Composers and their stage works 


(Elektra, 413? B.C.)



Clytemnestra with the help of her lover Aegisthus has murdered Agamemnon, her husband, and forced Electra, her daughter by Agamemnon, into marriage with a peasant so that her children will not be in a position to take revenge.


Electra is living in rustic squalor, harbouring her grievances and awaiting the return of her brother Orestes, who has grown up in distant Phocis, so that together they may avenge their father's death. When he arrives before her but with his friend Pylades, she refuses to recognise him until Agamemnon's former servant provides positive proof of his identity by a scar on his forehead. (The scene parodies Aeschylus's less realistic use of evidence in the recognition scene of The Libation Bearers.) At first Orestes hesitates at the enormity of the task of revenge awaiting him, though it is commanded him by Apollo. Electra's plan is to lure Clytemnestra to the but with the news that she has given birth to a son; meanwhile, Orestes and Pylades are to dispose of Aegisthus while he is making a sacrifice. Orestes murders Aegisthus with an axe, but he is less willing to commit matricide.

On her arrival, Clytemnestra reveals her abiding resentment of Agamemnon's adultery with Cassandra and sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia. But despite her bitterness, she regrets her past deeds. Electra, however, remains unmoved and helps Orestes kill their mother with her own hands. The gods Castor and Pollux appear, declaring Electra to be as guilty as Clytemnestra had been. She is sent to live in exile, although she is to marry Pylades. Orestes is to be pursued by the Furies until he is tried for murder in Athens; finally he will be pardoned. But Castor and Pollux also express regret for Apollo's irresponsible cruelty in bringing the murder about another sarcasm directed by Euripides at the orderly theodicy of Aeschylus's Oresteia.