaus
      is the worst of men to me and to my sister.

PYLADES
      It's natural enough that any man
      with a bad wife should grow bad himself.

ORESTES
      His coming here was as much help to me
      as if he hadn't come.

PYLADES
                                      So it's true then
      that he's arrived and landed here?

ORESTES
      He took a while, but in no time at all                                              
[740]
      showed he was an enemy to his friends.

PYLADES
      That wife of his—the nastiest of women—                             
890

      did he bring her on his ship?

ORESTES
                                             No, not him.
      She's the one who brought him here.

PYLADES
      Where is she, that one woman who destroyed
      all those Achaeans?

ORESTES
                                         She's in my home—
      if it's all right to call it mine.

PYLADES 
                                   What did you say
      to your father's brother?

ORESTES
                                             Not to just look on
      while the townsfolk killed me and my sister.

PYLADES
      By the gods, how did he respond to you?
      That I'd like to know.

ORESTES
                                                He was cautious—
      the way false friends act with their families.                             
900

PYLADES
      What sort of excuses did he offer?
      Once I know that, I'll understand it all.

ORESTES
      That man arrived—the one who has produced                               
[750]
      those splendid daughters.

PYLADES
                                 Ah, you mean Tyndareus.  
      I suppose he was all worked up at you
      for his daughter's sake?

ORESTES
                                       You have that right.
      And Menelaus preferred family ties
      with him instead of with my father.

PYLADES
      So when he was here he lacked the courage  
      to share you troubles.

ORESTES                      
                                No.  He wasn't born                                       
910

      a warrior.  He's brave among the women.

PYLADES
      So you're in the gravest danger and must die?

ORESTES
      The citizens must cast their votes on us
      about the murder.

PYLADES
                            What must the vote decide?
      Tell me.  I'm growing fearful.

ORESTES
                                                For life or death—

      it's not something that takes much time to say
      though it involves something that lasts forever.

PYLADES
      Leave the palace now, flee with you sister.

ORESTES
      Do you not see how we're both being watched,                           
[760]
      with armed guards on every side?

PYLADES
                                                                        I noticed                 
920

      streets in town blocked off by men with weapons.

ORESTES
      We're physically hemmed in, like a city 
      by its enemies.

PYLADES
                                             You must ask me now 
      how I'm doing, for I, too am quite destroyed..

ORESTES
      By whom?  This would add further disasters
      to the ones I face.

PYLADES
                                        Strophius, my father, 
      has banished me—he was so furious
      he sent me from the house.

ORESTES
                                                        What's the charge 
      he's leveling against you, something private 
      or is it one the townsfolk share?

PYLADES
                                                   He claims                                    
930

      it's an unholy sacrilege to help you
      in murdering your own mother.

ORESTES
                                                               That's bad news.  
      It seems what's hurting  me is harming you, as well.      

PYLADES
      It's something I have to bear.  I'll not act 
      like Menelaus.

ORESTES
                                   But aren't you afraid                                          
[770]
      Argos will want to kill you, just like me?

PYLADES
      I'm not theirs to punish.  I'm from Phocis.

ORESTES
      The mob is nasty, when it has leaders
      bent on doing wrong.

PYLADES
                                          But when it's controlled
      by decent men, the decisions they make                                  
940
      are always good.

ORESTES
                     All right.  We must think this through,
      working together.

PYLADES
                                    What must we do?

ORESTES
      What if I went and told the citizens . . . 

PYLADES [interrupting]
      . . . that what you did was just?

ORESTES
                                            I sought  revenge
      for my father's sake?

PYLADES
                                      They might be happy
      to grab hold of you.

ORESTES
                                      Am I to cower down
      and die without a word?

PYLADES                       
                                 That's cowardly.

ORESTES
       Then what should I do?

PYLADES
                                          If you stayed here,
      would you have a way of being rescued?

ORESTES
      No. I don't have anything.

PYLADES
                                           And if you left,                                    
950

      is there some hope you might be saved?

ORESTES
                                                           Perhaps—                                  
[780]
      there might be.

PYLADES
                               That's better than staying here, then.

ORESTES
     All right, I'll go.

PYLADES
                            At least that way, if you die,
      you'll die more nobly. 

ORESTES
                                            You're right—this way
      I won't be a coward.

PYLADES
                             More than staying here.

ORESTES
       And my action was right.

PYLADES
                            Just make a prayer
      that's how it looks to them.

ORESTES
                                     And someone there
      might pity me . . . 

PYLADES [interrupting]
                             Yes, your noble birth
      is a great asset.

ORESTES
                                  . . . being so upset
      at my father's death.

PYLADES
                                 All that's easy to see.                                     
960

ORESTES
      I have to go.  It's not a manly thing
      to die a shameful death.

PYLADES
                                   I agree with you.

ORESTES
      Should we tell my sister?

PYLADES
                                           By the gods, no.

ORESTES
      There'd certainly be tears.

PYLADES
                                        That'd be a serious omen.

ORESTES
      It's clear it's better to say nothing.

PYLADES
     And you'll save time.

ORESTES
                       There's just one problem for me.                                     [790]

PYLADES
     What now? Are you talking of something new?

ORESTES
      I'm worried the goddesses will stop me
      with this madness.

PYLADES
                      But I'll take care of you.

ORESTES
      It's unpleasant looking after someone sick..                                     970

PYLADES
       Not to me.  Not when I'm looking after you.

ORESTES
      Be careful you don't start my madness.

PYLADES
     Don't worry over that.

ORESTES         
                               You won't hold back?

PYLADES
      It's a great evil to hold back with friends.

ORESTES
      Then, you pilot of my steps, let's go now.

PYLADES
      That's a service I'm glad to undertake.

ORESTES          
      And lead me to my father's tomb.

PYLADES
                                                         Why there?

ORESTES
      So I may appeal to him to save me.

PYLADES
      That's the righteous thing to do.                       

ORESTES
                                             May I not glimpse 
      the memorial to my mother!

PYLADES
                                                          No, not that.                         980
      She was your enemy.  But you must hurry
      the vote the Argives cast may catch you first.
      Lean your side that's weakened by disease                                      [800]
      against my side, so I can carry you 
      through town.  I won't be worrying about
      the crowds or feeling any sense of shame.
      For how can I show I'm a friend of yours
      if I  don't help when you're in serious trouble?

ORESTES
      That's the point.  Make sure you get good comrades    
      and not just relatives.  A man may be                                       990
      from somewhere else, but if he bonds with you
      in how you act, then he's a better friend,
      than a thousand members of one's family.

[Pylades and Orestes leave]

CHORUS
      That great prosperity and lofty name
      so proudly celebrated throughout Greece  
      and there beside the waters of the Simois
      has declined once more from the success                                         [810]
      of Atreus' sons so many years ago
      from an old misfortune in their house,
      when strife came to the sons of Tantalus                                 
1000
      about a golden ram, the saddest feasts
      and slaughter of children nobly born,
      that's why murder moves on to murder
      through blood and does not leave alone
      the double line of Atreus.*

      What's good is not good, to slice up                                                 [820] 
      a parent's flesh with metal forged in fire
      and to display in the sun's light a sword
      stained black with murdered blood.  To commit   
      a virtuous crime is sheer profanity,                                           
1010
      the mad delusion of wrong-thinking men.
      The wretched daughter of Tyndareus,
      terrified of death, screamed at him, "My child,
      don't you dare carry out such sacrilege
      and slaughter your own mother—in honouring
      your father, don't tie yourself to such disgrace,
      such shame which lasts for an eternity."                                         
[830]

      What affliction or distress, what agony
      in all the earth surpasses this, to have 
      on one's own hands a mother's murdered blood?                     
1020
      For undertaking such a act, the man
      has been driven into fits of madness,
      prey hunted by the Kindly Ones, his eyes
      rolling in her whirling blood, the son
      of Agamemnon.  The miserable wretch,                                         
[840]
      when he saw his mother's breast appear
      above her dress, a robe of woven gold,
      he made his own mother a sacrifice    
      to avenge the sufferings of his father.

[Enter Electra from the house]

ELECTRA
      You women, has poor Orestes left the house,                         
1030 

      overcome by that madness from the gods?

CHORUS LEADER
      No.  He's gone to the people in Argos,
      to give himself up for the vote they've set,
      in which you two must live or die.

