EURIPIDES

 

ELECTRA

 

Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia
Canada

 

First Published 2009, Revised 2015, Reformatted 2017

 

For a Rich Text Format version of this document, please use the following link: Electra [RTF]

 

Students, teachers, artists, and members of the general public may download and distribute this document without permission and without charge. They may also edit or adapt the text to suit their purposes. However, commercial publication is not permitted without the consent of the translator (Ian Johnston)

 

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

 

In the text below the numbers in square brackets refer to the lines in the Greek text; the numbers without brackets refer to the lines in the translated text. In reckoning the latter, I have normally included a short indented line with the shorter line above it as a single line. The stage directions and endnotes have been provided by the translator.


The translator would like to acknowledge the valuable help of M. J. Cropp’s commentary on the play (Aris & Phillips, 1988).

 

 

A COMMENT ON THE MYTHOLOGICAL BACKGROUND

 

Tyndareus, king of Sparta, and his wife, Leda, had four children: twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces (also called Pollux) and twin sisters Clytaemnestra and Helen. However, Zeus was the father of Pollux and Helen, Tyndareus the father of the Castor and Clytaemnestra. When Castor was killed, Zeus allowed Pollux to share his immortality (which he possessed as a son of Zeus) with his dead brother, so that the two of them could alternate between Hades and Olympus. The brothers, called the Dioscuri (“sons of Zeus”) then became two stars in the night sky (the Gemini), an important help for those navigating at sea.

When Helen, wife of Menelaus, was abducted by Paris and taken to Troy, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and Menelaus’ brother, gathered an army to sail to Troy. However, before the Greek fleet could get a favourable wind, the gods insisted that Agamemnon had to sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigeneia. He did so, and the expedition sailed. Ten years later, Agamemnon returned home victorious but was immediately murdered by Aegisthus, his wife’s lover and collaborator (and a cousin of Orestes). Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra took over power in Mycenae. Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, had earlier been sent away from Mycenae. Electra, Orestes’ sister, remained in Mycenae and was treated badly by her mother and Aegisthus.

 

Mycenae is the name of the city ruled by Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. Argos is the name of the land in which the city is located. The inhabitants are called Mycenaeans or Argives. The words Argos and Mycenae are often used interchangeably.

 

 

ELECTRA

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

PEASANT: a poor farmer in the countryside
ELECTRA: daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra
ORESTES: son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra
PYLADES: a friend of Orestes
CHORUS: Argive country women
OLD MAN: an old servant of Agamemnon’s
MESSENGER: one of Orestes’ servants
CLYTAEMNESTRA: mother of Orestes and Electra
DIOSCOURI : Castor and Pollux, divine twin brothers of Clytaemnestra
SERVANTS: attendants for Orestes, Pylades, and Clytaemnestra.

[Depending on the decisions of the director of a production of the play, speeches assigned to the CHORUS may be spoken by the entire Chorus or by the Chorus Leader or by a selected group of the Chorus. A speech may also be divided up and spoken by different members of the Chorus.]

[The scene is set in the countryside of Argos, in front of the Peasant’s hut. It is just before dawn.]

 

PEASANT

O this ancient land, these streams of Inachus,
the place from where king Agamemnon once
set out with a thousand ships on his campaign
and sailed away to the land of Troy.
He killed king Priam, who ruled in Ilion
and seized the famous town of Dardanus.(1)
Then he returned home, back here to Argos,
and set up in high temples piles of loot
from those barbarians. Yes, over there
things went well for him. But then he was killed                   10
in his own home by the hand of Aegisthus,
Thyestes’ son, thanks to the treachery                                            [10]
of his own wife, Clytaemnestra. So he died,
leaving behind Tantalus’ ancient sceptre.(2)
Aegisthus rules this country now. He wed
Tyndareus’ daughter, the dead king’s wife.
As for those he left at home behind him
when he sailed to Troy, his son Orestes
and his daughter Electra—well, now,
Aegisthus was about to kill Orestes,                                   20
but an old servant of his father’s took him
and handed him to Strophius to bring up
in the land of Phocis. But Electra
stayed on in her father’s house. When she reached
her young maturity, the suitors came,                                              [20]
the foremost ones throughout the land of Greece,
seeking marriage. Aegisthus was afraid
she’d bear a child to some important man,
who then might seek revenge for Agamemnon.
So he wouldn’t give her to a bridegroom                            30
but kept her in his home. Even this choice
filled him with fear, in case she might give birth
to a noble child in secret. So he planned
to kill her. But though she has a savage heart,
her mother saved her from Aegisthus’ hands.
She’d an excuse for murdering her husband,
but she feared that if she killed her children                                     [30]
she’d be totally disgraced.(3) And that’s why
Aegisthus came up with the following scheme—
he offered gold to anyone who’d kill                                  40
Agamemnon’s son, who’d left the country
as an exile, and he gave Electra
to me to be my wife. My ancestors
were from Mycenae, so in this matter
at least I have no need to feel ashamed.
My family was a good one but not rich,
and that destroys one’s noble ancestry.
He gave her to a man who had no power.
In that way his fear could be diminished.
If some important fellow married her,                                 50          [40]
he might have woken up the sleeping blood
of Agamemnon, and then, at some point,
justice would have come to seek Aegisthus.
But I’ve never had sex with the girl in bed—
and Cypris knows I’m right in this—and so
Electra’s still a virgin.(4) I’d be ashamed
to take the daughter of a wealthy man
and violate the girl, when I’m not born
her equal. As for unfortunate Orestes,
who’s now, according to what people say,                         60
a relative of mine, I’m sorry for him,
if he should ever return to Argos
and see his sister’s demeaning marriage.
Any man who says I’m just an idiot                                                [50]
to bring a young girl here into my home
and then not touch her should know he’s a fool
who measures wisdom by a worthless standard.

 

[Electra enters from the hut. She is carrying a water jug.]


ELECTRA

O pitch black night, nurse of golden stars,
I walk through you towards the river stream,
carrying this jar balanced on my head.                                70
This is not work I am compelled to do,
but I will manifest to all the gods
Aegisthus’ insolence, and I will send
into this great sky my sorrowing cries
out to my father. For my own mother,                                            [60]
that murderous daughter of Tyndareus,
in her desire to please her husband,
has cast me from my home. With Aegisthus
she’s had other children and considers
Orestes and myself of no account                                       80
inside her house.

 

PEASANT

                             You poor wretched girl,
why do you help me doing work like this,
carrying out these chores? In earlier days,
you were nobly raised. Why do you not stop,
especially when I keep saying this to you?

 

ELECTRA

You’re kind to me, and I consider you
the equal of the gods in that. For now,
when I’m in trouble, you don’t demean me.
When human beings discover someone there
to soothe their miseries, as I have you,                                90         [70]
then Fate is doing something good to them.
So I should help you carry out the work
and give you some relief, to the extent
my strength permits, without you asking me,
so you can bear the load more easily.
There’s work enough for you to do outside.
I should take care of things within the house.
It’s nice when someone working out of doors
comes back inside and finds things organized.

 

PEASANT

Well, if you think you should do it, then go.                         100
The spring is no great distance from the house.
Once daylight comes, I’ll drive the oxen out,
go to the farmlands, and then sow the fields.
No matter how much he may mention gods,                                   [80]
without hard work a lazy man can never
gather up all the things he needs to live.

 

[Electra leaves for the spring, and the Peasant goes back into the house. Enter Orestes and Pylades, with two servants.]

 

ORESTES

Among all men, Pylades, I think of you
as a loving host, foremost in my trust.(5)
For you’re the only one of all my friends
who has dealt honourably with Orestes,                              110
as I’ve been coping with these wretched things
I’ve had to put up with from Aegisthus,
who killed my father . . . he and my mother,
that destructive woman. I’ve come here,
from god’s mysterious shrine to Argive lands,
to avenge the killing of my father,
by murdering the ones who butchered him.
Last night I visited my father’s tomb,                                              [90]
where I wept and started sacrificing
by cutting off a lock of hair. And then,                                120
on the altar I made an offering of blood
from a sheep I slaughtered. But the tyrants
who control this land don’t know I’m here.
I’ve not set foot within the city walls.
No. I’ve come to these fields near the border
for two reasons which act on me as one—
so I may run off to a different land
if someone sees me and knows who I am
and to find my sister, who’s living here,
so they say, joined in marriage to a man,                            130
no virgin any more. I could meet her,                                              [100]
make her my accomplice in the murder,
and in this way get clear information
about what’s happening inside the walls.
But now that Dawn is raising her bright eyes,
let’s move aside to some place off the path.
We’ll see a ploughman or some servant woman
and ask them if my sister lives near here.
In fact, I can see a household servant—
her shaven head is carrying a water jug.(6)                          140
Let sit and ask this female slave some questions,                             [110]
Pylades, and see if we can get some word
about the business which has brought us here.

[Orestes and Pylades move back. Electra enters, returning from the spring. She does not see them at first and starts to go through her ritual of mourning.]

 ELECTRA

You must step quickly now—
it’s time to move—keep going,
lamenting as you go.
Alas for me! Yes, for me!
I am Agamemnon’s child,
born from Clytaemnestra,
Tyndareus’ hateful daughter.                                              150
Miserable Electra—that’s the name
the citizens have given me.
Alas, alas! My wretched work,                                                      [120]
this way of life that I detest!
O my father, Agamemnon,
you now lie in Hades, murdered
by Aegisthus and your wife.

Come now, raise the same lament,
seize the joy of prolonged weeping.

You must step quickly now—                                            160
it’s time to move—keep going,
lamenting as you go.
Alas for me! Yes, for me!
O my poor brother, in what town,                                                  [130]
to what household have you wandered,
abandoning your abject sister
to such painful circumstance
in her paternal home? Come to me,
in my unhappy wretchedness.
Be my deliverer from pain—                                              170
O Zeus, Zeus—
be an avenger for my father,
and the hateful shedding of his blood,
once you set your roaming foot in Argos.

Take this water pitcher from my head                                             [140]
and set it down, so I may wail
my night laments, cries for my father,
wild shrieks, a song of death,
your death, my father. For you
beneath the earth, I cry out                                                180
chants of sorrow—day after day
I keep up this constant grieving,
tearing my dear skin with nails,
hands beating my shaven head—
all this because you’re dead.

