Story of Orestes - A Condensation of the Trilogy
by Richard G. Moulton
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The University of Chicago Press







ELECTRA, by Sophocles

ELECTRA, by Euripides

ALCESTIS, by Euripides

THE CYCLOPS, by Euripides

THE BACCHANALS, by Euripides



In the case of Aeschylus and Sophocles the numbering of lines agrees with that in the translations of Plumptre and in the original. In the plays from Euripides the numbering is that of the lines in the cheap translation (Routledge's Universal Library).

[Transcriber's note: In the original book, the line numbers mentioned above were right-justified. In this e-book, they are enclosed in curly braces, and placed immediately after their associated line of text, e.g. ". . . a line of text {123}".]















The passages quoted are from Plumptre's Translation


The Sacred Legends touched by this Trilogy would be familiar, in outline, to the Auditors: e. g.:

The woes of the House of Atreus: the foundation of them laid by Atreus when, to take vengeance on his brother Thyestes, he served up to him at a banquet the flesh of his own sons;

His grandsons were Agamemnon and Menelaus: Menelaus' wife, Helen, was stolen by a guest, Paris of Troy, which caused the great Trojan war.

Agamemnon, who commanded the Greek nations in that war, fretting at the contrary winds which delayed the setting out of the fleet, was persuaded by the Seers to slay his own daughter Iphigenia, to appease the Deities;

Her mother Clytaemnestra treasured up this wrong all through the ten years' war, and slew Agamemnon on his return, in the moment of victory, slew him while in his bath by casting a net over him and smiting him to death with her own arm;

Then she reigned in triumph with Aegisthus her paramour (himself one of the fatal house), till Orestes her son, who had escaped as an infant when his father was slaughtered, returned at last, and slew the guilty pair;

For this act of matricide, though done by the command of Apollo, Orestes was given up to the Furies, and driven over the earth, a madman, till in Athens, on Mars' Hill they say, he was cleansed and healed.

Cassandra too was involved in the fall of Agamemnon: the Trojan maiden beloved of Apollo, who bestowed upon her the gift of prophecy; when she slighted the God's love, Apollo—for no gift of a god can be recalled—left her a prophetess, with the doom that her true forebodings should ever be disbelieved. She, having thus vainly sought to save Troy, with its fall fell into captivity, and to the lot of Agamemnon, with whom she died.

The name of Orestes would suggest the proverbial friendship of Qrestes [Transcriber's note: Orestes?] and Pylades, formed in Orestes' trouble and never broken.





The Permanent Scene is decorated to represent the facade of the Palace of Agamemnon, at Argos; the platform over the Central door appearing as a Watch-tower. At intervals along the front of the Palace, and especially by the three doors, are statues of Gods, amongst them Apollo, Zeus, and Hermes. The time is supposed to be night, verging on morning. Both Orchestra and Stage are vacant: only a Watchman is discovered on the Tower, leaning on his elbow, and gazing into the distance.

The Watchman soliloquizes on his toilsome task of watching all night through for the first sight of the signal which is to tell of the capture of Troy: he has kept his post for years, till the constellations which usher in winter and harvest-time are his familiar companions; he must endure weather and sleeplessness, and when he would sing to keep his spirits up he is checked by thoughts of his absent master's household, in which, he darkly hints, things are "not well." [He is settling himself into an easier posture, when suddenly he springs to his feet.] The beacon-fire at last! [He shouts the signal agreed upon, and begins dancing for joy.] Now all will be well; a little while and his hand shall touch the dear hand of his lord; and then—ah! "the weight of an ox rests on his tongue," but if the house had a voice it could tell a tale! [Exit to bring tidings to the queen.] {39}


As if roused by the Watchman's shout, enter the Chorus: Twelve Elders of Argos: in the usual processional order, combining music, chanting and gesture-dance, to a rhythm conventionally associated with marching. They enter on the right (as if from the city), and the Processional Chant takes them gradually round the Orchestra towards the Thymele, or Altar of Dionysus, in the centre.

The Chorus in their Processional Chant open the general state of affairs, especially bringing out the doublesidedness of the situation [which is the key-note of the whole Drama]: the expected triumph over Troy, which cannot be far distant now, combined with misgivings as to misfortunes sure to come as nemesis for the dark deeds connected with the setting out of the expedition. They open thus:

Lo! the tenth year now is passing {40} Since, of Priam great avengers, Menelaos, Agamemnon, Double-throned and double-sceptred, Power from sovran Zeus deriving— Mighty pair of the Atreidae— Raised a fleet of thousand vessels Of the Argives from our country, Potent helpers in their warfare, Shouting cry of Ares fiercely; E'en as vultures shriek who hover, Wheeling, whirling o'er their eyrie, {50} In wild sorrow for their nestlings, With their oars of stout wings rowing, Having lost the toil that bound them To their callow fledglings' couches. But on high One—or Apollo, Zeus, or Pan,—the shrill cry hearing, Cry of birds that are his clients, Sendeth forth on men transgressing Erinnys, slow but sure avenger; So against young Alexandros Atreus' sons the Great King sendeth, Zeus, of host and guest protector: {60} He, for bride with many a lover, Will to Danai give and Troians Many conflicts, men's limbs straining, When the knee in dust is crouching, And the spear-shaft in the onset Of the battle snaps asunder. But as things are now, so are they, So, as destined, shall the end be. Nor by tears nor yet libations Shall he soothe the wrath unbending {70} Caused by sacred rites left fireless.

They are going on to soliloquize how they themselves have been shut out of the glorious expedition, for, in matters of War, old age is but a return to boyhood; when {82}

The Chorus-Procession having reached the Thymele, turn towards the Stage. Meanwhile the great Central Door of the Stage has opened, and a solemn Procession filed out on the Stage, consisting of the Queen and her Attendants, bearing torches and incense, and offerings for the Gods; they have during the Choral Procession silently advanced to the different Statues along the front of the Palace, made offerings and commenced the sacrificial riles. When the Chorus turn towards the Stage, the whole Scene is ablaze with fires and trembling with clouds of incense, rich unguents perfume the whole Theatre, while a solemn Religious ritual is being celebrated in dumb show.

The Chorus break off their Processional Chant [keeping the same rhythm] to enquire what is the meaning of these solemn rites, and whether the Queen can solve their doubt, which wavers between hope and foreboding:

The Queen signifying, by a gesture, that the Ritual must not be interrupted by speech, the Chorus proceed to take their regular position round the Thymele, and address themselves to their {104}


the Music, Poetry, and Gesture-dance changing from a March to a highly Lyrical rhythm; the evolutions of the Dance taking Right and Left hand directions, but without the Chorus quitting their position round the Altar.[1]

Strophe: during which the evolutions take a Right Hand direction.

The Chorus resume: though shut out from War their old age has still suasive power of song, and they can tell of the famous omen seen by the two kings and the whole army as they waited to embark: two eagles on the left devouring a pregnant hare:

Sing a strain of woe But may the good prevail! {120}

Antistrophe: the same rhythm line for line as the Strophe, but the evolutions taking Left Hand direction.

and the Prophet Calchas interpreted; they shall lay Troy low, only beware lest the Victors suffer from the wrath of some God, Artemis who hates the eagle:

Sing a strain of woe, But may the good prevail! {137}

Epode: a different rhythm, and the evolutions without any special direction.

May some Healer, Calchas added, avert her wrath, lest she send delays upon the impatient host and irritate them to some dread deed, some sacrifice of children to haunt the house for ever! So he prophesied in piercing strains.

Sing a strain of woe, But may the good prevail {154}


With a change of rhythm, the Chorus pass into their first regular Choral Ode; Strophes and Antistrophes as in the Prelude, but the Evolutions now leading them from the central Altar to the extreme Right and Left of the Orchestra.

Strophe I: Evolutions leading Chorus from Thymele to extreme Right of Orchestra.

It must be Zeus—no other God will suffice—Zeus alone who shall lift from my[2] mind this cloud of anxiety;

Antistrophe I: Evolutions the same, rhythm for rhythm, as the Strophe, but leading the Chorus back from the Right of Orchestra to the central Altar.

For on Zeus, before whom all the elder Gods gave way, they must rely who are bent on getting all the wisdom of the wise. {168}

Strophe II: a change of rhythm: evolutions leading Chorus from the central Altar to the extreme Left of Orchestra.

Yes: Zeus leads men to wisdom by his fixed law that pain is gain; by instilling secret care in the heart, it may be in sleep, he forces the unwilling to yield to wiser thoughts: no doubt this anxiety is a gift of the Gods, whose might is irresistible. {176}

Antistrophe II: same rhythm, but evolutions leading back from Left of Orchestra to central Altar.

When Agamemnon, not repining, but tempering himself to the fate which smote him, waited amidst adverse winds and failing stores: {184}

Strophe III: fresh change of rhythm, Chorus moving to Right of Orchestra.

and the contrary winds kept sweeping down from the Strymon, and the host was being worn out with delays, and the prophet began to speak of 'one more charm against the wrath of Artemis, though a bitter one to the Chiefs,' {195}

Antistrophe III: same rhythm, movement back from Right of Orchestra to Altar.

at last the King spoke: great woe to disobey the prophet, great woe to slay my child! how shed a maiden's blood? yet how lose my expedition, my allies? May all be well in the end! {210}

Strophe IV: change of rhythm; movements to the left of Orchestra.

So when he himself had harnessed To the yoke of Fate unbending, With a blast of strange new feeling Sweeping o'er his heart and spirit, Aweless, godless and unholy, He his thoughts and purpose altered To full measure of all daring, (Still base counsel's fatal frenzy, Wretched primal source of evils, Gives to mortal hearts strange boldness,) And at last his heart be hardened His own child to slay as victim, Help in war that they were waging To avenge a woman's frailty, Victim for the good ship's safety. {219}

Antistrophe IV: back to Altar.

All her prayers and eager callings On the tender name of Father, All her young and maiden freshness, They but set at naught, those rulers, In their passion for the battle. And her father gave commandment To the servants of the Goddess, When the prayer was o'er, to lift her, Like a kid, above the altar, In her garments wrapt, face downwards,— Yea, to seize with all their courage, And that o'er her lips of beauty Should be set a watch to hinder Words of curse against the houses, With the gag's strength silence-working.

