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Electra

It is extremely difficult to read this play without thinking of the middle portion of Aeschylus' trilogy.
410 BC
ELECTRA
by Sophocles
translated by R. C. Jebb
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY

ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and CLYTEMNESTRA
ELECTRA } sister of ORESTES
CHRYSOTHEMIS} " " "
AN OLD MAN, formerly the PAEDAGOGUS or Attendant Of ORESTES
CLYTEMNESTRA
AEGISTHUS
CHORUS OF WOMEN OF MYCENAE

Mute Persons
PYLADES, son of Strophius, King of Crisa, the friend Of ORESTES.
A handmaid of CLYTEMNESTRA. Two attendants of ORESTES
ELECTRA


ELECTRA


(SCENE:- At Mycenae, before the palace of the Pelopidae. It is morning
and the new-risen sun is bright. The PAEDAGOGUS enters on the left
of the spectators, accompanied by the two youths, ORESTES and
PYLADES.)


PAEDAGOGUS
SON of him who led our hosts at Troy of old, son of Agamemnon!- now
thou mayest behold with thine eyes all that thy soul hath desired so
long. There is the ancient Argos of thy yearning,- that hallowed scene
whence the gadfly drove the daughter of Inachus; and there, Orestes,
is the Lycean Agora, named from the wolf-slaying god; there, on the
left, Hera's famous temple; and in this place to which we have come,
deem that thou seest Mycenae rich in gold, with the house of the
Pelopidae there, so often stained with bloodshed; whence I carried
thee of yore, from the slaying of thy father, as thy kinswoman, thy
sister, charged me; and saved thee, and reared thee up to manhood,
to be the avenger of thy murdered sire.
Now, therefore, Orestes, and thou, best of friends, Pylades, our
plans must be laid quickly; for lo, already the sun's bright ray is
waking the songs of the birds into clearness, and the dark night of
stars is spent. Before, then, anyone comes forth from the house,
take counsel; seeing that the time allows not of delay, but is full
ripe for deeds.
ORESTES
True friend and follower, how well dost thou prove thy loyalty
to our house! As a steed of generous race, though old, loses not
courage in danger, but pricks his ear, even so thou urgest us forward,
and art foremost in our support. I will tell thee, then, what I have
determined; listen closely to my words, and correct me, if I miss
the mark in aught.
When I went to the Pythian oracle, to learn how I might avenge
my father on his murderers, Phoebus gave me the response which thou
art now to hear:- that alone, and by stealth, without aid of arms or
numbers, I should snatch the righteous vengeance of my hand. Since,
then, the god spake to us on this wise, thou must go into yonder
house, when opportunity gives thee entrance, and learn all that is
passing there, so that thou mayest report to us from sure knowledge.
Thine age, and the lapse of time, will prevent them from recognising
thee; they will never suspect who thou art, with that silvered hair.
Let thy tale be that thou art a Phocian stranger, sent by Phanoteus;
for he is the greatest of their allies. Tell them, and confirm it with
thine oath, that Orestes hath perished by a fatal chance,- hurled at
the Pythian games from his rapid chariot; be that the substance of thy
story.
We, meanwhile, will first crown my father's tomb, as the god
enjoined, with drink-offerings and the luxuriant tribute of severed
hair; then come back, bearing in our hands an urn of shapely
bronze,-now hidden in the brushwood, as I think thou knowest,- so to
gladden them with the false tidings that this my body is no more,
but has been consumed with fire and turned to ashes. Why should the
omen trouble me, when by a feigned death I find life indeed, and win
renown? I trow, no word is ill-omened, if fraught with gain. Often ere
now have I seen wise men die in vain report; then, when they return
home, they are held in more abiding honour: as I trust that from
this rumour I also shall emerge in radiant life, and yet shine like
a star upon my foes.
O my fatherland, and ye gods of the land, receive me with good
fortune in this journey,- and ye also, halls of my fathers, for I come
with divine mandate to cleanse you righteously; send me not
dishonoured from the land, but grant that I may rule over my
possessions, and restore my house!
Enough;- be it now thy care, old man, to go and heed thy task;
and we twain will go forth; for so occasion bids, chief ruler of every
enterprise for men.
ELECTRA (within)
Ah me, ah me!
PAEDAGOGUS
Hark, my son,- from the doors, methought, came the sound of some
handmaid moaning within.
ORESTES
Can it be the hapless Electra? Shall we stay here, and listen to
her laments?
PAEDAGOGUS
No, no: before all else, let us seek to obey the command of
Loxias, and thence make a fair beginning, by pouring libations to
thy sire; that brings victory within our grasp, and gives us the
mastery in all that we do.

(Exeunt PAEDAGOGUS on the spectators' left, ORESTES and PYLADES
the right.- Enter ELECTRA, from the house. She is meanly clad.)

ELECTRA (chanting)

systema

O thou pure sunlight, and thou air, earth's canopy, how often have
ye heard the strains of my lament, the wild blows dealt against this
bleeding breast, when dark night fails! And my wretched couch in
yonder house of woe knows well, ere now, how I keep the watches of the
night,- how often I bewail my hapless sire; to whom deadly Ares gave
not of his gifts in a strange land, but my mother, and her mate
Aegisthus, cleft his head with murderous axe, as woodmen fell an
oak. And for this no plaint bursts from any lip save mine, when
thou, my father, hath died a death so cruel and so piteous!

antisystema

But never will I cease from dirge and sore lament, while I look on
the trembling rays of the bright stars, or on this light of day; but
like the nightingale, slayer of her offspring, I will wail without
ceasing, and cry aloud to all, here, at the doors of my father.
O home of Hades and Persephone! O Hermes of the shades! potent
Curse, and ye, dread daughters of the gods, Erinyes,- Ye who behold
when a life is reft by violence, when a bed is dishonoured by
stealth,- come, help me, avenge the murder of my sire,- and send to me
my brother; for I have no more the strength to bear up alone against
the load of grief that weighs me down.

(As ELECTRA finishes her lament,
the CHORUS OF WOMEN OF MYCENAE enter. The following
lines between ELECTRA and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.)

CHORUS

strophe 1

Ah, Electra, child of a wretched mother, why art thou ever
pining thus in ceaseless lament for Agamemnon, who long ago was
wickedly ensnared by thy false mother's wiles, and betrayed to death
by dastardly hand? Perish the author of that deed, if I may utter such
prayer!
ELECTRA
Ah, noble-hearted maidens, ye have come to soothe my woes. I
know and feel it, it escapes me not; but I cannot leave this task
undone, or cease from mourning for my hapless sire. Ah, friends
whose love responds to mine in every mood, leave me to rave thus,-
Oh leave me, I entreat you!
CHORUS

antistrophe 1

But never by laments or prayers shalt thou recall thy sire from
that lake of Hades to which all must pass. Nay, thine is a fatal
course of grief, passing ever from due bounds into a cureless
sorrow; wherein there is no deliverance from evils. Say, wherefore art
thou enamoured of misery?
ELECTRA
Foolish is the child who forgets a parent's piteous death. No,
dearer to my soul is the mourner that laments for Itys, Itys,
evermore, that bird distraught with grief, the messenger of Zeus.
Ah, queen of sorrow, Niobe, thee I deem divine,- thee, who evermore
weepest in thy rocky tomb!
CHORUS

strophe 2

Not to thee alone of mortals, my daughter, hath come any sorrow
which thou bearest less calmly than those within, thy kinswomen and
sisters, Chrysothemis and Iphianassa,I who still live,- as he, too,
lives, sorrowing in a secluded youth, yet happy in that this famous
realm of Mycenae shall one day welcome him to his heritage, when the
kindly guidance of Zeus shall have brought him to this land, Orestes.
ELECTRA
Yes, I wait for him with unwearied longing, as I move on my sad
path from day to day, unwed and childless, bathed in tears, bearing
that endless doom of woe; but he forgets all that he has suffered
and heard. What message comes to me, that is not belied? He is ever
yearning to be with us, but, though he yearns, he never resolves.
CHORUS

antistrophe 2

Courage, my daughter, courage; great still in heaven is Zeus,
who sees and governs all: leave thy bitter quarrel to him; forget
not thy foes, but refrain from excess of wrath against them; for
Time is god who makes rough ways smooth. Not heedless is the son of
Agamemnon, who dwells by Crisa's pastoral shore; not heedless is the
god who reigns by Acheron.
ELECTRA
Nay, the best part of life hath passed away from me in
hopelessness, and I have no strength left; I, who am pining away
without children,- whom no loving champion shields,- but, like some
despised alien, I serve in the halls of my father, clad in this mean
garb, and standing at a meagre board.
CHORUS

