Translated by E. P. Coleridge
A PEASANT OF MYCENAE, husband of ELECTRA
ELECTRA, daughter of Agamemnon
ORESTES, son of Agamemnon
PYLADES, friend Of ORESTES
CHORUS OF ARGIVE COUNTRY-WOMEN
CLYTEMNESTRA, widow of Agamemnon
OLD MAN, formerly servant of Agamemnon
Before the hut of the PEASANT, in the country on the borders of Argolis.
It is just before sunrise. The PEASANT is discovered alone.
PEASANT O Argos, ancient land, and streams of Inachus, whence on
a day king Agamemnon sailed to the realm of Troy, carrying his warriors
aboard a thousand ships; and after he had slain Priam who was reigning
in Ilium and captured the famous city of Dardanus, he came hither
to Argos and has set up high on the temple-walls many a trophy, spoil
of the barbarians. Though all went well with him in Troy, yet was
he slain in his own palace by the guile of his wife Clytemnestra and
the hand of Aegisthus, son of Thyestes. So he died and left behind
him the ancient sceptre of Tantalus, and Aegisthus reigns in his stead,
with the daughter of Tyndareus, Agamemnon's queen, to wife. Now as
for those whom he left in his halls, when he sailed to Troy, his son
Orestes and his tender daughter Electra,-the boy Orestes, as he was
like to be slain by Aegisthus, his sire's old foster-father secretly
removed to the land of Phocis and gave to Strophius to bring up, but
the maid Electra abode in her father's house, and soon as she had
budded into maidenhood, came all the princes of Hellas asking her
hand in marriage. But Aegisthus kept her at home for fear she might
bear a son to some chieftain who would avenge Agamemnon, nor would
he betroth her unto any. But when e'en thus there seemed some room
for fear that she might bear some noble lord a child by stealth and
Aegisthus was minded to slay her, her mother, though she had a cruel
heart, yet rescued the maiden from his hand. For she could find excuses
for having slain her husband, but she feared the hatred she would
incur for her children's murder. Wherefore Aegisthus devised this
scheme; on Agamemnon's son who had escaped his realm by flight he
set a price to be paid to any who should slay him, while he gave Electra
to me in marriage, whose ancestors were citizens of Mycenae. It is
not that I blame myself for; my family was noble enough, though certainly
impoverished, and so my good birth suffers. By making for her this
weak alliance he thought he would have little to fear. For if some
man of high position had married her, he might have revived the vengeance
for Agamemnon's murder, which now is sleeping; in which case Aegisthus
would have paid the penalty. But Cypris is my witness that I have
ever respected her maidenhood; she is still as though unwed. Unworthy
as I am, honour forbids that I should so affront the daughter of a
better man. Yea, and I am sorry for Orestes, hapless youth, who is
called my kinsman, to think that he should ever return to Argos and
behold his sister's wretched marriage. And whoso counts me but a fool
for leaving a tender maid untouched when I have her in my house, to
him I say, he measures purity by the vicious standard of his own soul,
a standard like himself. (ELECTRA enters from the hut, carrying a
water pitcher on her head. She is meanly clad.)
ELECTRA O sable night, nurse of the golden stars! beneath thy pall
I go to fetch water from the brook with my pitcher poised upon my
head, not indeed because I am forced to this necessity, but that to
the gods I may display the affronts Aegisthus puts upon me, and to
the wide firmament pour out my lamentation for my sire. For my own
mother, the baleful daughter of Tyndareus, hath cast me forth from
her house to gratify her lord; for since she hath borne other children
to Aegisthus she puts me and Orestes on one side at home.
PEASANT Oh! why, poor maiden, dost thou toil so hard on my behalf,
thou that aforetime wert reared so daintily? why canst thou not forego
thy labour, as I bid thee?
ELECTRA As a god's I count thy kindness to me, for in my distress
thou hast never made a mock at me. 'Tis rare fortune when mortals
find such healing balm for their cruel wounds as 'tis my lot to find
in thee. Wherefore I ought, though thou forbid me, to lighten thy
labours, as far as my strength allows, and share all burdens with
thee to ease thy load. Thou hast enough to do abroad; 'tis only right
that I should keep thy house in order. For when the toiler cometh
to his home from the field, it is pleasant to find all comfortable
in the house.
PEASANT If such thy pleasure, go thy way; for, after all, the spring
is no great distance from my house. And at break of day I will drive
my steers to my glebe and sow my crop. For no idler, though he has
the gods' names ever on his lips, can gather a livelihood without
hard work. (ELECTRA and the PEASANT go out. A moment later ORESTES
and PYLADES enter.)
ORESTES Ah Pylades, I put thee first 'mongst men for thy love, thy
loyalty and friendliness to me; for thou alone of all my friends wouldst
still honour poor Orestes, in spite of the grievous plight whereto
I am reduced by Aegisthus, who with my accursed mother's aid slew
my sire. I am come from Apollo's mystic shrine to the soil of Argos,
without the knowledge of any, to avenge my father's death upon his
murderers. Last night went unto his tomb and wept thereon, cutting
off my hair as an offering and pouring o'er the grave the blood of
a sheep for sacrifice, unmarked by those who lord it o'er this land.
And now though I enter not the walled town, yet by coming to the borders
of the land I combine two objects; I can escape to another country
if any spy me out and recognize me, and at the same time seek my sister,
for I am told she is a maid no longer but is married and living here,
that I may meet her, and, after enlisting her aid in the deed of blood,
learn for certain what is happening in the town. Let us now, since
dawn is uplifting her radiant eye, step aside from this path. For
maybe some labouring man or serving maid will come in sight, of whom
we may inquire whether it is here that my sister hath her home. Lo!
yonder I see a servant bearing a full pitcher of water on her shaven
head; let us sit down and make inquiry of this bond-maid, if haply
we may glean some tidings of the matter which brought us hither, Pylades.
(They retire a little, as ELECTRA returns from the spring.)
ELECTRA (chanting, strophe 1)
Bestir thy lagging feet, 'tis high time; on, on o'er thy path of
tears! ah misery! I am Agamemnon's daughter, she whom Clytemnestra,
hateful child of Tyndareus, bare; hapless Electra is the name my countrymen
call me. Ah me! for my cruel lot, my hateful existence! O my father
Agamemnon! in Hades art thou laid, butchered by thy wife and Aegisthus.
Come, raise with me that dirge once more; uplift the woful strain
that brings relief.
On, on o'er thy path of tears! ah misery! And thou, poor brother,
in what city and house art thou a slave, leaving thy suffering sister
behind in the halls of our fathers to drain the cup of bitterness?
Oh! come, great Zeus, to set me free from this life of sorrow, and
to avenge my sire in the blood of his foes, bringing the wanderer
home to Argos.
Take this pitcher from my head, put it down, that I may wake betimes,
while it is yet night, my lamentation for my sire, my doleful chant,
my dirge of death, for thee, my father in thy grave, which day by
day I do rehearse, rending my skin with my nails, and smiting on my
shaven head in mourning for thy death. Woe, woe! rend the cheek; like
a swan with clear loud note beside the brimming river calling to its
parent dear that lies a-dying in the meshes of the crafty net, so
I bewail thee, my hapless sire,
After that last fatal bath of thine laid out most piteously in death.
Oh I the horror of that axe which hacked thee so cruelly, my sire
I oh! the bitter thought that prompted thy return from Troy! With
no garlands or victor's crowns did thy wife welcome thee, but with
his two-edged sword she made thee the sad sport of Aegisthus and kept
her treacherous paramour. (The CHORUS OF ARGIVE COUNTRY-WOMEN enter.
The following lines between ELECTRA and the CHORUS are sung responsively.)
O Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, to thy rustic cot I come, for a
messenger hath arrived, a highlander from Mycenae, one who lives on
milk, announcing that the Argives are proclaiming a sacrifice for
the third day from now, and all our maidens are to go to Hera's temple.
