Electra

by

Sophocles

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Orestes Character Analysis

Orestes is Electra’s brother and Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s son. As a small child, Orestes is handed over to the old slave by Electra to save his life. As Aegisthus had murdered Agamemnon on Clytemnestra’s behalf, it was assumed that Orestes would grow up to avenge his father, and Electra feared that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus would kill Orestes before he had the chance to grow into a man. Raised by the old slave to avenge his father’s murder, Orestes returns to Mycenae to exact his revenge. Before Orestes returns, however, he visits the Delphic oracle and asks her how his revenge should be exacted. The oracle tells Orestes that his vengeance will be successful if done “by lone deceit and stealthy craft,” and he appropriately concocts an elaborate plan in which he fakes his own death and claims that his “charred remains” are in a bronze urn. Orestes takes the words of the Delphic oracle as the actual words of the god Apollo, and he carries his deceitful plan out to the end, killing Clytemnestra and, presumably, Aegisthus as well. Orestes puts his honor and duty to Apollo over his duty to his mother, and when he leaves Electra to mourn early in the play and instead follows Apollo’s instruction to place libations on Agamemnon’s grave, he again places the gods above his duty to family. While Orestes is not punished during the play for committing matricide, ancient audiences would have been familiar with Aeschylus’s version of Orestes’s story, in which Orestes is driven mad by the Furies as revenge for killing his mother. So while Orestes doesn’t (at least initially) pay for his crime, Sophocles nevertheless implies that Orestes acted unethically in the murder of his mother and that he should have placed the honor of his family above the orders of the gods and his own desire for revenge.

Orestes Quotes in Electra

The Electra quotes below are all either spoken by Orestes or refer to Orestes. 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:

Our crafty tale will bring them the glad tidings
That my body has been cremated and now consists
Of nothing but charred remains. What harm does it do me
To say I’m dead? None, if the outcome proves
My real salvation and wins me a glorious prize.
In my opinion, no word can be a bad omen
If it leads to gain. A false report of death
Is a trick I’ve often seen used by clever philosophers.

Related Characters: Orestes (speaker), Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Old Slave, Pylades, The Furies
Page Number: 56-63
Explanation and Analysis:
Lines 251-470 Quotes

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 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:
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:
Get the entire Electra LitChart as a printable PDF.
Electra PDF

Orestes Character Timeline in Electra

The timeline below shows where the character Orestes appears in Electra. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-85
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Orestes, Pylades, and an old slave enter and look toward the palace of Mycenae. The old... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
The old slave encourages Orestes and his friend Pylades to put their plan into action now that a new day... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Orestes explains that the Delphic oracle told him that he would be victorious in revenge through... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
For now, Orestes says, they will “pour libations” onto Agamemnon’s grave, and place lock of hair from Orestes’s... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Orestes asks the gods to “welcome [him] home” and make his mission successful, claiming that he’s... (full context)
Lines 86-120
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...of vengeance.” She prays to them to punish her father’s murderers and bring her brother, Orestes, back to her. She laments that her grief is too extreme to handle on her... (full context)
Lines 121-250
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
...Electra isn’t the only one left to mourn Agamemnon. Electra’s sister, Chrysothemis, and her brother, Orestes, must mourn too.  (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...miserable. She is not married and has no children, and she badly misses her brother Orestes, whom she is always waiting for. Orestes sends occasional messages and says he wants to... (full context)
Lines 251-470
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... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...he isn’t home; she wouldn’t go outside if he were. The chorus asks Electra if Orestes is really on his way back to Argos. Electra claims that he’s said he’ll come,... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...She tells Chrysothemis to instead offer strands of hair from their heads and pray for Orestes to return. The chorus agrees and encourages Chrysothemis to do as Electra says. Chrysothemis consents,... (full context)
Lines 516-822
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...old slave tells Clytemnestra that he has been sent from Phocis to inform her that Orestes is dead. “Orestes dead! This is the death of me!” Electra cries. Clytemnestra tells the... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Clytemnestra can’t decide if Orestes’s death is sad or happy news, since she acknowledges that it’s impossible to hate her... (full context)
Lines 823-870
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...does little good; she’s convinced that she has nothing more to hope for now that Orestes is dead. The chorus reminds Electra that everyone dies sooner or later, but Electra already... (full context)
Lines 871-1057
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...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 says, of milk, flowers,... (full context)
Lines 1098-1383
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Orestes enters with Pylades, carrying the small bronze urn. Orestes asks the chorus where he might... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...chorus again reminds Electra that they all must die, so she shouldn’t grieve too much. Orestes asks Electra if she is indeed the princess, and she admits that she is, asking... (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,... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
Orestes tells Electra that she must continue to act as if he is dead so that... (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,... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...instead. Clytemnestra is alone in the palace, and it is the perfect time to strike. Orestes, Pylades, and the old slave enter the palace, leaving Electra outside. Electra prays to Apollo... (full context)
Lines 1384-1397
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
...bush,” the chorus sings, describing how war is descending on the palace. They watch as Orestes paces inside the palace, looking at Agamemnon’s throne and gripping his bloody sword. “The game’s... (full context)
Lines 1398-1510
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
The chorus sings that the curse is now taking effect. Then, Orestes and Pylades exit the palace, their hands dripping with blood. “All is well, indoors,” Orestes... (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 calmly to Aegisthus... (full context)
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...that the palace doors should be opened so that everyone can see the remains of Orestes. As the doors open, Orestes exits the palace with Pylades, carrying Clytemnestra’s corpse covered with... (full context)
Gender and Society Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...cries out that he’s been trapped, and asks who the men surrounding him really are. Orestes slyly wonders aloud whether Aegisthus knows he’s been talking to a dead man, at which... (full context)
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Orestes tells Aegisthus to go inside the palace, adding that there’s no more time for talking.... (full context)