Euripides - 430 BC
Mycenae, Electra (daughter of Agamemnon) Orestes (son of Agamemnon)
Pylades (friend Of Orestes) Chorus of Argive country women) Clytemnestra
(widow of Agamemnon) former servant of Agamemnon, messenger, the Dioscuri,
(SCENE:-Before the hut of the PEASANT, in the country on the
borders of Argolis. It is just before sunrise. The PEASANT is
O ARGOS, ancient land, and streams of Inachus, whence on a day
king Agamemnon sailed to the realm of Troy, carrying his warriors
aboard a thousand ships; and after he had slain Priam who was reigning
in Ilium and captured the famous city of Dardanus, he came hither to
Argos and has set up high on the temple-walls many a trophy, spoil
of the barbarians. Though all went well with him in Troy, yet was he
slain in his own palace by the guile of his wife Clytemnestra and
the hand of Aegisthus, son of Thyestes. So he died and left behind him
the ancient sceptre of Tantalus, and Aegisthus reigns in his stead,
with the daughter of Tyndareus, Agamemnon's queen, to wife. Now as for
those whom he left in his halls, when he sailed to Troy, his son
Orestes and his tender daughter Electra,-the boy Orestes, as he was
like to be slain by Aegisthus, his sire's old foster-father secretly
removed to the land of Phocis and gave to Strophius to bring up, but
the maid Electra abode in her father's house, and soon as she had
budded into maidenhood, came all the princes of Hellas asking her hand
in marriage. But Aegisthus kept her at home for fear she might bear
a son to some chieftain who would avenge Agamemnon, nor would he
betroth her unto any. But when e'en thus there seemed some room for
fear that she might bear some noble lord a child by stealth and
Aegisthus was minded to slay her, her mother, though she had a cruel
heart, yet rescued the maiden from his hand. For she could find
excuses for having slain her husband, but she feared the hatred she
would incur for her children's murder. Wherefore Aegisthus devised
this scheme; on Agamemnon's son who had escaped his realm by flight he
set a price to be paid to any who should slay him, while he gave
Electra to me in marriage, whose ancestors were citizens of Mycenae.
It is not that I blame myself for; my family was noble enough,
though certainly impoverished, and so my good birth suffers. By making
for her this weak alliance he thought he would have little to fear.
For if some man of high position had married her, he might have
revived the vengeance for Agamemnon's murder, which now is sleeping;
in which case Aegisthus would have paid the penalty. But Cypris is
my witness that I have ever respected her maidenhood; she is still
as though unwed. Unworthy as I am, honour forbids that I should so
affront the daughter of a better man. Yea, and I am sorry for Orestes,
hapless youth, who is called my kinsman, to think that he should
ever return to Argos and behold his sister's wretched marriage. And
whoso counts me but a fool for leaving a tender maid untouched when
I have her in my house, to him I say, he measures purity by the
vicious standard of his own soul, a standard like himself.
(ELECTRA enters from the hut, carrying a water
pitcher on her head. She is meanly clad.)
O sable night, nurse of the golden stars! beneath thy pall I go to
fetch water from the brook with my pitcher poised upon my head, not
indeed because I am forced to this necessity, but that to the gods I
may display the affronts Aegisthus puts upon me, and to the wide
firmament pour out my lamentation for my sire. For my own mother,
the baleful daughter of Tyndareus, hath cast me forth from her house
to gratify her lord; for since she hath borne other children to
Aegisthus she puts me and Orestes on one side at home.
Oh! why, poor maiden, dost thou toil so hard on my behalf, thou
that aforetime wert reared so daintily? why canst thou not forego
thy labour, as I bid thee?
As a god's I count thy kindness to me, for in my distress thou
hast never made a mock at me. 'Tis rare fortune when mortals find such
healing balm for their cruel wounds as 'tis my lot to find in thee.
Wherefore I ought, though thou forbid me, to lighten thy labours, as
far as my strength allows, and share all burdens with thee to ease thy
load. Thou hast enough to do abroad; 'tis only right that I should
keep thy house in order. For when the toiler cometh to his home from
the field, it is pleasant to find all comfortable in the house.
If such thy pleasure, go thy way; for, after all, the spring is no
great distance from my house. And at break of day I will drive my
steers to my glebe and sow my crop. For no idler, though he has the
gods' names ever on his lips, can gather a livelihood without hard
(ELECTRA and the PEASANT go out. A moment
later ORESTES and PYLADES enter.)
Ah Pylades, I put thee first 'mongst men for thy love, thy loyalty
and friendliness to me; for thou alone of all my friends wouldst still
honour poor Orestes, in spite of the grievous plight whereto I am
reduced by Aegisthus, who with my accursed mother's aid slew my
sire. I am come from Apollo's mystic shrine to the soil of Argos,
without the knowledge of any, to avenge my father's death upon his
murderers. Last night went unto his tomb and wept thereon, cutting off
my hair as an offering and pouring o'er the grave the blood of a sheep
for sacrifice, unmarked by those who lord it o'er this land. And now
though I enter not the walled town, yet by coming to the borders of
the land I combine two objects; I can escape to another country if any
spy me out and recognize me, and at the same time seek my sister,
for I am told she is a maid no longer but is married and living
here, that I may meet her, and, after enlisting her aid in the deed of
blood, learn for certain what is happening in the town. Let us now,
since dawn is uplifting her radiant eye, step aside from this path.
For maybe some labouring man or serving maid will come in sight, of
whom we may inquire whether it is here that my sister hath her home.
Lo! yonder I see a servant bearing a full pitcher of water on her
shaven head; let us sit down and make inquiry of this bond-maid, if
haply we may glean some tidings of the matter which brought us hither,
(They retire a little, as ELECTRA returns from the spring.)
Bestir thy lagging feet, 'tis high time; on, on o'er thy path of
tears! ah misery! I am Agamemnon's daughter, she whom Clytemnestra,
hateful child of Tyndareus, bare; hapless Electra is the name my
countrymen call me. Ah me! for my cruel lot, my hateful existence! O
my father Agamemnon! in Hades art thou laid, butchered by thy wife and
Aegisthus. Come, raise with me that dirge once more; uplift the
woful strain that brings relief.
On, on o'er thy path of tears! ah misery! And thou, poor
brother, in what city and house art thou a slave, leaving thy
suffering sister behind in the halls of our fathers to drain the cup
of bitterness? Oh! come, great Zeus, to set me free from this life
of sorrow, and to avenge my sire in the blood of his foes, bringing
the wanderer home to Argos.
Take this pitcher from my head, put it down, that I may wake
betimes, while it is yet night, my lamentation for my sire, my doleful
chant, my dirge of death, for thee, my father in thy grave, which
day by day I do rehearse, rending my skin with my nails, and smiting
on my shaven head in mourning for thy death. Woe, woe! rend the cheek;
like a swan with clear loud note beside the brimming river calling
to its parent dear that lies a-dying in the meshes of the crafty
net, so I bewail thee, my hapless sire,
After that last fatal bath of thine laid out most piteously in
death. Oh I the horror of that axe which hacked thee so cruelly, my
sire I oh! the bitter thought that prompted thy return from Troy! With
no garlands or victor's crowns did thy wife welcome thee, but with his
two-edged sword she made thee the sad sport of Aegisthus and kept
her treacherous paramour.