strophe 3

Piteous was the voice heard at his return, and piteous, as thy
sire lay on the festal couch, when the straight, swift blow was
dealt him with the blade of bronze. Guile was the plotter, Lust the
slayer, dread parents of a dreadful shape; whether it was mortal
that wrought therein, or god.
ELECTRA
O that bitter day, bitter beyond all that have come to me; O
that night, O the horrors of that unutterable feast, the ruthless
deathstrokes that my father saw from the hands of twain, who took my
life captive by treachery, who doomed me to woe! May the great god
of Olympus give them sufferings in requital, and never may their
splendour bring them joy, who have done such deeds!
CHORUS

antistrophe 3

Be advised to say no more; canst thou not see what conduct it is
which already plunges thee so cruelly in self-made miseries? Thou hast
greatly aggravated thy troubles, ever breeding wars with thy sullen
soul; but such strife should not be pushed to a conflict with the
strong.
ELECTRA
I have been forced to it,- forced by dread causes; I know my own
passion, it escapes me not; but, seeing that the causes are so dire,
will never curb these frenzied plaints, while life is in me. Who
indeed, ye kindly sisterhood, who that thinks aright, would deem
that any word of solace could avail me? Forbear, forbear, my
comforters! Such ills must be numbered with those which have no
cure; I can never know a respite from my sorrows, or a limit to this
wailing.
CHORUS

epode

At least it is in love, like a true-hearted mother, that I
dissuade thee from adding misery to miseries.
ELECTRA
But what measure is there in my wretchedness? Say, how can it be
right to neglect the dead? Was that impiety ever born in mortal? Never
may I have praise of such; never when my lot is cast in pleasant
places, may I cling to selfish ease, or dishonour my sire by
restraining the wings of shrill lamentation!
For if the hapless dead is to lie in dust and nothingness, while
the slayers pay not with blood for blood, all regard for man, all fear
of heaven, will vanish from the earth.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I came, my child, in zeal for thy welfare no less than for mine
own; but if I speak not well, then be it as thou wilt; for we will
follow thee.
ELECTRA
I am ashamed, my friends, if ye deem me too impatient for my oft
complaining; but, since a hard constraint forces me to this, bear with
me. How indeed could any woman of noble nature refrain, who saw the
calamities of a father's house, as I see them by day and night
continually, not fading, but in the summer of their strength? I,
who, first, from the mother that bore me have found bitter enmity;
next, in mine own home I dwell with my father's murderers; they rule
over me, and with them it rests to give or to withhold what I need.
And then think what manner of days I pass, when I see Aegisthus
sitting on my father's throne, wearing the robes which he wore, and
pouring libations at the hearth where he slew my sire; and when I
see the outrage that crowns all, the murderer in our father's bed at
our wretched mother's side, if mother she should be called, who is his
wife; but so hardened is she that she lives with that accursed one,
fearing no Erinys; nay, as if exulting in her deeds, having found
the day on which she treacherously slew my father of old, she keeps it
with dance and song, and month by month sacrifices sheep to the gods
who have wrought her deliverance.
But I, hapless one, beholding it, weep and pine in the house,
and bewail the unholy feast named after my sire,- weep to myself
alone; since I may not even indulge my grief to the full measure of my
yearning. For this woman, in professions so noble, loudly upbraids
me with such taunts as these: 'Impious and hateful girl, hast thou
alone lost a father, and is there no other mourner in the world? An
evil doom be thine, and may the gods infernal give thee no riddance
from thy present laments.'
Thus she insults; save when any one brings her word that Orestes
is coming: then, infuriated, she comes up to me, and cries;- 'Hast not
thou brought this upon me? Is not this deed thine, who didst steal
Orestes from my hands, and privily convey him forth? Yet be sure
that thou shalt have thy due reward.' So she shrieks; and, aiding her,
the renowned spouse at her side is vehement in the same strain,-
that abject dastard, that utter pest, who fights his battles with
the help of women. But I, looking ever for Orestes to come and end
these woes, languish in my misery. Always intending to strike a
blow, he has worn out every hope that I could conceive. In such a
case, then, friends, there is no room for moderation or for reverence;
in sooth, the stress of ills leaves no choice but to follow evil ways.
LEADER
Say, is Aegisthus near while thou speakest thus, or absent from
home?
ELECTRA
Absent, certainly; do not think that I should have come to the
doors, if he had been near; but just now he is afield.
LEADER
Might I converse with thee more freely, if this is so?
ELECTRA
He is not here, so put thy question; what wouldst thou?
LEADER
I ask thee, then, what sayest thou of thy brother? Will he come
soon, or is he delaying? I fain would know.
ELECTRA
He promises to come; but he never fulfils the promise.
LEADER
Yea, a man will pause on the verge of a great work.
ELECTRA
And yet I saved him without pausing.
LEADER
Courage; he is too noble to fail his friends.
ELECTRA
I believe it; or I should not have lived so long.
LEADER
Say no more now; for I see thy sister coming from the house,
Chrysothemis, daughter of the same sire and mother, with sepulchral
gifts in her hands, such as are given to those in the world below.

(CHRYSOTHEMIS enters from the palace. She is richly dressed.)

CHRYSOTHEMIS
Why, sister, hast thou come forth once more to declaim thus at the
public doors? Why wilt thou not learn with any lapse of time to desist
from vain indulgence of idle wrath? Yet this I know,- that I myself
am- grieved at our plight; indeed, could I find the strength, I would
show what love I bear them. But now, in these troubled waters, 'tis
best, methinks, to shorten sail; I care not to seem active, without
the power to hurt. And would that thine own conduct were the same!
Nevertheless, right is on the side of thy choice, not of that which
I advise; but if I am to live in freedom, our rulers must be obeyed in
all things.
ELECTRA
Strange indeed, that thou, the daughter of such a sire as thine,
shouldst forget him, and think only of thy mother! All thy admonitions
to me have been taught by her; no word is thine own. Then take thy
choice,- to be imprudent; or prudent, but forgetful of thy friends:
thou, who hast just said that, couldst thou find the strength, thou
wouldst show thy hatred of them; yet, when I am doing my utmost to
avenge my sire, thou givest no aid, but seekest to turn thy sister
from her deed.
Does not this crown our miseries with cowardice? For tell me,-
Or let me tell thee,- what I should gain by ceasing from these
laments? Do not live?- miserably, I know, yet well enough for me.
And I vex them, thus rendering honour to the dead, if pleasure can
be felt in that world. But thou, who tellest me of thy hatred,
hatest in word alone, while in deeds thou art with the slayers of
thy sire. I, then, would never yield to them, though I were promised
the gifts which now make thee proud; thine be the richly-spread
table and the life of luxury. For me, be it food enough that I do
not wound mine own conscience; I covet not such privilege as thine,-
nor wouldst thou, wert thou wise. But now, when thou mightest be
called daughter of the noblest father among men, be called the child
of thy mother; so shall thy baseness be most widely seen, in
betrayal of thy dead sire and of thy kindred.
LEADER
No angry word, I entreat! For both of you there is good in what is
urged,- if thou, Electra, wouldst learn to profit by her counsel,
and she, again, by thine.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
For my part, friends, I am not wholly unused to her discourse; nor
should I have touched upon this theme, had I not heard that she was
threatened with a dread doom, which shall restrain her from her
long-drawn laments.
ELECTRA
Come, declare it then, this terror! If thou canst tell me of aught
worse than my present lot, I will resist no more.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Indeed, I will tell thee all that I know. They purpose, if thou
wilt not cease from these laments, to send thee where thou shalt never
look upon the sunlight, but pass thy days in a dungeon beyond the
borders of this land, there to chant thy dreary strain. Bethink
thee, then, and do not blame me hereafter, when the blow hath
fallen; now is the time to be wise.
ELECTRA
Have they indeed resolved to treat me thus?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Assuredly, whenever Aegisthus comes home.
ELECTRA
If that be all, then may he arrive with speed!
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Misguided one! what dire prayer is this?
ELECTRA
That he may come, if he hath any such intent.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
That thou mayst suffer- what? Where are thy wits?
ELECTRA
That I may fly as far as may be from you all.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
But hast thou no care for thy present life?
ELECTRA
Aye, my life is marvellously fair.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
It might be, couldst thou only learn prudence.
ELECTRA
Do not teach me to betray my friends.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
I do not,- but to bend before the strong.
ELECTRA
Thine be such flattery: those are not my ways.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Tis well, however, not to fall by folly.
ELECTRA
I will fall, if need be, in the cause of my sire.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
But our father, I know, pardons me for this.
ELECTRA
It is for cowards to find peace in such maxims.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
So thou wilt not hearken, and take my counsel?
ELECTRA
No, verily; long may be it before I am so foolish.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Then I will go forth upon mine errand.
ELECTRA
And whither goest thou? To whom bearest thou these offerings?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Our mother sends me with funeral libations for our sire.
ELECTRA
How sayest thou? For her deadliest foe?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Slain by her own hand- so thou wouldest say.
ELECTRA
What friend hath persuaded her? Whose wish was this?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
The cause, I think, was some dread vision of the night.
ELECTRA
Gods of our house! be ye with me- now at last!
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Dost thou find any encouragement in this terror?
ELECTRA
If thou wouldst tell me the vision, then I could answer.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Nay, I can tell but little of the story.
ELECTRA
Tell what thou canst; a little word hath often marred, or made,
men's fortunes.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
'Tis said that she beheld our sire, restored to the sunlight, at
her side once more; then he took the sceptre,- Once his own, but now
borne by Aegisthus,- and planted it at the hearth; and thence a
fruitful bough sprang upward, wherewith the whole land of Mycenae
was overshadowed. Such was the tale that I heard told by one who was
present when she declared her dream to the Sun-god. More than this I
know not,- save that she sent me by reason of that fear. So by the-
gods of our house I beseech thee, hearken to me, and be not ruined
by folly! For if thou repel me now, thou wilt come back to seek me
in thy trouble.
ELECTRA
Nay, dear sister, let none of these things in thy hands touch
the tomb; for neither custom nor piety allows thee to dedicate gifts
or bring libations to our sire from a hateful wife. No- to the winds
with them or bury them deep in the earth, where none of them shall
ever come near his place of rest; but, when she dies, let her find
these treasures laid up for her below.
And were she not the most hardened of all women, she would never
have sought to pour these offerings of enmity on the grave of him whom
she slew. Think now if it is likely that the dead in the tomb should
take these honours kindly at her hand, who ruthlessly slew him, like a
foeman, and mangled him, and, for ablution, wiped off the blood-stains
on his head? Canst thou believe that these things which thou
bringest will absolve her of the murder?
It is not possible. No, cast these things aside; give him rather a
lock cut from thine own tresses, and on my part, hapless that I
am,-scant gifts these, but my best,- this hair, not glossy with
unguents, and this girdle, decked with no rich ornament. Then fall
down and pray that he himself may come in kindness from the world
below, to aid us against our foes; and that the young Orestes may live
to set his foot upon his foes in victorious might, that henceforth
we may crown our father's tomb with wealthier hands than those which
grace it now.
I think, indeed, I think that he also had some part in sending her
these appalling dreams; still, sister, do this service, to help
thyself, and me, and him, that most beloved of all men, who rests in
the realm of Hades, thy sire and mine.
LEADER
The maiden counsels piously; and thou, friend, wilt do her
bidding, if- thou art wise.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
I will. When a duty is clear, reason forbids that two voices
should contend, and claims the hastening of the deed. Only, when I
attempt this task, aid me with your silence, I entreat you, my
friends; for, should my mother hear of it, methinks I shall yet have
cause to rue my venture.

