Electra (Euripides)

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Euripides' Electra (Ancient Greek: Ἠλέκτρα) was a play probably written in the mid 410s BC, likely after 413 BC. It is unclear whether it was first produced before or after Sophocles' version of the Electra story.


Years before, near the start of the Trojan War, the Greek general Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia in order to appease the goddess Artemis and allow the Greek army to set sail for Troy. His wife Clytemnestra never forgave him, and when he returned from the war ten years later, she and her lover Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon.


The play begins by introducing Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's daughter, Electra. Electra was married off to a farmer, amidst fears that if she remained in the royal household and wed a nobleman, their children would be more likely to try to avenge Agamemnon's death. The man Electra is married to, however, is kind to her and has taken advantage of neither her family name nor her virginity. In return, Electra helps the peasant with household chores. Despite her appreciation for her peasant husband, Electra resents being cast out of her house and her mother's loyalty to Aegisthus. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, was taken out of the country and put under the care of the king of Phocis, where he became friends with the king's son Pylades.

Now grown, Orestes and his companion Pylades travel to Argos, hoping for revenge, and end up at the house of Electra and her husband. They have concealed their identities in order to get information, claiming that they are messengers from Orestes, but the aged servant who smuggled Orestes off to Phocis years before recognizes him by a scar, and the siblings are reunited. Electra is eager to help her brother in bringing down Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and they conspire together.

While the old servant goes to lure Clytemnestra to Electra's house by telling her that her daughter has had a baby, Orestes sets off and kills Aegisthus and returns with the body. His resolve begins to waver at the prospect of matricide but Electra coaxes him into going through with it. When Clytemnestra arrives, he and Electra kill her by pushing a sword down her throat (which is only recounted and not shown), leaving both feeling oppressive guilt. At the end, Clytemnestra's deified brothers Castor and Polydeuces (often called the Dioscuri) appear. They tell Electra and Orestes that their mother received just punishment but that their matricide was still a shameful act, and they instruct the siblings on what they must do to atone and purge their souls of the crime.

Aeschylean parody and Homeric allusion

The enduring popularity of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy (produced in 458 BC) is evident in Euripides' construction of the recognition scene between Orestes and Electra. In The Libation Bearers (whose plot is roughly equivalent to the events in Electra), Electra recognizes her brother by a series of tokens: a lock of his hair, a footprint he leaves at Agamemnon's grave, and an article of clothing she had made for him years earlier. Euripides' own recognition scene clearly parodies Aeschylus' account. In Euripides' play (510ff.), Electra laughs at the idea of using such tokens to recognize her brother because: there is no reason their hair should match; Orestes' footprint would in no way resemble her smaller footprint; and it would be illogical for a grown Orestes to still have a piece of clothing made for him when he was a small child.

Orestes is instead recognized from a scar he received on the forehead while chasing a doe in the house as a child (571-74). This is a mock-heroic allusion to a scene from Homer's Odyssey. In Odyssey 19.428-54, the nurse Eurycleia recognizes a newly returned Odysseus from a scar on his thigh that he received as a child while on his first boar hunt. In the Odyssey, Orestes' return to Argos and taking revenge for his father's death is held up several times as a model for Telemachus' behavior (see Telemachy). Euripides in turn uses his recognition scene to allude to the one in Odyssey 19. Instead of an epic heroic boar hunt, Euripides instead invents a semi-comic incident involving a fawn.[1]

Text (in translation)

  • G. Theodoridis, as Elektra, 2006 – Prose: Full Text



  1. See (e.g.) Solmsen 1967; Tarkow 1981; Halporn 1983. For a general study of allusions to Homer in Greek tragedy, see Garner 1990.

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