(The CHORUS OF ARGIVE COUNTRY-WOMEN enter. The following
lines between ELECTRA and the CHORUS are sung responsively.)
O Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, to thy rustic cot I come, for
a messenger hath arrived, a highlander from Mycenae, one who lives
on milk, announcing that the Argives are proclaiming a sacrifice for
the third day from now, and all our maidens are to go to Hera's
Kind friends, my heart is not set on festivity, nor do necklaces
of gold cause any flutter in my sorrowing bosom, nor will I stand up
with the maidens of Argos to beat my foot in the mazy dance. Tears
have been my meat day and night; ah misery! See my unkempt hair, my
tattered dress; are they fit for a princess, a daughter of
Agamemnon, or for Troy which once thought of my father as its captor?
Mighty is the goddess; so come, and borrow of me broidered robes
for apparel and jewels of gold that add a further grace to beauty's
charms. Dost think to triumph o'er thy foes by tears, if thou honour
not the gods? 'Tis not by lamentation but by pious prayers to heaved
that thou, my daughter, wilt make fortune smile on thee.
No god hearkens to the voice of lost Electra, or heeds the
sacrifices offered by my father long ago. Ah woe for the dead! woe for
the living wanderer, who dwelleth in some foreign land, an outcast and
vagabond at a menial board, sprung though he is of a famous sire!
Myself, too, in a poor man's hut do dwell, wasting my soul with grief,
an exile from my father's halls, here by the scarred hill-side;
while my mother is wedded to a new husband in a marriage stained by
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Many a woe to Hellas and thy house did Helen, thy mother's sister,
ELECTRA (catching sight of ORESTES and PYLADES)
Ha! Friends, I break off my lament; yonder are strangers just
leaving the place of ambush where they were couching, and making for
the house. We must seek to escape the villains by flying, thou along
the path and I into my cottage.
Stay, poor maid; fear no violence from me.
O Phoebus Apollo I beseech thee spare my life.
Give me the lives of others more my foes than thou!
Begone! touch me not! thou hast no right to.
There is none I have a better right to touch.
How is it then thou waylayest me, sword in hand, near my house?
Wait and hear, and thou wilt soon agree with me
Here I stand; I am in thy power in any case, since thou art the
I am come to thee with news of thy brother.
O best of friends! is he alive or dead?
Alive; I would fain give thee my good news first.
God bless thee! in return for thy welcome tidings.
I am prepared to share that blessing between us.
In what land is my poor brother spending his dreary exile?
His ruined life does not conform to the customs of any one city.
Surely he does not want for daily bread?
Bread he has, but an exile is a helpless man at best.
What is this message thou hast brought from him?
He asks, "Art thou alive? and if so, How art thou faring?"
Well, first thou seest how haggard I am grown.
So wasted with sorrow that I weep for thee.
Next mark my head, shorn and shaven like a Scythian's.
Thy brother's fate and father's death no doubt disturb thee.
Yes, alas! for what have I more dear than these?
Ah! and what dost thou suppose is dearer to thy brother?
He is far away, not here to show his love to me.
Wherefore art thou living here far from the city?
I am wedded, sir; a fatal match!
Alas! for thy brother; I pity him. Is thy husband of Mycenae?
He is not the man to whom my father ever thought of betrothing me.
Tell me all, that I may report it to thy brother.
I live apart from my husband in this house.
The only fit inmate would be a hind or herd.
Poor he is, yet he displays a generous consideration for me.
Why, what is this consideration that attaches to thy husband?
He has never presumed to claim from me a husband's rights.
Is he under a vow of chastity? or does he disdain thee?
He thought he had no right to flout my ancestry.
How was it he was not overjoyed at winning such a bride?
He does not recognize the right of him who disposed of my hand.
I understand; he was afraid of the vengeance of Orestes hereafter.
There was that fear, but he was a virtuous man as well.
Ah! a noble nature this! He deserves kind treatment.
Yes, if ever the wanderer return.
But did thy own mother give in to this?
'Tis her husband, not her children that a woman loves, sir
Wherefore did Aegisthus put this affront on thee?
His design in giving me to such a husband was to weaken my
To prevent thee bearing sons, I suppose, who should punish him?
That was his plan; God grant I may avenge me on him for it!
Does thy mother's husband know that thou art yet a maid?
He does not; our silence robs him of that knowledge.
Are these women friends of thine, who overhear our talk?
They are, and they will keep our conversation perfectly secret.
What could Orestes do in this matter, if he did return?
Canst thou ask? Shame on thee for that! Is not this the time for
But suppose he comes, how could he slay his father's murderers?
By boldly meting out the same fate that his father had meted out
to him by his foes.
Wouldst thou be brave enough to help him slay his mother?
Aye, with the self-same axe that drank my father's blood.
Am I to tell him this, and that thy purpose firmly holds?
Once I have shed my mother's blood o'er his, then welcome death!
Ah! would Orestes were standing near to hear that!
I should not know him, sir, if I saw him.
No wonder; you were both children when you parted.
There is only one of my friends would recognize him.
The man maybe who is said to have snatched him away from being
Yes, the old servant who tended my father's childhood long ago.
Did thy father's corpse obtain burial?
Such burial as it was, after his body had been flung forth from
O God! how awful is thy story! Yes, there is a feeling, arising
even from another's distress, that wrings the human heart. Say on,
that when know the loveless tale, which yet I needs must hear, I may
carry it to thy brother. For pity, though it has no place in
ignorant natures, is inborn in the wise; still it may cause trouble to
find excessive cleverness amongst the wise.
I too am stirred by the same desire as the stranger. For
dwelling so far from the city I know nothing of its ills, and I should
like to hear about them now myself.
I will tell you, if I may; and surely I may tell a friend about my
own and my father's grievous misfortunes. Now since thou movest me
to speak, I entreat thee, sir, tell Orestes of our sorrows; first,
describe the dress I wear, the load of squalor that oppresses me,
the hovel I inhabit after my royal home; tell him how hard I have to
work at weaving clothes myself or else go barely clad and do
without; how I carry home on my head water from the brook; no part
have I in holy festival, no place amid the dance; a maiden still I
turn from married dames and from Castor too, to whom they betrothed me
before he joined the heavenly host, for I was his kinswoman.
Meantime my mother, 'mid the spoils of Troy, is seated on her
throne, and at her foot-stool slaves from Asia stand and wait,
captives of my father's spear, whose Trojan robes are fastened with
brooches of gold. And there on the wall my father's blood still leaves
a deep dark stain, while his murderer mounts the dead man's car and
fareth forth, proudly grasping in his blood-stained hands the
sceptre with which Agamemnon would marshal the sons of Hellas.
Dishonoured lies his grave; naught as yet hath it received of drink
outpoured or myrtle-spray, but bare of ornament his tomb is left. Yea,
and 'tis said that noble hero who is wedded to my mother, in his
drunken fits, doth leap upon the grave, and pelt with stones my
father's monument, boldly gibing at us on this wise, "Where is thy
Orestes? Is he ever coming in his glory to defend thy tomb?" Thus is
Orestes flouted behind his back. Oh! tell him this, kind sir, I pray
thee. And there be many calling him to come,-I am but their
mouthpiece,-these suppliant hands, this tongue, my broken heart, my
shaven head, and his own father too. For 'tis shameful that the sire
should have destroyed Troy's race and the son yet prove too weak to
pit himself against one foe unto the death, albeit he has youth and
better blood as well.