(CHRYSOTHEMIS departs, to take the offerings to Agamemnon's grave.)

CHORUS (singing)

strophe

If I am not an erring seer and one who fails in wisdom, justice,
that hath sent the presage, will come, triumphant in her righteous
strength,- will come ere long, my child, to avenge. There is courage
in my heart, through those new tidings of the dream that breathes
comfort. Not forgetful is thy sire, the lord of Hellas; not
forgetful is the two-edged axe of bronze that struck the blow of
old, and slew him with foul cruelty.

antistrophe

The Erinys of untiring feet, who is lurking in her dread ambush,
will come, as with the march and with the might of a great host. For
wicked ones have been fired with passion that hurried them to a
forbidden bed, to accursed bridals, to a marriage stained with guilt
of blood. Therefore am I sure that the portent will not fail to
bring woe upon the partners in crime. Verily mortals cannot read the
future in fearful dreams or oracles, if this vision of the night
find not due fulfilment.

epode

O chariot-race of Pelops long ago, source of many a sorrow, what
weary troubles hast thou brought upon this land! For since Myrtilus
sank to rest beneath the waves, when a fatal and cruel hand hurled him
to destruction out of the golden car, this house was never yet free
from misery and violence.
(CLYTEMNESTRA enters from the palace.)
CLYTEMNESTRA
At large once more, it seems, thou rangest,- for Aegisthus is
not here, who always kept thee at least from passing the gates, to
shame thy friends. But now, since he is absent, thou takest no heed of
me, though thou hast said of me oft-times, and to many, that I am a
bold and lawless tyrant, who insults thee and thine. I am guilty of no
insolence; I do but return the taunts that I often hear from thee.
Thy father- this is thy constant pretext- was slain by me. Yes, by
me- I know it well; it admits of no denial; for justice slew him,
and not I alone,- justice, whom it became thee to support, hadst
thou been right-minded; seeing that this father of thine, whom thou
art ever lamenting, was the one man of the Greeks who had the heart to
sacrifice thy sister to the gods- he, the father, who had not shared
the mother's pangs.
Come, tell me now, wherefore, or to please whom, did he
sacrifice her? To please the Argives, thou wilt say? Nay, they had
no right to slay my daughter. Or if, forsooth, it was to screen his
brother Menelaus that he slew my child, was he not to pay me the
penalty for that? Had not Menelaus two children, who should in
fairness have been taken before my daughter, as sprung from the sire
and mother who had caused that voyage? Or had Hades some strange
desire to feast on my offspring, rather than on hers? Or had that
accursed father lost all tenderness for the children of my womb, while
he was tender to the children of Menelaus? Was not that the part of
a callous and perverse parent? I think so, though differ from thy
judgment; and so would say the dead, if she could speak. For myself,
then, I view the past without dismay; but if thou deemest me perverse,
see that thine own judgment is just, before thou blame thy neighbour.
ELECTRA
This time thou canst not say that I have done anything to
provoke such words from thee. But, if thou wilt give me leave, I
fain would declare the truth, in the cause alike of my dead sire and
of my sister.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Indeed, thou hast my leave; and didst thou always address me in
such a tone, thou wouldst be heard without pain.
ELECTRA
Then I will speak. Thou sayest that thou hast slain my father.
What word could bring thee deeper shame than that, whether the deed
was just or not? But I must tell thee that thy deed was not just;
no, thou wert drawn on to it by the wooing of the base man who is
now thy spouse.
Ask the huntress Artemis what sin she punished when she stayed the
frequent winds at Aulis; or I will tell thee; for we may not learn
from her. My father- so I have heard- was once disporting himself in
the grove of the goddess, when his footfall startled a dappled and
antlered stag; he shot it, and chanced to utter a certain boast
concerning its slaughter. Wroth thereat, the daughter of Leto detained
the Greeks, that, in quittance for the wild creature's life, my father
should yield up the life of his own child. Thus it befell that she was
sacrificed; since the fleet had no other release, homeward or to Troy;
and for that cause, under sore constraint and with sore reluctance, at
last he slew her- not for the sake of Menelaus.
But grant- for I will take thine own plea- grant that the motive
of his deed was to benefit his brother;- was that a reason for his
dying by thy hand? Under what law? See that, in making such a law
for men, thou make not trouble and remorse for thyself; for, if we are
to take blood for blood, thou wouldst be the first to die, didst
thou meet with thy desert.
But look if thy pretext is not false. For tell me, if thou wilt,
wherefore thou art now doing the most shameless deeds of all,-
dwelling as wife with that blood-guilty one, who first helped thee
to slay my sire, and bearing children to him, while thou hast cast out
the earlier-born, the stainless offspring of a stainless marriage. How
can I praise these things? Or wilt thou say that this, too, is thy
vengeance for thy daughter? Nay, shameful plea, if so thou plead; 'tis
not well to wed an enemy for a daughter's sake.
But indeed I may not even counsel thee,- who shriekest that I
revile my mother; and truly I think that to me thou art less a
mother than mistress; so wretched is the life that I live, ever
beset with miseries by thee and by thy partner. And that other, who
scarce escaped thy hand, the hapless Orestes, is wearing out his
ill-starred days in exile. Often hast thou charged me with rearing him
to punish thy crime; and I would have done so, if I could, thou
mayst be sure:-for that matter, denounce me to all, as disloyal, if
thou wilt, or petulant, or impudent; for if I am accomplished in
such ways, methinks I am no unworthy child of thee.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I see that she breathes forth anger; but whether justice be with
her, for this she seems to care no longer.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to the CHORUS)
And what manner of care do I need to use against her, who hath
thus insulted a mother, and this at her ripe age? Thinkest thou not
that she would go forward to any deed, without shame?
ELECTRA
Now be assured that I do feel shame for this, though thou
believe it not; I know that my behaviour is unseemly, and becomes me
ill. But then the enmity on thy part, and thy treatment, compel me
in mine own despite to do thus; for base deeds are taught by base.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Thou brazen one! Truly I and my sayings and my deeds give thee too
much matter for words.
ELECTRA
The words are thine, not mine; for thine is the action; and the
acts find the utterance.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Now by our lady Artemis, thou shalt not fail to pay for this
boldness, so soon as Aegisthus returns.
ELECTRA
Lo, thou art transported by anger, after granting me free
speech, aid hast no patience to listen.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Now wilt thou not hush thy clamour, or even suffer me to
sacrifice, when I have permitted thee to speak unchecked?
ELECTRA
I hinder not,- begin thy rites, I pray thee; and blame not my
voice, for I shall say no more.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Raise then, my handmaid, the offerings of many fruits, that I
may uplift my prayers to this our king, for deliverance from my
present fears. Lend now a gracious ear, O Phoebus our defender, to
my words, though they be dark; for I speak not among friends, nor is
it meet to unfold my whole thought to the light, while she stands near
me, lest with her malice and her garrulous cry she spread some rash
rumour throughout the town: but hear me thus, since on this wise I
must speak.
That vision which I saw last night in doubtful dreams- if it
hath come for my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but
if for harm, then let it recoil upon my foes. And if any are
plotting to hurl me by treachery from the high estate which now is
mine, permit them not; rather vouch. safe that, still living thus
unscathed, I may bear sway over the house of the Atreidae and this
realm, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now,
