Tragedies of Sophocles (Plumptre 1878)/Electra

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Electra (Sophocles).

 

ELECTRA.




ARGUMENT.

It came to pass that when Agamemnon led the host of the Achæans against Troia, his wife, Clytemnestra, the daughter of Tyndareus, fell away from her faithfulness, partly because she was wroth, or feigned to be so, with her husband, for having sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia to turn aside the wrath of Artemis, and obtain a favouring breeze for the ships of the Achæans; and partly because Ægisthos, son of Thyestes, the brother of Atreus, father of Agamemnon, had gained her to his will. And when Agamemnon returned from Troia to Mykenæ, Ægisthos and Clytemnestra slew him, and reigned over the Argives in his place, but Electra, his daughter, saved her brother Orestes, and sent him secretly in charge of a faithful servant to Strophios of Phokis, his father s friend. And when eight years had passed, and Electra had sent and received from, him many secret messages, Orestes at last came, with his faithful friend Pylades, the son of Strophios, and the servant who had watched over him, to Mykenæ, that he might do as the God at Delphi had bidden him, and take vengeance on his father's murderers. And it chanced that when he came, his mother, Clytemnestra, had had a vision, which filled her with fear, and she sent her younger daughter, Chrysothemis, with funereal offerings to the tomb of Agamemnon. Electra meanwhile had never ceased to bewail her father's death, and because of this, her mother and Ægisthos had dealt harshly with her.

 

 

Dramatis Personæ.

Attendant foster-father to Orestes.
Orestes, son of Agamemnon.
Pylades, friend of Orestes.
Ægisthos, husband of Clytemnestra.
Clytemnestra, mother of Orestes.
Electra, sisters of Orestes.
Chrysothemis,
Chorus of Argive Maidens.
 

 

ELECTRA.




SCENE—Mykenæ. On one side the entrance of the Palace; on the other, in the background, the funeral mound of Agamemnon; Agora and Temples in the centre, Argos in the distance.


Enter Orestes, Pylades and Attendant.


Attend. Now, son of Agamemnon, who of old
Led our great hosts at Troy, 'tis thine to see
What long thou hast desired. For lo! there lies
The ancient Argos, which, with yearning wish,
Thou oft did'st turn to; here the sacred grove
Of her who wandered, spurred by ceaseless sting,
Daughter of Inachos:[1] and this, Orestes,
Is the wide agora, Lykeian named
In honour of the God who slew the wolves;[2]
Here on the left, the shrine of Hera famed;[3]
And where we stand, Mykenæ, rich in gold,
Thou look'st upon, in slaughter also rich,
The house of Pelops' line. Here, long ago,10
After thy father's murder, I received thee,
At thy dear sister's hands, to kindred true;
And took thee, saved thee, reared thee in my home,
To this thy manhood, destined to avenge
Thy father's death. Now, therefore, Ο my son,
Orestes, and thou, Pylades, most dear
Of all true friends, we needs must quickly plan
What best to do. For lo! the sun's bright rays
Wake up the birds to tune their matin songs,
And star-decked night's dark shadows flee away;
Ye, then, before ye enter, taking rest,
The roof of living man, hold conference;20
For as things are, we may not linger on:
The time is come for action.

Ores. Dearest friend,
Of servants found most faithful, still thou giv'st
Clear tokens of thy nobleness of heart
In all that touches us. For as the steed,
Though he be old, if good blood flows in him,
In danger's hour still loses not his fire,
But pricks his ears, so thou dost urge us on,
And tak'st thyself thy station in the van.
Wherefore, I tell thee what my mind approves,
And thou, give heed, full heed, to all my words;30
And, if I miss the mark in aught, correct:
For I, when I had reached the Pythian shrine,
That I might learn by what device to wreak
My vengeance on my father's murderers,
Heard this from Phœbos, which thou too shalt learn,
That I myself, unarmed with shield or host,
Should subtly work the righteous deed of blood.
Since then we heard an oracle like this,
Do thou go in, whene'er occasion serves,
Within this house, and learn what passes there,40
That, knowing all, thou may'st report it well;
Changed as thou art by age and lapse of years,
They will not know thee, nor, with those grey hairs,
Even suspect thee. And with this pretence
Go in, that thou a Phokian stranger art,
Come from a man named Phanoteus; for he
Of all their friends is counted most in fame,
And tell them—yea, and add a solemn oath—
That some fell fate has brought Orestes' death,
In Pythian games,[4] from out the whirling car
Rolled headlong to the earth. This tale tell thou;50
And we, first honouring my father's grave,
As the God bade us, with libations pure
And tresses from our brow, will then come back,
Bearing the urn well wrought with sides of bronze,
Which, thou know'st well, 'mid yonder shrubs lies hid,
That we with crafty words may bring to them
The pleasant news that my poor frame is gone,
Consumed with fire, to dust and ashes turned.
Why should this grieve me, when, by show of death,
In truth I safety gain, and win renown?60
To me no speech that profits soundeth ill,
For often have I seen men known as wise,
Reported dead in words of idle tales,[5]
And then, when fortune brings them home again,
Gain more abundant honours. So I boast
That I, from out this rumour of my death,
Shall, like a meteor, blaze upon my foes.
But oh! thou fatherland, ye Gods of home,
Receive me, prosper me in this my way;
And thou, my father's house, (for lo! I come,
Sent by the Gods to cleanse thee righteously,)70
Send me not back dishonoured from the land,
But lord of ancient wealth, and found at last
Restorer of my race. So far I 've said:
And now, old friend, 'tis thine to watch thy task:
We twain go forth. The true, right time is come,
That mightiest master of all works of men.

Elec. [Within.] Woe, woe is me! Ο misery!

Attend. [To Orestes.] I thought, my son, but now I heard a cry
As of some hand-maid wailing within doors.

Ores. And can it be Electra, helpless one?80
Shall we remain and listen to her plaint?

Attend. In no wise. Let us not attempt to do
Aught else before what Loxias bade us do,
And start from that, upon thy father's grave
Pouring the lustral stream. For this shall bring
Our victory,[6] and strength in all we do.

[Exeunt Orestes, Pylades, and Attendant.


Enter Electra, followed by a train of Maidens.


Ο holy light of day,
And air with earth commensurate,
Many the wailing songs,
Many the echoing blow,
On bosom stained with blood90
Thou heardest, when the night
Of murky darkness ceased;
And how, in all my vigils of the night
I wail my hapless sire,
It knows, the loathèd bed of hated house;—
My sire, whom Ares fierce and murderous,
On alien shore received not as a guest,
But she, my mother, and her paramour,
Ægisthos, with the blood-stained hatchet, smote,
As those that timber fell
Smite down the lofty oak.
And thou, my father, hast no pity gained100
From any one but me,
Though thou a death hast died
So grievous and so foul to look upon.

But I at least will ne'er
Refrain mine eyes from weeping, while I live,
Nor yet my voice from wail;
Not while I see this day,
And yon bright twinkling stars;
But, like a nightingale
Of its young brood bereaved,
Before the gates I speak them forth to all.
Ο house of Hades and Persephone,110
Ο Hermes of the abyss, and thou, dread Curse,[7]
And ye, Erinnyes, daughters of the Gods,
Ye dreaded Ones who look
On all who perish, slain unrighteously,
On all whose bed is stealthily defiled,
Come ye, and help, avenge my father's death;
Send me my brother here,
For I alone must fail,
Sorrow's great burden in the balance cast.120

Chor. Ο child, Electra dear,
Child of a mother guilty above all,
Why dost thou ever wear thyself away
In ceaseless, wailing cry,
For him thy father, Agamemnon, slain,
Long years ago by godless subtlety,
Thy mother's, steeped in guile,
By coward hand betrayed?
May he who did the deed
(If this my wish be right)
Perish for evermore!

Elec. Offspring of noble souls,
Ye come to soothe my woes;130
I know it, yea, I comprehend it all,
Nothing escapes my ken;
And yet I will not leave my task undone,
Nor cease to wail my hapless father's fate.
Ye then who give me every token kind
Of true affection's bond,
Leave me, I pray, ah! leave
To vent my sorrow thus.

Chor. And yet with groans and prayers,
From Hades' pool, where all that live must go,
Thy sire thou can'st not raise, but passest on,
Lamenting ceaselessly,
From evil one might bear140
To woe that baffles every remedy,
Where respite from our sorrows there is none.
Why, why, I ask, dost thou
Still in thy spirit seek
Those evils hard to bear?

Elec. Childish and weak is he
Who learneth to forget
The parents that have perished miserably;
Far better pleaseth me
The wailing one who "Itys, Itys,"[8] mourns,
The bird heartbroken, messenger of Zeus.
Ah, Niobe![9] with all thy countless woes150
I count thee still divine,
Who in thy tomb of rock
Weepest for evermore.

Chor. Not unto thee alone,
My child, of those that live
Have grief and sorrow come;
Nor sufferest thou ought more than those within
With whom thou sharest home and kith and kin,
Iphianassa and Chrysothemis;
And one is mourning in a youth obscure,
Yet happy, too, in part,
Whom one day the Mykenians' glorious land160
Shall welcome as the heir of noble race,
Coming to this our soil,
As sent by grace of Zeus,
Orestes, come at last.

Elec. Ah! him I wait for with unwearied hope,
And go, ah! piteous fate!
Childless, unwedded still;
My cheeks are wet with tears,
And still I bear an endless doom of woe.
And he, alas! forgets
All he has met with, all that I had taught.
What message goes from me
That is not mocked? for still he yearns to come,170
And yet he deigneth not,
Yearn though he may, to show himself to us.