Strophe V: Altar to Sight of Orchestra.

And she upon the ground Pouring rich folds of veil in saffron dyed, Cast at each one of those who sacrificed A piteous glance that pierced Fair as a pictured form, And wishing,—all in vain,— To speak; for oftentimes In those her father's hospitable halls She sang, a maiden pure with chastest song, And her dear father's life That poured its threefold cup of praise to God, Crowned with all choicest good, She with a daughter's love Was wont to celebrate. {238}

Antistrophe V: Back to Altar.

What then ensued mine eyes Saw not, nor may I tell, but Calchas' arts Were found not fruitless. Justice turns the scale For those to whom through pain At last comes wisdom's gain. But for our future fate, Since help for it is none, Good-bye to it before it comes, and this Has the same end as wailing premature; For with to-morrow's dawn It will come clear; may good luck crown our fate! So prays the one true guard, Nearest and dearest found, Of this our Apian land. {248}


The Ritual on the Stage being now concluded, Clytaemnestra advances to the front. At the same moment the Choral Ode is finished and the Chorus take up their usual position during the Episodes, drawn up in two lilies in front of the Altar facing the Stage. They speak only by their Foreman (or Corypliceus), and use the ordinary Iambic Metre (equivalent to our Blank Verse).

The Foreman of the Chorus repeats his enquiries of Clytaemnestra as to the meaning of this sudden rejoicing, guardedly adding that it is his duty to pay respect to his lord's wife in his absence—Clytaemnestra announces that Troy has been taken this last night—rapid interchange of stichomuthic dialogue, the Chorus expressing their amazement as to how the news could travel so fast.

Cho. What herald could arrive with speed like this? Clytaem. Hephiestos flashing forth bright flames from Ida: Beacon to beacon from that courier-fire Sent on its tidings; Ida to the rock Hermaean named, in Lemnos: from the isle The height of Athos, dear to Zeus, received A third great torch of flame, and lifted up, So as on high to skim the broad sea's back, The stalwart fire rejoicing went its way; The pine wood, like a sun, sent forth its light Of golden radiance to Makistos' watch; And he, with no delay, nor unawares Conquered by sleep, performed his courier's part. Far off the torch-light to Euripos' straits Advancing, tells it to Messapion's guard: They, in their turn, lit up and passed it on, Kindling a pile of dry and aged heath. Still strong and fresh the torch, not yet grown dim, Leaping across Asopos' plain in guise Like a bright moon, towards Kithaeron's rock, Roused the next station of the courier flame. And that far-travelled light the sentries there Refused not, burning more than all yet named: And then the light swooped o'er Gorgopis' lake, And passing on to Aegiplanctos' mount, Bade the bright fire's due order tarry not; And they, enkindling boundless store, send on A mighty beard of flame, and then it passed The headland e'en that looks on Saron's gulf Still blazing. On it swept, until it came To Arachnaean heights, the watch-tower near; Then here on the Atreidae's roof it swoops, This light, of Ida's fire no doubtful heir. Such is the order of my torch-race games; One from another taking up the course, But here the winner is both first and last; And this sure proof and token now I tell thee, Seeing that my lord hath sent it me from Troia. {307}

While the Chorus are still overcome with amazement, Clytaemnestra triumphs over the condition of Troy that morning: like a vessel containing oil and vinegar, the conquered, bewailing their first day of captivity over the corpses of husbands and sons, the victors enjoying their first rest free from the chill dews of night and the sentry's call—and all will be well, if they remember the rights of the Gods in their sack of the city: ah! may they not in their exultation commit some sacrilegious deed of plunder, forgetting that they have only reached the goal, and have the return to make! If they should, the curse of those who have perished might still awake against them [Cl. thus darkly harping upon her secret hope that vengeance may still overtake them for the sacrifice of her daughter.] {345}

Exit Clytaemnestra, with Attendants.

After a few words of triumph (in marching rhythm), that Zeus, protector of host and guest, has visited the proud Trojans, and brought them into a net of bondage that neither young nor full-grown can overleap, the Chorus proceed to a more formal expression of their feelings in {357}


breaking, as regularly in the Choral Odes, into highly Lyrical rhythms accompanied with Music and Gesture-dance, the evolutions of which lead them alternately to Right and Left of Orchestra and back to Altar.

Strophe I: evolutions from Altar to Right.

Yes: it is the hand of Zeus we may trace in all this! Now what will they say who contend that the Gods care not when mortal men trample under foot the inviolable? Troy knows better now, that once relied on its abounding wealth: ah! moderate fortune is best for the seeker after Wisdom; Wealth is no bulwark to those who in wantonness have spurned the altar of the Right and Just. {375}

Antistrophe I: evolutions front Right back to Altar, rhythm as in Strophe.

Such a man is urged on by Impulse, offspring of Infatuation, till his mischief stands out clear, as worthless bronze stripped of its varnish. So Paris sees now his light-hearted crime has brought his city low. He came to the house of the Sons of Atreus, and stole a Queen away, leaving Shame where he had sat as Guest. {392}

Strophe II: change of rhythm, evolutions from Altar to Left.

She, leaving to her countrymen at home Wild din of spear and shield and ships of war, And bringing, as her dower, To Ilion doom of death, Passed very swiftly through the palace gates, Daring what none should dare; And many a wailing cry They raised, the minstrel prophets of the house, "Woe for that kingly home! Woe for that kingly home and for its chiefs! Woe for the marriage-bed and traces left Of wife who loved her lord!" There stands he silent; foully wronged and yet Uttering no word of scorn, In deepest woe perceiving she is gone; And in his yearning love For one beyond the sea, A ghost shall seem to queen it o'er the house; The grace of sculptured forms Is loathed by her lord, And in the penury of life's bright eyes All Aphrodite's charm To utter wreck has gone. {409}

Antistrophe II: back to Altar.

And phantom shades that hover round in dreams Come full of sorrow, bringing vain delight; For vain it is, when one Sees seeming shows of good, And gliding through his hands the dream is gone, After a moment's space, On wings that follow still Upon the path where sleep goes to and fro. Such are the woes at home Upon the altar hearth, and worse than these. But on a wider scale for those who went From Hellas' ancient shore, A sore distress that causeth pain of heart Is seen in every house. Yea, many things there are that touch the quick: For those whom each did send He knoweth; but, instead Of living men, there come to each man's home Funereal urns alone, And ashes of the dead. {425} Strophe III: change of rhythm, evolutions from Altar to Right.

War is a trafficker; in the rush of battle he holds scales, and for the golden coin you spend on him he sends you back lifeless shapes of men; they sent out men, the loving friends receive back well-smoothed ashes from the funeral pyre. They sing the heroic fall of some—all for another's wife; and some murmur discontent against the sons of Atreus, and some have won a grave in the land they had conquered. {441}

Antistrophe III: evolutions repeated, but from Right back to Altar.

So sullen discontent has been doing the work of a people's curse: therefore it is that I am awaiting with dim forebodings the full news. The Gods do not forget those who have shed much blood, and sooner or later the dark-robed Deities of the Curse consign the evil-doer to impassable, hopeless gloom. Away with the dazzling success that attracts the thunderbolt! be mine the moderate lot that neither causes nor suffers captivity. {458}

Epode: change of rhythm and Chorus not moving from the Altar.

The courier flame has brought good news—but who knows whether it be true?—Yet it is childish when the heart is all aglow with the message of the flame to be turned round by everchanging rumour.—Yet it is the nature of a woman to believe too soon. [Observe how the Chorus, setting out on an ode of triumph, have come back to their persistent forebodings.] {471}

Suddenly at the Side-door on the extreme Left of the Stage (signifying distance) appears a Herald, covered with dust, crowned with olive in token of victory. The Chorus immediately fall into their Episode position to receive him, the Foreman expressing their anticipations as the Herald traverses the long stage to the point opposite the Chorus.


Foreman of Chorus. Now we shall have a clearer message than that of the beacon-fires: all is well or . . . but I cannot put the other alternative. The Herald (arrived opposite the Chorus) solemnly salutes the land of Argos he had never hoped to see again, salutes the several Gods whose statues are now bright with the morning sun, especially Apollo who has proved himself a Healer, and Hermes, patron of Heralds; and then announces Agamemnon is close at hand, victorious over Troy and having sent Paris to his merited punishment.—Observe how in the parallel dialogue that follows the foreboding tone creeps in again in the midst of the news of triumph. {520}

Chor. Joy, joy, thou herald of the Achaean host! Her. All joy is mine: I shrink from death no more. Chor. Did love for this thy fatherland so try thee? Her. So that mine eyes weep tears for very joy. Chor. Disease full sweet then this ye suffered from . . . Her. How so? When taught, I shall thy meaning master. Chor. Ye longed for us who yearned for you in turn. Her. Say'st thou this land its yearning host yearned o'er? Chor. Yea, so that oft I groaned in gloom of heart. Her. Whence came these bodings that an army hates? Chor. Silence I've held long since a charm for ill. Her. How, when your lords were absent, feared ye any? Chor. To use thy words, death now would welcome be. {533} The Herald, not understanding the source of the Chorus' misgiving, goes on to say of course their success is mixed: so fare all but the Gods. They have had their tossings on the sea, their exposure to the night dews till their hair is shaggy as beasts'; but why remember these now? our toil is past—so he suddenly recollects is that of the dead they have left behind—but he will shake off these feelings: Troy is captured. The Chorus feel youthful with such happy tidings. {569}

Enter Clytaemnestra from the Palace.

Clyt. Now they will believe me, who were saying just now that women believed too soon. What joy for a wife equal to that of a husband's return? and I have kept my trust as stainless as bronze. [Exit into Palace.] The Foreman goes on to enquire as to Menelaus: the Herald would fain not answer, and brings out the Greek dread of mingling bad news with good—at last he is forced to acknowledge Menelaus has disappeared, his ship sundered from the fleet by a terrible storm in which

They a compact swore who erst were foes, Ocean and Fire, {634}

and the sea 'blossomed with wrecks of ships and dead Achaeans:' the fleet itself barely escaped. [Thus: foreboding indirectly assisted by its appearing that one of the two sons of Atreus has already been overtaken by Nemesis.] {663}


[Positions, etc., as before.]