and with those of my children from whom no enmity or bitterness
pursues me.
O Lycean Apollo, graciously hear these prayers, and grant them
to us all, even as we ask! For the rest, though I be silent, I deem
that thou, a god, must know it; all things, surely, are seen by the
sons of Zeus.
(The PAEDAGOGUS enters.)
PAEDAGOGUS
Ladies, might a stranger crave to know if this be the palace of
the king Aegisthus?
LEADER
It is, sir; thou thyself hast guessed aright.
PAEDAGOGUS
And am I right in surmising that this lady is his consort? She
is of queenly aspect.
LEADER
Assuredly; thou art in the presence of the queen.
PAEDAGOGUS
Hail, royal lady! I bring glad tidings to thee and to Aegisthus,
from friend.
CLYTEMNESTRA
I welcome the omen; but I would fain know from thee, first, who
may have sent thee.
PAEDAGOGUS
Phanoteus the Phocian, on a weighty mission.
CLYTEMNESTRA
What is it, sir? Tell me: coming from a friend, thou wilt bring, I
know; a kindly message.
PAEDAGOGUS
Orestes is dead; that is the sum.
ELECTRA
Oh, miserable that I am! I am lost this day!
CLYTEMNESTRA
What sayest thou, friend, what sayest thou?- listen not to her!
PAEDAGOGUS
I said, and say again- Orestes is dead.
ELECTRA
I am lost, hapless one, I am undone!
CLYTEMNESTRA (to ELECTRA)
See thou to thine own concerns.- But do thou, sir, tell me
exactly,-how did he perish?
PAEDAGOGUS
I was sent for that purpose, and will tell thee all. Having gone
to the renowned festival, the pride of Greece, for the Delphian games,
when he heard the loud summons to the foot-race which was first to
be decided, he entered the lists, a brilliant form, a wonder in the
eyes of all there; and, having finished his course at the point
where it began, he went out with the glorious meed of victory. To
speak briefly, where there is much to tell, I know not the man whose
deeds and triumphs have matched his; but one thing thou must know;
in all the contests that the judges announced, he bore away the prize;
and men deemed him happy, as oft as the herald proclaimed him an
Argive, by name Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who once gathered the
famous armament of Greece.
Thus far, 'twas well; but, when a god sends harm, not even the
strong man can escape. For, on another day, when chariots were to
try their speed at sunrise, he entered, with many charioteers. One was
an Achaean, one from Sparta, two masters of yoked cars were Libyans;
Orestes, driving Thessalian mares, came fifth among them; the sixth
from Aetolia, with chestnut colts; a Magnesian was the seventh; the
eighth, with white horses, was of Aenian stock; the ninth, from
Athens, built of gods; there was a Boeotian too, making the tenth
chariot.
They took their stations where the appointed umpires placed them
by lot and ranged the cars; then, at the sound of the brazen trump,
they started. All shouted to their horses, and shook the reins in
their hands; the whole course was filled with the noise of rattling
chariots; the dust flew upward; and all, in a confused throng, plied
their goads unsparingly, each of them striving to pass the wheels
and the snorting steeds of his rivals; for alike at their backs and at
their rolling wheels the breath of the horses foamed and smote.
Orestes, driving close to the pillar at either end of the
course, almost grazed it with his wheel each time, and, giving rein to
the trace-horse on the right, checked the horse on the inner side.
Hitherto, all the chariots had escaped overthrow; but presently the
Aenian's hard-mouthed colts ran away, and, swerving, as they passed
from the sixth into the seventh round, dashed their foreheads
against the team of the Barcaean. Other mishaps followed the first,
shock on shock and crash on crash, till the whole race-ground of Crisa
was strewn with the wreck of the chariots.
Seeing this, the wary charioteer from Athens drew aside and
paused, allowing the billow of chariots, surging in mid course, to
go by. Orestes was driving last, keeping his horses behind,- for his
trust was in the end; but when he saw that the Athenian was alone left
in, he sent a shrill cry ringing through the ears of his swift
colts, and gave chase. Team was brought level with team, and so they
raced,-first one man, then the other. showing his head in front of the
chariots.
Hitherto the ill-fated Orestes had passed safely through every
round, steadfast in his steadfast car; at last, slackening his left
rein while the horse was turning, unawares he struck the edge of the
pillar; he broke the axle-box in twain; he was thrown over the
chariot-rail; he was caught in the shapely reins; and, as he fell on
the ground, his colts were scattered into the middle of the course.
But when the people saw him fallen from the car, a cry of pity
went up for the youth, who had done such deeds and was meeting such
a doom,- now dashed to earth, now tossed feet uppermost to the sky,-
till the charioteers, with difficulty checking the career of his
horses, loosed him, so covered with blood that no friend who saw it
would have known the hapless corpse. Straightway they burned it on a
pyre; and chosen men of Phocis are bringing in a small urn of bronze
the sad dust of that mighty form, to find due burial in his
fatherland.
Such is my story,- grievous to hear, if words can grieve; but
for us, who beheld, the greatest of sorrows that these eyes have seen.
LEADER
Alas, alas Now, methinks, the stock of our ancient masters hath
utterly perished, root and branch.
CLYTEMNESTRA
O Zeus, what shall I call these tidings,- glad tidings? Or dire,
but gainful? 'Tis a bitter lot, when mine own calamities make the
safety of my life.
PAEDAGOGUS
Why art thou so downcast, lady, at this news?
CLYTEMNESTRA
There is a strange power in motherhood; a mother may be wronged,
but she never learns to hate her child.
PAEDAGOGUS
Then it seems that we have come in vain.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Nay, not in vain; how canst thou say 'in vain,' when thou hast
brought an sure proofs of his death?- His, who sprang from mine own
life, yet, forsaking me who had suckled and reared him, became an
exile and an alien; and, after he went out of this land, he saw me
no more; but, charging me with the murder of his sire, he uttered
dread threats against me; so that neither by night nor by day could
sweet sleep cover mine eyes, but from moment to moment I lived in fear
of death. Now, however-since this day I am rid of terror from him, and
from this girl,- that worse plague who shared my home, while still she
drained my very life-blood,-now, methinks, for aught that she can
threaten, I shall pass my days in peace.
ELECTRA
Ah, woe is me! Now, indeed, Orestes, thy fortune may be
lamented, when it is thus with thee, and thou art mocked by this thy
mother! Is it not well?
CLYTEMNESTRA
Not with thee; but his state is well.
ELECTRA
Hear, Nemesis of him who hath lately died!
CLYTEMNESTRA
She hath heard who should be heard, and hath ordained well.
ELECTRA
Insult us, for this is the time of thy triumph.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Then will not Orestes and thou silence me?
ELECTRA
We are silenced; much less should we silence thee.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Thy coming, sir, would deserve large recompense, if thou hast
hushed her clamorous tongue.
PAEDAGOGUS
Then I may take my leave, if all is well.
CLYTEMNESTRA
Not so; thy welcome would then be unworthy of me, and of the
ally who sent thee. Nay, come thou in; and leave her without, to
make loud lament for herself and for her friends.
(CLYTEMNESTRA and the PAEDAGOGUS enter the palace.)
ELECTRA
How think ye? Was there not grief and anguish there, wondrous
weeping and wailing of that miserable mother, for the son who perished
by such a fate? Nay, she left us with a laugh! Ah, woe is me!
Dearest Orestes, how is my life quenched by thy death! Thou hast
torn away with the from my heart the only hopes which still were
mine,- that thou wouldst live to return some day, an avenger of thy
sire, and of me unhappy. But now- whither shall I turn? I am alone,
bereft of thee, as of my father.
Henceforth I must be a slave again among those whom most I hate,
my father's murderers. Is it not well with me? But never, at least,
henceforward, will I enter the house to dwell with them; nay, at these
gates I will lay me down, and here, without a friend, my days shall
wither. Therefore, if any in the house be wroth, let them slay me; for
'tis a grace, if I die, but if I live, a pain; I desire life no more.

