Electra by EuripidesElectra By Euripides

Translated by E. P. Coleridge


Dramatis Personae

ELECTRA, daughter of Agamemnon
ORESTES, son of Agamemnon
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.

(antistrophe 1)

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.

Electra by Euripides