The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Electra of Euripides, by Euripides
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Title: The Electra of Euripides
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE ELECTRA OF EURIPIDES ***
Produced by Paul Murray, Charles Bidwell and the PG Online Distributed
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH RHYMING VERSE
WITH EXPLANATORY NOTES BY
GILBERT MURRAY, LL.D., D.LITT.
REGIUS PROFESSOR OF GREEK IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD
RUSKIN HOUSE, 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.1
_First Edition, November_ 1905
_Reprinted, November_ 1906
" _February_ 1908
" _March_ 1910
" _December_ 1910
" _February_ 1913
" _April_ 1914
" _June_ 1916
" _November_ 1919
" _April_ 1921
" _January_ 1923
" _May_ 1925
" _August_ 1927
" _January_ 1929
_(All rights reserved)_
THE COURT THEATRE, LONDON
_Printed in Great Britain by
Unwin Brothers Ltd., Woking_
The _Electra_ of Euripides has the distinction of being, perhaps, the best
abused, and, one might add, not the best understood, of ancient tragedies.
"A singular monument of poetical, or rather unpoetical perversity;" "the
very worst of all his pieces;" are, for instance, the phrases applied to
it by Schlegel. Considering that he judged it by the standards of
conventional classicism, he could scarcely have arrived at any different
conclusion. For it is essentially, and perhaps consciously, a protest
against those standards. So, indeed, is the tragedy of _The Trojan Women_;
but on very different lines. The _Electra_ has none of the imaginative
splendour, the vastness, the intense poetry, of that wonderful work. It is
a close-knit, powerful, well-constructed play, as realistic as the tragic
conventions will allow, intellectual and rebellious. Its _psychology_
reminds one of Browning, or even of Ibsen.
To a fifth-century Greek all history came in the form of legend; and no
less than three extant tragedies, Aeschylus' _Libation-Bearers_ (456
B.C.), Euripides' _Electra_ (413 B.C.), and Sophocles' _Electra_ (date
unknown: but perhaps the latest of the three) are based on the particular
piece of legend or history now before us. It narrates how the son and
daughter of the murdered king, Agamemnon, slew, in due course of revenge,
and by Apollo's express command, their guilty mother and her paramour.
Homer had long since told the story, as he tells so many, simply and
grandly, without moral questioning and without intensity. The atmosphere
is heroic. It is all a blood-feud between chieftains, in which Orestes,
after seven years, succeeds in slaying his foe Aegisthus, who had killed
his father. He probably killed his mother also; but we are not directly
told so. His sister may have helped him, and he may possibly have gone mad
afterwards; but these painful issues are kept determinedly in the shade.
Somewhat surprisingly, Sophocles, although by his time Electra and
Clytemnestra had become leading figures in the story and the mother-murder
its essential climax, preserves a very similar atmosphere. His tragedy is
enthusiastically praised by Schlegel for "the celestial purity, the fresh
breath of life and youth, that is diffused over so dreadful a subject."
"Everything dark and ominous is avoided. Orestes enjoys the fulness of
health and strength. He is beset neither with doubts nor stings of
conscience." Especially laudable is the "austerity" with which Aegisthus
is driven into the house to receive, according to Schlegel, a specially
This combination of matricide and good spirits, however satisfactory to
the determined classicist, will probably strike most intelligent readers
as a little curious, and even, if one may use the word at all in
connection with so powerful a play, undramatic. It becomes intelligible as
soon as we observe that Sophocles was deliberately seeking what he
regarded as an archaic or "Homeric" style (cf. Jebb, Introd. p. xli.); and
this archaism, in its turn, seems to me best explained as a conscious
reaction against Euripides' searching and unconventional treatment of the
same subject (cf. Wilamowitz in _Hermes_, xviii. pp. 214 ff.). In the
result Sophocles is not only more "classical" than Euripides; he is more
primitive by far than Aeschylus.
For Aeschylus, though steeped in the glory of the world of legend, would
not lightly accept its judgment upon religious and moral questions, and
above all would not, in that region, play at make-believe. He would not
elude the horror of this story by simply not mentioning it, like Homer, or
by pretending that an evil act was a good one, like Sophocles. He faces
the horror; realises it; and tries to surmount it on the sweep of a great
wave of religious emotion. The mother-murder, even if done by a god's
command, is a sin; a sin to be expiated by unfathomable suffering. Yet,
since the god cannot have commanded evil, it is a duty also. It is a sin
that _must_ be committed.
Euripides, here as often, represents intellectually the thought of
Aeschylus carried a step further. He faced the problem just as Aeschylus
did, and as Sophocles did not. But the solution offered by Aeschylus did
not satisfy him. It cannot, in its actual details, satisfy any one. To him
the mother-murder--like most acts of revenge, but more than most--was a
sin and a horror. Therefore it should not have been committed; and the god
who enjoined it _did_ command evil, as he had done in a hundred other
cases! He is no god of light; he is only a demon of old superstition,
acting, among other influences, upon a sore-beset man, and driving him
towards a miscalled duty, the horror of which, when done, will unseat his
But another problem interests Euripides even more than this. What kind of
man was it--above all, what kind of woman can it have been, who would do
this deed of mother-murder, not in sudden fury but deliberately, as an act
of "justice," after many years? A "sympathetic" hero and heroine are out
of the question; and Euripides does not deal in stage villains. He seeks
real people. And few attentive readers of this play can doubt that he has
The son is an exile, bred in the desperate hopes and wild schemes of
exile; he is a prince without a kingdom, always dreaming of his wrongs and
his restoration; and driven by the old savage doctrine, which an oracle
has confirmed, of the duty and manliness of revenge. He is, as was shown
by his later history, a man subject to overpowering impulses and to fits
of will-less brooding. Lastly, he is very young, and is swept away by his
sister's intenser nature.
That sister is the central figure of the tragedy. A woman shattered in
childhood by the shock of an experience too terrible for a girl to bear; a
poisoned and a haunted woman, eating her heart in ceaseless broodings of
hate and love, alike unsatisfied--hate against her mother and stepfather,
love for her dead father and her brother in exile; a woman who has known
luxury and state, and cares much for them; who is intolerant of poverty,
and who feels her youth passing away. And meantime there is her name, on
which all legend, if I am not mistaken, insists; she is _A-lektra_, "the
There is, perhaps, no woman's character in the range of Greek tragedy so
profoundly studied. Not Aeschylus' Clytemnestra, not Phaedra nor Medea.
One's thoughts can only wander towards two great heroines of "lost" plays,
Althaea in the _Meleager_, and Stheneboea in the _Bellerophon_.
[Footnote 1: Most of this introduction is reprinted, by the kind
permission of the Editors, from an article in the _Independent Review_
vol. i. No. 4.]
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY
CLYTEMNESTRA, _Queen of Argos and Mycenae; widow of Agamemnon_.
ELECTRA, _daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra_.
ORESTES, _son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, now in banishment_.
A PEASANT, _husband of Electra_.
AN OLD MAN, _formerly servant to Agamemnon_.
PYLADES, _son of Strophios, King of Phocis; friend to Orestes_.
AEGISTHUS, _usurping King of Argos and Mycenae, now husband of
The Heroes CASTOR and POLYDEUCES.
CHORUS of Argive Women, with their LEADER.
FOLLOWERS of ORESTES; HANDMAIDS of CLYTEMNESTRA.
_The Scene is laid in the mountains of Argos. The play was first produced
between the years_ 414 _and_ 412 B.C.
_The scene represents a hut on a desolate mountain side; the river Inachus
is visible in the distance. The time is the dusk of early dawn, before
sunrise. The_ PEASANT _is discovered in front of the hut_.
Old gleam on the face of the world, I give thee hail,
River of Argos land, where sail on sail
The long ships met, a thousand, near and far,
When Agamemnon walked the seas in war;
Who smote King Priam in the dust, and burned
The storied streets of Ilion, and returned
Above all conquerors, heaping tower and fane
Of Argos high with spoils of Eastern slain.
So in far lands he prospered; and at home
His own wife trapped and slew him. 'Twas the doom
Aegisthus wrought, son of his father's foe.
Gone is that King, and the old spear laid low
That Tantalus wielded when the world was young.
Aegisthus hath his queen, and reigns among
His people. And the children here alone,
Orestes and Electra, buds unblown
Of man and womanhood, when forth to Troy
He shook his sail and left them--lo, the boy
Orestes, ere Aegisthus' hand could fall,
Was stolen from Argos--borne by one old thrall,
Who served his father's boyhood, over seas
Far off, and laid upon King Strophios' knees
In Phocis, for the old king's sake. But here
The maid Electra waited, year by year,
Alone, till the warm days of womanhood
Drew nigh and suitors came of gentle blood
In Hellas. Then Aegisthus was in fear
Lest she be wed in some great house, and bear
A son to avenge her father. Close he wrought
Her prison in his house, and gave her not
To any wooer. Then, since even this
Was full of peril, and the secret kiss
Of some bold prince might find her yet, and rend
Her prison walls, Aegisthus at the end
Would slay her. Then her mother, she so wild
Aforetime, pled with him and saved her child.
Her heart had still an answer for her lord
Murdered, but if the child's blood spoke, what word
Could meet the hate thereof? After that day
Aegisthus thus decreed: whoso should slay
The old king's wandering son, should win rich meed
Of gold; and for Electra, she must wed
With me, not base of blood--in that I stand
True Mycenaean--but in gold and land
Most poor, which maketh highest birth as naught.
So from a powerless husband shall be wrought
A powerless peril. Had some man of might
Possessed her, he had called perchance to light
Her father's blood, and unknown vengeances
Risen on Aegisthus yet.
Aye, mine she is:
But never yet these arms--the Cyprian knows
My truth!--have clasped her body, and she goes
A virgin still. Myself would hold it shame
To abase this daughter of a royal name.
I am too lowly to love violence. Yea,
Orestes too doth move me, far away,
Mine unknown brother! Will he ever now
Come back and see his sister bowed so low?
Doth any deem me fool, to hold a fair
Maid in my room and seek no joy, but spare
Her maidenhood? If any such there be,
Let him but look within. The fool is he
In gentle things, weighing the more and less
Of love by his own heart's untenderness.
[_As he ceases_ ELECTRA _comes out of the hut. She is in mourning garb,
and carries a large pitcher on her head. She speaks without observing the_
Dark shepherdess of many a golden star,
Dost see me, Mother Night? And how this jar
Hath worn my earth-bowed head, as forth and fro
For water to the hillward springs I go?
Not for mere stress of need, but purpose set,
That never day nor night God may forget
Aegisthus' sin: aye, and perchance a cry
Cast forth to the waste shining of the sky
May find my father's ear.... The woman bred
Of Tyndareus, my mother--on her head
Be curses!--from my house hath outcast me;
She hath borne children to our enemy;
She hath made me naught, she hath made Orestes naught....
[_As the bitterness of her tone increases, the_ PEASANT _comes forward._
What wouldst thou now, my sad one, ever fraught
With toil to lighten my toil? And so soft
Thy nurture was! Have I not chid thee oft,
And thou wilt cease not, serving without end?
ELECTRA (_turning to him with impulsive affection_).
O friend, my friend, as God might be my friend,
Thou only hast not trampled on my tears.
Life scarce can be so hard, 'mid many fears
And many shames, when mortal heart can find
Somewhere one healing touch, as my sick mind
Finds thee.... And should I wait thy word, to endure
A little for thine easing, yea, or pour
My strength out in thy toiling fellowship?
Thou hast enough with fields and kine to keep;
'Tis mine to make all bright within the door.
'Tis joy to him that toils, when toil is o'er,
To find home waiting, full of happy things.
If so it please thee, go thy way. The springs
Are not far off. And I before the morn
Must drive my team afield, and sow the corn
In the hollows.--Not a thousand prayers can gain
A man's bare bread, save an he work amain.
[ELECTRA _and the_ PEASANT _depart on their several ways. After a few
moments there enter stealthily two armed men,_ ORESTES _and_ PYLADES.
Thou art the first that I have known in deed
True and my friend, and shelterer of my need.