Lo! here is thy husband hurrying homeward, his labour done.
(entering and catching sight of strangers talking to ELECTRA)
Ha! who are these strangers I see at my door? And why are they
come hither to my rustic gate? can they want my help? for 'tis
unseemly for a woman to stand talking with young men.
Dear husband, be not suspicious of me. For thou shalt hear the
truth; these strangers have come to bring me news of Orestes. Good
sirs, pardon him those words.
What say they? is that hero yet alive and in the light of day?
He is; at least they say so, and I believe them.
Surely then he hath some memory of his father and thy wrongs?
These are things to hope for; a man in exile is helpless.
What message have they brought from Orestes?
He sent them to spy out my evil case.
Well, they only see a part of it, though maybe thou art telling
them the rest.
They know all; there is nothing further they need ask.
Long ere this then shouldst thou have thrown open our doors to
them. Enter, sirs; for in return for your good tidings, shall ye
find such cheer as my house affords. Ho! servants, take their
baggage within; make no excuses, for ye are friends sent by one I
love; and poor though I am, yet will I never show meanness in my
'Fore heaven! is this the man who is helping thee to frustrate thy
marriage, because he will not shame Orestes?
This is he whom they call my husband, woe is me!
Ah! there is no sure mark to recognize a man's worth; for human
nature hath in it an element of confusion. For I have seen ere now the
son of noble sire prove himself a worthless knave, and virtuous
children sprung from evil parents; likewise dearth in a rich man's
spirit, and in a poor man's frame a mighty soul. By what standard then
shall we rightly judge these things? By wealth? An evil test to use.
By poverty then? Nay, poverty suffers from this, that it teaches a man
to play the villain from necessity. To martial prowess must I turn?
But who could pronounce who is the valiant man merely from the look of
his spear? Better is it to leave these matters to themselves without
troubling. For here is a man of no account in Argos, with no family
reputation to boast, one of the common herd, proved a very hero. A
truce to your folly! ye self-deceivers, swollen with idle fancies;
learn to judge men by their converse, and by their habits decide who
are noble. Such are they who rule aright both states and families;
while those forms of flesh, devoid of intellect, are but
figure-heads in the market-place. The strong arm, again, no more
than the weak awaits the battle-shock, for this depends on natural
courage. Well! absent or present, Agamemnon's son, whose business
brings us here, deserves this of us, so let us accept a lodging in
this house. (Calling to his servants) Ho! sirrahs, go within. A humble
host, who does his best, in preference to a wealthy man for me! And so
I thankfully accept this peasant's proffered welcome, though I could
have preferred that thy brother were conducting me to share his
fortune in his halls. Maybe he yet will come; for the oracies of
Loxias are sure, but to man's divining "Farewell" say I.
(ORESTES, PYLADES and their attendants go into the hut.)
Electra, I feel a warmer glow of joy suffuse my heart than ever
heretofore; perchance our fortune, moving on at last, will find a
O reckless man, why didst thou welcome strangers like these, so
far beyond thy station, knowing the poverty of thy house?
Why? if they are really as noble as they seem, surely they will be
equally content with rich or humble fare.
Well. since thou hast made this error, poor man as thou art, go to
my father's kind old foster-sire; on the bank of the river Tanaus, the
boundary 'twixt Argos and the land of Sparta, he tends his flocks,
an outcast from the city; bid him come hither to our house and some
provision for the strangers' entertainment. Glad will he be, and
will offer thanks to heaven to hear that the child, whom once he
saved, is yet alive. I shall get nothing from my mother from my
ancestral halls; for we should rue our message, were she to learn,
unnatural wretch! that Orestes liveth.
I will take this message to the old man, if it seem good to
thee; but get thee in at once and there make ready. A woman, when
she chooses, can find dainties in plenty to garnish a feast.
Besides, there is quite enough in the house to satisfy them with
food for one day at least. 'Tis in such cases, when I come to muse
thereon, that I discern the mighty power of wealth, whether to give to
strangers, or to expend in curing the body when it falls sick; but our
daily food is a small matter; for all of us, rich as well as poor, are
in like case, as soon as we are satisfied.
(The PEASANT departs as ELECTRA enters the hut.)
Ye famous ships, that on a day were brought to land at Troy by
those countless oars, what time ye led the Nereids' dance, where the
dolphin music-loving rolled and gambolled round your dusky prows,
escorting Achilles, nimble son of Thetis, when he went with
Agamemnon to the banks of Trojan Simois;
When Nereids left Euboea's strand, bringing from Hephaestus'
golden forge the harness he had fashioned for that warrior's use;
him long they sought o'er Pelion and Ossa's spurs, ranging the
sacred glens and the peaks of Nymphaea, where his knightly sire was
training up a light for Hellas, even the sea-born son of Thetis, a
warrior swift to help the sons of Atreus.
One that came from Ilium, and set foot in the haven of Nauplia,
told me that on the circle of thy far-famed targe, O son of Thetis,
was wrought this blazon, a terror to the Phrygians; on the rim of
the buckler Perseus with winged sandals, was bearing in his hand
across the main the Gorgon's head, just severed by the aid of
Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, that rural god whom Maia bore;
While in the centre of the shield the sun's bright orb flashed
light on the backs of his winged coursers; there too was the
heavenly choir of stars, Pleiades and Hyades, to dazzle Hector's
eyes and make him flee; and upon his gold-forged helm were sphinxes,
bearing in their talons the prey of which the minstrels sing; on his
breast-plate was lioness breathing flame, her eye upon Peirene's
steed, in eagerness to rend it.
There too in murderous fray four-footed steeds were prancing,
while oer their backs uprose dark clouds of dust. But he who led these
warriors stout, was slain by wedding thee, malignant child of
Tyndareus! Wherefore shall the gods of heaven one day send thee to thy
doom, and I shall yet live to see the sword at thy throat, drinking
its crimson tide.
(The OLD MAN, the former servant of Agamemnon,
enters. ELECTRA presently appears at the door of the hut.)
Where is the young princess, my mistress, Agamemnon's daughter,
whom I nursed in days gone by? Oh! how steep is the approach to this
house, a hard climb for these old wasted feet of mine! Still, to reach
such friends as these, I must drag my bent old back and tottering
knees up it. Ah, daughter!-for I see thee now at thy door,-lo! I
have brought the this tender lamb from my own flock, having taken it
from its dam, with garlands too and cheese straight from the press,
and this flask of choice old wine with fragrant bouquet; 'tis small
perhaps, but pour a cup thereof into some weaker drink, and it is a
luscious draught. Let some one carry these gifts into the house for
the guests; for I would fain wipe from my eyes the rising tears on
this tattered cloak.
