Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ELECTRA, by SOPHOCLES

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ELECTRA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O child of agamemnon, who sometime
Last Line: By this glorious essay.
Subject(s): Revenge; Tragedy


AGED SERVANT, to whose care young Orestes had been entrusted
ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra
PYLADES, cousin and close friend of Orestes
ELECTRA, sister of Orestes
CHRYSOTHEMIS, younger sister of Electra
CLYTEMNESTRA, Queen of Mycenæ and Argos
ÆGISTHUS, slayer of Agamemnon and husband of Clytemnestra
CHORUS OF MYCENÆAN WOMEN, friends of Electra

Scene: Before the palace of Agamemnon at Mycenæ



Aged Servant. O Child of Agamemnon, who sometime
Was Captain of the host that leaguered Troy,
'Tis thine at last to view before thee spread
The scene thy heart was set on. Yonder lies
Old Argos thou so long hast yearned to see,
Once refuge of the gadfly-driven maid,
Daughter of Inachus; and, Orestes, here
The market-place from the Wolf-slayer named;
There on our left is Hera's far-famed shrine;
And lo! before us, at our very feet
Thou seest Mycenæ of the golden hoard,
And there the palace grim of Pelops' line,
Deep stained with murder. Thence I bore thee once
Snatched from beside thy father's bleeding corpse
By kindly hands, thy sister's; rescued thus
I fostered thee till thou hadst reached the age
To be the avenger of thy father's blood.
But now, Orestes, and thou, Pylades,
Dearest of friends, the hour for you is ripe
To take resolve and that right speedily.
For lo, already the bright beams of day
Waken to melody the pipe of birds,
And black night with her glimmering stars has waned.
So ere a soul be stirring in the streets
Confer together and resolve yourselves.
No time for longer pause; now must we act.
Orestes. Dearest of followers, how well thou show'st
The constant service of thy loyalty!
For as the high-bred steed, though he be old,
Pricks up his ears and champs the bit for joy
When battle rages, even so dost thou
Both urge us on and follow with the first.
Therefore I will unfold our plans, and thou
Note well my words, and if in aught I seem
To miss the mark, admonish and correct.
Know then that when I left thee to consult
The Pythian oracle and learn how best
To execute just vengeance for my sire
On those that slew him, Phœbus answered thus:
Trust not to shields or armed hosts, but steal
The chance thyself the avenging blow to deal.
Since then the Pythian god hath thus advised,
Go thou and watch thine opportunity
To enter in the palace and observe
What happens there and bring us full report.
And fear not to be recognized; long years
And thy white locks, the blossom of old age,
Have changed thee wholly. Tell some clever tale:
Thou art a Phocian stranger hither sent
By Phanoteus their mightiest ally.
Report, confirming with an oath the tale,
How that Orestes by a fatal chance
Hath perished, from his speeding chariot hurled
(So let thy tale run) at the Pythian games.
And we meanwhile, as the god ordered us,
First having crowned my father's sepulcher
With pure libations and rich offerings
Of new-shorn tresses, will return anon,
An urn of well-wrought brasswork in our hands,
The same we hid in the brushwood, as thou know'st.
This will confirm the untrue tale we bring,
That I am dead and to the pyre consigned,
Naught left of me but ashes and gray dust:
Little care I by rumour to be dead,
So I live on to win me deathless fame.
The end, methinks, gives any fraud excuse.
Oft have I heard of men, considered wise,
Who spread the rumour of their death, and so
Returning home a heartier welcome found.
Thus by my rumoured death I too aspire
To blaze a sudden meteor on my foes.
But O my country and my country's gods,
Give me fair welcome, prosper my emprise!
And greet me too, thou palace of my sires;
A heaven-sent cleanser of thy stain I come.
Send me not forth again to banishment,
But O! restore to me its ancient wealth,
May I refound its old prosperity!
Enough of words; go presently, old friend,
Attend thy business; and we two will go,
And watch the time, for opportunity
Is the best captain of all enterprise.
Electra. [Within] Ah me! unhappy me!
Aged Servant. Hist! from the doors a voice, my son, me-thought,
A wailing as of some handmaid within.
Orestes. Can it be sad Electra! Shall we stay
And overhear her mournful plaint?
Aged Servant. Not so; we first must strive before all else
To do as Loxias bade us and thence take
Our auspices—with lustral waters bathe
Thy father's grave, thus shall we surely win
Vantage at each step, victory in the end.

[Exeunt. Enter ELECTRA from the palace.]

