Electra, the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, anxiously awaits for the return of her brother Orestes. Together, they avenge the death of their father at the hands of their mother and her lover Aegisthus.See more details below
Electra, the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, anxiously awaits for the return of her brother Orestes. Together, they avenge the death of their father at the hands of their mother and her lover Aegisthus.
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By SOPHOCLES, George Young, THOMAS CROFTS
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Scene, before the Palace at Mycenæ.
Enter ORESTES, PYLADES and Guardian.
Son of our Captain in the wars of Troy,
Great Agamemnon, it is given thee now
With thine own eyes, Orestes, to behold
Those scenes thou hast ever longed for. Here it lies,
Argos, the ancient land of thy desire;
The sacred glade of her the gadfly drave,
Inachus' daughter; that's the Agora
They call Lycean, from the wolf-slaying God;
This, on the left, Hera's renowned fane;
And from the point we are reaching you can swear
You see Mycenæ's Golden City, and this,
The death-fraught house of Pelops' family;
Whence I received you at your sister's hands,
And saved you from the slaughter of your sire,
And carried you away, and fostered you
So far toward manhood, ready to revenge
A father's blood. Wherefore, Orestes, now—
And Pylades, thou dearest of allies—
Take we brief counsel what is right to do;
For see, already the bright gleam of day
Calls up the birds to sing their matins clear
Above us, and the sable star-lit night
Has passed away. Now, before any man
Comes forth abroad, join you in conference;
For where we stand, it is no season more
To hesitate; the hour is come for action.
My faithfullest of followers, what clear signs
You manifest of your good will to us!
For as a generous steed, though he be old,
Beset with difficulties, pricks his ears
And bates not of his courage, you impart
Spirit to us, and lag no whit behind.
As you desire, I will unfold my scheme;
Do you the while mark my words heedfully,
And if I miss the target, mend my aim.
Late, when I sought the Pythian oracle,
To learn how I might execute revenge
Upon my father's murderers, Phbus gave me
Answer in this sort; I will tell it you;
I by myself unarmed with shields and martial bands
By craft held condign slaughter hidden in my hands.
Well, with this answer sounding in our ears,
Go you, as opportunity may lead,
Into the house, and gather all that passes,
And bring us word of all; for in old age,
And so long after, they will never know
Now, nor suspect you, frosted thus by time.
Tell your tale thus; you are a citizen
Of Phocis, and you come from Phanoteus,
Who is their best ally; tell them (and swear it)
Orestes has been killed by accident,
By a fall from his chariot, at the Pythian games;
Let it stand so. We, as He bade, the while,
First with libations and shorn curls of hair
Will deck my father's grave; then back again
Return, carrying an urn of beaten brass,
(The same, you know, that in the brake lies hidden,)
That in feigned words we may convey to them
Glad tidings—how my body is destroyed,
Burnt up already and made embers of!
For where's the harm to be called dead, when really
I am alive, and gather praise thereby?
No word that profits us can hurt, I fancy.
Why, I have seen men often, who were wise,
Falsely pretending death; then, when again
They came back home, they have been more prized than ever;
So I expect yet, out of this report,
To blaze forth, star-like, living, on my foes.
But O my native land! Gods of the soil!
Welcome me with good fortune in these ways;
And thou, paternal Home! for I thy cleanser
Come here of right, the ambassador of Heaven;
Send me not with dishonour from this land,
But grant me to inherit and set up
The old estate.—I have spoken. Now, old friend,
Be it your care to guard your post; go forward;
And let us forth. It is the season; this,
In every action, is men's best ally.
Ah woe is me!
I thought I heard some handmaiden cry faintly
Inside the doors, my son!
Is it perhaps
The wronged Electra? Shall we stay awhile
And listen to her sorrowing?
By no means.
Do nothing ere performing what is bidden
Of Loxias, and initiate all from thence,
Pouring lustrations on your father's grave.
This wafts us victory, and nerves our doings.
Holy Light, with Earth, and Sky,
Whom thou fillest equally,
Ah how many a note of woe,
Many a self-inflicted blow
On my scarred breast might'st thou mark,
Ever as recedes the dark;
Known, too, all my nightlong cheer
To bitter bed and chamber drear,
How I mourn my father lost,
Whom on no barbarian coast
Did red Ares greet amain,
But as woodmen cleave an oak
My mother's axe dealt murderous stroke,
Backed by the partner of her bed,
Fell Ægisthus, on his head;
Whence no pity, save from me,
O my father, flows for thee,
So falsely, foully slain.
Yet I will not cease from sighing,
Cease to pour my bitter crying,
While I see this light of day,
Or the stars' resplendent play,
Uttering forth a sound of wail,
Like the child-slayer, the nightingale,
Here before my father's door
Crying to all men evermore.
O Furies dark, of birth divine!
O Hades wide, and Proserpine!
Thou nether Hermes! Ara great!
Ye who regard the untimely dead,
The dupes of an adulterous bed,
Come ye, help me, and require
The foul murder of our sire;
And send my brother back again;
Else I may no more sustain
Grief's overmastering weight.
