Sophocles


ELECTRA


Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, BC
Canada
2017
ian.johnston@viu.ca

 

This text is also available in an RTF format.

 

 

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

 

This translation may be freely downloaded and distributed by members of the public, students, teachers, and performing artists. There are, however, some copyright restrictions, especially on commercial publication. Please contact Ian Johnston (ian.johnston@viu.ca) for further details.

In the following text the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text (available at Perseus), and the numbers without brackets refer to the English text. Partial lines are normally included with an adjacent partial line in the reckoning. The underlined numbers in brackets within the text link to endnotes provided by the translator: e.g., (7)

The translator would like to acknowledge the helpful translation of and editorial commentary on the Greek text of Electra by Richard Jebb.

 

BACKGROUND NOTE

 

Sophocles’ Electra is based on one of the final episodes in the long and bloody history of the royal family of Mycenae, often called the House of Atreus. This part of the longer narrative begins when Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and leader of the Greek expedition against Troy, sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia in order to get favourable winds, so that the Greek fleet could sail from Aulis. After the sacrifice, the winds changed, and the Greek army sailed to Troy, where they remained for ten years.

While Agamemnon was away from Mycenae at Troy, his wife, Clytaemnestra, began an affair with Aegisthus, a cousin of Agamemnon’s. When Agamemnon returned from Troy, the two lovers killed him at a feast celebrating his return. After the murder, Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, was taken away from Mycenae in secret, to protect him. The daughters (Chrysothemis, Iphianassa, and Electra) remained in the royal palace of Mycenae with Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, who assumed royal power in the city.

Electra’s behaviour towards the royal couple and her constant mourning for her father led Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra to punish her by treating her almost as a servant, but she refused to yield to their wishes and cease grieving for her father. Chrysothemis and Iphianassa, however, accepted the authority of the new rulers.

Sophocles’ play opens outside the royal palace of Mycenae. Orestes has just returned in secret from his years away from home.

Other details of the longer narrative of the House of Atreus will be provided in the endnotes in the relevant places.

 

 

ELECTRA

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

PAEDAGOGUS: an old man, tutor to Orestes in earlier days (1)
ORESTES: son of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon
PYLADES: son of Strophius of Phocus, friend of Orestes
ELECTRA: daughter of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon
CHRYSOTHEMIS: daughter of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon
CHORUS: women of Mycenae (2)
CLYTAEMNESTRA: widow of Agamemnon, wife of Aegisthus
AEGISTHUS: husband of Clytaemnestra.

 
[The scene is an open space in front of the royal palace in Mycenae. A grove marking the tomb of Agamemnon is in the background]

[Enter the Paedagogus, Orestes, and Pylades]

 

PAEDAGOGUS

Son of Agamemnon, who years ago
was our commanding general at Troy,
now you can view in front of you the place
you have longed to look at all this time.
There is the ancient Argos of your dreams,
the sacred grove where a stinging gadfly
drove Inachus’ daughter mad.(3) And there,
Orestes, is the Lycian market place,
named for the wolf-killing god, Apollo,
and on the left is Hera’s famous shrine.                        10
From where we stand here, you must know
that you are looking at gold-rich Mycenae.
There is the home of Pelops’ family,                                     [10]
scene of so much murderous destruction.(4)
It was there, years ago, your blood sister
handed you to me, and I took you away,
right after the slaughter of your father.
I saved you and raised you up to manhood,
so you could avenge your father’s murder.(5)
And now, Orestes and you, too, Pylades,                     20
his dearest friend, we must sort out quickly
what we intend to do. The sun’s bright rays
already are around us, waking up
the birds with their clear morning songs,
and stars of the dark night have moved away.
And so, before anyone comes from the house,                      [20]
we need to talk things over. At this point,
we can afford to hesitate no longer.
The time has come for us to act.

 

ORESTES

                                   My friend,
the follower I cherish most of all,                                 30
you give me clear proof of your loyalty
towards our house. Just as a well-bred horse
does not lose heart in the face of danger,
in spite of its old age, but pricks up its ears—
that’s how you urge us on and follow us
in the foremost ranks. So I will tell you
what I have resolved. Pay close attention
to what I have to say, and set me straight                              [30]
if in any way I am off the mark.
When I went to the Pythian oracle                               40
to find out how I might obtain justice
for my father from those who murdered him,
Phoebus gave me his reply, as follows:
“You must go by yourself, without weapons
and without an army, then use deception—
let your hand steal a slaughter that is just.”(6)
That is what we heard the oracle proclaim.
So, when the time is right, you should go
inside that house and find out everything                                [40]
that’s going on. Once you know the facts,                   50
you can provide us a reliable report.
Given your age and how much time has passed,
they will not recognize you—your grey hair
will not rouse suspicion. You must tell them
you are a foreigner. You come from Phocis,
sent here by Phanoteus, their greatest ally.
Tell them—and swear an oath to this effect—
Orestes has died in a fatal accident.
He was thrown from his racing chariot
at the Pythian games.(7) Make that your story.              60     [50]
We two will start, as Apollo ordered,
at my father’s grave, offering libations
and locks of hair I cut from my own head.
Then we'll come back here, carrying with us
that bronze-sided urn which, as you know,
we have hidden somewhere in the bushes,
so that with a false report we bring them
the joyful news: my body is no more—
it has already been consumed by fire
and reduced to ash. How does that harm me,              70
when with deceitful news of my own death,
I shall, in fact, be saved and win great fame?                         [60]
I do not think that what one says is bad
if it leads one to success. Before now,
I’ve often known of wise men who have died
a false death in some story and who then,
once home again, were honored all the more.
With such deceptive words I am quite sure
I, too, will survive and shine out like a star
down on my enemies. Land of my fathers                    80
and all you gods native to this place,
welcome me with good fortune on my journey,
and you, as well, home of my ancestors,
for I come at the urging of the gods                                       [70]
to cleanse you in the name of justice.
Do not send me from this land dishonoured—
let me be master of my possessions
and the restorer my family home.
I have said enough for now. Go, old man.
Tread carefully. Do what you have to do.                    90
We two will leave—this moment favour us,
and every enterprise men undertake
is ruled, above all else, by opportunity.

 

[As the Paedagogus, Orestes, and Pylades turn to leave, they are stopped by a loud cry from within the house.]

 

ELECTRA [crying out from inside the house]

Alas, I feel so wretched!

 

PAEDAGOGUS

                                           Wait, my son!
I think I heard a cry come from the door,
the moaning of a servant girl inside.

 

ORESTES

Could it be poor Electra? Should we stay                             [80]
and listen to her cries?

 

PAEDAGOGUS

                                       No, no.
We must not seek to do anything
before attending to Apollo’s orders.                          100
To follow what he said, we should begin
by pouring out libations to your father.
For doing that first will bring us victory
and strength in everything we undertake.

 

[The Paedagogus exits. Orestes and Pylades leave in a different direction. Electra enters from one of the entrances to the palace.]

 

ELECTRA

O sacred daylight and the air, two partners
sharing space around this earth as equals,
how often have you heard my mournful songs
or blows I strike against my bloodstained chest,                    [90]
whenever gloomy night has moved away.
My hateful bed in this long-suffering house                   110
knows how I spend interminable nights,
how much I weep for my ill-fated father.
Bloodthirsty Ares did not strike him down
in that foreign land. It was my mother
and that man who shares her bed, Aegisthus.
They split his head with a murderous axe,
the way woodcutters hack an oak tree down.
No one apart from me sheds tears of pity                           [100]
for what they did, when you, my father, died
in such a sorrowful and shameful way.                         120
But I will never cease with my laments
and bitter cries, as long as I can see
the glittering radiance of the stars
or the light of day. Like the nightingale
who killed her offspring, I will not give up
my cries of grief but shout them out aloud
to all those gathered at my father’s door.(8)
O home of Hades and Persephone,                                    [110]
O Hermes, our escort in the world below,
O sacred Ara, goddess of revenge,                             130
and you, too, sacred daughters of the gods,
you Furies, who keep watch for those who die
unjustly and for those whose marriage bed
is secretly dishonoured, come, help me,
bring vengeance for the murder of my father,
and send my brother to me.(9) By myself
I am no longer strong enough to bear
the load of sorrow weighing me down.                                [120]

 

[Enter the Chorus of Argive women]

CHORUS

O Electra, child of a most wretched mother,
why are you always languishing in grief                        140
that never ends, mourning Agamemnon,
who years ago was caught in a godless snare
by your deceitful mother’s treachery,
betrayed by her false hand? If it is lawful
for me to curse whoever murdered him,
may the one who did it perish!

 

ELECTRA

                                               You women,   
noble children of Mycenae, you have come                         [130]
to console me in my grief. This I know,
and I understand what you are doing.
Your kindness has not escaped my notice.                  130
But I have no wish to stop my grieving
or cries of pain for my unhappy father.
O you who share with me in every way
a mutual friendship, let me run wild with grief.
O please, I beg you!

 

CHORUS

                                 But prayers and weeping
will never bring your father back from Hades,
not from that pool where all men are received.
Instead with hopeless and excessive mourning,                    [140]
you waste yourself away in constant sorrow.
Such actions offer no relief from troubles.                   160
Why, then, are you so set on suffering?

 

ELECTRA

Only a foolish child can overlook
the piteous death of her own parent.
My heart prefers the one who always cries
Itys, Itys,” that bird distraught with grief,
a messenger from Zeus. O Niobe,
all-suffering Niobe, I think of you                                        [150]
as a divinity, weeping forever
in your rocky tomb.(10)

 

CHORUS

                     Among all mortal beings
you are not the only one, my child,                              170
visited by grief, but you show less restraint
than those inside whose blood and parentage
you share—your sisters Iphianassa
and Chrysothemis—who are still alive,
as is the one who spends his youthful years
secluded and in sorrow, but confident                                 [160]
that one day this famous land of the Mycenians
will welcome him as an illustrious son,
when, with Zeus’ gracious guidance, Orestes
will return to Argos.(11)

 

ELECTRA

                                        Ah yes, Orestes—              180
whom I’ve been waiting for with a desire
that never tires, in ceaseless wandering,
childless and unmarried, cheeks bathed with tears,
in this miserable state, carrying
a destiny of pain that never ends,
while he forgets what he has suffered
and what he learns from me. What message
do I get that does not disappoint me?                                 [170]
He always yearns to be here, but even so,
for all his longing, he chooses not to come.(12)             190

 

CHORUS

You must be brave, my child, and do not fear.
For Zeus in heaven is still powerful.
He watches us and governs everything.
Leave that excessive rage of yours to him.
Do not take your anger at your enemies
to an extreme—but do not forget them.
For Time is kind, a god who bring content,
and Agamemnon’s son, who lives in Crisa,                         [180]
where cattle graze in pastures by the shore,
has not abandoned you—nor has the god                    200
who reigns beside the banks of Acheron.(13)

 

ELECTRA

But I have spent most of my life already
in utter hopelessness. I cannot bear it.
I am wasting away. I have no children,
no loving husband as my champion,
and, like a despised foreigner, I slave
in my father’s house in shabby clothes                                 [190]
and stand to eat at tables with no food.

