daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, sister of Orestes.
Helen: wife of
Menelaus, sister of Clytaemnestra.
daughter of Menelaus and Helen.
women of Argos.
of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, brother of Electra.
brother of Agamemnon, uncle of Orestes and Electra.
father of Helen and Clytaemnestra, an old man.
prince of Phocis, a friend of Orestes.
of Helen’s Trojan slaves, a eunuch.
son of Zeus and Leto, god of prophecy.
[Scene: The action of the
play takes place in Argos just outside the royal palace a
few days after Orestes has avenged the murder of his father
by killing his mother, Clytaemnestra, and her lover,
Aegisthus. Orestes is lying ill on a bed near the doors.
Electra is sitting close to him]
There’s nothing terrible one can describe,
no suffering or event brought on by gods,
whose weight humans may not have to bear.
The blessed Tantalus—and I don’t mock him
for his misfortunes—who
was, so they say,
born from Zeus, flutters in the air, terrified
of a rock hanging right above his head.
People claim he’s paying the penalty,
because, although he was a mortal man
who was considered equal to the
in the feasts they shared together, he had
a shameful illness—he could not control
Well, Tantalus fathered Pelops,
and then from that man Atreus was born,
the one for whom the goddess combing yarn
spun out strife, making him the enemy
of his own brother, Thyestes. But
should I describe these horrors once again?
Then Atreus killed Thyestes’ children
and fed them to him. Then, there’s Atreus—
I won’t mention what happened in between.
With Aerope, who came from Crete, as mother,
Atreus fathered glorious Agamemnon,
if, indeed, he was a glorious man,
and Menelaus, too. Menelaus
then wed Helen, a woman gods
while lord Agamemnon, in a wedding
notorious in Greece, took Clytaemnestra
as his wife. To him from that one woman
were born three daughters—Chrysothemis,
Iphigeneia, and me, Electra,
and a son, as well, Orestes, all of us
from an abominable mother who snared
her husband in a robe he could not escape
and slaughtered him. It’s not appropriate
for a young girl to talk of why she did it,
and so I leave the matter indistinct
for people to consider. Why should one
accuse Phoebus of injustice, even though
he did persuade Orestes to strike
the mother who had given birth to him,
an act which did not earn him a good
in all men’s eyes?
Still, he obeyed the god
and killed her. I helped with the murder, too,
doing as much as any woman could,
and Pylades assisted us as well.
After that poor Orestes grew so ill.
Infected with a savage wasting sickness,
he’s collapsed in bed and lies there, driven
into fits of madness by his mother’s blood.
I am ashamed to name those goddesses,
the Eumenides, who keep driving him
through terrible ordeals.
It’s the sixth day
since our mother perished in that slaughter
and her body was purified in
in that time he’s not swallowed any food
or washed his skin. He stays wrapped in a cloak.
And when his body does find some relief
and his mind clears from the disease, he weeps.
At other times he leaps up out of
and bolts like a colt released from harness.
Argos has proclaimed no one should shelter us,
receive us by their hearths, or speak to us,
since we killed our mother. This very day
will be decisive—the Argive city
will cast its vote whether the two of us
must be stoned to death or have our throats cut
with a sharpened sword. We do have one hope
we won’t die—the fact that Menelaus
has reached this land from Troy—his
now fills up the harbour at Nauplia,
where he rides at anchor by the headlands,
after wandering for so long at random.
But as for Helen, who caused such grieving,
he sent her on ahead to our own house,
waiting until night, in case anyone
whose children were killed at Troy might see her,
if she went strolling there during the day,
and injured her by starting to throw stones.
She’s inside now, weeping for her
and the troubles which have struck her family.
Though she grieves, she has some consolation—
Hermione, the daughter she left at home
when she sailed off to Troy, who Menelaus
brought from Sparta and gave to my mother
to bring up, brings her great joy and helps her
forget her troubles. I keep on watching
all the roads for the moment I can see
Menelaus coming. Unless he saves us,
we don’t have strength enough to ride this out.
A house plagued with bad luck has no defence.
[Helen enters from the place.]
Child of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon,
poor Electra, you’ve remained unmarried
such a long time now. How are things with you
and your unlucky brother Orestes,
who killed his mother? That was a mistake.
But since I ascribe it to Apollo,
I don’t risk pollution talking to you.
And yet I do lament my sister’s death,
Clytaemnestra, whom I never
after I sailed off to Troy, driven there
by that fated madness sent from the gods.
Now I’ve lost her, I weep for our misfortune.
Helen, why should I now describe for you
what your eyes can see—Agamemnon’s home
facing disaster? I sit here sleepless
beside this wretched corpse—his faint breathing
makes the man a corpse. Not that I blame him
for his suffering. You’re the one who’s lucky.
Your husband’s fortunate as well. You’ve
when what’s going on with us is miserable.
How long has he lying like this in bed?
Ever since he shed his mother’s blood.
And his mother, too, given how she died.
That’s how it is. He’s broken by his troubles.
a son of Zeus, offended the gods, who punished him
by placing him in Hades where he is constantly
tempted by food and drink which he cannot reach. His
offense varies, depending on the story. In some
accounts, he stole food from the gods and revealed
their secrets to human beings. In others, he cut up
his son Pelops and served him up as food for the
gods. The gods quickly discovered the crime and put
Pelops back together.
is the name of the god Apollo, whose oracle Orestes
consulted before returning to murder his mother and
Aegisthus in revenge for his father's death.
Eumenides (literally the "Kindly Ones") are the
Furies, goddesses of blood revenge within the
family, who are tormenting Orestes because he killed
his mother. Electra does not call them by their
official name but uses a common euphemism,
presumably because she does not wish to risk
offending them. The Furies are also called the