Strophe I: to the Right.

Who could foresee so well and give her the name Helen—a Hell[3] to men and ships and towers? She came out of bowers of gorgeous curtains, she sailed with breezes soft as Zephyrs yet strong as Titans, and unseen reached the leafy banks of the Simois; but bloodshed was in her train, and on her track followed hosts of hunters that carried shields. {680}

Antistrophe I: back to Altar.

So there is a wrath that works vengeance after long waiting: to the Ilion that received her she was a dear bride: then there was a shout of 'Paris, Paris,' in the Bridal Song: now his city has celebrated a Wedding of Death, and called on Paris' name in other tones. {695}

Strophe II: Altar to Left.

So once a lion's cub, A mischief in his house, As foster child one reared, While still it loved the teats; In life's preluding dawn Tame, by the children loved, And fondled by the old, Oft in his arms 'twas held, Like infant newly born, With eyes that brightened to the hand that stroked, And fawning at the hest of hunger keen. {704}

Antistrophe II: back to Altar.

But when full-grown, it showed The nature of its sires; For it unbidden made A feast in recompense Of all their fostering care, By banquet of slain sheep; With blood the house was stained, A curse no slaves could check, Great mischief murderous: By God's decree a priest of Ate thus Was reared, and grew within the man's own house. {715}

Strophe III: Altar to Right.

So I would tell that thus to Ilion came Mood as of calm when all the air is still, The gentle pride and joy of kingly state, A tender glance of eye, The full-blown blossom of a passionate love, Thrilling the very soul; And yet she turned aside, And wrought a bitter end of marriage feast, Coming to Priam's race, Ill sojourner, ill friend, Sent by great Zeus, the God of host and guest— Erinnys, for whom wives weep many tears. {726}

Antistrophe III: back to Altar.

The time-honored saying is that Prosperity grown big will not die childless, its offspring will be a Woe insatiable. I say no, it is not the Prosperity, it is an Impious deed that breeds Impious deeds like the parent stock. {737}

Strophe IV: from Altar to Left.

Recklessness begets Recklessness, this begets full-flushed Lust and Godforgetting Daring, two black curses to a household. {746}

Antistrophe IV: back to Altar.

Justice will dwell in houses blackened with smoke where life is ruled by law, but averts her eyes from gold-decked mansions conjoined with hands denied: and it is this Justice that is directing the course of things to its appointed goal. {755}

At this point, a grand Procession of the returning Warriors from Troy enters Stage and Orchestra by the Left Side-Door (signifying distance): Agamemnon in his chariot, followed in another chariot by Cassandra as captive, but still in the garb of prophetess: then a train of Soldiers laden with trophies and leading a train of Troian captive women. The Chorus fall into their Episode position to receive them.


Chorus (in marching rhythm as the Procession traverses the long Stage.)

Son of Atreus, how are we to hit upon welcome that shall be fit for thee, not missing or overshooting the mark? In both condolence and congratulation men's faces often belie their hearts; thou who knowest thine own sheep, should'st be able to tell kindness from flattery. We confess, when thou wentest forth on thy expedition, thou wast to us like a face limned by an unskilled artist, in the deed thou did'st to inspire false courage. Now, without a thought unfriendly, we say—all is well that ends well, and thou wilt soon hear who has deserved well of thee in thy absence. [Observe their guarded tone.] {782}

Agamemnon [the metre now settling into ordinary 'Blank Verse']. First thanks to the Gods by whose help we have laid Troy low, the ruins of which are still sending up clouds of smoke as sweet incense to the Deities of Vengeance. And your sentiments, both then and now, I approve: prosperity too often misses true sympathy amidst the envy it excites; envy that has the double pang of missing its own and seeing another's good. Experience has taught me the difference between professing and true friends: my unwilling comrade Ulysses alone proved true to me. As to the state we will deliberate in full counsel as to what needs preserving, and where disease calls for surgery. At present I must give thanks at my own hearth for my safe return.

Here the Central Door of the Stage is thrown open, and enter Clytaemnestra to welcome her lord, followed by attendants bearing rich draperies of purple and dazzling colors. {827}

Clyt. Notwithstanding your presence, Senators of Argos, I must pour out my heart to my lord. Ah! a sad thing is a wife waiting at home for her absent husband! hearing of wounds, which if true would have made you a riddled net, of deaths enough for a three-lived Geryon: again and again I have been stopped with the noose already on my neck! This is the reason why you see not your son Orestes: wonder not, he is being brought up by an ally to whom I sent him, lest danger befall us. I cannot weep; my tears have run dry by my weepings and sleepless watchings for the beacon. Now at ease I hail my lord—

as watch-dog of the fold, The stay that saves the ship, of lofty roof {870} Main column-prop, a father's only child, Land that beyond all hope the sailor sees, Morn of great brightness following after storm, Clear-flowing fount to thirsty traveller.

The bare ground is not fit for the foot that has trampled on Ilion: strew (to Attendants) tapestry on the floor as the Conqueror steps from his car. The Attendants commence to lay down the draperies: Agamemnon (hastening to stop them) rebukes Clytaemnestra for the excessive tone of her welcome, and bids her not make him offensive to the Gods, by assuming an honor fit for the Gods alone, no man being safe in prosperity till he has died; fame, not foot-mats, and never to lose the path of Wisdom, are his glories. A contest ensues [the false Clytaemnestra anxious to entangle him in an act of Infatuation]; at last he yields, but removes the shoe from his foot, to avert the ill omen of such presumptuous display. He then commends the captive Cassandra to the Queen's kind treatment, and Clyt. renews her lofty expressions of joy: there is a store of purple in the palace, and many such robes would she bestow to welcome his return, the root of the household bringing warmth in winter and coolness in the dog-days. Ah! may Zeus work out for me "all that I wish for." [So Exeunt: Ag. walking barefoot on the rich tapestry. Cassandra alone remains on the Stage in her chariot.] {949}


Strophe I: to the Right.

Why is it that forebodings haunt the gate of our hearts, and we lack steadfast trust to fling them away as visions? It is not long since that fatal starting for Troy, {959}

Antistrophe I: back to Altar

and now we have seen with our own eyes the safe return: and yet our mind, self-taught, keeps chanting within itself a dirge of fate. These inner pulses cannot be in vain: heaven send they prove false oracles! {971}

Strophe II: to the Left.

When Wealth o'erflows, Restlessness, as a near neighbor with only a wall between, presses it on with perpetual desire for more, till Prosperity strikes suddenly on an unseen rock—yet even then, by sacrificing a portion of the cargo, the rest may be saved; so by plenteous harvests sent from Zeus, hunger and pestilence may be allayed: {986}

Antistrophe II: back to Altar.

but when blood has once been poured upon the ground, what charm can bring it back? Zeus struck dead the Healer who found how to restore life. I would give my misgiving relief in pouring out words of warning: but I know that fate is certain and can never be escaped; so I am plunged in gloom, with little hope ever to unravel my soul that burns with its hot thoughts. {1001}


Re-enter Clytaemnestra to fetch Cassandra. Clyt. addresses Cassandra in moderate tone, bidding her adapt herself to her new life and yield to those who wish to soften her captivity. [Cassandra pays no attention and seems gazing into vacancy.] The Chorus endorses Clytaemnestra's advice. At length it occurs to Clytaemnestra that Cassandra cannot speak Greek, and she bids her give some sign. [No sign, but a shudder convulses her frame.] Thinking she is obstinate Clytaemnestra will wait no longer [exit Clyt. into Palace to the sacrifice]. The Chorus renew their advice to Cassandra: She at length leaves the chariot and suddenly bursts into a cry of horror. {1038}

Then follows, marking the crisis of the drama, a burst of lyrical excitement. The dialogue between Chorus and Cassandra falls into lyrical strophes and antistrophes: Cassandra, by her prophetic gift, can see all that is going on and about to be consummated within the Palace. Her wailings reproach her patron and lover Apollo, who has conducted her to a house of blood; she sees the past murders that have stained the house, she sees the preparations for the present deed, the bath, the net, the axe; then her wailings wax yet wilder as she sees that she herself is to be included in the sacrifice. Meantime her excitement gradually passes over to the Chorus: at first they have mistaken her cries for the ordinary lamentations of captives (and borne their part in the dialogue in the ordinary 'blank verse'); then their emotions are roused (and their speech falls into lyrics) as they recognize the old woes of the family history and remember Cassandra's prophetic fame; as she passes to the deed going on at the moment they feel a thrill of horror, but only half understand and take her words for prophecy of distant events, which they connect with their own forebodings; thus in her struggles to get her words believed Cassandra becomes more and more graphic in her notices of the scene her mental eye is seeing, and the excitement crescendoes until: {1148}

As if the crisis were now determined the dialogue settles down into 'blank verse' again. Cassandra ascends from Orchestra to Stage. She will no longer speak veiled prophecy: it shall flow clear as wave against the sunlight. She begins with the Furies that never quit the house since that primal woe that defiled it—as she describes this the Chorus wonder an alien can know the house's history so well—Cassandra lets them know of her amour with Apollo, and how she gained the gift of prophecy and then deceived the God and was doomed to have her prophecies scorned.—Continuing her vision she points to the phantom children, 'their palms filled full with meat of their own flesh,' sitting on the house: in revenge for that deed another crime is this moment about to stain further the polluted dwelling, a brave hero falling at the hands of a coward, and by a plot his monster of a wife has contrived.—The Chorus still perplexed, Cassandra NAMES Agamemnon, the Chorus essaying vainly to stop the ill-fated utterance.—Then Cassandra goes on to describe how she herself must be sacrificed with her new lord, a victim to the jealous murderess; bitterly reproaching Apollo, she strips from her the symbols and garb of her prophetic art, which the god has made so bitter to her, and moves to the 'butcher's block,' foretelling how the Son shall come as his father's avenger and hers.—The Chorus ask, why go to meet your fate instead of escaping? Cassandra knows Fate is inevitable.—Again and again she shrinks back from the door, 'tainted with the scent of death;' then gazing for the last time on the loved rays of the Sun, and invoking him as witness and avenger, she abandons herself to her doom.