Ah yes, mutilate your face,                                                             [150]
and, just as a swan sings out
beside the streaming river,
crying to its beloved father
who died ensnared within the web                                      190
of a deceitful net, so I cry out
for you, unhappy father,
your body soaking in that final bath,
your most pitiful couch of death.(7)

Alas for me . . . alas for me!
That bitter axe that hacked you,                                                     [160]
father, the bitter scheme
of your return from Troy!
Your wife never welcomed you
with a victor’s crown or garland.                                        200
No. Instead she gave you up
to that disgraceful mutilation
by Aegisthus’ two-edged sword
and got herself a treacherous mate.

 

[Enter the Chorus of Argive women]

 

CHORUS

O Electra, daughter of Agamemnon,
I’ve come here to your rural dwelling place
to tell you a milk drinking man’s has come,
one of those who walk the mountains.
He’s travelled from Mycenae                                                         [170]
and says the Argives have proclaimed                                210
a sacrifice two days from now,
and every young bride has to go
to Hera’s shrine in the procession.

 

ELECTRA

My sad heart is beating fast, my friends,
but not for festive ornaments
or necklaces made out of gold.
I won’t stand with the Argive girls
in choruses or beat my foot
as I whirl in the dance.                                                                   [180]
I pass my days in tears—                                                   220
in my unhappiness my care
day after day is with my tears.
See if this filthy hair and tattered clothes
suit Agamemnon’s royal child
or Troy, which bears the memory
of how my father seized the place.

 

CHORUS

The goddess is great. So come,                                                     [190]
borrow thick woven clothes from me
and put them on, with gold as well,
graceful ornaments—to favour me.                                     230
Do you think that with your tears
you can control your enemies
if you have no respect for gods?
My child, you’ll find yourself a gentler life
by honouring the gods with prayers,
and not with sorrowful laments.

 

ELECTRA

The gods pay no attention to the cries
of this ill-fated girl or to the murder
of my father all that time ago.                                                         [200]
Alas for that slaughtered man                                             240
and for the wanderer still alive
dwelling somewhere in a foreign land,
a wretched vagabond at a slave’s hearth,
son of such a celebrated father.
And I am living in a peasant’s home,
wasting my soul up on the mountain tops,
in exile from my father’s house.                                                      [210]
My mother, married to another man,
lives in a bed stained with his blood.

 

CHORUS

Your mother’s sister, Helen, brought such grief                   250
to the Greeks and to your house, as well.

 

[Orestes and Pylades begin to move forward. Electra catches sight of them.]

 

ELECTRA

Alas, women, I must end my lamentation.
Some strangers lurking behind the altar
near the house are moving out of hiding.
Let’s be off—run from these troublemakers.
You take the path, and I’ll go in the house.

 

ORESTES

Stay here, poor girl! Don’t fear my hand.                                       [220]

 

ELECTRA

O Phoebus Apollo, I entreat you—
do not let me die!

 

ORESTES

                   And grant that I cut down
others I hate much more than you.

 

ELECTRA

                                                                   Leave now!     260
Don’t put your hands on those you should not touch.

 

ORESTES

There’s no one I have more right to touch.

 

ELECTRA

Then why wait beside my house in ambush,
with your sword drawn?

 

ORESTES

                               Stay here and listen.
Soon you’ll be agreeing with me.

 

ELECTRA

                                                   I’ll stand here.
I’m yours anyway, since you’re the stronger.

 

ORESTES

I’ve come to bring you news about your brother.

 

ELECTRA

Dearest of friends—is he alive or dead?

 

ORESTES

Alive. I’d like you to have good news first.                                     [230]

 

ELECTRA

My you find happiness as your reward                               270
for those most welcome words.

 

ORESTES

                                    That’s a blessing
I’d like to give to both of us together.

 

ELECTRA

My unhappy brother—in what country
does he spend his wretched exile?

 

ORESTES

                                  He drifts around,
not settling for a single city’s customs.

 

ELECTRA

He’s not lacking what he needs each day?

 

ORESTES

No, that he has. But a man in exile
is truly powerless.

 

ELECTRA

                              What’s the message
you’ve come here to bring from him?

 

ORESTES

                                            I’m here
to see if you’re alive and, if you are,                                   280
what your life is like.

 

ELECTRA

                                 Surely you can see,
first of all, how my body’s shrivelled?

 

ORESTES

So worn with pain it makes me pity you.                                         [240]

 

ELECTRA

And my hair cut off, shorn with a razor?

 

ORESTES

Perhaps your dead father and your brother
are tearing at you.

 

ELECTRA

                                   Alas! Who is there
whom I love more than those two men?

 

ORESTES

Ah yes, and what do you think you are
to your own brother?

 

ELECTRA

                              He is not here,
and so not present as my friend.

 

ORESTES

                                         Why live here,                           290
so distant from the city?

 

ELECTRA

                                        I’m married—
it’s a deadly state.

 

ORESTES

                          I feel sorry for your brother.
Did you marry someone from Mycenae?

 

ELECTRA

No one my father ever hoped to give me.

 

ORESTES

Tell me. I’ll listen and inform your brother.                                      [250]

 

ELECTRA

I live in his house, far from the city.

 

ORESTES

This is a house fit for a ditch digger
or some herdsman.

 

ELECTRA

                                   He’s poor but decent,
and he respects me.

 

ORESTES

                                 Your husband’s respect—
what does that mean?

 

ELECTRA

                                      Never once has he dared              300
to fondle me in bed.

 

ORESTES

                                          Does he hold back
from some religious scruple, or does he think
you are not worthy of him?

 

ELECTRA

                               No. He believes
it’s not right to insult my ancestors.

 

ORESTES

But how could he not be overjoyed
at making such a marriage?

 

ELECTRA

                                          Well, stranger,
he thinks the person who gave me away
had no right to do it.

 

ORESTES

                                              I understand.                                    [260]
He fears that someday he’ll be punished
by Orestes.

 

ELECTRA

                                       He is afraid of that,                      310
but he’s a virtuous man, as well.

 

ORESTES

                                              Ah yes,
you’ve been talking of a noble man
who must be treated well.

 

ELECTRA

                                                      Yes, if the man
who’s far away from here right now comes back.

 

ORESTES

And your mother, the one who bore you,
how did she take this?

 

ELECTRA

                                       Women give their love
to their husbands, stranger, not their children.

 

ORESTES

Why did Aegisthus shame you in this way?

 

ELECTRA

By giving me to such a man, he made sure
any children I bore would have no power.                           320

 

ORESTES

Clearly so that you would not have children
who could take revenge?

 

ELECTRA

                                      Yes, that’s his plan.
I hope he’ll have to pay me back for that!

 

ORESTES

You’re a virgin—does your mother’s husband know?                    [270]

 

ELECTRA

No. We hide that from him with our silence.

 

ORESTES

These women listening to what we’re saying
are friends of yours?

 

ELECTRA

                               Yes. They’ll keep well concealed
my words and yours.

 

ORESTES

                            If he came to Argos
what could Orestes do in all of this?

 

ELECTRA

You have to ask? What a shameful question!                      330
Isn’t now a crucial time?

 

ORESTES

                                               If he comes,
how should he kill his father’s murderers?

 

ELECTRA

By daring what my father’s enemies
dared do to him.

 

ORESTES

                          And would you dare
to help him kill your mother?

 

ELECTRA

                                           Yes, I would—
with the very axe that killed our father!

 

ORESTES

Shall I tell him this? Are you quite certain?                                      [280]

 

ELECTRA

Once I’ve shed my mother’s blood, let me die!

 

ORESTES

Ah, if only Orestes were close by
and could hear this!

 

ELECTRA

                     Stranger, if I saw him,                                     340
I would not know him.

 

ORESTES

                                   That’s not surprising.
When he went away, you were so young.

 

ELECTRA

Only one of my friends would recognize him.

 

ORESTES

The man they say saved him from being killed
by stealing him away?

 

ELECTRA

                                                   Yes. An old man—
my father’s servant long ago.

 

ORESTES

                                              Your father—
when he died, did he get a burial tomb?

 

ELECTRA

Once he’d been thrown out of the house,
he found what he could find.

 

ORESTES

                           Alas! Those words of yours . . .                           [290]
Awareness of pain, even of a stranger,                                350
gnaws away at men. But you must tell me.
Once I have listened, I can tell your brother
the unhappy story he has to hear.
Those with no knowledge cannot sympathize,
for only those who know feel pity. Still,
knowing too much can put the wise at risk.

 

CHORUS

My heart’s desires are the same as his.
Out here, far from the city, I don’t know
the troubles there. Now I want to hear them.

 

ELECTRA

I will speak out, if that’s acceptable—                                360        [300]
for it’s appropriate to talk with friends
about the burden of my situation
and my father’s. And I beg you, stranger,
since you’re the one who prompted me to speak,
tell Orestes of our troubles, mine and his.
First of all, there’s the sort of clothes I wear,
kept here in a stall, weighed down with filth.
Then there’s the kind of house I’m living in,
now I’ve been thrown out of my royal home.
I have to work hard at the loom myself                               370
to make my clothes or else I’d have to go
wearing nothing at all, just do without,
bringing water from the springs all by myself,
with no share in the ritual festivals,                                                  [310]
no place in the dance. Since I’m a virgin,
I keep married women at a distance.
I felt shamed by Castor, who courted me,
his relative, before he joined the gods.
Meanwhile my mother sits there on her throne
with loot from Phrygia and Asian slaves,                             380
my father’s plunder, standing by her chair,
their Trojan dresses pinned with golden brooches.(8)
My father’s blood still stains the palace walls—
it’s rotted black—while the man who killed him
climbs in my father’s chariot and drives out,                                    [320]
proud to brandish in his blood-stained hands
the very sceptre that my father used
to command the Greeks. Agamemnon’s grave
has not been honoured. It’s had no libations,
no myrtle branch—its altar is unadorned.                            390
And this splendid husband of my mother,
so they say, when he’s soaking wet with drink,
jumps on the grave and starts throwing pebbles
at the stone memorial to my father,
and dares to cry out words like this against us:
“Where’s your son Orestes? Is he present                                      [330]
to act with honour and defend your tomb?”
And so Orestes in his absence is insulted.
So I beg you, stranger, take back this news.
Many are summoning him—I speak for them—                  400
my hands and tongue, my grief-stricken heart,
my shaven head, and Agamemnon, too.
It would be disgraceful if his father
could destroy the Phrygians and yet he,
one against one, could not destroy a man,
when he is young and from a nobler father.

 

[Enter the Peasant, returning from the fields.]