Why stands the tear-drop in thine eye, old friend? Is it that my
sorrows have been recalled to thee after an interval? or art thou
bewailing the sad exile of Orestes, and my father's fate, whom thou
didst once fondle in thy arms, in vain, alas! for thee and for thy
Ah yes! in vain; but still I could not bear to leave him thus; and
so I added this to my journey that I sought his grave, and, falling
thereupon, wept o'er its desolation; then did I open the wine-skin, my
gift to thy guests, and poured a libation, and set myrtle-sprigs round
the tomb. And lo! upon the grave itself I saw a black ram had been
offered, and there was blood, not long poured forth, and severed locks
of auburn hair. Much I wondered, my daughter, who had dared approach
the tomb; certainly 'twas no Argive. Nay, thy brother may perchance
have come by stealth, and going thither have done honour to his
father's wretched grave. Look at the hair, compare it with thy own, to
see if the colour of these cut locks is the same; for children in
whose veins runs the same father's blood have a close resemblance in
Old sir, thy words are unworthy of a wise man, if thou thinkest my
own brave brother would have come to this land by stealth for fear
of Aegisthus. In the next place, how should our hair correspond? His
is the hair of a gallant youth trained up in manly sports, mine a
woman's curled and combed; nay, that is a hopeless clue. Besides, thou
couldst find many, whose hair is of the same colour, albeit not sprung
from the same blood. No, maybe 'twas some stranger cut off his hair in
pity at his tomb, or one that came to spy this land privily.
Put thy foot in the print of his shoe and mark whether it
correspond with thine, my child.
How should the foot make any impression on stony ground? and if it
did, the foot of brother and sister would not be the same in size, for
man's is the larger.
Hast thou no mark, in case thy brother should come, whereby to
recognize the weaving of thy loom, the robe wherein I snatched him
from death that day?
Dost thou forget I was still a babe when Orestes left the country?
and even if I had woven him a robe, how should he, a mere child
then, be wearing the same now, unless our clothes and bodies grow
Where are these guests? I fain would question them face to face
about thy brother.
(As he speaks, ORESTES and PYLADES come out of the hut.)
There they are, in haste to leave the house.
Well born, it seems, but that may be a sham; for there be plenty
such prove knaves. Still I give them greeting.
All hail, father! To which of thy friends, Electra, does this
old relic of mortality belong?
This is he who nursed my sire, sir stranger.
What! do I behold him who removed thy brother out of harm's way?
Behold the man who saved his life; if, that is, he liveth still.
Ha! why does he look so hard at me, as if he were examining the
bright device on silver coin? Is he finding in me a likeness to some
Maybe he is glad to see in thee a companion of Orestes.
A man I love full well. But why is he walking round me?
I, too, am watching his movements with amaze, sir stranger.
My honoured mistress, my daughter Electra, return thanks to
For past or present favours? which?
That thou hast found a treasured prize, which God is now
Hear me invoke the gods. But what dost thou mean, old man?
Behold before thee, my child, thy nearest and dearest.
I have long feared thou wert not in thy sound senses
Not in my sound senses, because I see thy brother?
What mean'st thou, aged friend, by these astounding words?
That I see Orestes, Agamemnon's son, before me.
What mark dost see that I can trust?
A scar along his brow, where he fell and cut himself one day in
his father's home when chasing a fawn with thee.
Is it possible? True; I see the mark of the fall.
Dost hesitate then to embrace thy own dear brother?
No! not any longer, old friend; for my soul is convinced by the
tokens thou showest. O my brother, thou art come at last, and I
embrace thee, little as I ever thought to.
And thee to my bosom at last I press.
I never thought that it would happen.
All hope in me was also dead.
Art thou really he?
Aye, thy one and only champion, if I can but safely draw to
shore the cast I mean to throw; and I feel sure I shall; else must
we cease to believe in gods, if wrong is to triumph o'er right.
At last, at last appears thy radiant dawn, O happy day! and as
beacon to the city hast thou revealed the wanderer, who, long ago,
poor boy! was exiled from his father's halls. Now, lady, comes our
turn for victory, ushered in by some god. Raise hand and voice in
prayer, beseech the gods that good fortune may attend thy brother's
entry to the city.
Enough! sweet though the rapture of this greeting be, I must
wait and return it hereafter. Do thou, old friend so timely met,
tell me how I am to avenge me on my father's murderer, and on my
mother, the partner in his guilty marriage. Have I still in Argos
any band of kindly friends? or am I, like my fortunes, bankrupt
altogether? With whom am I to league myself? by night or day shall I
advance? point out a road for me to take against these foes of mine.
My son, thou hast no friend now in thy hour of adversity. No! that
is a piece of rare good luck, to find another share thy fortunes alike
for better and for worse. Thou art of every friend completely reft,
all hope is gone from thee; be sure of what I tell thee; on thy own
arm and fortune art thou wholly thrown to win thy father's home and
What must I do to compass this result?
Slay Thyestes' son and thy mother.
I came to win that victor's crown, but how can I attain it?
Thou wouldst never achieve it if thou didst enter the walls.
Are they manned with guards and armed sentinels?
Aye truly; for he is afraid of thee, and cannot sleep secure.
Well then, do thou next propose a scheme, old friend.
Hear me a moment; an idea has just occurred to me.
May thy counsel prove good, and my perception keen!
I saw Aegisthus, as I was slowly pacing hither-
I welcome thy words. Where was he?
Not far from these fields, at his stables.
What was he doing? I see a gleam of hope after our helplessness.
I thought he was preparing a feast for the Nymphs.
In return for the bringing up of children or in anticipation of
All I know is this, he was preparing to sacrifice oxen.
How many were with him? or was he alone with his servants?
There was no Argive there; only a band of his own followers.
Is it possible that any of them will recognize me, old man?
They are only servants, and they have never even seen thee.
Will they support me, if I prevail?
Yes, that is the way of slaves, luckily for thee.
On what pretext can I approach him?
Go to some place where he will see thee as he sacrifices.
His estate is close to the road then, I suppose.
Yes, and when he sees thee there, he will invite thee to the
So help me God! He shall rue his invitation.
After that, form thy own plan according to circumstances.
Good advice! But my mother, where is she?
At Argos; but she will yet join her husband for the feast.
Why did she not come forth with him?
From fear of the citizens' reproach she stayed behind.
I understand; she knows that the city suspects her.
Just so; her wickedness makes her hated.
How shall I slay her and him together?
Mine be the preparation of my mother's slaying!
Well, as for the other, fortune will favour us.
Our old friend here must help us both.
Aye, that will I; but wnat is thy scheme for slaying thy mother?
Go, old man, and tell Clytemnestra from me that I have given birth
to a son.
Some time ago, or quite recently?
Ten days ago, which are the days of my purification.
Suppose it done; but how doth this help towards slaying thy
She will come, when she hears of my confinement.
What! dost think she cares aught for thee, my child?
Oh yes! she will weep no doubt over my child's low rank.
Perhaps she may; but go back again to the point.
Her death is certain, if she comes.
In that case, let her come right up to the door of the house.
Why then it were a little thing to turn her steps into the road to
Oh! to see this one day, then die!
First of all, old friend, act as my brother's guide.
To the place where Aegisthus is now sacrificing to the gods?
Then go, find my mother and give her my message.
Aye, that I will, so that she shall think the very words are
ELECTRA (to ORESTES)
Thy work begins at once; thou hast drawn the first lot in the
I will go, if some one will show me the way.
I will myself conduct thee nothing loth.
O Zeus, god of my fathers, vanquisher of my foes, have pity on us,
for a piteous lot has ours been.
Oh! have pity on thy own descendants.