(The following lines between ELECTRA
and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.)
CHORUS

strophe 1

Where are the thunderbolts of Zeus, or where is the bright Sun, if
they look upon these things, and brand them not, but rest?
ELECTRA
Woe, woe, ah me, ah me!
CHORUS
O daughter, why weepest thou?
ELECTRA (with hands outstretched to heaven)
Alas!
CHORUS
Utter no rash cry!
ELECTRA
Thou wilt break my heart!
CHORUS
How meanest thou?
ELECTRA
If thou suggest a hope concerning those who have surely passed
to the realm below, thou wilt trample yet more upon my misery.
CHORUS

antistrophe 1

Nay, I know how, ensnared by a woman for a chain of gold, the
prince Amphiaraus found a grave; and now beneath the earth-
ELECTRA
Ah me, ah me!
CHORUS
-he reigns in fulness of force.
ELECTRA
Alas!
CHORUS
Alas indeed! for the murderess-
ELECTRA
Was slain.
CHORUS
Yea.
ELECTRA
I know it, I know it; for a champion arose to avenge the
mourning dead; but to me no champion remains; for he who yet was
left hath been snatched away.
CHORUS

strophe 2

Hapless art thou, and hapless is thy lot!
ELECTRA
Well know I that, too well,- I, whose life is a torrent of woes
dread and dark, a torrent that surges through all the months!
CHORUS
We have seen the course of thy sorrow.
ELECTRA
Cease, then, to divert me from it, when no more-
CHORUS
How sayest thou?
ELECTRA
-when no more can I have the comfort of hope from a brother, the
seed of the same noble sire.
CHORUS

antistrophe 2

For all men it is appointed to die.
ELECTRA
What, to die as that ill-starred one died, amid the tramp of
racing steeds, entangled in the reins that dragged him?
CHORUS
Cruel was his doom, beyond thought!
ELECTRA
Yea, surely; when in foreign soil, without ministry of my hands,-
CHORUS
Alas!
ELECTRA
-he is buried, ungraced by me with sepulture or with tears.
(CHRYSOTHEMIS enters in excitement.)
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Joy wings my feet, dear sister, not careful of seemliness, if I
come with speed; for I bring joyful news, to relieve thy long
sufferings and sorrows.
ELECTRA
And whence couldst thou find help for my woes, whereof no cure can
be imagined?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Orestes is with us,- know this from my lips, in living presence,
as surely as thou seest me here.
ELECTRA
What, art thou mad, poor girl? Art thou laughing at my sorrows,
and thine own?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Nay, by our father's hearth, I speak not in mockery; I tell thee
that he is with us indeed.
ELECTRA
Ah, woe is me! And from whom hast thou heard this tale, which thou
believest so lightly?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
I believe it on mine own knowledge, not on hearsay; I have seen
clear proofs.
ELECTRA
What hast thou seen, poor girl, to warrant thy belief? Whither,
wonder hast thou turned thine eyes, that thou art fevered with this
baneful fire?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Then, for the gods' love, listen, that thou mayest know my
story, before deciding whether I am sane or foolish.
ELECTRA
Speak on, then, if thou findest pleasure in speaking.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Well, thou shalt hear all that I have seen. When I came to our
father's ancient tomb, I saw that streams of milk had lately flowed
from the top of the mound, and that his sepulchre was encircled with
garlands of all flowers that blow. I was astonished at the sight,
and peered about, lest haply some one should be close to my side.
But when I perceived that all the place was in stillness, I crept
nearer to the tomb; and on the mound's edge I saw a lock of hair,
freshly severed.
And the moment that I saw it, ah me, a familiar image rushed
upon my soul, telling me that there I beheld a token of him whom
most I love, Orestes. Then I took it in my hands, and uttered no
ill-omened word, but the tears of joy straightway filled mine eyes.
And I know well, as knew then, that this fair tribute has come from
none but him. Whose part else was that, save mine and thine? And I did
it not, I know,- nor thou; how shouldst thou?- when thou canst not
leave this house, even to worship the gods, but at thy peril. Nor,
again, does our mother's heart incline to do such deeds, nor could she
have so done without our knowledge.
No, these offerings are from Orestes! Come, dear sister,
courage! No mortal life is attended by a changeless fortune. Ours
was once gloomy; but this day, perchance, will seal the promise of
much good.
ELECTRA
Alas for thy folly! How I have been pitying thee!
CHRYSOTHEMIS
What, are not my tidings welcome?
ELECTRA
Thou knowest not whither or into what dreams thou wanderest.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Should I not know what mine own eyes have seen?
ELECTRA
He is dead, poor girl; and thy hopes in that deliverer are gone:
look not to him.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Woe, woe is me! From whom hast thou heard this?
ELECTRA
From the man who was present when he perished.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
And where is he? Wonder steals over my mind.
ELECTRA
He is within, a guest not unpleasing to our mother.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Ah, woe is me! Whose, then, can have been those ample offerings to
our father's tomb?
ELECTRA
Most likely, I think, some one brought those gifts in memory of
the dead Orestes.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Oh, hapless that I am! And I was bringing such news in joyous
haste, ignorant, it seems, how dire was our plight; but now that I
have come, I find fresh sorrows added to the old!
ELECTRA
So stands thy case; yet, if thou wilt hearken to me, thou wilt
lighten the load of our present trouble.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Can I ever raise the dead to life?
ELECTRA
I meant not that; I am not so foolish.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
What biddest thou, then, for which my strength avails?
ELECTRA
That thou be brave in doing what I enjoin.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Nay, if any good can be done, I will not refuse,
ELECTRA
Remember, nothing succeeds without toil.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
I know it, and will share thy burden with all my power.
ELECTRA
Hear, then, how I am resolved to act. As for the support of
friends, thou thyself must know that we have none; Hades hath taken
our friends away. and we two are left alone. I, so long as I heard
that my brother still lived and prospered, had hopes that he would yet
come to avenge the murder of our sire. But now that he is no more, I
look next to thee, not to flinch from aiding me thy sister to slay our
father's murderer, Aegisthus:- I must have no secret from thee more.
How long art thou to wait inactive? What hope is left standing, to
which thine eyes can turn? Thou hast to complain that thou art
robbed of thy father's heritage; thou hast to mourn that thus far
thy life is fading without nuptial song or wedded love. Nay, and do
not hope that such joys will ever be thine; Aegisthus is not so
ill-advised as ever to permit that children should spring from thee or
me for his own sure destruction. But if thou wilt follow my
counsels, first thou wilt win praise of piety from our dead sire
below, and from our brother too; next, thou shalt be called free
henceforth, as thou wert born, and shalt find worthy bridals; for
noble natures draw the gaze of all.
Then seest thou not what fair fame thou wilt win for thyself and
for me, by hearkening to my word? What citizen or stranger, when he
sees us, will not greet us with praises such as these?- 'Behold
these two sisters, my friends, who saved their father's house; who,
when their foes were firmly planted of yore, took their lives in their
hands and stood forth as avengers of blood! Worthy of love are these
twain, worthy of reverence from all; at festivals, and wherever the
folk are assembled, let these be honoured of all men for their
prowess.' Thus will every one speak of us, so that in life and in
death our glory shall not fail.
Come, dear sister, hearken! Work with thy sire, share the burden
of thy brother, win rest from woes for me and for thyself,- mindful of
this, that an ignoble life brings shame upon the noble.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
In such case as this, forethought is helpful for those who speak
and those who hear.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Yea, and before she spake, my friends, were she blest with a sound
mind, she would have remembered caution, as she doth not remember it.
Now whither canst thou have turned thine eyes, that thou art
arming thyself with such rashness, and calling me to aid thee? Seest
thou not, thou art a woman, not a man, and no match for thine
adversaries in strength? And their fortune prospers day by day,
while ours is ebbing and coming to nought. Who, then, plotting to
vanquish a foe so strong, shall escape without suffering deadly
scathe? See that we change not our evil plight to worse, if any one
hears these words. It brings us no relief or benefit, if, after
winning fair fame, we die an ignominious death; for mere death is
not the bitterest, but rather when one who wants to die cannot
obtain even that boon.
Nay, I beseech thee, before we are utterly destroyed, and leave
our house desolate, restrain thy rage! I will take care that thy words
remain secret and harmless; and learn thou the prudence, at last
though late, of yielding, when so helpless, to thy rulers.
LEADER
Hearken; there is no better gain for mortals to win than foresight
and a prudent mind.
ELECTRA
Thou hast said nothing unlooked-for; I well knew that thou wouldst
reject what I proffered. Well! I must do this deed with mine own hand,
and alone; for assuredly I will not leave it void.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Alas! Would thou hadst been so purposed on the day of our father's
death! What mightst thou not have wrought?
ELECTRA
My nature was the same then, but my mind less ripe.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Strive to keep such a mind through all thy life.
ELECTRA
These counsels mean that thou wilt not share my deed.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
No; for the venture is likely to bring disaster.
ELECTRA
I admire thy prudence; thy cowardice I hate.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
I will listen not less calmly when thou praise me.
ELECTRA
Never fear to suffer that from me.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Time enough in the future to decide that.
ELECTRA
Begone; there is no power to help in thee.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Not so; but in thee, no mind to learn.
ELECTRA
Go, declare all this to thy mother!
CHRYSOTHEMIS
But, again, I do not hate thee with such a hate.
ELECTRA
Yet know at least to what dishonour thou bringest me.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Dishonour, no! I am only thinking of thy good.
ELECTRA
Am I bound, then, to follow thy rule of right?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
When thou art wise, then thou shalt be our guide.
ELECTRA
Sad, that one who speaks so well should speak amiss!
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Thou hast well described the fault to which thou cleavest.
ELECTRA
How? Dost thou not think that I speak with justice?
CHRYSOTHEMIS
But sometimes justice itself is fraught with harm.
ELECTRA
I care not to live by such a law.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Well, if thou must do this, thou wilt praise me yet.
ELECTRA
And do it I will, no whit dismayed by thee.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Is this so indeed? Wilt thou not change thy counsels?
ELECTRA
No, for nothing is more hateful than bad counsel.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Thou seemest to agree with nothing that I urge.
ELECTRA
My resolve is not new, but long since fixed.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Then I will go; thou canst not be brought to approve my words, nor
to commend thy conduct.
ELECTRA
Nay, go within; never will I follow thee, however much thou
mayst desire it; it were great folly even to attempt an idle quest.
CHRYSOTHEMIS
Nay, if thou art wise in thine own eyes, be such wisdom thine;
by and by, when thou standest in evil plight, thou wilt praise my
words.
(CHRYSOTHEMIS goes into the palace.)
CHORUS (singing)