 

CHORUS

There was a cry of grief at his return,
a mournful cry, as your father lay there,                       210
reclining at the banquet, when swift blows
from a bronze-jawed axe were aimed against him.
His massacre was planned by treachery,
the killing performed by lust—those two
gave fearful birth to a monstrous form,
divine or mortal, which killed our king.(14)                          [200]

 

ELECTRA

O how I despise that day—of all days
that ever dawned I hate that one the most.
And that night! The overpowering pain
of that horrific feast! My father witnessed                    220
the fatal blow from those two killers’ hands—
the hands that stole my life by treachery
and ended it forever. May those two
be punished by great Olympian Zeus
with suffering to pay for what they did,                                [210]
and, after such a crime, may they derive
no joy from all their regal splendour.

 

CHORUS

Do not say any more. That’s my advice.
Given the way things are, do you not see
how by your own actions you plunge yourself,             230
to your great shame, in self-inflicted ills?
You have brought many troubles on yourself
by always breeding strife in your sad heart.
You must not let such feelings force you
into open war with those in power.                                     [220]

 

ELECTRA

My appalling suffering drove me to it.
I am well aware of my own feelings.
My passions are not something I forget.
But in this time of dreadful torment,
as long as I still live, I will not stop                               240
these frantic cries of grief. O noble friends,
what clear-thinking person could believe
mere words would be of any help to me?
You want to offer me some consolation,
but let me be. Leave me alone. My pain
will never find relief, nor will my troubles                             [230]
ever cease—for they are infinite,
as countless as my cries of mourning.

 

CHORUS

And yet, out of kindness, I advise you,
like a trustworthy mother, do not add                          250
more grief to what you face already.

 

ELECTRA

What limit has been set to what I suffer?
Tell me, how it can be a noble act
to neglect the dead? What mortal men
were ever born with such an attitude?
May I never share in such men’s honour,
and if I ever live a prosperous life,                                      [240]
may I not have a single moment’s ease,
if I curb the wings of my shrill sorrows
and neglect to honour my own father.                          260
For if, when he is dead, a man just lies there,
a miserable nothing, merely dust,
and his murderers do not pay him back
with a just punishment, blood for blood,
then let men’s sense of piety and shame
completely fade away!                                                       [250]

 

CHORUS

                                         My child, I came here
to support your cause and help my own, as well.
But if what I advise is incorrect,
then your opinion must prevail with us,
and we will follow in one group together.                     270

 

ELECTRA

I feel ashamed, my friends, if my impatience
and my many cries of mournful sorrow
seem to you excessive. Please forgive me.
But my harsh treatment forces that on me.
How could any well-born woman not behave
as I do, when she sees her father wronged?
I see that constantly—day and night—
and things are not improving—they’re getting worse!          [260]
First, there is my mother, who gave birth to me.
The way she treats me, she has now become               280
truly hateful. Then, here in my own home,
I am living with my father’s murderers.
They govern what I do, and from those two
I get what I require or do without.
And then imagine how I spend my days,
when I observe Aegisthus sitting there,
on my father’s throne, and see him wearing
the clothes my father wore, or pouring out
libations at the hearth—the very place
he struck him down, or when I witness                        290    [270]
the crowning outrage in all this—the killer
in my father’s bed beside my mother—
if I must call that dreadful woman mother,
sleeping with such a man in the same bed!
She has become so reckless, she can live
with that polluted wretch and have no fear
of the avenging Furies. In fact, she seems
to laugh at what she’s done, for she has picked
the day when, years ago, with her deceit
she killed my father, as a day to celebrate                    300
with dance and song, and in month-long rituals                    [280]
to those gods who protect her, she offers
sacrificial sheep. I observe all this,
and in my misery shout out my grief,
as I waste away inside this house,
crying in sorrow for that profane feast
named for my father.(15) I do this alone,
for I am not free to indulge my grief
as fully as my heart desires. If I try,
that woman, that so-called noble lady,                         310
keeps scolding me with shameless insults—
“You godforsaken, hateful girl, are you
the only one who has lost a father?
Is there no one else who needs to mourn?                           [290]
I hope you die a truly wretched death,
and may the gods below never free you
from your present grieving.” With words like that
she keeps abusing me, unless she hears
Orestes might be coming. Then, enraged,
she comes and shouts, “Are you not the one                320
who did this to me? This is all your fault!
You stole Orestes from me and in secret
sent him away from here. But rest assured—
for doing that you will be justly punished.”
That how she snarls at me, and by her side,
encouraging her, is that splendid man,                                 [300]
her husband, impotent in every way,
a blight on all mankind, who fights his wars
with the help of women! But I am dying
from despair, always waiting for the day                      330
Orestes comes and ends my suffering.
He keeps on planning to do something great,
but his delays have shattered all my hopes.
O my friends, when this is our condition,
there is no place for prudence or respect—
in evil times we are forcibly compelled
to act in evil ways.

 

CHORUS

                                                          Tell me this—          [310]
while you’ve been speaking to us, has Aegisthus
been nearby, or has he left the house?

 

ELECTRA

I’m sure he’s left. If he were close by,                         340
I would never venture from the house.
At the moment he happens to be gone—
he’s in the country.

 

CHORUS

                                   Well, if that’s the case,
could I be bold and talk to you more freely?

 

ELECTRA

He is not here. Speak up. What is it you want?

 

CHORUS

All right, I’ll ask you this—what can you tell me
about your brother? Is he coming soon,
or will he be delayed? I’d like to know.

 

ELECTRA

He says he’ll come. But though he says that,
he never does what he has promised.                          350

 

CHORUS

But any man is likely to delay
when undertaking something challenging.                             [320]

 

ELECTRA

When I saved him, I did not hesitate.(16)

 

CHORUS

Do not fear. He has a noble nature
and will stand by his friends.

 

ELECTRA

                                          I believe that.
If I did not, I’d not have gone on living.

 

CHORUS

We should stop talking. I see Chrysothemis,
your sister, coming from the palace—
like you, a daughter born to Agamemnon
and Clytaemnestra, holding in her hands                      370
the customary tributes to the dead,
offerings for those in the world below.

 

[Chrysothemis enters from the palace attended by a servant.]

CHRYSOTHEMIS

So you’re out here once again, Electra,
by the public doorway, telling stories.
What is it you’re saying to people now?
In all this time have you not learned to stop                         [330]
this vain obsession with your pointless rage?
I, at least, understand my situation.
What’s happening at present makes me sad,
so much so, in fact, that if I had the strength,                380
I would speak out, tell people how I feel.
But as it is, in these turbulent times,
I think it prudent to pull in my sails
and not to have them see me as a threat,
when there is nothing I can do to harm them.
If only you would be like that, as well.
Of course, the way you choose to act is just,
and my advice is not, but if I wish
to live in freedom, then in all I do                                        [340]
I must obey the ones with power.                                390

 

ELECTRA

Yes, but I find it astonishing that you
forget your father. You are his daughter,
born from him, and yet your sole concern
is for your mother. Your advice to me—
all of it—consists of things she taught you.
None of it expresses what you feel.
So make a choice: you can be reckless,
or else prudent and forget your friends.
Just now you told me, if you had the strength,
you’d demonstrate how much you hate those two.       400
And yet when I’m doing everything I can
to avenge our father, instead of helping me,
you try to turn me from my purpose.                                   [350]
Is this not merely adding cowardice
to all our other troubles? Tell me this—
or else hear it from me—what benefits
would I receive if I stopped mourning.
I am alive, aren’t I? I live a wretched life,
I know, but it is good enough for me.
I infuriate those two, and doing that                             410
pays honourable tribute to the dead,
if those below feel any gratitude.
You talk to me of hatred—but your hate
is only words. The way you act makes you
an ally of the ones who killed our father.
I would never let them have their way,
not even if they offered me a gift                                         [360]
of all those things in which you take such pride.
So you can have your finely furnished table
and your rich life that swims in luxury.                          420
As for me, the only nourishment I need
is not to pain my heart. I do not want
those privileges you have—nor would you,
if you had any sense. As things stand now,
when you could be called daughter of the man
who was the noblest father of them all,
they ought to call you Clytaemnestra’s child.
With such a name, most men would clearly see
how vile you are, a woman who abandoned
her dead father and her family friends.                         430

 

CHORUS

In the name of the gods, no words of anger!
For each of you has said some useful things—
if you, Electra, learned to follow her advice,                        [370]
and she, in turn, could learn to follow yours.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Women of Mycenae, I am quite familiar
with the way she talks. I would not have said
a word about these things, had I not heard
that she will soon confront the very worst
of all calamities—a looming threat
that will suppress her endless wailing.

 

ELECTRA

                                                       Go on—             440
describe this threat to me. If what you say
is something worse than how I’m living now,
I will not argue with you any further.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

All right, I’ll tell you everything I know.
If you do not end your cries of mourning,
those two intend to send you to a place                              [380]
where you will never see the light of day.
You will spend your life locked up in prison
far away from Argos, and in that room
you can sing and celebrate your sorrow.                      450
Consider this threat, and do not blame me
for what you have to suffer later on.
It’s time you started thinking sensibly.

 

ELECTRA

Is this really what they plan to do with me?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Yes it is—once Aegisthus comes back home.

 

ELECTRA

If that’s the case, I pray he gets here soon.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

You poor deluded girl, why that prayer?
Why seek to harm yourself?

 

ELECTRA

                        I pray that he will come,
if he intends to do what you just said.

 

CHRYOTHEMIS

So he can make you suffer in some way?                    460    [390]
Are you insane?

 

ELECTRA

                            So I can get away—
as far as possible—from all of you.

 

CHRYOTHEMIS

Is there anything at all you care about
in how you’re living now?

 

ELECTRA

                                         Ah yes,
such a splendid and enviable life!

 

CHRYOTHEMIS

It could be that, if you had any sense.

 

ELECTRA

Do not tell me to betray the ones I love.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m telling you
that you should yield to those in power.

 

ELECTRA

So use your flattery on them yourself.                          470
What you advise is not the way I am.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

There is no honour in ruining oneself
through mere stupidity.

 

ELECTRA

                                          I will fall,
if I must, while honouring my father.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

But I know my father will forgive me                                   [400]
for behaving in this way.

 

ELECTRA

                                            Those words
are ones that cowards would approve of.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

So I cannot get you to agree with me?

 

ELECTRA

No, not at all. I hope I am not yet
so empty headed.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                 Then I’ll be on my way,                  480
off to the place where they have sent me.

 

ELECTRA

Where are you going? And those offerings—
the ones you’re carrying—who are they for?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Mother sent me out to take libations
and these offerings to our father’s grave.(17)

 

ELECTRA

What are you saying? She’s sending those
for her worst enemy?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                           “The one she murdered”—
that’s what you’d like to add.

 

ELECTRA

                                              What friend of hers
persuaded her to do it? Whose idea was it?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

I think it was a vision in the night—                             490    [410]
it frightened her.

 

ELECTRA

                                     O my ancestral gods,
stand by me now at last!

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                            Why does her fear
rouse in you such hope?

 

ELECTRA

                                       I will explain that,
once you have described her vision to me.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

I don’t know much about it—just a little.