O Hera, mistress of Mycenae's altars, grant us the victory, if
we are asking what is right.
Yes, grant us vengeance on them for our father's death.
Thou too, my father, sent to the land of shades by wicked hands,
and Earth, the queen of all, to whom I spread my suppliant palms, up
and champion thy dear children. Come with all the dead to aid, all
they who helped thee break the Phrygians' power, and all who hate
ungodly crime. Dost hear me, father, victim of my mother's rage?
Sure am I he heareth all; but 'tis time to part. For this cause
too I bid thee strike Aegisthus down, because, if thou fall in the
struggle and perish, I also die; no longer number me amongst the
living; for I will stab myself with a two-edged sword. And now will
I go indoors and make all ready there, for, if there come good news
from thee, my house shall ring with women's cries of joy; but, if thou
art slain, a different scene must then ensue. These are my
instructions to thee.
I know my lesson well.
(ORESTES, PYLADES, the OLD MAN, and attendants, depart.)
Then show thyself a man. And you, my friends, signal to me by
cries the certain issue of this fray. Myself will keep the sword ready
in my grasp, for I will never accept defeat, and yield my body to my
enemies to insult.
(ELECTRA goes into the hut.)
Still the story finds a place in time-honoured legends, how on day
Pan, the steward of husbandry, came breathing dulcet music on his
jointed pipe, and brought with him from its tender dam on Argive
hills, a beauteous lamb with fleece of gold; then stood a herald
high upon the rock and cried aloud, "Away to the place of assembly,
folk of Mycenae! to behold the strange and awful sight vouchsafed to
our blest rulers." Anon the dancers did obeisance to the family of
The altar-steps of beaten gold were draped; and through that
Argive town the altars blazed with fire; sweetly rose the lute's clear
note, the handmaid of the Muse's song; and ballads fair were written
on the golden lamb, saying that Thyestes had the luck; for he won
the guilty love of the wife of Atreus, and carried off to his house
the strange creature, and then coming before the assembled folk he
declared to them that he had in his house that horned beast with
fleece of gold.
In the self-same hour it was that Zeus changed the radiant courses
of the stars, the light of the sun, and the joyous face of dawn, and
drave his car athwart the western sky with fervent heat from
heaven's fires, while northward fled the rain-clouds, and Ammon's
strand grew parched and faint and void of dew, when it was robbed of
heaven's genial showers.
'Tis said, though I can scarce believe it, the sun turned round
his glowing throne of gold, to vex the sons of men by this change
because of the quarrel amongst them. Still, tales of horror have their
use in making men regard the gods; of whom thou hadst no thought, when
thou slewest thy husband, thou mother of this noble pair.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hark! my friends, did ye hear that noise, like to the rumbling
of an earthquake, or am I the dupe of idle fancy? Hark! hark! once
more that wind-borne sound swells loudly on mine ear. Electra!
mistress mine! come forth from the house!
ELECTRA (rushing out)
What is it, good friends? how goes the day with us?
I hear the cries of dying men; no more I know.
I heard them too, far off, but still distinct.
Yes, the sound came stealing from afar, but yet 'twas clear.
Was it the groan of an Argive, or of my friends?
I know not; for the cries are all confused.
That word of thine is my death-warrant; why do I delay?
Stay, till thou learn thy fate for certain.
No, no; we are vanquished; where are our messengers?
They will come in time; to slay a king is no light task.
(A MESSENGER enters in haste.)
All hail! ye victors, maidens of Mycenae, to all Orestes'
friends his triumph I announce; Aegisthus, the murderer of
Agamemnon, lies weltering where he fell; return thanks to heaven.
Who art thou? What proof dost thou give of this?
Look at me, dost thou not recognize thy brother's servant?
O best of friends! 'twas fear that prevented me from recognizing
thee; now I know thee well. What sayst thou? Is my father's hateful
He is; I repeat it since it is thy wish.
Ye gods, and justice, whose eye is on all, at last art thou come.
I fain would learn the way and means my brother took to slay
After we had set out from this house, we struck into the broad
highroad, and came to the place where was the far-famed King of
Mycenae. Now he was walking in a garden well-watered, culling a wreath
of tender myrtle-sprays for his head, and when he saw us, he called
out, "All hail! strangers; who are ye? whence come ye? from what
country?" To him Orestes answered, "We are from Thessaly, on our
to Alpheus' banks to sacrifice to Olympian Zeus." When Aegisthus heard
that, he said, "Ye must be my guests to-day, and share the feast,
for I am even now sacrificing to the Nymphs; and by rising with
tomorrow's light ye will be just as far upon your journey; now let
us go within." Therewith he caught us by the hand and led us by the
way; refuse we could not; and when we were come to the house, he
gave command: "Bring water for my guests to wash forthwith, that
they may stand around the altar near the laver." But Orestes answered,
"'Twas but now we purified ourselves and washed us clean in water from
the river. So if we strangers are to join your citizens in
sacrifice, we are ready, King Aegisthus, and will not refuse." So
ended they their private conference. Meantime the servants, that
composed their master's bodyguard, laid aside their weapons, and one
and all were busied at their tasks. Some brought the bowl to catch the
blood, others took up baskets, while others kindled fire and set
cauldrons round about the altars, and the whole house rang. Then did
thy mother's husband take the barley for sprinkling, and began casting
it upon the hearth with these words, "Ye Nymphs, who dwell among the
rocks, grant that I may often sacrifice with my wife, the daughter
of Tyndareus, within my halls, as happily as now, and ruin seize my
foes!" (whereby he meant Orestes and thyself). But my master, lowering
his voice, offered a different prayer, that he might regain his
father's house. Next Aegisthus took from basket a long straight knife,
and cutting off some of the calf's hair, laid it with his right hand
on the sacred fire, and then cut its throat when the servants had
lifted it upon their shoulders, and thus addressed thy brother; "Men
declare that amongst the Thessalians this is counted honourable, to
cut up a bull neatly and to manage steeds. So take the knife, sir
stranger, and show us if rumour speaks true about the Thessalians."
Thereon Orestes seized the Dorian knife of tempered steel and cast
from his shoulders his graceful buckled robe; then choosing Pylades to
help him in his task, he made the servants withdraw, and catching
the calf by the hoof, proceeded to lay bare its white flesh, with
arm outstretched, and he flayed the hide quicker than a runner ever
finishes the two laps of the horses' race-course; next he laid the
belly open, and Aegisthus took the entrails in his hands and carefully
examined them. Now the liver had no lobe, while the portal vein
leading to the gall-bladder portended dangerous attack on him who
was observing it. Dark grows Aegisthus' brow, but my master asks, "Why
so despondent, good sir?" Said he, "I fear treachery from a
stranger. Agamemnon's son of all men most I hate, and he hates my
house." But Orestes cried, "What! fear treachery from an exile!
the ruler of the city? Ho! take this Dorian knife away and bring me
a Thessalian cleaver, that we by sacrificial feast may learn the
will of heaven; let me cleave the breast-bone." And he took the axe
and cut it through. Now Aegisthus was examining the entrails,
separating them in his hands, and as he was bending down, thy
brother rose on tiptoe and smote him on the spine, severing the
bones of his back; and his body gave one convulsive shudder from
head to foot and writhed in the death-agony. No sooner did his
servants see it, than they rushed to arms, a host to fight with two;
yet did Pylades and Orestes of their valiancy meet them with
brandished spears. Then cried Orestes, "I am no foe that come
against this city and my own servants, but I have avenged me on the
murderer of my sire, I, ill-starred Orestes. Slay me not, my
father's former thralls!" They, when they heard him speak,
restrained their spears, and an old man, who had been in the family
many a long year, recognized him. Forthwith they crown thy brother
with a wreath, and utter shouts of joy. And lo! he is coming to show
thee the head, not the Gorgon's, but the head of thy hated foe
Aegisthus; his death today has paid in blood a bitter debt of blood.