ELECTRA
      Alas!  Why did he do that? Who convinced him?

[A Messenger appears, coming toward the house]

CHORUS LEADER
      Pylades did.  But this messenger, it seems,                                     
[850]
      will soon tell us news about your brother,
      what happened to him there.

MESSENGER
                                             You poor girl,
      unhappy daughter of Agamemnon,
      our army's leader, lady Electra,                                                
1040
      hear the disastrous news I bring you.

ELECTRA
      Alas!  We're finished!  Your words are clear enough—
      you've come, it seems, with disastrous news.

MESSENGER
      Pelasgians have, in their vote, decreed
      that you, unhappy lady, are to die,
      you and your brother on this very day.*

ELECTRA
      Alas!  What I been expecting has arrived—
      I've been afraid of it a long time now,                                             
[860]
      dissolved in sorrow for what might come true.
      How was the trial?  What did the Argives say                          
1050
      to convict us and ratify our deaths?
      Tell me, old man, whether my life will end
      by stoning or a sword—for I do share
      in those misfortunes of my brother?

MESSENGER
      I happened to be coming from the country
      and was coming through the gates—I wanted
      to find out about you and Orestes.
      I always liked your father, and your house
      gave me food.  I was poor but honourable                                      
[870]
      in helping out my friends.  I saw a crowd                                 
1060
      going up and sitting on the higher ground
      where, they say, Danaus first gathered up
      his people and they sat down together
      to judge the charge against him by Aegyptus.*
      Seeing the crowd, I asked a citizen,
      What's new in Argos?   Has some news report
      about an enemy caused a great stir
      in this city of Danaus' descendants?
      He said, "Don't you see Orestes coming,
      rushing to a trial where his life's at stake."                              
1070
      Then I saw something I did not expect—
      how I wish I'd never seen it!—Pylades                                             
[880]
      and your brother moving there together,
      one with his head down and doubled over
      by his infirmity and the other,
      like a brother, sharing his friend's troubles,
      caring for his sickness as if he were
      schooling a young boy.  Once the Argives
      had gathered in a crowd, a herald stood 
      and cried, "Who desires to make a speech                               
1080
      whether Orestes should be killed or not
      for his mother's murder?"  Talthybius stood,
      the man who helped your father demolish
      those Phrygians.*  He spoke ambiguously—
      well, he's always been a subordinate
      of those in power—praising your father                                          
[890]
      but saying nothing good about your brother,
      weaving good and misleading words together,
      claiming it would be setting up bad laws
      concerning parents, and all the time                                        
1090
      he kept looking at Aegisthus' friends
      with those bright eyes of his.  The herald tribe
      is like that—they're always jumping over
      to the side of the successful.  Any man
      who has ruling power in the city 
      is a friend of theirs.  After he'd finished,
      lord Diomedes spoke.  He was against                                            
[900]
      killing you or your brother but proposed
      they act with reverence and as punishment    
      use exile.  Some of the people there roared out                        
1100
      that what he'd said was good, but then others
      didn't favour the idea.  But after that,
      a man stood up who can't keep his mouth shut,
      whose strength comes from his boldness—an Argive,
      but not from Argos—and forced himself on us
      relying on bluster, ignorant free speech,
      persuasive enough to get them involved
      in some bad scheme or other.  When a man
      with bad intentions but a pleasing style
      persuades a mob, that's a great disaster                                    
1110
      for the city, but those who always give                                           
[910]
      useful, sound advice, even if their words
      are not immediately appropriate,
      are beneficial later to the state.
      That's how one should view a party leader—
      what happens with a man who gives a speech
      is much the same as with a man in office.
      Well, this man said that you and Orestes
      should be stoned to death. But Tyndareus
      was the one who laid down the arguments                                
1120
      the speaker used to urge you both be killed.
      Another man stood up opposing him.
      He wasn't much to look at physically,
      but the man had courage.  He rarely came
      into the city and the market place.
      He was a farmer—they're the only ones                                          
[920]
      who keep our country going—but clever
      and keen to wrestle with the argument,
      someone with integrity, who lived a life                                    
      beyond reproach.  He said they should crown                         
1130
      Orestes, Agamemnon's son, who wished
      to avenge his father, who'd been murdered
      by an abominable, godless woman—
      she'd stop men taking up their weapons
      and fighting foreign wars, if those people
      who stayed behind corrupted things at home
      by abusing the men's wives.  What he said
      appeared convincing, at least to decent folk.                                    
[930]
       
There were no other speakers.  Your brother 
      then came up and said, "You who are the heirs                       
1140
      of Inachus, who were Pelasgians
      so long ago, then sons of Danaus,
      I was fighting on your behalf, no less
      than for my father, when I killed my mother.
      For if the fact that women murder men
      is permitted, you'll be dead in no time,
      or else we'll have to be the women's slaves—
      and you'll be doing the very opposite
      of what you should be doing.  As it is,
      the woman who betrayed my father's bed                                
1150
      is dead, but if you execute me now,                                                
[940]
      the law would be relaxed, and men will die
      as fast as possible—there'll be no lack
      of such audacity."  His speech was good,
      but he could not convince the crowd. Instead,
      the verdict of the entire group was for
      the nasty rogue who spoke out in favour
      of executing you and your brother.
      Poor Orestes just managed to persuade them   
      not to stone him to death, by promising                                  
1160
      to end his life, to die by his own hand, 
      along with you, as well, this very day.
      Pylades, in tears, is bringing him here
      from the assembly. His friends are coming,                                      
[950]
      weeping and lamenting.  This spectacle,
      so painful for you, is heading this way,
      a distressing sight.  Get your swords ready
      or a noose around your neck—you must leave
      the light.  Your noble birth has been no help.
      Nor has Phoebus in Delphi, seated there                                 
1170
      on his tripod.  He's destroyed you instead.

[The Messenger leaves]

CHORUS LEADER
      O you unfortunate girl, you're speechless,
      with your clouded face bent toward the ground, 
      as if you'll rush to cry and make laments.

ELECTRA
      O Pelasgia, now I start to weep,                                                    
[960]
      pushing white nails through my cheeks,
      blood lacerations, and striking my head,
      actions appropriate to Persephone,
      lovely child goddess of the world below.
      Let the Cyclopian land now wail aloud                                    
1180
      the sorrows of this house, setting iron
      against its head to shave it close.*
      Pity, yes, pity now comes forward
      for those who are about to die,
      once war leaders of the Greeks.                                                     
[970]

      It's gone—the entire race of Pelops,
      passed away and gone, all the glory
      that once made it a blessed house.
      Envy from the gods seized them— 
      and that hateful vote for blood                                                
1190
      among the citizens.  Alas, alas,
      you tribes of men bowed down with work,
      who live a brief life full of tears,
      see how Fate moves to thwart your hopes.
      As time run on at length, different men
      take turns with different troubles,                                                  
[980]
      and all of human life remains uncertain.

      If only I could reach that boulder
      hanging  in the winds on chains of gold
      mid way between the earth and heaven,                                  
1200
      that fragment carried from Olympus,
      so I could shout out my laments
      to old father Tantalus, who sired
      and made my house's ancestors.
      the ones who witnessed such disasters—
      the race of flying horses, when Pelops
      in a four-horse chariot raced to the sea                                           
[990]
      and murdered Myrtilus by hurling him
      into the ocean swell, driving his chariot
      near Geraestus, where the surging sea                                      
1210
      foams white along the shore.*
      From that there came upon my house
      a dreadful curse, when Maia's son
      arranged a birth within the flocks,
      the lamb with a fleece of gold,
      ominous portent of the ruin
      of horse-breeding Atreus.                                                                
[1000]
      Because of that, Strife then reversed
      Sun's winged chariot to a western path
      across the sky by placing under yoke                                       
1220
      the snow-white horses of the Dawn
      and Zeus changed onto another path
      the moving seven-tracked Pleiades*
      Death followed death at that banquet
      to which Thyestes gave his name
      and the bed of Aerope from Crete,
      a traitor in her deceitful marriage.*                                             
[1010]
      The final chapter comes with me
      and with my father in these troubles,
      all these afflictions laid on our house.                                    
1230

[Pylades and Orestes enter]

CHORUS LEADER
     
Look, here comes your brother, condemned to die
      by general vote, and with him Pylades,
      the truest of all men, like a brother,
      guiding his sick limbs, treading carefully
      like a pace horse giving its support.