 

CHORUS

Look! I see someone—I mean your husband.
He’s left his work. He’s coming to the house.                                 [340]

 

PEASANT

Hold on. Who are these strangers I see there
by the door? And why have they come here,                      410
to a farmer’s gate? What do they want from me?
It’s shameful for a woman to be standing
with young men.

 

ELECTRA

                       My dear friend, don’t suspect me.
You’ll hear what’s going on. These strangers
have come here from Orestes—they’re messengers
with news for me. But forgive him, strangers,
for those words he said.

 

PEASANT

                           What are they saying?
Is the man still gazing at the sunlight?

 

ELECTRA

That’s what they say, and I believe their news.                                [350]

 

PEASANT

Does he still recall your father’s troubles                             420
and your own?

 

ELECTRA

                      We can hope about those things,
but a man in exile has no power.

 

PEASANT

What message from Orestes did they bring
when they came here?

 

ELECTRA

                  He sent them out as spies
to look into my troubles.

 

PEASANT

                                   They’re seeing some,
and I suppose you’re telling them the rest.

 

ELECTRA

There’s very little they don’t know about.

 

PEASANT

Surely we should have opened up our doors
long before this point.

 

[The Peasant turns to Orestes and Pylades.]

 

                                             Go in the house.
In exchange for your good news, you’ll find                        430
all the hospitality my house affords.
You servants, take their things inside the house.                              [360]
Do not refuse me—you are friends of ours
and you’ve come from someone who’s a friend.
Even if I’m poor, I will not behave
like someone with an ill-bred character.

 

ORESTES [to Electra]

By the gods, is this the man pretending
to be married because he does not wish
to bring dishonour to Orestes?

 

ELECTRA

                                                       He is—
he’s the one who in my miserable state                               440
they call my husband.

 

ORESTES

                              Well, nothing is precise
when it comes to how a man is valued—
men’s natures are confusing. Before this,
I’ve seen a man worth nothing, yet he had                                      [370]
a noble father; I’ve known evil parents
with outstanding children, seen famine
in a rich man’s mind and a great spirit
in a poor man’s body. So how can we
sort out these things and judge correctly?
By riches? That would be a wretched test.                          450
By those who have nothing? But poverty
is a disease. Through need it teaches men
to act in evil ways. So should I turn
to warfare? But when facing hostile spears,
who can testify which men are virtuous?
Best to dismiss such things, leave them to chance.
This man is not great among the Argives,
nor puffed up by his family’s reputation.
He’s one of the crowd, yet has proved himself
an excellent man. So stop your foolishness,                         460
those of you who keep wandering around
full of misguided ways of measuring worth.
Why not judge how valuable men are
by their behaviour and their company?
Men like this one govern homes and cities well,
while those with muscles and with vacant minds
are mere decorations in the market place.
In fights with spears the strong arm holds its ground
no better than the weak one does—such things
depend upon man’s nature and his courage.                        470       [390]
But because the man who is both absent
and yet present here is worthy of it—
I mean Agamemnon’s son, for whose sake
we have come—let us accept the lodging
in this home. You slaves, go inside the house.
May a poor but willing man act as my host
rather than a one with wealth. I applaud
how this man has received me in his home,
although I would have preferred your brother,
might welcome me into his prosperous                                480
and successful house. But perhaps he’ll come.
I place no trust in human prophecies,
but the oracles of Loxias are strong.(9)                                           [400]

 

[Pylades, Orestes, and their servants go into the house.]

 

CHORUS

Now, Electra, our hearts are warm with joy—
more than they have been before. Your fortunes
may perhaps advance, although that’s difficult,
and end up resting in a better place.

 

ELECTRA [to the Peasant]

Reckless man, you know how poor your house is—
why did you offer your hospitality
to people so much greater than yourself?                            490

 

PEASANT

What’s wrong? If they’re as well bred as they seem,
won’t they be just as happy with small men
as with the great?

 

ELECTRA

                          Well, you are one of the small.
But since you’ve now committed this mistake,
go to that dear old servant of my father’s.
He’s been expelled from town and tends his flocks
by the Tanaus river, which cuts a line                                              [410]
between lands of Argos and of Sparta.
Tell him this—now these people have arrived,
he must come here and bring our guests some food.           500
He’ll be happy to do that and offer
prayers up to the gods when he finds out
the child he rescued once is still alive.
From my mother and my ancestral home
we’d get nothing—we’d bring them bitter news
if that cruel-hearted woman were to learn
Orestes is still living.

 

PEASANT

                                      All right then,
I’ll take that message to the old man,                                              [420]
if that’s what you think. But you should go
inside the house as soon as possible                                   510
to get things ready there. If she wants to,
surely a woman can find many things
to make into a meal. Within the house
there’s still enough to fill them up with food
for at least one day. It’s at times like this,
when I’ve no idea how to manage,
I think of the great power money has
for giving things to strangers and paying
to save someone whenever he falls sick.
The meals we need each day don’t come to much,             520
for all men, once they have eaten their fill,
feel much the same, whether rich or poor.                                      [430]

 

[The Peasant and Electra move into the house, leaving the Chorus alone on stage.]

 

CHORUS

You famous ships which once sailed off to Troy
to the beat of countless oars,
leading Nereids in their dance,
while flute-loving dolphins leapt
and rolled around your dark-nosed prows,
accompanying Achilles, Thetis’s son,
whose feet had such a nimble spring,
and Agamemnon, too, off to Troy,                                     530         [440]
to the banks of the river Simois.

Leaving Euboea’s headland points,
Nereids carried from Hephaestus’ forge
his labours on the golden shield and armour,
up to Pelion, along the wooded slopes
of sacred Ossa, where the nymphs keep watch,
and searched those maidens out,
in places the old horseman trained
sea-dwelling Thetis’ son                                                                 [450]
to be a shining light for Hellas,                                            540
swift runner for the sons of Atreus.(10)

I heard from a man who’d come from Troy
and reached the harbour in Nauplia
that on the circle of your splendid shield,
O son of Thetis, were these images,
so terrifying to the Phyrgians—
on the rim around the edge
was Perseus in his flying sandals                                                     [460]
holding up above the sea
the Gorgon’s head and severed throat,                               550
accompanied by Zeus’ messenger
Hermes, Maia’s country child.(11)

In the centre of the shield
the circle of the sun blazed out
with his team of winged horses.
Dancing stars shone in the heavens,
the Pleides and Hyades,
a fearful sight for Hector’s eyes.
On the helmet made of hammered gold                                          [470]
sphinxes in their talons clutched                                          560
their prey seduced by song,
and on the breastplate breathing fire
a lioness with claws raced away
eyeing the young horse of Pirene.(12)

And on his murderous sword
four horses galloped—above their backs
rose billowing black clouds of dust.
Evil-minded daughter of Tyndareus,                                               [480]
your bed mate killed the king
of spear-bearing warriors like these.                                  570
And for that death the heavenly gods
will one day pay you back with death.
Yes, one day I will see your blood,
death spurts pulsing from your throat,
sliced through by a sword of iron.

 

[Enter the Old Man. Electra comes out of the house during his speech.]

 

OLD MAN

So where is she? Where is my young lady,
my mistress—child of the man I once raised,
king Agamemnon? How steep this path is
to where she lives for a decrepit old man                                        [490]
going up this hill on foot! Still, they’re my friends,               580
so I must drag myself with my bent back
and tottering legs up here. O my daughter,
now I can see you there before the house.
I’ve come bringing here from my own livestock
a newborn lamb taken from its mother,
garlands, cheeses I’ve lifted from the press,
and this ancient treasure from Dionysus—
it smells so rich! There’s not much of it,
but still it’s sweet to add a cup of this
to a weaker drink. Let someone take these                        590
inside the house and give them to the guests.                                   [500]
I want to use some cloth or piece of clothing
to wipe my eyes—they are full of tears.

 

ELECTRA

Why are your eyes so soaking wet, old man?
Am I reminding you of our troubles
after all this time? Or are you grieving
about Orestes in his wretched exile
and about my father, whom you once held
in your arms and raised. But that care of yours
was no help to you or to your family.

 

OLD MAN

                                                 That’s right—                    600
it didn’t help us. But still, there’s one thing
I could not bear, so I went to his tomb,
a detour on the road. I was alone,                                                  [510]
so I lay down and wept. I opened up
the sack of wine I’m bringing for the guests,
poured a libation, and spread out there
some myrtle sprigs around the monument.
But then I saw an offering on the altar,
a black-fleeced sheep—there was blood as well,
shed not long before, and some sliced off curls,                  610
locks of yellow hair. My child, I wondered
what man would ever dare approach that tomb.
It surely wasn’t any man from Argos.
Perhaps your brother has come back somehow,
in secret, and as he came, paid tribute
to his father’s grave. You should examine                                       [520]
the lock of hair, set it against your own—
see if the colour of the severed curls
matches yours. Those sharing common blood
from the same father will by nature have                             620
many features which are very much alike.

 

ELECTRA

What you’ve said, old man, does not make much sense,
if you think my brother, a courageous man,
would sneak into this country in secret
because he is fearful of Aegisthus.
And how can two locks of hair look alike,
when one comes from a well-bred man and grew
in wrestling schools, whereas the other one
was shaped by woman’s combing? That’s unlikely.
Old man, you could find hair which looked alike                 630        [530]
on many people whose family blood
is not the same at all.

 

OLD MAN

                           Then stand in the footprint,
my child, and see if the impression there
is the same size as your foot.

 

ELECTRA

                                      How could a foot
make any imprint on such stony ground?
And even if it could, a brother’s print
would not match his sister’s foot in size.
The man’s is bigger.

 

OLD MAN

                                      If your brother’s come,
isn’t there a piece of weaving from your loom
by which you might know his identity?                                640
What about the clothing he was wearing
when I rescued him from death?                                                     [540]

 

ELECTRA

                                  Don’t you realize
that at the time Orestes left this land
I was still young? And if I’d made his clothes
when he was just a child, how could he have
the same ones now, unless the robes he wore
increased in size as his body grew? No.
Either some stranger, pitying the grave,
cut his hair, or some Argive tricked the guard.(13)

 

OLD MAN

Where are your guests? I’d like to see them                       650
and ask about your brother.

 

[Orestes and Pylades come out of the house.]

 

ELECTRA

                                           Here they are—
in a rush to get outside.

 

OLD MAN

                                     They’re well born,                                     [550]
but that may be misleading. Many men
of noble parentage are a bad lot.
But still I’ll say welcome to these strangers.

 

ORESTES

Welcome to you, old man. So, Electra,
this ancient remnant of a man—to whom
among your friends does he belong?