Dear mistress, now with step as light as fawn join in the dance;
lift high the nimble foot and be glad. Victory crowns thy brother;
he hath won a fairer wreath than ever victor gained beside the streams
of Alpheus; so raise a fair hymn to victory, the while I dance.
O light of day! O bright careering sun! O earth! and night
erewhile my only day; now may I open my eyes in freedom, for Aegisthus
is dead, my father's murderer. Come friends, let me bring out whate'er
my house contains to deck his head and wreath with crowns my
conquering brother's brow.
Bring forth thy garlands for his head, and we will lead the
dance the Muses love. Now shall the royal line, dear to us in days
gone by, resume its sway o'er the realm, having laid low the usurper
as he deserves. So let the shout go up, whose notes are those of joy.
(ORESTES and PYLADES enter, followed by attendants
who are bearing the body of Aegisthus.)
Hail! glorious victor, Orestes, son of a sire who won the day
'neath Ilium's walls, accept this wreath to bind about the tresses
of thy hair. Not in vain hast thou run thy course unto the goal and
reached thy home again; no! but thou hast slain thy foe, Aegisthus,
the murderer of our father. Thou too, O Pylades, trusty squire,
whose training shows thy father's sterling worth, receive a garland
from my hand, for thou no less than he hast a share in this emprise;
and so I pray, good luck be thine for ever!
First recognize the gods, Electra, as being the authors of our
fortune, and then praise me their minister and fate's. Yea, I come
from having slain Aegisthus in very deed, no mere pretence; and to
make thee the more certain of this, I am bringing thee his corpse,
which, if thou wilt, expose for beasts to rend, or set it upon a stake
for birds, the children of the air, to prey upon; for now is he thy
slave, once called thy lord and master.
I am ashamed to utter my wishes.
What is it? speak out, for thou art through the gates of fear.
I am ashamed to flout the dead, for fear some spite assail me.
No one would blame thee for this.
Our folk are hard to please, and love to blame.
Speak all thy mind, sister; for we entered on this feud with him
on terms admitting not of truce.
Enough! (Turning to the corpse of Aegisthus) With which of thy
iniquities shall I begin my recital? With which shall I end it? To
which allot a middle place? And yet I never ceased, as each day
dawned, to rehearse the story I would tell thee to thy face, if ever I
were freed from my old terrors; and now I am; so I will pay thee
back with the abuse I fain had uttered to thee when alive. Thou wert
my ruin, making me and my brother orphans, though we had never injured
thee, and thou didst make a shameful marriage with my mother, having
slain her lord who led the host of Hellas, though thyself didst
never go to Troy. Such was thy folly, thou didst never dream that my
mother would prove thy curse when thou didst marry her, though thou
wert wronging my father's honour. Know this; whoso defiles his
neighbour's wife, and afterward is forced to take her to himself, is a
wretched wight, if he supposes she will be chaste as his wife,
though she sinned against her former lord. Thine was a life most
miserable, though thou didst pretend 'twas otherwise; well thou
knewest how guilty thy marriage was, and my mother knew she had a
villain for husband. Sinners both ye took each other's lot, she thy
fortune, thou her curse. While everywhere in Argos thou-wouldst hear
such phrases as, "that woman's husband," never "that man's
Yet 'tis shameful for the wife and not the man to rule the house;
wherefore I loathe those children, who are called in the city not
the sons of the man, their father, but of their mother. For if a man
makes a great match above his rank, there is no talk of the husband
but only of the wife. Herein lay thy grievous error, due to ignorance;
thou thoughtest thyself some one, relying on thy wealth, but this is
naught save to stay with us a space. 'Tis nature that stands fast, not
wealth. For it, if it abide unchanged, exalts man's horn; but riches
dishonestly acquired and in the hands of fools, soon take their
flight, their blossom quickly shed. As for thy sins with women, I pass
them by, 'tis not for maiden's lips to mention them, but I will
shrewdly hint thereat. And then thy arrogance! because forsooth thou
hadst a palace and some looks to boast. May I never have a husband
with a girl's face, but one that bears him like a man! For the
children of these latter cling to a life of arms, while those, who are
so fair to see, do only serve to grace the dance. Away from me!
(Spurning the corpse with her foot) Time has shown thy villainy,
little as thou reckest of the forfeit thou hast paid for it. Let
none suppose, though he have run the first stage of his course with
joy, that he will get the better of justice, till he have reached
the goal and ended his career.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Terrible alike his crime and your revenge; for mighty is the power
'Tis well. Carry his body within the house and hide it, sirrahs,
that when my mother comes, she may not see his corpse before she is
(PYLADES and the attendants take the body into the hut.)
Hold! let us strike out another scheme.
How now? Are those allies from Mycenae whom I see?
No, 'tis my mother, that bare me.
Full into the net she is rushing, oh, bravely!
See how proudly she rides in her chariot and fine robes!
What must we do to our mother? Slay her?
What! has pity seized thee at sight of her?
O God! how can I slay her that bare and suckled me?
Slay her as she slew thy father and mine.
O Phoebus, how foolish was thy oracle-
Where Apollo errs, who shall be wise?
In bidding me commit this crime-my mother's murder!
How canst thou be hurt by avenging thy father?
Though pure before, I now shall carry into exile the stain of a
Still, if thou avenge not thy father, thou wilt fail in thy duty.
And if I slay my mother, I must pay the penalty to her.
And so must thou to him, if thou resign the avenging of our
Surely it was a fiend in the likeness of the god that ordered
Seated on the holy tripod? I think not so.
I cannot believe this oracle was meant.
Turn not coward! Cast not thy manliness away!
Am I to devise the same crafty scheme for her?
The self-same death thou didst mete out to her lord Aegisthus.
I will go in; 'tis an awful task I undertake; an awful deed I have
to do; still if it is Heaven's will, be it so; I loathe and yet I love
(As ORESTES withdraws into the hut, CLYTEMNESTRA enters in a
chariot. Her attendants are hand-maidens attired in gorgeous apparel.)
Hail! Queen of Argos, daughter of Tyndareus, sister of those two
noble sons of Zeus, who dwell in the flame-lit firmament amid the
stars, whose guerdon high it is to save the sailor tossing on the sea.
All hail! because of thy wealth and high prosperity, I do thee
homage as I do the blessed gods. Now is the time, great queen, for
us to pay our court unto thy fortunes.
Alight from the car, ye Trojan maids, and take my hand that I
may step down from the chariot. With Trojan spoils the temples of
the gods are decked, but I have obtained these maidens as a special
gift from Troy, in return for my lost daughter, a trifling boon no
doubt, but still an ornament to my house.
And may not I, mother, take that highly-favoured hand of thine?
