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
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]
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 Tantalus—and
I don't mock him
for his misfortunes—who
was, so they say,
born from Zeus, flutters in the air,
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
in the feasts they shared together, he had
a shameful illness—he could not
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.*
should I describe these horrors once again?
Then Atreus killed Thyestes' children
and fed them to him. Then, there's
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,
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,
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
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
the mother who had given birth to him,
an act which did not earn him a good name
in all men's eyes?* Still, he obeyed the
and killed her. I helped with the
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.
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—
in that time he's not swallowed any food
or washed his skin. He stays wrapped in
And when his body does find some
and his mind clears from the disease, he
At other times he leaps up out of bed
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
will be decisive—the Argive city
will cast its vote whether the two of us
must be stoned to death or have our throats
with a sharpened sword. We do have one
we won't die—the fact
has reached this land from Troy—his
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
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
and the troubles which have struck her
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.
A house plagued with bad luck has no
enters from the place]
Child of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon,
poor Electra, you've remained unmarried
such a long time now. How are things
and your unlucky brother Orestes,
who killed his mother? That was a
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
after I sailed off to Troy, driven there
by that fated madness from the gods.
Now I've lost her, I weep for our
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
makes the man a corpse. Not that I
for his suffering. You're the one who's
Your husband's fortunate as well.
when what's going on with us is miserable.
How long has he lying like this in bed?
Ever since he shed his mother's blood.
And his mother, too, given how she died.
That's how it is. He's broken by his
Girl, would you do something for me please,
in the name of the gods?
I'm busy here,
sitting with my brother.
Would you be willing
to come with me to my sister's tomb?
To my own mother? Is that what you want?
So I can take an offering from me,
hair and libations.*
Is it somehow wrong
for you to visit a family burial mound?
I'm ashamed to show myself in public
among the Argives.
After all this time
you're thinking wisely. Back when you
that was disgraceful.
What you say is
But you're not talking to me as a friend.
What makes you feel shame among the people
I fear the fathers of those men
who died at Troy.
That's a real fear. In
it's on people's lips.
So relieve my fears.
Do me that favour.
I couldn't do it—
look at my mother's grave.
But for servants
to take these offerings would be disgraceful.
Why not send Hermione, your daughter?
It's not good for an unmarried girl
to walk around in public.
She'd be repaying
the dead woman for looking after her.
What you say is right, girl. You've
I'll send my daughter. Your advice is
[Helen calls in
through the palace doors]
Hermione! Come on out, my child,
out here in front.
from the palace]
Take the libation
in your hands and this hair of mine, and go
to Clytaemnestra's burial site. Pour
the stirred-up honey, milk, and frothing
Then stand on top the mound and say these
"Helen, your sister, offers these
fearing to come to your tomb in person,
afraid of the Argive mob." And ask
to look with kindness on you and
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
When you've offered libations at the tomb,
return back here as quickly as you can.
the offerings and leaves, going away from the palace. Helen exits
into the palace]
O nature, how vicious you are in men,
a saviour, too, for those who do possess
what works to their advantage. Did you
how she's trimmed her hair only at the
to preserve her beauty? She's the woman
she has always been. May the gods hate
for ruining me and him and all of
I'm so unhappy!
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
move with a quiet step and make no noise,
no unexpected sound. Your kindness
is dear to me, but if you wake him up,
what happens will be difficult for me.
Keep quiet! Silence! let your steps be
Make no sound at all.
Keep away from him—
further from his bed, I'm begging you!
There, I've done as you request.
Ah yes, but speak to me, dear friend,
like the breathing of a tiny reed
on a shepherd's pipe.
I'm keeping my voice pitched soft and low.
Yes, that's fine. Come over. Come on.
Move gently. Keep moving quietly.
Tell me the reason why you had to come.
He hasn't fallen asleep like this for ages.
How is he? Give us a report, dear
What shall I say has happened to him?
What's ailing him?
He's still breathing—
What are you saying? The poor
You'll kill him if you distract his eyes
while he's enjoying sweet gifts of sleep.
Pitiful man, suffering for those hateful
inspired by a god.
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.*
Do you see? His body's moving in his
You wretch, you've forced him to wake
with your chatter.
No, I think he's sleeping.
Won't you just go away? Leave the
Retrace your steps, and stop the shuffling.
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.
and suffering we've gone astray. We're
You're making noise again. O my dear
won't you keep quiet, stay silent, and take
to keep your voice some distance from his
Let him enjoy the peaceful gift of sleep.
Tell us what's in store to end his troubles.
Death. What else? He's lost
desire for food.
Then this is obviously his
Phoebus made us his sacrificial offering
with his pitiful unnatural proposal
to kill our mother, who killed our father.
But it was just.
Yes, but not good.
You killed, mother who bore me,
and were killed. You wiped out
a father and children of your blood.
We're done for, good as dead, destroyed.
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.
Electra, you're right beside your brother.
Check if hasn't died without your knowing.
I'm worried—he's looking too relaxed. 230
O lovely charms of sleep which bring such
against disease, how sweetly you came over me
when I was in such need. Sacred
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
I've lost all my earlier
Dearest one, how happy it made me feel
when you fell into that sleep. Do you
to hold you and to prop your body up?
Yes, hold me. Give me some
support. And wipe
the dried up foam from my sore mouth and
There. It's sweet to be able to help
I won't refuse to nurse my brother's limbs
with a sister's hand.
Support my side with yours,
and push the matted hair out of my face.
My eyes aren't seeing very well.
O this filthy hair, your poor suffering head—
so much time has passed since it's been
you look just like a savage.
Put me back,
on the bed again. Once the madness
I'm exhausted . . . no strength in my
There you are.
The sick man loves his bed, a painful
but still it's necessary.
Set me up again.
Turn my body round. The sick are
that's why they're hard to please.
Would you like
to have me put your feet down on the ground?
You haven't tried to walk for some time now.
A change is always pleasant.
Yes, do that.
It's better if I look as if I'm well,
even though that's far from being true.
