Electra

by

Sophocles

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Aegisthus Character Analysis

Aegisthus is Clytemnestra’s second husband and the king of Mycenae in Electra. After Agamemnon sacrificed his and Clytemnestra’s daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis, Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon as revenge on Clytemnestra’s behalf. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus were already having an affair while Agamemnon was away fighting the Trojan War, and Electra implies that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus killed Agamemnon not to avenge Iphigenia but rather so they could continue their affair and rule Mycenae. Aegisthus only appears during the closing scene of Electra, but his antagonistic presence is felt throughout much of the play. Not only is Aegisthus responsible for Agamemnon’s death, but according to Greek myth, he also killed Atreus, Agamemnon’s father, to secure the kingdom of Mycenae for his own father, who was also Atreus’s twin brother. In this way, Aegisthus is deeply connected to the curse of Pelops, which is referenced several times throughout the play and extends down to Pelops’s descendants, including his sons Atreus and Thyestes, Aegisthus’s father. Aegisthus’s presence is also felt through his control of Electra and her sister Chyrysothemis. Aegisthus fears revenge for the murder of Agamemnon, and because of this, he forbids Electra and Chyrsothemis to marry and have children, as they might one day give birth to sons who may grow up to avenge Agamemnon’s murder. The character of Aegisthus underscores the senseless and cyclical nature of the “blood for blood” system of justice within Greek culture, as well as the oppression of women within ancient Greek society. As a man, Aegisthus presumes to control the women around him, and all but Electra accept this oppression. Like Clytemnestra, Aegisthus is presumably killed by Orestes at the close of the play, as Orestes leads him to the exact spot in which Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon years before. Aegisthus’s murder emphasizes the never-ending nature of “blood for blood” justice, as there will always be someone to kill.

Aegisthus Quotes in Electra

The Electra quotes below are all either spoken by Aegisthus or refer to Aegisthus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Electra published in 2008.
Lines 1-85 Quotes

To the left the famous temple of Hera. The place
We have reached you may call Mycenae, rich in gold,
And here the palace of Atreus, rich in blood.
From here, some years ago, when your father was murdered,
Your sister Electra handed you into my care.
I carried you off, I saved your life, and then
I brought you up as my own, until you reached
Your prime of manhood, to avenge your father’s murder.

Related Characters: Old Slave (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Atreus, Pelops, Zeus
Page Number: 7-14
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 121-250 Quotes

The shame of your present wretched state,
Is all of your own making.
Your trials are worse than they need to be.
Your sullen soul keeps breeding wars
Which cannot be won. Don’t fight with the strong.
How can you come near them?

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 215-220
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 251-470 Quotes

Women, all these laments of mine must make
Me seem so very embittered. I feel ashamed.
I’m forced to do it, though. You must forgive me.
A woman of noble birth could not act otherwise.
When she sees the troubles that haunt her father’s house
Not fading away but growing day and night.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, The Chorus, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Atreus, Pelops
Page Number: 254-260
Explanation and Analysis:

Here you are again, holding forth
At the palace gateway! Electra, what are you doing?
Haven’t you learned by now? Your anger’s pointless.
Don’t indulge it for nothing. I must admit
This situation distresses me too. If only
I had the strength, I’d show them how I feel.
But things are bad. It’s wiser to trim my sails,
Not pose as a threat without any power to harm.
I wish you’d do the same. I know full well
That right is on your side, but if I want
To be free, our lords and masters must be obeyed.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 328-340
Explanation and Analysis:

Well, I’ll tell you all that I know myself.
Their plan is this: if you won’t stop lamenting,
They’ll send you where you’ll never see the sun,
Buried alive in a cave across the frontier,
To chant your miseries there. You’d better think
About it carefully. Don’t blame me when you suffer
Later on. You need to be sensible now.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus
Page Number: 378-384
Explanation and Analysis:

They say she saw our father beside her again,
Restored to life. He then took hold of the staff
He used to carry and now Aegisthus wields,
And planted it on the hearth. This sprouted up
And grew to a leafy branch which overshadowed
The whole of Mycenae. So much I learned
From someone present when she revealed her dream
To the god of the Sun. That’s all I know, except
That our mother’s frightened enough to send me out.

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Apollo
Page Number: 417-427
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 516-822 Quotes

CHORUS LEADER [to ELECTRA]:
I see she’s fuming with anger. She looks to me
No longer concerned whether she’s in the right.

CLYTEMNESTRA:
Why should I feel any concern for her
When she has hurled these insults against her mother?
She’s old enough to know better. Utterly shameless!
Don’t you believe she’d stoop to anything?