ELECTRA
      Alas!  My brother, I'm seeing you here
      before your tomb, confronting face to face
      the gates of those below, and I weep.
      Alas, once more!  This last sight of you                                          
[1020]
      before my eyes will make me lose my mind.                           
1240

ORESTES
      Why can't you just be quiet and finish off
      these womanish laments for what's been done?
      It's pitiful, but still you must endure
      the circumstances we now face.

ELECTRA
                                                       But how
      can I stay silent?  We poor sufferers
      will no longer see the sun god's light.

ORESTES
      Don't be so tedious.  It's quite enough
      that I'll be suffering a wretched death
      at Argive hands.  So just set aside
      your present sorrow.

ELECTRA
                                 Alas for your sad youth,                                
1250
      Orestes, and for your early death.
      You should live on, but now you'll be no more.                             
[1030]

ORESTES
      By the gods, you'll strip me of my manhood

      by bringing our calamities to mind
      you'll have me crying.

ELECTRA
                                        We're going to die.
      It's impossible not to grieve for that.
      It's pitiful.  To all men life is sweet. 

ORESTES
      This is our appointed day.  So we must
      sharpen a sword or fix a hanging noose.

ELECTRA
      Then you kill me, my brother, so no Argive                              1260
      executes me and starts hurling insults
      at Agamemnon's children.

ORESTES
                                                    I won't kill you.
      It's enough to have my mother's blood on me.
      No.  You must die by your own hand somehow—                          [1040]
      in whatever way you wish.

ELECTRA
                                            All right, then.  
      I won't lag behind you with my sword.
      But I want to hug you around your neck

ORESTES
      Enjoy that empty pleasure, if embraces
      bring any joy to those about to die.

ELECTRA [embracing Orestes]
      O my dearest one!  O that longed-for name,                               
1270

      so very sweet to your own sister

      whose spirit is one with yours.

ORESTES
                                       You'll melt my heart.
      I want to respond to you with loving arms.
      And why should a wretch like me still feel shame?

[Orestes embraces Electra]

      Ah, my sister's heart, how I love holding you!
      For us in our misery these pleasures                                               
[1050]
      replace our children and a marriage bed.

ELECTRA
      If only the same sword could kill us both,
      if that's permitted, and one burial chamber   
      made of cedar wood receive us both.                                       
1280 

ORESTES
      That would be very sweet.  But you do see
      we're short of friends who'd let us share a tomb.

ELECTRA
      Did that coward Menelaus, the one
      who betrayed my father, not speak out
      on your behalf, making some attempt
      to stop you being killed?

ORESTES
                                                   Not at all—
      he didn't even show his face.  His hopes
      were on the sceptre, so he was careful
      not to save the members of his family.
      But come now, as we move to our deaths                               
1290  [1060]
      let's act bravely, in a way that's worthy
      of Agamemnon.  So I, for my part,
      will show the city I am nobly born,
      when I push the sword into my liver.
      You, in turn, must match my courage.
      Pylades, you must supervise our deaths—
      when we're dead, dress our bodies properly.
      Carry them to our father's burial mound
      and bury us together.  So farewell.
      I'm on my way to do it, as you see.                                          
1300

[Orestes starts to move into the house]

PYLADES
      Hold on!  There's first something I blame you for—
      if you believed I'd want to go on living                                           
[1070]
      after you were dead.

ORESTES
                                               Why is it right
      that you should die with me?

PYLADES
                                          You're asking that?  
      How can I live without you as my friend?

ORESTES
      You didn't kill your mother, as I did,
      to my misfortune.

PYLADES
                                              I acted with you.
      For that I should have to suffer something.                   

ORESTES
      Surrender your body to your father.
      Don't die with me.  You still have a city.                                 
1310
      I do not.  You have your father's house
      and the safety of great wealth.  You failed
      to marry my poor sister, as I promised
      out of a sense of our companionship.
      But you must take another marriage bed                                        
[1080]
      and have children.  The family bonds we had
      no longer hold with you and me.  Be happy,
      beloved face of my great friend.  For us            
      that is impossible, but you can be—
      we dead lack any sources of delight.                                        
1320

PYLADES
      How far you are from understanding
      what my intentions are.  May fruitful earth
      refuse to take my blood and the bright sky
      my spirit, if ever I betray you,
      if I let myself go free and leave you.
      I did the murder, too.  I don't deny it.
      And I planned all those things for which you now                          
[1090]
      are paying the penalty.    And so I must
      go to my death along with you and her.
      Since I consented to the marriage,                                           
1330
      I consider her my wife.  What would I say
      if I ever came to the land of Delphi,
      and reached the high citadel of Phocis,
      if I'd been your friend before your troubles
      but was no longer any friend of yours
      now you're in this distress?  I can't do that.
      I'm involved in this, as well.  Since we'll die
      let's see if we can find a way together
      to make Menelaus miserable as well.

ORESTES
      My dearest friend, if only I could see                                        
1340 [1100]
      something like that before I die.

PYLADES
                                                     Then listen.
      You must postpone this sword blow.

ORESTES
                                                          I will,
      if I can get even with my enemy.

PYLADES [indicating the Chorus]
      Be quiet.  I don't have much confidence
      in these women.

ORESTES    
                            Don't worry about them.
      These women here are friends of ours.

PYLADES
      Let's murder Helen—for Menelaus
      that would be a bitter pain.

ORESTES
                                                     But how?
      I'm prepared to do it, if there's a chance   
      we'd pull it off.

PYLADES
                                    By hacking her to death.                             
1350

      She's hiding in your house.

ORESTES
                                                 That's true enough.
      In fact, she's stamping her seal on everything.

PYLADES
      Not any more.  She's engaged to Hades.

ORESTES
      How do we do it?  She has attendants—                                        
[1110]
      those barbarians.

PYLADES
                                     What do they matter?
      I'm not afraid of any Phrygians.

ORESTES
      The kind of men who take care of mirrors
      and look after perfumes! 

PYLADES
                                             Did she come here
      bringing the luxuries of Troy with her?

ORESTES
      Oh yes.  For her Greece is too small a space                           
1360

      to live in.

PYLADES
                                The race of slaves is nothing
      compared to those who're free.

ORESTES
                                                      If I do this,
      I'm not afraid of dying twice.                   

PYLADES
                                                 Nor am I,
      if I'm getting my revenge for you.

ORESTES
      Explain the plan—keep on describing
      what you were talking about.

PYLADES
                                                     We'll go in,
      inside the house, as if we're on our way
      to kill ourselves.

ORESTES
                                 I understand that part.                                         
[1120]
      But I don't get the rest.

PYLADES
                                                We'll parade our grief
      for what we're suffering in front of her.                                    
1370

ORESTES
      So she'll begin to weep, though on the inside 
      she'll be overjoyed.

PYLADES
                                 Then the state she's in
      will match our own.

ORESTES
                               After that, what do we do
      according to our plan?

PYLADES
                                            We'll have swords
     hidden in our clothes.

ORESTES
                                          And her attendants—
      do we kill them first?

PYLADES
                                              We'll lock them up
      in different places in the house

ORESTES
                                                      And anyone
      who won't keep quiet we'll have to kill.

PYLADES 
      Once that's done, the job itself will tell us
      where we direct our efforts.

ORESTES
                                                Helen's murder.                              
1380  [1130]
      I know what that means.

PYLADES
                                                              That's right.  
      Now listen to how well I've planned this out.
      If we drew our swords against a woman
      with greater moderation, the killing
      would be notorious, but as it is,
      she'll pay the penalty to all of Greece—
      she killed their fathers, destroyed their children,
      and robbed married women of their husbands—
      there'll be shouts of joy, people lighting fires
      to the gods and calling many blessings down                           
1390
      on you and me for carrying out the murder
      of such an evil woman.  With her death
      you won't be called "killer of your mother"—                                
[1140]
      you'll move past that and find a better name.
      They'll call you killer of Helen, the one
      who slaughtered thousands.  It can't be right,
      it never would be right for Menelaus
      to keep being successful while your father,
      your sister, and yourself go to their deaths,
      and your mother . . . but I'll avoid that subject                        
1400
      as something indelicate to mention,
      or for him to have your house—after all,
      it was thanks to Agamemnon's spear
      he got his wife back.  May I stop living
      if we don't pull out our swords against her!
      If we don't succeed in killing Helen,
      before we die we'll set the house on fire.                                        
[1150]
      We won't fail to win at least one glory—
      a noble death or a fine salvation.