Now, my dear brother, listen to me,
while the Erinyes let your mind stay clear.
You've got some news. If it's good,
you'll help me—
if harmful, I've had enough
Menelaus has come, your father's brother.
His ships are anchored at Nauplia.
What are you saying? Has he just
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?
can trust what I'm telling you—
and he's brought Helen from the walls of Troy.
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.
fathered a race of notorious daughters,
Make sure you're different,
not like those evil women. You can be.
But don't just say it. You have to feel
Alas, brother, your eyes are growing wild.
In an instant you've again gone mad,
and just now you were thinking clearly.
[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
Poor suffering wretch, stay still there on
You think you see them clearly, but it's
there's nothing there for you to see.
they're killing me, those dreadful goddesses,
the fierce-eyed, bitch-faced priestesses of
I'll not let go. I'll keep my arms
and stop you writhing in this painful fit.
Let go! You're one of those Furies of
grabbing me around the waist to throw me
down into Tartarus!
I feel so
What help can I get when divine power
is ranged against us?
Give me my horn-tipped bow,
said I should use it
to defend myself against these goddesses
if they frightened me with bouts of
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
Don't you see the feathered arrows speeding
from my far-shooting bow? Ah . . . ah .
Why are you waiting then? Use your
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
After the storm I see calm water once again.
Sister, why wrap your head in your dress and
I'm ashamed to make you share my suffering,
to bring distress to an unmarried girl
with this sickness of mine. Don't pine
because of my misfortunes. Yes, it's
you agreed to do it, but I'm the one
who shed our mother's blood. I blame
who set me up to carry out the act,
which was profane. His words encouraged
but not his actions. And I think my
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
not to shove my sword into the
of the woman who'd given birth to me,
since he would not return into the light
and I'd be wretched, suffering ills like
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
I must be beside you and comfort you
with my advice. When people are close
it's a noble thing to offer help like that.
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
all the others have abandoned me.
I won't leave. I choose to live here
even to die.
choice remains the same.
If you die, what will I, a woman, do?
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. 
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.
goes into the house]
Aaaiiii . . . .you winged goddesses
roaming in that manic frenzy,
your god-appointed privilege,
not some Bacchic
but one with tears, cries of grief—
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
let the son of Agamemnon lose
memory of furious madness.
What harsh work you strove for,
poor man, when you received,
Phoebus' tripod, the
he delivered in his shrine,
cavern where, so people say,
finds the navel of the earth.*
O Zeus, what pitiful event,
what bloody struggle is now
goading you in your misfortune—
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
never lasts. No. Some higher spirit
shatters it like the sail on a fast ship
and hurls it into waves of dreadful
as deadly as storm waves out at sea.
What other house should I still
as issuing from marriage with the gods
apart from those who come from Tantalus?*
enters, with an escort]
But look, the king is now approaching—
lord Menelaus. His
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
good fortune now among your company.
With god's help you've managed to achieve
all those things you prayed for.
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
of Agamemnon's fate, the death he suffered
at his wife's hand, as I steered my
The sailors' prophet,
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
me and my sailors, weep many tears.
When I touched land at Nauplia, with my
already coming here, I was
to give a loving greeting to Orestes,
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
So I wouldn't know him if I saw him.
moves over unsteadily from his bed and crouches down
in front of Menelaus]
Menelaus, I am Orestes—the
you asked about. I'm willing to reveal
all the suffering I've been through. But
I clasp your knees in supplication,
and offer prayers from the mouth of a man
who holds no suppliant branch.*
It's the crucial moment of my suffering,
and you've arrived in person.
this I see? Which of the
I now looking at?
What you say is true.
the agony I'm in, I'm not alive,
I see daylight.
You're like a savage,
poor man, with that tangled hair.
It's not my looks
cause me grief. It's what I've done.
Your ravaged eyes—
look of yours is dreadful.
But my name has not abandoned me.
an unsightly mess—not what I expected.
I am, my wretched mother's killer.
I've heard. Don't talk about it—such
be mentioned only sparingly.
not say much. But the divine spirit
me with afflictions.
What's wrong with you?
the sickness that's destroying you?
my mind—because I'm
done something horrific.*
What do you mean?
comes from clarity. It's not obscure.
the pain that's truly destroying me.
a fearful goddess, but there are cures.
Mad fits—retribution for my mother's
did this frenzy start? What day was it?
On the day I was raising up the mound
on my miserable mother's grave.
Were you in the house or sitting down
keeping watch beside her fire?
It was at night,
while I was waiting to collect the bones.
Was someone there as your support?
there—he acted with me
in shedding blood, my mother's murder.
You're sick from phantom apparitions.
What are they like?
I thought I saw three girls—
they looked like Night.
I know the ones you mean.
But I have no wish to speak their names.
No. They incite awe. You acted properly
in not mentioning them.
Are they the ones
you insane family murder?
miserably I suffer their attacks
harsh suffering is not unusual
those who carry out such dreadful acts.
we do have a way out of our
talk of death—that's
It was Phoebus
ordered me to carry out the act,
Showing his ignorance
what's good and right.
We are mere slaves
the gods, whatever the gods are.
this suffering of yours does Loxias
the nature of the gods.
And your mother—
long is it since she stopped breathing?
is the sixth day. Her burial
How quickly the goddesses
came for you because of your mother's blood.
is not wise, but by nature he is true
those who are his friends.*
And your father—
he help you out for avenging him?
yet. And if he's still intending to,
call that the same as doing nothing.
what you've done how do you stand
I am so despised
people will not talk to me.
hands of blood in the appropriate way?
Wherever I go, doors are shut to
Which citizens are forcing you to leave?
Oeax, who holds my father responsible
for that hateful war at Troy.
He seeks revenge for Palamedes' murder.*
I had no part of that—I'm
but that death is two removes from me.
Some of Aegisthus' friends, I imagine?
They slander me. Now the city
Agamemnon's sceptre—does the city
let you keep it?
How could they do that?
They won't let me stay alive.
What will they do?
Can you give me a definite idea?
Today there'll be a vote against
For you to leave the city? Or a vote
to kill or spare you?