Electra. O holy light,
What sight
Have ye not witnessed in the first gray morn,
Beatings of breasts and bosoms madly torn!
By night for me is spread
No festal banquet in this haunted hall,
But my lone pallet bed.
All night I muse upon my father dead,
Not in a foreign land at Ares' call,
But here, at home, by my own mother slain;
Her and Ægisthus, ...
Felled by their axe's bloody stroke,
E'en as the woodman fells an oak.
And I, O father, I alone of all
Thy house am left forlorn
To make my moan, to mourn
Thy piteous fall.

Yet never, while these eyes
Behold the sun or star-bespangled skies,
Will I restrain my plaint, my bitter cries;
But like some nightingale
My ravished nest bewail,
And through these halls shall sound my groans and sighs.
Halls of Persephonè and Death,
Guide of the shades, O Hermes, and O Wraith,
Ye god-sprung Furies dread
Who watch when blood is shed,
Or stained the marriage bed,
O aid me to avenge my father slain,
O send my brother back again!
Alone, no more I countervail
Grief that o'erloads the scale.



Chorus. Child of a mother all unblest,
Electra, how in grief that knows no rest
Thou witherest;
Mourning thy father's cruel fate,
By her betrayed and slaughtered by her mate.
Black death await
The plotter of that sin,
If prayer so bold may answer win!


Electra. Ah, noble friends, ye come, I see,
To ease my misery;
Your kind intent, O trust me, I perceive.
Yet can I never leave
My task, each day, each hour, anew to shed
Tears o'er my father dead.
O kindly hearts, so ready to repay
All friendship owes,
Leave me, O leave me (this one boon I pray)
To my wild woes.
Chorus. Yet him, thy sire, from Acheron's dark shore
By prayers or cries thou never canst restore,
No, never more;
And by excess of grief thou perishest.
If remedy be none, were it not best
From grief to rest?
O rest thee! why
Thus nurse thy fruitless misery?
Electra. That child's so heartless who remembers not
His sire's sad lot.
O bird of Zeus, to thine I'll set my note,
Who with full throat
For Itys, Itys griev'st from eve till morn.
Ah! Niobe forlorn,
How blest art thou who tombed in stone dost lie
And weep for aye!
Chorus. Not thou alone, hast sorrow; others share
Thy load of care.
Think on thy kinsfolk whom afflictions press
Than thine no less,
Iphianassa and Chrysothemis.
Think of thy brother; sorrow now is his,
An exiled youth, yet shortly shall he come
By heaven's good guidance home,
And glad Mycenæ shall Orestes own
Heir to his father's throne.
Electra. Yea, for him long years I wait,
Unwed, childless, desolate,
Drenched with tears that ever flow
For my barren load of woe;
And the wrongs whereof he wot,
Or hath heard, are all forgot.
All those messages are vain—
How he hopes to come again,
How for home his heart doth yearn!—
Yet he wills not to return.
Chorus. Take heart, my child, Zeus still in heaven is king,
And orders everything;
To him commit the wrath that gnaws thy breast,
His will is ever best.
Nurse, as is meet, thy vengeance, but abate
Excess of hate,
For Time can heal, a gentle god and mild.
Nor Agamemnon's child
Who long by Crisa's pastoral shore remains.
Nor he who reigns
O'er Acheron will nevermore relent.
Electra. Nay but for me is spent
The best of life; I languish in despair.
Prostrate with care,
Without a parent's love or husband's aid,
An orphaned maid.
Here in the chambers of my sire I wait
In low estate,
Or like a stranger who in beggar's weeds
On fragments feeds.
Chorus. Dire was the voice that greeted first
Thy sire's return, and dire the cry
That from the banquet-chamber burst,
A wail of agony;
What time the brazen axe's blow
Struck him and laid him low,
'Twas lust begat and craft conceived the deed,
A monstrous offspring of a monstrous seed,
Whether a god or mortal wrought the woe.