Enter Chorus of Ladies of Mycenæ.
O child, Electra, child
Of one too fatally bold,
How sighest thou, unsatisfied yet,
Evermore wasting away,
For him, Agamemnon, beguiled
By thy crafty mother of old,
Spite of all Gods, in her net,
To base hands given for a prey?
Accurst be the author of this!
If I pray not amiss.
O women of noble strain,
Ye are come to solace my pain;
I know it, I well perceive;
It escapes me not at all;
Howbeit I will not leave
To lament my father's fall.
Ye my love who repay
With all love ever gave,
Ah let me be, I pray,
Leave me to rave.
But not from Hades below,
Not from the all-welcoming shore,
Even with strong crying and prayer
Canst thou raise thy father again.
Past all measure in woe
Thou art perishing evermore,
Sinking deep in despair,
Where no release is from pain;
Ah why so bent upon grief,
Too sore for relief?
None but fools could forget
Their fathers' wrongs, who are gone.
But on her my fancy is set,
The bird, Heaven's messenger,
Wildly bemoaning her
For Itys, Itys alone!
O forlorn Niobe,
As one godlike I deem of thee,
Alas! that abidest, weeping,
In a rock-tomb's keeping!
Not first of mortals with thee,
Daughter, did sorrow begin;
Whereas thou passest the rest,
Thy kith and kindred within,
The life Chrysothemis lives,
And Iphianassa, and he
In the flower of his youth who grieves,
Hid, but not all unblest,
Whom the land, Mycenæ fair,
Will receive, her princes' heir,
When he, Orestes, shall come
By Heaven's guidance home.
Whom I wait for, and go
Ceaselessly wet with tears,
Unespoused, childless, forlorn,
Bearing still, as I must,
The unending burden of woe;
But he forgets with the years
All he has heard and borne;
For what message comes I can trust?
Ever he longs to be here—
He will not appear!
Nay cheer thee, cheer thee, my child;
God in the Heavens is yet great,
Who surveys all else and commands.
Leave thou then in his hands
Anger—the excess of regret,
Nor chide overmuch—nor forget
Those whom thou needs must hate.
For Time is a God right mild;
Nor can Agamemnon's son
By Crisa's pastoral shore,
Nor the monarch of Acheron,
Be deaf evermore.
But already most of my day,
Hopeless, has faded away;
I can do no longer withal;
Without parents to cherish me I waste,
Without husband's love, to defend;
Yea alien-like, disgraced,
I inhabit my father's hall,
And in this guise. attend
At a board with no feast laid,
At his return arose
A burden of woes—of woes
To thy father's resting-place,
What time was darted a thrust,
From fangs all brass, at his face.
Fraud was deviser—Lust
Was slayer—embodying the shade
Of a fell deed foully planned,
Yea, whether by heavenly aid
Or a mortal's hand.
O day that far beyond all
Dawned most hateful to see!
O night—O sorrows abhorred
Of that ghastly festival—
Murder done villainously
On my sire, by the hands of twain
Who took my life as a prey,
Who annihilated me!
Whom may God with rightful reward,
The Olympian Power, again
For their deeds amply repay,
Nor let them compass their bliss
By an act like this!
Take heed; say no more.
Hast thou no consciousness
Out of what wealth before
Thou fall'st thus miserably
Into ills that abide with thee?
Thou hast wrought thee woes in excess,
Bringing forth strife on strife
To the heaviness of thy life;
And is it so easy a thing
To contend with a king?
Hard is my fate, full hard;
I know it; I am mad, I confess;
Yet not for the fates that oppress
Will I keep this wrath under guard,
The while my life shall endure!
For from whom, companions dear,
Should I submissively hear
Reason, or from whom, that is wise,
Counsel, fit for mine ear?
Let me be; cease to advise;
All this must pass without cure;
I shall never be free from distress,
And laments numberless.
Yet I bid thee, faithful still,
As a mother, and in good will,
Do not add new ill unto ill.
And where should a limit be set
For evil to spread?
Or how is it well, to forget
The cause of the dead?
In what man's heart
Could a plant like this find place?
Be mine no part
In such men's favour or grace!
Nor, if with any good things
My fortune is blent,
Be it mine to rest in content,
And fetter the wings
Of piercing cries, or tire,
Praising my sire.
For if in the earth, as nought,
The dead must lie,
And these, in return, who ought,
The slayers, not die,
Then farewell honour, and fall
Men's reverence, all!
I came, my daughter, zealous for your good
As for my own; but if I say not well,
Have it your way; for we will follow you.
I am ashamed, dear ladies, if to you
Through frequent lamentations I appear
Too sorely oppressed; but, for necessity
Obliges me to do so, pardon me.
For how should any woman gently born,
Viewing the sorrows of her father's house,
Do otherwise than I, who witness them
For ever day by day and night by night
Rather increase than lessen? to whom, first,
The mother's face who bare me has become
Most hostile; next, I must be companied
In my own home with my sire's murderers,
By them be ruled, take at their hands, or else
At their hands hunger! Then, what sort of days
Do you suppose I lead, when I behold
Ægisthus seated on my father's throne,
Wearing the selfsame garments which he wore,
And pouring out libations on the hearth
By which he slew him? When I witness, too,
The consummation of their impudence,
The homicide lying in my father's bed
With that abandoned mother—if it be right
To call her mother, who consorts with him!