Ah, life of man! when most it prospereth, {1298} It is but limned in outline; and when brought To low estate, then doth the sponge, full soaked, Wipe out the picture with its frequent touch.

[Passes through the Central Door into Palace.]

The Chorus (in lyrical rhythm). It is true good fortune can never be fended from the visitation of evil, which no strong palace can bar out. What will it avail Agamemnon to have taken Troy and come in honor home, if it be really his destiny to pay the penalty of that old deed of bloodguiltiness? {1313}

(Here a loud cry is heard from within the Palace.)

The Chorus recognize the voice of the King, and fear the deed is accomplished. In extreme excitement the Chorus break up, and each member, one after another, suggests what is to be done; at last they compose their ranks to learn what has actually occurred. {1342}

Suddenly, by the machinery of the Roller-stage [Eccyclema], the interior of the Palace is moved to the front of the Stage, and discovers Clytaemnestra in blood-stained robes, standing with attendants by the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra, the former lying in a silvered bath covered with a net.

Clytaemnestra, in an elaborate speech, glories in her deed. Deceit was necessary in dealing with foes: now standing where she did the deed, she glories in it: glories in the net in which she entangled and rendered him powerless, in the blows, one, two, three, like a libation, which she struck, glories in the gush of death-blood which has bespattered her. A late triumph: he had come home to drain the goblet of curses his old deed had been long heaping up. After an interruption of astonishment from the Foreman, she repeats: it is the handiwork of my artist hand. After the Chorus have recovered from their astonishment they (in a lyrical burst) denounce her: her confession is the incense on the Victim's head, she shall feel the people's strong hate, and have an exile's doom.—Clyt. (calmly in Blank Verse): they denounced no such exile against Agamemnon when he sacrificed her daughter, the first of her travail pangs. Besides, are they sure they are the stronger? Perchance, though old, they may yet have to learn.—Chorus (in a similar lyrical burst): she is now maddened with the spirit of vengeance, but she will one day find a nemesis, blow for blow. Clyt. solemnly (in Blank Verse) swears by the deed she has done, and the curse for which she did it, she has no fear of Nemesis, as lone as Aegisthus is her shield. Meanwhile, there they lie: the wife-wronger and his mistress. {1377}

Then follows an elaborate lyrical scene: the Chorus giving vent to their excitement in Strophes and Antistrophes irregularly succeeding one another, Clytaemnestra occasionally joining in. O for death, sudden and without lingering, now that our beloved Protector is gone! Ah! Helen! one more deed of woe to your account!—Clyt. No need to wish for death or upbraid Helen.—Cho. (interrupting) O dread Power that dost attack this household, working even through women deeds of dread!—Clyt. Now thou art right: it is the Evil Genius of the House that feeds in their hearts the lust of blood; bringing fresh blood-guilt ere the old is healed.—Cho. Yes, there is a Power wrathful to the House; but it must be through Zeus he works; what amongst mortal men is wrought apart from Zeus?

Ah me! Ah me! {1467} My king, my king, how shall I weep for thee? What shall I speak from heart that truly loves? And now thou liest there, breathing out thy life, In impious deed of death, In this fell spider's web! Yes woe is me! woe, woe! Woe for this couch of thine unhonorable! Slain by a subtle death With sword two-edged, which her right hand did wield.

Clyt. You speak of me as the doer: it was the Avenger of the seed of Atreus who did the deed in the semblance of this dead man's wife.—Cho. None will hold thee guiltless of the deed; yet, perchance, thou mayest have had as helper the avenging Fiend of that ancestral time; he presses on this rush of murders of near kin.

Ah me! Ah me! My king, my king, how shall I weep for thee? What shall I speak from heart that truly loves? And now thou liest there, breathing out thy life, In impious deed of death, In this fell spider's web! Yes woe is me! woe, woe! Woe for this couch of thine unhonorable! Slain by a subtle death With sword two-edged, which her right hand did wield.

Clyt. This deed brings no dishonor to me: he slew my daughter and his own, wept over with many a tear; now slain in recompense he is gone to Hell with nothing to boast over.—Cho. Whither escape from this House? No longer drops, but fierce pelting storm of blood shakes it to its basement.—Cho. Oh that earth had received me ere I saw this sad sight! Who will perform funeral rites and chant the dirge? Wilt thou who hast slain dare to mourn him?—Clyt. It is no care of thine: we will give him burial; and for mourning—perhaps Iphigenia will greet him kindly by the dark streams below.—Cho. Hard it is to judge; the hand of Zeus is in all this; ever throughout this household we see the fixed law, the spoiler still is spoiled. Who will drive out from this royal house this brood of curses dark?—Clyt. Thou art right; but here let the demon rest content; suffice it for me that my hand has freed the house from the madness that sets each man's hand against each. [Observe: in this last infatuated confidence and throughout Clytaemnestra's exultation in the deed the dramatist is laying the foundation for the second play of the Trilogy.] {1534}

Enter Aegisthus by one of the two Inferior doors in front of the scene [representing the inferior parts of the Palace in which he has been concealed since the return of Agamemnon].

Aegisthus salutes the happy day of vengeance which shows him Agamemnon paying penalty for the deeds of his father: he relates the quarrel between this father Atreus and his own father Thyestes, how when the one brother came as suppliant to the other Atreus spread before him the horrid banquet of his own child's flesh, at the knowledge of which he died. Aegisthus himself had suffered banishment at the hands of Atreus while yet a child, and now has returned full grown to work vengeance on the son of his wronger, to see the long contrived nemesis brought to full conclusion.—Chorus note that he confesses the deed, and he shall not escape the righteous curse a people hurls with stones.—Aeg. Know your place: you are oarsmen, we command the ship; prison and fasting are admirable devices for helping old people to keep their tempers within bounds. Defiances are interchanged: the Chorus taunting him that he had to get a woman to do the deed he dared not do himself,—Aeg. contemptuously says the working out of the fraud was the proper province of a woman, especially as he was a known foe.—The Chorus threaten vengeance and suggest the name ORESTES as avenger: At this Clytaemnestra starts, Aegisthus enraged gives the signal at which {1626}

Bodyguard of Aegisthus pour in through both the Inferior doors on either side of the Central door of the Palace, and fill the stage [thus producing one of the Scenic Tableaux of which Aeschylus was fond]. The Chorus, though of course outnumbered, are nothing daunted, as representing the legitimate authority of the State now Agamemnon is dead, and therefore sure to be backed by the City; they make as if to ascend the stage.

Contest in blows between Chorus and Bodyguard of Aegisthus appears inevitable, but Clytaemnestra throws herself between them, urges that enough ill has already been done, and after further defiances, forces Aegisthus away and play abruptly terminates: the Chorus returning to the Right into the City, and the Bodyguard into the Palace.

[1] This is a mere guess: we have no information as to how the evolutions of a Proem differed from those of a regular Choral Ode.

[2] The Chorus generally speak of themselves in the Singular.

[3] This is simply an English pun substituted for a Greek one: the name Helen resembles a Greek root which signifies captivity.





The Permanent Scene, as before, represents the Palace of Agamemnon at Argos. The only difference is that the place of the Thymele in the centre of the Orchestra is taken up by Agamemnon's Sepulchre. Enter by the Left Side-door (signifying distance) Orestes and Pylades, and descending the Orchestra-staircase advance to the Sepulchre.

Orestes, invoking the Conductor of the Dead, lays locks of hair and fragments of garments as offerings on his Father's tomb, cut off as he had been by exile from being present at the actual Funeral-rites:

He is interrupted by the opening of one of the Inferior Doors of the Palace, out of which comes Electra, and a train of Trojan Captive-maidens bearing urns of libations, all with dishevelled hair and the well-known gestures proper to Sepulchral rites. They descend (with the exception of Electra) the Orchestra-staircase, and perform a Choral Ode with funeral rhythm and gestures. Orestes and Pylades, recognizing them, stand aside. {19}


in three Strophes, Antistrophes, and an Epode,

describes in words the tearings of cheeks, rending of garments, and groans, which are actually the gestures of their dance, and are proper to a Sepulchral rite such as they have been sent to perform by their Queen, terrified as she has been by a dream the night before, a dream signifying how the Dead were wroth with those that slew them. But the Chorus like not this graceless deed of grace: what ransom can be found for the overthrow of the lord of a house? with him Awe has been overthrown, and Fear takes its place, or yet more Success is God. {53}

Yet stroke of Vengeance swift Smites some in life's clear day; For some who tarry long their sorrows wait In twilight dim, on darkness' borderland; And some an endless night Of nothingness holds fast.

Yes: for blood once spilt, for the marriage tie defiled, there is no remedy—yet the Chorus must, as part of their bitter captive lot, perform the rite they have no heart in. {75}

Through this Ode Electra, who ought to have taken the lead, has stood on the stage irresolute: she now addresses the Chorus, who at her word fall into their Episode positions.


Electra puts to the Chorus the same difficulty they have been feeling:

What shall I say as these funereal gifts I pour? How shall I speak acceptably? How to my father pray? What? shall I say "I bring from loving wife to husband loved Gifts"—from my mother? No, I am not bold Enough for that, nor know I what to speak, Pouring this chrism on my father's tomb: Or shall I say this prayer, as men are wont, "Good recompense make thou to those who bring These garlands," yea, a gift full well deserved By deeds of ill? Or, dumb with ignominy Like that with which he perished, shall I pour Libations on the earth, and like a man That flings away the lustral filth, shall I Throw down the urn and walk with eyes not turned? {97}

The Chorus-Leader breaking ranks to lay her hand on the Sepulchre as sign of fidelity, advises to throw off all disguise and pray boldly for friend and against foe. Electra in this sense offers the Prayer: setting forth the wrongs of the house and praying for Orestes and Vengeance: then calling on the Chorus for a Sepulchral Song she descends to the tomb. {144}

Sepulchral Paean of short Strophe and Antistrophe: for these libations' sake may the curse be averted—yet who strong enough to come as Averter: while Electra is pouring the libations on the tomb. {157}

Electra returns to Stage, her whole manner changed: as if the prayer had already begun to be fulfilled, she has found the mysterious locks which, she bit by bit lets out, must be those of Orestes—the Chorus, like sailors in a storm, can only invoke the gods: if the day has come, from a small seed a mighty trunk may grow—Electra then discovers foot-prints [as if leading from the Side Stage-door to the Orchestra-staircase] of two travellers; one foot-print agrees with her brother's: {203}

Orestes and Pylades come forward: recognition and joy, Electra hardly believing. She addresses him by four-fold name: as father dear,

The love I owe my mother turns to thee, My sister's too that ruthlessly was slain, And thou wast ever faithful brother found.