 

ELECTRA

Tell me what you know. Some minor details
have often tripped men up or saved them.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

They say she saw our father—yours and mine—
come back to life and with her once again.
He took the sceptre which he used to bear,                 500    [420]
the one now carried by Aegisthus,
and fixed it in the ground beside the hearth.(18)
From that sceptre grew a flourishing branch
which cast a shadow over all Mycenae.
That’s what I heard from someone who was there
as she was talking to the sun about her dream.
That’s all I know, except she sent me out
because she was afraid. And now I beg you,
by all our family gods, take my advice.
Don’t let such thoughtlessness destroy you!                 510
If you reject me now, you’re going to suffer—
and then you’ll come to me and beg for help.                      [430]

 

ELECTRA

Dear sister, do not let what you are holding
touch our father’s tomb. Piety and custom
do not permit you to bring burial gifts
to our dead father from his hateful wife
or pour libations. Throw them to the winds,
or hide them in a deep and dusty hole,
where no offering of hers is ever near
our father’s resting place. When she is dead,               520
let those treasures be there, preserved for her
deep in the earth. If she were not by nature
the most reckless of all women, she would never
have such detestable libations offered                                 [440]
to the man she killed. And consider this—
do you believe the dead man in his grave
will accept such tributes and feel affection
for the woman who dishonoured him in death,
treating him as one might treat an enemy—
with mutilation—and who, to cleanse herself,                 530
wiped the bloodstained axe on her victim’s head.(19)
Surely you do not think those offerings
can possibly absolve her of the murder?
That will not happen. Set those gifts aside,
and trim a lock of hair on your own head.
Take some of mine as well. As an offering,
it’s not worth much, but in my wretched state                      [450]
it’s all I have. Offer him this unwashed hair
and this plain, unembroidered belt of mine.
Kneel down, and beg him to return to us—                 540
to come in person from beneath the earth,
a welcome help against our enemies.
And pray his son Orestes is alive
and will prevail and trample underfoot
all those who stand against him, so that we,
in days to come, may decorate his grave
with wealthier hands than we have now,
as we offer him these gifts. The way I feel,
it may well be our father played a part
in sending her this terrifying dream.                              550   [460]
But even so, dear sister, do as I ask—
perform this service for yourself and me,
and help the mortal man we love the most,
the father we two share, now lying in Hades.

 

CHORUS [to Chrysothemis]

The girl has spoken with true piety.
If you are wise, you’ll act on what she says.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

I intend to. It makes no sense at all,
when dealing with an action that is just,
for the two of us to argue. Instead,
we should be hastening to perform it.                          560
But, my friends, in the name of the gods,
when I attempt to carry out this rite,                                    [470]
you must not say a word. For I know this—
if my mother hears about this venture,
I’ll pay a bitter price for what I’ve done.

 

[Exit Chrysothemis.]

 

CHORUS

Unless I am a foolish prophet
and have no skill in judging things,
then Justice, who signals her approach,
is on her way, and in her hands
she holds the mighty power                                      570
of righteous victory. Yes, my child,
she will be here soon and will pursue them.
That sweet-breathing dream I heard about                         [480]
a moment ago has given me hope.
Your father, king of the Greeks,
does not forget, nor does that axe—
that ancient bronze-jawed double axe,
which, in an aching act of treachery,
hacked him down and killed him.

And she, too, will be coming here                            580
the goddess with many hands and feet,
who lurks in ominous ambush—                                        [490]
an untiring bronze-shod Fury.(20)
That pair was seized by passionate lust
for a foul and loveless marriage
polluted and stained with murder
an act the laws of Zeus forbid.(21)
Because of that, I am quite sure
the omen of the dream is good.
For we would never see such things                         590
without some form of justice done
to criminals and those who help them.                                [500]
But if this vision in the night should fail
to be fulfilled, then prophecies
from fearful dreams and oracles
for mortal beings exist no more.

O horseman Pelops long ago,
the source of so much sorrow,
how you have brought calamity
upon this land.(22) For since the day                         600
of that despicable, outrageous act,
when Myrtilus sank to his final rest
beneath the waves, hurled to his death
from a golden chariot, this family                                       [510]
has always lived with so much pain,
never free from pitiless disaster.

 

[Enter Clytaemnestra attended by a servant.]


CLYTAEMNESTRA

You seem to be wandering out here again
quite freely, while Aegisthus is away.
He always stops you loitering outside
beyond the gates, shaming your family.(23)               610
Since he’s been gone, you hardly notice me,
and yet time and again you keep complaining                    [520]
to many people how arrogant I am—
I run things in a reckless, unjust way,
abusing you and those you care about.
But I am not the one who’s insolent.
When I insult you, I am just returning
those insults I so often hear from you.
You’re always harping on the same excuse—
I was the one who killed your father.                        620
Yes, I killed him. I understand that.
I don’t deny it. But I was not alone,
for Justice executed him, as well.
That killing would have had your full support,
if you’d been thinking straight. Your father—
the man for whom you’re always grieving—                      [530]
was the only Greek who dared to sacrifice
your own blood, your sister, to appease the gods.(24)
When he planted her seed he felt no pain
comparable to the agonies I felt                                630
when I gave birth to her. Now, tell me this—
for whose sake did he sacrifice that girl?
Was it for the Argives?(25) Is that your answer?
But those men had no right to kill my daughter.
And if he sacrificed my child for Menelaus,
his brother, should he not pay a penalty
for that to me? Did not Menelaus have
two children? Surely, to be fair, those two
should have been offered up instead? After all,                   [540]
their parents were the reason for the voyage.(26)       640
Was Hades’ craving to devour my children
greater than his urge to feast on Helen’s?(27)
Or had their atrocious father set aside
all affection for his children born from me,
while he still cared for those of Menelaus?
Did that not show he was a wretched father
who had no feelings? That’s my view of it,
even if you don’t agree with what I’ve said.
And the girl who died would speak as I do,
if she could find a voice. That’s why, for me,            650
there’s nothing to regret in what I’ve done¬¬.
You may well find the way I think offensive.                       [550]
If so, make sure, when you are judging others,
that what you say about them is the truth,
before you lay the blame on someone else.

 

ELECTRA

At least you cannot say on this occasion
I was the one who started the abuse
and you replied because you were provoked.
But with your permission, I would like to speak
on behalf of my dead father and my sister                 660
and talk about what really happened.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Of course I’ll let you speak. If you talked to me
all the time like that, I would not find
listening to what you say so painful.

 

ELECTRA

All right then, I will answer what you said.
You admit you killed my father. What speech
could ever be more shameful than those words,
whether what you did was justified or not?                         [560]
But I will prove to you that when you killed him
you did not do it in the name of Justice.                    670
No, that vile man who is now your lover
persuaded you to do it. Ask Artemis
the hunter goddess, why she held in check
the winds at Aulis. Was she punishing
a wrong someone had done? I will tell you,
since it is not right for us to question her.(28)
My father—so I’ve heard—was once out hunting
in a sacred grove of goddess Artemis,
when his footsteps roused a startled deer,
a dappled stag with horns. He threw his spear          680
and hit the beast. Then, as it so happened,
he uttered a loud boast about the slaughter.
Artemis was enraged. She kept the Greeks                        [570]
detained at Aulis, until my father,
to compensate her for that creature’s life,
sacrificed his daughter. So she was killed.
There was no other way to free the army,
so it could sail to Troy or go back home.
He struggled hard against the god’s demands,
resisting what he was compelled to do,                    690
but in the end with great reluctance
he sacrificed her to preserve his troops,
and not for Menelaus. But let’s assume,
to adopt your argument, he killed her
for his brother’s sake. Is that a reason
for you to kill him? What gives you that right?
Take care when you establish rules for men                       [580]
you do not bring yourself remorse and pain.
For if we were to kill all those who killed,
blood for blood, and you were dealt with justly,        700
then surely you would be the first to die.
You should consider whether what you say
is just a mere excuse. Please tell me this—
why do you now live in such a shameful way,
committing the most atrocious of all crimes,
by sleeping with a guilty murderer?
He first conspired with you to kill my father,
and after that you bore his offspring.
The ones you had before you pushed aside,
legitimate children of a lawful marriage.(29)                710       [590]
How can I approve of what you’ve done?
Are you suggesting that your way of life
is also retribution for your daughter?
If that’s what you are saying, it’s a disgrace—
marrying an enemy to avenge a child!
There’s nothing honourable in such an act.
But there’s no point in criticizing you.
You’ll only say I’m slandering my mother.
Well, I don’t consider you my mother—
you’re more my mistress. That’s how tiresome         720
my life is here. You and that man of yours
make everything so miserable for me!                                [600]
As for your other child, poor Orestes,
who only just escaped your clutches,
he spends his sad life far away in exile.
How many times have you complained I raised him
so he could punish you for what you’ve done?
Well, you can be sure of this—I would have,
if I’d been strong enough. For that, at least,
you should denounce me, telling everyone                730
whatever you like—that I’m disloyal,
abusive, and absolutely shameless.
For if I naturally possess the skill
to act like that, then given who you are,
I am a credit to the one who bore me.

 

CHORUS

I can see she’s angry, but is she right?                               [610]
For I no longer think she even cares
whether she has Justice on her side.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

And how am I supposed to care for her,
when, at her age, she insults her mother?                  740
Does she not strike you as a person
who would do anything and feel no shame?

 

ELECTRA

It may not look that way, but I do feel shame
That’s something you should understand.
I know that what I do is inappropriate,
unsuitable for someone of my age.
But your hostility and what you’ve done
force me, against my will, to act this way.                          [620]
Shameful actions teach us shameful deeds.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

You shameless creature, you talk far too much         750
about how I behave and what I say.

 

ELECTRA

You’re the one who’s doing the talking, not me—
you carry out the act, and what you do
translated into words is what I say.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Now by lady Artemis, you’ll not escape
being punished for this insolence of yours,
once Aegisthus gets back home!

 

ELECTRA

                                              You see?
You’ve flown into a rage, even though
you told me I was free to speak my mind.
You don’t know how to listen.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                   All right, calm down.             760
Now that I’ve allowed you to speak freely,                       [630]
will you allow me to complete my sacrifice?

 

ELECTRA

Yes, you may proceed. Make your sacrifice.
I urge you to. As for the things I say,
you can stop complaining—from now on
I will not speak another word.

 

[Clytaemnestra and her Attendant move to a statue of Apollo standing beside the palace doors. Electra remains on stage but in the background.]

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [to her Attendant]

Take up that gift of various fruits,
so I may offer prayers to lord Apollo
for his deliverance from present fears.

 

[The Attendant carries the offering over to the statue of Apollo, places it there, and steps away. Clytaemnestra turns to address the statue directly.]

