I am ashamed, women, if you think I grieve too much with my numerous laments; but since a hard compulsion forces me to do this, you must bear with me! Why, how could any woman nobly born not do this, looking at the sufferings of her father’s house, sufferings which I see by day and night always growing worse and not declining? First, my relation with the mother who bore me is one of bitter enmity; next, I am living in my own home with my father’s murderers; they are my rulers, and it rests with them whether I receive or go without. And then what kind of days do you think I pass when I see Aegisthus sitting on my father’s throne, and when I see him wearing the same clothes he wore, and pouring libations by the same hearth at which he murdered him; and when I see their final outrage, the murderer in my father’s bed with my miserable mother, if she can be called mother when she sleeps with him? But she is so abandoned that she lives with the polluter, having no fear of any Erinys; but as though she is gloating over what she has done, she finds the day on which she treacherously killed my father and on it sets up dances and slaughters cattle, sacrificing monthly victims to the gods that have preserved her. But I, poor creature, in the house weep, and pine away, and lament alone and to myself the abominable feast that bears my father’s name; for I am not permitted even to weep as much as my heart desires. Yes, this woman, who is said to be so noble, gives tongue and utters insults such as these: “Accursed, hateful creature, are you the only one that has lost a father? Does no other mortal mourn a loss? May you perish miserably, and may the gods below never release you from your lamentations!” These are her insults; only when she hears anyone say that Orestes will come, then she stands by me in a fury and shouts, “Are not you the cause of this? Is this not your work, you who stole Orestes out of my arms and smuggled him away? Well, know that you will pay the penalty you deserve!” She barks out words like these, and her noble husband stands by her to encourage her, this utter coward, this total plague, this man who fights his battles with women’s aid. And as I wait forever for Orestes to come and put a stop to this, I perish in my misery, for by always putting off his action he has destroyed the hopes I had and the hopes I had not! When things are so, my friends, there can be no good sense or piety, but since things are bad, then inevitably one’s conduct must be bad also. chorus Tell me, is Aegisthus near while you are saying this, or is he away from home? electra Indeed he is away! Do not suppose that I would be wandering out of doors if he were near! But now he is in the country. chorus To be sure I would converse with you with more confidence, if indeed this is so. electra Know that he is now away and ask your question; what is your pleasure? chorus Well, I ask you, what do you say about your brother? Will he come, or will he put off coming? I would like to know. electra He says that he will come; but though he says so, he does none of the things he says he will do. chorus Yes, a man often hesitates when he is engaged in a great task. electra Well, it was not by hesitation that I saved him! chorus Be assured, he is of noble nature, so he will help his friends. electra I believe it, since otherwise I would not have remained long alive. chorus Now say no more; for I see your sister, born of the same father and the same mother, Chrysothemis, carrying from the house offerings such as men make to those below the earth. Enter chrysothemis. chrysothemis What are these things that you have come out to say by the door we leave the house by, my sister? And will you not learn, after so long, not to indulge in futile fashion your useless anger? Why, I know this much about myself, that the present situation grieves me; so that if I had the power I should show them what are my feelings towards them. But as things are I think that in time of trouble I must lower my sails, and not seem to perform some deed, but do them no harm; and I would like you to follow suit. I know, justice lies not in what I say, but in what you judge; but if I am to live in freedom, I must obey those in power in everything. electra It is terrible that you, the daughter of your father, forget him and respect your mother; for all your lecturing of me is learned from her, and none of what you say comes from yourself. Why, choose one or the other, either to be foolish or to be wise but forgetful of your own, you that said just now that if you had power you would show how much you hate them, but when I do all I can to honour my father, do not act with me and try to deter me from my action! Does this not add to your woes the reproach of being a coward? Why, explain to me, or learn from me, what I would gain if I left off these lamentations. Do I not live, miserably, but sufficiently for me? And I give pain to them, so that I do honour to the dead, if any pleasure can be felt where the dead are. But you who say you hate them hate them in words, but in your actions you keep company with your father’s murderers. Well, I would never give in to them, not even if someone were to offer me your privileges, on which you now plume yourself; but you may have a rich diet and your life may comfortably flow on. For me it is food enough not to give pain to myself, and I have no desire to enjoy your honours. Neither would you, if you thought rightly; but as things are, when you could be called the daughter of the noblest of men, be called the child of your mother! In that way you will seem to most people a traitor, who have betrayed your dead father and those who are your own! chorus I beg you, say nothing in anger! There is profit in the words of both, if you would learn to make use of hers and she in turn of yours. chrysothemis For my part, women, I am accustomed somehow to her way of speaking; and I should not have spoken of these things, if it were not that I have heard of a great evil coming upon her, which will restrain her from her long lamentations. electra Come, tell me what is the terrible thing! If you are going to tell me of something worse than my present condition, I shall argue with you no more. chrysothemis Well, I will tell you all I know! If you do not leave off these lamentations, they plan to send you to where you shall no longer see the light of the sun, but while still alive in a dungeon, outside this country, you shall bewail your troubles. In the face of that take thought, and do not blame me later, after you have suffered; now you have the chance to show good sense! electra Is that what they