Thou only, Pylades, of all that knew,
Hast held Orestes of some worth, all through
These years of helplessness, wherein I lie
Downtrodden by the murderer--yea, and by
The murderess, my mother!... I am come,
Fresh from the cleansing of Apollo, home
To Argos--and my coming no man yet
Knoweth--to pay the bloody twain their debt
Of blood. This very night I crept alone
To my dead father's grave, and poured thereon
My heart's first tears and tresses of my head
New-shorn, and o'er the barrow of the dead
Slew a black lamb, unknown of them that reign
In this unhappy land.... I am not fain
To pass the city gates, but hold me here
Hard on the borders. So my road is clear
To fly if men look close and watch my way;
If not, to seek my sister. For men say
She dwelleth in these hills, no more a maid
But wedded. I must find her house, for aid
To guide our work, and learn what hath betid
Of late in Argos.--Ha, the radiant lid
Of Dawn's eye lifteth! Come, friend; leave we now
This trodden path. Some worker of the plough,
Or serving damsel at her early task
Will presently come by, whom we may ask
If here my sister dwells. But soft! Even now
I see some bondmaid there, her death-shorn brow
Bending beneath its freight of well-water.
Lie close until she pass; then question her.
A slave might help us well, or speak some sign
Of import to this work of mine and thine.
[_The two men retire into ambush._ ELECTRA _enters, returning from the
Onward, O labouring tread,
As on move the years;
Onward amid thy tears,
O happier dead!
Let me remember. I am she, [_Strophe_ 1.
Agamemnon's child, and the mother of me
Clytemnestra, the evil Queen,
Helen's sister. And folk, I ween,
That pass in the streets call yet my name
Electra.... God protect my shame!
For toil, toil is a weary thing,
And life is heavy about my head;
And thou far off, O Father and King,
In the lost lands of the dead.
A bloody twain made these things be;
One was thy bitterest enemy,
And one the wife that lay by thee.
Brother, brother, on some far shore [_Antistrophe_ 1.
Hast thou a city, is there a door
That knows thy footfall, Wandering One?
Who left me, left me, when all our pain
Was bitter about us, a father slain,
And a girl that wept in her room alone.
Thou couldst break me this bondage sore,
Only thou, who art far away,
Loose our father, and wake once more....
Zeus, Zeus, dost hear me pray?...
The sleeping blood and the shame and the doom!
O feet that rest not, over the foam
Of distant seas, come home, come home!
What boots this cruse that I carry? [_Strophe_ 2.
O, set free my brow!
For the gathered tears that tarry
Through the day and the dark till now,
Now in the dawn are free,
Father, and flow beneath
The floor of the world, to be
As a song in she house of Death:
From the rising up of the day
They guide my heart alway,
The silent tears unshed,
And my body mourns for the dead;
My cheeks bleed silently,
And these bruised temples keep
Their pain, remembering thee
And thy bloody sleep.
Be rent, O hair of mine head!
As a swan crying alone
Where the river windeth cold,
For a loved, for a silent one,
Whom the toils of the fowler hold,
I cry, Father, to thee,
O slain in misery!
The water, the wan water, [_Antistrophe_ 2.
Lapped him, and his head
Drooped in the bed of slaughter
Low, as one wearied;
Woe for the edged axe,
And woe for the heart of hate,
Houndlike about thy tracks,
O conqueror desolate,
From Troy over land and sea,
Till a wife stood waiting thee;
Not with crowns did she stand,
Nor flowers of peace in her hand;
With Aegisthus' dagger drawn
For her hire she strove,
Through shame and through blood alone;
And won her a traitor's love.
[_As she ceases there enter from right and left the_ CHORUS, _consisting
of women of Argos, young and old, in festal dress_.
Child of the mighty dead, [_Strophe_.
Electra, lo, my way
To thee in the dawn hath sped,
And the cot on the mountain grey,
For the Watcher hath cried this day:
He of the ancient folk,
The walker of waste and hill,
Who drinketh the milk of the flock;
And he told of Hera's will;
For the morrow's morrow now
They cry her festival,
And before her throne shall bow
Our damsels all.
Not unto joy, nor sweet
Music, nor shining of gold,
The wings of my spirit beat.
Let the brides of Argos hold
Their dance in the night, as of old;
I lead no dance; I mark
No beat as the dancers sway;
With tears I dwell in the dark,
And my thought is of tears alway,
To the going down of the day.
Look on my wasted hair
And raiment.... This that I bear,
Is it meet for the King my sire,
And her whom the King begot?
For Troy, that was burned with fire
And forgetteth not?
Hera is great!--Ah, come, [_Antistrophe_.
Be kind; and my hand shall bring
Fair raiment, work of the loom,
And many a golden thing,
For joyous robe-wearing.
Deemest thou this thy woe
Shall rise unto God as prayer,
Or bend thine haters low?
Doth God for thy pain have care?
Not tears for the dead nor sighs,
But worship and joy divine
Shall win thee peace in thy skies,
O daughter mine!
No care cometh to God
For the voice of the helpless; none
For the crying of ancient blood.
Alas for him that is gone,
And for thee, O wandering one:
That now, methinks, in a land
Of the stranger must toil for hire,
And stand where the poor men stand,
A-cold by another's fire,
O son of the mighty sire:
While I in a beggar's cot
On the wrecked hills, changing not,
Starve in my soul for food;
But our mother lieth wed
In another's arms, and blood
Is about her bed.
On all of Greece she wrought great jeopardy,
Thy mother's sister, Helen,--and on thee.
[ORESTES _and_ PYLADES _move out from their concealment_; ORESTES _comes
forward_: PYLADES _beckons to two_ ARMED SERVANTS _and stays with them in
Woe's me! No more of wailing! Women, flee!
Strange armed men beside the dwelling there
Lie ambushed! They are rising from their lair.
Back by the road, all you. I will essay
The house; and may our good feet save us!
ORESTES (_between_ ELECTRA _and the hut_).
Unhappy woman! Never fear my steel.
ELECTRA (_in utter panic_).
O bright Apollo! Mercy! See, I kneel;
Slay me not.
Others I have yet to slay
Less dear than thou.
Go from me! Wouldst thou lay
Hand on a body that is not for thee?
None is there I would touch more righteously.
Why lurk'st thou by my house? And why a sword?
Stay. Listen! Thou wilt not gainsay my word.
There--I am still. Do what thou wilt with me.
Thou art too strong.
A word I bear to thee...
Word of thy brother.
Oh, friend! More than friend!
Living or dead?
He lives; so let me send
My comfort foremost, ere the rest be heard.
God love thee for the sweetness of thy word!
God love the twain of us, both thee and me.
He lives! Poor brother! In what land weareth he
Not one region nor one lot
His wasted life hath trod.
He lacketh not
Bread hath he; but a man is weak
What charge laid he on thee? Speak.
To learn if thou still live, and how the storm,
Living, hath struck thee.
That thou seest; this form
Yea, riven with the fire of woe.
I sigh to look on thee.
My face; and, lo,
My temples of their ancient glory shorn.
Methinks thy brother haunts thee, being forlorn;
Aye, and perchance thy father, whom they slew...
What should be nearer to me than those two?
And what to him, thy brother, half so dear
His is a distant love, not near
But why this dwelling place, this life
ELECTRA (_with sudden bitterness_).
Stranger, I am a wife....
O better dead!
That seals thy brother's doom!
What Prince of Argos...?
Not the man to whom
My father thought to give me.
Speak; that I
May tell thy brother all.
'Tis there, hard by,
His dwelling, where I live, far from men's eyes.
Some ditcher's cot, or cowherd's, by its guise!
ELECTRA (_struck with shame for her ingratitude_).
A poor man; but true-hearted, and to me
How? What fear of God hath he?
He hath never held my body to his own.
Hath he some vow to keep? Or is it done
To scorn thee?
Nay; he only scorns to sin
Against my father's greatness.
But to win
A princess! Doth his heart not leap for pride?
He honoureth not the hand that gave the bride.
I see. He trembles for Orestes' wrath?
Aye, that would move him. But beside, he hath
A gentle heart.
Strange! A good man.... I swear
He well shall be requited.
Our wanderer comes again!
Thy mother stays
Unmoved 'mid all thy wrong?
A lover weighs
More than a child in any woman's heart.
But what end seeks Aegisthus, by such art
To make mine unborn children low
And weak, even as my husband.
Lest there grow
From thee the avenger?
Such his purpose is:
For which may I requite him!
And of this
Thy virgin life--Aegisthus knows it?
We speak it not. It cometh not his way.
These women hear us. Are they friends to thee?
Aye, friends and true. They will keep faithfully
All words of mine and thine.
ORESTES (_trying her_).
Thou art well stayed
With friends. And could Orestes give thee aid
In aught, if e'er...
Shame on thee! Seest thou not?
Is it not time?
ORESTES (_catching her excitement_).
How time? And if he sought
To slay, how should he come at his desire?
By daring, as they dared who slew his sire!
Wouldst thou dare with him, if he came, thou too,
To slay her?
Yes; with the same axe that slew
'Tis thy message? And thy mood
Let me shed my mother's blood,
And I die happy.
God!... I would that now
Orestes heard thee here.
Yet, wottest thou,
Though here I saw him, I should know him not.
Surely. Ye both were children, when they wrought
One alone in all this land
Would know his face.
The thrall, methinks, whose hand
Stole him from death--or so the story ran?
He taught my father, too, an old old man
Of other days than these.
Thy father's grave...
He had due rites and tendance?
What chance gave,
My father had, cast out to rot in the sun.
God, 'tis too much!... To hear of such things done
Even to a stranger, stings a man.... But speak,
Tell of thy life, that I may know, and seek
Thy brother with a tale that must be heard
Howe'er it sicken. If mine eyes be blurred,
Remember, 'tis the fool that feels not. Aye,
Wisdom is full of pity; and thereby
Men pay for too much wisdom with much pain.
My heart is moved as this man's. I would fain
Learn all thy tale. Here dwelling on the hills
Little I know of Argos and its ills.
If I must speak--and at love's call, God knows,
I fear not--I will tell thee all; my woes,
My father's woes, and--O, since thou hast stirred
This storm of speech, thou bear him this my word--
His woes and shame! Tell of this narrow cloak
In the wind; this grime and reek of toil, that choke
My breathing; this low roof that bows my head
After a king's. This raiment ... thread by thread,
'Tis I must weave it, or go bare--must bring,
Myself, each jar of water from the spring.
No holy day for me, no festival,
No dance upon the green! From all, from all
I am cut off. No portion hath my life
'Mid wives of Argos, being no true wife.
No portion where the maidens throng to praise
Castor--my Castor, whom in ancient days,
Ere he passed from us and men worshipped him,
They named my bridegroom!--
And she, she!... The grim
Troy spoils gleam round her throne, and by each hand
Queens of the East, my father's prisoners, stand,
A cloud of Orient webs and tangling gold.
And there upon the floor, the blood, the old
Black blood, yet crawls and cankers, like a rot
In the stone! And on our father's chariot
The murderer's foot stands glorying, and the red
False hand uplifts that ancient staff, that led
The armies of the world!... Aye, tell him how
The grave of Agamemnon, even now,
Lacketh the common honour of the dead;
A desert barrow, where no tears are shed,
No tresses hung, no gift, no myrtle spray.
And when the wine is in him, so men say,
Our mother's mighty master leaps thereon,
Spurning the slab, or pelteth stone on stone,
Flouting the lone dead and the twain that live:
"Where is thy son Orestes? Doth he give
Thy tomb good tendance? Or is all forgot?"
So is he scorned because he cometh not....
O Stranger, on my knees, I charge thee, tell
This tale, not mine, but of dumb wrongs that swell
Crowding--and I the trumpet of their pain,
This tongue, these arms, this bitter burning brain;
These dead shorn locks, and he for whom they died!
His father slew Troy's thousands in their pride;
He hath but one to kill.... O God, but one!
Is he a man, and Agamemnon's son?
But hold: is this thy husband from the plain,
His labour ended, hasting home again?
_Enter the_ PEASANT.
Ha, who be these? Strange men in arms before
My house! What would they at this lonely door?
Seek they for me?--Strange gallants should not stay
A woman's goings.
Friend and helper!--Nay,
Think not of any evil. These men be
Friends of Orestes, charged with words for me!...
Strangers, forgive his speech.
What word have they
Of him? At least he lives and sees the day!
So fares their tale--and sure I doubt it not!
And ye two still are living in his thought,
Thou and his father?
In his dreams we live.
An exile hath small power.
And did he give
Some privy message?
None: they come as spies
For news of me.
Thine outward news their eyes
Can see; the rest, methinks, thyself will tell.
They have seen all, heard all. I trust them well.