For death by stoning
by all the citizens.
Why not escape—
flee across the border?
by soldiers, fully armed.
or by a force of Argives?
The whole city—
to make sure I die. There's no more to
Poor wretch. You're facing total
My hope to get out of this emergency
rests on you. You've come loaded with
So share your prosperity with your
in desperate straits. Don't accept the
and keep them for yourself alone. Take
in your turn, a portion of these troubles,
paying back my father's kindnesses for those
to whom you have an obligation. Those
who, when misfortune comes, aren't there to
are friends in name but not in deed.
Tyndareus with attendants]
the Spartan Tyndareus is coming here,
shuffling on his old legs, wearing black
with short hair, in mourning for his daughter.
I'm done for, Menelaus. Look at this—
Tyndareus is coming up to
I feel particularly ashamed to come
into his sight because of what I've
For he raised me when I was still a child.
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
and his attendants move up to the palace]
Where can I catch a glimpse of
my daughter's husband? Where? I
libations on the grave of Clytaemnestra
when I heard he'd arrived at Nauplia
with his wife, home safe after all these
Take me to him. I want to stand beside
on his right hand, and greet him as a friend
whom I'm seeing again after all these years.
Welcome, old man whose head shared the same
as Zeus himself.
Welcome to you,
Menelaus, my kinsman. Ah, it's bad
we don't know what it is the future brings.
Here's that dragon snake who killed his
right outside the house, with his eyes
that sick glitter—an abomination to me.
Menelaus, you're not talking to him,
not to that impious wretch?
Why would I not?
He's the son of a father whom I loved.
His natural son? And he turned out like
Yes, he's his son by birth. If he's in
I must respect him.
You're a barbarian—
you've been so long among the savages.
In Greece we always honour relatives.
And we don't wish to be above the law.
But among those with some intelligence
anything that's forced is something slavish.
You hold to that. I'll not subscribe to
Your anger and old age are not being wise.
What's a dispute about such foolishness
have to do with him? If what's good or
is plain to all, who has been more stupid
than this fellow? He didn't figure out
what justice required. Nor did he turn
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
for bloodshed and followed what's appropriate
in our religion, throwing his
out of the house. He would've won
instead of this disaster, some
for moderation. And he'd have followed
the law and been a righteous man. But
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
and after that the son pay for the murder
with his death, where will these disasters
Our ancestors dealt with these issues well.
They did not let a man with bloody hands
come in their sight or cross their
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
especially my daughter who slaughtered
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.
moves up to Orestes]
miserable creature, what was in your mind
your mother exposed her breasts to
begged? I did not see that dreadful sight,
still my ancient eyes dissolve in tears.
there's one thing which supports my case—
gods do hate you, and you're being punished
your mother with roaming fits of fear
madness. Why do I need to attend to
witnesses, when I can see it
myself? So you should keep this in mind,
act against the gods
wanting to assist this man. Let
stoned to death by the citizens,
else don't set foot on Spartan land.
daughter's dead. And that deed was just.
she should not have died at that man's hand.
was born a fortunate man in all
my daughters. There I've been unlucky.
The man who's fortunate in his children,
who does not get ones which bring on him
a man to envy.
afraid to talk to you, old
a time when I'm bound to pain your heart.
your age, which hinders me from speaking,
set aside, and I'll proceed. But now,
gray hair makes me too hesitant.
know my mother's murder has made me
and yet, in another sense,
pious man who avenged his
should I have done? Set these two things
each other. My father planted me,
daughter bore me—she was the plough
received the seed from someone else.
a father there would never be
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
to call her mother—went to a man's bed
in a private and an unwise marriage.
say bad things against her, I speak
against myself, but nonetheless I
At home Aegisthus was her secret husband.
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
with their breasts, they'd start killing
for any reason and would pay no
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
No. In order to escape being punished,
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
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,
he's the one who's been more greatly wronged.
You've destroyed me, old man—yes,
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
their bedroom remained quite unpolluted.
Do you see Apollo, who makes his
at earth's navel stone and gives mortal men
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
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
if he who commanded me to do it
cannot rescue me from death? So don't
this action was not done
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
fall out badly have no luck, indoors and out.
Women by nature always interfere
in the affairs of men, with bad results.
Since you speak so boldly and hide nothing,
but give me answers which will pain my
you'll spur me on to bring about your death.
I'll count that as an extra
in the work for which I came here, to dress
my daughter's grave. I'll go to the
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
to make you hate her more, reporting dreams
of Agamemnon and her sexual life
with Aegisthus—may gods below the earth
despise it—it was bitter up here,
until she set the house ablaze with flames
not kindled by Hephaestus. I tell you
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.
for the citizens to kill by stoning,
or don't set foot on Spartan land.
and understand this well. You must not
ungodly men as friends, pushing aside
the ones who act more righteously. You
lead me away. Take me from this house.
[Tyndareus and his attendants leave]
Well, be off with you, so that what I
may reach this man without
quite free from your old age.
why are you walking around, lost in thought,
going back and forth, as if quite divided
in what you're thinking?
Leave me alone.
I'm debating with myself. I'm not sure
which course of action I should follow.
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.
You're right. Speak up.
There are times when silence may be
but there are also times when
is preferable to
Then I'll speak.
A long speech is better than a short
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
that's not what I mean. If you save my
that's the dearest thing I own. I've
To counter this bad act, I have to get
an unjust deed from you, for my
Agamemnon, did wrong when he gathered
those Greeks to go to Troy, and not because
he made mistakes himself, no, but to
the error and injustice of your wife.*
And for this one act you should pay me
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
in the same way for what you received
working hard for just one day, not ten years.
Stand up, and save me. As for what
my sister slaughtered as a sacrifice,
I'll let you have that. You don't have
Hermione. For in my present
you must have the upper hand. That I
But offer my poor father my own life
and my sister's. For a long time
she's been unmarried, and if I die,
I'll leave my father's house without an
You'll say it can't be done. But that's
Kinsmen must help their friends when things
When fortune gives success, what need of
When god is keen to help, then his assistance
is quite sufficient. All of Greece
you love your wife—and
I'm not saying
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
What then? Well, I have to go through
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
and pleaded to be saved, chasing after
what all men seek, not just myself
Although I'm just a woman, I too beg
to help these people when they're in such
You have the power to do that.