ELECTRA Kind friends, my heart is not set on festivity, nor do necklaces
of gold cause any flutter in my sorrowing bosom, nor will I stand
up with the maidens of Argos to beat my foot in the mazy dance. Tears
have been my meat day and night; ah misery! See my unkempt hair, my
tattered dress; are they fit for a princess, a daughter of Agamemnon,
or for Troy which once thought of my father as its captor?
Mighty is the goddess; so come, and borrow of me broidered robes
for apparel and jewels of gold that add a further grace to beauty's
charms. Dost think to triumph o'er thy foes by tears, if thou honour
not the gods? 'Tis not by lamentation but by pious prayers to heaved
that thou, my daughter, wilt make fortune smile on thee.
ELECTRA No god hearkens to the voice of lost Electra, or heeds the
sacrifices offered by my father long ago. Ah woe for the dead! woe
for the living wanderer, who dwelleth in some foreign land, an outcast
and vagabond at a menial board, sprung though he is of a famous sire!
Myself, too, in a poor man's hut do dwell, wasting my soul with grief,
an exile from my father's halls, here by the scarred hill-side; while
my mother is wedded to a new husband in a marriage stained by blood.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Many a woe to Hellas and thy house did Helen,
thy mother's sister, cause.
ELECTRA (catching sight of ORESTES AND PYLADES) Ha! Friends, I break
off my lament; yonder are strangers just leaving the place of ambush
where they were couching, and making for the house. We must seek to
escape the villains by flying, thou along the path and I into my cottage.
ORESTES Stay, poor maid; fear no violence from me.
ELECTRA O Phoebus Apollo I beseech thee spare my life.
ORESTES Give me the lives of others more my foes than thou!
ELECTRA Begone! touch me not! thou hast no right to.
ORESTES There is none I have a better right to touch.
ELECTRA How is it then thou waylayest me, sword in hand, near my
ORESTES Wait and hear, and thou wilt soon agree with me
ELECTRA Here I stand; I am in thy power in any case, since thou art
ORESTES I am come to thee with news of thy brother.
ELECTRA O best of friends! is he alive or dead?
ORESTES Alive; I would fain give thee my good news first.
ELECTRA God bless thee! in return for thy welcome tidings.
ORESTES I am prepared to share that blessing between us.
ELECTRA In what land is my poor brother spending his dreary exile?
ORESTES His ruined life does not conform to the customs of any one
ELECTRA Surely he does not want for daily bread?
ORESTES Bread he has, but an exile is a helpless man at best.
ELECTRA What is this message thou hast brought from him?
ORESTES He asks, "Art thou alive? and if so, How art thou faring?"
ELECTRA Well, first thou seest how haggard I am grown.
ORESTES So wasted with sorrow that I weep for thee.
ELECTRA Next mark my head, shorn and shaven like a Scythian's.
ORESTES Thy brother's fate and father's death no doubt disturb thee.
ELECTRA Yes, alas! for what have I more dear than these?
ORESTES Ah! and what dost thou suppose is dearer to thy brother?
ELECTRA He is far away, not here to show his love to me.
ORESTES Wherefore art thou living here far from the city?
ELECTRA I am wedded, sir; a fatal match!
ORESTES Alas! for thy brother; I pity him. Is thy husband of Mycenae?
ELECTRA He is not the man to whom my father ever thought of betrothing
ORESTES Tell me all, that I may report it to thy brother.
ELECTRA I live apart from my husband in this house.
ORESTES The only fit inmate would be a hind or herd.
ELECTRA Poor he is, yet he displays a generous consideration for
ORESTES Why, what is this consideration that attaches to thy husband?
ELECTRA He has never presumed to claim from me a husband's rights.
ORESTES Is he under a vow of chastity? or does he disdain thee?
ELECTRA He thought he had no right to flout my ancestry.
ORESTES How was it he was not overjoyed at winning such a bride?
ELECTRA He does not recognize the right of him who disposed of my
ORESTES I understand; he was afraid of the vengeance of Orestes hereafter.
ELECTRA There was that fear, but he was a virtuous man as well.
ORESTES Ah! a noble nature this! He deserves kind treatment.
ELECTRA Yes, if ever the wanderer return.
ORESTES But did thy own mother give in to this?
ELECTRA 'Tis her husband, not her children that a woman loves, sir
ORESTES Wherefore did Aegisthus put this affront on thee?
ELECTRA His design in giving me to such a husband was to weaken my
ORESTES To prevent thee bearing sons, I suppose, who should punish
ELECTRA That was his plan; God grant I may avenge me on him for it!
ORESTES Does thy mother's husband know that thou art yet a maid?
ELECTRA He does not; our silence robs him of that knowledge.
ORESTES Are these women friends of thine, who overhear our talk?
ELECTRA They are, and they will keep our conversation perfectly secret.
ORESTES What could Orestes do in this matter, if he did return?
ELECTRA Canst thou ask? Shame on thee for that! Is not this the time
ORESTES But suppose he comes, how could he slay his father's murderers?
ELECTRA By boldly meting out the same fate that his father had meted
out to him by his foes.
ORESTES Wouldst thou be brave enough to help him slay his mother?
ELECTRA Aye, with the self-same axe that drank my father's blood.
ORESTES Am I to tell him this, and that thy purpose firmly holds?
ELECTRA Once I have shed my mother's blood o'er his, then welcome
ORESTES Ah! would Orestes were standing near to hear that!
ELECTRA I should not know him, sir, if I saw him.
ORESTES No wonder; you were both children when you parted.
ELECTRA There is only one of my friends would recognize him.
ORESTES The man maybe who is said to have snatched him away from
ELECTRA Yes, the old servant who tended my father's childhood long
ORESTES Did thy father's corpse obtain burial?
ELECTRA Such burial as it was, after his body had been flung forth
from the palace.
ORESTES O God! how awful is thy story! Yes, there is a feeling, arising
even from another's distress, that wrings the human heart. Say on,
that when know the loveless tale, which yet I needs must hear, I may
carry it to thy brother. For pity, though it has no place in ignorant
natures, is inborn in the wise; still it may cause trouble to find
excessive cleverness amongst the wise.
LEADER I too am stirred by the same desire as the stranger. For dwelling
so far from the city I know nothing of its ills, and I should like
to hear about them now myself.
ELECTRA I will tell you, if I may; and surely I may tell a friend
about my own and my father's grievous misfortunes. Now since thou
movest me to speak, I entreat thee, sir, tell Orestes of our sorrows;
first, describe the dress I wear, the load of squalor that oppresses
me, the hovel I inhabit after my royal home; tell him how hard I have
to work at weaving clothes myself or else go barely clad and do without;
how I carry home on my head water from the brook; no part have I in
holy festival, no place amid the dance; a maiden still I turn from
married dames and from Castor too, to whom they betrothed me before
he joined the heavenly host, for I was his kinswoman. Meantime my
mother, 'mid the spoils of Troy, is seated on her throne, and at her
foot-stool slaves from Asia stand and wait, captives of my father's
spear, whose Trojan robes are fastened with brooches of gold. And
there on the wall my father's blood still leaves a deep dark stain,
while his murderer mounts the dead man's car and fareth forth, proudly
grasping in his blood-stained hands the sceptre with which Agamemnon
would marshal the sons of Hellas. Dishonoured lies his grave; naught
as yet hath it received of drink outpoured or myrtle-spray, but bare
of ornament his tomb is left. Yea, and 'tis said that noble hero who
is wedded to my mother, in his drunken fits, doth leap upon the grave,
and pelt with stones my father's monument, boldly gibing at us on
this wise, "Where is thy son Orestes? Is he ever coming in his glory
to defend thy tomb?" Thus is Orestes flouted behind his back. Oh!
tell him this, kind sir, I pray thee. And there be many calling him
to come,-I am but their mouthpiece,-these suppliant hands, this tongue,
my broken heart, my shaven head, and his own father too. For 'tis
shameful that the sire should have destroyed Troy's race and the son
yet prove too weak to pit himself against one foe unto the death,
albeit he has youth and better blood as well.