Chor. Take heart, my child, take heart;
Mighty in heaven He dwells,
Zeus, seeing, guiding all:
Resign to Him the wrath that vexes sore.
And as for them, the foes whom thou dost hate,
Nor grieve too much, nor yet forget them quite;
Time is a calm and patient Deity:
For neither he who dwells
Where oxen graze on far Krisæan shore,180
The boy who sprang from Agamemnon's loins,
Lives heedless of thy woe;
Nor yet the God who reigns
By Acheron's dark shore.

Elec. And yet the larger portion of my life
Is gone without a hope,
And I am all too weak,
Who waste away in orphaned loneliness,
Whom no dear husband loves,
But, like an alien stranger in the house,
I do my task unmeet,
And tend the chambers where my father dwelt,190
In this unseemly guise,
And stand at tables all too poorly filled.

Chor. Sad was his voice in that his homeward march,
And sad when that sharp blow
(There in his father's couch,)
Of brazen axe went straight;
Guile was it that devised,
And lust that struck the blow,
Engendering foully foulest form of sin,
Whether it was a God,
Or one of mortal men,
That did the deed of guilt.200

Elec. Ah, day of all that ever came to me,
Most horrible by far!
Ο night! Ο sufferings, strange as wonderful,
Of banquets foul and dark!
Dread forms of death which he, my father, saw
Wrought out by their joint hands,
Who, traitorous, murdered him who was my life,
And so brought death to me.
May He who dwelleth on Olympos high,
God, the Almighty One,
Give them for this to groan all grievously;210
And ne'er may they in prosperous days rejoice,
Who did such deeds as this.

Chor. Take heed, take heed, and utter speech no more.
Hast thou no thought from whence,
Into what evils dread,
Sorrows thou mak'st thine own,
Thou fallest piteously?
For thou hast reaped excess of misery,
Still brooding over war
In thine unquiet heart;
With kings 'tis ill to strive.220

Elec. I was sore vexed with evils dire, yea, dire;
I know it well; my wrath escapes me not.
Yet in this hard, hard fate,
I will not cease from uttering woe on woe,
While life still holds me here.
For who is there, companions kind and true,
From whom to learn the speech that profiteth,
Whose thoughts befit the time?
Leave me, oh, leave me, friends that fain would soothe,
For these my woes as endless shall be known,230
And never from my waitings shall I cease,
Nor pause to count my tears.

Chor. And yet, in pure goodwill I speak to thee,
As mother faithful found,
Not to heap ills on ills.

Elec. What limit is there then to miser?
What? Is it noble to neglect the dead?
Where has this custom grown?
May I ne'er share their praise,
Nor, should I come to any form of good,240
Dwell with it peaceably,
If I should stay my wailing sorrow's wings,
And leave my father shamed?
For if the dead, as dust and nothing found,
Shall lie there in his woe,
And they shall fail to pay
The penalty of blood,
Then should all fear of Gods from earth decay,
And all men's worship prove a thing of nought.250

Chor. I came, my child, in earnest zeal for thee
And for myself. But if I speak not well,
Have thou thy way, and we will follow thee.

Elec. I feel some shame, ye women, if I seem
To over-weary you with many tears:
But hard compulsion forces me to this,
Therefore bear with me. What maid nobly born,
Seeing a father's sorrows, would not do
As I am doing,—sorrows which, by night
As well as day, I see bud forth and bloom,
In nowise wither,—I who, first of all,260
Have on my mother's part, yes, hers who bore me,
Found deadliest hate; and then, in this my house,
Companion with my father's murderers,
I bow to them, and at their hands receive,
Or suffer want. And next, I pray thee, think
What kind of days I pass, beholding him,
Ægisthos, sitting on my father's throne,
And seeing him wear all his kingly robes,
And pouring forth libations on the hearth270
Where his hands slew him; last, and worst of all,
I see that murderer in my father's couch,
With her, my wretched mother, if that name
Of mother I may give to one who sleeps
With such an one as he; and she is bold,
And lives with that adulterer, fearing not
The presence of Erinnyes, but, as one
Who laughs in what she does, she notes the day
In which she slew my father in her guile,
And on it forms her choral band, and slays
Her sheep each month, as victims to the Gods280
That give deliverance;[10] I, poor hapless one,
Beholding it, (ah misery!) within
Bewail, and pine, and mourn the fatal feast,[11]
Full of all woe, that takes my father's name,—
I by myself alone. I dare not weep,
Not even weep, as fain my heart would wish;
For she, that woman, noble but in words,
Heaps on my head reproaches such as these:
"Ο impious, hateful mood! Has death deprived
Thee only of a father? Do none else
Feel touch of sorrow? Evil fate be thine,290
And never may the Gods that reign below
Free thee from wailing!" So she still reviles;
But when she hears one speak Orestes' name,
As one day coming, then in maddened rage
She comes and screams, "And art not thou the cause?
And is not this thy deed, who, stealing him,
Orestes, from my hands, hast rescued him?
But know that thou shalt pay full price for this."
So does she howl, and he too eggs her on,
That spouse of hers as noble, standing near,300
That utter coward, that mere mischief, he
Who with the help of women wages war.
And I, who wait Orestes evermore
To come and stop these evils, waste away;
For he, still ever meaning to effect
Some great achievement, brings to nothingness
All my hopes here, and all hopes far away.
At such a time, my friends, there is no room
For self-control or measured reverence;
Ills force us into choosing words of ill.

Chor. Tell us, I pray, if thus thou speakest out,310
Ægisthos being near, or gone from home.

Elec. From home, most surely; do not dream that I,
If he were near, had ventured out of doors;
But, as it happens, he is gone a-field.

Chor. So much the more would I take heart to hold
My converse with thee, if indeed 'tis so.

Elec. Yes, he is gone. Ask thou whatever thou wilt.

Chor. Well, then, I ask thee of thy brother first,
Comes he, or stays he still? I fain would know.

Elec. He speaks of coming; yet he nothing does.

Chor. One who works great things oft is slow in them.320

Elec. I was not slow when I did save his life.

Chor. Take heart. Right noble he, to help his friends.

Elec. I trust, or else I had not lived till now.

Chor. Not one word more; for coming from the house
I see thy sister, of one father born,
And of one mother, fair Chrysothemis;
And in her hand she brings sepulchral gifts,
Such as are offered to the souls that sleep.[12]


Enter Chrysothemis, bearing funeral offerings.

Chrys. What plaint is this thou utterest, sister dear,
Here at the outlet of the palace gates?
And wilt not learn the lessons time should teach330
To yield no poor compliance to a wrath
That is but vain? This much myself I know;
I grieve at what befalls us. Had I strength,
I would show plainly what I think of them;
But now it seems most wise in weather foul,
To slack my sail, and make no idle show
Of doing something when I cannot harm;
And on this wise I wish thee too to act;
While yet I grant that what thou think'st is just,
Not what I say. But if I wish to live
In freedom, I must bow to those that rule.340

Elec. Strange is it thou, who callest such a man
Thy father, should'st forget him, and should'st care
For such a mother. All this good advice
Thou giv'st to me is not thine own but hers,
Thy lesson learnt by rote. Take then thy choice;
Or thou hast lost thy reason, or, if sane,
Thou hast no memory of thy dearest friends,
Who said'st but now, that, had'st thou strength enough,
Thou would'st make plain the hate thou hast for them;
And yet when I am working to avenge
Thy father, wilt not join me, and would'st fain350
Turn me aside from action. Is there not
In this, besides all else, a coward's heart?
Tell me (yea, hear) what profit should I have
Were I to cease from tears? Do I not live?
In evil case I own, and yet for me
Enough; and these I vex, and so I give
Due honour to the dead,—if they can be
Or pleased or thankful. Thou, with that thy hate,
Hatest in words, and yet in act dost live
In friendship with thy father's murderers.
Never would I, no, not though one should bring
To me the gifts which thou rejoicest in,360
Give way to them. No! Let thy board be spread
With dainties rich, and let thy life be full;
*My only food be this, to spare myself
What most would pain. I covet not thy place,
Nor, wert thou wise, would'st thou. But, as it is,
When thou might'st be the child of noblest father,
Choose to be called thy mother's. Thus shalt thou
To most men seem contemptible and base,
Forsaking thy dead father and thy friends.

Chor. By all the Gods, I pray thee, cease from wrath;
In both your words, some profit may be found,370
If thou from her would'st learn, and she from thee.

Chrys. I, Ο my friends, am somewhat used to hear
Her words; nor had I now recurred to them,
But that I heard of evil drawing near,
Which soon shall stop her long protracted wails.

Elec. Tell then this dreadful evil. Hast thou aught
To tell me more than what I suffer now,
I will resist nο longer.

Chrys. All I know
Myself, I'll tell thee; for their purpose is,
Unless thou ceasest from thy wailings loud,
To send thee where thou never more shalt see
The light of day, but in a dungeon cave,380
Immured alive, beyond our country's bounds,
Shalt sing thy song of sorrow. Take good heed,
And do not, when thou sufferest, all too late,
Cast then the blame on me. Be wise in time.

Elec. And is it thus they have decreed to treat me?

Chrys. Beyond all doubt, when home Ægisthos comes.

Elec. If this be all, would God he may come soon.

Chrys. What evil prayer is this, poor sister mine?

Elec. That he may come, if this his purpose be.390

Chrys. What would'st thou suffer? Whither turn thy thoughts?

Elec. To flee as far as may be from you all.

Chrys. Hast thou no care for this thy present life?

Elec. A goodly life for men to wonder at!

Chrys. So might it be, if thou would'st wisdom learn.

Elec. Teach me no baseness to the friends I love.

Chrys. I teach not that, yet kings must be obeyed.

Elec. Fawn as thou wilt; thy fashion is not mine.

Chrys. Yet is it well through rashness not to fall.

Elec. If fall we must, we'll fall our father helping.

Chrys. Our father, so I deem, will pardon this.400

Elec. These words will win due praises from the vile.

Chrys. Wilt thou not yield and hearken to my words?