I do respect you, and I want to share
these troubles with you. Besides, it's
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
after roaming through thousands of troubles
with the small help of my surviving
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
If one, in responding to the tension,
gently eases off one's grip, backs away,
and times things right, it may blow itself
If the winds die down, you could easily
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
wisely. For a ship can take on water
if the sheet is pulled too tight, but
one eases off the rope, then that ship
will once more right itself. The god
excessive zeal, as do the citizens.
I must save you—I
don't deny the fact—
but by using cleverness, not by
against a stronger group. I'd not save
with power alone, as you perhaps may think.
It's not easy to take a stand and
with a single spear against the troubles
which afflict you. It never was my
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]
except to head up an expedition
for a woman's sake, the worst of men
in helping out your friends. Are you
your back on me and running
so Agamemnon's cause has
O father, once things have turned out badly
you have no friends. Alas, I've been
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.
But I see Pylades, my greatest friend,
rushing here from Phocis. A welcome
A man who can be trusted in hard times
is finer to behold than tranquil waters
for men at sea.
I've come through the city,
and I had to move quickly once I
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
What are you doing? Of people my own age,
friends and relatives, you are my favourite.
You're all those things to me.
I am done for—
those few words make clear to you my
Then you must do away with me as well.
Friends share things in common.
is the worst of men to me and to my sister.
It's natural enough that any man
with a bad wife should grow bad himself.
coming here was as much help to me
as if he hadn't come.
So it's true then
that he's arrived and landed here?
took a while, but in no time at
showed he was an enemy to his
That wife of his—the nastiest of women—
did he bring her on his ship?
No, not him.
She's the one who brought him here.
Where is she, that one woman who destroyed
all those Achaeans?
She's in my home—
if it's all right to call it mine.
What did you say
to your father's brother?
Not to just look on
while the townsfolk killed me and my sister.
By the gods, how did he respond to you?
That I'd like to know.
He was cautious—
the way false friends act with their
What sort of excuses did he offer?
Once I know that, I'll understand it all.
That man arrived—the one who has
those splendid daughters.
Ah, you mean Tyndareus.
I suppose he was all worked up at you
for his daughter's sake?
You have that right.
And Menelaus preferred family ties
with him instead of with my father.
So when he was here he lacked the
to share you troubles.
No. He wasn't born
a warrior. He's brave among the women.
So you're in the gravest danger and must die?
The citizens must cast their votes on us
about the murder.
What must the vote decide?
Tell me. I'm growing fearful.
For life or death—
it's not something that takes much time to
though it involves something that lasts
Leave the palace now, flee with you sister.
Do you not see how we're both being
with armed guards on every side?
streets in town blocked off by men with
We're physically hemmed in, like a city
by its enemies.
You must ask me now
how I'm doing, for I, too am quite
By whom? This would add further
to the ones I face.
Strophius, my father,
has banished me—he was so furious
he sent me from the house.
What's the charge
he's leveling against you, something
or is it one the townsfolk share?
it's an unholy sacrilege to help you
in murdering your own mother.
That's bad news.
It seems what's hurting me is harming
you, as well.
It's something I have to bear. I'll not
But aren't you
Argos will want to kill you, just like me?
I'm not theirs to punish. I'm from
The mob is nasty, when it has leaders
bent on doing wrong.
But when it's
by decent men, the decisions they make
are always good.
All right. We must think this through,
What must we do?
What if I went and told the citizens . .
. . . that what you did was just?
I sought revenge
for my father's sake?
They might be happy
to grab hold of you.
Am I to cower down
and die without a word?
Then what should I do?
If you stayed here,
would you have a way of being
No. I don't have anything.
And if you left,
is there some hope you might be saved?
there might be.
That's better than staying here, then.
All right, I'll go.
At least that way, if you die,
you'll die more nobly.
You're right—this way
I won't be a coward.
More than staying here.
And my action was right.
Just make a prayer
that's how it looks to them.
And someone there
might pity me . . .
Yes, your noble birth
is a great asset.
. . . being so
at my father's death.
All that's easy to see.
I have to go. It's not a manly thing
to die a shameful death.
I agree with you.
Should we tell my sister?
By the gods, no.
There'd certainly be tears.
That'd be a serious omen.
It's clear it's better to say nothing.
And you'll save time.
There's just one problem for
What now? Are you talking of something new?
I'm worried the goddesses will stop me
with this madness.
But I'll take care of
It's unpleasant looking after someone sick..
Not to me. Not when I'm looking
Be careful you don't start my madness.
Don't worry over that.
You won't hold back?
It's a great evil to hold back with friends.
Then, you pilot of my steps, let's go now.
That's a service I'm glad to undertake.
And lead me to my father's tomb.
So I may appeal to him to save me.
That's the righteous thing to
May I not
the memorial to my mother!
No, not that.
She was your enemy. But you must hurry—
the vote the Argives cast may catch you
Lean your side that's weakened by
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
That's the point. Make sure you get
and not just relatives. A man may be
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.
That great prosperity and lofty name
so proudly celebrated throughout
and there beside the waters of the Simois
has declined once more from the
of Atreus' sons so many years ago—
from an old misfortune in their
when strife came to the sons of Tantalus
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
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
a virtuous crime is sheer profanity,
the mad delusion of wrong-thinking men.
The wretched daughter of Tyndareus,
terrified of death, screamed at him, "My
don't you dare carry out such sacrilege
and slaughter your own mother—in honouring
your father, don't tie yourself to such
such shame which lasts for an
What affliction or distress, what agony
in all the earth surpasses this, to
on one's own hands a mother's murdered blood?
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
when he saw his mother's breast appear
above her dress, a robe of woven gold,
he made his own mother a
to avenge the sufferings of his
Electra from the house]
You women, has poor Orestes left the house,
overcome by that madness from the gods?