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

O Phoebus, our protector, hear my prayer,              770
although in what I say I must be careful,
for those around me are not all my friends,
and while this girl is standing close to me                            [640]
I do not think it wise that every detail
sees the light of day. She is malicious,
and that chattering tongue of hers might sow
wild rumours all around the city.
But even though I speak so guardedly,
hear what I have to say! The vision I saw
in that ambiguous dream last night—                        780
if it’s an omen favourable to me,
O Lycian king, then let it be fulfilled.
If not, if that dream is inauspicious,
let it recoil on those who wish me harm!
If anyone is hatching treasonous schemes
to force me from my rich successful life,
let them not prevail, but grant instead
that I may always live the way I do,                                   [650]
in safety, governing the royal throne
and palace, home of Atreus’ sons,                            790
spending pleasant days with those good friends
I have around me now and with my children,
the ones who feel no bitterness towards me
and bear me no ill will. O Lycian Apollo,
be gracious to us. Hear us when we pray,
and grant to each of us the things we ask.
As for my secret prayers, I will say nothing.
You are a god, and I know you hear them,
for, as is fitting, all things are perceived
by gods who are the children of great Zeus.(30)        800

 

[Enter the Paedagogus.]


PAEDAGOGUS

Ladies of Mycenae, could you please tell me                     [660]
if this is the palace of lord Aegisthus.
I need to be quite sure.

 

CHORUS

                           Yes, stranger, it is.
Your assumption is correct.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

                            And would I be correct
to assume this lady is his consort?
She has such a regal bearing.

 

CHORUS

                                       Yes, you would.
The lady standing there is our king’s wife.

 

PAEDAGOGUS [to Clytaemnestra]

Greetings to you, my lady. I come here
from a friend of yours with happy news
for you and lord Aegisthus.

 

 CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                         Greetings, stranger.         810
I will hear your news. But first I need to know
the one who sent you.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

                                  Phanoteus from Phocis                    [670]
asked me to bring you an important message.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

What message, stranger? Since it’s from a friend,
I’m sure you will be bearing pleasant news.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

My message is brief: Orestes has been killed.

 

ELECTRA

O no! No! For me that means disaster!
I’m ruined! Today my life is over!

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

What was that? What did you say, stranger?
Don’t listen to her!

 

 PAEDAGOGUS

                                                   What I just said    820
and now repeat is this—Orestes has been killed.

 

ELECTRA

This is the end for me! I am no more!

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [to Electra]

That’s enough! Keep your feelings to yourself!

 

[Clytaemnestra turns back to the Paedagogus]

 

Stranger, I would like to know the truth—
tell me exactly how Orestes died.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

I was sent to tell you what took place,                               [680]
and I will give you the entire story.
Orestes travelled to that famous shrine
at Delphi, whose glory all Greeks share,
to compete for prizes at the games held there.          830
When he heard the loud cry of the herald
for the first event, a foot race, he moved
onto the track, a splendid looking youth,
who won the admiration of the crowd.
He raced once around the track and finished first,
winning the honour of a glorious prize.
As for his other feats that day, let me say this:
I do not know any man who could have matched
his strength and skill. And one thing you should know—     [690]
in every contest which those judges called                840
he won first prize, and all those there agreed
he was a fortunate young man each time
the heralds shouted out he was an Argive
called Orestes, son of Agamemnon,
who once commanded Greece’s famous army.(31)
That’s how things began for him that day.
But when a god decides to harm someone,
there’s no escape, not even for the strong.
One day soon afterwards at sunrise,
Orestes took part a chariot race,                              850     [700]
with many others—one was from Achaea,
one from Sparta, and two from Libya,
both very skilled at racing chariots.
Orestes was the fifth man in the race
with his Thessalian mares. The sixth,
with chestnut colts, was from Aetolia,
the seventh a driver from Magnesia.
An Aenian man, whose team was white,
was eighth, and ninth a man from Athens.
The tenth and final man was a Boeotian.                   860
Special judges chose each starting place
by drawing lots, and then the teams moved up                    [710]
to their assigned positions. A trumpet blared,
and they raced off, shouting at their horses
and brandishing the reins. The entire track
was filled with the din of clattering chariots,
stirring up the dust. In the mass confusion
no one spared the whip, as each man strove
to push on and get past his rival’s wheels
and the snorting nostrils of his horses.                       870
The foaming slobber of the panting teams
fell across their backs and chariot wheels.
Each time Orestes swung past the turning post                   [720]
he let the trace horse on the right run wide
and kept the reins taut on the left-hand side.
He came so close he almost grazed his wheels.(32)
So far the chariots had all been running well,
but then the Aenian’s hard-mouthed horses
lost control and bolted, as they were ending
their sixth lap and starting on the seventh,                 880
smashing headlong into a Libyian chariot.
The pile up caused a number of collisions,
as racing teams crashed into one another
and broke apart. The racing course at Crisa                       [730]
was full of shattered chariots. Seeing this,
the man from Athens, a skilful driver,
pulled aside, reining in his horses,
to let the mass of chariots behind him
rush past and crash into the wreckage.
Orestes was holding back his horses,                       890
counting on a fast sprint at the finish.
But when he noticed the Athenian
was the only chariot left in the race,
he raised a cry that pierced his horses’ ears
and set out after him. They drew level.
As the chariots raced on, first one of them
would surge ahead and then the other,
the horses straining neck-and-neck to win.
So far poor Orestes had kept his poise,                            [740]
standing balanced in the upright chariot,                    900
and moving safely past the turning posts.
But then, as his team made the final turn,
quite inadvertently he slackened off
the left-hand rein and struck the pillar,
breaking his axle box. He pitched forward,
across the rail, and got tangled in the reins.
As he fell down, his team of horses panicked,
bolting all around the middle of the track.
When people saw he’d fallen from his chariot,
they cried out with pity that such a youth,                 910      [750]
who’d achieved so much, was so unlucky.
He was dragged along the ground and tossed
into the air feet first, until the charioteers
with difficulty rounded up his horses
and cut him loose, covered in so much blood
that even a friend would not have recognized
his mangled corpse. They quickly built a pyre
and burned the body. Chosen men from Phocis
are bringing here in a small urn made of bronze
his mighty body, now nothing but ash,                      920
so he may have the burial he deserves                                [760]
in his ancestral home. That ends my story.
The words are sad enough, but for those of us
who saw it, it was the greatest of all sorrows,
the most painful sight that we have ever seen.

 

CHORUS

Alas! It seems as if the ancient family
that rules us has been utterly destroyed!

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

O Zeus, should I consider this good news
or horrible but of benefit to me?
It’s a bitter feeling—I am so miserable                      930
and yet what makes me grieve has saved my life.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

My lady, why has my speech made you sad?

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

Motherhood has a mysterious power.
No matter how much he may make her suffer,                   [770]
a woman can never hate the child she bears.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

Then it seems my journey has been futile.


CLYTAEMNESTRA

No, no—your trip has not been futile.
How can you say that when you have come
bringing me sure proof that he is dead?
His got his life from me, and yet he fled—                 940
abandoning the breast that nurtured him
and the one who raised him. He became
totally estranged from me, an exile.
Once he left Mycenae, he never saw me.
He accused me of his father’s murder
and often threatened he would take revenge.
At night sweet sleep could never close my eyes,                [780]
or in the day—each moment made me feel
as if I was about to die. But today,
my fear of him is gone—and of that girl,                    950
who causes me more grief than he does.
She lives with me and drinks my lifeblood neat.
But now, I think, in spite of all her threats,
I’ll spend my days in peace and comfort.

 

ELECTRA

Alas for me and the agony I feel!
Now I must mourn your death, Orestes,
for even though you’re dead, this woman,
your mother, still insults you. Is that right?                         [790]

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                       Not for you—
but Orestes is just fine the way he is.

 

 ELECTRA

O Nemesis, goddess of retribution                          960
for those who have just died, listen to her!

 

 CLYTAEMNESTRA

She has heard the prayers she ought to hear
and made the right decision.

 

ELECTRA

                                                So then insult us!
This is your lucky day.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

                                   You will not stop me now—
you and Orestes.

 

ELECTRA

                                    No, we are finished.
There’s no way that we can stop you.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [to the Paedagogus]

                                             Well, stranger,
you deserve a fine reward, if your trip here
has brought her noisy chatter to an end.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

I’ll be on my way, then, if all is well.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA

No, no, not yet. That would be unworthy                 970     [800]
of me and of the friend who sent you.(33)
Do come inside—we’ll leave the girl out here
to howl about the troubles she has had
and what the ones she loves have suffered.

 

[Clytaemnestra and the Paedagogus go into the palace.]

 

ELECTRA

How did that wretched woman seem to you?
Was she in pain, grieving and weeping bitterly
over her dead son? No, as she left here
she was laughing! This is the end for me.
Dearest Orestes, your death has finished me,
tearing from my heart whatever hopes                     980
I still had that one day you would come                             [810]
to avenge our father and my suffering.
But now where can I turn? I am alone,
for you are lost to me, as is my father.
Now I must go back to being a slave
for those I hate the most, those murderers,
who killed my father. Should I do that?
No, from now on I will not live with them.
I will lie down beside these palace gates
and let my life wither away unloved.                          990
If any of those living in the house                                        [820]
finds this offensive, let them kill me.
The killer would be doing me a favour—
my life is pain, and I have no desire
to keep on living anymore.

 

CHORUS

Where are the thunderbolts of Zeus
or the blazing Sun? What are they doing
if they see these things and keep them hidden?

 

ELECTRA [screaming and sobbing]

Aaaiiiiii!

 

CHORUS

                            My child, why are you crying?

 

ELECTRA

This is too much!

 

CHORUS

                                 Do not shout such things.           1000       [830]

 

ELECTRA

You will destroy me!

 

CHORUS

                                            Destroy you? How?

 

ELECTRA

If you are offering me hope for those
who we all know have gone to Hades,
you are trampling on me even more,
as I drain my life away with grieving.

 

CHORUS

But I remember lord Amphiaraus
snared by a woman’s chain of gold
and swallowed up. And now he’s there,
beneath the earth . . .

 

ELECTRA [screaming again]

Aaaaaiiiii!                                                                         [840]

 

CHORUS

                       . . . his mind is still alert,                    1010
and he rules the dead.(34)

 

ELECTRA

                                                      Alas!

 

CHORUS

Alas, indeed. That deadly lady . . .

 

ELECTRA [interrupting]

. . . was destroyed.

 

CHORUS

                                            Yes, she was killed.

 

ELECTRA

I know, I know. Someone who cared for him
appeared and avenged his grieving shade.
But I have no such friend. The one I had
death swallowed up. And now he’s gone.

 

CHORUS

Your Fate has destined you for suffering,
you ill-fated unhappy girl!

 

ELECTRA

I know that—I know a tide of horror                       1030     [850]
surges through my life month after month
and piles my sorrows up on every side.

 

CHORUS

We have watched you as you grieve.

 

ELECTRA

Then you must stop consoling me,
when I no longer . . .

 

CHORUS

                           What are you saying?

 

ELECTRA

. . . have any hope—my noble brother
cannot help me.

 

CHORUS

                            All mortal men must die—                    [860]
that’s Nature law.

 

ELECTRA

                                                  But not like that—
not like poor Orestes—those thundering hooves
and he was cut and tangled in the reins!                    1040

 

CHORUS

His wounds are unimaginable!

 

ELECTRA

They are, and he was in a foreign land—
where my hands could not tend to him.

 

CHORUS

                                            Alas!