Elec. Not so; ne'er may I be so reft of sense.

Chrys. I then will go the way that I was sent.

Elec. And whither goest thou? Whose the gifts thou bring'st?

Chrys. Mother to father bids me pour libations.

Elec. How say'st thou? To the man whom most she hates?

Chrys. "The man she slew"—'Tis that thou fain would'st say.

Elec. Who gave this counsel? Who has this approved?

Chrys. 'Tis, as I think, some terror of the night.410

Elec. Gods of my fathers! Be ye with me now!

Chrys. And does this terror give thee confidence?

Elec. If thou would'st tell the vision, I should know.

Chrys. I know it not, but just in briefest tale.

Elec. Ah, tell me that; brief words ere now have laid
Men low in dust, and raised them up again.

Chrys. A rumour runs that she our father's presence
(Yes, thine and mine) a second time to light
Saw coming, and he stood upon the hearth,
And took the sceptre which he bore of old,[13]420
Which now Ægisthos bears, and fixed it there,
And from it sprang a sucker fresh and strong,
And all Mykenæ rested in its shade.
This tale I heard from some one who was near
When she declared her vision to the Sun;[14]
But more than this I heard not, save that she
Now sends me hither through that fright of hers.
[Electra, wild and impassioned, is about to speak.
And now by all the Gods of kith and kin,
I pray thee, hearken to me; do not fall
Through lack of counsel; if thou turn'st me back,
In trouble sore thou 'It seek me yet again.430

Elec. Ah, sister dear, of what thy hands do bear
Put nothing on the tomb; for nature's law
Forbids it as unholy thus to bring
Funereal offerings, lustral waters pour,
From wife unfriendly, on a father's grave.
*No! cast them to the rivers, hide them deep
In dust where never aught of them shall come
To where my father sleeps; but when she dies,
Let them be stored below as gifts for her.
For, surely, were she not the boldest found
Among all women, ne'er would she have poured
These hateful offerings o'er the man she slew.440
Think, if the dead who sleeps in yonder tomb
Will welcome kindly gifts like these from her,
By whom, most foully slain as hated foe,
His feet and hands were lopped off shamefully,
Who wiped upon his head the blood-stained knife,
As if to purge the guilt.[15] And dost thou think
To bring these gifts redeeming her from guilt?
Not so. Nay, put them by, and then do thou,
Cutting the highest locks that crown thy head,
Yea, and mine also, poor although I be,
(Small offering, yet 'tis all the store I have,)450
Give to him, yes, this lock, untrimmed, unmeet
For suppliant's vow, and this my girdle, decked
With no gay fringe. And ask thou, falling low,
That he will come to us in mood of grace,
From out the earth, a helper 'gainst our foes,
And that his son, Orestes, with a hand
Victorious, trample upon those his foes,
In fullest life returning, so that we
Hereafter may with gifts more bounteous come
To deck his grave than those we offer now.
I think, for one, I surely think that he
Has sent these dark, unsightly dreams to her;460
But be this as it may, my sister, come
And do this service, for thyself and me,
Nor less for him, of all men most beloved,
Our father, now in Hades slumbering.

Chor. The maiden speaks with filial reverence;
And thou, dear friend, if thou art wise, wilt do
What so she counsels.

Chrys. I will do it then.
*It is not meet with two to wrangle still,
Debating of the right, but haste and act.
But if I thus essay this enterprise,
By all the Gods, my friends, be hushed and still;
For if my mother hears it, well I trow470
That what I dare will end full bitterly.


Stroph.

Chor. If wisdom fail me not,
As seer misled by doubtful auguries,
And wanting counsel wise,
She comes, true augur with foreshadowing tread,
Vengeance, with hands that bear
The might of righteousness:
She comes, my child, full soon, in hot pursuit:
And through my veins there springs a courage new,
Hearing but now these dreams
That come with favouring gale;480
For he, thy father, King of all Hellenes,
Will not forget for aye,
Nor will that hatchet with its double edge,
Wrought out in bronze of old,
Which laid him low in death
With vilest contumely.

Antistroph.

And She shall also come,
Dread form, with many a foot, and many a hand,
Erinnyes shod with brass,{{pline|490|r}
Who lieth still in ambush terrible;
For there has come to those
For whom it was not right,
The hot embrace of marriage steeped in blood,
Of evil omen, bed and bride alike;
But, above all, this thought
Fills heart and soul, that ne'er
The boding sign will come unblamed to those
Who did the deed, or shared;
Lo! men can find no prophecies in dreams,500
Nor yet in words divine,
Unless it gain its goal,
This vision of the night.

Epode.

Ah, in the olden time,
Thou chariot race of Pelops, perilous,
How did'st thou come to this our father-land
In long-enduring gloom?
For since he slept beneath the waters deep,
Poor Myrtilos,[16] who fell,
Cast headlong from the chariot bright with gold,510
Both root and branch destroyed,
*There has not left our master's lordly house
All shame and ignominy.


Enter Clytemnestra, followed by an Attendant.

Clytem. Thou, as it seems, dost take thine ease abroad,
Ægisthos being absent, who has charged
That thou should'st not, being seen without the gates,
Disgrace thy friends. But now, since he is gone,
For me thou little carest. Yea, thou say'st
Full many a time to many men, that I520
Am over-bold, and rule defying right,
Insulting thee and thine. But I disclaim
All insult, and but speak of thee the ill
I hear so often from thee. Evermore,
Thy father, and nought else, is thy pretext;
As that he died by me . . . . By me? Right well
I know 'tis true. That deed deny I not,
For Justice seized him, 'twas not I alone;
And thou should' st aid her, wert thou wise of heart,
Since that thy father, whom thou mournest still,530
Alone of all the Hellenes had the heart
To sacrifice thy sister to the Gods,
Although, I trow, his toil was less than mine,
And little knew he of my travail-pangs.
And now, I ask thee, tell me for whose sake
He slew her? "For the Argives," sayest thou?
They had no right to seek my daughter's death;
But if he killed mine for another's sake,
His brother Menelaos', should he not
Be rignteously requited? Had not he
Two sons,[17] who it was fit should die far more540
Than this my daughter, seeing they were born
Of father and of mother for whose sake
The armament went forth? Or was it so
That Hades had a special lust to feast
Upon my children rather than on hers?
Or was it that her father cast aside,
Cold-blooded, hard, all yearning for my child,
Yet cared for Menelaos? Was he not
In this a reckless father found, and base?
I answer, Yes, though thou refuse assent;
And she that died would say it, could she speak.
I then feel no remorse for what is done;
But if I seem to thee as base in heart,550
*First judge thou right, then blame thy next of kin.

Elec. This time, at least, thou wilt not say that I,
Being first to vex, then heard these words from thee;
But, if thou giv'st me leave, I fain would plead
For him who died, and for my sister too.

Clytem. I give thee leave. Had'st thou thus spoken always,
To list to thee had given me less annoy.

Elec. Thus speak I then to thee—Thou say'st thy hand
Did slay my father! Is there aught of shame
Than this more shameful, whether thou can'st urge,
Or not, the plea of justice? But I say560
Thou did'st not justly slay him, but wast led
By vile suggestion of the coward base
Who now lives with thee. Next, I pray thee, ask
The huntress Artemis what guilt restrained
The many winds in Aulis; or my voice
Shall tell thee; for from her thou may'st not learn.
My father once, as I have heard the tale,
Taking his sport within the holy grove
The Goddess calls her own, had raised a deer,
Dappled, and antlered, and in careless mood
Boasts loudly at the death.[18] And therefore she,
Leto's fair daughter, in her wrath detained570
The Achæans that my father might perforce
Slay his own daughter, in the balance weighed
Against that quarry. Thus the matter stood
As to that offering. Other means were none
To free the army, or for homeward voyage,
Or yet for Ilion. Therefore sore constrained
And struggling, hardly at the last he wrought
The act of sacrifice, and not through love
For Menelaos. But had it been so,
Had he done this with wish to profit him,
(For I will take thy premiss,) ought he then
To die by thine hand? Why, what right is this?
See to it, giving men a law like this,580
If thou but cause fresh trouble to thyself,
And change of purpose bringing late regret;
For, should we evermore take blood for blood,
Thou would'st fall first, if thou did'st get thy due.
See to it well, lest thus thy vain pretence
Be found as nought. For tell me, if thou wilt,
In recompense for what dost thou now do
Deed of all deeds most shameful, who dost sleep
With that red-handed felon who with thee
Murdered my father, and to him dost bear
New children, while thou easiest out from thee
Those born before, right seed of righteous sire?590
How shall I praise these deeds? or wilt thou say
That thus thou takest vengeance for thy child?
Basely enough, if thou should'st say it. Lo!
It is not good to wed an enemy,
E'en in a daughter's cause. But since to speak
A word of counsel is not granted us,
Though thou dost love to speak all words of ill,
That "we revile a mother;"—yet I look
On thee as more my mistress than my mother,
Living a woeful life, by many ills
Encompassed which proceed from thee, and him,600
The partner of thy guilt. That other one,
My poor Orestes, hardly 'scaped from thee,
Drags on a weary life. Full oft hast thou
Charged me with rearing him to come at last
A minister of vengeance; and I own,
Had I but strength, be sure of this, 'twere done.
For this then, even this, proclaim aloud
To all men, as thou wilt, that I am base,
Or foul of speech, or full of shamelessness:
For if I be with such things conversant,
Then to thy breeding I bring no disgrace.

Chor. I see she breathes out rage—but whether right
Be on her side, for this no care I see.610

Clytem. And why should I give heed to one like her,
Who thus her mother scorns? And at her age!
Does she not seem to thee as one prepared
To go all lengths, and feel no touch of shame?

Elec. Know well, I do feel shame for all I do,
Though thou think'st otherwise, and well I know
I do things startling, most unmeet for me;
But thy fixed hate and these thy deeds perforce
Constrain me still to do them. Still it holds,620
Base deeds by base are learnt and perfected.

