I like reading Ancient Greek drama, and I hope you do, too. When I was in college, I
exempted out of having to take English because my SAT scores were so high, but I did have to take a language, so I took Ancient Greek. You don't need to know
Greek to read this one, of course, and this translation is easy to read, while still keeping the archaic language and poetic style.
This is a well-known work which has been written and rewritten numerous times across the centuries. The story comes from Greek Mythology. Electra is the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytæmnestra of Argos and Mycenæ. Orestes is her brother. Agamemnon, upon returning home from the Trojan War, is murdered by his wife and her lover Ægisthus. Electra sends the child Orestes away to protect him when she learns that his murder is also being arranged, but he eventually returns. Electra and her brother plot to kill their mother and Ægisthus, and succeed. The details differ, depending on whose play you are reading.
Sophocles lived from 496 B.C. to after 413 B.C. This is one of the seven surviving plays of his 123 total, and was written sometime in the 440s. His version begins as Orestes returns home with his friend Pylades and his trusted Guardian who assisted his escape years ago. As they near the palace, they discuss plan for Orestes' revenge. But first they visit the tomb of Agamemnon, to pay him honor and offer libations. We also find Electra still bitter and in despair, her grief and desire for revenge having not abated in the least. She cries out to the Gods to send her brother back, though she doubts that they will. She and her sister, Chrysothemis, still live in the house of their mother and stepfather. Chrysothemis tolerates the situation, but Electra can barely endure. Her friends attempt to advise and console her, but she rejects their good will. Chrysothemis tells Electra that she has heard plans that their mother and Ægisthus plan on putting her away when Ægisthus returns from his trip. She warns Electra to be discreet in her bitterness toward them, and tells her she going to make offerings to their father's grave, at their mother's command. She also informs Electra that Clytæmnestra had a prophetic dream that put her in fear. Electra, in disgust, tells her to throw away the offerings—they will do no good to purge her mother from guilt. She says that instead, she and Chrysothemis should cut a lock of their hair and offer it to their father's grave, imploring him to aid in the return of Orestes
Electra and Clytæmnestra argue, the latter insisting that the murder of Agamenmon was justice served for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis., in exchange for blowing the winds that allowed him to sail to the Trojan War. Electra, however, believes the motive for the murder was adulterous lust.
Soon the Guardian of Orestes enters the house, (with the intention of gathering information), and tells Clytæmnestra that Orestes is dead, killed by accident when he fell from his chariot and trampled at the Delphian games. Clytæmnestra is relieved, but Electra is thrown into even greater anguish. Meanwhile, Chrysothemis returns from their father tomb, where she has seen the lock of hair left by Orestes, and tries to convince Electra that he has come home.
Orestes comes to the home, but he at first doesn't disclose his identity, and Electra doesn't recognize him. But soon all is revealed between the two siblings, and fate takes its course. . .
This is work well-worth reading, then doing some extra research and reading again. It is intensely emotional, and quickly draws the audience in to mentally participate with the characters. Highly recommended!
Other writings on Electra
Aeschylus: The Oresteia Trilogy (play) c.a. 458 B.C.
Euripides: Electra (play) mid-410s B.C.
Richard Strauss: Elektra (Opera) opened January 25, 1909
Jean-Paul Sartre: The Flies (play based on the Electra theme) 1943
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