Electra or Elektra (Ancient Greek: Ἠλέκτρα, Ēlektra) is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes (409 BCE) and the Oedipus at Colonus (401 BCE) lead scholars to suppose that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career.

Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan War, it recounts the tale of Electra and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

Background

When King Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War with his new concubine, Cassandra, his wife Clytemnestra (who has taken Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus as a lover) kills them. Clytemnestra believes the murder was justified, since Agamemnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia before the war, as commanded by the gods. Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, rescued her younger brother Orestes from her mother by sending him to Strophius of Phocis. The play begins years later when Orestes has returned as a grown man with a plot for revenge, as well as to claim the throne.

Storyline

Orestes arrives with his friend Pylades, son of Strophius, and a pedagogue, i.e. tutor (an old attendant of Orestes, who took him from Electra to Strophius). Their plan is to have the tutor announce that Orestes has died in a chariot race, and that two men (really Orestes and Pylades) are arriving shortly to deliver an urn with his remains. Meanwhile, Electra continues to mourn the death of her father Agamemnon, holding her mother Clytemnestra responsible for his murder. When Electra is told of the death of Orestes her grief is doubled, but is to be short-lived.

After a choral ode Orestes arrives, carrying the urn supposedly containing his ashes. He does not recognize Electra, nor she him. He gives her the urn and she delivers a moving lament over it, unaware that her brother is in fact standing alive next to her. Now realizing the truth, Orestes reveals his identity to his emotional sister. She is overjoyed that he is alive, but in their excitement they nearly reveal his identity, and the tutor comes out from the palace to urge them on. Orestes and Pylades enter the house and slay Clytemnestra. As Aegisthus returns home, they quickly put her corpse under a sheet and present it to him as the body of Orestes. He lifts the veil to discover who it really is, and Orestes then reveals himself. They escort Aegisthus off set to be killed at the hearth, the same location Agamemnon was slain. The play ends here, before the death of Aegisthus is announced.

Similar works

The story of Orestes' revenge was a popular subject in Greek tragedies.

  • There are surviving versions by all three of the great Athenian tragedians:
  • The story was also told at the end of the lost epic Nostoi (also known as Returns or Returns of the Greeks)
  • The events are also brought up in Homer's Odyssey

Reception

Roman writer Cicero considered Electra to be a masterpiece,[5] and the work is also viewed favorably among modern critics and scholars. In The Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama, John Gassner and Edward Quinn argued that its "simple device of delaying the recognition between brother and sister produces a series of brilliant scenes which display Electra's heroic resolution under constant attack."[6] Of the titular character, Edith Hall also wrote, "Sophocles certainly found an effective dramatic vehicle in this remarkable figure, driven by deprivation and cruelty into near-psychotic extremes of behavior; no other character in his extant dramas dominates the stage to such an extent."[7] L.A. Post noted that the play was "unique among Greek tragedies for its emphasis on action."[8]

Commentaries

  • Davies, Gilbert Austin, 1908 (abridged from the larger edition of Richard Claverhouse Jebb)
  • Finglass, P.J. (editor) (2007). . Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86809-9. 
  • Kovacs, David (August 3, 2009). . Bryn Mawr Classical Review. 

Translations

  • Lewis Campbell, 1883 - verse
  • Richard C. Jebb, 1904 - prose:
  • Francis Storr, 1912 - verse
  • Francis Fergusson, 1938 - verse
  • E.F. Watling 1953 - prose
  • David Grene, 1957 - verse
  • H. D. F. Kitto, 1962 - verse
  • J. H. Kells, 1973 - verse (?)
  • Frank McGuinness, 1997 - verse
  • Henry Taylor, 1998 - verse
  • Anne Carson, 2001 - verse
  • Jenny March, 2001 - prose (acting edition)
  • Tom McGrath, 2003 - prose; full text
  • M. MacDonald and J. M. Walton, 2004 - verse
  • G. Theodoridis, 2006 - prose:
  • Eric Dugdale, 2008 - verse (acting edition)
  • Timberlake Wertenbaker, 2009
  • Nick Payne, 2011

Adaptations