Electra. It shames me, friends, that ye should thus set down
To willfulness my too persistent grief.
But since I yield to hard necessity,
Bear with me. How indeed could any woman
Of noble blood who sees her father's home
Plague-stricken, as I see it night and day,
And each day stricken worse, not do as I?
For me a mother's love has turned to hate;
In my own home on sufferance I live
With my sire's murderers, on whose will it rests
To give or to withhold my daily bread.
Think what a life is mine, to see each day
Ægisthus seated on my father's throne,
Wearing the royal robes my father wore,
Pouring libations on the hearth, whereat
He slew him, and, to crown his insolence,
Wed my mother—mother shall I call
His paramour? So lost to shame is she
That she fears no vengeance. No,
As if exulting in her infamy,
She watches month by month to know the day
Whereon by treachery she slew my sire,
And keeps that day with dance and sacrifice,
Each month, of sheep to the protecting gods.
Beholding this I weep and waste within,
And to myself bewail the unhallowed feast
Named of my sire, with silent tears, for e'en
The luxury of wailing is denied me.
This woman (saintly is her speech) upbraids
And rates me thus: "Ungodly, hateful girl,
Hast thou alone to bear a father's loss,
Art thou the only mourner? Out upon thee
Destruction seize thee! and in hell may'st thou
Find no deliverance from thy present grief!"
So rails she, save at times when rumours run
Orestes is at hand, then wild with rage
She thunders in my ears "This is thy doing;
Was it not thou who from my hands didst steal
Orestes and convey him safe away?
Mark my words, thou shalt rue it!" So she screams,
And her partner's there to egg her on,
Her glorious consort who repeats her jeers,
Who fights his battles with a woman's aid.
Meanwhile I wait until Orestes comes
To end my woes, and waiting pine away.
By ever dallying he has quite destroyed
The hopes I had and those I might have had.
In such a case what room is there, my friends,
For patience, what for piety? In sooth
Those in ill plight are driven to evil ways.
Chorus. Stay, tell me, is Ægisthus nigh at hand,
While thus thou speakest, or is he from home?
Electra. From home, of course! Think you, were he within,
I should thus venture forth? He is now afield.
Chorus. More freely then may I converse with thee,
If this is so.
Electra. It is; ask what thou wilt.
Chorus. 'Tis of thy brother I would question thee.
Comes he, or tarries yet? I fain would know.
Electra. He says, "I come," but does not what he says.
Chorus. A man thinks twice with some great work in hand.
Electra. I thought not twice when I delivered him.
Chorus. Take heart, he is loyal and will not fail his friends.
Electra. I trust him, else I had not lived so long.
Chorus. No more for this time; at the doors I see
Chrysothemis, thy sister, of one sire
Born and one mother; in her hands she bears
Gifts for the tomb by custom long approved.
Chrysothemis. Sister, why com'st thou once more to declaim
In public at the outer gate? Has time
Not schooled thee to refrain from idle rage?
I too, my sister, chafe no less than thou
At our sad fortunes, and had I the power,
Would make it plain how I regard our masters.
But in the storm 'tis best to reef the sail,
Nor utter threats we cannot execute.
I would thou wert likeminded; yet I know
Justice is on thy side, and I am wrong.
Yet if I am to keep my liberty,
I needs must bow before the powers that be.
Electra. O shame that thou, the child of such a sire,
Should'st him forget and take thy mother's part;
For all these admonitions are not thine,
A lesson thou repeatest, learnt of her.
Make thine election then, to be unwise,
Or show thy wisdom by forgetting friends.
Thou saidst, "If but the power were granted me,
I would make plain the hate I feel for them;"
And yet when I am straining every nerve
To avenge my sire, thou wilt not aid me; nay,
Dissuadest and wouldst have me hold my hand.
Shall we to all our ills add cowardice?
Tell me—or let me tell thee—what have I
To gain by ceasing from my sad complaint?
I still have life? a sorry life, indeed,
But good enough for me; and them I vex,
And vexing them do honour to the dead,
If anything can touch the world of shades.
Thou hatest? Nay, thy deeds belie thy words,
While thou dost mingle with the murderers;
So would not I, though they should offer me
The pomp that makes thee proud, the loaded board,
Thy life of ease; no, I would never yield.
Enough for me spare diet and a soul
Void of offence; thy state I covet not,
Nor wouldst thou, wert thou wise. Men might have called thee
Child of the noblest sire that ever lived;
Be called thy mother's, rightly named as base,
Betrayer of thy dead sire and thy kin.
Chorus. No angry words, I pray, for both of you