Why were our doors not open long ago?--
Be welcome, strangers both, and pass below
My lintel. In return for your glad words
Be sure all greeting that mine house affords
Is yours.--Ye followers, bear in their gear!--
Gainsay me not; for his sake are ye dear
That sent you to our house; and though my part
In life be low, I am no churl at heart.
[_The_ PEASANT _goes to the_ ARMED SERVANTS _at the back, to help them
with the baggage._
ORESTES (_aside to_ ELECTRA).
Is this the man that shields thy maidenhood
Unknown, and will not wrong thy father's blood?
He is called my husband. 'Tis for him I toil.
How dark lies honour hid! And what turmoil
In all things human: sons of mighty men
Fallen to naught, and from ill seed again
Good fruit: yea, famine in the rich man's scroll
Writ deep, and in poor flesh a lordly soul.
As, lo, this man, not great in Argos, not
With pride of house uplifted, in a lot
Of unmarked life hath shown a prince's grace.
[_To the_ PEASANT, _who has returned._
All that is here of Agamemnon's race,
And all that lacketh yet, for whom we come,
Do thank thee, and the welcome of thy home
Accept with gladness.--Ho, men; hasten ye
Within!--This open-hearted poverty
Is blither to my sense than feasts of gold.
Lady, thine husband's welcome makes me bold;
Yet would thou hadst thy brother, before all
Confessed, to greet us in a prince's hall!
Which may be, even yet. Apollo spake
The word; and surely, though small store I make
Of man's divining, God will fail us not.
[ORESTES _and_ PYLADES _go in, following the_ SERVANTS.
O never was the heart of hope so hot
Within me. How? So moveless in time past,
Hath Fortune girded up her loins at last?
Now know'st thou not thine own ill furniture,
To bid these strangers in, to whom for sure
Our best were hardship, men of gentle breed?
Nay, if the men be gentle, as indeed
I deem them, they will take good cheer or ill
With even kindness.
'Twas ill done; but still--
Go, since so poor thou art, to that old friend
Who reared my father. At the realm's last end
He dwells, where Tanaos river foams between
Argos and Sparta. Long time hath he been
An exile 'mid his flocks. Tell him what thing
Hath chanced on me, and bid him haste and bring
Meat for the strangers' tending.--Glad, I trow,
That old man's heart will be, and many a vow
Will lift to God, to learn the child he stole
From death, yet breathes.--I will not ask a dole
From home; how should my mother help me? Nay,
I pity him that seeks that door, to say
Wilt thou have it so?
I will take word to the old man. But go
Quickly within, and whatso there thou find
Set out for them. A woman, if her mind
So turn, can light on many a pleasant thing
To fill her board. And surely plenishing
We have for this one day.--'Tis in such shifts
As these, I care for riches, to make gifts
To friends, or lead a sick man back to health
With ease and plenty. Else small aid is wealth
For daily gladness; once a man be done
With hunger, rich and poor are all as one.
[_The_ PEASANT _goes off to the left_; ELECTRA _goes into the house._
* * * * *
O for the ships of Troy, the beat [_Strophe_ 1.
Of oars that shimmered
Innumerable, and dancing feet
Of Nereids glimmered;
And dolphins, drunken with the lyre,
Across the dark blue prows, like fire,
Did bound and quiver,
To cleave the way for Thetis' son,
Fleet-in-the-wind Achilles, on
To war, to war, till Troy be won
Beside the reedy river.
Up from Euboea's caverns came [_Antistrophe_ 1.
The Nereids, bearing
Gold armour from the Lords of Flame,
Wrought for his wearing:
Long sought those daughters of the deep,
Up Pelion's glen, up Ossa's steep
Where Peleus reared alone, afar,
His lost sea-maiden's child, the star
Of Hellas, and swift help of war
When weary armies panted.
There came a man from Troy, and told [_Strophe_ 2.
Here in the haven,
How, orb on orb, to strike with cold
The Trojan, o'er that targe of gold,
Dread shapes were graven.
All round the level rim thereof
Perseus, on winged feet, above
The long seas hied him;
The Gorgon's wild and bleeding hair
He lifted; and a herald fair,
He of the wilds, whom Maia bare,
God's Hermes, flew beside him.
But midmost, where the boss rose higher,
A sun stood blazing,
And winged steeds, and stars in choir,
Hyad and Pleiad, fire on fire,
For Hector's dazing:
Across the golden helm, each way,
Two taloned Sphinxes held their prey,
Song-drawn to slaughter:
And round the breastplate ramping came
A mingled breed of lion and flame,
Hot-eyed to tear that steed of fame
That found Pirene's water.
The red red sword with steeds four-yoked [_Epode_.
Black-maned, was graven,
That laboured, and the hot dust smoked
Cloudwise to heaven.
Thou Tyndarid woman! Fair and tall
Those warriors were, and o'er them all
One king great-hearted,
Whom thou and thy false love did slay:
Therefore the tribes of Heaven one day
For these thy dead shall send on thee
An iron death: yea, men shall see
The white throat drawn, and blood's red spray,
And lips in terror parted.
[_As they cease, there enters from the left a very old man, bearing a
lamb, a wineskin, and a wallet_.
Where is my little Princess? Ah, not now;
But still my queen, who tended long ago
The lad that was her father.... How steep-set
These last steps to her porch! But faint not yet:
Onward, ye failing knees and back with pain
Bowed, till we look on that dear face again.
Ah, daughter, is it thou?--Lo, here I am,
With gifts from all my store; this suckling lamb
Fresh from the ewe, green crowns for joyfulness,
And creamy things new-curdled from the press.
And this long-stored juice of vintages
Forgotten, cased in fragrance: scant it is,
But passing sweet to mingle nectar-wise
With feebler wine.--Go, bear them in; mine eyes...
Where is my cloak?--They are all blurred with tears.
What ails thine eyes, old friend? After these years
Doth my low plight still stir thy memories?
Or think'st thou of Orestes, where he lies
In exile, and my father? Aye, long love
Thou gavest him, and seest the fruit thereof
Wasted, for thee and all who love thee!
Wasted! And yet 'tis that lost hope withal
I cannot brook. But now I turned aside
To see my master's grave. All, far and wide,
Was silence; so I bent these knees of mine
And wept and poured drink-offerings from the wine
I bear the strangers, and about the stone
Laid myrtle sprays. And, child, I saw thereon
Just at the censer slain, a fleeced ewe,
Deep black, in sacrifice: the blood was new
About it: and a tress of bright brown hair
Shorn as in mourning, close. Long stood I there
And wondered, of all men what man had gone
In mourning to that grave.--My child, 'tis none
In Argos. Did there come ... Nay, mark me now...
Thy brother in the dark, last night, to bow
His head before that unadored tomb?
O come, and mark the colour of it. Come
And lay thine own hair by that mourner's tress!
A hundred little things make likenesses
In brethren born, and show the father's blood.
ELECTRA (_trying to mask her excitement and resist the contagion of his_).
Old heart, old heart, is this a wise man's mood?...
O, not in darkness, not in fear of men,
Shall Argos find him, when he comes again,
Mine own undaunted ... Nay, and if it were,
What likeness could there be? My brother's hair
Is as a prince's and a rover's, strong
With sunlight and with strife: not like the long
Locks that a woman combs.... And many a head
Hath this same semblance, wing for wing, tho' bred
Of blood not ours.... 'Tis hopeless. Peace, old man.
The footprints! Set thy foot by his, and scan
The track of frame and muscles, how they fit!
That ground will take no footprint! All of it
Is bitter stone.... It hath?... And who hath said
There should be likeness in a brother's tread
And sister's? His is stronger every way.
But hast thou nothing...? If he came this day
And sought to show thee, is there no one sign
Whereby to know him?... Stay; the robe was thine,
Work of thy loom, wherein I wrapt him o'er
That night and stole him through the murderers' door.
Thou knowest, when Orestes was cast out
I was a child.... If I did weave some clout
Of raiment, would he keep the vesture now
He wore in childhood? Should my weaving grow
As his limbs grew?... 'Tis lost long since. No more!
O, either 'twas some stranger passed, and shore
His locks for very ruth before that tomb:
Or, if he found perchance, to seek his home,
The strangers! Where are they? I fain
Would see them, aye, and bid them answer plain...
Here at the door! How swift upon the thought!
_Enter_ ORESTES _and_ PYLADES.
High-born: albeit for that I trust them not.
The highest oft are false.... Howe'er it be,
I bid the strangers hail!
All hail to thee,
Greybeard!--Prithee, what man of all the King
Trusted of old, is now this broken thing?
'Tis he that trained my father's boyhood.
And stole from death thy brother? Sayest thou?
This man was his deliverer, if it be
How his old eye pierceth me,
As one that testeth silver and alloy!
Sees he some likeness here?
Perchance 'tis joy,
To see Orestes' comrade, that he feels.
None dearer.--But what ails the man? He reels
I marvel. I can say
OLD MAN (_in a broken voice_).
Electra, mistress, daughter, pray!
Pray unto God!
Of all the things I crave,
The thousand things, or all that others have,
What should I pray for?
Pray thine arms may hold
At last this treasure-dream of more than gold
God shows us!
God, I pray thee!... Wouldst thou more?
Gaze now upon this man, and bow before
Thy dearest upon earth!
I gaze on thee!
O, hath time made thee mad?
Mad, that I see
My ... I know not what thou say'st:
I looked not for it...
I tell thee, here confessed
Standeth Orestes, Agamemnon's son!
A sign before I trust thee! O, but one!
How dost thou know...?
There, by his brow, I see
The scar he made, that day he ran with thee
Chasing thy fawn, and fell.
ELECTRA (_in a dull voice_).
A scar? 'Tis so.
I see a scar.
And fearest still to throw
Thine arms round him thou lovest?
O, no more!
Thy sign hath conquered me.... (_throwing herself into_ ORESTES' _arms_).
At last, at last!
Thy face like light! And do I hold thee fast,
Yea, at last! And I hold thee.
I never knew...
I dreamed not.
Is it he,
Thy defender, yea, alone
To fight the world! Lo, this day have I thrown
A net, which once unbroken from the sea
Drawn home, shall ... O, and it must surely be!
Else men shall know there is no God, no light
In Heaven, if wrong to the end shall conquer right.
Comest thou, comest thou now,
Chained by the years and slow,
O Day long sought?
A light on the mountains cold
Is lit, yea, a fire burneth,
'Tis the light of one that turneth
From roamings manifold,
Back out of exile old
To the house that knew him not.
Some spirit hath turned our way,
Walking at thy right hand,
Beloved; O lift this day
Thine arms, thy voice, as a spell;
And pray for thy brother, pray,
Threading the perilous land,
That all be well!
Enough; this dear delight is mine at last
Of thine embracing; and the hour comes fast
When we shall stand again as now we stand,
And stint not.--Stay, Old Man: thou, being at hand
At the edge of time, advise me, by what way
Best to requite my father's murderers. Say,
Have I in Argos any still to trust;
Or is the love, once borne me, trod in dust,
Even as my fortunes are? Whom shall I seek?
By day or night? And whither turn, to wreak
My will on them that hate us? Say.
In thine adversity, there is not one
Will call thee friend. Nay, that were treasure-trove,
A friend to share, not faltering from love,
Fair days and foul the same. Thy name is gone
Forth to all Argos, as a thing o'erthrown
And dead. Thou hast not left one spark to glow
With hope in one friend's heart! Hear all, and know:
Thou hast God's fortune and thine own right hand,
Naught else, to conquer back thy fatherland.
The deed, the deed! What must we do?
Aegisthus ... and thy mother.
'Tis the crown
My race is run for. But how find him?
Within the city walls, however hot
Ha! With watchers doth he go
Begirt, and mailed pikemen?
He lives in fear of thee, and night nor day
That way blocked!--'Tis thine to say
What next remains.
I will; and thou give ear.
A thought has found me!
All good thoughts be near,
For thee to speak and me to understand!
But now I saw Aegisthus, close at hand
As here I journeyed.
That good word shall trace
My path for me! Thou saw'st him? In what place?
Out on the pastures where his horses stray.
What did he there so far?--A gleam of day
Crosseth our darkness.
'Twas a feast, methought,
Of worship to the wild-wood nymphs he wrought.
The watchers of men's birth? Is there a son
New born to him, or doth he pray for one
That cometh? [_Movement of_ ELECTRA.
More I know not; he had there
A wreathed ox, as for some weighty prayer.