 

ELECTRA

                                                    Stranger,
this man is the one who raised my father.

 

ORESTES

What are you saying? Is this the man                                  660
who stole away your brother?

 

ELECTRA

                                      He’s the one
who rescued him, if he’s still alive.

 

ORESTES

                                                      Wait!
Why is he inspecting me, as if checking
some clear mark stamped on a piece of silver?
Is he comparing me with someone else?

 

ELECTRA

It could be he’s happy looking at you                                             [560]
as someone who’s a comrade of Orestes.

 

ORESTES

Well, yes, Orestes is a friend of mine,
but why’s he going in circles round me?

 

ELECTRA

Stranger, as I watch him, I’m surprised as well.                  670

 

OLD MAN

O my daughter Electra, my lady—
pray to the gods.

 

ELECTRA

                             What should I pray for,
something here or something far away?

 

OLD MAN

To get yourself a treasure which you love,
something the god is making manifest.

 

ELECTRA

Watch this then. I’m summoning the gods.
Is that what you mean, old man?

 

OLD MAN

                                                Now, my child,
look at this man, the one you love the most.

 

ELECTRA

I’ve been watching you a long time now
to see if your mind is working as it should.                          680

 

OLD MAN

I’m not thinking straight if I see your brother?

 

ELECTRA

What are you talking about, old man,                                             [570]
making such an unexpected claim?

 

OLD MAN

I’m looking at Orestes, Agamemnon’s son.

 

ELECTRA

What mark do you see which will convince me?

 

OLD MAN

A scar along his eyebrow. He fell one day
and drew blood. He was on his father’s land
chasing down a fawn with you.

 

ELECTRA

                       What are you saying?
I do see the mark left by that fall. . . .

 

OLD MAN

                                    Then why delay
embracing the one you love the most?                                690

 

ELECTRA

No. I’ll no longer hesitate—my heart
has been won over by that scar of yours.

 

[Electra moves over to Orestes and they embrace.]

 

ELECTRA

You’ve appeared at last. I’m holding you . . .
beyond my hopes.

 

ORESTES

                                  After all this time,
I’m embracing you.

 

ELECTRA

I never expected this.                                                                     [580]

 

ORESTES

This was something I, too, could not hope for.

 

ELECTRA

Are you really him?

 

ORESTES

                                      Yes. Your sole ally.
If in my net I can catch the prey I’m after . . .
But I’m confident. For if wrongful acts
triumph over justice, then no longer                                    700
should we put any of our faith in gods.

 

CHORUS

You’ve come, ah, you’ve come,
the day we’ve waited for all these years.
You’ve shone out and lit a beacon
for the city, the man who long ago
went out in exile from his father’s house
to roam around in misery.
Now a god, my friend, some god                                                   [590]
brings victory. Lift up your hands,
lift up your words, send prayers                                         710
up to the gods for your success,
good fortune for your brother,
as he goes in the city.

 

ORESTES

Well, I’ve had the loving joys of welcome.
In time I’ll give them back to you again.
You, old man, you’ve come at a good time.
Tell me this—what should I do to repay
my father’s murderer and my mother,
his partner in this sacrilegious marriage?                              720        [600]
Do I have any friends who’ll help in Argos?
Or are they all gone, just like my fortune?
Who can I make my ally? Do we meet
during daylight or at night? What pathway
do I take to fight against my enemies?

 

OLD MAN

My child, when times are bad one has no friends.
It’s a rare benefit to find someone
who’ll share with you the good times and the bad.
But since, as far as your friends can see,
you and the foundations of your house                                730
have been destroyed completely, you’ve left them
no hope at all. So give me your attention—
you should realize that all you really have                                        [610]
to win back your father’s home and city
are your own two hands and some good fortune.

 

ORESTES

What then should I do to succeed in this?

 

OLD MAN

Kill Thyestes’ son and your own mother.

 

ORESTES

That’s the crown of victory I’m after.
But how am I to get my hands on it?

 

OLD MAN

Well, even if you wanted to attempt it,                                740
don’t go inside the walls.

 

ORESTES

                                      Is he well supplied
with bodyguards and regular spearmen?

 

OLD MAN

                                                     Yes, he is.
He’s afraid of you and does not sleep well.

 

ORESTES

My old friend, you must give me some advice
about what happens next.

 

OLD MAN

                         Then you should listen—
an idea has just occurred to me.

 

ORESTES

I hope you have come up with something good                               [620]
which will make sense to me.

 

OLD MAN

                                   On my way here
I saw Aegisthus.

 

ORESTES

                               I’m listening to you.
Where was he?

 

OLD MAN

                       In the fields close to his stables.                    750

 

ORESTES

What was he doing? I can see some hope
emerging from our desperate situation.

 

OLD MAN

He was setting up a banquet for the nymphs—
that’s what it seemed to me.

 

ORESTES

                                                            But was it
for a child he’s raising or for some new birth?(14)

 

OLD MAN

I only know one thing—there was an ox.
He was preparing it for sacrifice.

 

ORESTES

How many men did he have there with him?
Or was he by himself with his attendants?

 

OLD MAN

No Argives, only a group of servants.                                760

 

ORESTES

Old man, is there anybody with him                                                [630]
who will recognize me if he sees me?

 

OLD MAN

                                                                     No.
They are slaves who’ve never set eyes on you.

 

ORESTES

If we prevail, will they be on our side?

 

OLD MAN

Yes. That’s what slaves are like. You’re lucky.

 

ORESTES

How do I get close to him?

 

OLD MAN

                                   You should walk
where he can see you as he sacrifices.

 

ORESTES

So apparently his fields are by the road?

 

OLD MAN

Yes. When he catches sight of you from there,
he’ll summon you to join the feast.

 

ORESTES

                                With god’s will,                                  770
I’ll make a bitter fellow banqueter.

 

OLD MAN

From then on you must sort things out yourself,
whatever happens.

 

ORESTES

                               That’s excellent advice.
What about my mother? Where is she?                                          [640]

 

OLD MAN

In Argos. She’ll join her husband at the feast.

 

ORESTES

Why did my mother not leave with her husband?

 

OLD MAN

She stayed behind because she was afraid
the citizens would criticize her.

 

ORESTES

                                                       I see.
She knows the city is suspicious of her.

 

OLD MAN

That’s right. People hate a profane woman.                        780

 

ORESTES

How do I kill them both at the same time?

 

ELECTRA

I’ll set up mother’s murder on my own.

 

ORESTES

Good fortune will bring us success in this.

 

ELECTRA

Let the old man give both of us some help.

 

OLD MAN

All right. But how will you devise a way                                         [650]
to kill your mother?

 

ELECTRA

                              Old man, you must go
and report this news to Clytaemnestra—
say I have given birth—and to a son.

 

OLD MAN

Born some time ago or in the last few days?

 

ELECTRA

Before my lying in, ten days ago.(15)                                  790

 

OLD MAN

How does this advance your mother’s murder?

 

ELECTRA

When she finds out I’ve been through birthing pains,
she’ll come here.

 

OLD MAN

                  Why would she do that? My child,
do you think she cares for you?

 

ELECTRA

                             Yes. And she’ll weep
because my child is born so common.

 

OLD MAN

                                                                  Perhaps.
But come back to the point of what you’re saying.

 

ELECTRA

If she comes, then it’s clear that she will die.                                   [660]

 

OLD MAN

So she comes to your house, right to the door. . . .

 

ELECTRA

Well, it won’t take much for her to turn aside
and go to Hades, will it?

 

OLD MAN

                                    Once I see that,                              800
then let me die!

 

ELECTRA

                               But first of all, old man,
you must lead my brother . . .

 

OLD MAN

                               . . . to where Aegisthus 
is now offering gods his sacrifice.

 

ELECTRA

Then go to my mother. Tell her my news.

 

OLD MAN

I’ll do it so the very words will seem
as if they came from your own mouth.

 

ELECTRA [to Orestes]

Now it’s up to you. You’ve drawn first lot
in this bloody slaughter.

 

ORESTES

                                          Then I’ll be off,
if someone will conduct me to the road.

 

OLD MAN

I’ll be happy to take you there myself.                                810        [670]

 

[Orestes, Electra, Pylades, and the Old Man make brief prayer together.]

 

ORESTES

O Father Zeus, scatter my enemies.

 

ELECTRA

Pity us—we’ve suffered pitifully.

 

OLD MAN

Yes, have pity on them, your descendants.

 

ELECTRA

And Hera, who rules Mycenae’s altars.

 

ORESTES

Give us victory, if what we seek is just.

 

OLD MAN

Yes, give them justice to avenge their father.

 

ORESTES

You, too, father, living beneath the earth
through an unholy slaughter.

 

ELECTRA

                              And lady Earth,
to whom I stretch my hands.

 

OLD MAN

                                               Defend these two.
Defend these children whom you love the most.                 820

 

ORESTES

Come now, bringing all the dead as allies.                                       [680]

 

ELECTRA

Those who in that war and by your side
destroyed the Phrygians.

 

OLD MAN

                                       And all those
who hate the sacrilegious and profane.

 

ELECTRA

Are you listening, those of you who suffered
such terrors at the hand of my own mother?

 

OLD MAN

Your father hears it all, I know. Time to go.

 

ELECTRA [to Orestes]

He knows everything. You must be a man.(16)
And I’ll tell you this—Aegisthus has to die.
If in the struggle with him you fall dead,                              830
then I die as well. Do not think of me
as still alive. I’ll take my two-edged sword
and slice into my heart. I’ll go inside
and get things ready. If you send good news                                   [690]
the whole house will ring with cries of triumph.
But if you die, things will be different.
These are my words to you.

 

ORESTES

                            I understand.

 

[Orestes, Pylades, the Old Man, and the attendants leave. Electra turns to face the Chorus.]

 

ELECTRA

                                              You women,
give a good shout to signal this encounter.
I’ll be ready waiting, gripping a sword.
If I’m defeated, I will never submit,                                    840
surrendering to my enemies the right
to violate my body.

 

[Electra goes back into the house.]

 

CHORUS

Among our ancient stories,
there remains a tale how Pan,
keeper of the countryside,                                                              [700]
breathing sweet-toned music
on his harmonious pipes,
once led a golden lamb
with the fairest fleece of all
from its tender mother                                                       850
in the hills of Argos.
Standing on the platform stone
a herald with a loud voice cried,
“Assemble now, you Mycenaeans,
move into assembly and see there
the terrifying and marvelous things
belonging to your blessed kings.”                                                   [710]
So choruses gave out their tributes
honouring the House of Atreus.