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.
Alas! Why did he do that? Who convinced
Messenger appears, coming toward the house]
Pylades did. But this messenger, it
will soon tell us news about your brother,
what happened to him there.
You poor girl,
unhappy daughter of
our army's leader, lady Electra,
hear the disastrous news I bring you.
Alas! We're finished! Your words
are clear enough—
you've come, it seems, with disastrous news.
Pelasgians have, in their vote, decreed
that you, unhappy lady, are to die,
you and your brother on this very day.*
Alas! What I been expecting has arrived—
I've been afraid of it a long time
dissolved in sorrow for what might come
How was the trial? What did the Argives
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?
I happened to be coming from the country
and was coming through the gates—I
to find out about you and Orestes.
I always liked your father, and your house
gave me food. I was poor but
in helping out my friends. I saw a
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
about an enemy caused a great stir
in this city of Danaus' descendants?
He said, "Don't you see Orestes
rushing to a trial where his life's at
Then I saw something I did not expect—
how I wish I'd never seen it!—Pylades
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
caring for his sickness as if he were
schooling a young boy. Once the Argives
had gathered in a crowd, a herald
and cried, "Who desires to make a speech
whether Orestes should be killed or not
for his mother's murder?"
the man who helped your father demolish
He spoke ambiguously—
well, he's always been a subordinate
of those in power—praising your
but saying nothing good about your brother,
weaving good and misleading words together,
claiming it would be setting up bad
concerning parents, and all the time
he kept looking at Aegisthus' friends
with those bright eyes of his. The
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
lord Diomedes spoke. He was
killing you or your brother but proposed
they act with reverence and as
use exile. Some of the people there
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
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
persuades a mob, that's a great disaster
for the city, but those who always
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
was the one who laid down the arguments
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
who keep our country going—but clever
and keen to wrestle with the argument,
someone with integrity, who lived a
beyond reproach. He said they should
Orestes, Agamemnon's son,
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
appeared convincing, at least to decent
were no other speakers. Your
then came up and said, "You who are the
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
the woman who betrayed my father's bed
is dead, but if you execute me
the law would be relaxed, and men will die
as fast as possible—there'll be no lack
of such audacity." His speech was
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
not to stone him to death, by promising
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
weeping and lamenting. This spectacle,
so painful for you, is heading this way,
a distressing sight. Get your swords
or a noose around your neck—you must leave
the light. Your noble birth has been no
Nor has Phoebus in Delphi, seated there
on his tripod. He's destroyed you
O you unfortunate girl, you're speechless,
with your clouded face bent toward the
as if you'll rush to cry and make laments.
O Pelasgia, now I start to
pushing white nails through my cheeks,
blood lacerations, and striking my head,
actions appropriate to Persephone,
lovely child goddess of the world
Let the Cyclopian land now wail aloud
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
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
and that hateful vote for blood
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
and all of human life remains uncertain.
If only I could reach that boulder
in the winds on chains of
mid way between the earth and heaven,
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
and murdered Myrtilus by hurling him
into the ocean swell, driving his
near Geraestus, where the surging sea
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
Because of that, Strife then reversed
Sun's winged chariot to a western
across the sky by placing under yoke
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.*
The final chapter comes with me
and with my father in these
all these afflictions laid on our house.
and Orestes enter]
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.
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
before my eyes will make me lose my mind.
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.
can I stay silent? We poor sufferers
will no longer see the sun god's light.
Don't be so tedious. It's quite enough
that I'll be suffering a wretched death
at Argive hands. So just set
your present sorrow.
Alas for your sad youth,
Orestes, and for your early death.
You should live on, but now you'll be no
By the gods, you'll strip me of my manhood—
by bringing our calamities to mind
you'll have me crying.
We're going to die.
It's impossible not to grieve for that.
It's pitiful. To all men life is
This is our appointed day. So we must
sharpen a sword or fix a hanging
Then you kill me, my brother, so no Argive
executes me and starts hurling insults
at Agamemnon's children.
I won't kill you.
It's enough to have my mother's blood on me.
No. You must die by your own hand
in whatever way you wish.
All right, then.
I won't lag behind you with my sword.
But I want to hug you around your neck
Enjoy that empty pleasure, if embraces
bring any joy to those about to
O my dearest one! O that longed-for name,
so very sweet to your own sister—
whose spirit is one with yours.
You'll melt my heart.
I want to respond to you with loving arms.
And why should a wretch like me still feel
Ah, my sister's heart, how I love holding you!
For us in our misery these
replace our children and a marriage bed.
If only the same sword could kill us both,
if that's permitted, and one burial
made of cedar wood receive us both.
That would be very sweet. But you do
we're short of friends who'd let us share a
Did that coward Menelaus, the one
who betrayed my father, not speak out
on your behalf, making some attempt
to stop you being killed?
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
But come now, as we move to our
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
I'm on my way to do it, as you see.
starts to move into the house]
Hold on! There's first something I
blame you for—
if you believed I'd want to go on
after you were dead.
Why is it right
that you should die with me?
You're asking that?
How can I live without you as my friend?
You didn't kill your mother, as I did,
to my misfortune.
I acted with you.
For that I should have to suffer
Surrender your body to your
Don't die with me. You still have a
I do not. You have your father's house
and the safety of great wealth. You
to marry my poor sister, as I promised
out of a sense of our companionship.
But you must take another marriage
and have children. The family bonds we
no longer hold with you and me. Be
face of my great friend. For
that is impossible, but you can be—
we dead lack any sources of delight.
How far you are from understanding
what my intentions are. May fruitful
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
are paying the penalty. And
so I must
go to my death along with you and her.
Since I consented to the
I consider her my wife. What would I
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
I'm involved in this, as well. Since
let's see if we can find a way together
to make Menelaus miserable as well.
My dearest friend, if only I could
something like that before I die.
must postpone this sword blow.
if I can get even with my enemy.
[indicating the Chorus]
Be quiet. I don't have much confidence
in these women.