 

ELECTRA

Now he lies hidden away—he has received
no burial and no laments from me.                                      [870]

 

[Enter Chrysothemis.]

 

CHRYOTHEMIS

My dear sister, I am so overjoyed,
I set all modesty aside and ran here.
I have news for you, wonderful news!
It will ease your pain and bring release
from all your former sorrow.

 

ELECTRA

                  Where could you find                            1050
anything to help relieve my grief?
For that there is no cure.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                    Then let me tell you this—
Orestes has come back to us! He’s returned—
as plain as you can see me standing here.

 

ELECTRA

You poor girl, are you mad? Are you mocking
my misfortunes and your own?                                          [880]

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

 

                                No, no—I swear
by my father’s hearth, I am not joking.
I tell you he is really here among us.

 

ELECTRA

You’re deluded. Who told you this tale,
which you’ve accepted far too easily?                      1060

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

No one told me. I saw clear evidence
with my own eyes. And I believe it.

 

ELECTRA

You poor wretch, what evidence did you see
that led you to have faith in such a story?
What lit the fire of such a fatal hope?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Now, by the gods, hear what I have to say—
learn what I have seen before you tell me                           [890]
whether I have lost my mind or not.

 

ELECTRA

If telling me your story makes you happy,
then go ahead.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                       All right, I’ll tell you         1070
everything I saw. When I reached the grave,
our father’s old ancestral tomb, I noticed
that streams of milk had recently been poured.
on the top part of the mound. His burial site
was surrounded by all sorts of flowers.
I was astonished at the sight. I looked around,
in case someone might come too close to me,
but the whole place was absolutely still.
When I saw that, I moved closer to the grave,                     [900]
and there I noticed, right beside the mound,             1080
a lock of hair—cut off not long ago.
And in that instant a familiar image
rushed into my heart, and I imagined
I was looking at a token of the man
I love the most of all, my dear Orestes.
I took it in my hands and raised it up,
saying nothing that might spoil the moment.
My eyes at once were filled with tears of joy,
and I felt then as I do now, the offerings
had to come from him. Who else would do it,           1090
apart from you and me? And I know this—                        [910]
I did not make those offerings. Nor did you.
How could you? You are not allowed to go
outside the house without being punished,
not even to worship at the holy shrines.
Our mother’s heart would never prompt her to it,
and she could not have done so unobserved.
No, these offerings are from Orestes.
And so, dear sister, pluck up your courage.
One’s fortune does not always stay the same.           1100
To this point ours has been abominable,
but today perhaps brings us new promise
that many good things lie in store.

 

ELECTRA

                                                       Alas,
you’re such a fool! I feel sorry for you.                               [920]

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

 

                                                       What?
Are you not overjoyed to hear my news?

 

ELECTRA

You have no sense of where on earth you are.
Your mind is wandering in delusions.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

How could I not know what I saw so clearly?

 

ELECTRA

You poor girl. Orestes cannot save you.
He is dead. There will be no help from him.              1110

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

O no! That’s dreadful! Where did you hear this?

 

ELECTRA

From someone who was there when he was killed.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Where is this man? I can’t believe it’s true!

 

ELECTRA

He’s in the house, enjoying his welcome—
mother finds his company delightful.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

O no! What about the tributes at the grave?                       [930]
Who put them there?

 

ELECTRA

                                         Well, it’s possible
someone could have placed those offerings
as a memorial to dead Orestes.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

How foolish I was to come hurrying back                 1120
full of welcome news. I had no idea
how terrible things are. Now I’m here,
I find new sorrows have been added
to the ones we had before.

 

ELECTRA

                                           Yes, that’s true.
But if you follow my advice, you could ease
the heavy sorrows now weighing us down.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

How can I bring the dead to life again?                             [940]

 

ELECTRA

That’s not what I meant. I was not born a fool.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

What do you want? Is it something I can do?

 

ELECTRA

What I want is for you to have the courage                1130
to do what I suggest.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                 If it does us good,
I will not refuse.

 

ELECTRA

                                      Just bear in mind
there’s no success without hard work.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

I know that—I’ll do all I can to help you.

 

ELECTRA

Then listen. Here’s what I intend to do.
You know we have no friends who can assist us.
Hades has taken them away. We two,
the only ones still left, are now alone.                                 [950]
As long as I still heard he was alive and well,
I hoped that one day Orestes would return               1140
to avenge the murder of our father.
But now he’s gone, I look to you for help.
I need you to be firm—no holding back—
and work with me, your sister, to kill
our father’s murderer, Aegisthus.
That’s my plan. I will keep nothing secret
from you anymore. How much longer
will you wait around doing nothing?
Where can you look for any real hope?
All you can do now is lament the loss                        1150
of your father’s rich estate and feel sad                               [960]
that after all these years you are unmarried
and have not heard your joyful bridal song.
Do not cling onto the hope that one day
this will happen. No, that man, Aegisthus,
is no fool. He will never let the two of us
have any children. That would pose for him
a real danger. But if you do decide
to follow my advice, first of all,
you will win praises for your piety                             1160
from our dead father and our brother.
And afterwards you will be free again,
just as you were free when you were born,                         [970]
and you will have a marriage you deserve.
For all men’s eyes are drawn to true nobility.
Do you not see how, if you do as I suggest,
you and I will win a glorious reputation?
Every citizen and stranger will look at us
and shower us with praise, saying things like,
“My friends, look at those two sisters. They saved
their father’ home. At the risk of their own lives,
they stood against their powerful enemies
and killed them. They are worthy of our love,                     [980]
and all of us should show them due respect.
At festivals and when the people gather,
these two should be honoured for their courage.”
That’s how everyone will talk about us,
and then, whether we are alive or dead,
our glory will not fade. So, dear sister,
agree with me. Take up our father’s cause                1180
and our brother’s. Bring my troubles to an end
and your own, as well. Remember this—
for all those born to noble families
living life in shame is a disgrace.

 

CHORUS

In times like these, foresight is an ally,                                 [990]
for those who listen and for those who speak.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS [to the Chorus]

Yes, my friends, and if her mind were sound,
she would think carefully before she speaks.
But she has no idea what that means.

[To Electra]

What are you thinking when you arm yourself           1190
in recklessness and call for my support?
Look at you! You’re a woman, not a man—
your strength is no match for your enemies,
and their good fortune grows stronger every day,
while ours declines and soon will disappear.                    [1000]
Who could ever plot to kill a man like that
and get away with it unharmed? Be careful—
our present lives are difficult enough.
They could get even worse if anyone
hears you talk like that. If we win glory,                     1200
there is no help or benefit for us
if we die in disgrace. For death itself
is not the worst. No, wanting to die
is worse when one has no way to do it.
So before we are completely ruined,
and our entire family is destroyed,                                     [1010]
I beg you to control your anger.
As for what you said to me, for your sake
I will be silent. It will not harm you.
But now it’s time you acted sensibly.                         1210
You are weak, and so you must give way
to those with power.

 

CHORUS

                                     Listen to her.
The greatest benefits for mortal men
come from using foresight and good sense.

 

ELECTRA

I knew you would reject what I proposed.
So I must act alone, kill him myself
with my own hands. I will not give up.                               [1020]

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Ah, if only you had shown this courage
when father died. You could have done it then.

 

ELECTRA

I had the heart to do it, but at the time                       1220
my mind was ill-prepared—I could not act.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

That’s the way you should be thinking now.

 

ELECTRA

I assume from what you’re telling me to do
you will not help me.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                              No I won’t.
Whoever tries to carry out your scheme
will almost certainly get into trouble.

 

ELECTRA

I admire the way you are so prudent,
but I despise your cowardice.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                       I’ll be patient—
one day you will be praising my advice.

 

ELECTRA

You will never have to hear such words from me.      1230

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

That’s something for the future to decide.                          [1030]

 

ELECTRA

Why not leave? You’re no help to me at all.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

I could help, but you don’t want to listen.

 

ELECTRA

Just go—and tell your mother everything!

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

No, I don’t hate you enough to do that.

 

ELECTRA

You realize how you dishonour me.(35)

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

There’s no dishonour—I’m only thinking
of what might help you.

 

ELECTRA

                                       Must I then follow
what you think is just?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

                                    When you are reasonable
I’ll let you lead us both.

 

ELECTRA

                                                  It’s terrible              1240
for one to speak so well and be so wrong.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

You’ve just described yourself exactly.                             [1040]

 

ELECTRA

What? Do you not think that what I say is just?

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

But there are times when justice does us harm.

 

ELECTRA

I have no wish to live by rules like that.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

If you are going to go ahead with this,
you’ll find out I was right.

 

ELECTRA

                                           I will do it.
The things you say will not prevent me.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Are you sure? You won’t reconsider?

 

ELECTRA

No. There’s nothing worse than bad advice.              1250

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

You do not seem to hear a word I say.

 

ELECTRA

I made up my mind some time ago.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

Then I will leave, since you cannot accept                         [1050]
what I suggest, and I cannot approve
of what you’re doing.

 

ELECTRA

                                    Then go inside.
I will not come to you for help again,
not even if that is something you would like.
It’s pointless to pursue what is not there.

 

CHRYSOTHEMIS

If you believe your thinking is correct,
then think that way. But when troubles come,            1260
you’ll be praising the advice I gave you.

 

[Chrysothemis goes into the palace.]

 

CHORUS

Why, when we observe the birds above                           [1060]
and see how, with sure intelligence,
they provide sustenance to those
who gave them life and reared them,
why do we not do the same?
But by the lightning flash of Zeus
and by celestial goddess Themis,
our punishment will not be long delayed.
O Voice that echoes through the earth                       1270
to the dead below, shout out, I beg you,
a pitiful cry to the son of Atreus,
to tell him of our joyless shame.

Tell him there is sickness in the home—                            [1070]
strife between his children—two sisters
no longer live in loving harmony.
Abandoned and alone, Electra
in her misery confronts the storm,
always grieving for her father’s fate,
like the ever-plaintive nightingale,                              1280
with no concern for death, but ready
to die if she can purge the house
of those two Furies.(36) Could any child
born to a noble father ever be
more faithful to her royal lineage?                                      [1080]

No truly noble natures wish
to shame their name and reputation
by living a disgraceful life,
just as you, my child, have chosen
a life of mourning for your family.                              1290
You have spurned dishonour
and won double praise—for wisdom
and for being the best of daughters.

I pray you live with wealth and power,                              [1090]
as far above your enemies as now
you are beneath them. For I find you
in distress, but still observing
nature’s most important laws,
and with your piety toward Zeus
winning the greatest praise for virtue.                         1300

 

[Enter Orestes and Pylades.]

 

ORESTES

Ladies of Mycenae, could you tell us
if we have received correct directions
and are on the right road to our destination?

 

CHORUS

What do you want? Where is it you wish to go?                [1100]

 

ORESTES

For a long time now I have been seeking
the house in which Aegisthus lives.

 

CHORUS

                         You’ve reached it.
You cannot fault whoever it was
who told you how to get here.

 

ORESTES

                                                     Well then,
which of you will inform those in the house

that guests they have long been expecting                  1310
have arrived?

 

CHORUS

                                 If it is appropriate
that the closest member of their family
should do it, then this girl will go inside.