What force was with him? Not his serfs alone?
No Argive lord was there; none but his own
Not any that aught know my face,
Thralls, thralls; who ne'er have seen thy face.
Once I prevail, the thralls will welcome me!
The slaves' way, that; and no ill thing for thee!
How can I once come near him?
Walk thy ways
Hard by, where he may see thee, ere he slays
How? Is the road so nigh?
He cannot choose but see thee, passing by,
And bid thee stay to share the beast they kill.
A bitter fellow-feaster, if God will!
And then ... then swift be heart and brain, to see
Aye. Well hast thou counselled me.
But ... where is she?
In Argos now, I guess;
But goes to join her husband, ere the press
Of the feast.
Why goeth not my mother straight
Forth at her husband's side?
She fain will wait
Until the gathered country-folk be gone.
Enough! She knows what eyes are turned upon
Her passings in the land!
Aye, all men hate
The unholy woman.
How then can I set
My snare for wife and husband in one breath?
ELECTRA (_coming forward_).
Hold! It is I must work our mother's death.
If that be done, I think the other deed
Fortune will guide.
This man must help our need,
One friend alone for both.
He will, he will!
Speak on. What cunning hast thou found to fill
Get thee forth, Old Man, and quick
Tell Clytemnestra ... tell her I lie sick,
New-mothered of a man-child.
Thou hast borne
A son! But when?
Let this be the tenth morn.
Till then a mother stays in sanctity,
And if I tell her, where shall be
The death in this?
That word let her but hear,
Straight she will seek me out!
The queen! What care
Hath she for thee, or pain of thine?
And weep my babe's low station!
Thou hast skill
To know her, child; say on.
But bring her here,
Here to my hand; the rest will come.
Here at the gate she shall stand palpable!
The gate: the gate that leads to me and Hell.
Let me but see it, and I die content.
First, then, my brother: see his steps be bent...
Straight yonder, where Aegisthus makes his prayer!
Then seek my mother's presence, and declare
Thy very words, child, as tho' spoke
From thine own lips!
Brother, thine hour is struck.
Thou standest in the van of war this day.
ORESTES (_rousing himself_).
Aye, I am ready.... I will go my way,
If but some man will guide me.
Here am I,
To speed thee to the end, right thankfully.
ORESTES (_turning as he goes and raising his hands to heaven_).
Zeus of my sires, Zeus of the lost battle,
Have pity; have pity; we have earned it well!
Pity these twain, of thine own body sprung!
O Queen o'er Argive altars, Hera high,
Grant us thy strength, if for the right we cry.
Strength to these twain, to right their father's wrong!
O Earth, deep Earth, to whom I yearn in vain,
And deeper thou, O father darkly slain,
Thy children call, who love thee: hearken thou!
Girt with thine own dead armies, wake, O wake!
With all that died at Ilion for thy sake ...
And hate earth's dark defilers; help us now!
Dost hear us yet, O thou in deadly wrong,
Wronged by my mother?
Child, we stay too long.
He hears; be sure he hears!
And while he hears,
I speak this word for omen in his ears:
"Aegisthus dies, Aegisthus dies."... Ah me,
My brother, should it strike not him, but thee,
This wrestling with dark death, behold, I too
Am dead that hour. Think of me as one true,
Not one that lives. I have a sword made keen
For this, and shall strike deep.
I will go in
And make all ready. If there come from thee
Good tidings, all my house for ecstasy
Shall cry; and if we hear that thou art dead,
Then comes the other end!--Lo, I have said.
I know all, all.
Then be a man to-day!
[ORESTES _and the_ OLD MAN _depart_.
O Women, let your voices from this fray
Flash me a fiery signal, where I sit,
The sword across my knees, expecting it.
For never, though they kill me, shall they touch
My living limbs!--I know my way thus much.
[_She goes into the house_.
* * * * *
When white-haired folk are met [_Strophe_.
In Argos about the fold,
A story lingereth yet,
A voice of the mountains old,
That tells of the Lamb of Gold:
A lamb from a mother mild,
But the gold of it curled and beat;
And Pan, who holdeth the keys of the wild,
Bore it to Atreus' feet:
His wild reed pipes he blew,
And the reeds were filled with peace,
And a joy of singing before him flew,
Over the fiery fleece:
And up on the based rock,
As a herald cries, cried he:
"Gather ye, gather, O Argive folk,
The King's Sign to see,
The sign of the blest of God,
For he that hath this, hath all!"
Therefore the dance of praise they trod
In the Atreid brethren's hall.
They opened before men's eyes [_Antistrophe_.
That which was hid before,
The chambers of sacrifice,
The dark of the golden door,
And fires on the altar floor.
And bright was every street,
And the voice of the Muses' tree.
The carven lotus, was lifted sweet;
When afar and suddenly,
Strange songs, and a voice that grew:
"Come to your king, ye folk!
Mine, mine, is the Golden Ewe!"
'Twas dark Thyestes spoke.
For, lo, when the world was still,
With his brother's bride he lay,
And won her to work his will,
And they stole the Lamb away!
Then forth to the folk strode he,
And called them about his fold,
And showed that Sign of the King to be,
The fleece and the horns of gold.
Then, then, the world was changed; [_Strophe_ 2.
And the Father, where they ranged,
Shook the golden stars and glowing,
And the great Sun stood deranged
In the glory of his going.
Lo, from that day forth, the East
Bears the sunrise on his breast,
And the flaming Day in heaven
Down the dim ways of the west
Driveth, to be lost at even.
The wet clouds to Northward beat;
And Lord Ammon's desert seat
Crieth from the South, unslaken,
For the dews that once were sweet,
For the rain that God hath taken.
'Tis a children's tale, that old [_Antistrophe_ 2.
Shepherds on far hills have told;
And we reck not of their telling,
Deem not that the Sun of gold
Ever turned his fiery dwelling,
Or beat backward in the sky,
For the wrongs of man, the cry
Of his ailing tribes assembled,
To do justly, ere they die!
Once, men told the tale, and trembled;
Fearing God, O Queen: whom thou
Hast forgotten, till thy brow
With old blood is dark and daunted.
And thy brethren, even now,
Walk among the stars, enchanted.
Ha, friends, was that a voice? Or some dream sound
Of voices shaketh me, as underground
God's thunder shuddering? Hark, again, and clear!
It swells upon the wind.--Come forth and hear!
ELECTRA, _a bare sword in her hand, comes from the house._
Friends! Some news is brought?
How hath the battle ended?
I know naught.
There seemed a cry as of men massacred!
I heard it too. Far off, but still I heard.
A distant floating voice ... Ah, plainer now!
Of Argive anguish!--Brother, is it thou?
I know not. Many confused voices cry...
Death, then for me! That answer bids me die.
Nay, wait! We know not yet thy fortune. Wait!
No messenger from him!--Too late, too late!
The message yet will come. 'Tis not a thing
So light of compass, to strike down a king.
_Enter a_ MESSENGER, _running_.
Victory, Maids of Argos, Victory!
Orestes ... all that love him, list to me!...
Hath conquered! Agamemnon's murderer lies
Dead! O give thanks to God with happy cries!
Who art thou? I mistrust thee.... 'Tis a plot!
Thy brother's man. Look well. Dost know me not?
Friend, friend; my terror made me not to see
Thy visage. Now I know and welcome thee.
How sayst thou? He is dead, verily dead,
My father's murderer...?
Shall it be said
Once more? I know again and yet again
Thy heart would hear. Aegisthus lieth slain!
Ye Gods! And thou, O Right, that seest all,
Art come at last?... But speak; how did he fall?
How swooped the wing of death?... I crave to hear.
Forth of this hut we set our faces clear
To the world, and struck the open chariot road;
Then on toward the pasture lands, where stood
The great Lord of Mycenae. In a set
Garden beside a channelled rivulet,
Culling a myrtle garland for his brow,
He walked: but hailed us as we passed: "How now,
Strangers! Who are ye? Of what city sprung,
And whither bound?" "Thessalians," answered young
Orestes: "to Alpheues journeying,
With gifts to Olympian Zeus." Whereat the king:
"This while, beseech you, tarry, and make full
The feast upon my hearth. We slay a bull
Here to the Nymphs. Set forth at break of day
To-morrow, and 'twill cost you no delay.
But come"--and so he gave his hand, and led
The two men in--"I must not be gainsaid;
Come to the house. Ho, there; set close at hand
Vats of pure water, that the guests may stand
At the altar's verge, where falls the holy spray."
Then quickly spake Orestes: "By the way
We cleansed us in a torrent stream. We need
No purifying here. But if indeed
Strangers may share thy worship, here are we
Ready, O King, and swift to follow thee."
So spoke they in the midst. And every thrall
Laid down the spears they served the King withal,
And hied him to the work. Some bore amain
The death-vat, some the corbs of hallowed grain;
Or kindled fire, and round the fire and in
Set cauldrons foaming; and a festal din
Filled all the place. Then took thy mother's lord
The ritual grains, and o'er the altar poured
Its due, and prayed: "O Nymphs of Rock and Mere,
With many a sacrifice for many a year,
May I and she who waits at home for me,
My Tyndarid Queen, adore you. May it be
Peace with us always, even as now; and all
Ill to mine enemies"--meaning withal
Thee and Orestes. Then my master prayed
Against that prayer, but silently, and said
No word, to win once more his fatherland.
Then in the corb Aegisthus set his hand,
Took the straight blade, cut from the proud bull's head
A lock, and laid it where the fire was red;
Then, while the young men held the bull on high,
Slew it with one clean gash; and suddenly
Turned on thy brother: "Stranger, every true
Thessalian, so the story goes, can hew
A bull's limbs clean, and tame a mountain steed.
Take up the steel, and show us if indeed
Rumour speak true," Right swift Orestes took
The Dorian blade, back from his shoulders shook
His brooched mantle, called on Pylades
To aid him, and waved back the thralls. With ease
Heelwise he held the bull, and with one glide
Bared the white limb; then stripped the mighty hide
From off him, swifter than a runner runs
His furlongs, and laid clean the flank. At once
Aegisthus stooped, and lifted up with care
The ominous parts, and gazed. No lobe was there;
But lo, strange caves of gall, and, darkly raised,
The portal vein boded to him that gazed
Fell visitations. Dark as night his brow
Clouded. Then spake Orestes: "Why art thou
Cast down so sudden?" "Guest," he cried, "there be
Treasons from whence I know not, seeking me.
Of all my foes, 'tis Agamemnon's son;
His hate is on my house, like war." "Have done!"
Orestes cried: "thou fear'st an exile's plot,
Lord of a city? Make thy cold heart hot
With meat.--Ho, fling me a Thessalian steel!
This Dorian is too light. I will unseal
The breast of him." He took the heavier blade,
And clave the bone. And there Aegisthus stayed,
The omens in his hand, dividing slow
This sign from that; till, while his head bent low,
Up with a leap thy brother flashed the sword,
Then down upon his neck, and cleft the cord
Of brain and spine. Shuddering the body stood
One instant in an agony of blood,
And gasped and fell. The henchmen saw, and straight
Flew to their spears, a host of them to set
Against those twain. But there the twain did stand
Unfaltering, each his iron in his hand,
Edge fronting edge. Till "Hold," Orestes calls:
"I come not as in wrath against these walls
And mine own people. One man righteously
I have slain, who slew my father. It is I,
The wronged Orestes! Hold, and smite me not,
Old housefolk of my father!" When they caught
That name, their lances fell. And one old man,
An ancient in the house, drew nigh to scan
His face, and knew him. Then with one accord
They crowned thy brother's temples, and outpoured
joy and loud songs. And hither now he fares
To show the head, no Gorgon, that he bears,
But that Aegisthus whom thou hatest! Yea,
Blood against blood, his debt is paid this day.
[_He goes off to meet the others_--ELECTRA _stands as though stupefied_.
Now, now thou shalt dance in our dances,
Beloved, as a fawn in the night!
The wind is astir for the glances
Of thy feet; thou art robed with delight.
He hath conquered, he cometh to free us
With garlands new-won,
More high than the crowns of Alpheues,
Thine own father's son:
Cry, cry, for the day that is won!
O Light of the Sun, O chariot wheels of flame,
O Earth and Night, dead Night without a name
That held me! Now mine eyes are raised to see,
And all the doorways of my soul flung free.
Aegisthus dead! My father's murderer dead!