LEADER Lo! here is thy husband hurrying homeward, his labour done.
PEASANT (entering and catching sight of strangers talking to ELECTRA)
Ha! who are these strangers I see at my door? And why are they come
hither to my rustic gate? can they want my help? for 'tis unseemly
for a woman to stand talking with young men.
ELECTRA Dear husband, be not suspicious of me. For thou shalt hear
the truth; these strangers have come to bring me news of Orestes.
Good sirs, pardon him those words.
PEASANT What say they? is that hero yet alive and in the light of
ELECTRA He is; at least they say so, and I believe them.
PEASANT Surely then he hath some memory of his father and thy wrongs?
ELECTRA These are things to hope for; a man in exile is helpless.
PEASANT What message have they brought from Orestes?
ELECTRA He sent them to spy out my evil case.
PEASANT Well, they only see a part of it, though maybe thou art telling
them the rest.
ELECTRA They know all; there is nothing further they need ask.
PEASANT Long ere this then shouldst thou have thrown open our doors
to them. Enter, sirs; for in return for your good tidings, shall ye
find such cheer as my house affords. Ho! servants, take their baggage
within; make no excuses, for ye are friends sent by one I love; and
poor though I am, yet will I never show meanness in my habits.
ORESTES 'Fore heaven! is this the man who is helping thee to frustrate
thy marriage, because he will not shame Orestes?
ELECTRA This is he whom they call my husband, woe is me!
ORESTES Ah! there is no sure mark to recognize a man's worth; for
human nature hath in it an element of confusion. For I have seen ere
now the son of noble sire prove himself a worthless knave, and virtuous
children sprung from evil parents; likewise dearth in a rich man's
spirit, and in a poor man's frame a mighty soul. By what standard
then shall we rightly judge these things? By wealth? An evil test
to use. By poverty then? Nay, poverty suffers from this, that it teaches
a man to play the villain from necessity. To martial prowess must
I turn? But who could pronounce who is the valiant man merely from
the look of his spear? Better is it to leave these matters to themselves
without troubling. For here is a man of no account in Argos, with
no family reputation to boast, one of the common herd, proved a very
hero. A truce to your folly! ye self-deceivers, swollen with idle
fancies; learn to judge men by their converse, and by their habits
decide who are noble. Such are they who rule aright both states and
families; while those forms of flesh, devoid of intellect, are but
figure-heads in the market-place. The strong arm, again, no more than
the weak awaits the battle-shock, for this depends on natural courage.
Well! absent or present, Agamemnon's son, whose business brings us
here, deserves this of us, so let us accept a lodging in this house.
(Calling to his servants) Ho! sirrahs, go within. A humble host,
who does his best, in preference to a wealthy man for me! And so I
thankfully accept this peasant's proffered welcome, though I could
have preferred that thy brother were conducting me to share his fortune
in his halls. Maybe he yet will come; for the oracies of Loxias are
sure, but to man's divining "Farewell" say I. (ORESTES, PYLADES and
their attendants go into the hut.)
LEADER Electra, I feel a warmer glow of joy suffuse my heart than
ever heretofore; perchance our fortune, moving on at last, will find
a happy resting-place.
ELECTRA O reckless man, why didst thou welcome strangers like these,
so far beyond thy station, knowing the poverty of thy house?
PEASANT Why? if they are really as noble as they seem, surely they
will be equally content with rich or humble fare.
ELECTRA Well. since thou hast made this error, poor man as thou art,
go to my father's kind old foster-sire; on the bank of the river Tanaus,
the boundary 'twixt Argos and the land of Sparta, he tends his flocks,
an outcast from the city; bid him come hither to our house and some
provision for the strangers' entertainment. Glad will he be, and will
offer thanks to heaven to hear that the child, whom once he saved,
is yet alive. I shall get nothing from my mother from my ancestral
halls; for we should rue our message, were she to learn, unnatural
wretch! that Orestes liveth.
PEASANT I will take this message to the old man, if it seem good
to thee; but get thee in at once and there make ready. A woman, when
she chooses, can find dainties in plenty to garnish a feast. Besides,
there is quite enough in the house to satisfy them with food for one
day at least. 'Tis in such cases, when I come to muse thereon, that
I discern the mighty power of wealth, whether to give to strangers,
or to expend in curing the body when it falls sick; but our daily
food is a small matter; for all of us, rich as well as poor, are in
like case, as soon as we are satisfied. (The PEASANT departs as ELECTRA
enters the hut.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
Ye famous ships, that on a day were brought to land at Troy by those
countless oars, what time ye led the Nereids' dance, where the dolphin
music-loving rolled and gambolled round your dusky prows, escorting
Achilles, nimble son of Thetis, when he went with Agamemnon to the
banks of Trojan Simois;
When Nereids left Euboea's strand, bringing from Hephaestus' golden
forge the harness he had fashioned for that warrior's use; him long
they sought o'er Pelion and Ossa's spurs, ranging the sacred glens
and the peaks of Nymphaea, where his knightly sire was training up
a light for Hellas, even the sea-born son of Thetis, a warrior swift
to help the sons of Atreus.
One that came from Ilium, and set foot in the haven of Nauplia, told
me that on the circle of thy far-famed targe, O son of Thetis, was
wrought this blazon, a terror to the Phrygians; on the rim of the
buckler Perseus with winged sandals, was bearing in his hand across
the main the Gorgon's head, just severed by the aid of Hermes, the
messenger of Zeus, that rural god whom Maia bore;
While in the centre of the shield the sun's bright orb flashed light
on the backs of his winged coursers; there too was the heavenly choir
of stars, Pleiades and Hyades, to dazzle Hector's eyes and make him
flee; and upon his gold-forged helm were sphinxes, bearing in their
talons the prey of which the minstrels sing; on his breast-plate was
lioness breathing flame, her eye upon Peirene's steed, in eagerness
to rend it.
There too in murderous fray four-footed steeds were prancing, while
oer their backs uprose dark clouds of dust. But he who led these warriors
stout, was slain by wedding thee, malignant child of Tyndareus! Wherefore
shall the gods of heaven one day send thee to thy doom, and I shall
yet live to see the sword at thy throat, drinking its crimson tide.
(The OLD MAN, the former servant of Agamemnon, enters. ELECTRA presently
appears at the door of the hut.)
OLD MAN Where is the young princess, my mistress, Agamemnon's daughter,
whom I nursed in days gone by? Oh! how steep is the approach to this
house, a hard climb for these old wasted feet of mine! Still, to reach
such friends as these, I must drag my bent old back and tottering
knees up it. Ah, daughter!-for I see thee now at thy door,-lo! I have
brought the this tender lamb from my own flock, having taken it from
its dam, with garlands too and cheese straight from the press, and
this flask of choice old wine with fragrant bouquet; 'tis small perhaps,
but pour a cup thereof into some weaker drink, and it is a luscious
draught. Let some one carry these gifts into the house for the guests;
for I would fain wipe from my eyes the rising tears on this tattered
ELECTRA Why stands the tear-drop in thine eye, old friend? Is it
that my sorrows have been recalled to thee after an interval? or art
thou bewailing the sad exile of Orestes, and my father's fate, whom
thou didst once fondle in thy arms, in vain, alas! for thee and for
OLD MAN Ah yes! in vain; but still I could not bear to leave him
thus; and so I added this to my journey that I sought his grave, and,
falling thereupon, wept o'er its desolation; then did I open the wine-skin,
my gift to thy guests, and poured a libation, and set myrtle-sprigs
round the tomb. And lo! upon the grave itself I saw a black ram had
been offered, and there was blood, not long poured forth, and severed
locks of auburn hair. Much I wondered, my daughter, who had dared
approach the tomb; certainly 'twas no Argive. Nay, thy brother may
perchance have come by stealth, and going thither have done honour
to his father's wretched grave. Look at the hair, compare it with
thy own, to see if the colour of these cut locks is the same; for
children in whose veins runs the same father's blood have a close
resemblance in many features.