Orestes compares his family to an eagle's brood orphaned by the spoiler. Electra catching at the omen of eagle, dear bird of Zeus who will avenge his own—Chorus are afraid that their noisy joy may be overheard and ruin all—Orestes has no fear of ruin after the strong oracles of Apollo that bade him come under terrible penalties if he disobeyed: {261}

Leprous sores that creep All o'er the flesh, and as with cruel jaws Eat out its ancient nature, and white hairs On that foul ill to supervene: and still He spake of other onsets of the Erinnyes, As brought to issue from a father's blood; For the dark weapon of the Gods below Winged by our kindred that lie low in death, And beg for vengeance, yea, and madness too, And vague, dim fears at night disturb and haunt me, Seeing full clearly, though I move my brow In the thick darkness . . . . and that then my frame Thus tortured should be driven from the city With brass-knobbed scourge: and that for such as I It was not given to share the wine-cup's taste, Nor votive stream in pure libation poured; And that my father's wrath invisible Would drive me from all altars, and that none Should take me in or lodge with me: at last, That loathed of all and friendless I should die, A wretched mummy, all my strength consumed. Must I not trust such oracles as these? {297}

The Chorus, breaking into lyrics, feel that Justice has at last taken their side: then follows an elaborate


by Orestes, Electra and Chorus, in highly intricate and interwoven Strophes and Antistrophes, with funereal gesture. The jaws of flame do not reduce the corpse to senselessness; they can hear below this our Rite and will send answer—what a fate was Agamemnon's, not that of the warrior who dies leaving high fame at home and laying strong and sure his children's paths in life, but to be struck down by his own kin! But there is a sense of Vengeance being at hand, Erinnys and the Curses of the slain; they make the heart quiver: the Dirge crescendoes till it breaks into the 'Arian rhythm,' a foreign funeral rhythm with violent gestures (proper to the Chorus as Asiatics); and so as a climax breaks up into two semi-choruses: one sings of woe, the other of vengeance, and then the formal Dirge terminates and the Blank Verse recommences. {469}

In a composed frame (and in Blank Verse) Orestes and Electra repeat the distinct prayer for Vengeance and the death of Aegisthus and then address themselves to the means. Orestes enquires as to the meaning of the Sepulchral rites, and the dream is narrated, which he interprets as good omen.

Orest. And have ye learnt the dream, to tell it right? {517} Chor. As she doth say, she thought she bare a snake. Orest. How ends the tale, and what its outcome then? Chor. She nursed it, like a child, in swaddling clothes. Orest. What food did the young monster crave for then? Chor. She in her dream her bosom gave to it. Orest. How 'scaped her breast by that dread beast unhurt? Chor. Nay, with the milk it sucked out clots of blood. Orest. Ah, not in vain comes this dream from her lord. Chor. She, roused from sleep, cries out all terrified, And many torches that were quenched in gloom Blazed for our Mistress' sake within the house. Then these libations for the dead she sends, Hoping they'll prove good medicine of ills. Orest. Now to earth here, and my sire's tomb I pray, They leave not this strange vision unfulfilled. So I expound it that it all coheres; For if, the self-same spot that I left leaving, The snake was then wrapt in my swaddling clothes, And sucked the very breast that nourished me, And mixed the sweet milk with a clot of blood, And she in terror wailed the strange event, So must she, as that monster dread she nourished, Die cruel death: and I, thus serpentised, Am here to slay her, as this dream portends; I take thee as my dream-interpreter.

They rapidly arrange their plan to appear as foreigners, and get admission to the Palace, or, if Aegisthus come out, strike him down at once—with a prayer to Apollo exeunt Electra, Orestes, and Pylades by the Distance Sidedoor. {575}


in four Strophes and Antistrophes.

Monsters and woes are many, but most terrible of all is a passion-driven woman: Thestias, who burnt out the mystic brand that measured her son's life; Scylla, who robbed her father of his life-charm; another—but the woman who slew her warrior-chief it is meet for me to pass over in silence. Then there is the great Lemnian Crime, foremost of all crimes; yet this might well be compared to it; and as that race perished, so is judgment at hand here; the anvil-block of Vengeance firm is set, and Fate is swordsmith hammering; in due time the debt of guilt is paid. {639}


Enter by the Distance Side-door Orestes, Pylades, and attendants, and advance to the Central Door.

Orestes calls loudly for admission, telling the slave who opens that he is a traveller, and must do his message to those within ere night falls; to a lady if a lady rules, though a lord is seemlier. Enter Clytaemnestra, who gives a formal offer of hospitality (having noticed his irreverent tone), and to whom he bluffly gives a message from a fellow traveller, who learning he was bound for Argos, begged him to seek out Orestes' kinsmen and give the news of his death. Clytaemnestra affects a burst of grief; the curse has taken another victim as he was disentangling himself from the net. Orestes regrets he cannot hope for the welcome of those who bear good news. Clytaemnestra (with a dim feeling of suspicion) assures him he shall want for nothing 'that is fitting', orders Orestes to be led one way, and the rest another, and goes to call Aegisthus 'and friends.' Exeunt Clytaemnestra by Left Inferior Door to the Women's Quarters, Orestes and Porter through Central and Pylades, etc., through Right Inferior Door. Chorus, in marching rhythm, catch the touch of suspense, and invoke Hermes and the Spirit of Persuasion for Orestes. {720}

Enter from Women's Quarters, Cilissa, Orestes' Nurse, bidden to seek Aegisthus, as the stranger looks like one meaning to cook some ill. She is in tears at the death of her boy, and details all the petty cares she had over his helpless infancy, and how they are now all profitless.

Chor. And how equipped then doth she bid him come? {753} Nurse How? Speak again that I may better learn. Chor. By spearmen followed, or himself alone? Nurse She bids him bring his guards with lances armed. Chor. Nay, say not that to him thy lord doth hate, But bid him 'come alone,' (that so he hear Without alarm), 'full speed, with joyous mind,' Since 'secret speech with messenger goes best.' Nurse And art thou of good cheer at this my tale? Chor. But what if Zeus will turn the tide of ill? Nurse How so? Orestes, our One hope is gone. Chor. Not yet; a sorry seer might know thus much. Nurse What say'st thou? Know'st thou aught besides my tale? Chor. Go tell thy message; do thine errand well: The Gods for what they care for, care enough. Nurse I then will go, complying with thy words: May all, by God's gift, end most happily! {769}

Exit Nurse by Right Side-Door, signifying neighborhood.


in four interwoven Strophes and Antistrophes, with Mesode,

invokes the Gods the house had worshipped. Zeus, father of the Gods, the twin-brothers, Apollo in his glorious shrine at Delphi, Hermes who is the conductor of enterprises: the dear son of the house is harnessed to the car of calamity, moderate its pace—and may Murder cease to breed new Murder. But the Avenger, like Perseus, must not look on the deed as he does it; as she calls the name Mother let him hurl back the cry of Father. {820}


Aegisthus entering from the Right Side-Door (of Neighborhood) speaks of this summons; it may after all be women's fears 'that leap up high and die away to nought.' The Chorus say there is nothing like asking. Aeg. will do so: they cannot cheat a man with his eyes open. Exit through Central Door. {839}

Chorus, in short lyric burst, mark critical moment that decides success or failure. {853}

Then cries from within, and Porter rushes from Central Door to Door of Women's Quarters (Left Inferior), loudly summoning Clytaemnestra, and when she appears informs her 'the dead are slaying the living.' She sees in a moment the truth, and is looking hurriedly for aid, when enter, from Central Door, Orestes, joined at once by Pylades and Attendants, from Right Inferior.

Orest. 'Tis thee I seek: he there has had enough. {878} Clytaem. Ah me! my loved Aegisthus! Art thou dead? Orest. Lov'st the man? Then in the self-same tomb Shalt thou now lie, nor in his death desert him. Clytaem. [baring her bosom] Hold, boy! Respect this breast of mine, my son, Whence thou full oft, asleep, with toothless gums, Hast sucked the milk that sweetly fed thy life. Orest. What shall I do, my Pylades? Shall I Through this respect forbear to slay my mother? Pyl. Where, then, are Loxias' other oracles, The Pythian counsels, and the fast-sworn vows? Have all men hostile rather than the gods. Orest. My judgment goes with thine; thou speakest well. [To Clytaemnestra.] Follow: I mean to slay thee where he lies, For while he lived thou held'st him far above My father. Sleep thou with him in thy death, Since thou lov'st him, and whom thou should'st love hatest. Clytaem. I reared thee, and would fain grow old with thee. Orest. What! Thou live with me, who did'st slay my father? Clytaem. Fate, O my son, must share the blame of that. Orest. This fatal doom, then, it is Fate that sends. Clytaem. Dost thou not fear a parent's curse, my son? Orest. Thou, though my mother, did'st to ill chance cast me. Clytaem. No outcast thou so sent to house allied. Orest. I was sold doubly, though of free sire born. Clytaem. Where is the price, then, that I got for thee? Orest. I shrink for shame from pressing that charge home. Clytaem. Nay, tell thy father's wantonness as well. Orest. Blame not the man that toils when thou'rt at ease. Clytaem. 'Tis hard, my son, for wives to miss their husband. Orest. The husband's toil keeps her that sits at home. Clytaem. Thou seem'st, my son, about to slay thy mother. Orest. It is not I that slay thee, but thyself. Clytaem. Take heed, beware a mother's vengeful hounds. Orest. How, slighting this, shall I escape my father's? Clytaem. I seem in life to wail as to a tomb. Orest. My father's fate ordains this doom for thee. Clytaem. Ah me! The snake is here I bare and nursed. Orest. An o'er-true prophet was that dread dream-born. Thou slewest one thou never should'st have slain, Now suffer fate should never have been thine. {916}

Exeunt Orestes and Pylades, forcing Clytaemnestra through the Central Door, their attendants remaining to guard the door. Chorus, after a word of pity for even this 'twain mischance,' break into


in three interwoven Strophes and Antistrophes.