Don't worry about them.
These women here are friends of ours.
Let's murder Helen—for Menelaus
that would be a bitter pain.
I'm prepared to do it, if there's a
we'd pull it off.
By hacking her to
She's hiding in your house.
That's true enough.
In fact, she's stamping her seal on
Not any more. She's engaged to Hades.
How do we do it? She has attendants—
What do they matter?
I'm not afraid of any Phrygians.
The kind of men who take care of mirrors
and look after perfumes!
Did she come here
bringing the luxuries of Troy with her?
Oh yes. For her Greece is too small a
to live in.
The race of slaves is nothing
compared to those who're free.
If I do this,
I'm not afraid of dying
Nor am I,
if I'm getting my revenge for you.
Explain the plan—keep on describing
what you were talking about.
We'll go in,
inside the house, as if we're on our way
to kill ourselves.
I understand that
But I don't get the rest.
We'll parade our grief
for what we're suffering in front of
So she'll begin to weep, though on the
she'll be overjoyed.
Then the state she's in
will match our own.
After that, what do we do
according to our plan?
We'll have swords
hidden in our clothes.
And her attendants—
do we kill them first?
We'll lock them up
in different places in the house
who won't keep quiet we'll have to kill.
Once that's done, the job itself will tell us
where we direct our efforts.
I know what that means.
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
and robbed married women of their husbands—
there'll be shouts of joy, people lighting
to the gods and calling many blessings
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
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
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
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
We won't fail to win at least one glory—
a noble death or a fine salvation.
Tyndareus' daughter disgraced her
and justly earned the hatred of all women.
Ah me, a true friend—there's nothing
not wealth or sovereignty. One cannot
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
you're offering me a way of punishing
my enemies and are not running off.
But I'll stop praising you—excessive
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
as if I were a slave. No. My life
I shall release quite freely. And I'll
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
and not get killed ourselves. I pray
It's sweet to talk about what I desire
in words with wings which cheer my spirit
and don't cost anything.
I've got the very thing you're praying for,
a way of rescuing the three of us,
you, him, and me.
You mean divine good will?
That can't be it, because I know your
is too intelligent for that.
and you, Pylades, pay attention, too.
All right, talk. The idea that there's
makes me feel good.
You know Helen's daughter?
Of course, you do.
Yes, I know Hermione.
My mother raised her.
Well, she's gone
to Clytaemnestra's grave.
What's she doing there?
What hope are you suggesting?
She's gone to pour
libations on our mother's burial mound.
How does what you've said help us to safety?
Seize her on her way back. Make her a
We three here are friends—so what
are you suggesting for us?
Once Helen's dead,
if Menelaus tries to do something
to you or him or me—for
unites us all as one—tell him you'll
Hermione. You must pull out your sword
and hold it here, across the young girl's
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
I think he'll put on quite a show at
but soon enough his temper will calm
He's not a bold courageous man by nature.
That's the defence I have to rescue us.
That's it. I'm finished.
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.
I hope that happens.
May she come to the city of Phocis
full honoured with fine wedding
How long before Hermione gets home?
All the things you said were really good,
provided we succeed in seizing
that whelp of a sacrilegious father.
I expect she's already near the house,
judging from the length of time she's taken.
Good. Now, Electra, you remain right
Wait in front of the house for her return.
And keep an eye out, in case anyone—
my uncle or one of his associates—
comes too near the house before the
If so, make a signal to those inside,
by knocking on the door or sending word.
Pylades, we'll go in and arm
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
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
do come, if from there beneath the earth
you hear the calls of your own children
who are dying for your sake.
my father's kinsman, hear my prayers as well—
save your children.
I murdered by mother . .
I handed him the sword . . .
I urged him on
and overcame his hesitation.
I was defending you, father.
did not betray you.
Surely you'll listen
to these reproaches and save your
I'm pouring a libation to you in my tears.
And I with my laments.
Let's get to work. If it's true that
do pierce the ground, then he is listening.
O ancestral Zeus and holy
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.
and Pylades enter the house. Electra turns to face the Chorus]
O you women of Mycenae, my friends,
among the first ranks of those who live
in the Argives' Pelasgian home.
What is it you want to say, my lady?
You still retain this title in the
where the sons of Danaus
Place yourselves where you can watch the
some of you there on the chariot roadway,
some of you here along the other path.
Why are you calling me to do these tasks?
Tell me, dear girl.
I'm afraid someone
may come across the murderous bloodshed
in the house and witness new disasters
to add to old calamities.
Let's hurry on our way.
Let's go. I'll stand guard on this
the one towards the east.
And I'll guard this
the one towards the west.
Keep your eyes moving
back and forth, checking on both sides.
Back and forth, then once more back again—
I'm following what you said.
Keep your eyes alert.
Let them see everything through that hair of
Who's that man approaching down the road?
What country fellow's wandering round your
We're lost, my friends! He'll tell our
about those predators with swords in there—
and do so right away.
Calm your fears, my dear.
It's not what you think—the
path is empty.
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
It's fine here. Just keep watching on
None of Danaus' sons is moving toward us.
Same thing over here. And there's no
All right. I'll try listening at the
It's so quiet. You there inside the
why the delay in bloodying your victim?
They can't hear. Alas, this looks bad
Has her loveliness made their swords grow
Soon some armed man will be rushing here,
coming from the Argives to rescue
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.
I shift around—
I'm looking everywhere along the road.
screams from inside the house]
O Pelasgian Argos! I'm being
[speaking as separate individuals]
—Did you hear that? The men have set
—That's Helen screaming. That's my guess.
O Zeus, O eternal power of Zeus—
just come and help my
Menelaus, I'm dying—you're
but you won't help me!
Slaughter her, finish her off!
Destroy her! Let your two swords
slash her with their double blades,
the one who left her
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.*
Be quiet! Don't say a thing! I
hear the sound
of someone coming along the pathway,
near the house.
You women, dearest friends,
Hermione's coming, while the
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
Go back to your positions once again.