ELECTRA Old sir, thy words are unworthy of a wise man, if thou thinkest
my own brave brother would have come to this land by stealth for fear
of Aegisthus. In the next place, how should our hair correspond? His
is the hair of a gallant youth trained up in manly sports, mine a
woman's curled and combed; nay, that is a hopeless clue. Besides,
thou couldst find many, whose hair is of the same colour, albeit not
sprung from the same blood. No, maybe 'twas some stranger cut off
his hair in pity at his tomb, or one that came to spy this land privily.
OLD MAN Put thy foot in the print of his shoe and mark whether it
correspond with thine, my child.
ELECTRA How should the foot make any impression on stony ground?
and if it did, the foot of brother and sister would not be the same
in size, for man's is the larger.
OLD MAN Hast thou no mark, in case thy brother should come, whereby
to recognize the weaving of thy loom, the robe wherein I snatched
him from death that day?
ELECTRA Dost thou forget I was still a babe when Orestes left the
country? and even if I had woven him a robe, how should he, a mere
child then, be wearing the same now, unless our clothes and bodies
OLD MAN Where are these guests? I fain would question them face to
face about thy brother. (As he speaks, ORESTES and PYLADES come out
of the hut.)
ELECTRA There they are, in haste to leave the house.
OLD MAN Well born, it seems, but that may be a sham; for there be
plenty such prove knaves. Still I give them greeting.
ORESTES All hail, father! To which of thy friends, Electra, does
this old relic of mortality belong?
ELECTRA This is he who nursed my sire, sir stranger.
ORESTES What! do I behold him who removed thy brother out of harm's
ELECTRA Behold the man who saved his life; if, that is, he liveth
ORESTES Ha! why does he look so hard at me, as if he were examining
the bright device on silver coin? Is he finding in me a likeness to
ELECTRA Maybe he is glad to see in thee a companion of Orestes.
ORESTES A man I love full well. But why is he walking round me?
ELECTRA I, too, am watching his movements with amaze, sir stranger.
OLD MAN My honoured mistress, my daughter Electra, return thanks
ELECTRA For past or present favours? which?
OLD MAN That thou hast found a treasured prize, which God is now
ELECTRA Hear me invoke the gods. But what dost thou mean, old man?
OLD MAN Behold before thee, my child, thy nearest and dearest.
ELECTRA I have long feared thou wert not in thy sound senses
OLD MAN Not in my sound senses, because I see thy brother?
ELECTRA What mean'st thou, aged friend, by these astounding words?
OLD MAN That I see Orestes, Agamemnon's son, before me.
ELECTRA What mark dost see that I can trust?
OLD MAN A scar along his brow, where he fell and cut himself one
day in his father's home when chasing a fawn with thee.
ELECTRA Is it possible? True; I see the mark of the fall.
OLD MAN Dost hesitate then to embrace thy own dear brother?
ELECTRA No! not any longer, old friend; for my soul is convinced
by the tokens thou showest. O my brother, thou art come at last, and
I embrace thee, little as I ever thought to.
ORESTES And thee to my bosom at last I press.
ELECTRA I never thought that it would happen.
ORESTES All hope in me was also dead.
ELECTRA Art thou really he?
ORESTES Aye, thy one and only champion, if I can but safely draw
to shore the cast I mean to throw; and I feel sure I shall; else must
we cease to believe in gods, if wrong is to triumph o'er right.
CHORUS (singing) At last, at last appears thy radiant dawn, O happy
day! and as beacon to the city hast thou revealed the wanderer, who,
long ago, poor boy! was exiled from his father's halls. Now, lady,
comes our turn for victory, ushered in by some god. Raise hand and
voice in prayer, beseech the gods that good fortune may attend thy
brother's entry to the city.
ORESTES Enough! sweet though the rapture of this greeting be, I must
wait and return it hereafter. Do thou, old friend so timely met, tell
me how I am to avenge me on my father's murderer, and on my mother,
the partner in his guilty marriage. Have I still in Argos any band
of kindly friends? or am I, like my fortunes, bankrupt altogether?
With whom am I to league myself? by night or day shall I advance?
point out a road for me to take against these foes of mine.
OLD MAN My son, thou hast no friend now in thy hour of adversity.
No! that is a piece of rare good luck, to find another share thy fortunes
alike for better and for worse. Thou art of every friend completely
reft, all hope is gone from thee; be sure of what I tell thee; on
thy own arm and fortune art thou wholly thrown to win thy father's
home and thy city.
ORESTES What must I do to compass this result?
OLD MAN Slay Thyestes' son and thy mother.
ORESTES I came to win that victor's crown, but how can I attain it?
OLD MAN Thou wouldst never achieve it if thou didst enter the walls.
ORESTES Are they manned with guards and armed sentinels?
OLD MAN Aye truly; for he is afraid of thee, and cannot sleep secure.
ORESTES Well then, do thou next propose a scheme, old friend.
OLD MAN Hear me a moment; an idea has just occurred to me.
ORESTES May thy counsel prove good, and my perception keen!
OLD MAN I saw Aegisthus, as I was slowly pacing hither-
ORESTES I welcome thy words. Where was he?
OLD MAN Not far from these fields, at his stables.
ORESTES What was he doing? I see a gleam of hope after our helplessness.
OLD MAN I thought he was preparing a feast for the Nymphs.
ORESTES In return for the bringing up of children or in anticipation
of a birth?
OLD MAN All I know is this, he was preparing to sacrifice oxen.
ORESTES How many were with him? or was he alone with his servants?
OLD MAN There was no Argive there; only a band of his own followers.
ORESTES Is it possible that any of them will recognize me, old man?
OLD MAN They are only servants, and they have never even seen thee.
ORESTES Will they support me, if I prevail?
OLD MAN Yes, that is the way of slaves, luckily for thee.
ORESTES On what pretext can I approach him?
OLD MAN Go to some place where he will see thee as he sacrifices.
ORESTES His estate is close to the road then, I suppose.
OLD MAN Yes, and when he sees thee there, he will invite thee to
ORESTES So help me God! He shall rue his invitation.
OLD MAN After that, form thy own plan according to circumstances.
ORESTES Good advice! But my mother, where is she?
OLD MAN At Argos; but she will yet join her husband for the feast.
ORESTES Why did she not come forth with him?
OLD MAN From fear of the citizens' reproach she stayed behind.
ORESTES I understand; she knows that the city suspects her.
OLD MAN Just so; her wickedness makes her hated.
ORESTES How shall I slay her and him together?
ELECTRA Mine be the preparation of my mother's slaying!
ORESTES Well, as for the other, fortune will favour us.
ELECTRA Our old friend here must help us both.
OLD MAN Aye, that will I; but wnat is thy scheme for slaying thy
ELECTRA Go, old man, and tell Clytemnestra from me that I have given
birth to a son.
OLD MAN Some time ago, or quite recently?
ELECTRA Ten days ago, which are the days of my purification.
OLD MAN Suppose it done; but how doth this help towards slaying thy
ELECTRA She will come, when she hears of my confinement.
OLD MAN What! dost think she cares aught for thee, my child?
ELECTRA Oh yes! she will weep no doubt over my child's low rank.
OLD MAN Perhaps she may; but go back again to the point.
ELECTRA Her death is certain, if she comes.
OLD MAN In that case, let her come right up to the door of the house.
ELECTRA Why then it were a little thing to turn her steps into the
road to Hades' halls.
OLD MAN Oh! to see this one day, then die!
ELECTRA First of all, old friend, act as my brother's guide.
OLD MAN To the place where Aegisthus is now sacrificing to the gods?
ELECTRA Then go, find my mother and give her my message.