Altars of hammered gold were dressed,                             860
while in the city fires blazed
with Argive sacrifice. A flute,
the Muses’ servant, piped graceful notes,
and joyful melodies arose
in honour of the golden lamb,
which now belonged to Thyestes.
For he had secretly seduced in bed                                                [720]
the well-loved wife of Atreus,
taken the wondrous beast back home,
and, going to the assembly, had declared
the horned sheep with the fleece of gold                             870
was in his palace and belonged to him.

But then, at that very moment,
Zeus changed the paths
of all the shining stars,
the radiant glory of the sun,
and dawn’s bright shining face.                                                       [730]
Across the western reaches of the sky
he drove hot flames from heaven.
Rain clouds moved up to the north,                                    880
so Ammon’s lands were dry—
all withered up, deprived by Zeus
of his most lovely showers of rain.(17)

People speak about these tales,
but in such things my faith is small—
that the sun’s hot throne of gold                                                      [740]
turned round to punish human beings
in a cause involving mortal men.
But tales which terrify mankind
are profitable and serve the gods.                                       890
But you were not concerned with them
the day you killed your husband,
you sister of such glorious brothers.(18)

 

[There is a sound of a distant scream]

 

Wait! Hold on! Did you hear a shout, my friends?
Or has some vain notion overtaken me,
like Zeus’ rumbling underneath the ground?
Look, breezes are stirring—that’s a sign.
My lady, come out of the house! Electra!                                       [750]

 

[Electra comes out of the house.]

 

ELECTRA

What is it, my friends? How goes our struggle?
What’s happening?

 

CHORUS

                                         All I know is this—                    900
I heard a scream of someone being killed.

 

ELECTRA

I heard it, too. It came from far away.

 

CHORUS

Yes, a long way off, but it was distinct.

 

ELECTRA

Was it someone from Argos groaning,
or one of my friends?

 

CHORUS

                                                      I’ve no idea.
People are shouting. Things are all confused.

 

ELECTRA

What you say means my death. Why hesitate?

 

CHORUS

Hold on until you clearly know your fate.

 

ELECTRA

No. We’re beaten. Where are the messengers?

 

CHORUS

They’ll be here. It’s no trivial matter                                    910        [760]
to assassinate a king.

 

[Enter a Messenger on the run.]

 

MESSENGER

O you victorious daughters of Mycenae,
I can report to all Orestes’ friends
that he has triumphed, and now Aegisthus,
Agamemnon’s murderer, has fallen.
But we must offer prayers to the gods.

 

ELECTRA

Who are you? How can I trust what you’ve just said?

 

MESSENGER

Don’t you know me by sight—your brother’s servant?

 

ELECTRA

You best of friends! I was too full of fear
to recognize your face. But now I know you.                      920
What are you saying? Has that hateful man,
my father’s murderer, been killed?

 

MESSENGER

                                                  He’s dead.                                   [770]
I’ve given you the same report twice now.
Obviously you like the sound of it.

 

ELECTRA

O you gods, and all-seeing Justice,
you’ve come at last. How did Orestes kill
Thyestes’ son? What was the murder like?
I want to know.

 

MESSENGER

                                     After we’d left this house,
we walked along the two-tracked wagon path
to where Mycenae’s famous king might be.                        930
He happened to be walking in his garden,
a well-watered place, cutting soft myrtle shoots
to place in his own hair. When he saw us,
he called out, “Greetings, strangers. Who are you?                         [780]
Where are you from? What country is your home?”
Orestes said, “We are from Thessaly,
on our way to the Alpheus river,
to offer sacrifice to Olympian Zeus.”
After hearing that, Aegisthus answered,
“You must be my guests, share this feast with us.                940
It so happens I’m now offering an ox,
sacrificing to the nymphs. If you get up
at dawn tomorrow, you’ll be no worse off.
So come, let’s go inside the house.” Saying this,
he took our arms and led us off the road,
insisting that we must not turn him down.
Once we were inside the house, he said,                                        [790]
“Let someone bring in water right away,
so these guests can stand around the altar
by the basin where they purify their hands.”                        950
But Orestes said, “We’ve just cleansed ourselves
in pure water from a flowing river.
If strangers must join with the citizens
in making sacrifice, then, Aegisthus,
we are ready and will not refuse, my lord.”
Those were the words they spoke in public.
The slaves guarding their master with their spears
set them aside, and then all lent a hand
to do the work, some bringing in the bowl                                      [800]
to catch the blood, others fetching baskets,                         960
still others kindling fire and setting basins
around the hearth. The whole house echoed.
Then your mother’s consort took barley grain
and sprinkled it across the altar, saying
“Nymphs of the rocks, may I and my wife,
Tyndareus’ daughter, in our home
offer frequent sacrifice, enjoying success,
as we do now, and may my enemies
always fail”—he meant Orestes and yourself.
My master prayed for quite the opposite,                           970
not saying the words aloud, so he might win
his ancestral home. Then from a basket                                           [810]
Aegisthus took a sacrificial knife,
sliced off some of the calf’s hair and set it
with his right hand on the sacred fire.
When servants raised the calf up on their shoulders,
he slit its throat and spoke out to your brother,
“People claim this about men from Thessaly—
they’re among the best at butchering bulls
as well as taming horses. So, stranger,                                980
take this knife and demonstrate to us
if that report about Thessalians is true.”
Orestes gripped the well-made Dorian knife,
tossed from his shoulders his fine-looking cloak,                             [820]
and chose Pylades to help him in the work.
Pushing slaves aside, he took the calf’s hoof,
and, stretching out his arms, cut open
the beast’s white flesh and then stripped off the hide
faster than any runner could complete
two circuits on a track for racing horses.                             990
He opened up the flanks, and Aegisthus
picked up the sacred entrails in his hands
to examine them. But on the liver
the lobe was missing. There were signs of damage
which the man inspecting them could see
close to the gall bladder and the entry vein.
Aegisthus was upset. My master asked,                                         [830]
“Why are you disturbed?” “Stranger,” he replied,
“what I truly fear is foreign treachery.
Most of all I hate Agamemnon’s son,                                 1000
an enemy of my house.” My master said,
“Do you really fear an exile’s trickery,
you, lord of the city? Let someone bring me
a Phthian axe to replace this Doric knife
so I can split apart the breast bone
and we can feast upon the inner organs.”
He took the axe and struck. Then Aegisthus
picked up and separated out the innards
and peered at them. As he was bending down,
your brother, standing on tiptoe, hit him                              1010       [840]
on the spine and cut through his vertebrae.
His whole body went into convulsions,
shaking up and down, and he kept screaming.
He was dying in his own blood, a brutal death.
The servants saw and rushed to get their spears
for a fight of many men against just two.
But Pylades and Orestes stood there,
brandishing their weapons with great courage.
Then my master cried, “I have not come here
as an enemy, not to the city                                                1020
or my servants, but to avenge myself
on the man who butchered my own father.
I am unfortunate Orestes. You men,                                               [850]
old servants of my father, do not kill me.”
After the servants heard Orestes’ words,
they pulled back their spears. Then an old man
who’d been a long time in the household
recognized him. At once they placed a wreath
on your brother’s head, shouting and rejoicing,
and he’s coming here carrying a head                                 1030
to show it to you—not the Gorgon’s head,
but from the person you so hate, Aegisthus,
the slaughtered man, who has just paid
his bitter debt for murderous bloodshed.

 

[The Messenger leaves.]

 

CHORUS

O my friend, set your feet to dancing,
leaping with joy up to heaven, like a deer.                                       [860]
Your brother has emerged triumphant,
and now he’s won himself a crown,
in a contest surpassing those
which happen by Alpheus’ streams.                                      1040
Come, as I perform my dance,
sing out a song of glorious victory.

 

ELECTRA

O light! O blazing chariot of the sun!
O earth and darkness I gazed at before!
I’ve freedom now to open up my eyes—
Aegisthus, who killed my father, is gone.
Come, my friends, let us bring out                                                   [870]
whatever I keep stored up in the house
as adornments for my brother’s hair.
I’ll make a crown for his victorious head.                              1050

 

CHORUS

Bring on your decorations for his brow,
and we’ll keep up the dance the Muses love.
Now those dear kings we had before
will rule this land of ours with justice.
They’ve cast down those who broke our laws.
So let our joyous harmonies ring out!

 

[Orestes and Pylades enter with their attendants, who are carrying the body of Aegisthus.]

 

ELECTRA

O Orestes, you glorious conqueror,                                                [880]
born from a father who was triumphant
in the war at Troy. Take these ribbons
for your locks of hair. You’ve come back home,                  1060
and your race around the stadium track
has not been in vain. You’ve killed Aegisthus,
the man who killed our father, yours and mine,
our enemy. And you, who stood by him,
Pylades, reared by a pious father,
receive this garland from my hand. For you
were equal with Orestes in this fight.
I hope I see you always prospering.

 

ORESTES

First of all, Electra, you must believe                                               [890]
the gods were leaders in what’s happened here.                    1070
Then praise me as a servant of the gods
and circumstance. I have returned back home
and killed Aegisthus, not in word but deed.
To underscore the truth of what I’ve said,
I’ve carried here the dead man’s corpse for you.
If it’s what you want, lay him out as prey
for carrion beasts, or impale him on a stake,
a prize for birds, those children of the sky.
In earlier days he was called your master,
and now he is your slave.

 

ELECTRA

                               I feel ashamed,                                       1080     [900]
but nonetheless I wish to speak.

 

ORESTES

                                                        What is it?
Speak up. There’s nothing you need to fear.

 

ELECTRA

I’m afraid to insult the dead—someone
might heap reproaches on me.

 

ORESTES

                                   But no one
would blame you in the slightest.

 

ELECTRA

                                          Still, the city
is hard to please and loves to criticize.

 

ORESTES

Speak, sister, if you wish to say something.
We are his enemies—there are no rules
in our relationship with him.