I am a slave like them, an exile from my father's halls in this
See, my servants are here; trouble not on my account.
Why, thou didst make me thy prisoner by robbing me of my home;
like these I became a captive when my home was taken, an orphan all
True; but thy father plotted so wickedly against those of his
own kin whom least of all he should have treated so. Speak I must;
albeit, when woman gets an evil reputation, there is a feeling of
bitterness against all she says; unfairly indeed in my case, for it
were only fair to hate after learning the circumstances, and seeing if
the object deserves it; otherwise, why hate at all? Now Tyndareus
bestowed me on thy father not that I or any children I might bear
should be slain. Yet he went and took my daughter from our house to
the fleet at Aulis, persuading me that Achilles was to wed her; and
there he held her o'er the pyre, and cut Iphigenia's snowy throat. Had
he slain her to save his city from capture, or to benefit his house,
or to preserve his other children, a sacrifice of one for many,
could have pardoned him. But, as it was, his reasons for murdering
my child were these: the wantonness of Helen and her husband's folly
in not punishing the traitress. Still, wronged as I was, my rage had
not burst forth for this, nor would I have slain my lord, had he not
returned to me with that frenzied maiden and made her his mistress,
keeping at once two brides beneath the same roof. Women maybe are
given to folly, I do not deny it; this granted, when a husband goes
astray and sets aside his own true wife, she fain will follow his
example and find another love; and then in our case hot abuse is
heard, while the men, who are to blame for this, escape without a
word. Again, suppose Menelaus had been secretly snatched from his
home, should I have had to kill Orestes to save Menelaus, my
sister's husband? How would thy father have endured this? Was he
then to escape death for slaying what was mine, while I was to
suffer at his hands? I slew him, turning, as my only course, to his
enemies. For which of all thy father's friends would have joined me in
his murder? Speak all that is in thy heart, and prove against me
with all free speech, that thy father's death was not deserved.
Justly urged! but thy justice is not free from shame; for in all
things should every woman of sense yield to her husband. Whoso
thinketh otherwise comes not within the scope of what I say. Remember,
mother, those last words of thine, allowing me free utterance before
Daughter, far from refusing it, I grant it again.
Thou wilt not, when thou hearest, wreak thy vengeance on me?
No, indeed; I shall welcome thy opinion.
Then will I speak, and this shall be the prelude of my speech: Ah,
mother mine! would thou hadst had a better heart; for though thy
beauty and Helen's win you praises well deserved, yet are ye akin in
nature, pair of wantons, unworthy of Castor. She was carried off, 'tis
true, but her fall was voluntary: and thou hast slain the bravest soul
in Hellas, excusing thyself on the ground that thou didst kill a
husband to avenge a daughter; the world does not know thee so well
as I do, thou who before ever thy daughter's death was decided, yea,
soon as thy lord had started from his home, wert combing thy golden
tresses at thy mirror. That wife who, when her lord is gone from home,
sets to beautifying herself, strike off from virtue's list; for she
has no need to carry her beauty abroad, save she is seeking some
mischief. Of all the wives in Hellas thou wert the only one I know who
wert overjoyed when Troy's star was in the ascendant, while, if it
set, thy brow was clouded, since thou hadst no wish that Agamemnon
should return from Troy. And yet thou couldst have played a virtuous
part to thy own glory. The husband thou hadst was no whit inferior
to Aegisthus, for he it was whom Hellas chose to be her captain. And
when thy sister Helen wrought that deed of shame, thou couldst have
won thyself great glory, for vice is a warning and calls attention
to virtue. If, as thou allegest, my father slew thy daughter, what
is the wrong I and my brother have done thee? How was it thou didst
not bestow on us our father's halls after thy husband's death, instead
of bartering them to buy a paramour? Again, thy husband is not
exiled for thy son's sake, nor is he slain to avenge my death,
although by him this life is quenched twice as much as e'er my
sister's was; so if murder is to succeed murder in requital, I and thy
son Orestes must slay thee to avenge our father; if that was just, why
so is this. Whoso fixes his gaze on wealth or noble birth and weds a
wicked woman, is a fool; better is a humble partner in his home, if
she be virtuous, than a proud one.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Chance rules the marriages of women; some I see turn out well,
others ill amongst mankind.
Daughter, 'twas ever thy nature to love thy father. This too one
finds; some sons cling to their father, others have a deeper affection
for their mother. I will forgive thee, for myself am not so
exceeding glad at the deed that I have done, my child. But thou,-why
thus unwashed and clad in foul attire, now that the days of thy
lying-in are accomplished? Ah me, for my sorry schemes! I have
goaded my husband into anger more than e'er I should have done.
Thy sorrow comes too late; the hour of remedy has gone from
thee; my father is dead. Yet why not recall that exile, thy own
I am afraid; 'tis my interest, not his that I regard. For they say
he is wroth for his father's murder.
Why, then, dost thou encourage thy husband's bitterness against
'Tis his way; thou too hast a stubborn nature.
Because I am grieved; yet will I check my spirit.
I promise then he shall no longer oppress thee.
From living in my home he grows too proud.
Now there! 'tis thou that art fanning the quarrel into new life.
I say no more; my dread of him is even what it is.
Peace! Enough of this. Why didst thou summon me, my child?
Thou hast heard, I suppose, of my confinement; for this I pray
thee, since I know not how, offer the customary sacrifice on the tenth
day after birth, for I am a novice herein, never having had a child
This is work for another, even for her who delivered thee.
I was all alone in my travail and at the babe's birth.
Dost live so far from neighbours?
No one cares to make the poor his friends.
Well, I will go to offer to the gods a sacrifice for the child's
completion of the days; and when I have done thee this service, I will
seek the field where my husband is sacrificing to the Nymphs. Take
this chariot hence, my servants, and tie the horses to the stalls; and
when ye think that I have finished my offering to the gods, attend me,
for I must likewise pleasure my lord.
(She goes into the hut.)
Enter our humble cottage; but, prithee, take care that my smoke
grimed walls soil not thy robes; now wilt thou offer to the gods a
fitting sacrifice. There stands the basket ready, and the knife is
sharpened, the same that slew the bull, by whose side thou soon wilt
lie a corpse; and thou shalt be his bride in Hades' halls whose wife
thou wast on earth. This is the boon I will grant thee, while thou
shalt pay me for my father's blood.
(ELECTRA follows her into the hut.)
Misery is changing sides; the breeze veers round, and now blows
fair upon my house. The day is past when my chief fell murdered in his
bath, and the roof and the very stones of the walls rang with this his
cry: "O cruel wife, why art thou murdering me on my return to my
dear country after ten long years?"
The tide is turning, and justice that pursues the faithless wife
is drawing within its grasp the murderess, who slew her hapless
lord, when he came home at last to these towering Cyclopean
walls,-aye, with her own hand she smote him with the sharpened
steel, herself the axe uplifting. Unhappy husband! whate'er the
curse that possessed that wretched woman. Like a lioness of the
hills that rangeth through the woodland for her prey, she wrought
O my children, by Heaven I pray ye spare your mother.
Dost hear her cries within the house?
O God! ah me!
I too bewail thee, dying by thy children's hands. God deals out
His justice in His good time. A cruel fate is thine, unhappy one;
yet didst thou sin in murdering thy lord.