OLD MAN Aye, that I will, so that she shall think the very words
ELECTRA (to ORESTES) Thy work begins at once; thou hast drawn the
first lot in the tragedy.
ORESTES I will go, if some one will show me the way.
OLD MAN I will myself conduct thee nothing loth.
ORESTES O Zeus, god of my fathers, vanquisher of my foes, have pity
on us, for a piteous lot has ours been.
ELECTRA Oh! have pity on thy own descendants.
ORESTES O Hera, mistress of Mycenae's altars, grant us the victory,
if we are asking what is right.
ELECTRA Yes, grant us vengeance on them for our father's death.
ORESTES Thou too, my father, sent to the land of shades by wicked
hands, and Earth, the queen of all, to whom I spread my suppliant
palms, up and champion thy dear children. Come with all the dead to
aid, all they who helped thee break the Phrygians' power, and all
who hate ungodly crime. Dost hear me, father, victim of my mother's
ELECTRA Sure am I he heareth all; but 'tis time to part. For this
cause too I bid thee strike Aegisthus down, because, if thou fall
in the struggle and perish, I also die; no longer number me amongst
the living; for I will stab myself with a two-edged sword. And now
will I go indoors and make all ready there, for, if there come good
news from thee, my house shall ring with women's cries of joy; but,
if thou art slain, a different scene must then ensue. These are my
instructions to thee.
ORESTES I know my lesson well. (ORESTES, PYLADES, the OLD MAN, and
ELECTRA Then show thyself a man. And you, my friends, signal to me
by cries the certain issue of this fray. Myself will keep the sword
ready in my grasp, for I will never accept defeat, and yield my body
to my enemies to insult. (ELECTRA goes into the hut.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
Still the story finds a place in time-honoured legends, how on day
Pan, the steward of husbandry, came breathing dulcet music on his
jointed pipe, and brought with him from its tender dam on Argive hills,
a beauteous lamb with fleece of gold; then stood a herald high upon
the rock and cried aloud, "Away to the place of assembly, ye folk
of Mycenae! to behold the strange and awful sight vouchsafed to our
blest rulers." Anon the dancers did obeisance to the family of Atreus;
The altar-steps of beaten gold were draped; and through that Argive
town the altars blazed with fire; sweetly rose the lute's clear note,
the handmaid of the Muse's song; and ballads fair were written on
the golden lamb, saying that Thyestes had the luck; for he won the
guilty love of the wife of Atreus, and carried off to his house the
strange creature, and then coming before the assembled folk he declared
to them that he had in his house that horned beast with fleece of
In the self-same hour it was that Zeus changed the radiant courses
of the stars, the light of the sun, and the joyous face of dawn, and
drave his car athwart the western sky with fervent heat from heaven's
fires, while northward fled the rain-clouds, and Ammon's strand grew
parched and faint and void of dew, when it was robbed of heaven's
'Tis said, though I can scarce believe it, the sun turned round his
glowing throne of gold, to vex the sons of men by this change because
of the quarrel amongst them. Still, tales of horror have their use
in making men regard the gods; of whom thou hadst no thought, when
thou slewest thy husband, thou mother of this noble pair.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Hark! my friends, did ye hear that noise, like
to the rumbling of an earthquake, or am I the dupe of idle fancy?
Hark! hark! once more that wind-borne sound swells loudly on mine
ear. Electra! mistress mine! come forth from the house!
ELECTRA (rushing out) What is it, good friends? how goes the day
LEADER I hear the cries of dying men; no more I know.
ELECTRA I heard them too, far off, but still distinct.
LEADER Yes, the sound came stealing from afar, but yet 'twas clear.
ELECTRA Was it the groan of an Argive, or of my friends?
LEADER I know not; for the cries are all confused.
ELECTRA That word of thine is my death-warrant; why do I delay?
LEADER Stay, till thou learn thy fate for certain.
ELECTRA No, no; we are vanquished; where are our messengers?
LEADER They will come in time; to slay a king is no light task.
(A MESSENGER enters in haste.)
MESSENGER All hail! ye victors, maidens of Mycenae, to all Orestes'
friends his triumph I announce; Aegisthus, the murderer of Agamemnon,
lies weltering where he fell; return thanks to heaven.
ELECTRA Who art thou? What proof dost thou give of this?
MESSENGER Look at me, dost thou not recognize thy brother's servant?
ELECTRA O best of friends! 'twas fear that prevented me from recognizing
thee; now I know thee well. What sayst thou? Is my father's hateful
MESSENGER He is; I repeat it since it is thy wish.
LEADER Ye gods, and justice, whose eye is on all, at last art thou
ELECTRA I fain would learn the way and means my brother took to slay
MESSENGER After we had set out from this house, we struck into the
broad highroad, and came to the place where was the far-famed King
of Mycenae. Now he was walking in a garden well-watered, culling a
wreath of tender myrtle-sprays for his head, and when he saw us, he
called out, "All hail! strangers; who are ye? whence come ye? from
what country?" To him Orestes answered, "We are from Thessaly, on
our way to Alpheus' banks to sacrifice to Olympian Zeus." When Aegisthus
heard that, he said, "Ye must be my guests to-day, and share the feast,
for I am even now sacrificing to the Nymphs; and by rising with tomorrow's
light ye will be just as far upon your journey; now let us go within."
Therewith he caught us by the hand and led us by the way; refuse we
could not; and when we were come to the house, he gave command: "Bring
water for my guests to wash forthwith, that they may stand around
the altar near the laver." But Orestes answered, "'Twas but now we
purified ourselves and washed us clean in water from the river. So
if we strangers are to join your citizens in sacrifice, we are ready,
King Aegisthus, and will not refuse." So ended they their private
conference. Meantime the servants, that composed their master's bodyguard,
laid aside their weapons, and one and all were busied at their tasks.
Some brought the bowl to catch the blood, others took up baskets,
while others kindled fire and set cauldrons round about the altars,
and the whole house rang. Then did thy mother's husband take the barley
for sprinkling, and began casting it upon the hearth with these words,
"Ye Nymphs, who dwell among the rocks, grant that I may often sacrifice
with my wife, the daughter of Tyndareus, within my halls, as happily
as now, and ruin seize my foes!" (whereby he meant Orestes and thyself)
. But my master, lowering his voice, offered a different prayer,
that he might regain his father's house. Next Aegisthus took from
basket a long straight knife, and cutting off some of the calf's hair,
laid it with his right hand on the sacred fire, and then cut its throat
when the servants had lifted it upon their shoulders, and thus addressed
thy brother; "Men declare that amongst the Thessalians this is counted
honourable, to cut up a bull neatly and to manage steeds. So take
the knife, sir stranger, and show us if rumour speaks true about the
Thessalians." Thereon Orestes seized the Dorian knife of tempered
steel and cast from his shoulders his graceful buckled robe; then
choosing Pylades to help him in his task, he made the servants withdraw,
and catching the calf by the hoof, proceeded to lay bare its white
flesh, with arm outstretched, and he flayed the hide quicker than
a runner ever finishes the two laps of the horses' race-course; next
he laid the belly open, and Aegisthus took the entrails in his hands
and carefully examined them. Now the liver had no lobe, while the
portal vein leading to the gall-bladder portended dangerous attack
on him who was observing it. Dark grows Aegisthus' brow, but my master
asks, "Why so despondent, good sir?" Said he, "I fear treachery from
a stranger. Agamemnon's son of all men most I hate, and he hates my
house." But Orestes cried, "What! fear treachery from an exile! thou
the ruler of the city? Ho! take this Dorian knife away and bring me
a Thessalian cleaver, that we by sacrificial feast may learn the will
of heaven; let me cleave the breast-bone." And he took the axe and
cut it through. Now Aegisthus was examining the entrails, separating
them in his hands, and as he was bending down, thy brother rose on
tiptoe and smote him on the spine, severing the bones of his back;
and his body gave one convulsive shudder from head to foot and writhed
in the death-agony. No sooner did his servants see it, than they rushed
to arms, a host to fight with two; yet did Pylades and Orestes of
their valiancy meet them with brandished spears. Then cried Orestes,
"I am no foe that come against this city and my own servants, but
I have avenged me on the murderer of my sire, I, ill-starred Orestes.