There's profit in this talking, if thou
Wouldst learn of her, and she in turn of thee.
Chrysothemis. I know her moods too well to take offence,
Nor had I now approached her, but I learnt
Of new impending peril that is like
To put a finish to her long-drawn woes.
Electra. Say what can be this terror; if 'tis worse
Than what I now bear, I will call a truce.
Chrysothemis. All I have learnt in full I will impart.
They purpose, if thou wilt not stay thy plaints,
To send thee where thou shalt not see the sun,
Far hence, to some dark dungeon, there to spend
Thy days and nights in prayers of woe.
Therefore reflect, and blame me not too late;
Take warning and repent while yet 'tis time.
Electra. Have they indeed resolved to treat me thus?
Chrysothemis. The instant that Ægisthus is returned.
Electra. Well, for my part I would he came back soon.
Chrysothemis. Foolish girl! What mean'st thou by this prayer?
Electra. Would he were here, if this be his intent.
Chrysothemis. That thou mayst suffer—what? Hast thou lost thy wits?
Electra. A flight long leagues away from all of you.
Chrysothemis. Art thou indifferent to thy present life?
Electra. O 'tis a marvellously happy life!
Chrysothemis. It might have been couldst thou have schooled thyself.
Electra. Teach me not basely to betray my friends.
Chrysothemis. Not I; I teach submission to the strong.
Electra. Fawn, if thou wilt; such cringing suits not me.
Chrysothemis. Yet not to fall through folly were no blame.
Electra. If needs be, in a father's cause I'll fall.
Chrysothemis. I trust our father pardons us for this.
Electra. Traitors take refuge in like sentiments.
Chrysothemis. Thou wilt not heed then nor be ruled by me?
Electra. I am not in my dotage, save the mark!
Chrysothemis. Then I will do my errand.
Electra. Whither away?
For whom art carrying these burnt offerings?
Chrysothemis. My mother bids me crown our father's grave.
Electra. Her mortal enemy's! How sayest thou?
Chrysothemis. The husband whom she slew, so thou wouldst say.
Electra. Which of her friends advised her? whence this whim?
Chrysothemis. A nightly vision warned her, so I think.
Electra. Gods of my fathers, aid me in this pass!
Chrysothemis. Dost thou take heart of courage from her dread?
Electra. Before I answer let me hear the dream.
Chrysothemis. There is but little that I have to tell.
Electra. Tell it no less. A little word, men say,
Hath oftentimes determined good or woe.
Chrysothemis. 'Tis said that she beheld thy sire and mine
In bodily presence standing by her side,
Revisiting the light of day. He took
The scepter of Ægisthus, once his own,
And at the household altar planted it,
And from it sprang and spread a fruitful bough,
Till it o'ershadowed all Mycenæ's land.
Such is the tale one told me who was by
When to the Sun-god she declared her dream.
Further I know not, save that in alarm
She sent me hither. Hearken then to me.
Sister, I pray thee by our household gods,
Fall not through folly; if thou spurn me now
Too late in sorrow wilt thou seek my aid.
Electra. Nay, let not aught, my sister, touch the tomb,
Of all thou bearest. 'Twere a shame, a sin,
To offer on behalf of her, the accursed,
Gifts or libations to our father's ghost.
Scatter them to the winds or bury them
Deep in the dust, where nothing may defile
Our father's lone couch; let her find them there,
A buried treasure when she comes to die.
Were she not basest of all womankind,
She ne'er had thought with offerings of hate
To crown her murdered victim's sepulcher
Thinkst thou 'tis likely that her buried lord
Will take these honours kindly at her hands
Who slew him without pity like a foe,
Mangled his corpse, and for ablution washed
The bloodstains on his head? Say, is it like
These gifts will purge her of blood-guiltiness?
It cannot be. Fling them away and cut
A tress of thine own locks; and for my share
Give him from me—a poor thing, but my best—
This unkempt lock, this girdle unadorned.
Then fall upon thy knees and pray that he
May come, our gracious champion from the dead,
And that the young Orestes yet may live
To trample underfoot his vanquished foes.
So may we some day crown our father's tomb
With costlier gifts than these poor offerings.
I can but think, 'tis but a thought, that he
Had part in sending her this ominous dream.
Still, sister, do this service and so aid
Thyself and me, and him the most beloved
Of all men, e'en though dead, thy sire and mine.
Chorus. 'Tis piously advised, and thou, my daughter,
Wilt do her bidding, if thou art discreet.
Chrysothemis. I will. When duty calls, 'twere lack of sense
For two to wrangle; both should join to act.
Only when I essay this perilous task,
Be silent, if you love me, friends, for if
My mother hears of it, I shall have cause
To repent my folly soon or late.