have decided to do to me? chrysothemis Yes, whenever Aegisthus returns home. So far as that goes, let him arrive quickly! chrysothemis Unhappy one, what is this imprecation that you have uttered against yourself? electra That he should come, if he is minded to do any of these things. chrysothemis So that what may happen to you? What kind of madness is this? electra So that I can escape as far away as possible from you all. chrysothemis But do you feel no concern for the kind of life you now enjoy? electra Yes, my life is wonderfully agreeable! chrysothemis Why, it would be, if you knew how to think sensibly! electra Do not try to teach me to be disloyal to my own! chrysothemis It is not that that I am trying to teach you, but to yield to those in power. That kind of subservience is for you! What you suggest is not my way! chrysothemis But honour requires that one should not come to grief through foolishness. electra I shall come to grief, if I must, defending the honour of my father. chrysothemis But our father, I know, excuses this. electra These are the kind of words that cowards approve of. chrysothemis But will you not comply and join with me in approving them? electra No! May I never be so empty-headed! chrysothemis Then I will depart on the mission I was sent on. electra Where are you going? For whom are you carrying these vessels? chrysothemis My mother is sending me to offer libations at my father’s tomb. What did you say? Libations to her worst enemy among mankind? chrysothemis To the man she killed; that is what you mean. electra Which of her friends persuaded her? Who approved this? chrysothemis I think it was some midnight terror. electra Gods of my fathers, come to my help now at last! chrysothemis Does this fear of hers give you some kind of confidence? electra If you could tell me her dream, then I could say. chrysothemis But I know and can tell you only a little. electra Well, tell me that! Telling about little things has often in the past brought disaster or success to mortals. chrysothemis They say that she was once more in company with your father and mine, who had come to the world of light; and then he took the staff which he used to carry, and which Aegisthus carries now, and planted it beside the hearth; and from it grew up a fruitful bough, which overshadowed all the land of the Mycenaeans. That is the story I heard from someone who was present when she told her dream to the Sun. But I know no more than this, except that it is because of this fear that she is sending me. [So I implore you by the gods of the family to do as I say, and not to come to grief through folly; for if you repulse me, you will regret it and will come to me again.] electra My dear, do not place on the tomb any of the things you are carrying! It is not right in the eyes of gods or men that you should place burial offerings or bring libations from a hateful woman to our father. Throw them to the winds, or hide them deep in the dust, where none of them will approach my father’s place of rest; but let them be preserved down below as possessions for her when she comes to die! Had she not been the most shameless of all women, she would never have placed these hateful libations on the tomb of him whom she murdered. Yes, see if you think the dead man in the tomb will receive these honours in a manner favourable to her, to her who killed him without honour, like an enemy, mutilated his corpse and by way of ablution wiped off the bloodstains on his head! Can you believe that these offerings will absolve her of the murder? It cannot be! Abandon these, and cut locks from your hair and from that of this unhappy person—a small gift, but all that I possess—and give them to him, this hair denoting supplication and my girdle, decorated with no ornaments. Kneel and pray him to come in kindness from below the earth to help us against our enemies, and pray that his son Orestes may get the upper hand and may trample, alive and well, upon his enemies, so that in the future we may honour him with hands richer than those with which we now bring him gifts! I believe, yes, I believe that it is he who was concerned to send these ugly dreams to her. But none the less, my sister, perform this service in aid of both yourself and me, and of the dearest of all mortals, the father of us both who lies in Hades. chorus The girl’s words are pious; and if you are wise, my dear, you will perform this action. chrysothemis I will; for when an act is right, reason demands that two voices should not contend, but hastens on the deed. But when I attempt the task, dear friends, do you, I beg you, keep silent, for if my mother hears of this, I think I shall have reason to regret my daring venture. Exit chrysothemis; electra remains on stage during the singing of the First Stasimon.
[PH50]The fact that this reference to Electra is framed as a neuter noun must add to the power of the invective. Also the phrases are short and striking in their simplicity. Homeric warriors, when remonstrating, often open with a volley of questions.
[PH82]Perhaps refers to the lack of freedom accorded to women in Athenian society, though that is debatable. However, Electra's presence outside is a transgressive act. C. later associates her presence outside with Aegisthus' absence.
[PH83]ἱστορέω (>ἵστωρ): inquire into or about a thing
[PH84]A brief and contemptuous reply to a roundabout question.
[PH85]φής . . . φησίν . . . φάσκων: the verb alters, but the sense does not.
[PH86]The dramatic irony is strong: time and again in the prologue the need for immediate action was stressed.
[PH87]ὀκνέω: to shrink from doing, scruple, hesitate to do a thing
[PH105]Middle participle of ὑφιέμαι to 'lower one's sails (sc. in the face of danger').
[PH106]δοκεῖ [PH106] . . . δοκεῖν. Sophocles doesn’t mind repeating the same word.
[PH107]Chrysothemis ironically defers to Electra’s judgment. A contrast between the pronouns as much as the verbs.
[PH108]The apodosis makes clear the extent of her ‘freedom’.
[PH109]ἀκουστέον: one must hear or hearken to, c. gen. pers. For the form and the construction see Smyth §2149
[PH110]Electra rejects her sister’s recommendations in a speech that becomes more forceful as it progresses. Its first ten lines are made up of five couplets, each a single sense unit. There is something of Achilles about Electra. She begins with angry remonstrance.
[PH121]What a joy for the actor this line must have been! The broken rhythm reflects the angry sarcasm: note the two elisions, punchy opening monosyllables, an unusually strong pause in second position, and parenthetic οἶδ, in the middle with sense breaks either side.