strophe 1

When we see the birds of the air, with sure instinct, careful to
nourish those who give them life and nurture, why do not we pay
these debts in like measure? Nay, by the lightning-flash of Zeus, by
Themis throned in heaven, it is not long till sin brings sorrow.
Voice that comest to the dead beneath the earth, send a piteous
cry, I pray thee, to the son of Atreus in that world, a joyless
message of dishonour;

antistrophe 1

tell him that the fortunes of his house are now distempered;
while, among his children, strife of sister with sister hath broken
the harmony of loving days. Electra, forsaken, braves the storm alone;
she bewails alway, hapless one, her father's fate, like the
nightingale unwearied in lament; she recks not of death, but is
ready to leave the sunlight, could she but quell the two Furies of her
house. Who shall match such noble child of noble sire?

strophe 2

No generous soul deigns, by a base life, to cloud a fair repute,
and leave a name inglorious; as thou, too, O my daughter, hast
chosen to mourn all thy days with those that mourn, and hast spurned
dishonour, that thou mightest win at once a twofold praise, as wise,
and as the best of daughters.

antistrophe 2

May I yet see thy life raised in might and wealth above thy
foes, even as now it is humbled beneath their hand! For I have found
thee in no prosperous estate; and yet, for observance of nature's
highest laws, winning the noblest renown, by thy piety towards Zeus.

(ORESTES enters, with PYLADES
and two attendants, one of them carrying a funeral urn.)

ORESTES
Ladies, have we been directed aright, and are we on the right path
to our goal?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And what seekest thou? With what desire hast thou come?
ORESTES
I have been searching for the home of Aegisthus.
LEADER
Well, thou hast found it; and thy guide is blameless.
ORESTES
Which of you, then, will tell those within that our company,
long desired, hath arrived?
LEADER
This maiden,- if the nearest should announce it.
ORESTES
I pray thee, mistress, make it known in the house that certain men
of Phocis seek Aegisthus.
ELECTRA
Ah, woe is me! Surely ye are not bringing the visible proofs of
that rumour which we heard?
ORESTES
I know nothing of thy 'rumour'; but the aged Strophius charged
me with tidings of Orestes.
ELECTRA
What are they, sir? Ah, how I thrill with fear!
ORESTES
He is dead; and in a small urn, as thou seest, we bring the scanty
relics home.
ELECTRA
Ah me unhappy! There, at last, before mine eyes, I see that
woful burden in your hands
ORESTES
If thy tears are for aught which Orestes hath suffered, know
that yonder vessel holds his dust.
ELECTRA
Ah, sir, allow me, then, I implore thee, if this urn indeed
contains him, to take it in my hands,- that I may weep and wail, not
for these ashes alone, but for myself and for all our house therewith!
ORESTES (to the attendants)
Bring it and give it her, whoe'er she be; for she who begs this
boon must be one who wished him no evil, but a friend, or haply a
kinswoman in blood.
(The urn is placed in ELECTRA'S hands.)
ELECTRA
Ah, memorial of him whom I loved best on earth! Ah, Orestes, whose
life hath no relic left save this,- how far from the hopes with
which I sent thee forth is the manner in which I receive thee back!
Now I carry thy poor dust in my hands; but thou wert radiant, my
child, when I sped the forth from home! Would that I had yielded up my
breath, ere, with these hands, I stole thee away, and sent thee to a
strange land, and rescued the from death; that so thou mightest have
been stricken down on that self-same day, and had thy portion in the
tomb of thy sire!
But now, an exile from home and fatherland, thou hast perished
miserably, far from thy sister; woe is me, these loving hands have not
washed or decked thy corpse, nor taken up, as was meet, their sad
burden from the flaming pyre. No! at the hands of strangers, hapless
one, thou hast had those rites, and so art come to us, a little dust
in a narrow urn.
Ah, woe is me for my nursing long ago, so vain, that I oft
bestowed on thee with loving toil I For thou wast never thy mother's
darling so much as mine; nor was any in the house thy nurse but I; and
by thee I was ever called 'sister.' But now all this hath vanished
in a day, with thy death; like a whirlwind, thou hast swept all away
with thee. Our father is gone; I am dead in regard to thee; thou
thyself hast perished: our foes exult; that mother, who is none, is
mad with joy,- she of whom thou didst oft send me secret messages, thy
heralds, saying that thou thyself wouldst appear as an avenger. But
our evil fortune. thine and mine, hath reft all that away, and hath
sent thee forth unto me thus,- no more the form that I loved so
well, but ashes and an idle shade.
Ah me, ah me! O piteous dust! Alas, thou dear one, sent on a
dire journey, how hast undone me,- undone me indeed, O brother mine!
Therefore take me to this thy home, me who am as nothing, to thy
nothingness, that I may dwell with thee henceforth below; for when
thou wert on earth, we shared alike; and now I fain would die, that
I may not be parted from thee in the grave. For I see that the dead
have rest from pain.
LEADER
Bethink thee, Electra, thou art the child of mortal sire, and
mortal was Orestes; therefore grieve not too much. This is a debt
which all of us must pay.
ORESTES
Alas, what shall I say? What words can serve me at this pass? I
can restrain my lips no longer!
ELECTRA
What hath troubled thee? Why didst thou say that?
ORESTES
Is this the form of the illustrious Electra that I behold?
ELECTRA
It is; and very grievous is her plight.
ORESTES
Alas, then, for this miserable fortune!
ELECTRA
Surely, sir, thy lament is not for me?
ORESTES
O form cruelly, godlessly misused!
ELECTRA
Those ill-omened words, sir, fit no one better than me.
ORESTES
Alas for thy life, unwedded and all unblest!
ELECTRA
Why this steadfast gaze, stranger, and these laments?
ORESTES
How ignorant was I, then, of mine own sorrows!
ELECTRA
By what that hath been said hast thou perceived this?
ORESTES
By seeing thy sufferings, so many and so great.
ELECTRA
And yet thou seest but a few of my woes.
ORESTES
Could any be more painful to behold?
ELECTRA
This, that I share the dwelling of the murderers.
ORESTES
Whose murderers? Where lies the guilt at which thou hintest?
ELECTRA
My father's;- and then I am their slave perforce.
ORESTES
Who is it that subjects thee to this constraint?
ELECTRA
A mother-in name, but no mother in her deeds.
ORESTES
How doth she oppress thee? With violence or with hardship?
ELECTRA
With violence, and hardships, and all manner of ill.
ORESTES
And is there none to succour, or to hinder?
ELECTRA
None. I had one; and thou hast shown me his ashes.
ORESTES
Hapless girl, how this sight hath stirred my pity!
ELECTRA
Know, then, that thou art the first who ever pitied me.
ORESTES
No other visitor hath ever shared thy pain.
ELECTRA
Surely thou art not some unknown kinsman?
ORESTES
I would answer, if these were friends who hear us.
ELECTRA
Oh, they are friends; thou canst speak without mistrust.
ORESTES
Give up this urn, then, and thou shalt be told all.
ELECTRA
Nay, I beseech thee be not so cruel to me, sir!
ORESTES
Do as I say, and never fear to do amiss.
ELECTRA
I conjure thee, rob me not of my chief treasure!
ORESTES
Thou must not keep it.
ELECTRA
Ah woe is me for thee, Orestes, if I am not to give thee burial
ORESTES
Hush!-no such word!-Thou hast no right to lament.
ELECTRA
No right to lament for my dead brother?
ORESTES
It is not meet for thee to speak of him thus.
ELECTRA
Am I so dishonoured of the dead?
ORESTES
Dishonoured of none:- but this is not thy part.
ELECTRA
Yes, if these are the ashes of Orestes that I hold.
ORESTES
They are not; a fiction dothed them with his name.
(He gently takes the urn from her.)
ELECTRA
And where is that unhappy one's tomb?
ORESTES
There is none; the living have no tomb.
ELECTRA
What sayest thou, boy?
ORESTES
Nothing that is not true.
ELECTRA
The man is alive?
ORESTES
If there be life in me.
ELECTRA
What? Art thou he?
ORESTES
Look at this signet, once our father's, and judge if I speak
truth.
ELECTRA
O blissful day!
ORESTES
Blissful, in very deed!
ELECTRA
Is this thy voice?
ORESTES
Let no other voice reply.
ELECTRA
Do I hold thee in my arms?
ORESTES
As mayest thou hold me always!
ELECTRA
Ah, dear friends and fellow-citizens, behold Orestes here, who was
feigned dead, and now, by that feigning hath come safely home!
LEADER
We see him, daughter; and for this happy fortune a tear of joy
trickles from our eyes.