Clytem. Thou shameless creature! I then, and my words,
And my deeds too, they make thee prate too much.

Elec. Thou sayest it, not I; for thou dost do
The deed: and deeds will find their fitting words.

Clytem. Now by my mistress Artemis, I swear,
For this thy daring thou shalt pay in full
When back Ægisthos comes.

Elec. Now look you there!
Thou'rt swayed by fury, though thou gav'st me leave
To speak whate'er I would, and can'st not learn
To play a listener's part!

Clytem. And wilt thou not
Give leave to do my rites with clamour hushed,630
Seeing that I let thee speak thy whole mind out?

Elec. I let thee, bid thee, do them. Charge not thou
My lips with folly. Now, I speak no more

[Retires to the back of the stage.

Clytem. Do thou then, my attendant, bring the gifts
Of many fruits, that I may breathe my prayers
To this our King for respite from the fears
Which now possess me. Hear, Ο Phœbos, Thou
Our true deliverer, hear my secret speech;
For this my prayer is not among my friends,
Nor is it fit to bring it all to light,
While she is near me still, lest in her mood640
Of envy, and with cry of many tongues,
She spread the vain report through all the town;
But hear thou me; for thus I make my prayer;
The vision which I looked on in the night
Of doubtful dreams, grant me, Lykeian king,
If they are good, their quick accomplishment;
If adverse, send them on mine adversaries;
Arid if there be that wish, by craft and guile,
To hurl me from the wealth I now enjoy,
Suffer them not, but ever let me live650
With life unharmed, and sway the Atreidæ's house,
And these their sceptres, dwelling with the friends
Whom now I dwell with, passing prosperous days
With all my children, who nor hatred bring
Nor bitter sorrow. This, Lykeian king,
Apollo, hear all pitiful, and grant
To all of us, as we implore thee now;
All else, though I be silent, I will deem
Thou, being a God, dost know. One well may think
The sons of Zeus see all things.


Enter the Attendant of Orestes.

Attend. Might I know,660
Ye ladies, if these dwellings that I see
Are those of King Ægisthos?

Chor. Even so!
Thou guessest well, Ο stranger.

Attend. Am I right
In once more guessing that his wife stands here?
For sure her mien bespeaks her sovereignty.

Chor. Right, more than ever. Lo, she standeth there.

Attend. All hail, Ο queen; I bring thee tidings good,
Thee and Ægisthos also, from a friend.

Clytem. I hail the omen; but I fain would know
This first, what man has sent thee here to us.

Attend. The Phokian Phanoteus, discharging thus670
A weighty task.

Clytem. And what its nature, pray?
Tell me, Ο stranger; for right well I know
Thou from a friend wilt bring us friendly words.

Attend. Orestes. . . . He is dead. That word tells all.

Elec. Ο wretched me! This day I perish too.

Clytem. What say'st thou, stranger? What? . . . Heed not her words.

Attend. Orestes. . . . He is dead—I say again.

Elec. Ah me! I perish utterly. All's lost.

Clytem. Look thou to what concerns thee. But do
thou, [To Attendant of Orestes.]
Ο stranger, tell us truly how he died.

Attend. For this end was I sent; and I will tell680
All as it happened. He then journeyed forth
To those great games which Hellas counts her pride,
To join the Delphic contests;[19] and he heard
The herald's voice, with loud and clear command,
Proclaim, as coming first, the chariot race:
And so he entered radiant, every eye
Admiring as he passed. And in the race
He equalled all the promise of his form
In those his rounds, and so with noblest prize
Of conquest left the ground. And, summing up
In fewest words what many scarce could tell,
I know of none in strength and act like him;
But one thing know, for having won the prize
In all the five-fold forms of race which they,[20]
The umpires, had proclaimed for those that ran690
The ground's whole length and back, he then was hailed,
Proclaimed an Argive, and his name Orestes,
His son who once led Hellas' glorious host,
The mighty Agamemnon. So far well.
But when a God will injure, none can 'scape,
Strong though he be. For lo! another day,
When, as the sun was rising, came the race
Swift-footed, of the chariot and the horse,
He entered there, with many charioteers;700
One an Achæan, one from Sparta, two
From Libya, who with four-horsed chariots came,
And he with these, with swift Thessalian mares,
Came as the fifth; a sixth with bright bay colts
Came from Ætolia ; and the seventh was born
In far Magnesia; and the eighth, by race
An Ænian, with white horses; and the ninth
From Athens came, the city built of God;
Last, a Bœotian, tenth in order, came,
And made the list complete.[21] And so they stood—
When the appointed umpires fixed by lot,710
And placed the cars in order; and with sound
Of brazen trump they started. Cheering all
Their steeds at once, they shook the reins, and then
The course was filled with all the clash and din
Of rattling chariots, and the dust rose high;
And all commingled, sparing not the goad,
That each might pass his neighbour's axle-trees,
And horses' hot, hard breathings; for their backs
And chariot-wheels were white with foam, and still
The breath of horses smote them; and he, come
Just where the last stone marks the course's goal,720
Turning the corner sharp, and, letting go
The right hand trace-horse, pulled the nearer in;
And so at first the chariots keep their course;
But then the unbroken colts the Ænian owned
Rush at full speed, and, turning headlong back,
Just as they closed their sixth round or their seventh,
Dash their heads right against the chariot wheels
Of those who came from Barkè. And from thence,
From that one shock, each on the other crashed,
They fell o'erturned, and Crissa's spacious plain730
Was filled with wreck of chariots. Then the man
From Athens, skilled and wily charioteer,
Seeing the mischief, turns his steeds aside,
At anchor rides, and leaves the whirling surge
Of man and horse thus raging. Last of all,
Keeping his steeds back, waiting for the end,
Orestes came. And when he sees him left,
His only rival, then, with shaken rein,
Urging his colts, he follows, and they twain
Drove onward both together, by a head,740
Now this, now that, their chariots gaining ground;
And all the other rounds in safety passed.
Upright in upright chariot still he stood,
Ill-starred one; then the left rein letting loose
Just as his horse was turning, unawares
He strikes the furthest pillar, breaks the spokes
Right at his axle's centre, and slips down
From out his chariot, and is dragged along,
With reins dissevered. And, when thus he fell,
His colts tore headlong to the ground's mid-space:
And when the host beheld him fallen thus
From off the chariot, they bewailed him sore,
So young, so noble, so unfortunate,750
Now hurled upon the ground, and now his limbs
To heaven exposing. Then the charioteers
Full hardly keeping back the rush of steeds,
Freed the poor corpse so bloody, that not one
Of all his friends would know him, and his body
They burnt upon the pyre; and now they bear,
The chosen of the Phokians that have come,
In a poor urn of bronze, a mighty form
Reduced to these sad ashes, that for him
May be a tomb within his fatherland.760
Such is my tale, full sad, I trow, to hear,
But unto those who saw it as we saw,
The greatest of all evils I have known.

Chor. Woe, woe! So perish, root and branch, it seems,
The race of those our lords of long ago.

Clytem. Ο Zeus! What means this . . . Shall I say, good news?
Or fearful, yet most gainful? Still 'tis sad
If by my sorrows I must save my life.

Attend. Why does my tale, Ο queen, thus trouble thee?

Clytem. Wondrous and strange the force of motherhood!770
Though wronged, a mother cannot hate her children.

Attend. We then, it seems, are come to thee in vain.

Clytem. Nay, not in vain. How could it be in vain?
Since thou bring'st proofs that he is dead, who, born
Child of my heart, from breasts that gave him suck
Then turned aside, and dwelt on foreign soil
In banishment; and since he left our land
Ne'er came to see me, but with dreadful words,
His father's death still casting upon me,
Spake out his threats; so that nor day nor night780
I knew sweet sleep, but still the sway of Time
Led on my life, as one condemned to death.
But now, (for lo! this day has stopped all fear
From her and him, for she was with me still,
The greater mischief, sucking out my life,
My very heart's blood: now, for all her threats,
We shall live on and pass our days in peace.

Elec. Ah, wretched me! for now I can but mourn,
Orestes, at thine evil case, thus dying,
By this thy mother scorned. Can this be well?790

Clytem. Not so with thee. For him what is is well.

Elec. Hear this, thou Power, avenging him who died!

Clytem. Right well she heard, and what she heard hath wrought.

Elec. Heap scoff on scoff; thou 'rt fortune's darling now.

Clytem. Thou and Orestes, will ye check me now?

Elec. We, we are checked, and far from checking thee.

Clytem. [To Attendant.] Thou would'st deserve much praise, if thou hast checked,
Ο stranger, that loud cry of many tongues.

Attend. And may I then depart, my task being done?

Clytem. Nay, nay; thou would'st not then fare worthily800
Of me, or of the friend that sent thee here;
Come in, and leave this girl to cry without,
And wail her own misfortunes and her friends'.

[Exeunt Clytemnestra and Attendant.

Elec. And does she seem to you, that hateful one,
As one who grieves in bitter pain of heart,
To wail and weep full sorely for her son
Who died so sadly? Nay, (ah, wretched me!)
She wends her way exulting. Ah, Orestes!
Dear brother, in thy death thou slayest me;
For thou art gone, bereaving my poor heart
Of all the little hope that yet remained,810
That thou would'st come, a living minister
Of vengeance for thy father and for me,
Me miserable. Now whither shall I turn?
For now I am indeed alone, bereaved
Of thee and of my father. Now once more
I must live on in bondage unto those
Of all mankind most hateful far to me,
My father's murderers. Goes it well with me?
But I at least through all the time to come
Will not dwell with them, but at this their gate,
All reckless, friendless, waste away my life;
And then, if one of those that dwell within
Is wroth with this, why, let him slay me straight;820
I'll thank him, if he kill me; should I live
There is but sorrow; wish for life is none.