 

ELECTRA [to the corpse of Aegisthus]

                                           Well, then,
how shall I first begin to speak about                                    1090
the evil you have done? Where do I end?
What words shall I use for the central part?
It’s true that in the dawn I never stopped
rehearsing what I wished to say to you,
right to your face, if I were ever free
from my old fears. Well, now I am free.                                          [910]
So I will pay you back, abusing you
the way I wanted to when you were living.
You ruined me, taking away from me
and from this man here our dear father,                                 1100
although we hadn’t done you any wrong.
You made a shameful marriage with my mother,
then killed her husband, who was commander
of all the Greeks. You never went to Troy.
And you were so idiotic you believed
that with my mother you would get a wife
who was not evil, though she was betraying                                     [920]
my father’s bed. But you must know this—
when any man corrupts another’s wife,
having sex with her in secret, and then                                  1110
is compelled to take her as his wife,
such a man is foolish if he believes
that, though she was not virtuous before,
she will be now with him. You were living
a miserable life, although it seemed
as if the way you lived was not so bad.
You knew well you’d made a profane marriage.
My mother realized she had in you
a sacrilegious man. You are both evil,
and so you both acquired each other’s traits.                        1120
She shares your wickedness, and you share hers.
You heard these words from all the Argives—                                 [930]
“That woman’s husband,” not “that man’s wife.”
And this is truly shameful—when the wife
controls the home rather than the husband.
I hate those offspring whom the city calls
children of their mother instead of saying
sons of their father. Still, when any man
makes a distinguished marriage well above
his station, no one ever talks of him,                                      1130
but only of his wife. But most of all,
you were so ignorant you were deceived
in claiming to be someone because your strength
was in your wealth. But that’s not worth a thing—                           [940]
its presence is short lived. What stays secure
is not possessions but one’s nature, which stands
beside you and takes away your troubles.
But when riches live with fools unjustly,
they bloom a little while, then flee the house.
As for the women you had, I will not speak—                      1140
a virgin should not talk about such things.
I will simply hint at that in passing.
You were disgusting, with your royal home
and your seductive looks. May I never have
a husband with the face of a young girl,
but one who has the look of a real man.
His children hold onto a life of war.                                                 [950]
You pretty ones are only ornaments
to decorate the dancing choruses.
So get out of here, and stay ignorant                                     1150
how you were found in time and punished.
And let no man committing wicked acts
believe that if he runs the first leg well,
he is defeating justice, not before
he moves across the finish line and ends
the last lap in his life.

 

CHORUS

                                  What this man’s done
is dreadful, and he’s paid a dreadful price
to you and to Orestes. For Justice
possesses an enormous power.

 

ELECTRA

Well, you servants must remove the body
and hide it inside, somewhere in the dark,                             1160      [960]
so that when my mother comes over here
she will not see his corpse before she’s killed.

 

[Pylades and the attendants take Aegisthus’ body into the house.]

 

ORESTES [looking off stage]

Wait a moment. Here’s something else
we need to deal with.

 

ELECTRA

                          What? Are those men I see
reinforcements coming from Mycenae?

 

ORESTES

No. That’s the mother who gave birth to me.

 

ELECTRA

How convenient—right into our net.
She looks so impressive in that carriage,
such fine clothes.

 

ORESTES

                               What are we going to do?
Kill our mother?

 

ELECTRA

                    You’re not overcome with pity                          1170
now you’re seeing our mother in the flesh?

 

ORESTES

Ah, how can I murder her? She bore me.
She raised me.

 

ELECTRA

                              Just as she killed our father,                               [970]
yours and mine.

 

ORESTES

                              O Phoebus Apollo,
that prophecy of yours was foolish!

 

ELECTRA

Where Apollo is a fool, what men are wise?

 

ORESTES

You instructed me to kill my mother,
but killing her is wrong.

 

ELECTRA

                            On the other hand,
if you’re avenging your own father,
how can you be harmed?

 

ORESTES

                                     I’ll be prosecuted                             1180
for slaughtering my mother. Before now
I’ve been free of all impiety.

 

ELECTRA

But if you refuse to defend your father,
you’re a guilty man.

 

ORESTES

                                  But my mother?
If I kill her, how will I be punished?

 

ELECTRA

What will happen to you if you give up
avenging your own father?

 

ORESTES

                        Could it have been
a demon in the likeness of a god
who spoke to me?

 

ELECTRA

                    Sitting on the sacred tripod?                                         [980]
I don’t think so.

 

ORESTES

                                        I cannot believe                            1190
this prophecy was good.

 

ELECTRA

                                    You must be a man.
Don’t give way to cowardice. Set for her
the same trap you used to kill her husband,
when you destroyed Aegisthus.

 

ORESTES

                                                I’ll go in.
I’m on the verge of a horrendous act,
something truly dreadful. Well, so be it,
if gods approve of it. And yet, for me
this contest is not sweet at all, but bitter.

 

[Orestes goes into the house. Clytaemnestra arrives in a chariot with attendants.]

 

CHORUS

Greetings lady, child of Tyndareus,
queen of this country of the Argives,                                     1200
sister of those noble twins,                                                              [990]
Zeus’ sons, who live in heaven
among the fiery constellations
and have the honourable task
of saving mortals from the roaring waves.(19)
Welcome! I worship you
no less than I revere the gods
for your great wealth and happiness.
My queen, welcome. Now is the time
for us to attend to your good fortunes.                                  1210

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Get down from the carriage, women of Troy,
and take my hand, so I, too, may step down
out of this chariot. The houses of the gods                                       [1000]
may be adorned with Phrygian trophies,
but I obtained these female slaves from Troy,
the finest in the land, as ornaments
within my household, small compensation
for the child I lost.(20)

 

ELECTRA

                                    Mother, is it all right
for me to take that blessed hand of yours,
given I live in this decrepit house,                                          1220
just like a slave, now I have been cast out
of my paternal home?

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                              The slaves are here.
Do not exert yourself on my behalf.

 

ELECTRA

Why not? After all, I’m a captive, too,
and sent away from home. Like these women,
I was taken when my house was seized                                           [1010]
and left without a father.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                               Well, your father
brought that about with plots against the ones
he should have loved the most, his own family.
I’ll describe it to you, though when a woman                         1230
gets an evil name, her tongue grows bitter,
and that’s regrettable, it seems to me.
But you should learn the facts of what’s gone on
and then despise it, if it’s worth your hate.
If not, why hate at all? Now, Tyndareus
gave me to your father, not intending
that I or any children I might bear
should die. But that man, when he left his home,                               [1020]
convinced my daughter to accompany him,
by promising a marriage with Achilles,                                  1240
and took her to the anchored fleet at Aulis.(21)
There he had Iphigeneia stretched out
and slit her pale white throat above the fire.
If he’d killed one girl for the sake of many,
to protect the city from being taken,
or to help his house, or save his family,
I’d have pardoned him. But he killed my child
because of Helen’s lust, because the man
who’d taken her as wife had no idea
how to keep his treacherous mate controlled.(22)                  1250
For all of that, although I had been wronged,                                   [1030]
I’d not have grown enraged or killed my husband.
But he came back to me with some mad girl—
possessed by gods—and put her in his bed,
so he could have two brides in the same house.(23)
Women are foolish. I’ll concede the point.
But given that, when a husband goes astray,
rejecting his domestic bed, his wife
may well wish to follow his example
and find another man to love. And then                                 1260
the blame makes us notorious—the men
who caused it all are never criticized.                                               [1040]
If someone had carried Menelaus
away from home in secret, should I then
have killed Orestes to save Menelaus,
my sister’s husband? How would your father
have put up with that? So is it not right
for him to die? He slaughtered my own child.
I would have kept on suffering at his hands.
I killed him. The road lay open to me,                                   1270
and so I turned towards his enemies.
After all, which one of your father’s friends
would have joined me to commit the murder?
Speak up, if you wish, and answer frankly.
In what way was your father’s death unjust?                                    [1050]

 

CHORUS

There’s justice in your words, but that justice
is disgraceful. If she has any sense,
a woman should give way in everything
to her husband. Those who disagree
are not, in my view, worth considering.                                  1280

 

ELECTRA

Bear in mind, mother, the last thing you said,
offering me the chance to be frank with you.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Yes, my child. And I won’t take that back.
I’ll repeat it now.

 

ELECTRA

                              You’ll hear me out, mother,
and won’t punish me?

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                              No, I won’t do that,
not if I’m giving pleasure to your heart.

 

ELECTRA

Then I’ll speak, starting with an opening comment.                           [1060]
O mother, I do wish you had more sense.
Your beauty brings you praise that’s well deserved—
the same is true for Helen—but you two                               1290
were born twin sisters, both very silly,
quite unworthy of your brother Castor.
She was willing to be carried off and ruined,
and you destroyed the finest man in Greece.
Since people do not know you as I do,
you used the excuse you killed your husband
for your child. But before it was decided
that your daughter would be sacrificed,                                           [1070]
no sooner had your husband left his home,
than you were fixing your fine locks of hair                            1300
seated at your mirror, and any wife
who primps her beauty when her husband’s gone,
you can scratch her off the list as worthless.
There’s no call for her to show her pretty face
outside the home, unless she’s seeking mischief.
Of all the women in Greece, I believe
you were the only one who felt happy
whenever Trojan fortunes were successful
and who would frown whenever they got worse,
because it was your hope that Agamemnon                           1310
would not get back from Troy. But nonetheless,
you could have stayed a truly virtuous woman.                                 [1080]
The husband you had was in no way worse
than that Aegisthus, and he’d been chosen
by the Greeks themselves to lead the army.
When your sister Helen did what she did,
you had an opportunity to gain
great glory for yourself, since bad conduct
sets a standard for our noble actions
and makes them something everyone can see.                       1320
But even if, as you now claim, our father
killed your daughter, how have you been wronged
by me and by my brother? Why is it,
once you’d killed your husband, you did not give
our father’s home to us, but filled your bed
with someone else’s goods and for a price                                       [1090]
bought yourself a marriage? And why is it
this husband has not been made an exile
for banishing your son? Why is he not dead
instead of me? The way I’m living now                                 1330
has killed me twice as often as my sister.
If justice says that murder pays for murder,
your son Orestes and I must kill you
to avenge our father. If your act was just,
then this one must be, too. Any man
who marries a degenerate woman
in order to get wealth and noble birth
is foolish. A virtuous, humble marriage
is better for the home than something grand.

 

CHORUS

Marriage to a women is a matter of chance.                          1340      [1100]
Some, I notice, work out well, others badly.(24)

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

My child, it was always in your nature
to love your father. That’s how things turn out.
Some are their fathers’ children, while others
love their mother much more than their father.
I forgive you. I don’t get much delight,
my child, from what I’ve done. But why are you
so dirty and dressed in such filthy clothes?
You’ve just been confined and given birth.(25)
Alas, my schemes have made me miserable!                         1350
I urged my anger on against my husband                                          [1110]
more than I should have done.

 

ELECTRA

                                Well, it’s too late now
to moan about it. There’s no remedy.
My father’s dead. But why don’t you bring back
your wandering son, who is still an exile?