CHORUS LEADER
      Tyndareus' daughter disgraced her sex                                     
1410
      and justly earned the hatred of all women.

ORESTES
      Ah me, a true friend—there's nothing better,
      not wealth or sovereignty.  One cannot count
      what one would exchange for a noble friend.
      You're the one who devised those nasty things
      against Aegisthus, then stayed at my side
      when danger threatened.  And now once again                              
[1160]
      you're offering me a way of punishing
      my enemies and are not running off.
      But I'll stop praising you—excessive praise                             
1420
      can prove a burden.  Now, in any case,
      since my spirit is going to breathe its last,
      I want to do something to my enemies
      before I die, so I can demolish,
      in their turn, those who were traitors to me
      and make those who made me suffer grieve.
      Yes, I was born son of Agamemnon,
      who was considered worthy to rule Greece.
      He was no tyrant yet had god-like strength.
      I will not disgrace him, going to my death                                
1430  [1170]
      as if I were a slave.  No.  My life force
      I shall release quite freely.  And I'll take
      revenge on Menelaus.  If we could get
      just one thing, we could get lucky—some way
      to save ourselves despite all expectations
      might fall our way from somewhere, so we'd kill
      and not get killed ourselves.  I pray for that.
      It's sweet to talk about what I desire
      in words with wings which cheer my spirit
      and don't cost anything.

ELECTRA
                                                  Brother, I think                            
1440
      I've got the very thing you're praying for,
      a way of rescuing the three of us, 
      you, him, and me.

ORESTES
                                     You mean divine good will?
      That can't be it, because I know your mind                                    
[1180]
       is too intelligent for that.

ELECTRA
                                                Just listen—
      and you, Pylades, pay attention, too.

ORESTES
      All right, talk.  The idea that there's good news
      makes me feel good.

ELECTRA
                                        You know Helen's daughter?
      Of course, you do.

ORESTES
                                       Yes, I know Hermione.
      My mother raised her.

ELECTRA
                                              Well, she's gone off                          
1450
      to Clytaemnestra's grave.

ORESTES
                                        What's she doing there?
      What hope are you suggesting?

ELECTRA
                                                  She's gone to pour
      libations on our mother's burial mound.

ORESTES
      How does what you've said help us to safety?

ELECTRA
      Seize her on her way back.  Make her a hostage.

ORESTES
      We three here are friends—so what remedy                                   
[1190]
      are you suggesting for us?

ELECTRA
                                     Once Helen's dead,
      if Menelaus tries to do something
      to you or him or me—for this friendship
      unites us all as one—tell him you'll kill                                    
1460
      Hermione.  You must pull out your sword
      and hold it here, across the young girl's throat.
      Once Menelaus sees Helen collapsed
      in her own blood, if he tries to save you,
      because he doesn't want the girl to die,
      then let her father have Hermione back,
      but if his passions get the best of him
      and he seeks your death, cut the young girl's neck.
      I think he'll put on quite a show at first,                                         
[1200]
      but soon enough his temper will calm down.                           
1470
      He's not a bold courageous man by nature.
      That's the defence I have to rescue us.
      That's it.  I'm finished.

ORESTES
                                         You've got a man's heart,
      though your body shows that you're a woman.
      How much more you deserve to stay alive
      than die.  Pylades, it would be bad luck
      if you were to lose a woman like this,
      but if you live, you'll be a happy man
      to share her marriage bed.

PYLADES
                                      I hope that happens.
      May she come to the city of Phocis                                          
1480
      full honoured with fine wedding songs!                                          
[1210]

ORESTES
      How long before Hermione gets home?
      All the things you said were really good,
     
provided we succeed in seizing her,
      that whelp of a sacrilegious father.

ELECTRA
      I expect she's already near the house,
      judging from the length of time she's taken.

ORESTES
      Good.  Now, Electra, you remain right here.
      Wait in front of the house for her return.
      And keep an eye out, in case anyone—                                    1490
      my uncle or one of his associates—
      comes too near the house before the murder.                                 
[1220]
      If so, make a signal to those inside,
      by knocking on the door or sending word.

      Pylades, we'll go in and arm ourselves,  
      get swords in hand to finish this last fight

      you'll help me in carrying out the work.
      O father living at home in murky night,
      your son Orestes is summoning you
      to come and stand by those who need your help.                    
1500
      In this distress I'm suffering injustice
      for your sake.  I've acted righteously,
      but I've been betrayed by your own brother
      Now I wish to take his wife and kill her—
      be our accomplice in this act.                                                         
[1230]

ELECTRA
                                                          O father,
      do come, if from there beneath the earth
      you hear the calls of your own children
      who are dying for your sake.

PYLADES
                                                 O Agamemnon,
      my father's kinsman, hear my prayers as well—    
      save  your children.

ORESTES
                                     I murdered by mother . . .                          
1510 

ELECTRA
      I handed him the sword . . . 

PYLADES
                                             I urged him on
      and overcame his hesitation.

ORESTES
      I was defending you, father.

ELECTRA
                                                     And I
      did not betray you.

PYLADES
                                                Surely you'll listen
      to these reproaches and save your children.      

ORESTES
      I'm pouring a libation to you in my tears.

ELECTRA
      And I with my laments.

PYLADES
                                            Stop this now.                                            [1240]
      Let's get to work.  If it's true that prayers
      do pierce the ground, then he is listening.
      O ancestral Zeus and holy Justice,                                           1520
      grant success to him, to her, to me,
      to three friends facing a single struggle,
      a single punishment—we all will live,
      or pay the price and die.

[Orestes and Pylades enter the house.  Electra turns to face the Chorus]

ELECTRA
      O you women of Mycenae, my friends,
      among the first ranks of those who live
      in the Argives' Pelasgian home.

CHORUS LEADER
      What is it you want to say, my lady? 
      You still retain this title in the city                                                  
[1250]
      where the sons of Danaus live.                                                
1530

ELECTRA
      Place yourselves where you can watch the house—
      some of you there on the chariot roadway,
      some of you here along the other path.

CHORUS LEADER
      Why are you calling me to do these tasks?
      Tell me, dear girl.

ELECTRA
                                          I'm afraid someone
      may come across the murderous bloodshed
      in the house and witness new disasters
      to add to old calamities.

FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
                                           Let's hurry on our way.
      Let's go.  I'll stand guard on this pathway,
      the one towards the east.

SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
                                           And I'll guard this road,                       
1540 [1260]
      the one towards the west.

ELECTRA
                                    Keep your eyes moving   
      back and forth, checking on both sides.

CHORUS
      Back and forth, then once more back again—
      I'm following what you said.

ELECTRA
                                                     Keep your eyes alert.
      Let them see everything through that hair of yours.

FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
      Who's that man approaching down the road?
      What country fellow's wandering round your home?                      
[1270]

ELECTRA
      We're lost, my friends!  He'll tell our enemies 
      about those predators with swords in there—
      and do so right away.

SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
                                       Calm your fears, my dear.                       
1550
      It's not what you think—the
path is empty.

ELECTRA
      What's going on?  Is your side still clear for me?
      Give me a report if it's all right, 
      if there's no one there by the front courtyard.

FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
      It's fine here.  Just keep watching on your side.
      None of Danaus' sons is moving toward us.

SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
      Same thing over here.  And there's no noise.                                  
[1280]

ELECTRA
      All right.  I'll try listening at the doorway.
      It's so quiet.  You there inside the house,
      why the delay in bloodying your victim?                                  
1560
      They can't hear.  Alas, this looks bad for me!
      Has her loveliness made their swords grow blunt?
      Soon some armed man will be rushing here,
      coming from the Argives to rescue her                                           
[1290]
      and attack the house.  Keep better guard.
      This is not a contest in sitting still.
      You women circle around over there,
      you others over there.

CHORUS
                                                      I shift around—

      I'm looking everywhere along the road.

[Helen screams from inside the house]

HELEN [within]
      O Pelasgian Argos!  I'm being butchered!                                
1570

CHORUS [speaking as separate individuals]
      —Did you hear that?  The men have set their hands
          to killing.

                    —That's Helen screaming.  That's my guess.