 

ORESTES

Go in, young lady, and make sure they learn
some men from Phocis wish to meet Aegisthus.

 

ELECTRA

Alas, I am so sad. You bring no proof,
no clear evidence, of stories we have heard—
or do you?

 

ORESTES

                       I know nothing of such tales.                        [1110]
Old Strophius told me to bring a message
about Orestes.

 

ELECTRA

                   What is that message, stranger?             1320
O how fear steals over me!

 

ORESTES

                                     As you can see,
we have come bearing in this small urn
all that remains of the man who died.

 

ELECTRA

Alas, that makes me feel so wretched!
This is what I feared, and now I see
what you are holding in your hands
there seems evidence that he is dead.

 

ORESTES

If you are weeping for Orestes’ troubles,
know that this urn contains his ashes.

 

ELECTRA

O, if that urn really holds Orestes,                             1330
then, stranger, in the name of all the gods,                         [1120]
let me hold it in my hands and lament,
weeping for these ashes and for myself,
and for my family, our entire race.

 

ORESTES [to his attendants]

Bring the ashes here, and give them to her,
whoever she is. She wants to hold them,
not from any feelings of hostility,
but as a blood relative or a friend.

 

[The attendant comes forward and hands the funeral urn to Electra.]

 

ELECTRA [taking the ashes]

O memorial of the one I loved
more dearly than all other living men,                         1340
remnant of the life of my Orestes!
As I take you back, how you contradict
the hopes I had when I sent you away!
Now, my hands raise up just lifeless ash,
but when I sent you off, away from here,
O my child, how splendid you were then!                         [1130]
How I wish I could have left this life
before these hands of mine took you in secret
and sent you out into a foreign land,
to rescue you from death. You would have died        1350
on the very day our father perished
and shared his tomb.(37) But now you have died
away from home, away from your own land,
in lonely exile, far from your sister.
I feel so sad—these loving hands of mine
did not bathe or dress your corpse or take
the painful burden from the blazing fire,                             [1140]
as is required. No. Instead, you poor man,
you were cared for by the hands of strangers
and returned a small weight in a tiny urn.                    1360
Alas for the way I looked after you
so long ago, that hard sweet futile work.
For you were never then your mother’s love
but mine, and there was no one in the house
except for me who acted as your nurse.
You always called me “sister.” Now you’re dead,
and in a single day all that has gone.                                  [1150]
You swept in like a destructive whirlwind
and carried everything away. Father is gone.             1370
And now because of you, I, too, have died,
for you have passed away. Our enemies
are laughing. Mother, who is no mother,
is insane with joy. You often sent me
secret messages about her, saying
you would come back as an avenger.
But now a divine spirit of misfortune,
yours and mine, has taken that away
and, instead of your beloved shape,
has sent me back a useless ghost and ash.                 1380

Alas, for me! This pitiful body!                                         [1160]
Alas! Alas for dear Orestes,
who set out on a dreadful journey.
You have finished me, dear brother—
yes, destroyed me. So welcome me now
into this urn, let my nothingness share
your home, too, now that you are nothing,
so I can spend my future days with you
in the earth below. When you lived above,
we shared things equally, and now I long                   1390
to die and not be parted from your grave.
For I see the dead are free from misery.                           [1170]

 

CHORUS

You were the child of a mortal father,
Electra. Remember that. Orestes, too,
was mortal. So do not grieve too much.
Death is a debt that all of us must pay.

 

ORESTES

Alas! What can I say? I feel helpless,
lost for words, incapable of speaking.

 

ELECTRA

What is troubling you? Why did you say that?

 

ORESTES

Is this the noble body of Electra?                              1400

 

ELECTRA

It is, but in a miserable state.

 

ORESTES

Your situation seems so desperate!

 

ELECTRA

Your sigh of pity is surely not for me,                                [1180]
is it, stranger?

 

ORESTES

                 You have been abused—
treated without piety or honour.

 

ELECTRA

That ill treatment you have mentioned, stranger,
is happening to me, not someone else.

 

ORESTES

Alas for your unmarried, ill-fated life.

 

ELECTRA

Why, stranger, do you look at me and sigh?

 

ORESTES

I did not understand my own distress.                       1410

 

ELECTRA

What has been said to make you see this?

 

ORESTES

It was observing you in obvious pain.

 

ELECTRA

You have not seen much of what I suffer.

 

ORESTES

How could there be still more hateful things
to witness than what is happening here?

 

ELECTRA

Because I am living with the murderers.                            [1190]

 

ORESTES

Whose murderers? This evil you talk about—
where does it come from?

 

ELECTRA

                                            My father’s killers.
And now I am compelled to be their slave.

 

ORESTES

What mortal being has driven you to this—               1420
to the point where you are being compelled.

 

ELECTRA

She calls herself my mother, but she bears
no resemblance at all to any mother.

 

ORESTES

What does she do? Does she humiliate you?
Does she use force?

 

ELECTRA

                                 Yes, she uses force,
humiliation, various other things.

 

ORESTES

And no one helps you? Or keeps them in check?

 

ELECTRA

There is no one. The one I was counting on—
you have just handed me his ashes.

 

ORESTES

You poor girl, I feel pity seeing you here.                  1430

 

ELECTRA

You are the first who ever pitied me.                                [1200]

 

ORESTES

Yes, because I am the only one who came
and was sad to see what you are suffering.

 

ELECTRA

Are you a foreign relative of ours?

 

ORESTES

I could tell you that if these people here
were well disposed to you.

 

ELECTRA

                                   They are my friends—
you would be speaking to women I trust.

 

ORESTES

Then set this urn aside, and you will learn
all I have to say.

 

ELECTRA

                            No, stranger, by the gods,
do not ask me that.

 

ORESTES

                                Trust what I say.                       1440
You will not be making a mistake.

 

ELECTRA

No. Please do not take what I most cherish.

 

ORESTES

You must not keep it.

 

ELECTRA

                                  How wretched I will feel,
Orestes, if I cannot bury you.                                           [1210]

 

ORESTES

Speak more auspicious words. It is not right
for you to show such grief.

 

ELECTRA

                                   How is it not right for me
to grieve the death of my own brother?

 

 ORESTES

 It is not right for you to speak this way.

 

ELECTRA

So with the dead I have no rights at all?

 

ORESTES [grasping the urn]

You do have rights, but not with this man here.          1450

 

ELECTRA

If I am holding the ashes of Orestes
then I do have rights.

 

ORESTES [taking the urn]

                          These are not his ashes—
that is just a story we invented.

 

ELECTRA

Then where is the grave of poor Orestes?

 

ORESTES

There isn’t one. The living have no grave.

 

ELECTRA

What are you saying, young man?                                     [1220]

 

ORESTES

                                  What I’m telling you
is not a lie.

 

ELECTRA

                         So the man is still alive?

 

ORESTES

If I am still alive, then he is, too.

 

ELECTRA

Are you Orestes?

 

ORESTES

                          Look at this signet ring.
It was my father’s. It will tell you                               1460
if I speak the truth.

 

ELECTRA

                               O most blissful day!

 

ORESTES

Yes, most blissful. I will confirm that!

 

ELECTRA

O to hear your voice! You have come back?

 

ORESTES

Yes. You need no one else to tell you that!

 

ELECTRA

And I am holding you here in my arms?

 

ORESTES

May you hold me in your arms forever!

 

ELECTRA

O you female citizens of Argos,
so dear to me, gaze upon Orestes,
who, in a story he made up, was dead
and. thanks to that deception, has been saved.          1470

 

CHORUS

We see him, my child. What has happened here                [1230]
makes me rejoice and fills my eyes with tears.

 

ELECTRA

O you child of the man most dear to me,
offspring of his race, you have just come home,
returned and found the one you longed for.

 

ORESTES

Yes, I am here. But you must be quiet
and wait.

 

ELECTRA

           What do you mean?

 

ORESTES

                            We should not talk,
in case someone inside can hear us.

 

ELECTRA

No! By Artemis, the eternal virgin,
I do not think it ever could be right                           1480     [1240]
to fear that useless load of women
who always stay inside the house.

 

ORESTES

                                                 Take care.
Ares, god of warfare, lives in women, too.
You know that from your own experience.

 

ELECTRA

O yes, alas! The evils you describe
cannot be hidden or dissolved away.
I can never put them from my mind.

 

ORESTES

My child, I know. But we must think of them
when the right moment prompts us, not before.

 

ELECTRA

For all time to come, each fleeting moment                1490
would be appropriate for me to talk
with justice about what I have suffered.
Only now have my lips been free to speak.

 

ORESTES

I agree. So you should guard that freedom.

 

ELECTRA

What should I do?

 

ORESTES

                            Do not try to say too much
at inappropriate times.

 

 

ELECTRA

                         But when you appear,
how could anyone consider it right                                    [1260]
to stay silent instead of speaking out?
For now, against all my expectations,
by some miracle I have seen you!                              1500

 

ORESTES

You saw me once the gods urged me to come.(38)

 

ELECTRA

If it was a god who brought you to our home,
then you have brought up a divine favour
greater than the one I noticed earlier.
I see in it the work of heavenly power.(39)                        [1270]

 

ORESTES

I do not wish to curb the joy you feel,
but I fear it may be overwhelming you.

 

ELECTRA

After all this time, you made up your mind
to undertake this marvellous journey.
And now you appear before me and see                   1510
the catastrophies I face. O do not . . .

 

ORESTES

What should I not do?

 

ELECTRA

                                 . . . do not take away
the delight I get from seeing your face.
Do not take that from me.

 

ORESTES

                                If I saw someone else
attempt to do that, I would be enraged.

 

ELECTRA

So you agree with me?

 

ORESTES

                                     Why would I not agree?

 

ELECTRA

O my friends, that voice—I have heard a voice
I had no hopes I’d ever hear again,
and when I heard it, I could not stay quiet
and hold in check my urge to shout for joy.               1520
Poor me! But now I have you. You are here,
with that face which is so very dear to me,
I’d never forget it, not even in my grief.

 

ORESTES

You must stop all unnecessary talk.
Do not tell me how bad our mother is
or how Aegisthus squanders all the goods                         [1290]
of our ancestral home—the wealth he wastes
or throws away on things that have no use.
The time you took to tell me all the details
would cost the opportunity we have.                         1530
Instead of that, you must describe for me
the facts that suit our present purposes—
how my arrival now enables us
to bring our enemies’ laughter to an end,
either openly or else by ambush.
Once we two have gone inside the house,
mother must not learn how you are feeling
from your delighted face. You must lament,
as if the story we made up was true.
When we have triumphed, that will be the time          1540
to rejoice and glorify our freedom.                                    [1300]

 

ELECTRA

Brother, rest assured. The way I act in there
you will find pleasing, for the joy feel
is not my own—now it comes from you.
I do not wish to win some benefit
if that might cause you any pain at all,
for I would not be acting honourably
towards the god who stands beside us.
But you can grasp the situation here.
How could you not? You must've heard them say      1550
Aegisthus is away home, but mother,
she’s inside the house. You need have no fear
she’ll see my face break out into a smile.                           [1310]
My ancient hatred for her is white hot,
and now I’ve seen you, I will never stop
weeping tears of joy. How could I do that,
when in a single day I’ve seen you dead
and then come alive? What you have done
is beyond my comprehension, so much so
that if my father came back to me alive,                     1560
I would no longer take that as an omen—
I’d believe the evidence of my eyes.
So now that you’ve returned to me like this,
tell me how to act, as your spirit prompts.
If I had been alone, I would have done
one of two things—saved myself with honour                    [1320]
or else suffered an admirable death.