(The following lines between ORESTES
and ELECTRA are chanted responsively.)

ELECTRA

strophe

Offspring of him whom I loved best, thou hast come even now,
thou hast come, and found and seen her whom thy heart desired!
ORESTES
I am with thee;- but keep silence for a while.
ELECTRA
What meanest thou?
ORESTES
'Tis better to be silent, lest some one within should hear.
ELECTRA
Nay, by ever-virgin Artemis, I will never stoop to fear women,
stay-at-homes, vain burdens of the ground!
ORESTES
Yet remember that in women, too, dwells the spirit of battle; thou
hast had good proof of that, I ween.
ELECTRA
Alas! ah me! Thou hast reminded me of my sorrow, one which, from
its nature, cannot be veiled, cannot be done away with, cannot forget!
ORESTES
I know this also; but when occasion prompts, then will be the
moment to recall those deeds.
ELECTRA

antistrophe

Each moment of all time, as it comes, would be meet occasion for
these my just complaints; scarcely now have I had my lips set free.
ORESTES
I grant it; therefore guard thy freedom.
ELECTRA
What must I do?
ORESTES
When the season serves not, do not wish to speak too much.
ELECTRA
Nay, who could fitly exchange speech for such silence, when thou
hast appeared? For now I have seen thy face, beyond all thought and
hope!
ORESTES
Thou sawest it, when the gods moved me to come....
ELECTRA
Thou hast told me of a grace above the first, if a god hath indeed
brought thee to our house; I acknowledge therein the work of heaven.
ORESTES
I am loth, indeed, to curb thy gladness, but yet this excess of
joy moves my fear.
ELECTRA

epode

O thou who, after many a year, hast deigned thus to gladden mine
eyes by thy return, do not, now that thou hast seen me in all my woe-
ORESTES
What is thy prayer?
ELECTRA
-do not rob me of the comfort of thy face; do not force me to
forego it!
ORESTES
I should be wroth, indeed, if I saw another attempt it.
ELECTRA
My prayer is granted?
ORESTES
Canst thou doubt?
ELECTRA
Ah, friends, I heard a voice that I could never have hoped to
hear; nor could I have restrained my emotion in silence, and without
cry, when I heard it.
Ah me! But now I have thee; thou art come to me with the light
of that dear countenance, which never, even in sorrow, could I forget.
(The chant is concluded.)
ORESTES
Spare all superfluous words; tell me not of our mother's
wickedness, or how Aegisthus drains the wealth of our father's house
by lavish luxury or aimless waste; for the story would not suffer thee
to keep due limit. Tell me rather that which will serve our present
need,- where we must show ourselves, or wait in ambush, that this
our coming may confound the triumph of our foes.
And look that our mother read not thy secret in thy radiant
face, when we twain have advanced into the house, but make lament,
as for the feigned disaster; for when we have prospered, then there
will be leisure to rejoice and exult in freedom.
ELECTRA
Nay, brother, as it pleases thee, so shall be my conduct also; for
all my joy is a gift from thee, and not mine own. Nor would I
consent to win great good for myself at the cost of the least pain
to thee; for so should I ill serve the divine power that befriends
us now.
But thou knowest how matters stand here, I doubt not: thou must
have beard that Aegisthus is from home, but our mother within;- and
fear not that she will ever see my face lit up with smiles; for mine
old hatred of her hath sunk into my heart; and, since I have beheld
thee, for very joy I shall never cease to weep. How indeed should I
cease, who have seen thee come home this day, first as dead, and
then in life? Strangely hast thou wrought on me; so that, if my father
should return alive, I should no longer doubt my senses, but should
believe that I saw him. Now, therefore, that thou hast come to me so
wondrously, command me as thou wilt; for, had I been alone, I should
have achieved one of two things,- a noble deliverance, or a noble
death.
ORESTES
Thou hadst best be silent; for I hear some one within preparing to
go forth.
ELECTRA (to ORESTES and PYLADES)
Enter, sirs; especially as ye bring that which no one could
repulse from these doors, though he receive it without joy.
(The PAEDAGOGUS enters from the palace.)
PAEDAGOGUS
Foolish and senseless children! Are ye weary of your lives, or was
there no wit born in you, that ye see not how ye stand, not on the
brink, but in the very midst of deadly perils? Nay, had I not kept
watch this long while at these doors, your plans would have been in
the house before yourselves; but, as it is, my care shielded you
from that. Now have done with this long discourse, these insatiate
cries of joy, and pass within; for in such deeds delay is evil, and
'tis well to make an end.
ORESTES
What, then, will be my prospects when I enter?
PAEDAGOGUS
Good; for thou art secured from recognition.
ORESTES
Thou hast reported me, I presume, as dead?
PAEDAGOGUS
Know that here thou art numbered with the shades.
ORESTES
Do they rejoice, then, at these tidings? Or what say they?
PAEDAGOGUS
I will tell thee at the end; meanwhile, all is well for us on
their party-even that which is not well.
ELECTRA
Who is this, brother? I pray thee, tell me.
ORESTES
Dost thou not perceive?
ELECTRA
I cannot guess.
ORESTES
Knowest thou not the man to whose hands thou gavest me once?
ELECTRA
What man? How sayest thou?
ORESTES
By whose hands, through thy forethought, I was secretly conveyed
forth to Phocian soil.
ELECTRA
Is this he in whom, alone of many, I found a true ally of old,
when our sire was slain?
ORESTES
'Tis he; question me no further.
ELECTRA
O joyous day! O sole preserver of Agamemnon's house, how hast thou
come? Art thou he indeed, who didst save my brother and myself from
many sorrows? O dearest hands; O messenger whose feet were kindly
servants! How couldst thou be with me so long, and remain unknown, nor
give a ray of light, but afflict me by fables, while possessed of
truths most sweet? Hail, father,- for 'tis a father that I seem to
behold! All hail,- and know that I have hated thee, and loved thee, in
one day, as never man before!
PAEDAGOGUS
Enough, methinks; as for the story of the past, many are the
circling nights, and days as many, which shall show it thee,
Electra, in its fulness. (To ORESTES and PYLADES) But this is my
counsel to you twain, who stand there- now is the time to act; now
Clytemnestra is alone,- no man is now within: but, if ye pause,
consider that ye will have to fight, not with the inmates alone, but
with other foes more numerous and better skilled.
ORESTES
Pylades, this our task seems no longer to crave many words, but
rather that we should enter the house forthwith,- first adoring the
shrines of my father's gods, who keep these gates.