Chor. Where then the bolts of Zeus,
And where the glorious Sun,
If, seeing deeds like these,
They hold their peace, and hide?

Elec. [Sobbing.] Alas, ah me, ah woe!

Chor. My child, why weepest thou?

Elec. Fie on it, fie, . . . .

Chor. Hush, hush, be not too bold.

Elec. Thou wilt but break my heart.830

Chor. What meanest thou?

Elec. If thou suggestest any hope from those
So clearly gone to Hades, then on me,
Wasting with sorrow, thou wilt trample more.

Chor. And yet I know that King Amphiaraos[22]
Was taken in the toils of golden snare,
By woman's craft, and now below the earth . . . .

Elec. [Sobbing.] Ah me! ah me!840

Chor. He reigns in fullest life.

Elec. Fie on it, fie.

Chor. Yes, fie indeed; for she,
Fell traitress . . . .

Elec. Perished, you would say?

Chor. E'en so.

Elec. I know, I know it. One was left to care[23]
For him who suffered. None is left to me;
For he who yet remained is snatched away.

Chor. Most piteous thou, and piteous is thy lot.

Elec. That know I well, too well,850
In this my life, which through the months runs on,
Filled full of grievous fears,
And bitter, hateful ills.

Chor. We saw what thou dost mourn.

Elec. Cease, cease, to lead me on
Where now not one is left . . . .

Chor. What say'st thou? What?

Elec. Where not one helper comes,
From all the hopes of common fatherhood
And stock of noble sire.

Chor. Death is the lot of all.860

Elec. What? Is it all men's lot
In that fierce strife of speed,
To fall, as he fell, by an evil fate,
In severed reins entangled?

Chor. Wondrous and dark that doom.

Elec. I trow it was, if in a strange land, he,
Without my helping hands . . . .

Chor. Oh, horror! horror!

Elec. Was buried with no sepulture from us,
Nor voice of wailing.870


Enter Chrysothemis, runnning eagerly.

Chrys. In pure delight, dear sister, thus I rush,
My maiden grace abandoning, to come
With swiftest foot; for lo! I bring great joy
And respite from the ills thou long hast borne,
And still did'st wail.

Elec. And whence can'st thou have found
Help for my woes where healing there is none?

Chrys. Orestes comes at last. Count this as sure,
Hearing my words, as that thou see'st me here.

Elec. What! Art thou mad, poor wretch, and so dost mock
At thine own sorrows, and at mine as well?880

Chrys. Nay! By our father's hearth, I do not speak
These things in scorn, but say that he is come.

Elec. Ah, wretched me! And whose word is it then
That thou hast heard with such credulity?

Chrys. I, of myself, no other, clearest proof
Have seen, and therefore I believe this thing.

Elec. What hast thou seen, poor soul; what caught thy gaze,
*That thou art fevered with this flameless fire?

Chrys. Now by the Gods! I pray thee, list to me,
That thou may'st know if I be sane or mad.890

Elec. Tell then thy tale, if thou find joy in it.

Chrys. And I will tell each thing of all I saw;
For when I came where stands our father's tomb
Time-honoured,[24] on the summit of the mound
I see the marks of flowing streams of milk
New poured, and lo! my father's bier was crowned
With garlands of all flowers that deck the fields;
And, seeing it, I wondered, and looked round,
Lest any man should still be hovering near;
And when I saw that all the place was calm,
I went yet nearer to the mound, and there
I saw upon the topmost point of all900
A tress of hair, fresh severed from the head.
And when poor I beheld it, in my soul
A once-familiar image stirs the thought
That here I saw a token true from him
Whom most I love, Orestes. In my hands
I take it, uttering no ill-omened cries,
But straight mine eyes were filled with tears of joy;
And then and now I know with equal faith
This precious gift can come from none but him;
Whose task is this but either mine or thine?
And I, I know, have had no hand in it,910
Nor yet hast thou; how else, when thou 'rt forbid
E'en to the Gods to go from 'neath this roof
Except at cost of tears? Nor does her heart,
Our mother's, love to do such things as these;
Nor could she, doing it, have 'scaped our view.
*No! These tomb-offerings from Orestes come.
Take courage, sister dear! The same drear fate
Stands not for ever to the same men comrade:
Till now it frowned on us; but lo! to-day
Shall be of countless good the harbinger.

Elec. Ah me! How much thy madness moves my pity!920

Chrys. What! Speak I not a thing that gives thee joy?

Elec. Thou know'st not where thou art in fact or thought.

Chrys. How can I not know what I clearly saw?

Elec. He, thou poor soul, is dead, and with him goes
All hope of safety. Think no more of him.

Chrys. Ah, wretched me! From whom hast thou heard this?

Elec. From one who stood hard by when he was killed.

Chrys. And where is he? Strange wonder thrills through me.

Elec. Within, our mother's not unwelcome guest.

Chrys. Ah me! And yet what man was it that left
These many offerings at my father's grave?930

Elec. I for my part must think that some one placed them
Memorials of Orestes who is dead.

Chrys. Ah me! I hastened, joyous, with my tale,
Not knowing in what depths of woe we were;
And now, when I have come, I find at once
My former woes, with fresh ones in their train.

Elec. So stands it with thee. But if thou wilt list
To me, thou shalt cast off this weight of woe.

Chrys. What! shall I ever bring the dead to life?840

Elec. I meant not that: I am not quite so mad.

Chrys. What bidd'st thou, then, that I can answer for?

Elec. That thou should'st dare to do what I shall bid.

Chrys. Well! If it profit, I will not refuse.

Elec. See! without labour nothing prospers well.

Chrys. I see, and I with all my strength will work.

Elec. Hear, then, what I am purposed to perform.
Thou knowest, e'en thou, that we behold no more
The presence of our friends, but Hades dark
Has snatched them, and we twain are left alone.950
And I, as long as I still heard and deemed
My brother strong and living, still had hopes
That he would come to avenge our father's death;
But now that he is gone I look to thee,
That thou flinch not, with me thy sister here,
From slaying him, Ægisthos, whose hand wrought
Our father's murder; for I may not hide
Aught of my mind from thee. How long, how long
Dost thou wait dully, looking to what hope
As yet remaining, when for thee is nought
But grief, as robbed of all thy father's wealth,960
And sorrow that thou waxest old till now,
Without or marriage-bed or marriage-song?
And cherish thou no hope that thou shalt gain
Or this or that. Ægisthos is not blind,
To let our progeny, or mine or thine,
Spring up or grow, to be his certain harm.
But, if thou wilt to my advice give heed,
First, thou shalt gain the praise of reverence due
Both from our father, who now sleeps below,
And from our brother; next, thou shalt be called,
As thou wast born, free, noble, and shalt gain970
Befitting marriage. All men love to look
On deeds of goodness. Dost not see full clear
All the fair fame thou 'lt gain for thee and me,
If thou obey my counsels? Who, seeing us,
Or citizen or stranger, will not greet us
With praises such as these? "Behold, my friends,
Those sisters twain, who saved their father's house,
And on their foes who walked in pride of strength,
Regardless of their lives, wrought doom of death!980
These all must love, these all must reverence;
These in our feasts, and when the city meets
In full assemblage, all should honour well,
For this their manly prowess." Thus will all
Speak of us, so that fame we shall not miss,
Living or dying. Do but hear me, dear one.
Toil for thy father, for thy brother work,
Free me from all my evils, free thyself,
Knowing this, that living basely is for those
Who have been born of noble stock most base.

Chor. Forethought at such a crisis is for those990
Who speak and those that hear, the best ally.

Chrys. And she, Ο women, ere she spoke, had kept
(Had she not chanced to be of mind diseased)
That cautious reverence which she keeps not now.
What hast thou seen that thou dost arm thyself
In such foolhardy rashness, and dost call
On me to help thee? Wilt thou never see?
Lo, thou wast born a woman, not a man,
And art less strong than those thine enemies.
And their good fortune prospers every day,
While ours falls off, and doth to nothing come.1000
Who, plotting to attack a man like that,
Shall pass unscathed, unvexed by bitter woe?
Take heed lest we who fare but badly now
Should fare yet worse, if any hear thy speech;
For nothing does it help or profit us,
Gaining fair fame, a shameful death to die;
[Yet death is not the worst, but when one seeks
To die, and fails e'en that poor gain to win.]
Come, I implore thee, and before thou work
Our utter ruin, and our house lay waste,1010
Restrain thine anger. What thou now hast said
I will keep secret, and no ill result
From this shall come. But thou, be wise at last,
Powerless thyself, to yield before the strong.

Chor. Yes, hearken thou! No gain that men can reap
Surpasses forethought and wise-counselled mind.

Elec. Thou hast said nought unlooked for. Well I knew
That thou would'st none of all I urged on thee.
Well! I alone, with my own hands, must do
This deed: for void we will not leave it now.1020

Chrys. Would thou had'st had this spirit then, when he,
Our father, died! Great things thou then had'st wrought.

Elec. My nature was the same, though weak my mind.

Chrys. Strive, then, to have such mind for evermore.

Elec. Thou giv'st advice as one who will not help.

Chrys. 'Tis fit that they who do ill, ill should fare.

Elec. I praise thy wit; thy cowardice I hate.

Chrys. Soon I shall have to hear, while thou dost praise.

Elec. Thou at my hands shalt never suffer that.1030

Chrys. The long, long future must on this decide.

Elec. Away! away! Thou hast no power to help.

Chrys. I have; but thou hast lost the power to learn.

Elec. Go, then. Tell all to that thy mother there.

Chrys. I do not hate thee with a hate like that.

Elec. Yet think to what a shame thou leadest me.

Chrys. No, 'tis not shame, but forethought for thy good.

Elec. Must I then follow what thou deemest just?