ELECTRA
      O Zeus, O eternal power of Zeus

      just come and help my friends.                                                       
[1300]

HELEN [within]
     
Menelaus, I'm dying—you're close by
      but you won't help me!

ELECTRA
      Slaughter her, finish her off!
      Destroy her! Let your two swords
      slash her with their double blades,
      the one who left her father,                                                     
1580
      left her husband, and butchered
      so many Greeks, killed by spears
      beside the river bank, where tears
      and then more tears were shed,
      with iron weapons all around
      the whirling waters of Scamander.*                                            
[1310]

CHORUS LEADER
      Be quiet!  Don't say a thing!  I hear the sound
      of someone coming along the pathway,
      near the house.

ELECTRA
                             You women, dearest friends,
      Hermione's coming, while the murder's                                   
1590
      still going on.  We must stop shouting.  She'll walk
      headlong into the meshes of our net.
      Our catch will be a fine one, if she's caught.
      Go back to your positions once again.
      Keep your looks serene. Don't let your colour
      reveal what's happened.  I'll keep my eyes
      looking sad, as if I had no knowledge                                             
[1320]
      of what's been done.

[Hermione enters, coming towards the house]

ELECTRA
                                    Ah my girl, have you come 
      from placing wreaths on Clytaemnestra's grave
      and pouring out libations to the dead?                       
               1600

HERMIONE
      Once I obtained her favour, I returned.
      But a certain fear has come over me—
      when I was still some distance from the house
      I heard some screaming coming from inside.

ELECTRA
      Is that so strange?  What's happening to us
      deserves such cries of sorrow.

HERMIONE
                                           Don't say bad things.
      What news have you to speak of?

ELECTRA
                                                           The state
      decrees Orestes and myself must die.

HERMIONE
      No, no!   You're my blood relatives!

ELECTRA
                                                                  It's done.                             
[1330]
      We're strapped under necessity's harsh yoke.                           
1610

HERMIONE
      Was that why someone screamed inside the house?

ELECTRA
      A suppliant cried out as he fell down
      at Helen's knees.

HERMIONE
                               Who was it?  Tell me—
      if you don't, I won't know any details.

ELECTRA
      It was poor Orestes.  He was begging
      not to die—and for me, as well.

HERMIONE
                                                  The house
      has a good reason then to cry aloud.

ELECTRA
      What other better reason could there be
      for someone to scream about?  But come now,
      join your relatives in their entreaties,                                       
1620
      prostrating yourself before your mother,
      now she enjoys such great prosperity,
      so Menelaus will not see us die.
      You who were nursed in my own mother's arms,                           
[1340]
      have pity on us and assist us now
      in our distress.  Enter the struggle here.
      I'll lead you in myself, for you alone
      are our last hope of rescue.

HERMIONE
                                                      Watch me

      my feet are hurrying towards the house.
      As far as it lies within my power,                                             
1630
      may you be safe.

[Hermione enters the palace]

ELECTRA
                                   You friends inside the house
—             
      why not take your swords and seize your prey?

HERMIONE [from within the house]
      Oh no!  Who are these men I see?

ORESTES [from within]
                                                        Silence!
      You've come to save us, not yourself. 

ELECTRA [at the doorway, looking in]
                                                                     Grab her!
      Hold her down!  Put your sword across her throat
—                      [1350]
      and keep quiet, so Menelaus will know
      he's met some men, not Phrygian cowards,
      and has been dealt with as bad men deserve.

[Electra enters the house]

CHORUS
      O friends, begin the rhythmic beat,
      the noise and shouts, before the house,                                   
1640
      so that this murder, once complete,
      may not inspire a dreadful fear
      among the Argives and they run here
      to help the royal house, not before
      I see for certain Helen's dead
      and lying in blood there in the house
      or hear the news from her attendant.
      I know a part of what's gone on,
      but there are things I do not know.                                                 
[1360]
      Justice from the gods has rightly come                                     
1650
      with retribution now to Helen—
      because she filled all Greece with tears
      thanks to that accursed destroyer,
      Paris from Ida, who led Greeks to Troy.

CHORUS LEADER
      The bolts on the palace doors are creaking.
      Be quiet.  One of the Phrygians
      is coming out.  We'll find out from him
      how things are going inside.

[A Phrygian enters, quite terrified.  He chants or sings his first
speeches]
*

PHRYGIAN
      I've fled death from an Argive sword
      by scrambling in my Asian slippers                                                 
1660 [1370]
      over bedroom cedar ceiling beams
      and the Doric carvings on the frieze
      Ruined!  Gone! O earth, earth,
      in my barbarian flight!  Alas for me!
      You strange ladies, how can I flee

      by flying up through the shining sky
      or out to sea, which bull-headed Ocean,
      as he rolls in circles round the earth,
      holds in his arms' embrace?

CHORUS LEADER
                                           What's going on,
      you slave of Helen, creature from Ida?                                     
1670 [1380]

PHRYGIAN
      Ilion, O Ilion! O woe is me
      city of Phrygia, Ida' sacred hill
     
with its rich earth, how I lament
      with my barbarian cries your ruin,
      funereal melodies and dirges,
      because the vision of loveliness
      born from a swan-feathered bird,
      Leda's lion cub, that hellish Helen,
      that evil Helen, avenging fury
      for Apollo's polished citadel.                                                    
1680
      Alas!  Alas, for these laments,                                                        
[1390]
      these dirges for Dardania,
      for the horsemanship of Ganymede
      Zeus' sexual partner in his bed.*

CHORUS LEADER
      Tell us what's happening inside the house,
      clearly and in detail.  Your words so far
      are difficult for me to understand.

PHRYGIAN
      O Linus, Linus
—as barbarians say
      in their Asian tongue, once death begins,
     
whenever royal blood spills on the earth                                  1690
      from iron swords of Hades.  They came there,                               
[1400]
      inside the house
—I'm giving you each detail—
      twin lions of Greece, one who was called
      the commander's son, the other one
      the son of Stophius, with a wicked mind,
      just like Odysseus, a silent traitor,
      but faithful to his friends, bold in a fight,
      clever in war, a deadly serpent.  Damn him
      for his quiet deviousness, the scoundrel!
      They came in, up to where she was sitting,                             
1700
      the woman archer Paris married, faces                                            
[1410]
      wet with tears, and humbly crouched down there,
      one on either side, keeping her hemmed in.
      They threw their suppliant arms around her knees—
      both laid hands on Helen.  Then on the run
      her Phrygian servants came rushing up,
      each calling to the others in their fear
      that it might be a trick.  To some of them                                       
[1420]
      it looked all right, but it seemed to others
      that the snake who murdered his own mother                         
1710
      was entangling the child of Tyndareus
      in a devious plot to snare her.

CHORUS LEADER
                                              Where were you?
      Had you run off in terror long before that?

PHRYGIAN
      It so chanced that I, as a Phrygian,
      was following Phrygian fashions
      and with a circular feathered fan
      was wafting breezes, breezes by the curls
      of Helen, on Helen's cheeks
—a habit
      we barbarians have.  She was twisting yarn                                     
[1430]
      wrapping her fingers round the spindle.                                   
1720
      The thread was falling down onto the floor.
      With those Phrygian spoils she wished to make
      some purple clothes, a gift for Clytaemnestra,
      to adorn her tomb.  Orestes then spoke up
      and called out to the Spartan girl, "Child of Zeus,
      leave your chair and stand up over here,                                         
[1440]
      by the ancient hearth of Pelops, our ancestor,
      so you can hear the words I have to say."
      He led her, yes led her, and she followed—
      she had no idea what he was planning.                                     
1730
      His partner, that evil man from Phocis,
      moved off, going about some other business.
      "You Phrygian cowards, leave—go somewhere else!"
      Then he locked them up in different places
      all through the house—some in the stables,
      some in the porticoes—some here, some there,                             
[1450]
      leaving them in various locations
      some distance from their mistress.

CHORUS LEADER
                                  Then what happened?