Slay me not, my father's former thralls!" They, when they heard him
speak, restrained their spears, and an old man, who had been in the
family many a long year, recognized him. Forthwith they crown thy
brother with a wreath, and utter shouts of joy. And lo! he is coming
to show thee the head, not the Gorgon's, but the head of thy hated
foe Aegisthus; his death today has paid in blood a bitter debt of
CHORUS (singing) Dear mistress, now with step as light as fawn join
in the dance; lift high the nimble foot and be glad. Victory crowns
thy brother; he hath won a fairer wreath than ever victor gained beside
the streams of Alpheus; so raise a fair hymn to victory, the while
ELECTRA O light of day! O bright careering sun! O earth! and night
erewhile my only day; now may I open my eyes in freedom, for Aegisthus
is dead, my father's murderer. Come friends, let me bring out whate'er
my house contains to deck his head and wreath with crowns my conquering
CHORUS (singing) Bring forth thy garlands for his head, and we will
lead the dance the Muses love. Now shall the royal line, dear to us
in days gone by, resume its sway o'er the realm, having laid low the
usurper as he deserves. So let the shout go up, whose notes are those
of joy. (ORESTES and PYLADES enter, followed by attendants who are
bearing the body of Aegisthus.)
ELECTRA Hail! glorious victor, Orestes, son of a sire who won the
day 'neath Ilium's walls, accept this wreath to bind about the tresses
of thy hair. Not in vain hast thou run thy course unto the goal and
reached thy home again; no! but thou hast slain thy foe, Aegisthus,
the murderer of our father. Thou too, O Pylades, trusty squire, whose
training shows thy father's sterling worth, receive a garland from
my hand, for thou no less than he hast a share in this emprise; and
so I pray, good luck be thine for ever!
ORESTES First recognize the gods, Electra, as being the authors of
our fortune, and then praise me their minister and fate's. Yea, I
come from having slain Aegisthus in very deed, no mere pretence; and
to make thee the more certain of this, I am bringing thee his corpse,
which, if thou wilt, expose for beasts to rend, or set it upon a stake
for birds, the children of the air, to prey upon; for now is he thy
slave, once called thy lord and master.
ELECTRA I am ashamed to utter my wishes.
ORESTES What is it? speak out, for thou art through the gates of
ELECTRA I am ashamed to flout the dead, for fear some spite assail
ORESTES No one would blame thee for this.
ELECTRA Our folk are hard to please, and love to blame.
ORESTES Speak all thy mind, sister; for we entered on this feud with
him on terms admitting not of truce.
ELECTRA Enough! (Turning to the corpse of Aegisthus) With which
of thy iniquities shall I begin my recital? With which shall I end
it? To which allot a middle place? And yet I never ceased, as each
day dawned, to rehearse the story I would tell thee to thy face, if
ever I were freed from my old terrors; and now I am; so I will pay
thee back with the abuse I fain had uttered to thee when alive. Thou
wert my ruin, making me and my brother orphans, though we had never
injured thee, and thou didst make a shameful marriage with my mother,
having slain her lord who led the host of Hellas, though thyself didst
never go to Troy. Such was thy folly, thou didst never dream that
my mother would prove thy curse when thou didst marry her, though
thou wert wronging my father's honour. Know this; whoso defiles his
neighbour's wife, and afterward is forced to take her to himself,
is a wretched wight, if he supposes she will be chaste as his wife,
though she sinned against her former lord. Thine was a life most miserable,
though thou didst pretend 'twas otherwise; well thou knewest how guilty
thy marriage was, and my mother knew she had a villain for husband.
Sinners both ye took each other's lot, she thy fortune, thou her curse.
While everywhere in Argos thou-wouldst hear such phrases as, "that
woman's husband," never "that man's wife." Yet 'tis shameful for the
wife and not the man to rule the house; wherefore I loathe those children,
who are called in the city not the sons of the man, their father,
but of their mother. For if a man makes a great match above his rank,
there is no talk of the husband but only of the wife. Herein lay thy
grievous error, due to ignorance; thou thoughtest thyself some one,
relying on thy wealth, but this is naught save to stay with us a space.
'Tis nature that stands fast, not wealth. For it, if it abide unchanged,
exalts man's horn; but riches dishonestly acquired and in the hands
of fools, soon take their flight, their blossom quickly shed. As for
thy sins with women, I pass them by, 'tis not for maiden's lips to
mention them, but I will shrewdly hint thereat. And then thy arrogance!
because forsooth thou hadst a palace and some looks to boast. May
I never have a husband with a girl's face, but one that bears him
like a man! For the children of these latter cling to a life of arms,
while those, who are so fair to see, do only serve to grace the dance.
Away from me! (Spurning the corpse with her foot) Time has shown
thy villainy, little as thou reckest of the forfeit thou hast paid
for it. Let none suppose, though he have run the first stage of his
course with joy, that he will get the better of justice, till he have
reached the goal and ended his career.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Terrible alike his crime and your revenge; for
mighty is the power of justice.
ORESTES 'Tis well. Carry his body within the house and hide it, sirrahs,
that when my mother comes, she may not see his corpse before she is
smitten herself. (PYLADES and the attendants take the body into the
ELECTRA Hold! let us strike out another scheme.
ORESTES How now? Are those allies from Mycenae whom I see?
ELECTRA No, 'tis my mother, that bare me.
ORESTES Full into the net she is rushing, oh, bravely!
ELECTRA See how proudly she rides in her chariot and fine robes!
ORESTES What must we do to our mother? Slay her?
ELECTRA What! has pity seized thee at sight of her?
ORESTES O God! how can I slay her that bare and suckled me?
ELECTRA Slay her as she slew thy father and mine.
ORESTES O Phoebus, how foolish was thy oracle-
ELECTRA Where Apollo errs, who shall be wise?
ORESTES In bidding me commit this crime-my mother's murder!
ELECTRA How canst thou be hurt by avenging thy father?
ORESTES Though pure before, I now shall carry into exile the stain
of a mother's blood.
ELECTRA Still, if thou avenge not thy father, thou wilt fail in thy
ORESTES And if I slay my mother, I must pay the penalty to her.
ELECTRA And so must thou to him, if thou resign the avenging of our
ORESTES Surely it was a fiend in the likeness of the god that ordered
ELECTRA Seated on the holy tripod? I think not so.
ORESTES I cannot believe this oracle was meant.
ELECTRA Turn not coward! Cast not thy manliness away!
ORESTES Am I to devise the same crafty scheme for her?
ELECTRA The self-same death thou didst mete out to her lord Aegisthus.
ORESTES I will go in; 'tis an awful task I undertake; an awful deed
I have to do; still if it is Heaven's will, be it so; I loathe and
yet I love the enterprise. (As ORESTES withdraws into the hut, CLYTEMNESTRA
enters in a chariot. Her attendants are hand-maidens attired in gorgeous
CHORUS (singing) Hail! Queen of Argos, daughter of Tyndareus, sister
of those two noble sons of Zeus, who dwell in the flame-lit firmament
amid the stars, whose guerdon high it is to save the sailor tossing
on the sea. All hail! because of thy wealth and high prosperity, I
do thee homage as I do the blessed gods. Now is the time, great queen,
for us to pay our court unto thy fortunes.
CLYTEMNESTRA Alight from the car, ye Trojan maids, and take my hand
that I may step down from the chariot. With Trojan spoils the temples
of the gods are decked, but I have obtained these maidens as a special
gift from Troy, in return for my lost daughter, a trifling boon no
doubt, but still an ornament to my house.
ELECTRA And may not I, mother, take that highly-favoured hand of
thine? I am a slave like them, an exile from my father's halls in
this miserable abode.