What have I still of wreathing for the head
Stored in my chambers? Let it come forth now
To bind my brother's and my conqueror's brow.
[_Some garlands are brought out from the house to_ ELECTRA.
Go, gather thy garlands, and lay them
As a crown on his brow, many-tressed,
But our feet shall refrain not nor stay them:
'Tis the joy that the Muses have blest.
For our king is returned as from prison,
The old king, to be master again,
Our beloved in justice re-risen:
With guile he hath slain...
But cry, cry in joyance again!
[_There enter from the left_ ORESTES _and_ PYLADES, _followed by some
O conqueror, come! The king that trampled Troy
Knoweth his son Orestes. Come in joy,
Brother, and take to bind thy rippling hair
My crowns!.... O what are crowns, that runners wear
For some vain race? But thou in battle true
Hast felled our foe Aegisthus, him that slew
By craft thy sire and mine. [_She crowns_ ORESTES.
And thou no less,
O friend at need, O reared in righteousness,
Take, Pylades, this chaplet from my hand.
'Twas half thy battle. And may ye two stand
Thus alway, victory-crowned, before my face! [_She crowns_ PYLADES.
Electra, first as workers of this grace
Praise thou the Gods, and after, if thou will,
Praise also me, as chosen to fulfil
God's work and Fate's.--Aye, 'tis no more a dream;
In very deed I come from slaying him.
Thou hast the knowledge clear, but lo, I bring
More also. See himself, dead!
[_Attendants bring in the body of_ AEGISTHUS _on a bier_.
Wouldst thou fling
This lord on the rotting earth for beasts to tear?
Or up, where all the vultures of the air
May glut them, pierce and nail him for a sign
Far off? Work all thy will. Now he is thine.
It shames me; yet, God knows, I hunger sore--
What wouldst thou? Speak; the old fear nevermore
Need touch thee.
To let loose upon the dead
My hate! Perchance to rouse on mine own head
The sleeping hate of the world?
No man that lives
Shall scathe thee by one word.
Our city gives
Quick blame; and little love have men for me.
If aught thou hast unsaid, sister, be free
And speak. Between this man and us no bar
Cometh nor stint, but the utter rage of war.
[_She goes and stands over the body. A moment's silence_.
Ah me, what have I? What first flood of hate
To loose upon thee? What last curse to sate
My pain, or river of wild words to flow
Bank-high between?... Nothing?... And yet I know
There hath not passed one sun, but through the long
Cold dawns, over and over, like a song,
I have said them--words held back, O, some day yet
To flash into thy face, would but the fret
Of ancient fear fall loose and let me free.
And free I am, now; and can pay to thee
At last the weary debt.
Oh, thou didst kill
My soul within. Who wrought thee any ill,
That thou shouldst make me fatherless? Aye, me
And this my brother, loveless, solitary?
'Twas thou, didst bend my mother to her shame:
Thy weak hand murdered him who led to fame
The hosts of Hellas--thou, that never crossed
O'erseas to Troy!... God help thee, wast thou lost
In blindness, long ago, dreaming, some-wise,
She would be true with thee, whose sin and lies
Thyself had tasted in my father's place?
And then, that thou wert happy, when thy days
Were all one pain? Thou knewest ceaselessly
Her kiss a thing unclean, and she knew thee
A lord so little true, so dearly won!
So lost ye both, being in falseness one,
What fortune else had granted; she thy curse,
Who marred thee as she loved thee, and thou hers...
And on thy ways thou heardst men whispering,
"Lo, the Queen's husband yonder"--not "the King."
And then the lie of lies that dimmed thy brow,
Vaunting that by thy gold, thy chattels, Thou
Wert Something; which themselves are nothingness.
Shadows, to clasp a moment ere they cease.
The thing thou art, and not the things thou hast,
Abideth, yea, and bindeth to the last
Thy burden on thee: while all else, ill-won
And sin-companioned, like a flower o'erblown,
Flies on the wind away.
Or didst them find
In women ... Women?... Nay, peace, peace! The blind
Could read thee. Cruel wast thou in thine hour,
Lord of a great king's house, and like a tower
Firm in thy beauty. [_Starting back with a look of loathing_.
Ah, that girl-like face!
God grant, not that, not that, but some plain grace
Of manhood to the man who brings me love:
A father of straight children, that shall move
Swift on the wings of War.
So, get thee gone!
Naught knowing how the great years, rolling on,
Have laid thee bare, and thy long debt full paid.
O vaunt not, if one step be proudly made
In evil, that all Justice is o'ercast:
Vaunt not, ye men of sin, ere at the last
The thin-drawn marge before you glimmereth
Close, and the goal that wheels 'twixt life and death.
Justice is mighty. Passing dark hath been
His sin: and dark the payment of his sin.
ELECTRA (_with a weary sigh, turning from the body_).
Ah me! Go some of you, bear him from sight,
That when my mother come, her eyes may light
On nothing, nothing, till she know the sword....
[_The body is borne into the hut_. PYLADES _goes with it_.
ORESTES (_looking along the road_).
Stay, 'tis a new thing! We have still a word
What? Not a rescue from the town
'Tis my mother comes: my own
Mother, that bare me. [_He takes off his crown_.
ELECTRA (_springing, as it were, to life again, and moving where she can
see the road_).
Straight into the snare!
Aye, there she cometh,--Welcome in thy rare
Chariot! All welcome in thy brave array!
What would we with our mother? Didst thou say
ELECTRA (_turning on him_).
What? Is it pity? Dost thou fear
To see thy mother's shape?
'Twas she that bare
My body into life. She gave me suck.
How can I strike her?
Strike her as she struck
ORESTES (_to himself, brooding_).
Phoebus, God, was all thy mind
Turned unto darkness?
If thy God be blind,
Shalt thou have light?
ORESTES (_as before_).
Thou, thou, didst bid me kill
My mother: which is sin.
How brings it ill
To thee, to raise our father from the dust?
I was a clean man once. Shall I be thrust
From men's sight, blotted with her blood?
Is black as death if him thou succour not!
Who shall do judgment on me, when she dies?
Who shall do judgment, if thy father lies.
ORESTES (_turning suddenly to_ ELECTRA).
Stay! How if some fiend of Hell,
Hid in God's likeness, spake that oracle?
In God's own house? I trow not.
And I trow
It was an evil charge! [_He moves away from her._
ELECTRA (_almost despairing_).
To fail me now!
To fail me now! A coward!--O brother, no!
What shall it be, then? The same stealthy blow ...
That slew our father! Courage! thou hast slain
Aye. So be it.--I have ta'en
A path of many terrors: and shall do
Deeds horrible. 'Tis God will have it so....
Is this the joy of battle, or wild woe? [_He goes into the house._
O Queen o'er Argos throned high,
O Woman, sister of the twain,
God's Horsemen, stars without a stain,
Whose home is in the deathless sky,
Whose glory in the sea's wild pain,
Toiling to succour men that die:
Long years above us hast thou been,
God-like for gold and marvelled power:
Ah, well may mortal eyes this hour
Observe thy state: All hail, O Queen!
_Enter from the right_ CLYTEMNESTRA _on a chariot, accompanied by richly
Down from the wain, ye dames of Troy, and hold
Mine arm as I dismount.... [_Answering_ ELECTRA'S _thought_.
The spoils and gold
Of Ilion I have sent out of my hall
To many shrines. These bondwomen are all
I keep in mine own house.... Deemst thou the cost
Too rich to pay me for the child I lost--
Fair though they be?
Nay, Mother, here am I
Bond likewise, yea, and homeless, to hold high
Thy royal arm!
Child, the war slaves are here;
Thou needst not toil.
What was it but the spear
Of war, drove me forth too? Mine enemies
Have sacked my father's house, and, even as these,
Captives and fatherless, made me their prey.
It was thy father cast his child away,
A child he might have loved!... Shall I speak out?
(_Controlling herself_) Nay; when a woman once is caught about
With evil fame, there riseth in her tongue
A bitter spirit--wrong, I know! Yet, wrong
Or right, I charge ye look on the deeds done;
And if ye needs must hate, when all is known,
Hate on! What profits loathing ere ye know?
My father gave me to be his. 'Tis so.
But was it his to kill me, or to kill
The babes I bore? Yet, lo, he tricked my will
With fables of Achilles' love: he bore
To Aulis and the dark ship-clutching shore,
He held above the altar-flame, and smote,
Cool as one reaping, through the strained throat,
My white Iphigenia.... Had it been
To save some falling city, leaguered in
With foemen; to prop up our castle towers,
And rescue other children that were ours,
Giving one life for many, by God's laws
I had forgiven all! Not so. Because
Helen was wanton, and her master knew
No curb for her: for that, for that, he slew
My daughter!--Even then, with all my wrong,
No wild beast yet was in me. Nay, for long,
I never would have killed him. But he came,
At last, bringing that damsel, with the flame
Of God about her, mad and knowing all:
And set her in my room; and in one wall
Would hold two queens!--O wild are woman's eyes
And hot her heart. I say not otherwise.
But, being thus wild, if then her master stray
To love far off, and cast his own away,
Shall not her will break prison too, and wend
Somewhere to win some other for a friend?
And then on us the world's curse waxes strong
In righteousness! The lords of all the wrong
Must hear no curse!--I slew him. I trod then
The only road: which led me to the men
He hated. Of the friends of Argos whom
Durst I have sought, to aid me to the doom
I craved?--Speak if thou wouldst, and fear not me,
If yet thou deemst him slain unrighteously.
Thy words be just, yet shame their justice brings;
A woman true of heart should bear all things
From him she loves. And she who feels it not,
I cannot reason of her, nor speak aught.
Remember, mother, thy last word of grace,
Bidding me speak, and fear not, to thy face.
So said I truly, child, and so say still.
Wilt softly hear, and after work me ill?
Not so, not so. I will but pleasure thee.
I answer then. And, mother, this shall be
My prayer of opening, where hangs the whole:
Would God that He had made thee clean of soul!
Helen and thou--O, face and form were fair,
Meet for men's praise; but sisters twain ye were,
Both things of naught, a stain on Castor's star,
And Helen slew her honour, borne afar
In wilful ravishment: but thou didst slay
The highest man of the world. And now wilt say
'Twas wrought in justice for thy child laid low
At Aulis?... Ah, who knows thee as I know?
Thou, thou, who long ere aught of ill was done
Thy child, when Agamemnon scarce was gone,
Sate at the looking-glass, and tress by tress
Didst comb the twined gold in loneliness.
When any wife, her lord being far away.
Toils to be fair, O blot her out that day
As false within! What would she with a cheek
So bright in strange men's eyes, unless she seek
Some treason? None but I, thy child, could so
Watch thee in Hellas: none but I could know
Thy face of gladness when our enemies
Were strong, and the swift cloud upon thine eyes
If Troy seemed falling, all thy soul keen-set
Praying that he might come no more!... And yet
It was so easy to be true. A king
Was thine, not feebler, not in anything
Below Aegisthus; one whom Hellas chose
For chief beyond all kings. Aye, and God knows,
How sweet a name in Greece, after the sin
Thy sister wrought, lay in thy ways to win.
Ill deeds make fair ones shine, and turn thereto
Men's eyes.--Enough: but say he wronged thee; slew
By craft thy child:--what wrong had I done, what
The babe Orestes? Why didst render not
Back unto us, the children of the dead,
Our father's portion? Must thou heap thy bed
With gold of murdered men, to buy to thee
Thy strange man's arms? Justice! Why is not he
Who cast Orestes out, cast out again?
Not slain for me whom doubly he hath slain,
In living death, more bitter than of old
My sister's? Nay, when all the tale is told
Of blood for blood, what murder shall we make,
I and Orestes, for our father's sake?
Aye, child; I know thy heart, from long ago.
Thou hast alway loved him best. 'Tis oft-time so:
One is her father's daughter, and one hot
To bear her mother's part. I blame thee not....
Yet think not I am happy, child; nor flown
With pride now, in the deeds my hand hath done....
[_Seeing_ ELECTRA _unsympathetic, she checks herself_.
But thou art all untended, comfortless
Of body and wild of raiment; and thy stress
Of travail scarce yet ended!... Woe is me!
'Tis all as I have willed it. Bitterly
I wrought against him, to the last blind deep
Of bitterness.... Woe's me!
Fair days to weep,
When help is not! Or stay: though he lie cold
Long since, there lives another of thy fold
Far off; there might be pity for thy son?
