Electra

by

Sophocles

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Electra Character Analysis

Electra is the play’s protagonist, and she is the sister of Orestes, Iphigenia, and Chrysothemis as well as the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. When Electra is first introduced, she is “bitterly” lamenting her father’s death, and she refuses to stop even though it has been 20 years since his murder. Electra claims that her grief will never end, and she compares herself to the nightingale, a reference to Procne, the consummate figure of mourning in Greek mythology, who was transformed into a nightingale after murdering her son. When Orestes was an infant, Electra gave him to the old slave to raise far away, and when the play begins, the chance that Orestes might return and avenge Agamemnon’s death is Electra’s only source of hope. Electra’s grief is unaffected by time, sympathy, or threats, through which Sophocles argues that genuine grief cannot be restricted or confined by periods of socially acceptable mourning. The character of Electra also serves to highlight the sexist nature of ancient Greek society. Electra is repeatedly told throughout the play that she should not anger Aegisthus, because she is a woman and is therefore weak and incapable of defeating a man. Ancient audiences would have expected Electra to behave much like Aeschylus’s representation of Electra does in The Libation Bearers. However, instead of playing a small roll in which she quietly disappears before the killing begins, Sophocles’s representation of Electra dominates the stage for most of the play and continually acts in unexpected and forbidden ways. Electra mourns excessively and inappropriately, defies Aegisthus, disrespects her mother, and most importantly, she believes herself capable of revenge. At the end of the play, when Orestes kills both Clytemnestra and, presumably, Aegisthus, Electra takes an active role in their deaths and even encourages Orestes to throw Aegisthus’s corpse to the dogs and vultures. Electra is ultimately free after the deaths of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, and since she is free from the sexist expectations of society as well, Sophocles argues through Electra that women do not necessarily have to conform to society’s expectations.

Electra Quotes in Electra

The Electra quotes below are all either spoken by Electra or refer to Electra. 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 86-120 Quotes

But I shall never
End my dirges and bitter laments
While I still see the twinkling,
All-radiant stars and the daylight,
Nor cease to keen like the nightingale
Who killed her young, crying my sorrow
To the world here by the royal gateway.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Related Symbols: The Nightingale
Page Number: 103-109
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 121-250 Quotes

CHORUS:
But how, how will dirges and prayers
Help to summon your father back,
Up from the Lake of Death which none escapes?
No, in your limitless grief you are fatally
Parting from reason for pain without remedy.
This sighing offers no release from suffering’s chains.
So why, why court such senseless anguish?

ELECTRA:
None but a fool forgets their
Parents grievously gone to the underworld.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 137-146
Explanation and Analysis:

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 473-515 Quotes

When Pelops in past ages
Won the race with his chariot,
What never-ending sorrow
Struck this land!
When Myrtilus, his helper,
Was drowned beneath the ocean
Tossed headlong from his chariot,
He cursed the race of Pelops
And died in great anguish.
Since that day
This palace has been haunted
By suffering and anguish.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Electra, Orestes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Atreus, Pelops, Myrtilus
Page Number: 504-515
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 516-822 Quotes

Your constant pretext is simply this: I killed
Your father. Yes, I did. I’m well aware of that
And won’t pretend to deny it. Justice determined
His death; I wasn’t alone. And you should have taken
The side of Justice, if you’d had any sense.
Listen! This father of yours whom you’re always lamenting
Committed the most barbaric crime: he sacrificed
Your sister to the gods. Iphigenia’s birth
Never cost him the pains of labour that I went through.
Very well. Now answer this question. Why did he sacrifice her?
To help the Greeks? But they enjoyed no right
To kill a daughter of mine. Or did he kill
My child to help his brother Menelaus?
In that case, didn’t he owe me some satisfaction?

Related Characters: Clytemnestra (speaker), Electra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Menelaus
Page Number: 525-538
Explanation and Analysis:

Very well, then, listen. You say you killed my father.
What admission could be more shameful than that,
Whether or not justice was on your side?
I put it to you, it wasn’t justice that drove
You to kill him. No, you were seduced by the evil man
Who is now your partner. Ask Artemis, the hunter
Goddess, why she becalmed the fleet at Aulis,
As none of the winds would blow. What was she punishing?
I’ll give you the answer. We can’t cross-question her.
My father, as I’ve been told, was out on a hunt
In Artemis’ sacred grove, when his footfall startled
A dappled stag from its covert. After he’d shot it,
He accidentally let fall some boastful words.
This made the goddess angry, and so she held
The Greek fleet up, to make my father atone
For the stag by sacrificing his daughter.
That’s how it occurred. It was the only solution.
The ships couldn’t sail back home or across to Troy.
He sacrificed Iphigenia under compulsion;
With great reluctance. It wasn’t for Menelaus.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia , Menelaus, Artemis
Page Number: 558-576
Explanation and Analysis:

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 1098-1383 Quotes

ELECTRA:
I swear, yes, I swear, Artemis be my strength,
I’ll never stoop to fear my old foes again.
Those stay-at-homes, those spare weights
On earth’s floor, those womenfolk!

ORESTES:
Be careful, now. The spirit of war can still be strong
In women. Your own experience should tell you that.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes (speaker), Artemis
Page Number: 1239-1244
Explanation and Analysis:

O Lord Apollo, graciously hear their prayers
And mine besides. Many a time I have stood
In supplication before your holy altar
And offered there such gifts as I could afford.
So now, Lycean Apollo, with what I have,
I pray, beseech and supplicate your godhead.
Vouchsafe to aid us in this enterprise
And show to all mankind what recompense
The gods bestow on sinful wickedness.