Keep your looks serene. Don't let your colour
reveal what's happened. I'll keep my
looking sad, as if I had no
of what's been done.
enters, coming towards the house]
Ah my girl, have you come
from placing wreaths on Clytaemnestra's grave
and pouring out libations to the
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.
Is that so strange? What's happening to
deserves such cries of sorrow.
Don't say bad things.
What news have you to speak of?
decrees Orestes and myself must die.
No, no! You're my blood
We're strapped under necessity's harsh
Was that why someone screamed inside the
A suppliant cried out as he fell down
at Helen's knees.
Who was it? Tell me—
if you don't, I won't know any details.
It was poor Orestes. He was begging
not to die—and for
me, as well.
has a good reason then to cry aloud.
What other better reason could there be
for someone to scream about? But come
join your relatives in their
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
have pity on us and assist us now
in our distress. Enter the struggle
I'll lead you in myself, for you alone
are our last hope of rescue.
my feet are hurrying towards the house.
As far as it lies within my
may you be safe.
enters the palace]
You friends inside the house—
why not take your swords and seize your prey?
[from within the house]
Oh no! Who are these men I see?
You've come to save us, not yourself.
[at the doorway, looking in]
Hold her down! Put your sword across
and keep quiet, so Menelaus will know
he's met some men, not Phrygian cowards,
and has been dealt with as bad men deserve.
enters the house]
O friends, begin the rhythmic beat,
the noise and shouts, before the
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
Justice from the gods has rightly
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.
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.
Phrygian enters, quite terrified. He chants or sings his first
I've fled death from an Argive sword
by scrambling in my Asian
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?
What's going on,
you slave of Helen, creature from
Ilion, O Ilion! O woe is me
city of Phrygia, Ida' sacred hill
with its rich earth, how I
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
Alas! Alas, for these
these dirges for Dardania,
for the horsemanship of Ganymede
Zeus' sexual partner in his bed.*
Tell us what's happening inside the house,
clearly and in detail. Your words so
are difficult for me to understand.
O Linus, Linus—as
in their Asian tongue, once death begins,
whenever royal blood
spills on the
from iron swords of Hades. They came
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
for his quiet deviousness, the scoundrel!
They came in, up to where she was
the woman archer Paris married,
wet with tears, and humbly crouched down
one on either side, keeping her hemmed in.
They threw their suppliant arms around her
both laid hands on Helen. Then on the
her Phrygian servants came rushing up,
each calling to the others in their fear
that it might be a trick. To some of
it looked all right, but it seemed to others
that the snake who murdered his own
was entangling the child of Tyndareus
in a devious plot to snare her.
Where were you?
Had you run off in terror long before that?
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
we barbarians have. She was twisting
wrapping her fingers round the
The thread was falling down onto the floor.
With those Phrygian spoils she wished to make
some purple clothes, a gift for
to adorn her tomb. Orestes then spoke
and called out to the Spartan girl,
"Child of Zeus,
leave your chair and stand up over
by the ancient hearth of Pelops, our
so you can hear the words I have to
He led her, yes led her, and she followed—
she had no idea what he was
His partner, that evil man from Phocis,
moved off, going about some other business.
"You Phrygian cowards, leave—go
Then he locked them up in different places
all through the house—some in the stables,
some in the porticoes—some here, some
leaving them in various locations
some distance from their mistress.
Then what happened?
Mother of Ida! O sacred mother,
holy one! O the murderous
the lawless evil I saw there, I witnessed
in the royal palace. Their hands pulled
out from the darkness of their purple robes,
rolling their eyes back and forth, here and
to check that no one else was there.
like mountain boars, facing the woman
and said, "You'll die. You'll
die. Your evil mate
is the one who's killing you—he
his brother's family to die in Argos."
She screamed, she howled, "Alas for
and beat her white forearm against her breast
and struck her fist against her wretched
Then she ran off—on golden-sandaled feet
she rushed off, she fled. But then
jumping ahead in his Mycenaean
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
Where were you Phrygian household servants
to defend her?
We yelled—then with
battered the doors and door posts in the
where we'd been held and ran from every spot
to her assistance. One man carried
one had spears, and one held a drawn sword.
But Pylades came at us without fear,
just like Trojan Hector or like
with his triple plumes, whom I saw
I saw him at Priam's gate. So we met
at sword point. And then the Phrygians
in their full glory how for warlike
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
and some were killed already. At that
poor Hermione came in the
just as her mother, the unlucky one
who'd given birth to her, had fallen
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
I've no idea. Just like a
my legs crept from the house. So
after going through such painful, painful
got his wife Helen out of Troy in vain.
enters from the house]
Look how one strange sight succeeds another!
I see Orestes, sword in hand, coming here,
before the palace—his
pace is jumpy.
Where's that man who ran out of the house,
to escape my sword?
[throwing himself on the ground]
I bow to you, my lord,
making obeisance, as is the habit
of we barbarians.
We're not in
We're in the land of Argos.
life is more welcome to wise men than death.
Those shouts you made—you
for Menelaus to bring up help, were you?
No, no. I was helping you, the worthier
So it was just for Tyndareus' daughter
to be put to death?
It was most just,
even if she had three throats to slit.
Your cowardice makes your tongue
that's not what you think inside.
Was she not the one who wiped out Greece
and Phrygians, too?
Swear you're not just saying this
to humour me—or
else I'll kill you.
I swear it on my life—an
oath I'll keep.
[holding up his sword]
Were all the Phrygians at Troy afraid
of iron, the way you are?
That sword of yours,
put it away. When it's so close to me
it has a dreadful glint of murder.
Are you afraid you'll turn to stone, as
you'd seen a Gorgon?*
No, not to a
but to a corpse. I don't know anything
about the Gorgon's head.
You're just a slave.
Do you fear Hades, which will release you
from your troubles?
Every man, slave or not,
is glad to look upon the light of day.
Well said. Your shrewd mind is your
Go inside the house.
You won't kill me?
You're free to go.
That's beautiful, what you just said.
But I'm about to reconsider.
Now your words are not so nice.