ELECTRA:
Let me assure you, however it looks to you,
I am ashamed of my actions and very aware
Of being untrue to myself. But your hostility
And cruel treatment force this behaviour on me.
Shameful ways are learned by shameful example.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 610-621
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 871-1057 Quotes

So long as I still had word that our brother Orestes
Was alive and well, I went on hoping that he
Would one day come to avenge his father’s murder.
But now that he’s gone for good, I’m looking to you.
You mustn’t flinch. Your sister needs your help
To kill Aegisthus—the man who perpetrated
Our father’s murder. No secrets between us now.
Where will inaction get you? What can you still
Look forward to? Only resentment in being deprived
Of your father’s heritage. Only the pain of growing
Old without the blessings of love or marriage.
Those joys are nothing more than a forlorn hope.
Aegisthus isn’t foolish enough to allow
A son of yours—or a son of mine—to grow
To manhood and so to ensure his own destruction.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, Aegisthus, Chrysothemis, Agamemnon
Page Number: 951-966
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, women, if Electra had any sense at all,
She wouldn’t have thrown all caution to the winds
Before giving tongue. What are you trying to do?
Why are you putting on this audacious front
And calling on me to follow? Don’t you see?
You’re not a man, but a woman. You haven’t the strength
To conquer your foes. Their star is rising daily,
While our fortunes are ebbing away to nothing.
Who could plot to murder a man as strong
As Aegisthus and then emerge from the fray unscathed?

Related Characters: Chrysothemis (speaker), Electra, Aegisthus, The Chorus
Page Number: 993-1002
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 1398-1510 Quotes

No, Orestes, for god’s sake,
Don’t give him the chance to argue with you.
When a man’s been caught and is doomed to die,
What can he gain by a moment’s delay?
Kill him at once; kill him, and then
Throw out his corpse for the dogs and birds to bury
Out of our sight. No other payment
For all I’ve suffered could be enough for me.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, Aegisthus
Page Number: 1483-1490
Explanation and Analysis:

O seed of Atreus, how much you have suffered!
But now this attack has forced you out
Into freedom. You’ve come to the ending.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Atreus, The Furies
Page Number: 1508-1510
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Electra LitChart as a printable PDF.
Electra PDF

Aegisthus Character Timeline in Electra

The timeline below shows where the character Aegisthus appears in Electra. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 86-120
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...for her deceased father. This is because Electra’s own mother, Clytemnestra, and her second husband, Aegisthus, murdered Electra’s father, Agamemnon. (full context)
Lines 251-470
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...Clytemnestra, are now enemies, and Electra is forced to live with Agamemnon’s murderers and watch Aegisthus sit on her father’s throne. What’s worse, Electra is forced to witness the most infuriating... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
The chorus worries that Aegisthus may be close enough to hear, but Electra says that he isn’t home; she wouldn’t... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...is a way of honoring his memory. Her sister says that she hates Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, but Electra claims that Chrysothemis’s hatred is just an act. In Electra’s opinion, Chrysothemis is... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Chrysothemis tells the chorus that Aegisthus is going to make Electra stop grieving soon. She claims that if Electra won’t stop... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...explains that Clytemnestra dreamed that Agamemnon was alive, and that he took his staff (which Aegisthus now holds) and struck the hearth. From the hearth grew a “leafy branch” which covered... (full context)
Lines 516-822
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...the palace and, seeing Electra, she scolds her for being outside and “off the leash.” Aegisthus is not home to keep Electra “under control,” and when he is gone, Electra embarrasses... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...“justice.” Rather, she says her mother committed the crime because she had been seduced by Aegisthus. Furthermore, Electra says, Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia was not for Menelaus but for Artemis, and... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
The old slave whether the palace belongs to Aegisthus. When the chorus confirms that it does, the old slave tells Clytemnestra that he has... (full context)
Lines 871-1057
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...her own plan to improve their situation. She says that she and Chrysothemis must kill Aegisthus if they are ever to be happy again. With Aegisthus alive, they will be forced... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...matters worse. Electra isn’t surprised by her sister’s reaction and she quickly vows to kill Aegisthus alone, though she asks Chrysothemis if she really believes that Electra is wrong about all... (full context)
Lines 1098-1383
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...the small bronze urn. Orestes asks the chorus where he might find the house of Aegisthus. Electra cries out upon seeing him, afraid that he has brought proof of Orestes’s death.... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...agrees, saying how miraculous Orestes’s return—it’s much like Agamemnon himself had been restored to life. Aegisthus is not at home, she tells her brother, and Clytemnestra is in the palace alone.... (full context)
Lines 1398-1510
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...come outside, to which she replies that she’s standing guard so that the arrival of Aegisthus doesn’t come as a surprise. Sounds of Clytemnestra’s cries come from inside the palace, as... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...“All is well, indoors,” Orestes says. “If Apollo prophesized well.” The chorus cries out that Aegisthus is approaching in the distance, and they urge Orestes to do just as well in... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...Orestes as he rushes into the palace. The chorus tells Electra to speak calmly to Aegisthus so that he won’t guess he’s about to be attacked. Aegisthus approaches and tells Electra... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Aegisthus yells that the palace doors should be opened so that everyone can see the remains... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Aegisthus cries out that he’s been trapped, and asks who the men surrounding him really are.... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Orestes tells Aegisthus to go inside the palace, adding that there’s no more time for talking. Orestes orders... (full context)