PHRYGIAN
      Mother of Ida! O sacred mother, 
      holy one!  O the murderous suffering,                                     
1740
      the lawless evil I saw there, I witnessed
      in the royal palace.  Their hands pulled swords
      out from the darkness of their purple robes,
      rolling their eyes back and forth, here and there,
      to check that no one else was there.  They stood,
      like mountain boars, facing the woman there,                                
[1460]
      and said, "You'll die.  You'll die.  Your evil mate
      is the one who's killing you
—he betrayed
      his brother's family to die in Argos."
      She screamed, she howled, "Alas for me!"                              
1750
      and beat her white forearm against her breast
      and struck her fist against her wretched head.
      Then she ran off—on golden-sandaled feet
      she rushed off, she fled.  But then Orestes,
      jumping ahead in his Mycenaean boots,                                         
[1470]
      shoved his fingers in her hair, bent her neck
      on his left shoulder, and was quite prepared
      to drive his black sword right into her throat.

CHORUS LEADER
      Where were you Phrygian household servants
      to defend her?

PHRYGIAN
                               We yelled
—then with crowbars                       1760
      battered the doors and door posts in the rooms
      where we'd been held and ran from every spot
      to her assistance.  One man carried stones,
      one had spears, and one held a drawn sword.
      But Pylades came at us without fear,
      just like Trojan Hector or like Ajax,                                               
[1480]
      with his triple plumes, whom I saw
once—
      I saw him at Priam's gate.  So we met
      at sword point.  And then the Phrygians showed
      in their full glory how for warlike spirit                                   
1770
      they were born inferior in fighting strength
      compared to Greeks.  One man ran away,
      one man was killed, another wounded,
      another pleaded to protect his life.
      We ran off, into the shadows,  while men
      were falling dead.  Some would soon collapse,
      and some were killed already.  At that point,
      poor Hermione came in the palace,                                                
[1490]
      just as her mother, the unlucky one
      who'd given birth to her, had fallen down,                               
1780
      sprawling on the ground about to die.
      The two men, like followers of Bacchus
      chasing a mountain cub without a thyrsus,
      ran up and grabbed her.*  Then they turned again
      to slaughter Zeus' daughter.  But Helen
      had vanished from the room
—right through the house—
      O Zeus, and earth, and light, and darkness—
      either by magic spells or wizard's skill
      or god's deceit!  What happened after that
      I've no idea.   Just like a fugitive,                                             
1790
      my legs crept from the house.  So Menelaus,                                  
[1500]
      after going through such painful, painful toil,
      got his wife Helen out of Troy in vain.

[Orestes enters from the house]

CHORUS LEADER
      Look how one strange sight succeeds another!
      I see Orestes, sword in hand, coming here,
      before the palace
—his pace is jumpy.

ORESTES
      Where's that man who ran out of the house,
      to escape my sword?

PHRYGIAN [throwing himself on the ground]
                                   I bow to you, my lord,
      making obeisance, as is the habit
      of we barbarians. 

ORESTES
                                     We're not in Troy.                                     
1800
      We're in the land of Argos.

PHRYGIAN
                                                      But everywhere
      life is more welcome to wise men than death.

ORESTES
      Those shouts you made—you weren't calling out                           [1510]
      for Menelaus to bring up help, were you?

PHRYGIAN
      No, no.  I was helping you, the worthier man.

ORESTES
      So it was just for Tyndareus' daughter
      to be put to death?

PHRYGIAN
                                 It was most just,
      even if she had three throats to slit.

ORESTES
       Your cowardice makes your tongue pleasing—
      that's not what you think inside.

PHRYGIAN
                                                     That's not true.                         
1810
      Was she not the one who wiped out Greece
      and Phrygians, too?

ORESTES
                             Swear you're not just saying this
      to humour me—or else I'll kill you.

PHRYGIAN
      I swear it on my life—an oath I'll keep.

ORESTES [holding up his sword]
      Were all the Phrygians at Troy afraid
      of iron, the way you are?

PHRYGIAN
                                         That sword of yours,
      put it away.  When it's so close to me
      it has a dreadful glint of murder.

ORESTES
      Are you afraid you'll turn to stone, as if                                        
[1520]
      you'd seen a Gorgon?*

PHRYGIAN
                                        No, not to a stone,                                
1820
      but to a corpse.  I don't know anything
      about the Gorgon's head.

ORESTES
                                               You're just a slave.
      Do you fear Hades, which will release you
      from your troubles?

PHRYGIAN
                                      Every man, slave or not,
      is glad to look upon the light of day.

ORESTES
      Well said.  Your shrewd mind is your salvation.
      Go inside the house.

PHRYGIAN
                                    You won't kill me?

ORESTES
     You're free to go.

PHRYGIAN
                    That's beautiful, what you just said.

ORESTES
      But I'm about to reconsider.

PHRYGIAN
     Now your words are not so nice.

ORESTES
                                                                   You fool!                     1830
      Do you think I could stand to stain your neck,
      make it bloody?  You weren't born a woman
      and don't belong with men.  I left the house
      to stop you making such a noise.  Argos                                         
[1530]
      is quick to move once it hears the call.
      But still I'm not afraid of matching swords
      with Menelaus.  Let him come—the man
      who's so proud of that golden hair of his
      reaching to his shoulders.  If he gathers
      Argives up and leads them to the palace,                                
1840
      seeking to avenge the death of Helen,
      and will not rescue me and my sister
      and Pylades, who worked with me in this,
      he'll see two dead, his daughter and his wife.

[Orestes enters the palace.  The Phrygian leaves]

CHORUS [different parts speak different sections]
      Alas, alas, how things fall out!
      Another struggle—once more the house
      is plunged into another fearful round
      afflicting the family of Atreus!

      What do we do?  Tell the news in town?
      Or stay quiet?  That's the safer course, my friends.                 
1850  [1540]

      Look there, in front of the palace. 
      Look!  That smoke rushing up to heaven
      is telling its own public story.

      They're lighting torches—they're going to fire
      the house of Tantalus!  They won't stop killing!

      God determines how things end for mortal men,
      whatever end he wishes.

      Those demons of revenge have mighty power.
      The house has fallen
—fallen through blood,
      thanks to Myrtilus tumbling from his chariot.*                    
1860

CHORUS LEADER
      But look!  I see Menelaus coming

      he's near the house and moving quickly.
      He must have heard what's happening here.                                      
[1550]
      You descendants of Atreus in there,
      hurry now to close and bolt the doors.
      A man who's had success is dangerous
      for those whose situation is not good

      that means men like you, Orestes.

[Menelaus enters with an armed escort]

MENELAUS
      I came because I heard of dreadful acts,
      violent deeds committed by two lions.                                    
1870
      I don't call them men. I was told my wife
      did not die but has gone and disappeared,
      an idle rumour which some fool deluded
      by his fear reported to me.  It's a trick
      made up by that man who killed his mother.                                  
[1560]
      Ridiculous!  Someone open up the house.
      I'm telling my escort to break in the doors,
      so I may rescue my own child at least
      from the hands of those bloodstained murderers,
      and take back my poor miserable wife.                                    
1880
      Those who killed my consort must die with her

      my own hands will kill them.

[As the escort moves towards the doors of the palace, Orestes appears on the
roof with Pylades.  Orestes is holding Hermione with a sword at her throat, and 
Pylades is holding burning torches]

ORESTES [from the roof]
                                                              You down there!  
      Keep your hands off those door bolts.  I mean you,
      Menelaus, you who exalt yourself
      with impudence.  I'll break this parapet

      the wall was made by masons long ago—                                      
[1570]
      and smash your head in with a coping stone.
      The bolts are fastened down with metal rods.
      They'll check your eagerness to bring help fast
      and stop you gaining access to the house.                               
1890

MENELAUS
      Hold on.  What's going on?  I see torches blazing,
      men cornered up there on the palace roof, 
      a sword ready to cut my daughter's throat.

ORESTES
     You want to question me or hear me talk?

MENELAUS
      Neither.  But it seems I'll have to hear you out.

ORESTES
     I'm going to kill you daughter—if you want to know.

MENELAUS
      After killing Helen, you're going to pile
      one murder on another?

ORESTES
                                            I wish I'd done it,
      instead of having the gods trick me.                                               
[1580]

MENELAUS
      You deny you killed her just to mock me?                               
1900

ORESTES
      Yes.  It hurts to say I didn't do it.
      If only I had . . . 

MENELAUS
                           If only you'd done what?
      You're trying to frighten me.

ORESTES
                                 . . .  thrown the woman
      who pollutes all Greece down into hell.

MENELAUS
      Give me my wife's corpse, so I can bury her.