And she—so profligate that she lives on
With her blood-guilty mate—fearing no vengeance—
Rather, as if exulting in her doings—
Looks out the day on which by cunning erst
She slew my father, and each month on it
Sets dances going, and sacrifices sheep
In offering to her guardian deities!
I see it, I, ill-fated one! At home
I weep and waste and sorrow as I survey
The unblest feast that bears my father's name,
In private; for I cannot even weep
So freely as my heart would have me do;
For this tongue-valiant woman with vile words
Upbraids me, crying "Thou God-forsaken thing,
Has no man's father died, save only thine?
Is nobody in mourning, except thee?
Ill death betide thee, and the nether Gods
Give thee no end to these thy sorrowings!"
So she reviles; save when she hears it said
Orestes is at hand; then instantly
She is possest, and comes and screams at me—
"Is it not you who are the cause of this?
Pray is not this your doing, who stole Orestes
Out of my hands, and conjured him away?
But mind you, you shall pay me well for it!"
So snarling, there joins with her and stands by
And hounds her forward her illustrious groom,
The all unmanly, all injurious pest,
Who fights no battles without women! I,
Waiting and waiting, till Orestes come
And end it, miserably daily die.
For always meaning, never doing, he
Has utterly confounded all my hopes
Remote or present. Friends, in such a case,
There is no room—no, not for soberness
Or piety; but, beneath injuries,
There is deep need we prove injurious, too!
Stay, tell me, is it with Ægisthus near
You talk thus to us, or is he gone from home?
That is he. Never think, if he were by,
I could roam forth; but he is abroad just now.
Then I might come with better confidence
To speech of you, that being so.
Oh, ask freely;
He is not here. What do you want to know?
And so I will. What of your brother say you?
I would fain know, will he come soon, or tarry?
He says he will. He does not keep his word.
A man is backward, when on some great exploit.
I was not backward, when I rescued him!
Take courage, he is of a worthy stock;
He will not fail his friends.
I trust so. Else
I never should have been alive so long.
Hush, say no more just now; for I perceive
Chrysothemis your sister, who was born
Of the same mother and same sire as you,
Come from the palace, carrying in her hands
Oblations customary to the dead.
Sister, what talk is this, you come and cry
Aloud, abroad, before the outer gate,
Nor will not learn, taught by long years, to cease
Vainly indulging unavailing rage?
I for myself can say as much as this—
I chafe at those I live with, in such fashion
As, if I could get power, I would make plain
The sort of temper that I bear towards them;
But in these dangers it seems good to sail
Close-reefed, and not pretend to be at work,
But effect nothing harmful; and I wish
You too would do the like; and yet, the right
Is not as I declare, but as you judge it;
Still, if I am to live at liberty,
I must in all things heed my governors.
Well, it is strange that you, being his child
Who was your sire, should have regard for her,
Your mother, and have quite forgotten him!
All this good counsel you bestow on me
Is of her teaching; and of your own self
You can say nothing. Therefore take your choice;
Either to be of evil mind, or else
Well minded to forget those dear to you;
Who said but now, if you could get the power,
You would shew plain the hate you have for them;
And yet, while I am doing everything
To avenge our father, do not take your part,
And seek to turn me from it, who take mine!
Danger! Is there not cowardice as well?
Come, answer me, what should it profit me
To cease my mourning? Or else hear me speak;
Do I not live? unprosperously I know,
But well enough for me; to them, the while,
I am a torment, and so render honour
To him that's gone, if there be service there!
You—madam hatress—you pretend you hate,
But really take your father's murderers' side!
For my part, I will never bend to them;
Not though a man should come and offer me
These gauds of yours, in which you glory now!
Yours be the full-spread board, the cup o'erflowing;
For me—be it my only sustenance
Not to offend against my conscience. Thus,
I do not ask to share your dignities,
And were you well-advised, no more would you!
But now, though it be in your power to be called
Your father's child—the foremost of mankind,
Be called—your mother's! So you shall appear
In most men's eyes unmeritoriously,
False to. your friends, and to your father's shade.
Now in Heaven's name, no chiding! There is good
In what you both have said, if you would learn
Something from her, and she, in turn, from you.
Oh, I am quite accustomed to her talk;
Nor, ladies, had I ever said one word,
Had I not heard a very great mishap
Was coming on her, which will make her cease
From her long sorrowing.
Come, your bug-bear, tell it!
If you can mention any greater grief
Than these I have, I will reply no more.
Well, I will tell you everything I know.
They are going, if you will not cease this mourning,
To send you where you will not any more
See daylight, but sing sorrow underground,
Buried alive, out of this territory.
Wherefore take heed, or by and by, in trouble
Never blame me. Prudence is easy, now.
Excerpted from Electra by SOPHOCLES, George Young, THOMAS CROFTS. Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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