Do you think I could stand to stain your
make it bloody?
weren't born a woman
and don't belong with men. I left the
to stop you making such a noise.
is quick to move once it hears the call.
But still I'm not afraid of matching swords
with Menelaus. Let him come—the
who's so proud of that golden hair of his
reaching to his shoulders. If he
Argives up and leads them to the
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
enters the palace. The Phrygian leaves]
[different parts speak different sections]
Alas, alas, how things fall out!
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,
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
God determines how things end for mortal men,
whatever end he wishes.
Those demons of revenge have mighty power.
The house has fallen—fallen
thanks to Myrtilus tumbling from his chariot.*
But look! I see Menelaus coming—
he's near the house and moving quickly.
He must have heard what's happening
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.
enters with an armed escort]
I came because I heard of dreadful acts,
violent deeds committed by two
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
made up by that man who killed his
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
and take back my poor miserable
Those who killed my consort must die with her—
my own hands will kill them.
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
Pylades is holding burning torches]
[from the roof]
You down there!
Keep your hands off those door bolts. I
Menelaus, you who exalt yourself
with impudence. I'll break this parapet—
the wall was made by masons long ago—
and smash your head in with a coping stone.
bolts are fastened down with metal rods.
They'll check your eagerness to bring help
and stop you gaining access to the
Hold on. What's going on? I see
men cornered up there on the palace
a sword ready to cut my daughter's throat.
You want to question me or hear me talk?
Neither. But it seems I'll have to hear
I'm going to kill you daughter—if
you want to know.
After killing Helen, you're going to pile
one murder on another?
I wish I'd done it,
instead of having the gods trick
You deny you killed her just to mock
Yes. It hurts to say I didn't do it.
If only I had . . .
If only you'd done what?
You're trying to frighten me.
. . . thrown the woman
who pollutes all Greece down into hell.
Give me my wife's corpse, so I can bury her.
Ask the gods for her. But your daughter
I will kill.
The man who killed his mother
compounds that murder with another.
The man who stands up for his father—
the man you betrayed and left to
Isn't your mother's blood now on your hands
enough for you?
No. I'd never get
if I had to keep killing evil woman
for an eternity.
And you, Pylades,
are you his partner in this murder?
His silence speaks for him. It's quite
if I say he is.
Well, you'll regret it,
unless you sprout wings and fly away.
We're not going to run. We'll burn the
What? You're intending to destroy this
your own ancestral home?
So you won't have it.
And in the flames I'll sacrifice this
Kill her, then. After the slaughter,
I'll punish you.
All right, I will.
moves as if he is going to kill Hermione]
Don't do it!
Silence! You must endure this,
justice for the evils you have
It is just that you should live?
Yes, it is—
and rule a country.
A country? Where?
Right here. In Pelasgian Argos.
you'd be so good at handling those
we use for ritual washing.*
And killing animals for sacrifice
before a battle.
Would you be suitable?
Yes, my hands are pure.
But your heart is not.
What man would speak to you?
who loved his father.
What about the one
who respects his mother?
A man like that
is born lucky.
You're not like that.
No, I'm not.
Bad women are not something I enjoy.
Take your sword away from my
You're a born liar.
You'll kill my daughter?
Yes. Now you're not spreading
What should I do?
You should go to the
and win them over . . .
What should I tell them?
Tell them not to kill us. Beg the city.
Or else you'll kill my child?
That how it stands.
O poor Helen . . .
What about my troubles?
. . . I brought you back from Phrygia to be
If only she had been!
After I went through
all that effort.
Except on my
I've had to endure such awful suffering!
Because you were no help at all back then.
You've caught me out.
No. You caught yourself
by being such a coward.
calls down to Electra who comes out in front of the palace doors
in response to his call]
set fire to the house from underneath.
And you, Pylades, my most trusty friend,
burn down the parapets of these walls
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
this man here is using force against you,
against the entire city, though he carries
the pollution of his mother's murdered blood.
escort starts moving en masse toward the palace doors.
Meanwhile fire breaks out on the roof and inside the palace. Then
and Helen suddenly appear descending from on high]
Menelaus, you must blunt the sharp edge
of your temper. I am Phoebus, Leto's
calling you from close at hand—and
holding a sword and standing by that girl,
Orestes, so you know the news I bring.
As for Helen whom you were so
to destroy in your rage at
you failed to kill her, and she's here with
in the surrounding air. I rescued her
and she wasn't murdered. Yes, I saved
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
Menelaus, and take her home. The
used this one's outstanding loveliness
to bring Greeks and Phrygians
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
will be called the country of
by people in Azania and Arcadia.
From there you'll go to the Athenians' city
and must stand trial for murdering your
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
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
Menelaus, you must leave Orestes
to rule the state. Go and govern
Keep that as a dowry from your wife.
The countless troubles she has always brought
up to this point will end. I'll set
between Orestes and the city, for I
was the one who made him kill his mother.
O prophetic Loxias—in
you prophesy the truth, there's nothing
And yet fear gripped me that I might have
some demon when I listened to your
But all has ended well. I will
what you have said. See here—I now
Hermione from death, and I agree
to take her as my wife, just as soon as
her father gives her to me.
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
May you prosper in a noble marriage,
and may I as well, who give her to
Then each of you set out to the place
I have arranged, and end your
I must obey.
So must I. I'll make
with you, Menelaus, in this matter,
and, Loxias, with what your oracle has said.
Go on your way now, and honour Peace,
the fairest of the gods. I'll bring
to the halls of Zeus, once I've moved across
the star-bright sky. There she will be
by Hera and Hebe, wife of
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
and Helen leave. Orestes, Hermione and Pylades move
down into the house. Menelaus and his escort depart]
O great and holy Victory,
may you take possession of my life,
and never cease to crown me with your
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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . 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
. . suppliant branch: In a formal supplication the petitioner carries
an olive branch. Orestes doesn't have one available. [Back
. . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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
. . . 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]
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
. . . 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
. . . one entire year: Parrhasia is a region in Arcadia, an area in the
central Peloponnese. [Back to
. . . 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