Late came vengeance on Troy, late now has it blest this heaven-sent exile, and our Master's house is freed. On a lover of the war of guile has Revenge come subtle-souled, Vengeance who

Is guileful without guile, Halting of foot and tarrying over-long; The will of Gods is strangely over-ruled, It may not help the vile.

At last we see the light. All-working Time with cleansing rites will purify the house; Fortune's throws shall fall with gladsome cast: at last we see the light. {959}


Enter from Main Door Orestes and Pylades, their Attendants bearing the Corpses, and the net in which Agamemnon had been murdered.

Orestes solemnly declares that they have perished as murderers; they swore to live and die together and they have kept the oath. He bids the Attendants stretch out in full light of the Sun, the great Purifier, the fatal net, as pledge that he did his dread deed only as deed of necessary vengeance—he dwells on the cruel device—but Chorus seeing side by side the net and the slaughter by which it has been avenged, can think of nothing but the woe which its avenger by his deed of vengeance must bring on himself. Orestes reiterates the crime of which this deed is the reminder. The Chorus cannot help repeating the unhappy omen. {1009}

At this very moment Orestes changes and begins to feel the oncoming madness—while reason yet stays with him he repeats his innocence and puts on the suppliant's fillet, with which he will go to Delphi, and challenge the God who sent him on the errand to free him from its dire consequences. Madness increases, and he can see the Furies in bodily shape dark-robed, and all their long tresses entwined with serpents. In rapid dialogue the Chorus bid him cling to the idea of Apollo, and he bursts away through Distance-Door on Left to commence his long career of wanderings. The Chorus conclude:

Here, then, upon this palace of our kings A third storm blows again; The blast that haunts the race has run its course. First came the wretched meal of children's flesh; Next what befel our king: Slain in the bath was he who ruled our host, Of all the Achaeans lord; And now a third has come, we know not whence, To save . . . or shall I say, To work a doom of death? Where will it end? Where will it cease at last, The mighty Ate dread, Lulled into slumber deep?




The Scene represents the Oracle of Delphi: the Central Doors being the Gate of the 'Adytum,' or Innermost shrine. From the left Inferior Door enter the Priestess of the Oracle, who stands in front of the Central Gate, to offer the Morning Prayer.


The Priestess's Prayer enumerates the Deities who have connection with the Ancient Oracle, how Apollo is its main guardian, after it has passed through many hands; other Deities have a share in it, even Zeus the Supreme Accomplisher. Praying that her divinations that day may excel even her past, she calls on the Pilgrims to come as the lot permits. {28}

Exit through the Main Gate into the Inner Shrine. In a moment she returns, pale and disordered, flinging open the Central Gates, through which can dimly be discerned dreadful forms in the Inner Shrine.

She can hardly stand for the terror of the sight she has seen; the sacred shrine polluted by the presence of a man in suppliant garb, bunch of olives and tufts of wool, his sword yet reeking with a recent murder; and sitting round about him yet more dreaded beings.

A troop {46} Of women strange to look at sleepeth there Before this wanderer, seated on their stools; Not women they, but Gorgons I must call them; Nor yet can I to Gorgon forms compare them; I have seen painted shapes that bear away The feast of Phineus. Wingless, though, are these, And swarth, and every way abominable. They snort with breath that none may dare approach, And from their eyes a loathsome humour pours, And such their garb as neither to the shrine Of Gods is meet to bring, nor mortal roof. Ne'er have I seen a race that owns this tribe, Nor is there land can boast it rears such brood, Unhurt and free from sorrow for its pains. Henceforth, be it the lot of Loxias, Our mighty lord, himself to deal with them: True prophet-healer he, and portent-seer, And for all others cleanser of their homes. {63}

At her word, in the entrance of the Inner Shrine appears Apollo with Hermes, and they lead Orestes out.

Apollo will never fail his suppliant; it is he who has sent sleep on these loathly Beings, born out of evils, with whom neither Gods nor men hold intercourse. They will still pursue, but he must fly to the ancient City of Pallas and clasp her statue; there 'judges of these things' and 'a means' will be found to rid him of his evils. Orestes expresses confidence in Apollo's justice, who reiterates his pledge in the name of Zeus and commits the wanderer to the charge of his own brother Hermes, the Escort-God, to take him safe to Athens. {93}

Apollo disappears into his shrine, and Hermes and Orestes leave by the Left side or Distance-door. The stage being thus left vacant, the machinery of the roller-stage brings the interior of the cave to the front, showing the sleeping Furies scattered over the floor. The Ghost of Clytaemnestra rises in front of the entrance to the Inner Shrine.

Clytaem. What ho! Sleep on! What need of sleepers now? And I am put by you to foul disgrace Among the other dead, nor fails reproach Among the shades that I a murderess am; And so in shame I wander, and I tell you That at their hands I bear worst forms of blame. And much as I have borne from nearest kin, {100} Yet not one god is stirred to wrath for me, Though done to death by matricidal hands. See ye these heart-wounds, whence and how they came? Yea, when it sleeps, the mind is bright with eyes; But in the day it is man's lot to lack All true discernment. Many a gift of mine Have ye lapped up, libations pure from wine, And soothing rites that shut out drunken mirth; And I dread banquets of the night would offer On altar-hearth, at hour no god might share. And lo! all this is trampled under foot. He is escaped, and flees, like fawn, away, And even from the midst of all your toils Has nimbly slipped, and draws wide mouth at you. Hear ye; for I have spoken for my life; Give heed, ye dark, earth-dwelling goddesses, I, Clytaemnestra's phantom, call on you. [The Erinnyes moan in their sleep.] Moan on, the man is gone, and flees far off; My kindred find protectors; I find none. [Moan as before.] Too sleep-oppressed art thou, nor pitiest me: Orestes, murderer of his mother, 'scapes. [Noises repeated.] Dost snort? Dost drowse? Wilt thou not rise and speed? What have ye ever done but work out ill? [Noises as before.] Yea, sleep and toil, supreme conspirators, Have withered up the dreaded dragon's strength.

Chorus of Furies, starting up suddenly with a yell.

Seize him, {125} Seize, seize, yea, seize: look well to it. Clytaem. Thou, phantom-like, dost hunt thy prey and criest, Like hound that never rests from care of toil. What dost thou? (To one Erinnys.) Rise and let not toil o'ercome thee, Nor, lulled to sleep, lose all thy sense of loss. Let thy soul (to another) feel the pain of just reproach: The wise of heart find that their goad and spur. And thou (to a third) breathe on him with thy blood-flecked breath, And with thy vapour, thy maw's fire, consume him; Chase him, and wither with a fresh pursuit.

Leader of the Chor. Wake, wake, I say; wake her, as I wake thee. Dost slumber? Rise, I say, and shake off sleep. Let's see if this our prelude be in vain. {134}

The Furies start up and (still on the roller-stage) perform a Fury Dance for Prelude in three short Strophes and Antistrophes.

Our prey is gone! Apollo, ever known as a robber-god, has now delivered a matricide from his due doom. Even in my dreams a feeling of reproach stung me as a whip. Such are the doings of these 'younger gods.' See Earth's Central Shrine is stained with blood, and Apollo has taken sides with a mortal against a god; but though the god may vex them, the culprit shall not escape. {169}

Apollo, re-appearing from the Inner Shrine, threatens the Furies with his bow. He bids them leave his sacred precincts and seek scenes more fitted to them.

There where heads upon the scaffold lie, And eyes are gouged and throats of men are cut, Where men are maimed and stoned to death, and groan With bitter wailing 'neath the spine impaled.

A stichomuthic contest ensues; the Furies reproach Apollo with taking the part of a matricide. He urges she had first slain her husband—they retort that husband is not kin, to which Apollo pleads the sanctity of the marriage tie; this authorized by the great example of Zeus and Hera, with its special patroness Cypris, this "assigned by Fate and guided by the Right is more than any oath." Neither party will give way; Apollo appeals to Pallas as Umpire, the Furies declare they will never desist from the pursuit. {225}


By the turning of the periacti and other mechanical changes the scene is shifted to the familiar Acropolis of Athens itself, the open Central Doors being arranged to represent the Porch of the Temple of 'Athene, Guardian of the City.' Enter by Distance side-door Orestes, who advances to the Centre and clasps the Statue of Pallas. {226}

Orestes has come as suppliant, but no longer with the stain of blood on his hands; that during his long wanderings has been by due rites washed away.

Suddenly by the same door the Furies enter upon the Stage, their faces to the ground and tracking Orestes' steps. {235}

Chorus of Furies: they have been long off the track, at last the 'dumb informer' is clear again, already they catch the loved scent of blood.—There he is clasping in confidence the statue of the Goddess, but watch, he escapes not: no trial, as he hopes, for the matricide; his own blood they must suck from his living members, and when they have had their fill of this drink undrinkable they will drag him down alive to bear the fate of a matricide. Orestes not yet perceiving them continues his prayer: long experience has taught him the various cleansing rites, and they have all been paid; he has dwelt amongst men and no impurity has been brought on them; this and all-cleansing Time show that the stain of matricide is removed, and with pure hands he can clasp Athene, queen of this land, and pledge the Argive alliance for her City [one of the political hits of the piece] if she will befriend him. The Furies suddenly spring up: Not Apollo nor Athene can save thee from thy doom! Orestes clings convulsively to the Statue. Thou resistest? then feel our spell! {296}

Chanting in marching rhythm they rapidly descend the Orchestra staircase, form about the Altar and then proceed to


in four Strophes and Antistrophes.

Strophe I

O Mother who didst bear me, mother Night, A terror of the living and the dead, Hear me, oh hear! The son of Leto puts me to disgrace And robs me of my spoil, This crouching victim for a Mother's blood: And over him as slain, We raise this chant of madness, frenzy-working, The hymn the Erinnyes love, A spell upon the soul, a lyreless strain That withers up men's strength.