Chrys. When thou art wise, then thou shalt take the lead.

Elec. 'Tis strange one speaking well should err so greatly.

Chrys. Thou hast said well the ill thou mak'st thine own.1040

Elec. What? Seem I not to thee to speak the right?

Chrys. There is a time when even right may harm.

Elec. I do not choose to live by laws like that.

Chrys. If this thou dost, thou 'lt one day give me praise.

Elec. And I will do it, nothing scared by thee.

Chrys. And is it so? Wilt thou not change thy plans?

Elec. Not so; than evil counsel nought is worse.

Chrys. Thou seem'st to care for nought of all I speak.

Elec. Long since I planned it; 'tis no new device.

Chrys. I then must needs depart; thou darest not1050
To praise my words, nor I these moods of thine.

Elec. Go, then, within: I ne'er will follow thee,
No! not though thou should'st wish it eagerly.
To hunt a shadow is a madman's sport.

Chrys. Nay, then! If thou dost think thou reasonest well.
So reason. When thou find'st thyself in grief,
Then thou wilt praise my counsels.

[Exeunt Electra and Chrysothemis.


Stroph. I.

Chor. Why, when we see on high
The birds for wisdom famed[25]
Caring to nourish those from whom they spring,1060
From whom they found support,
Why fail we to requite
Like boon on equal scale?
But, lo! by Zeus' glaring lightning flash,
By Themis throned on high,
Not long shall we escape our chastisement.
Ah, Voice that to the central depths of earth[26]
Dost bear our human deeds,
Lift up thy wailing speech
To those of Atreus' sons who sleep below,
Telling of foulest shame,
Unmeet for choral song.

Antistroph. I.

Long since their house is sick1070
With sorrow's pain, and now
Their children's strife no more may be appeased
By kindly intercourse.
Elcctra, left alone,
Sails on a troubled sea,
*Still wailing evermore, with piteous cry,
The father whom she loved,
Like nightingale whose song is fraught with woe,
Nor has she any shrinking fear of death,
Ready to close her eyes
In darkness as of night,
If only she the Erinnys pair[27] destroy.1080
Who lives there true in soul
To noble stock as she?

Stroph. II.

None of the great and good
Would lose his ancient name,
And stain his glory by a wretched life.
So thou, my child, my child, did'st choose the fate.
The fate which all bewail,
*And, having warred with ill,
Did'st gain, in one brief word,
The good report of daughter wise and best.

Antistroph. II.

May'st thou, in might and wealth,1090
Prevail o'er those thy foes,
As much as now thou liv'st beneath their hands;
For I have found thee, not in high estate
Wending thy way, yet still,
In love and fear of Zeus,
Gaining the foremost prize
In all the laws that best and greatest are.

 

Enter Orestes and Pylades, followed by two or three
Attendants bearing a funeral urn.

Ores. And did we then, ye women, hear aright?
And do we rightly journey where we wish?

Chor. What dost thou search? And wherefore art thou come?1100

Ores. This long time past I seek Ægisthos' home.

Chor. Thou comest right, and blameless he who told thee.

Ores. And which of you would tell to those within
The longed-for coming of our company?

Chor. [Pointing to Electra.] She, if 'tis fit to call the nearest one.

Ores. Go then, Ο maiden, go and tell them there,
That certain men from Phokis seek Ægisthos.

Elec. Ah, wretched me! It cannot be ye bring
Clear proofs of that dire rumour which we heard?

Ores. I know not of thy rumour; Strophios old1110
Charged me to bring the news about Orestes.

Elec. What is it, stranger? Fear creeps through my veins.

Ores. We bring, as thou dost see, in one small urn,
All that is left, poor relics of the dead.

Elec. Ah, me! And this is it! 'Twould seem I gaze
On that same burden, clear and close at hand.

Ores. If thou dost weep Orestes' hapless fate,
Know that this urn doth all his body hold.

Elec. Ah, stranger! Now by all the Gods, I pray,
If this urn hold him, give it in mine hands,1120
That I my fate and that of all my kin
May wail and weep with these poor ashes here.

Ores. [To his Attendants.] Bring it, and give it her,
whoe'er she be:
At least she does not ask it as in hate,
But is perchance a friend, or near in blood.

Elec. [Taking the urn in her hands.] Ο sole memorial
of his life whom most
Of all alive I loved! Orestes mine,
With other thoughts I sent thee forth than these
With which I now receive thee. Now, I bear
In these my hands what is but nothingness;
But sent thee forth, dear boy, in bloom of youth.1130
Ah, would that I long since had ceased to live
Before I sent thee to a distant shore,
With these my hands, and saved thee then from death!
So had'st thou perished on that self-same day,
And had a share in that thy father's tomb.
But now from home, an exile in a land
That was not thine, without thy sister near,
So did'st thou die, and I, alas, poor me!
Did neither lay thee out with lustral rites
And loving hands, nor bear thee, as was meet,
Sad burden, from the blazing funeral pyre;1140
But thou, poor sufferer, tended by the hands
Of strangers, comest, in this paltry urn,
In paltry bulk. Ah, miserable me!
For all the nurture, now so profitless,
Which I was wont with sweetest toil to give
For thee, my brother. Never did she love,
Thy mother, as I loved thee; nor did they
Who dwell within there nurse thee, but 'twas I,
And I was ever called thy sister true;
But now all this has vanished in a day
In this thy death; for, like a whirlwind, thou1150
Hast passed, and swept off all. My father falls;
I perish; thou thyself hast gone from sight;
Our foes exult. My mother, wrongly named,
For mother she is none, is mad with joy,
Of whom thou oft did'st send word secretly
That thou would'st come and one day show thyself
A true avenger. But thine evil fate,
Thine and mine also, hath bereaved me of thee,
And now hath sent, instead of that dear form,
This dust, this shadow, vain and profitless.
Woe, woe is me!1160
Ο piteous, piteous corpse!
Thou dearest, who did'st tread
(Woe, woe is me!)
Paths full of dread and fear,
How hast thou brought me low,
Yea, brought me very low, thou dearest one!
Therefore receive thou me to this thine home,
Ashes to ashes, that with thee below
I may from henceforth dwell. When thou wast here
I shared with thee an equal lot, and now
I crave in dying not to miss thy tomb;
For those that die I see are freed of grief,1170

Chor. Thou, Ο Electra, take good heed, wast born
Of mortal father, mortal, too, Orestes;
Yield not too much to grief. To suffer thus
Is common lot of all.

Ores. [Trembling.] Ah, woe is me!
What shall I say? Ah, whither find my way
In words confused? I fail to rule my speech.

Elec. What grief disturbs thee? Wherefore speak'st thou thus?

Ores. Is this Electra's noble form I see?

Elec. That self-same form, and sad enough its state.

Ores. Alas, alas, for this sad lot of thine!

Elec. Surely thou dost not wail, Ο friend, for me?1180

Ores. Ο form most basely, godlessly misused!

Elec. Thy words ill-omened fall on none but me.

Ores. Alas, for this thy life of lonely woe!

Elec. Why, in thy care for me, friend, groanest thou?

Ores. How little knew I of my fortune's ills!

Elec. What have I said to throw such light on them?

Ores. Now that I see thee clad with many woes.

Elec. And yet thou see'st but few of all mine ills.

Ores. What could be sadder than all this to see?

Elec. This, that I sit at meat with murderers.1190

Ores. With whose? What evil dost thou mean by this?

Elec. My father's; next, I 'm forced to be their slave.

Ores. And who constrains thee to this loathèd task?

Elec. My mother she is called, no mother like.

Ores. How so? By blows, or life with hardships full?

Elec. Both blows and hardships, and all forms of ill.

Ores. And is there none to help, not one to check?

Elec. No, none. Who was . . . thou bringest him as dust.

Ores. Ο sad one! Long I pitied as I gazed!

Elec. Know, then, that thou alone dost pity me.1200

Ores. For I alone come suffering woes like thine.

Elec. What? Can it be thou art of kin to us?

Ores. If these are friendly, I could tell thee more.

Elec. Friendly are they; thou 'lt speak to faithful ones.

Ores. Put by that urn, that thou may'st hear the whole.

Elec. Ah, by the Gods, Ο stranger, ask not that.

Ores. Do what I bid thee, and thou shalt not err.

Elec. Nay, by thy beard, of that prize rob me not.

Ores. I may not have it so.

Elec. Ah me, Orestes,1210
How wretched I, bereaved of this thy tomb!

Ores. Hush, hush such words: thou hast no cause for wailing.

Elec. Have I no cause, who mourn a brother's death?

Ores. Thou hast no call to utter speech like this.

Elec. Am I then deemed unworthy of the dead?

Ores. Of none unworthy. This is nought to thee.

Elec. Yet if I hold Orestes' body here . . . .

Ores. 'Tis not Orestes' save in show of speech.

Elec. Where, then, is that poor exile's sepulchre?

Ores. Nay, of the living there's no sepulchre.

Elec. What say'st thou, boy?1220

Ores. No falsehood what I say.

Elec. And does he live?

Ores. He lives, if I have life.

Elec. What? Art thou he?

Ores. Look thou upon this seal,
My father's once, and learn if I speak truth.

Elec. Ο blessed light!

Ores. Most blessed, I too own.

Elec. Ο voice! And art thou come?

Ores. No longer learn
Thy news from others.

Elec. And I have thee here,
Here in my grasp?

Ores. So may'st thou always have me!

Elec. Ο dearest friends, my fellow-citizens,
Look here on this Orestes, dead indeed
In feignèd craft, and by that feigning saved.

Chor. We see it, daughter; and at what has chanced1230
A tear of gladness trickles from our eyes.

Elec. Ο offspring, offspring of a form most dear,
Ye came, ye came at last,
Ye found us, yea, ye came,
Ye saw whom ye desired.