I dare not!... Yes, I fear him. 'Tis mine own
Life, and not his, comes first. And rumour saith
His heart yet burneth for his father's death.
Why dost thou keep thine husband ever hot
'Tis his mood. And thou art not
So gentle, child!
My spirit is too sore!
Howbeit, from this day I will no more
CLYTEMNESTRA (_with a flash of hope_).
O daughter!--Then, indeed, shall he,
I promise, never more be harsh to thee!
He lieth in my house, as 'twere his own.
'Tis that hath made him proud.
Nay, art thou flown
To strife again so quick, child?
Well; I say
No more; long have I feared him, and alway
Shall fear him, even as now!
Nay, daughter, peace!
It bringeth little profit, speech like this...
Why didst thou call me hither?
It reached thee,
My word that a man-child is born to me?
Do thou make offering for me--for the rite
I know not--as is meet on the tenth night.
I cannot; I have borne no child till now.
Who tended thee? 'Tis she should make the vow.
None tended me. Alone I bare my child.
What, is thy cot so friendless? And this wild
So far from aid?
Who seeks for friendship sake
A beggar's house?
I will go in, and make
Due worship for thy child, the Peace-bringer.
To all thy need I would be minister.
Then to my lord, where by the meadow side
He prays the woodland nymphs.
Ye handmaids, guide
My chariot to the stall, and when ye guess
The rite draws near its end, in readiness
Be here again. Then to my lord!... I owe
My lord this gladness, too.
[_The Attendants depart;_ CLYTEMNESTRA, _left alone, proceeds to enter the
My narrow roof! But have a care withal,
A grime of smoke lies deep upon the wall.
Soil not thy robe!...
Not far now shall it be,
The sacrifice God asks of me and thee.
The bread of Death is broken, and the knife
Lifted again that drank the Wild Bull's life:
And on his breast.... Ha, Mother, hast slept well
Aforetime? Thou shalt lie with him in Hell.
That grace I give to cheer thee on thy road;
Give thou to me--peace from my father's blood!
[_She follows her mother into the house_.
Lo, the returns of wrong.
The wind as a changed thing
Of one that of old lay dead
In the water lapping long:
My King, O my King!
A cry in the rafters then
Rang, and the marble dome:
"Mercy of God, not thou,
"Woman! To slay me now,
"After the harvests ten
"Now, at the last, come home!"
O Fate shall turn as the tide,
Turn, with a doom of tears
For the flying heart too fond;
A doom for the broken bond.
She hailed him there in his pride,
Home from the perilous years,
In the heart of his walled lands,
In the Giants' cloud-capt ring;
Herself, none other, laid
The hone to the axe's blade;
She lifted it in her hands,
The woman, and slew her king.
Woe upon spouse and spouse,
Whatso of evil sway
Held her in that distress!
Even as a lioness
Breaketh the woodland boughs
Starving, she wrought her way.
VOICE OF CLYTEMNESTRA.
O Children, Children; in the name of God,
Slay not your mother!
Did ye hear a cry
Under the rafters?
I weep too, yea, I;
Down on the mother's heart the child hath trod!
[_A death-cry from within_.
God bringeth Justice in his own slow tide.
Aye, cruel is thy doom; but thy deeds done
Evil, thou piteous woman, and on one
Whose sleep was by thy side!
[_The door bursts open, and_ ORESTES _and_ ELECTRA _come forth in
disorder. Attendants bring out the bodies of_ CLYTEMNESTRA _and_
Lo, yonder, in their mother's new-spilt gore
Red-garmented and ghastly, from the door
They reel.... O horrible! Was it agony
Like this, she boded in her last wild cry?
There lives no seed of man calamitous,
Nor hath lived, like this seed of Tantalus.
O Dark of the Earth, O God,
Thou to whom all is plain;
Look on my sin, my blood,
This horror of dead things twain;
Gathered as one they lie
Slain; and the slayer was I,
I, to pay for my pain!
Let tear rain upon tear,
Brother: but mine is the blame.
A fire stood over her,
And out of the fire I came,
I, in my misery....
And I was the child at her knee.
'Mother' I named her name.
Alas for Fate, for the Fate of thee,
O Mother, Mother of Misery:
And Misery, lo, hath turned again,
To slay thee, Misery and more,
Even in the fruit thy body bore.
Yet hast thou Justice, Justice plain,
For a sire's blood spilt of yore!
Apollo, alas for the hymn
Thou sangest, as hope in mine ear!
The Song was of Justice dim,
But the Deed is anguish clear;
And the Gift, long nights of fear,
Of blood and of wandering,
Where cometh no Greek thing,
Nor sight, nor sound on the air.
Yea, and beyond, beyond,
Roaming--what rest is there?
Who shall break bread with me?
Who, that is clean, shall see
And hate not the blood-red hand,
His mother's murderer?
And I? What clime shall hold
My evil, or roof it above?
I cried for dancing of old,
I cried in my heart for love:
What dancing waiteth me now?
What love that shall kiss my brow
Nor blench at the brand thereof?
Back, back, in the wind and rain
Thy driven spirit wheeleth again.
Now is thine heart made clean within
That was dark of old and murder-fraught.
But, lo, thy brother; what hast thou wrought....
Yea, though I love thee.... what woe, what sin,
On him, who willed it not!
Saw'st thou her raiment there,
Sister, there in the blood?
She drew it back as she stood,
She opened her bosom bare,
She bent her knees to the earth,
The knees that bent in my birth....
And I ... Oh, her hair, her hair....
[_He breaks into inarticulate weeping_
Oh, thou didst walk in agony,
Hearing thy mother's cry, the cry
Of wordless wailing, well know I.
She stretched her hand to my cheek,
And there brake from her lips a moan;
'Mercy, my child, my own!'
Her hand clung to my cheek;
Clung, and my arm was weak;
And the sword fell and was gone.
Unhappy woman, could thine eye
Look on the blood, and see her lie,
Thy mother, where she turned to die?
I lifted over mine eyes
My mantle: blinded I smote,
As one smiteth a sacrifice;
And the sword found her throat.
I gave thee the sign and the word;
I touched with mine hand thy sword.
Dire is the grief ye have wrought.
Sister, touch her again:
Oh, veil the body of her;
Shed on her raiment fair,
And close that death-red stain.
--Mother! And didst thou bear,
Bear in thy bitter pain,
To life, thy murderer?
[_The two kneel over the body of_ CLYTEMNESTRA, _and cover her with
On her that I loved of yore,
Robe upon robe I cast:
On her that I hated sore.
O House that hath hated sore,
Behold thy peace at the last!
* * * * *
Ha, see: above the roof-tree high
There shineth ... Is some spirit there
Of earth or heaven? That thin air
Was never trod by things that die!
What bodes it now that forth they fare,
To men revealed visibly?
[_There appears in the air a vision of_ CASTOR _and_ POLYDEUCES. _The
mortals kneel or veil their faces._
Thou Agamemnon's Son, give ear! 'Tis we.
Castor and Polydeuces, call to thee,
God's Horsemen and thy mother's brethren twain.
An Argive ship, spent with the toiling main,
We bore but now to peace, and, here withal
Being come, have seen thy mother's bloody fall,
Our sister's. Righteous is her doom this day,
But not thy deed. And Phoebus, Phoebus ... Nay;
He is my lord; therefore I hold my peace.
Yet though in light he dwell, no light was this
He showed to thee, but darkness! Which do thou
Endure, as man must, chafing not. And now
Fare forth where Zeus and Fate have laid thy life.
The maid Electra thou shalt give for wife
To Pylades; then turn thy head and flee
From Argos' land. 'Tis never more for thee
To tread this earth where thy dead mother lies.
And, lo, in the air her Spirits, bloodhound eyes,
Most horrible yet Godlike, hard at heel
Following shall scourge thee as a burning wheel,
Speed-maddened. Seek thou straight Athena's land,
And round her awful image clasp thine hand,
Praying: and she will fence them back, though hot
With flickering serpents, that they touch thee not,
Holding above thy brow her gorgon shield.
There is a hill in Athens, Ares' field,
Where first for that first death by Ares done
On Halirrhothius, Poseidon's son,
Who wronged his daughter, the great Gods of yore
Held judgment: and true judgments evermore
Flow from that Hill, trusted of man and God.
There shalt thou stand arraigned of this blood;
And of those judges half shall lay on thee
Death, and half pardon; so shalt thou go free.
For Phoebus in that hour, who bade thee shed
Thy mother's blood, shall take on his own head
The stain thereof. And ever from that strife
The law shall hold, that when, for death or life
Of one pursued, men's voices equal stand,
Then Mercy conquereth.--But for thee, the band
Of Spirits dread, down, down, in very wrath,
Shall sink beside that Hill, making their path
Through a dim chasm, the which shall aye be trod
By reverent feet, where men may speak with God.
But thou forgotten and far off shalt dwell,
By great Alpheues' waters, in a dell
Of Arcady, where that gray Wolf-God's wall
Stands holy. And thy dwelling men shall call
Orestes Town. So much to thee be spoke.
But this dead man, Aegisthus, all the folk
Shall bear to burial in a high green grave
Of Argos. For thy mother, she shall have
Her tomb from Menelaus, who hath come
This day, at last, to Argos, bearing home
Helen. From Egypt comes she, and the hall
Of Proteus, and in Troy hath ne'er at all
Set foot. 'Twas but a wraith of Helen, sent
By Zeus, to make much wrath and ravishment.
So forth for home, bearing the virgin bride,
Let Pylades make speed, and lead beside
Thy once-named brother, and with golden store
Stablish his house far off on Phocis' shore.
Up, gird thee now to the steep Isthmian way,
Seeking Athena's blessed rock; one day,
Thy doom of blood fulfilled and this long stress
Of penance past, thou shalt have happiness.
LEADER (_looking up_).
Is it for us, O Seed of Zeus,
To speak and hear your words again!
CASTOR. Speak: of this blood ye bear no stain.
ELECTRA. I also, sons of Tyndareus,
My kinsmen; may my word be said?
CASTOR. Speak: on Apollo's head we lay
The bloody doings of this day.
LEADER. Ye Gods, ye brethren of the dead,
Why held ye not the deathly herd
Of Keres back from off this home?
CASTOR. There came but that which needs must come
By ancient Fate and that dark word
That rang from Phoebus in his mood.
ELECTRA. And what should Phoebus seek with me,
Or all God's oracles that be,
That I must bear my mother's blood?
CASTOR. Thy hand was as thy brother's hand,
Thy doom shall be as his. One stain,
From dim forefathers on the twain
Lighting, hath sapped your hearts as sand.
ORESTES (_who has never raised his head, nor spoken to the Gods_).
After so long, sister, to see
And hold thee, and then part, then part,
By all that chained thee to my heart
Forsaken, and forsaking thee!
CASTOR. Husband and house are hers. She bears
No bitter judgment, save to go
Exiled from Argos.
ELECTRA. And what woe,
What tears are like an exile's tears?
ORESTES. Exiled and more am I; impure,
A murderer in a stranger's hand:
CASTOR. Fear not. There dwells in Pallas' land
All holiness. Till then endure!
[ORESTES _and_ ELECTRA _embrace_
ORESTES. Aye, closer; clasp my body well,
And let thy sorrow loose, and shed,
As o'er the grave of one new dead,
Dead evermore, thy last farewell! [_A sound of weeping_.
CASTOR. Alas, what would ye? For that cry
Ourselves and all the sons of heaven
Have pity. Yea, our peace is riven
By the strange pain of these that die.
ORESTES. No more to see thee! ELECTRA. Nor thy breath
Be near my face! ORESTES. Ah, so it ends.
ELECTRA. Farewell, dear Argos. All ye friends,
Farewell! ORESTES. O faithful unto death,
Thou goest? ELECTRA. Aye, I pass from you,
Soft-eyed at last. ORESTES. Go, Pylades,
And God go with you! Wed in peace
My tall Electra, and be true.
[ELECTRA _and_ PYLADES _depart to the left._
Their troth shall fill their hearts.--But on:
Dread feet are near thee, hounds of prey,
Snake-handed, midnight-visaged, yea,
And bitter pains their fruit! Begone!
[ORESTES _departs to the right_.