Antistrophe I

This lot the all-pervading destiny Hath spun to hold its ground for evermore, That we should still attend On him on whom there rests the guilt of blood Of kin, shed causelessly, Till earth lie o'er him; nor shall death set free. And over him as slain, We raise this chant of madness, frenzy-working, The hymn the Erinnyes love, A spell upon the soul, a lyreless strain, That withers up men's strength. {328}

Strophe II

Such lot was then assigned us at our birth: From us the Undying Ones must hold aloof: Nor is there one who shares The banquet-meal with us; In garments white I have nor part nor lot; My choice was made for overthrow of homes, Where home-bred slaughter works a loved one's death: Ha! hunting after him, Strong though he be, 'tis ours To wear the newness of his young blood down.

Antistrophe II

Since 'tis our work another's task to take, The Gods indeed may bar the force of prayers Men offer unto me, But may not clash in strife; For Zeus doth cast us from his fellowship, "Blood-dropping, worthy of his utmost hate." For leaping down as from the topmost height, I on my victim bring The crushing force of feet, Limbs that o'erthrow e'en those that swiftly run, An Ate hard to bear. {350}

Strophe III

And fame of men, though very lofty now Beneath the clear, bright sky, Below the earth grows dim and fades away Before the attack of us, the black-robed ones, And these our dancings wild, Which all men loathe and hate.

Antistrophe III

Falling in frenzied guilt, he knows it not; So thick the blinding cloud That o'er him floats; and Rumour widely spread With many a sigh reports the dreary doom, A mist that o'er the house In gathering darkness broods. {358}

Strophe IV

Fixed is the law, no lack of means find we; We work out all our will, We, the dread Powers, the registrars of crime, Whom mortals fail to soothe, Fulfilling tasks dishonoured, unrevered, Apart from all the Gods, In foul and sunless gloom, Driving o'er rough steep road both those that see, And those whose eyes are dark.

Antistrophe IV

What mortal man then doth not bow in awe And fear before all this, Hearing from me the destined ordinance Assigned me by the Gods? This task of mine is one of ancient days; Nor meet I here with scorn, Though 'neath the earth I dwell, And live there in the darkness thick and dense, Where never sunbeam falls. {374}


Enter in her Chariot [along the balcony of the permanent scene] Athene.

Athene has heard far off Orestes' cry, and has come in her swift chariot. What is this strange presence in her own city, and who is this suppliant? The Chorus, in parallel dialogue, explain who they are, and seek to enlist Athene against the matricide; but Athene answers she has only heard one side. Chorus rejoin that the adversary dares not rest his case on oath for oath [political allusion to procedure of ordinary Athenian Courts]; Athene thinks that a poor way of getting at truth, and as Chorus express confidence in her judgment she calls on Orestes; he details again all the rites of purification he has gone through, and how Apollo bade him do the deed. Athene pauses: Murder stirred by wrath [i.e., homicide as distinguished from murder, the special province of the Court of Areopagus] is too much for mortal or even herself to decide; but she hereby appoints jurors on oath [the special distinction of the Areopagus] as a perpetual institution for dealing with such cases. Let the parties prepare, she will return soon with the best of her citizens [observe, the Court was an Aristocratic Court] as Jurors. {467}


in four Strophes and Antistrophes.

Unless the right cause gains here there will be an outbreak of new laws, general recklessness, and woes of slain kindred with no Furies to avenge. Awe is good as watchman of the soul, and calm Wisdom gained by sorrow; it is not the lawless life that is to be praised, but from the soul's true health comes the fair fortune, loved of all mankind and aim of many a prayer. He who reveres not the High Altar of Justice, but dareth and transgresseth all, will, perforce, as time wears on, have to take in sail,

When trouble makes him hers, and each yard-arm Is shivered by the blast,

and in vain he struggles mid the whirling waves, ever failing to weather round the perilous promontory till he is wrecked on the reefs of Vengeance. {535}


to Mars' Hill. Enter Athene, followed by Herald and Twelve Citizens.


Athene bids the Herald sound a summons, for the whole city is to learn the laws she makes for all time to come. Apollo enters above. The Chorus challenging his right, Apollo declares himself Witness and Advocate for Orestes. {551}

The Proceedings from this part are exactly modelled on those of the Court of the Areopagus. The Chorus called on to open, cross-examine Orestes in stichomuthic dialogue, who admits the deed, and pleads justification that she slew his father.—Cho. rejoin she has been paid by death, Orestes still lives. Why, then, Orestes enquires, did they not pursue her while alive? Chorus rest on plea that hers was not kindred blood. On this Orestes joins issue and appeals to Apollo. He answers: Though the Jurors are on oath, yet Zeus gave the oracle, and he is mightier than an oath.—Cho. What, Zeus take a matricide's part?—Apollo details the base manner of Agamemnon's murder.—Cho. taunt Apollo that Zeus himself rose by imprisoning his father.—Apollo rejoins that imprisonment is remediable, but blood once spilt can never be brought back.—Cho. appeal to impossibility of restoring such a criminal to the house he has polluted.—Then Apollo puts forth the essence of his case (in a subtle plea which would delight the litigious Athenians): the mother is only the nurse, the father is the true parent; as proof here is Pallas sprung from a Father without any Mother; none can be shown born without Father. {650}

Both parties join issue, and then (amidst intense political excitement) Athene delivers the Inauguration Address of the Court of the Areopagus.

Athene. Hear ye my order, O ye Attic people, In act to judge your first great murder-cause. And henceforth shall the host of Aegeus' race For ever own this council-hall of judges: And for this Ares' hill, the Amazons' seat And camp when they, enraged with Theseus, came In hostile march, and built as counterwork This citadel high-reared, a city new, And sacrificed to Ares, whence 'tis named As Ares' hill and fortress: in this, I say, The reverent awe its citizens shall own, And fear, awe's kindred, shall restrain from wrong By day, nor less by night, so long as they, The burghers, alter not themselves their laws: But if with drain of filth and tainted soil Clear river thou pollute, no drink thou'lt find. I give my counsel to you, citizens, To reverence and guard well that form of State Which is nor lawless, nor tyrannical, And not to cast all fear from out the city; For what man lives devoid of fear and just? But rightly shrinking, owning awe like this, Ye then would have a bulwark of your land, A safeguard for your city, such as none Boast or in Skythia's or in Pelops' clime. This council I establish pure from bribe, Reverend, and keen to act, for those that sleep An ever-watchful sentry of the land. {676}

After a rapid stichomuthic interchange of promises and threats by the two parties the voting is proceeded with, Athene first giving her casting vote, in case of equality, to Orestes, as preferring the male cause. [This was a political allusion to the 'vote of Athene' or custom of the Areopagite Court to give the casting vole to the accused.] The votes are counted, found equal, and Athene declares Orestes acquitted.—Orestes, in a burst of gratitude, declares his Argive people shall always be firm friends with the people of Athens. [Political hit.] {747}

The Chorus breaking into Strophic Lyrics vow vengeance and long train of ills on the city for this, Athene (in Blank Verse) propitiating them, and pleading that the cause has been fairly tried. Moreover they would lose all the good things the city will do for them if friendly, offering them a house in its midst. Gradually the Chorus calm down, and having (in parallel dialogue) gained a repeated promise from Athene they change their tone and (in Strophic Lyrics) promise all good to the land, Athene making acknowledgment on behalf of the city (in marching rhythm as signifying exultation). Finally Athene offers to conduct them at once to their homes, the cave-chapels where the Eumenides were worshipped.

Enter on the stage an array of Matrons and Girls in festal robes, as worn in the rites of the Furies, now called Eumenides or 'Gentle Goddesses' [thus spectacular effect with which Aeschylus loved to conclude]. They, with Athene, chanting the Ritual hymn, file down into the Orchestra, and so lead the Chorus out in the direction of the Shrines of the Eumenides.

[1] Euphemism for the Furies, as the popular name 'Good Neighbours' for Mischievous Fairies.


Scene Mycenae; the Stage and Orchestra arranged to represent the Market Place, Portico of a Temple in the Centre; Inferior door on one side is the gate to Palace of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, that on the other leads to the tomb of Agamemnon; Side-scene on one side gives a view of Argos. Enter from Distance side-door Orestes, Pylades and Attendant.


The aged Attendant points out to Orestes Argos, the Grove of Io, the Temple and other details of the Scene; it was just here he received Orestes as a boy when his father was slain and bore him to a place of safety; now the long wished for day of vengeance is come. Orestes acknowledges his long fidelity; relates how Phoebus has sent him with this oracle:

That I myself unarmed with shield or host {36} Should subtly work the righteous deed of blood,

and details his plan: the Attendant, whose age will save him from recognition, shall announce the death of Orestes, while Orestes and Pylades shall perform the rites enjoined at his father's tomb; then, when the wrong-doers believe themselves secure, the avenger will easily gain admittance. [At this moment a woman's wail is heard within.] Orestes wonders if it may be his own Electra and would stop, the Attendant hurries him away to do the God's behest. {85}

Exeunt Orestes and Pylades on left to Tomb of Agamemnon; Attendant back through the Distance side-door. Enter from Palace Electra moaning and weeping.


Electra in Lyric Monody. The light, the air, the loathed house and bed she sleeps on, all are witnesses of her ceaseless misery and woe, orphaned as she is of a father foully slain. She calls on the Curses, the Furies and other dread Powers who watch over evil slaughter to send Orestes, she can no longer bear up with sorrow's great burden cast into the balance. {120}

Enter by the Orchestral door Chorus of Argive Maidens to condole with Electra.