 

ORESTES

Quiet! I hear someone’s footsteps in the house—
it’s sounds as if they’re going to come outside.

 

ELECTRA [to Orestes and Pylades]

Go in, strangers, chiefly because you bring                1570
something no person in this family
could send away or be happy to receive.

 

[Enter the Paedagogus from the house.]

 

PAEDOGOGUS

You foolish children, have you lost your wits?
Do you have no regard for your own lives,
or have your minds lost any natural sense?
Don’t you realize you’re not on the edge                           [1330]
of lethal danger but in its very midst?
If I had not been standing by these doors,
keeping watch for ages, what you’re planning
would be inside the house before your bodies.           1580
I’ve taken care of that. So stop this talk
and all these insatiable cries of joy,
and go inside. In moments such as these
delay is dangerous. It's time to act.

 

ORESTES

What am I going to find when I go in?

 

PAIDAGOGUS

It’s fine. It’s clear enough no one in there                              [1340]
is going to recognize you.

 

ORESTES

                                               I’m assuming
you gave them the report that I was dead.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

You are now a man who dwells in Hades.

 

ORESTES

Does that make them happy? What do they say?       1590

 

PAEDAGOGUS

I’ll tell you that when all of this is over.
As far as they’re concerned, things favour us,
even in matters which are dishonourable.(40)

 

ELECTRA

Who is this man, brother? For gods’ sake tell me.

 

ORESTES

Don’t you recognize him?

 

ELECTRA

                                        No. I have no idea.

 

ORESTES

Years ago you handed me to someone else.
And now you cannot recognize the man?

 

ELECTRA

What man? What are you talking about?

 

ORESTES

I’m talking about the man who secretly,                            [1350]
thanks to your precautions, carried me                     1600
to the land of Phocis.

 

ELECTRA

                                          Is he the one,
the only person I could trust back then
out of so many, when they killed our father?

 

ORESTES

Yes, he’s the one. But no more questions now.

 

ELECTRA

What an amazing day! You, the sole saviour
of Agamemnon’s house, how did you get here?
Are you are really the man who rescued me
and my Orestes from our many troubles?
O those dear hands and those beloved feet
that did us such a service! How could you                 1610
live with me so long and stay anonymous,
shedding no light at all on what had happened,
and boring me with stories, when you knew
the truth of what was truly sweet to me?                           [1360]
Welcome, father, for in you I seem to see
a father. Welcome! In a single day
I have truly hated and then truly loved you,
more so than any other mortal man.

 

PAEDAGOGUS

Enough for now, I think. As for the rest,
the stories of what happened in the years                   1620
you were apart, there will be lots of time,
many circling nights and days, Electra,
for you to find that out in every detail.

[To Orestes and Pylades]

You two are here now. I advise you both
to seize this opportunity to act.
For Clytaemnestra is all by herself.
For the moment there is no man inside.
But if you hesitate, remember this—                                 [1370]
you’ll have to face the other men inside
and those stronger and more skilled in fighting.          1630

 

ORESTES

Pylades, the task we have to carry out
does not require us to say a lot.
Instead, we should quickly move inside,
once we have ritually acknowledged
our ancestral gods, who protect these gates.

 

[Orestes and Pylades go into the house with the Paedagogus. Electra and the Chorus remain outside.]

 

ELECTRA

Lord Apollo, listen to them kindly,
and to me as well. I have often come
to you as a suppliant at your shrine,
carrying in my hands whatever gifts
I could gather. And now, Lycian Apollo,                   1640
I pray to you with what I have at hand,
I implore you with this supplication                                   [1380]
to be our willing champion in this plan,
reveal to all the price the gods demand
from human beings for their impiety.

 

[Electra goes into the house.]

 

CHORUS

See now how Ares moves ahead,
breathing bloody and unholy strife.
The avengers of those wicked crimes
have just gone in the house, the hounds
that none escape. What my soul dreams                    1650
will not hang in suspense for long.                                     [1390]

The man who helps the spirits below
has gone with stealthy feet inside
his father’s rich ancestral home,
carrying sharp-honed, bloody death,
with Hermes, goddess Maia’s son,
shrouding his deceit in darkness
and leading him straight to his goal.
No longer will it be delayed.

 

[Enter Electra from the house.]

 

ELECTRA

O my dearest friends, in a few moments                    1660
the men will have carried out their work.
But you must wait in silence.

 

CHORUS

                                            How are they?
What are they doing now?                                                [1400]

 

ELECTRA

                             Clytaemnestra
is decorating the urn for burial,
the two men standing close behind her.

 

CHORUS

Why have you run outside?

 

ELECTRA

                                 I want to stand guard
in case Aegisthus comes up to the house
without our knowledge.

 

CLYTAEMESTRA [from within the house]

                                    Aaaaiiii! The palace
has no friends! It’s filled with murderers!

 

ELECTRA

Someone let out a cry in there! My friends,               1670
did you not hear it?

 

CHORUS

                                       I heard a scream—
an appalling sound. It made me shudder.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]

Alas, I’m done for. Where are you, Aegisthus?
Where are you?

 

ELECTRA

                               Listen! Another scream!

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]

My child, my son, have pity on your mother!

 

ELECTRA

You did not pity him or the father
who produced him.

 

CHORUS

                         O this unhappy city
and suffering family, now the fate
that has gripped you every day is dying—
it is coming to an end.

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]

                                I have been stabbed!                 1680
Aaaiii . . .

 

ELECTRA

                   Strike her twice, if you have the strength!

 

CLYTAEMNESTRA [from inside the house]

Aaaiii . . . another blow!

 

ELECTRA

                                         O how I wish
Aegisthus had been stabbed as well.

 

CHORUS

The curses have come to their conclusion.
Those who were in the earth are now alive,                       [1420]
and in a flood of lethal retribution
those dead long ago are draining blood
from those who slaughtered them.

 

[Orestes and Pylades enter from the house.]

 

CHORUS

Here they come, their red hands dripping blood,
a sacrifice to Ares. I cannot fault them.                      1690

 

ELECTRA

Orestes, what’s going on?

 

ORESTES

                                                 Inside the house
things worked out well, if what Apollo’s shrine
prophesied to me is right.

 

ELECTRA

                                    Is she dead?
Is that wretched woman dead?

 

ORESTES

                                        You need not fear.
Never again will your mother’s arrogance
dishonour and abuse you.

 

CHORUS

                                         Be quiet!
I see Aegisthus. He is in plain sight.

 

ELECTRA

You two, shouldn’t you go back inside?                           [1430]

 

ORESTES

Where do you see him?

 

ELECTRA

                        He’s moving towards us,
coming from the outskirts of the city                          1700
in a cheerful mood . . .

 

CHORUS

                                         Get into the hallway
as quickly as you can. What you did before
proved successful, so do it once again.

 

ORESTES

Don’t worry. We’ll finish what we started.

 

ELECTRA

Do what you mean to do, but quickly.

 

ORESTES

I’m going.

 

ELECTRA

                         I’ll take care of things out here.

 

[Orestes and Pylades go into the house.]

 

CHORUS

You might pour a few kind-sounding words
into Aegisthus’ ear—that could be helpful,
blinding him as he hurries to the struggle                            [1440]
where he will find just retribution.                              1710

 

[Enter Aegisthus.]

 

AEGISTHUS

Can anybody here give me some news
of strangers who have just arrived from Phocis?
There’s a story they have brought us a report
about Orestes dying in some accident,
shipwrecked in his chariot. What about you?
I’m asking you—yes, you—who up to now
have been so reckless. It seems to me this news
concerns you most of all, so you’re the one
who knows the most and thus can best inform me.

 

ELECTRA

I know the details. How could I not know?               1720
If I did not, I would be a stranger
to the fortunes of a person dear to me.

 

AEGISTHUS

Where are these strangers then? Tell me.                          [1450]

 

ELECTRA

                                                                  Inside.
Their hostess welcomed them with all her heart.

 

AEGISTHUS

Is it true they’re saying he is dead?

 

ELECTRA

Yes. And they have not simply told the story,
but have provided evidence, as well.

 

AEGISTHUS

Can I see this proof clearly for myself?

 

ELECTRA

You can. But it is not a pleasant sight.

 

AEGISTHUS

What you have told me fills me with delight—            1730
and that’s unusual.

 

ELECTRA

                                        Then be happy,
if occasions like this bring you pleasure.

 

AEGISTHUS

No more words. I order you to open up
the gates, so all Mycenaeans and Argives
can see and, if any one of them was stirred
by empty hopes that this man would come back,               [1460]
then, by looking at the corpse, he’ll welcome
my bit in his mouth. There will be no need
for me to punish him and use my force
to help him cultivate some common sense.                 1740

 

ELECTRA

I’m prepared to do that. Time has taught me
to align my mind with those in power.

 

 [The doors of the palace open, revealing a shroud-covered corpse. Orestes and Pylades are beside it.]

 

AEGISTHUS

O Zeus, what I see before me is a scene
the jealously of the gods has brought about.
If Nemesis is here, I will say nothing.
Remove the cloth covering his eyes
so, as my relative, he may receive
appropriate funeral rites from me.

 

ORESTES

Remove the cloth yourself. It’s up to you,                         [1470]
not me, to look upon this body here                          1750
and offer it some sympathetic words.

 

AEGISTHUS

That’s good advice. I’ll do just as you say.

[To Electra]

But you should summon Clytaemnestra here,
if she is in the house.

 

ORESTES

                                       She is near by.
You need not look for her elsewhere.

 

[Aegisthus removes the covering from the corpse, revealing the dead body of Clytaemnestra]

 

AEGISTHUS [staggering back]

                                               What’s this?
What am I looking at?

 

ORESTES

                                           Are you afraid?
Do you not recognize her?

 

AEGISTHUS

                                                  This is appalling!
Who are you men whose nets have trapped me?

 

ORESTES

Do you not see how, for some time now,
you have been discussing living people                      1760
in language appropriate for the dead?(41)

 

AEGISTHUS

Alas, I grasp the meaning of your words.                          [1480]
The man addressing me must be Orestes.

 

ORESTES

You’re an excellent prophet, but for a while
you were deceived.

 

AEGISTHUS

                             I am finished—done for.
But you must allow me a few words.

 

ELECTRA

No, my brother. For the sake of the gods,
do not let him say anything at all
or to plead at length. When mortal beings
are caught out in the midst of evil deeds,                    1770
how can a man who is about to die
get any benefit from a delay?
No. Kill him as quickly as you can,
then throw the corpse out to be buried
by beasts who ought to deal with men like him,
far from our sight. That is the only way,
as far as I’m concerned, we’ll ever find
deliverance from all our ancient grief.                                [1490]

 

ORESTES [to Aegisthus]

Get inside—and hurry. What’s at issue here
is not mere words but rather your own life.                1780

 

AEGISTHUS

Why take me in the house? If what you’re doing
is justified, why do we need darkness?
Is your hand not ready for the slaughter?