(ORESTES and PYLADES enter the Palace,
followed by the PAEDAGOGUS.- ELECTRA remains outside.)

ELECTRA
O King Apollo! graciously hear them, and hear me besides, who so
oft have come before thine altar with such gifts as my devout hand
could bring! And now, O Lycean Apollo, with such vows as I can make, I
pray thee, I supplicate, I implore, grant us thy benignant aid in
these designs, and show men how impiety is rewarded by the gods!
(ELECTRA enters the palace.)
CHORUS (singing)
Behold how Ares moves onward, breathing deadly vengeance,
against which none may strive!
Even now the pursuers of dark guilt have passed beneath yon
roof, the hounds which none may flee. Therefore the vision of my
soul shall not long tarry in suspense.
The champion of the spirits infernal is ushered with stealthy feet
into the house, the ancestral palace of his sire, bearing keen-edged
death in his hands; and Hermes, son of Maia, who hath shrouded the
guile in darkness, leads him forward, even to the end, and delays no
more.
(ELECTRA enters from the palace.)
ELECTRA

strophe

Ah, dearest friends, in a moment the men will do the deed;- but
wait in silence.
CHORUS
How is it?- what do they now?
ELECTRA
She is decking the urn for burial, and those two stand close to
her
CHORUS
And why hast thou sped forth?
ELECTRA
To guard against Aegisthus entering before we are aware.
CLYTEMNESTRA (within)
Alas! Woe for the house forsaken of friends and filled with
murderers!
ELECTRA
A cry goes up within:- hear ye not, friends?
CHORUS
I heard, ah me, sounds dire to hear, and shuddered!
CLYTEMNESTRA (within)
O hapless that I am!- Aegisthus, where, where art thou?
ELECTRA
Hark, once more a voice resounds I
CLYTEMNESTRA (within)
My son, my son, have pity on thy mother!
ELECTRA
Thou hadst none for him, nor for the father that begat him.
CHORUS
Ill-fated realm and race, now the fate that hath pursued thee
day by day is dying,- is dying!
CLYTEMNESTRA (within)
Oh, I am smitten!
ELECTRA
Smite, if thou canst, once more!
CLYTEMNESTRA (within)
Ah, woe is me again!
ELECTRA
Would that the woe were for Aegisthus too!
CHORUS
The curses are at work; the buried live; blood flows for blood,
drained from the slayers by those who died of yore.
(ORESTES and PYLADES enter from the palace.)

antistrophe

Behold, they come! That red hand reeks with sacrifice to Ares; nor
can I blame the deed.
ELECTRA
Orestes, how fare ye?
ORESTES
All is well within the house, if Apollo's oracle spake well.
ELECTRA
The guilty one is dead?
ORESTES
Fear no more that thy proud mother will ever put thee to
dishonour.
CHORUS
Cease; for I see Aegisthus full in view.
ELECTRA
Rash boys, back, back!
ORESTES
Where see ye the man?
ELECTRA
Yonder, at our mercy, be advances from the suburb, full of joy.
CHORUS
Make with all speed for the vestibule; that, as your first task
prospered. so this again may prosper now.
ORESTES
Fear not,- we will perform it.
ELECTRA
Haste, then, whither thou wouldst.
ORESTES
See, I am gone.
ELECTRA
I will look to matters here.
(ORESTES and PYLADES go back into the palace.)
CHORUS
'Twere well to soothe his ear with some few words of seeming
gentleness, that he may rush blindly upon the struggle with his doom.
(AEGISTHUS enters.)
AEGISTHUS
Which of you can tell me, where are those Phocian strangers,
who, 'tis said, have brought us tidings of Orestes slain in the
wreck of his chariot? Thee, thee I ask, yes, thee, in former days so
bold,- for methinks it touches thee most nearly; thou best must
know, and best canst tell.
ELECTRA
I know assuredly; else were I a stranger to the fortune of my
nearest kinsfolk.
AEGISTHUS
Where then may be the strangers? Tell me.
ELECTRA
Within; they have found a way to the heart of their hostess.
AEGISTHUS
Have they in truth reported him dead?
ELECTRA
Nay, not reported only; they have shown him.
AEGISTHUS
Can I, then, see the corpse with mine own eyes?
ELECTRA
Thou canst, indeed; and 'tis no enviable sight.
AEGISTHUS
Indeed, thou hast given me a joyful greeting, beyond thy wont.
ELECTRA
Joy be thine, if in these things thou findest joy.
AEGISTHUS
Silence, I say, and throw wide the gates, for all Mycenaeans and
Argives to behold; that, if any of them were once buoyed on empty
hopes from this man, now, seeing him dead, they may receive my curb,
instead of waiting till my chastisement make them wise perforce!
ELECTRA
No loyalty is lacking on my part; time hath taught me the prudence
of concord with the stronger.

(The central doors of the palace
are thrown open and a shrouded corpse is
disclosed. ORESTES and PYLADES stand near it.)

AEGISTHUS
O Zeus, I behold that which hath not fallen save by the doom of
jealous Heaven; but, if Nemesis attend that word, be it unsaid!
Take all the covering from the face, that kinship, at least, may
receive the tribute of lament from me also.
ORESTES
Lift the veil thyself; not my part this, but thine, to look upon
these relics, and to greet them kindly.
AEGISTHUS
'Tis good counsel, and I will follow it.- (To ELECTRA) But
thou-call me Clytemnestra, if she is within.
ORESTES
Lo, she is near thee: turn not thine eyes elsewhere.
(AEGISTHUS removes the face-cloth from the corpse.)
AEGISTHUS
O, what sight is this!
ORESTES
Why so scared? Is the face so strange?
AEGISTHUS
Who are the men into whose mid toils I have fallen, hapless that I
am?
ORESTES
Nay, hast thou not discovered ere now that the dead, as thou
miscallest them, are living?
AEGISTHUS
Alas, I read the riddle: this can be none but Orestes who speaks
to me!
ORESTES
And, though so good a prophet, thou wast deceived so long?
AEGISTHUS
Oh lost, undone! Yet suffer me to say one word...
ELECTRA
In heaven's name, my brother, suffer him not to speak further,
or to plead at length! When mortals are in the meshes of fate, how can
such respite avail one who is to die? No,- slay him forthwith, and
cast his corpse to the creatures from whom such as he should have
burial, far from our sight! To me, nothing but this can make amends
for the woes of the past.
ORESTES (to AEGISTHUS)
Go in, and quickly; the issue here is not of words, but of thy
life.
AEGISTHUS
Why take me into the house? If this deed be fair, what need of
darkness? Why is thy hand not prompt to strike?
ORESTES
Dictate not, but go where thou didst slay my father, that in the
same place thou mayest die.
AEGISTHUS
Is this dwelling doomed to see all woes of Pelops' line, now,
and in time to come?
ORESTES
Thine, at least; trust my prophetic skill so far.
AEGISTHUS
The skill thou vauntest belonged not to thy sire.
ORESTES
Thou bandiest words, and our going is delayed. Move forward!
AEGISTHUS
Lead thou.
ORESTES
Thou must go first.
AEGISTHUS
Lest I escape thee?
ORESTES
No, but that thou mayest not choose how to die; I must not spare
thee any bitterness of death. And well it were if this judgment came
straight-way upon all who dealt in lawless deeds, even the judgment of
the sword: so should not wickedness abound.
(ORESTES and PYLADES drive AEGISTHUS into the palace.)
CHORUS (singing)
O house of Atreus, through how many sufferings hast thou come
forth at last in freedom, crowned with good by this day's enterprise!


-THE END-
.
 

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