Electra

by

Sophocles

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The Bronze Urn Symbol Analysis

The Bronze Urn  Symbol Icon

When Orestes concocts an elaborate story to fake his death in order to sneak into the palace in Mycenae and kill his mother, Clytemnestra, he claims his “charred remains” are contained in a bronze urn. The bronze urn thus symbolizes death within Sophocles’s Electra, but it is also symbolic of Orestes’s deceit and the harm it causes others. The old slave goes to the palace and tells Clytemnestra that Orestes has been killed in a chariot accident during the Pythian Games, and Orestes later approaches Electra with the urn. As Orestes is a grown man and Electra has not seen him since he was an infant, she doesn’t readily recognize him, and she has no reason to believe that her brother is not actually dead. When Electra believes Orestes to be dead, she mourns him just as fiercely as she does their father, Agamemnon, and this new loss only serves to compound her already crippling grief. She cradles the urn and wails for her lost brother, all the while standing right in front of him. For Electra, Orestes’s deceit causes considerable pain. Lying about one’s death was viewed as a bad omen during ancient times, and that indeed proves to be the case in Electra. Orestes’s deceit enables him to kill his mother, and the urn is a prominent symbol in that act as well: he sneaks up on her unaware as she is “dressing the urn.” Ironically, Orestes murders his mother as she is preparing the urn to begin officially mourning him, which also underscores Sophocles’s primary argument that people can be deceitful under any circumstance and it may be wiser not to trust anyone.    

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The Bronze Urn Symbol Timeline in Electra

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bronze Urn appears in Electra. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-85
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...Agamemnon’s grave, and place lock of hair from Orestes’s own head on it. The bronze urn that they will claim holds Orestes’s ashes is hidden in the bushes nearby. “What harm... (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 find the house of Aegisthus. Electra cries out... (full context)
Grief, Mourning, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and Revenge Theme Icon
Deception, Falsehood, and Trust Theme Icon
...a secret, and Electra assures him that they can. Orestes tells Electra to put the urn down, and then he will tell her, but Electra refuses to let go. She’s wrong... (full context)
Lines 1398-1510
Gender and Society Theme Icon
...to know what’s going on inside. Electra tells the women that Clytemnestra is “dressing the urn,” and Orestes and the others are nearby. The women wonder why Electra has come outside,... (full context)