Ores. Yes, we are come. Yet wait and hold thy peace.

Elec. What now?

Ores. Silence is best, lest some one hear within.

Elec. Nay, nay. By Artemis,
The ever-virgin One,
I shall not deign to dread1240
Those women there within,
With worthless burden still
Cumbering the ground.

Ores. See to it, for in women too there lives
The strength of battle. Thou hast proved it well.

Εlec. [Sobbing.] Ah, ah! Ah me!
There thou hast touched upon a woe unveiled,
That knows no healing, no,
Nor ever may be hid.1250

Ores. I know it well. But, when occasion bids,
Then should we call those deeds to memory.

Elec. All time for me is fit,
Yea, all, to speak of this,
With wrath as it deserves;
Till now I had scant liberty of speech.

Ores. There we are one. Preserve, then, what thou hast.

Elec. And what, then, shall I do?

Ores. When time serves not,
Speak not o'ermuch.

Elec. And who then worthily,1260
Now thou art come, would choose
Silence instead of speech?
For lo! I see thee now unlooked, unhoped for.

Ores. Then thou did'st see me here,
When the Gods urged my coming.

Elec. Thou hast said
What mounts yet higher than thy former boon,
If God has sent thee forth
To this our home; I deem1270
The work as Heaven's own deed.

Ores. Loth am I to restrain thee in thy joy,
And yet I fear delight overmasters thee.

Elec. Ο thou who after many a weary year
At last hast deigned to come,
(Oh, coming of great joy!)
Do not, thus seeing me
Involved in many woes, . . . .

Ores. What is it that thou ask'st me not to do?

Elec. Deprive me not, nor force me to forego
The joy supreme of looking on thy face.

Ores. I should be wroth with others who would force thee.

Elec. Dost thou consent, then?

Ores. How act otherwise?1280

Elec. Ah, friends, I heard a voice
Which never had I dreamt would come to me;
Then I kept in my dumb and passionate mood,
Nor cried I, as I heard;
But now I have thee; thou hast come to me
With face most precious, dear to look upon,
Which e'en in sorrow I can ne'er forget.

Ores. All needless words pass over. Tell me not
My mother's shame, nor how Ægisthos drains1290
My father's wealth, much wastes, and scatters much;
Much speech might lose occasion's golden hour;
But what fits in to this our present need,
Thai tell me, where, appearing or concealed,
We best shall check our boasting enemies,
In this our enterprise; so when we twain
Go to the palace, look to it, that she note not,
Thy mother, by thy blither face, our coming,
But mourn as for that sorrow falsely told.
When we have prospered, then shalt thou have leave
Freely to smile, and joy exultingly.1300

Elec. Yes, brother dear! Whatever pleaseth thee,
That shall be my choice also, since my joy
I had not of mine own, but gained from thee,
Nor would I cause thee e'en a moment's pain,
Myself to reap much profit. I should fail,
So doing, to work His will who favours us.
What meets us next, thou knowest, dost thou not?
Ægisthos, as thou hearest, gone from home;
My mother there within, of whom fear not
Lest she should see my face look blithe with joy;1310
For my old hatred eats into my soul,
And, since I've seen thee, I shall never cease
To weep for very joy. How could I cease,
Who in this one short visit looked on thee
Dead, and alive again? Strange things to-day
Hast thou wrought out, so strange that should there come
My father, in full life, I should not deem
'Twas a mere marvel, but believe I saw him.
But, since thou com'st on such an enterprise,
Rule thou as pleases thee. Were I alone,
I had not failed of two alternatives,
Or nobly had I saved myself, or else1320
Had nobly perished.

Ores. Silence now is best;
I hear the steps of some one from within,
As if approaching.


Enter Attendant of Orestes from the palace.

Elec. [Aloud.] Enter in, my friends,
On many grounds, and chiefly that ye bring,
What none will send away, yet none receive
With any touch of pleasure.

Attend. Ο ye fools,
And blind, bereaved of counsel, care ye now
No longer for your lives? or is there not
Your mother-wit still with you? Know ye not
Ye stand—I say not on the very verge,
But in the ills—the greatest ills themselves?1330
Had I not chanced long since to keep my watch
Just at the gate, your doings had been known
There, in the house, before your forms were seen.
But, as it is, I guarded against this;
And now, set free from all this flood of talk,
Free from this girl's insatiate burst of joy,
Go ye within. In such a deed delay
Is evil, and 'tis time to end with it.

Ores. How stand things there for me to go within?

Attend. Right well! for none is found who knows thee there.1340

Ores. 'Twould seem that thou hast told of me as dead.

Attend. Know thou art here as one to Hades gone.

Ores. Do they rejoice in this? What words were said?

Attend. When all is o'er, I'll tell thee. As it is,
All is well with them, even what is ill.

Elec. Who is this, brother? Tell me, by the Gods.

Ores. Dost thou not know?

Elec. I call him not to mind.

Ores. Know'st thou not him whose hands thou gav'st me to?

Elec. To whom? What say'st thou?

Ores. Even he, who brought me,
Through thy wise forethought, to the Phokian plain.1350

Elec. What? Is this he, whom only, out of many,
I faithful found when they our father slew?

Ores. 'Tis he: waste no more words in questioning.

Elec. Ο blessed light, Ο thou preserver sole
Of Agamemnon's house, how cam'st thou here?
And art thou he who then did rescue him
And me from many sorrows? Ο dear hands,
And thou that did'st thy feet's glad ministry,
How was it that so long thou stayed'st with me,
And yet did'st 'scape my ken, did'st not appear,
But did'st in words destroy me, bringing acts1360
Most full of joy? Hail, Ο my father, hail,
(For sure, I think I see a father's face,)
Hail, once again, and know that this one day
Above all men I hated thee and loved.

Attend. This is enough, methinks. What lies between
Full many a day and many a circling night
Shall show thee plain, Electra. But you twain,
There standing by, I call to act, for now
The time is come. Now Clytemnestra sits
Alone. Now no man is within. Think well,
If ye hold back, that ye will have to fight
With these and others craftier far than they.1370

Ores. No longer is it time for lengthened speech,
My Pylades, but with swift foot to press
Within, when first we have adored the shrines
Of all the ancestral Gods who guard these gates.

[Exeunt Orestes and Pylades into the palace.

Elec. Ο King Apollo, hear them graciously,
And hear me also, who of what I had
Have stood before thee with a liberal hand;
And now Lykeian king, Apollo, hear;
With all I have I kneel, pray, supplicate;
Be Thou the gracious helper of our plans,1380
And show to all men how the Gods bestow
Their due rewards on all impiety. [Exit.


Stroph.

Chor. See ye, where Ares, breathing slaughter still,
Speeds on his onward way,
Slaughter that none may check;
E'en at this very hour, beneath the roof,
They go who track all evil deeds of guile,
The hounds whom none escape;
And lo! my soul's dream doth not tarry long,1390
Floating in wild suspense;

Antistroph.

For now beneath the roof-tree he has passed,
The avenger of the dead,
Treading with subtle feet,
E'en to his father's high ancestral halls,
And in his hands bears slaughter newly edged;
And Hermes, Maia's son,
Hiding their counsel, leads them to the goal,
Leads on, and tarries not.


Enter Electra from the palace.

Elec. Now, dearest friends, the men stand there within,
And do their deed. But hush: in silence wait.

Chor. How is 't ? What do they?

Elec. She prepares an urn1400
For sepulture, and those two stand hard by.

Chor. Why did'st thou rush without?

Elec. To stand on guard,
That so Ægisthos, if he home return,
May not escape our notice.

Clytem. [Within.] Woe! oh, woe!
Ο house bereaved of friends,
And full of them that slay!

Elec. A cry goes up within; friends, hear ye not?

Chor. I heard what none should hear, ah misery!
And shuddered listening.

Clytem. [Within.] Ah me! Ah me! Woe, Woe!
Ægisthos, where art thou?

Elec. Ha! List again,
I hear a bitter cry.1410

Clytem. [Within.] My son, my son,
Have pity on thy mother!

Εlec. Thou had'st none
On him, nor on the father that begat him.

Chor. Ο land! Ο miserable race! Thy doom
Each day is "perish, perish utterly."

Clytem. [Within.] Ah! I am smitten.

Εlec. Smite her yet again,
If thou hast strength for it.

Clytem. [Within.] Ah! Blow on blow!

Εlec. Would that Ægisthos shared them.

Chor. Yes. The curse
Is now fulfilled. The buried live again;
For they who died long since now drain in turn1420
The blood of those that slew them.


Enter Orestes and Pylades.

See! They come;
And lo! their crimsoned hands drip drops of gore
*Poured out to Ares; and I dare not blame.

Εlec. How fare ye now, Orestes?

Ores. All within
Is well, if well Apollo prophesied.

Εlec. And is she dead, vile wretch?

Ores. Yes. Fear thou not
Thy mother's mood shall e'er shame thee again.

Chor. Hush! for I see Ægisthos full in sight.[1430

Εlec. Back, back, ye boys!

[Thrusts Orestes and Pylades behind the scene.

Ores. [As he goes.] And see ye where this man . . . . ?

Εlec. He from the suburbs comes upon us now,
Rejoicing.

Chor. Go, full speed, behind the doors,
That ye, one work well done, may yet again . . . .

Ores. Take courage, we will act . . . .

Elec. Now speed thy plans. [Pushing him off.

Ores. I then am gone. [Exeunt Orestes and Pylades.

Elec. What meets us next is mine.

Chor. 'Twere good to speak to this man in his ear
But few words, very gently, that he rush1440
Into the hidden struggle of his doom.


Enter Ægisthos.

Ægis. Who knows of you where they, from Phokis come,
May now be found, who bring, they tell me, news
That our Orestes has breathed out his last,
In wreck of chariot-storm? Thee, [To Electra,] thee, I ask—
Yes, thee, still wont to be of old so brave.
As I suppose it touches thee the most,
So thou, knowing most, may'st tell me what I seek.