ORESTES
      Ask the gods for her.  But your daughter here
      I will kill.

MENELAUS
                          The man who killed his mother
      compounds that murder with another.

ORESTES
      The man who stands up for his father

      the man you betrayed and left to die.                                      
1910

MENELAUS
      Isn't your mother's blood now on your hands
      enough for you?

ORESTES
                               No.  I'd never get tired                                           
[1590]
      if I had to keep killing evil woman
      for an eternity.

MENELAUS
                                     And you, Pylades,
      are you his partner in this murder? 

ORESTES
      His silence speaks for him.  It's quite enough
      if I say he is.

MENELAUS
                                      Well, you'll regret it,
      unless you sprout wings and fly away.

ORESTES
      We're not going to run.  We'll burn the palace.

MENELAUS
      What?  You're intending to destroy this house,                       
1920
      your own ancestral home?

ORESTES
                                      So you won't have it.
      And in the flames I'll sacrifice this girl.               

MENELAUS
      Kill her, then.  After the slaughter, you'll pay.
      I'll punish you.

ORESTES
                                All right, I will.

[Orestes moves as if he is going to kill Hermione]

MENELAUS
                                                         No, no!
      Don't do it!

ORESTES
                       Silence!  You must endure this,
      justice for the evils you have done.           

MENELAUS
      It is just that you should live?

ORESTES
                                                    Yes, it is
—                                         [1600]
      and rule a country.

MENELAUS
                                    A country?  Where?

ORESTES
      Right here.  In Pelasgian Argos.

MENELAUS
                                                              Oh yes,
      you'd be so good at handling those vessels                              
1930
      we use for ritual washing.*

ORESTES
                                                Why not?

MENELAUS
      And killing animals for sacrifice
      before a battle.

ORESTES
                        Would you be suitable?

MENELAUS
      Yes, my hands are pure.

ORESTES
                                   But your heart is not.

MENELAUS
      What man would speak to you?

ORESTES
                                                      Any man
      who loved his father.

MENELAUS
                                      What about the one
      who respects his mother?

ORESTES
                                           A man like that
      is born lucky.

MENELAUS
                              You're not like that.

ORESTES
                                                         No, I'm not.
      Bad women are not something I enjoy.

MENELAUS
      Take your sword away from my daughter.                               
1940

ORESTES
      You're a born liar.

MENELAUS
                          You'll kill my daughter?

ORESTES
     Yes.  Now you're not spreading lies     

MENELAUS
                                         That's dreadful.
      What should I do?

ORESTES
                                     You should go to the Argives                          
[1610]
      and win them over . . .  

MENELAUS
                               What should I tell them?

ORESTES 
      Tell them not to kill us.  Beg the city.

MENELAUS
      Or else you'll kill my child?

ORESTES
                                    That how it stands.

MENELAUS
      O poor Helen . . .

ORESTES [interrupting]
                               What about my troubles?

MENELAUS
      . . . I brought you back from Phrygia to be killed.

ORESTES
      If only she had been!

MENELAUS
                                         After I went through
      all that effort.

ORESTES
                               Except on my behalf.                                       1950

MENELAUS
      I've had to endure such awful suffering!

ORESTES
      Because you were no help at all back then.

MENELAUS
      You've caught me out.

ORESTES
                                       No.  You caught yourself
      by being such a coward.

[Orestes calls down to Electra who comes out in front of the palace doors 
in response to his call]

ORESTES
                                                              Electra, 
      set fire to the house from underneath.
      And you, Pylades, my most trusty friend,
      burn down the parapets of these walls here.                                    [1620]

MENELAUS
      O land of the Danaans and you who live
      in horse-rich Argos, take up your weapons
      and bring help on the run.  To save his life                               1960
      this man here is using force against you,
      against the entire city, though he carries
      the pollution of his mother's murdered blood.

[Menelaus' escort starts moving en masse toward the palace doors. 
Meanwhile fire breaks out on the roof and inside the palace.  Then Apollo
and Helen suddenly appear descending from on high]

APOLLO
      Menelaus, you must blunt the sharp edge
      of your temper.  I am Phoebus, Leto's son,
      calling you from close at hand—and that man
      holding a sword and standing by that girl,
      Orestes, so you know the news I bring.
      As for Helen whom you were so eager                                            
[1630]
      to destroy in your rage at Menelaus,                                        
1970
      you failed to kill her, and she's here with me
      in the surrounding air.  I rescued her
      and she wasn't murdered.  Yes, I saved her.
      I snatched her away from that sword of yours,
      at my father Zeus' bidding, for Helen,
      a child of Zeus, is to live forever.
      She'll sit with Castor and Polydeuces,
      held up in the upper air, a saviour
      for sailing men.  So choose another wife,
      Menelaus, and take her home.  The gods                                 
1980
      used this one's outstanding loveliness
      to bring Greeks and Phrygians together                                          
[1640]
      and cause a slaughter, so they might stop
      the overwhelming crowds of mortal men
      destroying the earth.  So much for Helen.
      And as for you, Orestes, you must cross
      the borders of this country and then live
      on Parrhasian soil for one entire year.*
      Because you'll be an exile there, that land
      will be called the country of Orestes                                       
1990
      by people in Azania and Arcadia.
      From there you'll go to the Athenians' city
      and must stand trial for murdering your mother                             
[1650]
      against the three Eumenides.  The gods
      who on the Hill of Ares judge your case
      will act righteously—they'll divide their votes,
      and from that it's certain you will triumph.
      And then, Orestes, it is foreordained
      that you will wed Hermione, the girl
      whose throat you're threatening with that sword.                    
2000
      The man who thinks he's going to marry her,
      Neoptolemus, will never wed her.
      He's fated to die by a sword in Delphi,
      when he demands satisfaction from me
      for the killing of his father, Achilles.*
     
Give your sister in marriage to Pylades,
      as you once promised.  His future life
      will be a happy one.  As for Argos,                                                 
[1660]
      Menelaus, you must leave Orestes
      to rule the state.  Go and govern Sparta.                                 
2010
      Keep that as a dowry from your wife.
      The countless troubles she has always brought
      up to this point will end.  I'll set things right
      between Orestes and the city, for I
      was the one who made him kill his mother.

ORESTES
      O prophetic Loxias
—in your oracles
      you prophesy the truth, there's nothing false.
      And yet fear gripped me that I might have heard
      some demon when I listened to your voice.
      But all has ended well.  I will obey                                          
2020  [1670]
      what you have said.  See here—I now release
      Hermione from death, and I agree
      to take her as my wife, just as soon as
      her father gives her to me.

MENELAUS
                                                  All hail, Helen,
      daughter of Zeus. I wish you happiness
      in the gods' sacred home.  Orestes,
      following what Phoebus said, I here pledge
      my daughter to you.  You're a noble man. 
      May you prosper in a noble marriage,
      and may I as well, who give her to you.                                   
2030

APOLLO
      Then each of you set out to the place
      I have arranged, and end your quarreling. 

MENELAUS
      I must obey.

ORESTES
                            So must I.  I'll make peace                                        
[1680]
      with you, Menelaus, in this matter, 
      and, Loxias, with what your oracle has said.

APOLLO
      Go on your way now, and honour Peace,
      the fairest of the gods.  I'll bring Helen
      to the halls of Zeus, once I've moved across
      the star-bright sky.  There she will be seated
      by Hera and Hebe, wife of Hercules,                                       
2040
      and men will for ever pay her honour
      as a goddess, making their libations.
      With those two Zeus-born sons of Tyndareus,
      she'll be a guardian for sailors out at sea.                                       
[1690]

[Apollo and Helen leave.  Orestes, Hermione and Pylades move
down into the house.  Menelaus and his escort depart]

CHORUS
      O great and holy Victory, 
      may you take possession of my life,
      and never cease to crown me with your garlands.