CLYTEMNESTRA See, my servants are here; trouble not on my account.
ELECTRA Why, thou didst make me thy prisoner by robbing me of my
home; like these I became a captive when my home was taken, an orphan
CLYTEMNESTRA True; but thy father plotted so wickedly against those
of his own kin whom least of all he should have treated so. Speak
I must; albeit, when woman gets an evil reputation, there is a feeling
of bitterness against all she says; unfairly indeed in my case, for
it were only fair to hate after learning the circumstances, and seeing
if the object deserves it; otherwise, why hate at all? Now Tyndareus
bestowed me on thy father not that I or any children I might bear
should be slain. Yet he went and took my daughter from our house to
the fleet at Aulis, persuading me that Achilles was to wed her; and
there he held her o'er the pyre, and cut Iphigenia's snowy throat.
Had he slain her to save his city from capture, or to benefit his
house, or to preserve his other children, a sacrifice of one for many,
could have pardoned him. But, as it was, his reasons for murdering
my child were these: the wantonness of Helen and her husband's folly
in not punishing the traitress. Still, wronged as I was, my rage had
not burst forth for this, nor would I have slain my lord, had he not
returned to me with that frenzied maiden and made her his mistress,
keeping at once two brides beneath the same roof. Women maybe are
given to folly, I do not deny it; this granted, when a husband goes
astray and sets aside his own true wife, she fain will follow his
example and find another love; and then in our case hot abuse is heard,
while the men, who are to blame for this, escape without a word. Again,
suppose Menelaus had been secretly snatched from his home, should
I have had to kill Orestes to save Menelaus, my sister's husband?
How would thy father have endured this? Was he then to escape death
for slaying what was mine, while I was to suffer at his hands? I slew
him, turning, as my only course, to his enemies. For which of all
thy father's friends would have joined me in his murder? Speak all
that is in thy heart, and prove against me with all free speech, that
thy father's death was not deserved.
ELECTRA Justly urged! but thy justice is not free from shame; for
in all things should every woman of sense yield to her husband. Whoso
thinketh otherwise comes not within the scope of what I say. Remember,
mother, those last words of thine, allowing me free utterance before
CLYTEMNESTRA Daughter, far from refusing it, I grant it again.
ELECTRA Thou wilt not, when thou hearest, wreak thy vengeance on
CLYTEMNESTRA No, indeed; I shall welcome thy opinion.
ELECTRA Then will I speak, and this shall be the prelude of my speech:
Ah, mother mine! would thou hadst had a better heart; for though thy
beauty and Helen's win you praises well deserved, yet are ye akin
in nature, pair of wantons, unworthy of Castor. She was carried off,
'tis true, but her fall was voluntary: and thou hast slain the bravest
soul in Hellas, excusing thyself on the ground that thou didst kill
a husband to avenge a daughter; the world does not know thee so well
as I do, thou who before ever thy daughter's death was decided, yea,
soon as thy lord had started from his home, wert combing thy golden
tresses at thy mirror. That wife who, when her lord is gone from home,
sets to beautifying herself, strike off from virtue's list; for she
has no need to carry her beauty abroad, save she is seeking some mischief.
Of all the wives in Hellas thou wert the only one I know who wert
overjoyed when Troy's star was in the ascendant, while, if it set,
thy brow was clouded, since thou hadst no wish that Agamemnon should
return from Troy. And yet thou couldst have played a virtuous part
to thy own glory. The husband thou hadst was no whit inferior to Aegisthus,
for he it was whom Hellas chose to be her captain. And when thy sister
Helen wrought that deed of shame, thou couldst have won thyself great
glory, for vice is a warning and calls attention to virtue. If, as
thou allegest, my father slew thy daughter, what is the wrong I and
my brother have done thee? How was it thou didst not bestow on us
our father's halls after thy husband's death, instead of bartering
them to buy a paramour? Again, thy husband is not exiled for thy son's
sake, nor is he slain to avenge my death, although by him this life
is quenched twice as much as e'er my sister's was; so if murder is
to succeed murder in requital, I and thy son Orestes must slay thee
to avenge our father; if that was just, why so is this. Whoso fixes
his gaze on wealth or noble birth and weds a wicked woman, is a fool;
better is a humble partner in his home, if she be virtuous, than a
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Chance rules the marriages of women; some I
see turn out well, others ill amongst mankind.
CLYTEMNESTRA Daughter, 'twas ever thy nature to love thy father.
This too one finds; some sons cling to their father, others have a
deeper affection for their mother. I will forgive thee, for myself
am not so exceeding glad at the deed that I have done, my child. But
thou,-why thus unwashed and clad in foul attire, now that the days
of thy lying-in are accomplished? Ah me, for my sorry schemes! I have
goaded my husband into anger more than e'er I should have done.
ELECTRA Thy sorrow comes too late; the hour of remedy has gone from
thee; my father is dead. Yet why not recall that exile, thy own wandering
CLYTEMNESTRA I am afraid; 'tis my interest, not his that I regard.
For they say he is wroth for his father's murder.
ELECTRA Why, then, dost thou encourage thy husband's bitterness against
CLYTEMNESTRA 'Tis his way; thou too hast a stubborn nature.
ELECTRA Because I am grieved; yet will I check my spirit.
CLYTEMNESTRA I promise then he shall no longer oppress thee.
ELECTRA From living in my home he grows too proud.
CLYTEMNESTRA Now there! 'tis thou that art fanning the quarrel into
ELECTRA I say no more; my dread of him is even what it is.
CLYTEMNESTRA Peace! Enough of this. Why didst thou summon me, my
ELECTRA Thou hast heard, I suppose, of my confinement; for this I
pray thee, since I know not how, offer the customary sacrifice on
the tenth day after birth, for I am a novice herein, never having
had a child before.
CLYTEMNESTRA This is work for another, even for her who delivered
ELECTRA I was all alone in my travail and at the babe's birth.
CLYTEMNESTRA Dost live so far from neighbours?
ELECTRA No one cares to make the poor his friends.
CLYTEMNESTRA Well, I will go to offer to the gods a sacrifice for
the child's completion of the days; and when I have done thee this
service, I will seek the field where my husband is sacrificing to
the Nymphs. Take this chariot hence, my servants, and tie the horses
to the stalls; and when ye think that I have finished my offering
to the gods, attend me, for I must likewise pleasure my lord. (She
goes into the hut.)
ELECTRA Enter our humble cottage; but, prithee, take care that my
smoke grimed walls soil not thy robes; now wilt thou offer to the
gods a fitting sacrifice. There stands the basket ready, and the knife
is sharpened, the same that slew the bull, by whose side thou soon
wilt lie a corpse; and thou shalt be his bride in Hades' halls whose
wife thou wast on earth. This is the boon I will grant thee, while
thou shalt pay me for my father's blood. (ELECTRA follows her into
CHORUS (chanting, strophe)
Misery is changing sides; the breeze veers round, and now blows fair
upon my house. The day is past when my chief fell murdered in his
bath, and the roof and the very stones of the walls rang with this
his cry: "O cruel wife, why art thou murdering me on my return to
my dear country after ten long years?"
The tide is turning, and justice that pursues the faithless wife
is drawing within its grasp the murderess, who slew her hapless lord,
when he came home at last to these towering Cyclopean walls,-aye,
with her own hand she smote him with the sharpened steel, herself
the axe uplifting. Unhappy husband! whate'er the curse that possessed
that wretched woman. Like a lioness of the hills that rangeth through
the woodland for her prey, she wrought the deed.
CLYTEMNESTRA (within) O my children, by Heaven I pray ye spare your
CHORUS (chanting) Dost hear her cries within the house?
CLYTEMNESTRA O God! ah me!
CHORUS (chanting) I too bewail thee, dying by thy children's hands.