Elec. I know. How else? Could I then stand aloof
From that dear chance of those who most are mine?

Ægis. Where are the strangers, then? Tell this to me.1450

Elec. Within; for they have found a loving hostess.

Ægis. And did they say distinctly he was dead?

Elec. Ah no! They showed him, not in words alone.

Ægis. And is he here, that we may see him plain?

Elec. 'Tis here, a most unwelcome sight to see.

Ægis. Against thy wont thou giv'st me joy indeed.

Elec. Thou may'st rejoice, if this be ground of joy.

Ægis. I bid you hush, and open wide the gates,
That all of Argos and Mykenæ see.
So, if there be that once were lifted up,
With hopes they had, vain hopes they fixed on him,1460
Now seeing him dead, they may receive my curb,
And, finding me their master, sense may gain,
Without coercion.

Elec. Yea, my task indeed
Is done; for I at last have wisdom gained,
To work with those more mighty.

[The doors are thrown open, and disclose
Orestes and Pylades standing by the
dead body of
Clytemnestra, covered
with a sheet and a veil over the face
.

Ægis. Lo, I see,
Ο Zeus, a form that lies there, fallen low,
Not without wrath of Heaven (should that word stir
Heaven's jealousy, I wish it all unsaid.)
Withdraw the veil which hides the face, that I
To kindred blood may pay the meed of tears.

Ores. Do thou uplift it. 'Tis thy task, not mine,1470
To look on this, and kindly words to speak.

Ægis. Thou giv'st good counsel, and I list to thee:
And thou, if yet she tarries in the house,
Call Clytemnestra.

Ores. [As Ægisthos lifts the veil.] Here she lies before thee!
Seek her not elsewhere.

Ægis. Oh, what sight is this!

Ores. Whom fearest thou? Who is 't thou dost not know?

Ægis. Into whose snares, whose closely-tangled mesh,
Have I, poor victim, fallen?

Ores. See'st not yet
That thou did'st greet the living as the dead?

Ægis. Ah me! I catch thy words. It needs must be
This is Orestes who now speaks to me.1480

Ores. Wert thou then tricked, who dost divine so well?

Ægis. I then am lost, woe 's me! yet let me speak
One little word.

Elec. Give him no leave to speak,
By all the Gods, my brother, nor to spin
His long discourse. When men are plunged in ills,
What gain can one who stands condemned to die
Reap from delay? No, slay him out of hand,
And, having slain him, cast him forth, to find
Fit burial at their hands from whom 'tis meet
That he should have it, far away from view.
Thus only shall I gain a remedy
For all the evils of the years gone by.1490

Ores. [To Ægisthos.] Go thou within, and quickly.
Now our strife
Is not of words, but for thy life itself.

Ægis. Why dost thou force me in? If this be right,
What need of darkness? Why not slay at once?

Ores. Give thou no orders, but where thou did'st slay
My father, go, that thou too there may'st die.

Ægis. Is it then doomed this house should see the ills
Of Pelops' line, both present and to come?

Ores. Yes, thine: of that, at least, I 'm prophet true.

Ægis. The skill thou boastest came not from thy sire.1500

Ores. Still thou dost bandy many idle words,
And length'nest out the way. Move on.

Ægis. Lead thou.

Ores. Not so. Thou must go first.

Ægis. Dost think I'll flee?

Ores. Thou must not die the death thou would'st desire;
I needs must make it bitter. Doom like this
Should fall on all who dare transgress the laws.
The doom of death. Then wickedness no more
Would multiply its strength.

Chor. Ο seed of Atreus, after many woes,
Thou hast come forth, thy freedom hardly won,
By this emprise made perfect!1510



  1. Io, daughter of Inachos, beloved by Zeus, and driven over land and sea by Hera, was one of the special deities of Argos, and the country was sometimes distinguished from other districts bearing the same name by the epithet Inacheian.
  2. Of the many conjectures as to the meaning Lykeian, Sophocles adopts that which connected it with the idea of Apollo, as clearing the country from the wolves that troubled it.
  3. The temple of Hera lay between Argos and Mykenæ, about a mile and a half from the former city.
  4. The mention of the Pythian games must be noted as an anachronism. The date assigned for their institution is B.C. 586.
  5. Orestes may be supposed to refer to Odysseus, who appeared and triumphed after the report of his death. There may possibly be a reference, intelligible to those who heard the play, to the story of Pythagoras, who, after an apparent death, returned to life, and preached the doctrine of the metempsychosis.
  6. The two words, "victory and strength," habitually went together in the Pythian oracles and in formulæ of prayer. They were to an Athenian audience what "grace and mercy," "glory and honour," would be to us.
  7. Hermes was the God who had led the soul of Agamemnon to Hades; the Curse, that which he had uttered, when dying, against Clytemnestra.
  8. The cry of "Itys," which the Greek ear found in the song of the nightingale, connected itself with the story of Tereus, king of Thrace, who married Procne, daughter of Pandion, king of Athens. Then doing violence to her sister Philomela, he tore out her tongue and imprisoned her, that she might not tell of the outrage. She, however, found means to tell her sister Procne by a piece of tapestry-work, and she, wroth with Tereus, slew his son Itys, and gave his flesh to his father that he might eat it. And then Zeus put forth his power, and changed Philomela into a nightingale, and Procne into a swallow, and Tereus into a hoopoo, and so the nightingale ever flies from the hoopoo and wails for Itys. Sophocles had dramatised the history in his Tereus, probably before the date of the Electra.
  9. Niobe—comp. the note on Antigone, 823.
  10. The monthly festival which Clytemnestra kept was after the pattern of new-moon feasts or others regulated by them.
  11. The "feast of Agamemnon" had become proverbial as the type of treacherous hospitality, and it seems probable that the poet so framed Electra's words as to call up that association in the minds of his hearers.
  12. These commonly consisted of milk, honey, and oil. Comp. 896.
  13. The words of Homer (Iliad, ii. 101) had given a special fame and import to the sceptre of Agamemnon.
  14. The prayer is told to the Sun, as the great dispeller of the dreams of darkness. Comp. 637. There is, perhaps, also a special reference to the local worship of the Sun at Argos. An altar to the Sun-God, Helios, stood on the way from Argos to Mykenæ.
  15. The words bring before us a curious phase of superstition. To mutilate the corpse of a murdered man was to deprive him of the power to take vengeance. To wipe the murderous weapon on his hair was not merely a symbol, but a charm. His blood was to be on his own head.
  16. Here, as in the case of "Itys, Itys," (l. 148,) we have a reference to myths, which Sophocles had taken as the subjects of his own dramas. The story of Myrtilos was briefly, that he enabled Pelops to win the chariot-race against Œnomaos, and so to gain his daughter Hippodameia and become king of Pisa; that then Pelops, unwilling to give him his reward, or suspecting him of loving Hippodameia, threw him headlong from Cape Geræstos. Myrtilos, as he died, uttered a curse on Pelops, and this was the starting point of all the evils of his house.
  17. In Homer, (Iliad, iii. 175: Odyss. iv. 112,) Helen appears as bearing one child only, Hermione, to Menelaos. Sophocles follows a later form of the legend.
  18. As the legend ran, the special form of the boast was, that he had surpassed Artemis in skill of chase.
  19. Historically there is an anachronism here. The earlier contests at Delphi were confined to music, and the date given for the first Pythian games is, Ol. 47. 2, (B.C. 586.) So, too, the four-horsed chariot, and the presence of Greeks from Libya, belong to the poet's own time rather than to the Homeric period.
  20. The order of the Delphic games was as follows:—Early in the morning the umpires (Hellanodikæ) sent the herald to proclaim their opening. They began with foot races, long and short; about noon came the pentathlon, (leaping, foot-race, discus, spear-throwing, wrestling,) later the chariot-race. The "five-fold forms of race" (if the reading be correct) refer to variations in the rules or length of the course, not to the pentathlon, strictly so called.
  21. The choice of nations mentioned by the poet was doubtless far from being capricious. Some are named (the Achæan, Magnesian, Ænian, Thessalian, Bœotian, Argive) as conspicuous in the Amphictyonic league. The Spartan, as the rival of the Achæan, though having a more favourable start, falls into the background. The Libyans and Ætolians are named as famous for their chariot-races, and so enhancing the glory of the Athenian victor.
  22. Amphiaraos, seer as well as warrior, knowing by his art what would be the issue of Polyneikes's expedition against Thebes, at first refused to join, but afterwards yielded to the persuasion of his wife Eriphyle, whom Polyneikes had bribed. When the Argives fled, he and his four-horse chariot were smitten with the thunderbolt of Zeus, and the earth opened and swallowed him up. The Chorus speaks of him as still reigning, in reference to the fact that many oracles were supposed to be inspired by him; and suggests the thought that Agamemnon, too, in the unseen world of the dead, may yet be reigning, and so may work out vengeance on the evil-doers.
  23. Amphiaraos, before leaving Argos, had charged his sons, Alcmæon and Amphilochos, to take vengeance on their mother, and this Alcmæon did. Here, as before, Sophocles refers to a subject that he himself had dramatised in his tragedy of Eriphyle.
  24. "Time-honoured" as the sepulchre of the house of Pelops.
  25. The "birds for wisdom famed" are here the storks. Building their nests on the roofs of houses, their habits came under men's notice, and they had come to be proverbial as presenting the pattern of filial reverence.
  26. The feeling that tidings from the world of the living reached the dead in Hades was expressed in the personification of a Voice, Message, Fame, whose dwelling was below the earth, and whose function it was to bear them.
  27. The Erinnys pair are, of course, Clytemnestra and Ægisthos, looked on as intensely evil, and yet the instruments of a divine vengeance.