Cho. Why mourn for ever the guileful slaughter of thy Father, accursed deed?—Electra. I know your kind and tender friendship, yet will never be dissuaded.—Cho. Yet what groans and prayers can raise thy sire from the doomed pool of Hades? you go from woes bearable to woes beyond bearing.—Elec. It is weak to forget parents so lost; rather for me the nightingale that ever wails 'Itys,' or Niobe weeping in stone.—Cho. Thou art not the only one who feels sorrow: there are thy sisters, and another now mourning in a youth obscure, but who will one day return to save.—Elec. Ah! him I yearn for, but he mocks my messages, and promises yet never comes.—Cho. Take heart: Time is a calm and patient deity; trusting in Zeus you will find neither Orestes nor the God of Acheron forgetful.—Elec. Yet meanwhile the larger portion of my life is gone; orphaned, un-wed, an alien stranger I serve in the house where I was wont to reign.—Cho. Ah! that sad day! Guile devised the blow and lust struck it!—Elec. Oh, most horrible day, most horrible night! the foul banquet! the dread forms of death he met with at their accursed hands, he who was my life!—Cho. But take care: excess of grief makes you utter what may bring you into trouble.—Elec. I know, but will never cease from uttering woe on woe: leave me, I am beyond soothing, and will never pause to count my tears.—Cho. It is with pure good will, as if a mother, I beg you not to heap ills on ills.—Elec. Is misery limited? is it noble to neglect the dead? if they escape without penalty fear of the Gods will be swept from the earth. {250}


Chorus now changing to Blank Verse. We meant well, but do as you will, we will follow you.—Elec. I am indeed ashamed; but remember the trouble I am in: to be hated by my mother, house-mate with my father's murderers; with Aegisthus sitting on my father's throne by day and pouring libations on the hearth he violated; my mother not living in fear of the Erinnys, but making a red-letter day of the day my father died: I, alas! keep his birth day in solitary feast. I am bitterly chidden when caught weeping, and threatened when news comes of Orestes: all hope is far.—Aegisthus is from home, or she dared not have indulged her grief even thus far. {327}

Enter her sister, Chrysothemis, bearing funeral offerings. She remonstrates with Electra for uselessly wailing, instead of adapting herself to her fate.—Elec. retorts that she has learned her lesson by rote. She advises to hate when there is strength to back hatred, yet she will not join in working revenge.—Electra covets not her choice of ease and wealth, and to be called her mother's child, while it is open to her to be her father's!—Cho. moderates: each may learn something from the other.—Chrysoth. is accustomed to Electra's want of charity and would not now have accosted her except to warn her of new evils: they mean to get her out of the country and shut up in a dungeon where she shall never see the light of day.—A rapid stichomuthic dialogue follows as to temporizing and resisting, and then Chrys. is going to do her errand.—Elec. enquires what this is, and learns that Clytaemnestra, disturbed by a dream, is sending propitiatory libations.

A rumor ran {417} That she had seen our father's presence come (Yes, thine and mine) a second time to light, And then that he upon the hearth stood up, And took the sceptre which he bore of old, Which now Aegisthus bears, and fixed it there, And from it sprang a sucker fresh and strong, And all Mycenae rested in its shade. This tale I heard from some one who was near When she declared her vision to the Sun; But more than this I heard not, save that she Now sends me hither through that fright of hers.

Electra catching a gleam of hope, adjures her to disobey, and in place of Clytaemnestra's offerings to put on the tomb their own: Electra's own withered lock and untrimmed girdle; and instead of propitiatory prayer pray to send Orestes.—Cho. approves and Chrysothemis catches the spirit and exit. {471}


in Strophe, Antistrophe and Epode.

If my mind misleads me not, Vengeance is coming with hands that bear the might of Righteousness; a new courage springs through my veins at these propitious dreams, that Agamemnon will not forget for aye, nor the axe that slew him. She too is coming, Erinnys shod with brass, dread form with many a foot and many a hand: never will the boding sign come falsely to those who did the deed, or men will find no prophecies in dreams.—Ah dreadful chariot race of Pelops, foundation of all the ills which have never since left the house. {315}


Enter from Palace Clytaemnestra and Attendant.—Clyt. It is Aegisthus' absence that makes you bold enough to appear outside the Palace and disgrace us. I know your reproaches: but it was Justice, not I, that slew your father; what right had he to slay my child, born of my travails, and not some other Argive children, Menelaus's for example, whose the quarrel was? Had Hades a special lust to feed on my children?—Elec. This time at least it is not I who begin. I could reply if permitted.—Clyt. permits.—Elec. You admit the monstrous admission, that you slew your husband—for justice sake? or for the 'coward base' who is your paramour? You well know that the offence for which Artemis demanded the sacrifice was Agamemnon's slaughter of the Sacred Stag, and from his seed therefore the atonement must come which so unwillingly he made. And if not, is your plea blood for blood? then you will be the first to suffer. How can you plead thus while living in open guilt with him who slew your husband? It is a cruel mistress, not a mother, I revile: you charge me with rearing Orestes as minister of vengeance, I would indeed if I had strength! So proclaim me a monster, that will make me a fitting daughter of my mother.—Cho. Here is passion rather than care to speak right.—Clyt. Thus to show scorn for her mother! she will go all lengths and feel no shame.—Elec. Shame I do feel, but the deeds which beget the shame are yours.—Clyt. By Artemis, you shall pay for this when Aegisthus comes!—Elec. I thought I had leave to speak.—Clyt. Will you not be silent and let me perform my rites without disorder?—Elec. Now I am silent (Retires).—Clyt. then proceeds to offer her gifts to Phoebus, with prayer to avert the ill omen of the past night: as her prayer "is not amongst friends," she can allude but darkly to all she means, but He is a God and will understand all she leaves unsaid. {659}

Enter by the Distance-door Attendant of Orestes.

Enquiring of Chorus he finds he is arrived before the people he is seeking, and announces to Clytaemnestra that Orestes is dead. Electra utters a wail of agony, while Clyt. asks for particulars. Then follows the regular 'Messenger's Speech,' a detailed and graphic account of a chariot race, in which he was thrown and killed.—Clyt. trembles between joy at deliverance from her suspense, and a touch of motherly feeling; still she triumphs over the now hopeless Electra: for him, what is is well.

Elec. Hear this, thou Power avenging him who died! Clyt. Right well she heard, and what she heard hath wrought.

The Messenger is taken into the Palace, Electra left to wail without, with attempt of Chorus to condole (lyric concerto). {870}

Enter from Tomb of Agamemnon Chrysothemis jubilant and bearing a lock of hair of Orestes.

She eagerly insists that Orestes is come; shows the lock and describes the libations that no other would pour on that tomb. Bit by bit Electra checks her joy, and informs her of the news. They mourn together, till Electra breaks out with proposal, that since their friends are snatched from them, and they two are left alone, they shall themselves work their revenge; that will be the safest and will bring glory: 'the sisters twain who saved their father's house.'—Chor. This requires consideration.—Chry. Will you never learn that you are a woman and not a man? Elec. then declares she will do it herself, and after a stichomuthic contest exit Chrysothemis. {1057}


In two Strophes and Antistrophes.

The storks show a pattern of filial piety: why do not men follow it? By Zeus and Themis there is a punishment for the unfilial; may the voice crying for vengeance reach the sons of Atreus below! Their house is full of woe; Electra, alone faithful, is ready to face death if only she may destroy the twin furies. The great and good will purchase glory with life; so may'st thou prevail and gain the name of the best of daughters. {1096}


Enter from Distance-door Orestes, Pylades and Attendants.

Orestes informs the Chorus, and Electra as one of the household, that they bear the urn containing the ashes of Orestes, whose death they had sent forward a messenger to announce. Electra begs to clasp the urn and pours over it a flood of grief; here is nothingness to represent the dear boy she sent out in bloom of youth; and all her forethought has perished! And he died amid strangers without her to take part in the funeral rites! All her sweet toil in nursing him with more than mother's love is gone! All is gone—father, mother, brother! She would go too; they ever shared an equal lot; now let her go to him, ashes to ashes! {1170}

Chor. Thou, O Electra, take good heed, wast born Of mortal father; mortal, too, Orestes, Yield not too much to sorrow. Ores. [Trembling.] Woe is me. What shall I say? Ah, whither find my way, In words that have no issue? for I fail In strength to curb my speech. Elec. What sorrow now Disturbs thee? Wherefore art thou speaking thus? Ores. Is this Electra's noble form I see? Elec. That self-same form indeed, in piteous case. Ores. Alas, alas, for this sad lot of thine. Elec. Surely thou dost not wail, O friend, for me! Ores. O form most basely, godlessly misused. Elec. Thy words, ill-omened, fall, O friend, on none But me alone. Ores. Alas, for this thy state, Unwedded, hopeless. Elec. Why, O friend, on me With such fixed glance still gazing dost thou groan? 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 thus, with many woes Clothed as a garment. Elec. Yet thou dost but see A few of all my evils. Ores. What could be More sad than these to look on? Elec. This, to live And sit at meat with murderers. Ores. With whose? What evil dost thou indicate by this? Elec. My father's; 'tis to them, against my will I live in bondage. Ores. Who constrains thee, then? Elec. My mother she is called; and yet in nought Is she what mother should be. Ores. In what acts? By blows and stripes, or this unseemly life? Elec. Both blows, unseemly life, and all vile deeds. Ores. And is there none to help? Not one to check? Elec. No, none. Who was . . . thou buryest him as dust. Ores. O sad one! How I pitied thee long since. Elec. Know, then, thou art the only pitying one. {1200} Ores. For I alone am hurt by these thy woes. Elec. Surely thou dost not come by line of blood Connected with us. Ores. I could tell thee all, Were these thy friends. Elec. Most friendly are they; speak As unto faithful hearers. Ores. Put away That urn awhile that thou may'st hear the whole. Elec. Ah! By the Gods, O stranger, ask not that. Ores. Do what I bid thee, and thou shalt not err. Elec. Now, by thy beard, deprive me not of that I hold most dear. Ores. I say it cannot be. Elec. Ah me, Orestes, wretched shall I be, Bereaved of this thy tomb. Ores. Hush, hush such words; Thou has no cause for wailing. Elec. Have no cause! Do I not wail my brother, who is dead? Ores. Thou hast no call to utter speech like this. Elec. And am I so dishonoured by the dead? Ores. By none art thou dishonoured. But this thing Is nought to thee. Elec. And yet it needs must be, If 'tis Orestes' body that I bear. Ores. Except in show of speech it is not his. Elec. Where, then, is that poor exile's sepulchre? Ores. Of those that live there is no sepulchre. {1219} Elec. What say'st thou, boy? 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. O blessed day! Ores. Most blessed, I too own. Elec. O voice! And art thou come? Ores. No longer learn That news from others. Elec. And I have thee here, Here in my grasp! Ores. So may'st thou always have me. Elec. O dearest friends, my fellow-citizens, Look here on this Orestes, dead indeed In feigned craft, and by that feigning saved. Chor. We see it, daughter; and at what has chanced A tear of gladness trickles from our eyes. {1231}

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