      
Notes to Orestes

* . . . his tongue: Tantalus, a son of Zeus, offended the gods, who punished him by placing him in Hades where he is constantly tempted by food and drink which he cannot reach (Odysseus tells us of seeing the shade of Tantalus in Book 11 of the Odyssey).  His offense varies, depending on the story.  In some accounts, he stole food from the gods and revealed their secrets to human beings.  In others, he cut up his son Pelops and served him up as food for the gods. [Back to Text]

* . . . his brother, Thyestes: The Fates set a man's destiny at birth by spinning yarn and cutting it.  Traditionally there were three female fates.  [Back to Text]

* . . . all men's eyes: Phoebus is the name of the god Apollo, whose oracle Orestes consulted before returning to murder his mother and Aegisthus in revenge for his father's death.  [Back to Text]

* . . . terrible ordeals: The Eumenides (literally the "Kindly Ones") are the Furies, goddesses of blood revenge within the family, who are tormenting Orestes because he killed his mother. Electra does not call them by their official name but uses a common euphemism, presumably because she doesn't wish to risk offending them. [Back to Text]

* . . . hair and libations: Placing a lock of one's hair on a burial mound and pouring libations beside it are traditional marks of respect for the dead. [Back to Text]

* . . . in Mycenae: The names Argos and Mycenae are often used interchangeably for the same city, although in some accounts they are two different communities.  [Back to text]

* . . . of my mother: Loxias is a common name for Apollo, whose shrine Orestes consulted before killing Clytaemnestra.  Themis, the goddess of righteousness, was the original god of the oracle.  [Back to Text]

* . . . from Erebus: Erebus is the deepest and darkest region of Hades, the underworld. [Back to Text]

*. . . navel of the earth: The navel, or central point, of the earth was, according to tradition, located in Apollo's shrine in Delphi. [Back to Text]

*. . . from Tantalus: Tantalus is the founder of the royal family of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Orestes, and Electra.  He was a son of Zeus and a divine nymph. [Back to Text]

*. . . Malea: Menelaus' return from Troy (as he tells us in the Odyssey) was long delayed.  He was blown off course to Egypt, where he stayed for a while.  Malea is the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese.  [Back to Text]

*. . . suppliant branch: In a formal supplication the petitioner carries an olive branch.  Orestes doesn't have one available.  [Back to Text]

*. . . something horrific: West makes the useful observation (p. 210) that the Greeks did not yet have a clear sense of a good or bad conscience.  This line suggests something like a sense of guilt arising out of one's awareness of the moral qualities of an act. As West observes, Menelaus in his response seems confused by the idea. [Back to Text]

*. . . are his friends: I have adopted West's suggestion that this line refers to the god (Apollo) rather than to Orestes himself: "I am not wise, but by nature I am true to my friends (see West 212).  [Back to Text]

. . . of Palamedes: Oeax is the brother of Palamedes, an Achaean warrior at Troy.  When Odysseus pretended to be mad so that he would not have to go on the expedition to Troy, Palamedes tricked him into revealing his sanity.  Later, in Troy, Odysseus forced a Phrygian (Trojan)  prisoner to write a treasonous letter apparently from Palamedes.  Agamemnon found the letter and put Palamedes to death. [Back to Text]

* . . . twins from Zeus: Tyndareus and Leda had four children at the same time: Helen, Clytaemnestra, Castor, and Pollux (also called Polydeuces).  However, Tyndareus was the biological father of only two of them, Castor and Clytaemnestra.  Helen and Pollux were conceived by Zeus (in the form of a swan) and Leda.  In some accounts (as here) both Castor and Pollux are children of Zeus. [Back to Text]

* . . . of your wife: The immediate cause of the Trojan War was Paris' abduction of Helen, Menelaus' wife, from Sparta (Helen went willingly enough).  Agamemnon, the senior of the two brothers, took command of the Greek army which assembled at Aulis in response to a promise all the kings had made to Tyndareus, that they would help Helen's husband, should he ever require their assistance.  The goddess Artemis prevented the Greek fleet from sailing until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia, an action which Agamemnon carried out. [Back to Text]

* . . .  double line of Atreus: The "double line" is the families of Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons of Atreus.  The "golden ram" mentioned refers to an animal in Atreus' flocks, on the basis of which he claimed the throne over the objections of his brother Thyestes.  The slaughter at the banquet is another reference to the dinner in which Atreus served up to his brother Thyestes the latter's sons as the main course.  [Back to Text]

* . . . on this very day: The word Pelasgian is frequently used to describe the Argives.  The word hearkens back to the original inhabitants of the area.  [Back to Text]

* . . . by Aegyptus: The fifty daughters of Danaus married the fifty sons of Aegyptus and killed their husbands (all but one) on the wedding night.  In some accounts Aegyptus prosecuted Danaus for the mass murder. [Back to Text]

* . . . those Phrygians: Talthybius is a character in the Iliad, a herald in the Achaean army who serves Agamemnon.  Phrygians is a term commonly used to designate the Trojans or barbarian Asiatics.  [Back to Text]

* . . . shave it close: The Cyclopian land is a reference to the city of Mycenae whose walls were so big that legend had it they had been built by the Cyclopes.  Shaving the head is often an important element in a mourning ritual.  [Back to Text]

* . . . along the shore: These lines refer to the origin of the troubles in the House of Atreus.  Pelops wanted Hippodamnia as his bride.  Her father, Oenomaus, demanded a chariot race to determine the outcome: if Pelops won he could wed the daughter, and if Pelops was not successful he would die.  Pelops bribed Myrtilus to sabotage the king's chariot and, as a result, won the race.  Then he killed his co-conspirator, Myrtilus, by throwing him into the sea.  Myrtilus cursed Pelops' family as he was drowning.  Myrtilus was a son of the god Hermes, son of Zeus and the nymph Maia (as is mentioned a couple of lines further on), and the god made sure the curse took effect by introducing a golden lamb into the flocks belonging to the sons of Pelops, thus inciting the brothers Atreus and Thyestes to quarrel. [Back to Text]

* . . . the Pleiades: The suggestion here seems to be that before this change, the sun did not move from east to west.  I have adopted West's useful emendation of the text to read "white horses" rather than "single horse." The Pleiades is a constellation consisting of seven stars.  [Back to Text]y

* . . . deceitful marriage: Aerope was the wife of Atreus and the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus.  In some versions of the story, she had an adulterous affair with Thyestes and was executed. [Back to Text]

* . . . Scamander: The Scamander is a river near Troy, right in the middle of the areas where the battles between Greeks and Trojans took place.  [Back to Text]

*There is some dispute about how the Phrygian enters--does he come through the doors (as the Chorus Leader's line about the bolts suggests) or does he come down from the roof (as his opening lines suggest).  West, who opts for an entry down from the roof, has a useful note on the point (p. 275-6). [Back to Text]

* . . . in his bed: These lines are such a strained evocation of different myths that it's hard not to see them as either satirical or intentionally comical.  The reference to the swan is a reminder of Helen's conception, when Zeus in the form of a swan had sex with Leda, wife of Tyndareus.  Apollo's polished citadel is a reference to the high tower of Troy.  And Ganymede, a prince of Troy, was so beautiful that he was taken up to Olympus as a young boy to be Zeus' cup bearer and sexual playmate.  It's not clear what the mention of his "horsemanship" indicates, unless it's a sexual pun.  Dardania is a reference to Troy, the land of Dardanus (the founder of the city).  [Back to Text]

* . . . grabbed her: The followers of Bacchus are the ecstatic worshippers who roam the mountains, often capturing wild animals and tearing them apart.  The thyrsus is a plant stem, often with magical properties, which they carry as part of the ritual frenzy. [Back to Text]

* . . . seen a Gorgon: The Gorgons were three sisters whose looks could turn people into stone.   One of them (Medusa) who was mortal was killed by Perseus. [Back to Text]

* . . . from his chariot:  As noted before, Myrtilus conspired with Pelops to trick king Oenomaus in a chariot race, so that Pelops could win Hippodameia, the king's daughter.  Myrtilus, the king's charioteer, sabotaged the royal chariot.  Pelops then killed Myrtilus by throwing him out of his chariot into the sea.  This event launches the disasters which befall the House of Atreus (Atreus is one of Pelops' sons). [Back to Text]

* . . . ritual washing: One of the duties of a king was to lead important religious ceremonies. These could only be conducted by someone free of the pollution from any crime he had committed.  [Back to Text]

* . . . one entire year: Parrhasia is a region in Arcadia, an area in the central Peloponnese.  [Back to Text]

* . . . his father, Achilles: Achilles was killed at Troy.  His son Neoptolemus came to Troy, joined the fighting, and killed Priam, king of Troy.  He was later killed by a priest at Delphi, Apollo's shrine.  There are other stories, however, which have Neoptolemus marrying Hermione.  [Back to Text]

 


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