(ORESTES and ELECTRA come out of the hut, followed by attendants
who are carrying the two corpses. The following lines between
ELECTRA, ORESTES and the CHORUS are chanted.)
But lo! from the house they come, dabbled in their mother's
fresh-spilt gore, their triumph proving the piteous butchery. There is
not nor ever has been a race more wretched than the line of Tantalus.
O Earth, and Zeus whose eye is over all! behold this foul deed
of blood, these two corpses lying here that I have slain in
vengeance for my sufferings.
Tears are all too weak for this, brother; and I am the guilty
cause. Ah, woe is me! How hot my fury burned against the mother that
Alas! for thy lot, O mother mine! A piteous, piteous doom, aye,
worse than that, hast thou incurred at children's hands! Yet justly
hast thou paid forfeit for our father's blood. Ah, Phoebus! thine
was the voice that praised this vengeance; thou it is that hast
brought these hideous scenes to light, and caused this deed of
blood. To what city can I go henceforth? what friend, what man of
any piety will bear the sight of a mother's murderer like me?
Ah me! alas! and whither can I go? What share have I henceforth in
dance or marriage rite? What husband will accept me as his bride?
Again thy fancy changes with the wind; for now thou thinkest
aright, though not so formerly; an awful deed didst thou urge thy
brother against his will to commit, dear sister. Oh! didst thou see
how the poor victim threw open her robe and showed her bosom as
smote her, sinking on her knees, poor wretch? And her hair I-
Full well I know the agony through which thou didst pass at
hearing thy own mother's bitter cry.
Ah yes! she laid her band upon my chin, and cried aloud, "My
child, I entreat thee!" and she clung about my neck, so that I let
fall the sword.
O my poor mother! How didst thou endure to see her breathe her
last before thy eyes?
I threw my mantle o'er them and began the sacrifice by plunging
the sword into my mother's throat.
Yet 'twas I that urged thee on, yea, and likewise grasped the
steel. Oh! I have done an awful deed.
Oh! take and hide our mother's corpse beneath a pall, and close
her gaping wound. (Turning to the corpse) Ah! thy murderers were thine
ELECTRA (covering the corpse)
There! thou corpse both loved and loathed; still o'er thee I
cast robe, to end the grievous troubles of our house.
See! where o'er the roof-top spirits are appearing, or gods
maybe from heaven, for this is not a road that mortals tread. Why come
they thus where mortal eyes can see them clearly?
(THE DIOSCURI appear from above.)
Hearken, son of Agamemnon. We, the twin sons of Zeus, thy mother's
sisters, call thee, even Castor and his brother Polydeuces. 'Tis but
now we have reached Argos after stilling the fury of the sea for
mariners, having seen the slaying of our sister, thy mother. She
hath received her just reward, but thine is no righteous act, and
Phoebus-but no! he is my king, my lips are sealed-is Phoebus still,
albeit the oracle he gave thee was no great proof of his wsdom. But we
must acquiesce herein. Henceforth must thou follow what Zeus and
destiny ordain for thee. On Pylades bestow Electra for his wife to
take unto his home; do thou leave Argos, for after thy mother's murder
thou mayst not set foot in the city. And those grim goddesses of doom,
that glare like savage hounds, will drive thee mad and chase thee to
and fro; but go thou to Athens and make thy prayer to the holy image
of Pallas, for she will close their fierce serpents' mouths, so that
they touch thee not, holding o'er thy head her aegis with the Gorgon's
head. A hill there is, to Ares sacred, where first the gods in
conclave sat to decide the law of blood, in the day that savage Ares
slew Halirrothius, son of the ocean-king, in anger for the violence he
offered to his daughter's honour; from that time all decisions given
there are most holy and have heaven's sanction. There must thou have
this murder tried; and if equal votes are given, they shall save
thee from death in the decision, for Loxias will take the blame upon
himself, since it was his oracle that advised thy mother's murder. And
this shall be the law for all posterity; in every trial the accused
shall win his case if the votes are equal. Then shall those dread
goddesses, stricken with grief at this, vanish into a cleft of the
earth close to the hill, revered by men henceforth as a place for holy
oracles; whilst thou must settle in a city of Arcadia on the banks
of the river Alpheus near the shrine of Lycaean Apollo, and the city
shall be called after thy name. To thee I say this. As for the
corpse of Aegisthus, the citizens of Argos must give it burial; but
Menelaus, who has just arrived at Nauplia from the sack of Troy, shall
bury the, mother, Helen helping him; for she hath come from her
sojourn in Egypt in the halls of Proteus, and hath never been to Troy;
but Zeus, to stir up strife and bloodshed in the world, sent forth a
phantom of Helen to Ilium. Now let Pylades take his maiden wife and
bear her to his home in Achaea; also he must conduct thy so-called
kinsman to the land of Phocis, and there reward him well. But go
thyself along the narrow Isthmus, and seek Cecropia's happy home.
For once thou hast fulfilled the doom appointed for this murder,
thou shalt be blest and free from all thy troubles.
(The remaining lines of the play are chanted.)
Ye sons of Zeus, may we draw near to speak with you?
Ye may, since ye are not polluted by this murder.
May I too share your converse, of Tyndareus?
Thou too! for to Phoebus will I ascribe this deed of blood.
How was it that ye, the brothers of the murdered woman, gods
too, did not ward the doom-goddesses from her roof?
'Twas fate that brought resistless doom to her, and that
thoughtless oracle that Phoebus gave.
But why did the god, and wherefore did his oracles make me my
A share in the deed, a share in its doom; one ancestral curse hath
ruined both of you.
Ah, sister mine! at last I see thee again only to be robbed in
moment of thy dear love; I must leave thee, and by thee be left.
Hers are a husband and a home; her only suffering this, that she
is quitting Argos.
Yet what could call forth deeper grief than exile from one's
fatherland? I must leave my father's house, and at a stranger's bar he
sentenced for my mother's blood.
Be of good cheer; go to the holy town of Pallas; keep a stout
O my brother, best and dearest! clasp me to thy breast; for now is
the curse of our mother's blood cutting us off from the home of our
Throw thy arms in close embrace about me. Oh! weep as o'er my
grave when I am dead.
Ah me, that bitter cry makes even gods shudder to hear. Yea, for
in my breast and in every heavenly being's dwells pity for the sorrows
Never to see thee more!
Never again to stand within thy sight!
This is my last good-bye to thee.
Farewell, farewell, my city! and ye my fellow-countrywomen, long
farewell to you!
Art thou going already, truest of thy sex?
I go, the tear-drop dimming my tender eyes.
Go, Pylades, and be happy; take and wed Electra.
Their only thoughts will be their marriage; but haste thee to
Athens, seeking to escape these hounds of hell, for they are on thy
track in fearful wise, swart monsters, with snakes for hands, who reap
a harvest of man's agony. But we twain must haste away o'er the
Sicilian main to save the seaman's ship. Yet as we fly through
heaven's expanse we help not the wicked; but whoso in his life loves
piety and justice, all such we free from troublous toils and save.
Wherefore let no man be minded to act unjustly, or with men
foresworn set sail; such the warning I, a god, to mortals give.
(THE DIOSCURI vanish.)
Farewell! truly that mortal's is a happy lot, who can thus fare,
unafflicted by any woe.