But hark, the far Sicilian sea
Calls, and a noise of men and ships
That labour sunken to the lips
In bitter billows; forth go we,
Through the long leagues of fiery blue,
With saving; not to souls unshriven;
But whoso in his life hath striven
To love things holy and be true,
Through toil and storm we guard him; we
Save, and he shall not die!--Therefore,
O praise the lying man no more,
Nor with oath-breakers sail the sea:
Farewell, ye walkers on the shore
Of death! A God hath counselled ye.
[CASTOR _and_ POLYDEUCES _disappear_.
Farewell, farewell!--But he who can so fare,
And stumbleth not on mischief anywhere,
Blessed on earth is he!
NOTES TO THE ELECTRA
The chief characters in the play belong to one family, as is shown by the
| | |
Agamemnon Menelaus Aegisthus
(=Clytemnestra) (=Helen) (=Clytemnestra)
| | |
Iphigenia Electra Orestes
(Also, a sister of Agamemnon, name variously given, married Strophios, and
was the mother of Pylades.)
Tyndareus = Leda = Zeus
| | | |
Clytemnestra Castor Polydeuces Helen
P. 1, l. 10, Son of his father's foe.]--Both foe and brother. Atreus and
Thyestes became enemies after the theft of the Golden Lamb. See pp. 47 ff.
P. 2, l. 34, Must wed with me.]--In Aeschylus and Sophocles Electra is
unmarried. This story of her peasant husband is found only in Euripides,
but is not likely to have been wantonly invented by him. It was no doubt
an existing legend--an [Greek: on logos], to use the phrase attributed to
Euripides in the _Frogs_ (l. 1052). He may have chosen to adopt it for
several reasons. First, to marry Electra to a peasant was a likely step
for Aegisthus to take, since any child born to her afterwards would bear a
stigma, calculated to damage him fatally as a pretender to the throne.
Again, it seemed to explain the name "A-lektra" (as if from [Greek:
lektron] "bed;" cf. Schol. _Orestes_, 71, Soph. _El_. 962, _Ant_. 917)
more pointedly than the commoner version. And it helps in the working out
of Electra's character (cf. pp. 17, 22, &c.). Also it gives an opportunity
of introducing the fine character of the peasant. He is an [Greek:
Autourgos] literally "self-worker," a man who works his own land, far from
the city, neither a slave nor a slave-master; "the men," as Euripides says
in the _Orestes_ (920), "who alone save a nation." (Cf, _Bac_., p. 115
foot, and below, p. 26, ll. 367-390.) As Euripides became more and more
alienated from the town democracy he tended, like Tolstoy and others, to
idealise the workers of the soil.
P. 6, l. 62, Children to our enemy.]--Cf. 626. Soph. _El_. 589. They do
not seem to be in existence at the time of the play.
Pp. 5-6.]--Electra's first two speeches are admirable as expositions of
her character--the morbid nursing of hatred as a duty, the deliberate
posing, the impulsiveness, the quick response to kindness.
P. 7, l. 82, Pylades.]--Pylades is a _persona muta_ both here and in
Sophocles' _Electra_, a fixed traditional figure, possessing no quality
but devotion to Orestes. In Aeschylus' _Libation-Bearers_ he speaks only
once, with tremendous effect, at the crisis of the play, to rebuke Orestes
when his heart fails him. In the _Iphigenia in Tauris_, however, and still
more in the _Orestes_, he is a fully studied character.
P. 10, l. 151, A swan crying alone.]--Cf. _Bacchae_, p. 152, "As yearns
the milk-white swan when old swans die."
P. 11, ll. 169 ff., The Watcher hath cried this day.]--Hera was an old
Pelasgian goddess, whose worship was kept in part a mystery from the
invading Achaeans or Dorians. There seems to have been a priest born "of
the ancient folk," _i.e._, a Pelasgian or aboriginal Mycenaean, who, by
some secret lore--probably some ancient and superseded method of
calculating the year--knew when Hera's festival was due, and walked round
the country three days beforehand to announce it. He drank "the milk of
the flock" and avoided wine, either from some religious taboo, or because
he represented the religion of the milk-drinking mountain shepherds.
P. 13, ll. 220 ff.]--Observe Electra's cowardice when surprised; contrast
her courage, p. 47, when sending Orestes off, and again her quick drop to
despair when the news does not come soon enough.
P. 16, ll. 247 ff., I am a wife.... O better dead!]--Rather ungenerous,
when compared with her words on p. 6. (Cf. also her words on pp. 24 and
26.) But she feels this herself, almost immediately. Orestes naturally
takes her to mean that her husband is one of Aegisthus' friends. This
would have ruined his plot. (Cf. above, p. 8, l. 98.)
P. 22, l. 312, Castor.]--I know no other mention of Electra's betrothal to
Castor. He was her kinsman: see below on l. 990.
Pp. 22-23, ll. 300-337.]--In this wonderful outbreak, observe the mixture
of all sorts of personal resentments and jealousies with the devotion of
the lonely woman to her father and her brother. "So men say," is an
interesting touch; perhaps conscience tells her midway that she does not
quite believe what she is saying. So is the self-conscious recognition of
her "bitter burning brain" that interprets all things in a sort of
distortion.--Observe, too, how instinctively she turns to the peasant for
sympathy in the strain of her emotion. It is his entrance, perhaps, which
prevents Orestes from being swept away and revealing himself. The
peasant's courage towards two armed men is striking, as well as his
courtesy and his sanity. He is the one character in the play not somehow
tainted with blood-madness.
P. 27, ll. 403, 409.]--Why does Electra send her husband to the Old Man?
Not, I think, really for want of the food. It would have been easier to
borrow (p. 12, l. 191) from the Chorus; and, besides, what the peasant
says is no doubt true, that, if she liked, she could find "many a pleasant
thing" in the house. I think she sends for the Old Man because he is the
only person who would know Orestes (p. 21, l. 285). She is already, like
the Leader (p. 26, l. 401), excited by hopes which she will not confess.
This reading makes the next scene clearer also.
Pp. 28-30, ll. 432-487, O for the Ships of Troy.]--The two main Choric
songs of this play are markedly what Aristotle calls [Greek: embolima]
"things thrown in." They have no effect upon the action, and form little
more than musical "relief." Not that they are positively irrelevant.
Agamemnon is in our minds all through the play, and Agamemnon's glory is
of course enhanced by the mention of Troy and the praises of his
subordinate king, Achilles.
Thetis, the Nereid, or sea-maiden, was won to wife by Peleus. (He wrestled
with her on the seashore, and never loosed hold, though she turned into
divers strange beings--a lion, and fire, and water, and sea-beasts.) She
bore him Achilles, and then, unable permanently to live with a mortal,
went back beneath the sea. When Achilles was about to sail to Troy, she
and her sister Nereids brought him divine armour, and guided his ships
across the Aegean. The designs on Achilles' armour, as on Heracles'
shield, form a fairly common topic of poetry.
The descriptions of the designs are mostly clear. Perseus with the
Gorgon's head, guided by Hermes; the Sun on a winged chariot, and stars
about him; two Sphinxes, holding as victims the men who had failed to
answer the riddles which they sang; and, on the breastplate, the Chimaera
attacking Bellerophon's winged horse, Pegasus. The name Pegasus suggested
to a Greek [Greek: pege], "fountain;" and the great spring of Pirene, near
Corinth, was made by Pegasus stamping on the rock.
Pp. 30-47.]--The Old Man, like other old family servants in Euripides--the
extreme case is in the _Ion_--is absolutely and even morbidly devoted to
his masters. Delightful in this first scene, he becomes a little horrible
in the next, where they plot the murders; not only ferocious himself, but,
what seems worse, inclined to pet and enjoy the bloodthirstiness of his
Pp. 30-33, ll. 510-545.]--The Signs of Orestes. This scene, I think, has
been greatly misunderstood by critics. In Aeschylus' _Libation-Bearers_,
which deals with the same subject as the _Electra_, the scene is at
Agamemnon's tomb. Orestes lays his tress there in the prologue. Electra
comes bringing libations, sees the hair, compares it with her own, finds
that it is similar "wing for wing" ([Greek: homopteros]--the same word as
here), and guesses that it belongs to Orestes. She then measures the
footprints, and finds one that is like her own, one not; evidently Orestes
and a fellow-traveller! Orestes enters and announces himself; she refuses
to believe, until he shows her a "woven thing," perhaps the robe which he
is wearing, which she recognises as the work of her own hand.
The same signs, described in one case by the same peculiar word, occur
here. The Old Man mentions one after the other, and Electra refutes or
rejects them. It has been thought therefore that this scene was meant as
an attack--a very weak and undignified attack--on Euripides' great master.
No parallel for such an artistically ruinous proceeding is quoted from any
Greek tragedy. And, apart from the improbability _a priori_, I do not
think it even possible to read the scene in this sense. To my mind,
Electra here rejects the signs not from reason, but from a sort of nervous
terror. She dares not believe that Orestes has come; because, if it prove
otherwise, the disappointment will be so terrible. As to both signs, the
lock of hair and the footprints, her arguments may be good; but observe
that she is afraid to make the comparison at all. And as to the footprint,
she says there cannot be one, when the Old Man has just seen it! And,
anyhow, she will not go to see it! Similarly as to the robe, she does her
best to deny that she ever wove it, though she and the Old Man both
remember it perfectly. She is fighting tremulously, with all her flagging
strength, against the thing she longs for. The whole point of the scene
requires that one ray of hope after another should be shown to Electra,
and that she should passionately, blindly, reject them all. That is what
Euripides wanted the signs for.
But why, it may be asked, did he adopt Aeschylus' signs, and even his
peculiar word? Because, whether invented by Aeschylus or not, these signs
were a canonical part of the story by the time Euripides wrote. Every one
who knew the story of Orestes' return at all, knew of the hair and the
footprint. Aristophanes in the _Clouds_ (534 ff.) uses them proverbially,
when he speaks of his comedy "recognising its brother's tress." It would
have been frivolous to invent new ones. As a matter of fact, it seems
probable that the signs are older than Aeschylus; neither they nor the
word [Greek: homopteros] particularly suit Aeschylus' purpose. (Cf. Dr.
Verrall's introduction to the _Libation-Bearers_.) They probably come from
the old lyric poet, Stesichorus.
P. 43, l. 652, New-mothered of a Man-Child.]--Her true Man-Child, the
Avenger whom they had sought to rob her of! This pitiless plan was
suggested apparently by the sacrifice to the Nymphs (p. 40). "Weep my
babe's low station" is of course ironical. The babe would set a seal on
Electra's degradation to the peasant class, and so end the blood-feud, as
far as she was concerned. Clytemnestra, longing for peace, must rejoice in
Electra's degradation. Yet she has motherly feelings too, and in fact
hardly knows what to think or do till she can consult Aegisthus (p. 71).
Electra, it would seem, actually calculates upon these feelings, while
P. 45, l. 669, If but some man will guide me.]--A suggestion of the
irresolution or melancholia that beset Orestes afterwards, alternating
with furious action. (Cf. Aeschylus' _Libation-Bearers_, Euripides'
_Andromache_ and _Orestes_.)
P. 45, l. 671, Zeus of my sires, &c]--In this invocation, short and
comparatively unmoving, one can see perhaps an effect of Aeschylus' play.
In the _Libation-Bearers_ the invocation of Agamemnon comprises 200 lines
of extraordinarily eloquent poetry.
P. 47 ff., ll. 699 ff.]--The Golden Lamb. The theft of the Golden Lamb is
treated as a story of the First Sin, after which all the world was changed
and became the poor place that it now is. It was at least the First Sin in
the blood-feud of this drama.
The story is not explicitly told. Apparently the magic lamb was brought by
Pan from the gods, and given to Atreus as a special grace and a sign that
he was the true king. His younger brother, Thyestes, helped by Atreus'
wife, stole it and claimed to be king himself. So good was turned into
evil, and love into hatred, and the stars shaken in their courses.
[It is rather curious that the Lamb should have such a special effect upon
the heavens and the weather. It is the same in Plato (_Polit._ 268 ff.),
and more definitely so in the treatise _De Astrologia,_ attributed to
Lucian, which says that the Golden Lamb is the constellation Aries, "The
Ram." Hugo Winckler (_Weltanschauung des alten Orients_, pp. 30, 31)
suggests that the story is a piece of Babylonian astronomy misunderstood.