 

ORESTES

Do not try to organize what’s happening.
Go inside to where you killed my father,
so you, too, may perish in that very spot.

 

AEGISTHUS

Is this house forced to witness all the pain,
present and to come, of Peleus’ sons.

 

ORESTES

Well, yours at least. In what pertains to that
I am the finest prophet of them all.                             1790

 

AEGISTHUS

You may well boast about your expertise—                      [1500]
your father lacked that skill.

 

ORESTES

                                    You talk too much.
You’re trying to delay. Now move inside.

 

AEGISTHUS

Lead on.

 

ORESTES

                    No. You go first.

 

AEGISTHUS

                                            In case I get away?

 

ORESTES

No. To prevent you dying in a way
you might approve of. I must take great care
to make your death something you find bitter.
Just punishment should come immediately
to those who wish to go beyond the law—
they should all die—and then illegal acts                    1800
would be less frequent than they are.

 

[Orestes and Aegisthus go into the palace.]

 

CHORUS

O seed of Atreus, you have emerged
from so much suffering! What’s happened here
is now complete, and you are free at last.                          [1510]

 

[Exeunt omnes.]

 

 

ENDNOTES

(1) The word paedagogus means tutor. [Back to Text]


(2) The word CHORUS in the text below indicates speeches delivered by the Chorus Leader, by the entire Chorus, or by a smaller group of Chorus members. [Back to Text]


(3) Argos, which often designates a specific town, here refers to the territory around Mycenae. Inachus was a river god. His daughter, Io, was changed into a cow by Zeus to hide the girl (on whom Zeus had amorous designs) from Hera, his divine wife. Hera, suspecting her husband was having an affair and seeking revenge, sent a gadfly with a dreadful sting to persecute Io and drive her out of Argos. [Back to Text]


(4) Pelops was the founder of the royal line at Mycenae, and his actions (which are mentioned later) launched a series of catastrophes for the family. [Back to Text]


(5) Jebb notes that Orestes was born before the Trojan War, which lasted ten years, and that, according to traditional stories, Aegisthus ruled Mycenae for seven years. Therefore, Orestes was about ten years old when he was taken away from his home by the Paedagogus and is now about nineteen or twenty years old. [Back to Text]


(6) The Pythian oracle at Delphi, a shrine to the god Phoebus Apollo, was one of the most famous religious shrines in Greece. [Back to Text]


(7) The Pythian games were a major athletic festival held every four years in honour of Apollo at Delphi. [Back to Text]


(8) Procne, wife of Tereus, killed her son, Itys, and served him to Tereus for dinner in an act of revenge for Tereus’ brutal rape and mutilation of her sister, Philomela. Procne was then turned into a nightingale who was always grieving for the loss of her child. [Back to Text]


(9) Hermes guided the shades of the dead in Hades. The word ara means (among other things) prayer, curse, or vow. It also denotes a personified goddess of destruction and revenge (Ara). The Furies (or Erinyes) were goddesses of revenge, especially against those who had committed serious crimes against a blood relative. [Back to Text]


(10) The phrase “that bird distraught with grief” is another reference the nightingale (see Endnote 7 above). Niobe was queen of Thebes. The gods punished her for pride, by destroying all her fourteen children. Niobe, overwhelmed with grief, fled to Mount Sipylus in Lydia (now Turkey), where she was turned into stone. The rock, according to ancient traditions, wept tears. Niobe is frequently invoked as a symbol of extreme grief and eternal mourning. [Back to Text]


(11) Jebb notes that in Sophocles’ version of the story Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra had five children: four daughters (Iphigeneia, Electra, Chrysothemis, and Iphianassa) and one son (Orestes). Iphigeneia was killed at Aulis, offered up by her father as a sacrifice to the gods, so that the Greek fleet would receive a favourable wind. Orestes is “secluded” because he has been living in exile. Other versions of the story generally omit Iphianassa or else suggest that she is the same person as Iphigeneia. [Back to Text]


(12) This speech indicates that Electra and Orestes have been in contact with each other. She has been sending him messages (presumably about what is happening to her in Mycenae), and he has been telling her how much he wants to return. [Back to Text]


(13) The Acheron is a river in the underworld. The god “who reigns beside the shores of Acheron” is Hades. Jebb notes that some commentators consider the phrase a reference to Agamemnon. [Back to Text]


(14) Jebb observes that the Chorus is not sure whether the murder of Agamemnon is a human or divine action (or both). Given the bloody history of the royal family of Argos, they are not ruling out the possibility that some divine agency may have been at work. [Back to Text]


(15) The feast in question is the one Clytaemnestra organizes each year on the anniversary of Agamemnon’s death, a celebration Clytaemnestra has, with grim irony, named after the dead king. [Back to Text]


(16) Electra is referring here to the day she handed Orestes over to the Paedagogus right after Agamemnon’s murder, thus saving him from Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. [Back to Text]


(17) Jebb notes that offerings were articles of food (e.g., cakes) to be burned at the gravesite. Libations were liquids poured out over the dead person’s burial site. [Back to Text]


(18) As Jebb notes, Agamemnon could fix the sceptre in the ground because the floor of the room in which the hearth was located was beaten down earth. Alternatively, Agamemnon could have planted the sceptre outside beside the altar of Zeus in the main courtyard of the palace. [Back to Text]


(19) Mutilating a dead enemy (by cutting off his extremities and placing them under the arms of the corpse) was thought to prevent the spirit of the dead man from taking vengeance for the killing. The Greek does not specify what Clytaemnestra wiped on Agamemnon’s head. Her hands or her weapon seems the most obvious dramatic possibility. [Back to Text]


(20) The Furies (or Eriynes) were female goddesses of vengeance, especially for blood crimes against members of the family. They are called bronze-shod because their shoes never wear out in their pursuit of their victims. [Back to Text]


(21) The phrase “That pair” is a reference to Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus. [Back to Text]


(22) Pelops, a distance ancestor of the Mycenean royal family, entered a competition in order to win Hippodameia as his wife. The girl’s father, Oenomaus, king of Pisa, had promised her to anyone who could beat him in a chariot race. If the suitor failed to win, then he was killed. Pelops convinced the king’s charioteer, Myrtilus, to sabotage Oenomaus’ chariot by tamper-ing with the wheels. Myrtilus did so, Oenomaus crashed, and Pelops won the race and Hippodameia. Soon afterwards Pelops quarrelled with Myrtilus and threw him into the sea. As he was drowning, Myrtilus uttered a curse against Pelops and all his descendants. This curse is traditionally the initial cause of all the bloody troubles of the royal family in Mycenae. Sophocles here suggests that Myrtilus was thrown from his chariot. The more common account is that Pelops hurled him into the sea. The lines may be conflating the story of Oenomaus, who died in the sea when his chariot wheel came off during the race with Pelops, and the story of Myrtilus. [Back to Text]


(23) It was (and in many places still is) considered shameful for a family to let a young, unmarried girl walk around in a public place alone. [Back to Text]


(24) The gods told Agamemnon that the Greek fleet would not receive a favourable wind for the fleet, unless he sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia. Agamemnon sacrificed the girl, and the Greeks sailed to Troy. [Back to Text]


(25) The Greek forces at Troy were often called the Argives or the Achaeans, rather than Greeks. [Back to Text]


(26) Menelaus was married to Helen (Clytaemnestra’s sister), who later eloped to Troy with Paris, a Trojan prince. The immediate cause of the war was Menelaus’ desire to get her back. The other Greek warriors joined (some unwillingly) because they had earlier agreed to provide assistance to whichever one of them married Helen. [Back to Text]


(27) Hades is the god who rules the underworld. [Back to Text]


(28) Human beings were not in a position to interrogate gods about their motives. [Back to Text]


(29) Some traditional accounts state that Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra had two children. [Back to Text]


(30) Clytaemnestra is not willing, in the presence of Electra, to speak all her prayers aloud. Presumably, those silent prayers have something to do with Orestes. [Back to Text]


(31) Following the lead of many other translators, I omit line 691 in the Greek, which lists the contests (single lap race, double lap race, and pentathlon). Jebb suggests it is a later interpolation and discusses the difficulties it presents. [Back to Text]

 

(32) In the chariot race, each competitor drove a four-horse team, two yoked horses in the middle and two trace horses on the outside. The drivers raced a number of laps counter clockwise around a course marked with a pillar at each end (the turning post). A key moment was the turn around the pillar, when a good rider guided his left trace horse as close to the pillar as possible, without having his wheel hit it. That meant that the driver had to keep a tight control on the left-hand trace horse, the one nearest the pillar. The right-hand horse was left to run as hard as it could. [Back to Text]


(33) As an important royal figure, Clytaemnestra would be expected to provide appropriate hospitality for a messenger from an ally. [Back to Text]


(34) Amphiaraus, an Argive prophet, was reluctant to join an expedition led by Polyneices, a son of Oedipus, against Thebes. Polyneices bribed Amphiaraus’ wife, Eriphyle, with a golden necklace, and she convinced her husband to join Polyneices. After the Thebans defeated Polyneices, Amphiaraus fled and was swallowed up when the earth was split apart by a thunderbolt. His son Alcmaeon avenged his father by killing Eriphyle. The Chorus offers Amphiaraus as an example of someone who died as a result of his wife’s treachery and greed (i.e., someone like Agamemnon) and who still has a significant existence in the underworld. Electra seizes on the point that the death of Amphiaraus was avenged, whereas Agamemnon’s death has not yet been avenged. [Back to Text]


(35) The dishonour, Jebb explains, comes from Chrysothemis’ rejection of Electra’s appeal to her as a sister. [Back to Text]


(36) The word “Furies” is normally associated with the divine agents of blood revenge, but sometimes (as here) it is used to denote the perpetrator of the evil act (i.e., the person the Furies seek to destroy). [Back to Text]


(37) If Electra had not saved Orestes, he would have died, but he would have received full funeral rites and a proper grave at home. Now, he appears to have died away from home and received no appropriate rites. [Back to Text]


(38) Jebb comments that Orestes returned to Argos when he oracle told him to do so (he also observes that a line is probably missing from the manuscript here). [Back to Text]

 

(38) The “earlier” favour Electra refers to here may be the bad dream Clytaemnestra had, an event that Electra interprets as a sign that the gods are on her side. [Back to Text]

 

(39) The earlier favour Electra refers to here may be the bad dream Clytaemnestra had, an event that Electra interprets as a sign that the gods on her side. [Back to Text]

 

(40) This odd-sounding sentence probably means (according to Jebb) that the situation is advantageous for the plotters, even in things which they might not consider morally correct (e.g., Clytaemnestra’s joy at the reported death of her son).                    [Back to Text]

 

(41) Orestes is presumably referring to the earlier speeches of Aegisthus in which he assumed that Orestes had died in the chariot accident. [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.

These texts are available at the following sites: johnstonia and johnstoniatexts


For comments and questions, please contact Ian Johnston.