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.
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.
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.
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?
None but a fool forgets their
Parents grievously gone to the underworld.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
CHORUS LEADER [to ELECTRA]:
I see she’s fuming with anger. She looks to me
No longer concerned whether she’s in the right.
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?
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.
These visions that came to me last night,
These doubtful dreams, Lycean Lord,
If they boded good, grant them fulfilment;
If evil, let them rebound on my foes.
If any by craft would steal the wealth
That I now enjoy, let it not be.
Vouchsafe me always to live as I am,
With life unharmed, to govern the house
Of Atreus’ sons and all this realm.
To dwell in prosperous joy with the friends
I love, who presently share my home.
And with those of my children who bear
No malice against me nor cause me pain.
These prayers, Lycean Apollo, graciously hear
And grant us our humble requests.
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.
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?
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!
Be careful, now. The spirit of war can still be strong
In women. Your own experience should tell you that.
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.
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.
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.