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;

(antistrophe 1)

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.

(strophe 2)

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;

(antistrophe 2)

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
thy friends?

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
grow together?

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 by Euripides