It seems that the vernal equinox, which is now moving from the Ram into
the Fish, was in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. moving from the Bull
into the Ram. Now the Bull, Marduk, was the special god of Babylon, and
the time when he yielded his place to the Ram was also, as a matter of
fact, the time of the decline of Babylon. The gradual advance of the Ram
not only upset the calendar, and made all the seasons wrong; but seemed,
since it coincided with the fall of the Great City, to upset the world in
general! Of course Euripides would know nothing of this. He was apparently
attracted to the Golden Lamb merely by the quaint beauty of the story.]
P. 50, l. 746, Thy brethren even now.]--Castor and Polydeuces, who were
received into the stars after their death. See below, on l. 990.
P. 51, l. 757, That answer bids me die.]--Why? Because Orestes, if he won
at all, would win by a surprise attack, and would send news instantly. A
prolonged conflict, without a message, would mean that Orestes and Pylades
were being overpowered. Of course she is wildly impatient.
P. 51, l. 765, Who an thou? I mistrust thee.]--Just as she mistrusted the
Old Man's signs. See above, p. 89.
P. 52 ff., ll. 774 ff.]--Messenger's Speech. This speech, though swift
and vivid, is less moving and also less sympathetic than most of the
Messengers' Speeches. Less moving, because the slaying of Aegisthus has
little moral interest; it is merely a daring and dangerous exploit. Less
sympathetic, because even here, in the first and comparatively blameless
step of the blood-vengeance, Euripides makes us feel the treacherous side
of it. A [Greek: dolophonia], a "slaying by guile," even at its best,
remains rather an ugly thing.
P. 53, l. 793, Then quickly spake Orestes.]--If Orestes had washed with
Aegisthus, he would have become his _xenos_, or guest, as much as if he
had eaten his bread and salt. In that case the slaying would have been
definitely a crime, a dishonourable act. Also, Aegisthus would have had
the right to ask his name.--The unsuspiciousness of Aegisthus is partly
natural; it was not thus, alone and unarmed, that he expected Orestes to
stand before him. Partly it seems like a heaven-sent blindness. Even the
omens do not warn him, though no doubt in a moment more they would have
P. 56, l. 878, With guile he hath slain.]--So the MSS. The Chorus have
already a faint feeling, quickly suppressed, that there may be another
side to Orestes' action. Most editors alter the text to mean "He hath
slain these guileful ones."
P. 58, l. 900, It shames me, yet God knows I hunger sore.]--To treat the
dead with respect was one of the special marks of a Greek as opposed to a
barbarian. It is possible that the body of Aegisthus might legitimately
have been refused burial, or even nailed on a cross as Orestes in a moment
of excitement suggests. But to insult him lying dead would be a shock to
all Greek feeling. ("Unholy is the voice of loud thanksgiving over
slaughtered men," _Odyssey_ xxii. 412.) Any excess of this kind, any
violence towards the helpless, was apt to rouse "The sleeping wrath of the
world." There was a Greek proverb, "Even an injured dog has his Erinys"--
_i.e._, his unseen guardian or avenger. It is interesting, though not
surprising, to hear that men had little love for Electra. The wonderful
speech that follows, though to a conventional Greek perhaps the most
outrageous thing of which she is guilty, shows best the inherent nobility
of her character before years of misery had "killed her soul within."
P. 59, ll. 928 f., Being in falseness one, &c]--The Greek here is very
obscure and almost certainly corrupt.
P. 61, l. 964, 'Tis my mother comes.]--The reaction has already begun in
Orestes. In the excitement and danger of killing his enemy he has shown
coolness and courage, but now a work lies before him vastly more horrible,
a little more treacherous, and with no element of daring to redeem it.
Electra, on the other hand, has done nothing yet; she has merely tried,
not very successfully, to revile the dead body, and her hate is
unsatisfied. Besides, one sees all through the play that Aegisthus was a
kind of odious stranger to her; it was the woman, her mother, who came
close to her and whom she really hated.
P. 63, l. 979, Was it some fiend of Hell?]--The likeness to _Hamlet_ is
obvious. ("The spirit that I have seen May be the Devil." End of Act II.)
P. 63, l. 983, How shall it be then, the same stealthy blow?...]--He
means, I think, "the same as that with which I have already murdered an
unsuspecting man to-day," but Electra for her own purposes misinterprets
P. 64, l. 990, God's horsemen, stars without a stain.]--Cf. above, ll.
312, 746. Castor and Polydeuces were sons of Zeus and Leda, brothers of
Helen, and half-brothers of Clytemnestra, whose father was the mortal
Tyndareus. They lived as knights without reproach, and afterwards became
stars and demigods. The story is told that originally Castor was mortal
and Polydeuces immortal; but when Castor was fatally wounded Polydeuces
prayed that he might be allowed to give him half his immortality. The
prayer was granted; and the two live as immortals, yet, in some mysterious
way, knowing the taste of death. Unlike the common sinners and punishers
of the rest of the play, these Heroes find their "glory" in saving men
from peril and suffering, especially at sea, where they appear as the
globes of light, called St. Elmo's fire, upon masts and yards.
Pp. 64-71, ll. 998 ff.]--Clytemnestra. "And what sort of woman is this
doomed and 'evil' Queen? We know the majestic murderess of Aeschylus, so
strong as to be actually beautiful, so fearless and unrepentant that one
almost feels her to be right. One can imagine also another figure that
would be theatrically effective--a 'sympathetic' sinner, beautiful and
penitent, eager to redeem her sin by self-sacrifice. But Euripides gives
us neither. Perhaps he believed in neither. It is a piteous and most real
character that we have here, in this sad middle-aged woman, whose first
words are an apology; controlling quickly her old fires, anxious to be as
little hated as possible. She would even atone, one feels, if there were
any safe way of atonement; but the consequences of her old actions are
holding her, and she is bound to persist.... In her long speech it is
scarcely to Electra that she is chiefly speaking; it is to the Chorus,
perhaps to her own bondmaids; to any or all of the people whose shrinking
so frets her." (_Independent Review, l.c._)
P. 65, l. 1011, Cast his child away.]--The Greek fleet assembled for Troy
was held by contrary winds at Aulis, in the Straits of Euboea, and the
whole expedition was in danger of breaking up. The prophets demanded a
human sacrifice, and Agamemnon gave his own daughter, Iphigenia. He
induced Clytemnestra to send her to him, by the pretext that Achilles had
asked for her in marriage.
P. 66, l. 1046, Which led me to the men he hated.]--It made Clytemnestra's
crime worse, that her accomplice was the blood-foe.
Pp. 65-68. As elsewhere in Euripides, these two speeches leave the matter
undecided. He does not attempt to argue the case out. He gives us a flash
of light, as it were, upon Clytemnestra's mind and then upon Electra's.
Each believes what she is saying, and neither understands the whole truth.
It is clear that Clytemnestra, being left for ten years utterly alone, and
having perhaps something of Helen's temperament about her, naturally fell
in love with the Lord of a neighbouring castle; and having once committed
herself, had no way of saving her life except by killing her husband, and
afterwards either killing or keeping strict watch upon Orestes and
Electra. Aegisthus, of course, was deliberately plotting to carry out his
blood-feud and to win a great kingdom.
P. 72, l. 1156, For the flying heart too fond.]--The text is doubtful, but
this seems to be the literal translation, and the reference to
Clytemnestra is intelligible enough.
P. 73, l. 1157, The giants' cloud-capped ring.]--The great walls of
Mycenae, built by the Cyclopes; cf. _Trojan Women_, p. 64, "Where the
towers of the giants shine O'er Argos cloudily."
P. 75, l. 1201, Back, back in the wind and rain.]--The only explicit moral
judgment of the Chorus; cf. note on l. 878.
P. 77, l. 1225, I touched with my hand thy sword.]--_i.e._, Electra
dropped her own sword in horror, then in a revulsion of feeling laid her
hand upon Orestes' sword--out of generosity, that he might not bear his
P. 78, l. 1241, An Argive ship.]--This may have been the ship of Menelaus,
which was brought to Argos by Castor and Polydeuces, see l. 1278. _Helena_
1663. The ships labouring in the "Sicilian sea" (p. 82, l. 1347) must have
suggested to the audience the ships of the great expedition against
Sicily, then drawing near to its destruction. The Athenian fleet was
destroyed early in September 413 B.C.: this play was probably produced in
the spring of the same year, at which time the last reinforcements were
being sent out.
P. 78, l. 1249.]--Marriage of Pylades and Electra. A good example of the
essentially historic nature of Greek tragedy. No one would have invented a
marriage between Electra and Pylades for the purposes of this play. It is
even a little disturbing. But it is here, because it was a fixed fact in
the tradition (cf. _Iphigenia in Tauris_, l. 915 ff.), and could not be
ignored. Doubtless these were people living who claimed descent from
Pylades and Electra.
P. 79, l. 1253, Scourge thee as a burning wheel.]--At certain feasts a big
wheel soaked in some inflammable resin or tar was set fire to and rolled
down a mountain.
P. 79, l. 1258, There is a hill in Athens.]--The great fame of the
Areopagus as a tribunal for man-slaying (see Aeschylus' _Eumenides_)
cannot have been due merely to its incorruptibility. Hardly any Athenian
tribunal was corruptible. But the Areopagus in very ancient times seems to
have superseded the early systems of "blood-feud" or "blood-debt" by a
humane and rational system of law, taking account of intention,
provocation, and the varying degrees of guilt. The Erinyes, being the old
Pelasgian avengers of blood, now superseded, have their dwelling in a
cavern underneath the Areopagus.
P. 80, ll. 1276 ff.]--The graves of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra actually
existed in Argos (Paus. ii. 16, 7). They form, so to speak, the concrete
material fact round which the legend of this play circles (cf. Ridgeway in
_Hellenic Journal_, xxiv. p. xxxix.).
P. 80, l. 1280.]--Helen. The story here adumbrated is taken from
Stesichorus, and forms the plot of Euripides' play _Helena_ (cf.
Herodotus, ii. 113 ff.).
P. 80, l, 1295, I also, sons of Tyndareus.]--Observe that Electra claims
the gods as cousins (cf. p. 22, l. 313), addressing them by the name of
their mortal father. The Chorus has called them "sons of Zeus." In the
same spirit she faces the gods, complains, and even argues, while Orestes
never raises his eyes to them.
P. 80, l. 1300.]--Keres. The death-spirits that flutter over our heads, as
Homer says, "innumerable, whom no man can fly nor hide from."
P. 82, l. 1329, Yea, our peace is riven by the strange pain of these that
die.]--Cf. the attitude of Artemis at the end of the _Hippolytus_.
Sometimes Euripides introduces gods whose peace is not riven, but then
they are always hateful. (Cf. Aphrodite in the _Hippolytus_, Dionysus in
the _Bacchae_, Athena in the _Trojan Women_.)
P. 82, l. 1336, O faithful unto death.]--This is the last word we hear of
Electra, and it is interesting. With all her unlovely qualities it remains
true that she was faithful--faithful to the dead and the absent, and to
what she looked upon as a fearful duty.
* * * * *
Additional Note on the presence of the Argive women during the plot
against the King and Queen. (Cf. especially p. 19, l. 272, These women
hear us.)--It would seem to us almost mad to speak so freely before the
women. But one must observe: 1. Stasis, or civil enmity, ran very high in
Greece, and these women were of the party that hated Aegisthus. 2. There
runs all through Euripides a very strong conception of the cohesiveness of
women, their secretiveness, and their faithfulness to one another. Medea,
Iphigenia, and Creusa, for instance, trust their women friends with
secrets involving life and death, and the secrets are kept. On the other
hand, when a man--Xuthus in the _Ion_--tells the Chorus women a secret,
they promptly and with great courage betray him. Aristophanes leaves the
same impression; and so do many incidents in Greek history. Cf. the
murders plotted by the Athenian women (Hdt. v. 87), and both by and
against the Lemnian women (Hdt. vi. 138). The subject is a large one, but
I would observe: 1. Athenian women were kept as a rule very much together,
and apart from men. 2. At the time of the great invasions the women of a
community must often have been of different race from the men; and this
may have started a tradition of behaviour. 3. Members of a subject (or
disaffected) nation have generally this cohesiveness: in Ireland, Poland,
and parts of Turkey the details of a political crime will, it is said, be
known to a whole country side, but not a whisper come to the authorities.
Of course the mere mechanical fact that the Chorus had to be present on
the stage counts for something. It saved the dramatist trouble to make his
heroine confide in the Chorus. But I do not think Euripides would have
used this situation so often unless it had seemed to him both true to life
and dramatically interesting.
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