Related Characters: Electra (speaker), Orestes, Clytemnestra, Apollo
Page Number: 1375-1383
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:
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Electra Character Timeline in Electra

The timeline below shows where the character Electra appears in Electra. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-85
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...of Atreus is “rich in blood.” It was here, many years ago, that Orestes’s sister, Electra, gave Orestes over to the old slave’s care after the murder of their father, Agamemnon.... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...miserable the voice sounds, the old slave suggests that the person crying out might be Electra and wonders if they should stay and listen to her. But Orestes refuses, saying that... (full context)
Lines 86-120
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Electra exits the palace and begins to cry to the sky and the sun. She notes... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Electra maintains that she will never stop mourning her father and will instead continue crying like... (full context)
Lines 121-250
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
A chorus of Mycenean women arrive in front of the palace gateway, crying out to Electra with pity. The women ask Electra why she is still weeping over Agamemnon’s death. Electra... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
The chorus asks Electra how her all of her mourning can bring Agamemnon back. They claim that her grief... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
 Electra explains that her life is miserable. She is not married and has no children, and... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Electra, however, says that her life has lost all meaning; she is treated like a worthless... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
The chorus, however, tells Electra that she has caused much of her own misery, because she keeps fixating on past... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
The chorus tells Electra again that she’ll only get herself into trouble, but she disagrees. She says that the... (full context)
Lines 251-470
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Electra tells the chorus that she feels “ashamed” of her laments, since they must make her... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
 Electra claims that Clytemnestra even appears to take pleasure in her despicable behavior. Every month, Clytemnestra... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Whenever Clytemnestra hears rumors that Orestes is coming back, she becomes furious and blames Electra for taking Orestes away from her and sending him far from home. For her part,... (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 go outside if he were. The chorus asks... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Chrysothemis asks Electra what she’s doing and reminds her that there’s no point in being angry after so... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Electra refuses to stop mourning, telling Chrysothemis that irritating Agamemnon’s murderers is a way of honoring... (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 publicly mourning, Aegisthus will bury... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Electra then asks Chrysothemis where she’s going, and to whom she’s bringing offerings. Chrysothemis says that... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Electra tells Chrysothemis not to deliver the libations as ordered. She tells her sister to instead... (full context)
Lines 516-822
Gender and Society Theme Icon
 Clytemnestra exits the palace and, seeing Electra, she scolds her for being outside and “off the leash.” Aegisthus is not home to... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...Agamemnon because “Justice” dictated it. According to Clytemnestra, Agamemnon committed the terrible crime of sacrificing Electra’s sister, Iphigenia, to the gods. She says that he had “no right” to kill a... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Electra claims that Clytemnestra didn’t really kill Agamemnon for “justice.” Rather, she says her mother committed... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...did sacrifice Iphigenia to help Menelaus, that still does not make Clytemnestra in the right, Electra maintains. “What was your justification?” Electra asks her mother. “Blood for blood, I suppose.” But... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
The chorus says that Electra no longer seems to care whether she’s right or wrong, and Clytemnestra claims her daughter... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Clytemnestra swears by Artemis that Electra’s behavior will eventually catch up to her, but for now, Clytemnestra just wants to make... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...to inform her that Orestes is dead. “Orestes dead! This is the death of me!” Electra cries. Clytemnestra tells the slave to ignore Electra and asks for more details about Orestes’s... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...Orestes dead, however, she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore, and she’s free to ignore Electra too. “Nemesis, hear, and avenge my brother!” Electra cries, but Clytemnestra says that Nemesis has... (full context)
Lines 823-870
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Electra continues to wail as the chorus wonders where Zeus is and why he isn’t intervening.... (full context)
Lines 871-1057
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...rushes in with what she calls “quite undignified haste,” excited to share happy news with Electra. Chrysothemis claims that Orestes has come back. There are fresh offerings on Agamemnon’s grave, she... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Electra, however, has her own plan to improve their situation. She says that she and Chrysothemis... (full context)
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Chrysothemis tells Electra that because she’s a woman, she’ll never have enough strength to win this fight. She... (full context)
Lines 1058-1097
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...the a “plague” that has fallen on Agamemnon’s house. The children battle with one another; Electra despises Chrysothemis, and it seems as if peace will never come. Electra now fights alone,... (full context)
Lines 1098-1383
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...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. Orestes... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
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Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
The chorus again reminds Electra that they all must die, so she shouldn’t grieve too much. Orestes asks Electra if... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
“You are Orestes?” Electra exclaims. Orestes shows her a ring bearing Agamemnon’s seal, and the two embrace joyfully, promising... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Orestes tells Electra that she must continue to act as if he is dead so that Clytemnestra doesn’t... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
The old slave tells Orestes and Electra that their cries of joy are sure to be heard inside the palace, so they... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...the perfect time to strike. Orestes, Pylades, and the old slave enter the palace, leaving Electra outside. Electra prays to Apollo for success, then turns and enters the palace. (full context)
Lines 1398-1510
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Electra exits the palace alone and the chorus begs to know what’s going on inside. Electra... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
“I can look after everything here,” Electra says to Orestes as he rushes into the palace. The chorus tells Electra to speak... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...him to remove it himself, since the body underneath actually belongs to Aegisthus. Aegisthus orders Electra to go find Clytemnestra as he lifts the shroud, but Electra says that that won’t... (full context)
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Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...point Aegisthus suddenly understands that this man is Orestes. Aegisthus begs Orestes for mercy, but Electra interrupts, telling Orestes to kill Aegisthus withoug letting him talk any longer. She adds that... (full context)
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The chorus cheers that Electra is free at last, despite how much pain she’s gone through along the way. Electra... (full context)