God deals out His justice in His good time. A cruel fate is thine,
unhappy one; yet didst thou sin in murdering thy lord. (ORESTES and
ELECTRA come out of the hut, followed by attendants who are carrying
the two corpses. The following lines between ELECTRA, ORESTES and
the CHORUS are chanted.) But lo! from the house they come, dabbled
in their mother's fresh-spilt gore, their triumph proving the piteous
butchery. There is not nor ever has been a race more wretched than
the line of Tantalus.
ORESTES O Earth, and Zeus whose eye is over all! behold this foul
deed of blood, these two corpses lying here that I have slain in vengeance
for my sufferings.
ELECTRA Tears are all too weak for this, brother; and I am the guilty
cause. Ah, woe is me! How hot my fury burned against the mother that
ORESTES Alas! for thy lot, O mother mine! A piteous, piteous doom,
aye, worse than that, hast thou incurred at children's hands! Yet
justly hast thou paid forfeit for our father's blood. Ah, Phoebus!
thine was the voice that praised this vengeance; thou it is that hast
brought these hideous scenes to light, and caused this deed of blood.
To what city can I go henceforth? what friend, what man of any piety
will bear the sight of a mother's murderer like me?
ELECTRA Ah me! alas! and whither can I go? What share have I henceforth
in dance or marriage rite? What husband will accept me as his bride?
ORESTES Again thy fancy changes with the wind; for now thou thinkest
aright, though not so formerly; an awful deed didst thou urge thy
brother against his will to commit, dear sister. Oh! didst thou see
how the poor victim threw open her robe and showed her bosom as smote
her, sinking on her knees, poor wretch? And her hair I-
ELECTRA Full well I know the agony through which thou didst pass
at hearing thy own mother's bitter cry.
ORESTES Ah yes! she laid her band upon my chin, and cried aloud,
"My child, I entreat thee!" and she clung about my neck, so that I
let fall the sword.
ELECTRA O my poor mother! How didst thou endure to see her breathe
her last before thy eyes?
ORESTES I threw my mantle o'er them and began the sacrifice by plunging
the sword into my mother's throat.
ELECTRA Yet 'twas I that urged thee on, yea, and likewise grasped
the steel. Oh! I have done an awful deed.
ORESTES Oh! take and hide our mother's corpse beneath a pall, and
close her gaping wound. (Turning to the corpse) Ah! thy murderers
were thine own children.
ELECTRA (covering the corpse) There! thou corpse both loved and
loathed; still o'er thee I cast robe, to end the grievous troubles
of our house.
CHORUS See! where o'er the roof-top spirits are appearing, or gods
maybe from heaven, for this is not a road that mortals tread. Why
come they thus where mortal eyes can see them clearly? (THE DIOSCURI
appear from above.)
DIOSCURI Hearken, son of Agamemnon. We, the twin sons of Zeus, thy
mother's sisters, call thee, even Castor and his brother Polydeuces.
'Tis but now we have reached Argos after stilling the fury of the
sea for mariners, having seen the slaying of our sister, thy mother.
She hath received her just reward, but thine is no righteous act,
and Phoebus-but no! he is my king, my lips are sealed-is Phoebus still,
albeit the oracle he gave thee was no great proof of his wsdom. But
we must acquiesce herein. Henceforth must thou follow what Zeus and
destiny ordain for thee. On Pylades bestow Electra for his wife to
take unto his home; do thou leave Argos, for after thy mother's murder
thou mayst not set foot in the city. And those grim goddesses of doom,
that glare like savage hounds, will drive thee mad and chase thee
to and fro; but go thou to Athens and make thy prayer to the holy
image of Pallas, for she will close their fierce serpents' mouths,
so that they touch thee not, holding o'er thy head her aegis with
the Gorgon's head. A hill there is, to Ares sacred, where first the
gods in conclave sat to decide the law of blood, in the day that savage
Ares slew Halirrothius, son of the ocean-king, in anger for the violence
he offered to his daughter's honour; from that time all decisions
given there are most holy and have heaven's sanction. There must thou
have this murder tried; and if equal votes are given, they shall save
thee from death in the decision, for Loxias will take the blame upon
himself, since it was his oracle that advised thy mother's murder.
And this shall be the law for all posterity; in every trial the accused
shall win his case if the votes are equal. Then shall those dread
goddesses, stricken with grief at this, vanish into a cleft of the
earth close to the hill, revered by men henceforth as a place for
holy oracles; whilst thou must settle in a city of Arcadia on the
banks of the river Alpheus near the shrine of Lycaean Apollo, and
the city shall be called after thy name. To thee I say this. As for
the corpse of Aegisthus, the citizens of Argos must give it burial;
but Menelaus, who has just arrived at Nauplia from the sack of Troy,
shall bury the, mother, Helen helping him; for she hath come from
her sojourn in Egypt in the halls of Proteus, and hath never been
to Troy; but Zeus, to stir up strife and bloodshed in the world, sent
forth a phantom of Helen to Ilium. Now let Pylades take his maiden
wife and bear her to his home in Achaea; also he must conduct thy
so-called kinsman to the land of Phocis, and there reward him well.
But go thyself along the narrow Isthmus, and seek Cecropia's happy
home. For once thou hast fulfilled the doom appointed for this murder,
thou shalt be blest and free from all thy troubles. (The remaining
lines of the play are chanted.)
CHORUS Ye sons of Zeus, may we draw near to speak with you?
DIOSCURI Ye may, since ye are not polluted by this murder.
ORESTES May I too share your converse, of Tyndareus?
DIOSCURI Thou too! for to Phoebus will I ascribe this deed of blood.
CHORUS How was it that ye, the brothers of the murdered woman, gods
too, did not ward the doom-goddesses from her roof?
DIOSCURI 'Twas fate that brought resistless doom to her, and that
thoughtless oracle that Phoebus gave.
ELECTRA But why did the god, and wherefore did his oracles make me
my mother's murderer?
DIOSCURI A share in the deed, a share in its doom; one ancestral
curse hath ruined both of you.
ORESTES Ah, sister mine! at last I see thee again only to be robbed
in moment of thy dear love; I must leave thee, and by thee be left.
DIOSCURI Hers are a husband and a home; her only suffering this,
that she is quitting Argos.
ORESTES Yet what could call forth deeper grief than exile from one's
fatherland? I must leave my father's house, and at a stranger's bar
he sentenced for my mother's blood.
DIOSCURI Be of good cheer; go to the holy town of Pallas; keep a
stout heart only.
ELECTRA O my brother, best and dearest! clasp me to thy breast; for
now is the curse of our mother's blood cutting us off from the home
of our fathers.
ORESTES Throw thy arms in close embrace about me. Oh! weep as o'er
my grave when I am dead.
DIOSCURI Ah me, that bitter cry makes even gods shudder to hear.
Yea, for in my breast and in every heavenly being's dwells pity for
the sorrows of mankind.
ORESTES Never to see thee more!
ELECTRA Never again to stand within thy sight!
ORESTES This is my last good-bye to thee.
ELECTRA Farewell, farewell, my city! and ye my fellow-countrywomen,
long farewell to you!
ORESTES Art thou going already, truest of thy sex?
ELECTRA I go, the tear-drop dimming my tender eyes.
ORESTES Go, Pylades, and be happy; take and wed Electra.
DIOSCURI Their only thoughts will be their marriage; but haste thee
to Athens, seeking to escape these hounds of hell, for they are on
thy track in fearful wise, swart monsters, with snakes for hands,
who reap a harvest of man's agony. But we twain must haste away o'er
the Sicilian main to save the seaman's ship. Yet as we fly through
heaven's expanse we help not the wicked; but whoso in his life loves
piety and justice, all such we free from troublous toils and save.
Wherefore let no man be minded to act unjustly, or with men foresworn
set sail; such the warning I, a god, to mortals give. (THE DIOSCURI
CHORUS Farewell! truly that mortal's is a happy lot, who can thus
fare, unafflicted by any woe.
- THE END -
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