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

I’m too afraid. I worry about myself,
not him. And he is angry, so people say,
about the murder of his father.

 

ELECTRA

Why let your husband be so cruel to me?

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

That’s how he is. You’ve a stubborn nature.                         1360

 

ELECTRA

Because I’m suffering. But I’ll stop being angry.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Then he’ll no longer be so hard on you.

 

ELECTRA

He’s got ideas of grandeur, living there                                            [1120]
inside my home.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                          You see? Once again
you’re kindling a brand new quarrel.

 

ELECTRA

                                 I’ll be silent,
my fear of him being what it is.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                                          Stop this talk.
Why have you asked me to come here, my child?

 

ELECTRA

You’ve heard, I think, that I have given birth.
Please offer up a sacrifice for me—
I don’t know how to do that—on the tenth day,                    1370
as is our custom with an infant child.
I’ve had no children before this, and so
I lack experience.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                    That task belongs
to the woman who delivered the child.

 

ELECTRA

I was by myself in labour—I gave birth
to the child all on my own.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                           Is this house here
so remote there are no friendly neighbours?                                     [1130]

 

ELECTRA

No one wants poor people as their friends.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Well, I’ll go and make the gods a sacrifice
for the full term of the child. When I’m done                         1380
carrying out this favour for you, I’ll leave,
off to the field where my husband’s making
an offering to the nymphs. You servants,
take this team away. Put them in the pens.
When you think I’ve finished sacrificing
to the gods, stand ready. I must satisfy
my husband’s wishes, too.

 

ELECTRA

                                          Enter this poor home.
For my sake take care the soot-stained walls                                   [1140]
don’t stain your clothes. You can offer the gods
the sacrifice that is now due.

 

[Clytaemnestra goes into the house.]

 

                                             And now                                1390
the basket is ready, the knife is keen,
the one which killed the bull you’ll lie beside
when you’re struck down. In Hades’ home
you’ll be wife to the man you slept beside
while you were still alive. I’m giving you
this favour, and you are offering me
full retribution for my father.

 

[Electra goes into the house.]

 

CHORUS

Evils are repaid. Winds of fortune
for this house are veering round.
Back then my leader, my very own,                                      1400
fell slaughtered in his bath.
Roof and stone walls of the house                                                  [1150]
resounded, echoing his cries—
“You vicious woman, why kill me
now I’ve come to my dear land
after ten harvest seasons?”

The flow of justice has reversed itself
and brings to judgment for adultery
the killer of her unhappy husband
once he finally returned back home                                       1410
to the towering Cyclopean walls.
With her own hand she murdered him,
the sharpened edge of a keen axe
gripped in her fists. Poor sad husband!
What evils overtook this wretched woman?                                        [1160]
She did it like a mountain lion
prowling through a woodland meadow.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]

By the gods, children, don’t kill your mother!

 

CHORUS

Do you hear that cry from inside the house?       

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [screaming from inside]

Aiii . . . my god . . . aiii . . . not me . . .                                  1420

 

CHORUS

I moan, too, as her children strike her down.
The god indeed dispenses justice,
whenever it may come.
You’ve suffered horribly, sad lady,                                                  [1170]
but you performed unholy acts
against your husband.

 

[Orestes, Pylades, and Electra and Attendants emerge slowly from the house with the bodies of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra.]

 

CHORUS

But here they come, moving from the house,
stained with fresh-spilt blood from their own mother,
a trophy, proof of their harsh sacrifice.
There is no house, not now or in the past,                             1430
more pitiable than the race of Tantalus.

 

ORESTES

O Earth and Zeus, who sees all mortal men,
look on these abominable bloody acts
and these two corpses lying on the ground,                                      [1180]
struck down by my hand, repayment
for everything I’ve had to suffer.

 

ELECTRA

Too much cause to weep, my brother,
and I have made this happen.
In my desperation my fiery rage
burned on against my mother,                                               1440
the one who bore me, her daughter.

 

CHORUS

Alas for fortune, your sad destiny,
a mother who has given birth
to pain beyond enduring,
bearing wretched misery and more
from your own children, and yet it’s just—
you’ve paid for murdering their father.                                             [1190]

 

ORESTES

Alas, Phoebus, that justice you sang of
had an obscure tone, but the pain you caused
was clear enough—you’ve given me                                    1450
an exile’s fate, far from these Greek lands.
To what other city can I go?
What host, what man with reverence
will look at me, who killed my mother?

 

ELECTRA    

Alas, alas for me! Where do I go?
To what wedding or what choral dance?
What husband takes me to a bridal bed?                                        [1200]

 

CHORUS

Your spirit is shifting back once more,
changing with the breeze. Your thoughts
are pious now, although profane before.                               1460
You’ve done dreadful things, my friend,
to your reluctant brother.

 

ORESTES

Did you see that desperate woman,
how she threw her robe aside
and bared her breasts for slaughter?
Alas for me! The limbs which gave me birth
collapsing and falling to the ground.
And her hair, I . . .

 

CHORUS

                                 I understand.                                                  [1210]
You had to go through torments,
hearing your mother’s screams,                                            1470
the one who bore you.

 

ORESTES

She stretched her hand toward my chin
and cried, “My son, I beg you.”
She clung onto my face—
the sword fell from my hands.

 

CHORUS

Poor lady! How could you dare
to watch your murdered mother
breathe her last before your eyes.                                                    [1220]

 

ORESTES

I threw my cloak over my eyes,
then sacrificed her with the sword.                                        1480
I shoved it in my mother’s neck.

 

ELECTRA

I was encouraging you, as well—
my hand was on the sword.

 

CHORUS

You have inflicted suffering
of the most dreadful kind.

                       

ORESTES

Take this robe, hide our mother’s limbs.
Close up her wounds. You gave birth
to your own murderers.

 

ELECTRA [covering Clytaemnestra’s corpse]

There, with this cloak I’m covering up                                             [1230]
one who was loved and yet not loved.                                  1490

 

CHORUS

An end to the great troubles of this house.

 

[Castor and Polydeuces, the Dioscouri, appear above the building on the stage.]

 

CHORUS

But there above the roof beams of the house
something’s coming. Spirits or gods from heaven?
That path does not belong to mortal men.
Why are they coming into human view?

 

CASTOR [from the top of the house]

Son of Agamemnon, you must listen.
The twin sons of Zeus are calling you,
Castor and his brother Polydeuces,                                                 [1240]
your mother’s brothers. We’ve just reached Argos,
after calming down a roaring storm at sea,                             1500
a dreadful threat to ships, and witnessing
the murder of our sister and your mother.
She’s had justice, but you’ve not acted justly.
As for Phoebus Apollo, I’ll say nothing.
He is my master. Although he’s wise,
the oracle you heard from him was not.
You must accept these things and later on
act on what Fate and Zeus have set for you.
Give Electra to Pylades as his wife
to take back home. You must leave Argos.                           1510       [1250]
It’s not right for you, who killed your mother,
to set foot in the city. The Keres,
those fearful dog-faced goddesses of death,
will hound you everywhere, a wanderer
in a mad fit.(26) You must go to Athens
and embrace Athena’s sacred image.
She’ll guard you from their dreadful writhing snakes
and stop them touching you, by holding up
her shield with the Gorgon’s face above your head.
There’s a place there—the hill of Ares—where gods            1520
first gathered to cast their votes on bloodshed,
when savage Ares slaughtered Halirrothius,                                     [1260]
son of the god who rules the sea, enraged
at the unholy raping of his daughter.(27)
That hill is where decisions made by vote
are most secure and sacred to the gods.
Here you must stand on trial for murder.
The process will result in equal votes,
so you’ll be saved from death, for Apollo
will take responsibility himself,                                              1530
since his shrine advised your mother’s murder.
This law will be established from then on—
those accused will always be acquitted
if votes are equal. Struck by the pain of this,                                    [1270]
those fearful goddesses will then sink down
into a chasm right beside the hill,
a reverend and holy shrine for men.
You must establish an Arcadian city
by Alpheus’ streams, near the sacred shrine
of Lycaean Apollo, and that city                                           1540
will bear your name. Those are my instructions.
As for Aegisthus’ corpse, the citizens
in Argos here will place it in a grave.
But in your mother’s case, Menelaus,
who has just reached Nauplia, a long time                                       [1280]
after overpowering the lands of Troy,
will bury her, with Helen’s help. She’s come
from Proteus’ home, leaving Egypt.
She never went to Troy. It was Zeus’ wish
to stir up war and bloodshed among men.                             1550
So he sent Helen’s image off to Troy.(28)
Since Pylades now has found a virgin wife,
let him go home and leave Achaean land,
with the man they call your brother-in-law,
to the land of Phocis.(29) He must make him
a very wealthy man. But as for you,
you must leave along the narrow Isthmus
and go to the blessed hill of Cecrops.(30)
Once you’re completed your appointed fate                                    [1290]
for doing the murder, you’ll find happiness                            1560
and be released from troubles.

 

CHORUS

O sons of Zeus, are we permitted
to come near and speak to you?

 

CASTOR

That is allowed—you are not defiled
by the murder committed here.

 

ELECTRA

And me, sons of Tyndareus,
may I talk to you, as well?

 

CASTOR

You may. I blame Apollo
for this murderous act.

 

CHORUS

How is that you two gods,                                                    1570
brothers of this murdered woman,
did not keep death’s goddesses                                                      [1300]
far from her home?

 

CASTOR

Destiny and Fate brought what must be—
and Apollo’s unwise utterance.

 

ELECTRA

What Apollo and what prophecies
ordained that I must be
my mother’s murderer?

 

CASTOR

You worked together
and shared a single fate.                                                       1580
One ancestral curse
has crushed you both.

 

ORESTES

After such a lengthy time
I’ve seen you, my sister,
and immediately must lose                                                               [1310]
your love, abandoning you,
as you abandon me.

 

CASTOR

She has a home and husband
and will not suffer undue grief,
except she leaves this Argive state.                                       1590

 

ELECTRA

What else brings one more pain
than moving out beyond the limits
of one’s native land?

 

ORESTES

But I’ll go from my father’s house,
then undergo a trial by strangers
for murdering my mother.

 

CASTOR

Be brave. You’ll reach
the sacred city of Athena.                                                                [1320]
Just keep enduring all.

 

ELECTRA

Hold me, my dearest brother,                                               1600
your breast against my breast.
The curses of a slaughtered mother
divide us from our father’s home.

 

ORESTES

Throw your arms around me.
Give me a close embrace.
Then mourn for me as if I’d died
and you were at my burial mound.

 

CASTOR

Alas, alas! You’ve said things
dreadful even for the gods to hear.
I and those in heaven have pity                                             1610      [1330]
for mortals who endure so much.

 

ORESTES

I’ll not see you anymore.

 

ELECTRA

I’ll not come into your sight.

 

ORESTES

These are the final words
I’ll ever say to you.

 

ELECTRA

Farewell, my city! A long farewell
to you my fellow countrywomen!

 

ORESTES

Are you going already,
my most faithful sister?

 

ELECTRA

Yes. I am leaving now                                                          1620
          my soft eyes wet with tears.

 

ORESTES

Farewell, Pylades. Be happy.                                                          [1340]
Go and get married to Electra.

 

CASTOR

The marriage will be their concern.
You leave for Athens to escape these hounds,
with their dark skins and hands made up of snakes.
They’re on a dreadful hunt to chase you down
and bring you harvests of horrific pain.
We two are off to the Sicilian sea.
We’ll hurry there to rescue ships in need.                              1630
As we pass through the flat expanse of air,
we bring no help to those who’ve been defiled.                                [1350]
We do protect the men whose way of life
reveres what’s just and holy, releasing them
from overbearing hardships. Let no one
wish to act unjustly or get on board
with men who break their oaths. It’s as a god
that I address these words to mortal men.

 

[Castor and Polydeuces disappear. Orestes leaves the stage. Electra and Pylades move off in a different direction. The attendants go with them.]

 

CHORUS

Farewell. Any mortal who can indeed live well
without being ground down by misfortune,                            1640
that man will find his happiness.                         

 

[The Chorus carries the bodies back into the house.]

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) Ilion is an alternative name for Troy, and Dardanus is the name of a famous ancestor of Priam, king of Troy. Hence, the Trojans were often called Dardanians. [Back to Text]

(2) Tantalus was the legendary founder of the royal family of Argos, called the Pelopids after Tantalus’ son Pelops. Tantalus was Agamemnon’s and Menelaus’ great-great-grandfather. [Back to Text]

(3) Clytaemnestra’s excuse for killing Agamemnon (as we learn later in the play) is the fact that he sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia in order to enable the Argive fleet to sail to Troy. [Back to Text]

(4) Cypris is a common name for Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love. The name comes from the goddess’ frequent association with Cyprus. [Back to Text]

(5) Pylades was the son of Strophius, king of Phocis, and a cousin of Orestes. When Agamemnon left to lead the armies to Troy, Orestes was taken away to live with Strophius in Phocis. [Back to Text]

(6) The shaven head may be a token of mourning or a sign of Electra’s low status now or both. [Back to Text]

(7) Agamemnon was killed in his bath, trapped under his cloak, as if under a hunting net. [Back to Text]

(8) Phrygia is a region in Asia Minor near Troy. The terms Phrygian and Trojan are often used interchangeably. [Back to Text]

(9) Loxias is another name for Apollo, the god whose shrine Orestes consults before coming to Argos (as he mentions at line 115 above). We do not know the text of the oracle (although we later learn it encouraged him to commit the revenge murders), and Electra is, one assumes, at this point ignorant of Orestes’ visit to the shrine. [Back to Text]

(10) Nereids are sea goddesses, daughters of Nereus. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, was one of them. These lines refer to the centaur Chiron, half man and half horse, who in the region described educated Achilles and other heroes. Pelion and Ossa are two famous mountains. Hephaestus is the god who made Achilles’ divine armour. These lines appear to suggest that Nereids carried the divine armour made by Hephaestus to Achilles before he set off to Troy and that at the time he was still being educated by Chiron in the mountains. [Back to Text]

(11) Perseus was the hero who killed Medusa, the most ferocious of the Gorgons (her face turned men to stone). Hermes, divine son of Zeus and Maia, assisted Perseus in the exploit. He is called a “country child” because he is associated with farming and hunting. [Back to Text]

(12) This is a reference to the monster Chimaera, a fire-breathing lioness with a goat’s body and head growing out of its back. The “young horse of Pirene” is a reference to Pegasus, the winged horse ridden by the hero Bellerophon, who killed the Chimaera. The mention of Hector is a reminder that he had to face Achilles’ shield in his final and fatal encounter with Achilles (described in Book 22 of the Iliad). [Back to Text]

(13) This line is corrupt and makes little sense in the Greek. The words “some Argive tricked the guard” have been put in to make sense of Electra’s words, turning the line into a suggestion that some citizen may have eluded Aegisthus’ sentries and paid a tribute to Agamemnon. [Back to Text]

(14) The nymphs, minor country goddesses, were associated with physical health, including at childbirth and during childhood. [Back to Text]

(15) The “lying in,” Cropp notes, was a period immediately after childbirth in which the mother was kept in seclusion to avoid contamination. [Back to Text]

(16) There is some confusion and argument about the allocation and position of this line, which in the Greek comes after this speech of Electra’s and is divided between Orestes and Electra. I have followed Cropp’s suggestion and given the entire line to Electra at the beginning of her speech to Orestes. [Back to Text]

(17) Thyestes and Atreus were brothers. Intending to offer a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis, Atreus searched his flock for the finest lamb and discovered one with a golden fleece. Since he did not wish to sacrifice such a rare treasure, he gave the animal to his wife Aerope for safe keeping. She, however, gave it to Thyestes, her secret lover. Thyestes and Atreus then agreed that whoever had the lamb would be king of Mycenae. Thyestes produced the lamb and became king. He said he would give back the throne if the sun moved backwards in the sky. Zeus brought about that cosmic event, and Atreus regained the kingship. At that point he banished Thyestes. Once he learned of the affair between his wife and Thyestes, Atreus took his revenge by killing Thyestes’ sons and serving them up as food to their father at a banquet (ostensibly a feast to celebrate the reconciliation of the two brothers). Thyestes then raped his own daughter Pelopia in order to produce a child who would avenge the horrific banquet. That child was Aegisthus, the killer of Agamemnon. Euripides does not dwell on the details of the Thyestean Feast. The phrase “Ammon’s land” is a reference to North Africa, where Ammon’s shrine was located. [Back to Text]

(18) Clytaemnestra’s “glorious brothers” are Castor and Polydeuces. [Back to Text]

(19) This is another reference to Castor and Polydeuces (or Pollux). The twins occupied a position among the stars (we call them the Gemini), and hence were an aid to navigation. [Back to Text]

(20) This is a reference to Clytaemnestra’s daughter Iphigeneia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed at the start of the Trojan expedition in order to persuade the gods to change the winds. [Back to Text]

(21) Aulis was the agreed meeting point for the great naval expedition to Troy. Agamemnon persuaded Clytaemnestra to let Iphigeneia come to Aulis by lying about a marriage to Achilles. [Back to Text]

(22) Helen was married to Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother. She was abducted by Paris, a prince of Troy, and went back to Troy with him, thus launching the Trojan War. Agamemnon was the commander of the army sent to get Helen back. [Back to Text]

(23) The young girl was Cassandra, daughter of Priam, king of Troy, given as a war prize to Agamemnon. [Back to Text]

(24) These lines of pithy moralizing at the end of Electra’s speech and in this speech by the Chorus sound out of place here. Some editors have removed them as a later addition to the text. [Back to Text]

(25) Some editors find these two and half lines a very odd change of subject for Clytaemnestra, who is now dwelling on her own sorrow. Cropp moves them to the opening of Clytaemnestra’s speech at 1380 below, where they do seem more appropriate. [Back to Text]

(26) The Keres are the children of Night, death spirits who prey on living human beings. Although they are different from the Furies (who chase down those who have committed murder in the family), here their function seems quite similar. [Back to Text]


(27) Ares, son of Zeus and god of war, killed Poseidon’s son, Halirrothius, over the attempted rape of Ares’ daughter, Alcippe. Ares was put on trial on Olympus and acquitted by the gods. [Back to Text]

(28) In Homer’s account (in the Odyssey) Menelaus and Helen take a long time to get home from Troy, being blown off course and spending a few years in Egypt. Proteus is the Old Man of the Sea, who helps Menelaus in Egypt. The story of Helen’s being detained in Egypt on her way to Troy and never going to the city at all is not in Homer’s epic, but was known before Euripides makes use of it here. [Back to Text]

(29) The “man they call your brother-in-law” is the peasant who has been pretending to be a genuine husband to Electra. [Back to Text]

(30) The Isthmus is the Isthmus of Corinth, a narrow strip of land joining the Peloponnese (where Argos is situated) with the main part of Greece. Cecrops is the mythical first king and founder of Athens. The Cecropian Hill is a reference to the Acropolis in Athens. [Back to Text]

 

A NOTE ON THE TRANSLATOR

 

Ian Johnston is an Emeritus Professor at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia. He is the author of The Ironies of War: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad and of Essays and Arguments: A Handbook for Writing Student Essays. He also translated a number of works, including the following:


Aeschylus, Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides)
Aeschylus, Persians
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women
Aristophanes, Birds
Aristophanes, Clouds
Aristophanes, Frogs
Aristophanes, Knights
Aristophanes, Lysistrata
Aristophanes, Peace
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Abridged)
Cuvier, Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Diderot, A Conversation Between D’Alembert and Diderot
Diderot, D’Alembert’s Dream
Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew
Euripides, Bacchae
Euripides, Electra
Euripides, Hippolytus
Euripides, Medea
Euripides, Orestes
Homer, Iliad (Complete and Abridged)
Homer, Odyssey (Complete and Abridged)
Kafka, Metamorphosis
Kafka, Selected Shorter Writings
Kant, Universal History of Nature and Theory of Heaven
Kant, On Perpetual Peace
Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy, Volume I
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
Nietzsche, On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men [Second Discourse]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts [First Discourse]
Rousseau, Social Contract
Sophocles, Antigone
Sophocles, Ajax
Sophocles, Electra
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Sophocles, Philoctetes
Wedekind, Castle Wetterstein
Wedekind, Marquis of Keith.

 

Most of these translations have been published as books or audiobooks (or both)—by Richer Resources Publications, Broadview Press, Naxos, Audible, and others.

 

Ian Johnston maintains a web site where texts of these translations are freely available to students, teachers, artists, and the general public. The site includes a number of Ian Johnston’s lectures on these (and other) works, handbooks, curricular materials, and essays, all freely available.

The address where these texts are available is as follows: https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/


For comments and questions, please contact Ian Johnston.