[End of First Episode]


Chorus. Count me a prophet false, a witless wight,
If Justice, who inspires my prophecy,
Comes not, my child, to vindicate the right.
She comes and that right speedily.
My heart grows bold and nothing fears;
That dream was music in my ears.
It tells me that thy sire who led
The Greeks to victory hath not forgot;
Yea, and that axe with double brazen head
Still thirsts for blood to wipe away its blot.

So leaping from her ambush, brazen-shod,
Comes the Erinys with an armed host's tread,
For she hath seen a pair who knew not God ...
Therefore I know that not in vain is sent
This omen that the fall of guilt foretells,
For, if this vision fails of its intent,
Vain is all sooth, all dreams, all oracles.
O chariot-race of Pelops old,
The source of sorrows manifold,
What endless curse hath fallen on us
Since to his sea-grave Myrtilus
Sank from the golden chariot hurled;
Woe upon woe, of woes a world.



Clytemnestra. So once again I find thee here at large,
For he who kept thee close and so restrained
Thy scandalous tongue, Ægisthus, is away;
Yet thy complaints, repeated many a time
To many, censured my tyrannic rule—
The insults that I heaped on thee and thine.
Was it an insult if I paid in kind
The sneers and taunts wherewith thou mockest me?
Thy father, the sole pretext of thy grief,
Died by my hand, aye mine, I know it well,
'Tis true beyond denial; yet not I,
Not I alone, but Justice slew him too:
And thou shouldst side with Justice, wert thou wise.
This sire of thine for whom thy tears still flow
Alone of all the Greeks could steel his heart
To yield thy sister as a sacrifice;
.... Tell me now
Wherefore he offered her, on whose behalf?
The Greeks, thou sayest. And what right had they
To kill my child? For Menelaus' sake,
His brother? Should such pretext stay my hand?
Had not his brother children twain to serve
As victims? Should not they, as born of sire
And mother for whose sake the host embarked,
Have been preferred before my innocent child?
Had Death forsooth some craving for my child
Rather than hers? or had the wretch, her sire,
A tender heart for Menelaus' brood,
And for my flesh and blood no tenderness?
That choice was for a father rash and base;
So, though I differ from thee, I believe,
And could the dead maid speak, she would agree.
I therefore view the past without remorse,
And if to thee I seem perverted, clear
Thy judgment ere thou makest thyself a judge.
Electra. This time thou canst not say that I began
The quarrel or provoked thee. But if thou
Wilt give me leave, I fain would speak the truth
Regarding both my sister and my sire.
Clytemnestra. My leave is given, and, hadst thou always shown
This temper, I had listened without pain.
Electra. Hear then. Thou say'st, "I slew thy father." Who
Could well avow a blacker crime than that?
Justly or not, what matters? But I'll prove
There was no justice in it; 'twas the lure
Of a vile wretch that hurried thee along,—
Thy lover's. Ask the Huntress Artemis
For what offence she prisoned every gust
That blows at Aulis; rather, as from her
Thou mayst not win an answer, I will tell thee.
My father once—so have I heard the tale—
Taking his pleasure in her sacred glade
Started an antlered stag with dappled hide,
Shot it, and shooting made some careless boast.
Latona's daughter, wroth thereat, detained
The Achæans, that in quittance for her hart
My sire might give his daughter, life for life.
And so it came to pass that she was slain:
The fleet becalmed no other way could win
Homeward or Troyward. For that cause alone
Reluctantly, by hard constraint, at last
He slew her, no wise for his brother's sake.
But if, as thou interpretest the deed,
'Twas done to please his brother, even thus
Should he for that have died by hand of thine?
What law is this? In laying down such law
See that against thyself thou lay not up
Dire retribution; for if blood for blood
Be justice, thou wouldst justly die the first.
Look, if thy pleading be not all a lie,
Say, if thou wilt, why thou art living now
A life of shame as partner to
The wretch who aided thee to slay my sire,
Bearing him children, casting out for them
The rightful heirs in rightful wedlock born.
Can I approve such acts? Or wilt thou say
This too was vengeance for a daughter's blood?
A shameful plea, if urged, for shame it is
To wed a foeman for a daughter's sake.
But in convincing thee I waste my breath;
Thou hast no answer but to scream that I
Revile a mother; and in sooth to us
Thou art mistress more than mother, for I pine
A wretched drudge, by thee and by thy mate
Downtrodden; and that other child who scarce
Escaped thy hands, Orestes, wears away
In weary exile his unhappy days.
Oft hast thou charged me that I reared him up
For vengeance; so I willed it, had I power.
Go to, proclaim me out of my own mouth
A shrew, a scold, a vixen—what thou wilt.
For if I be accomplished in such arts,
Methinks I show my breed, a trick o' the blood.
Chorus. I see she breathes forth fury and no more
Heeds if her words with justice harmonize.
Clytemnestra. Why then should I heed one who thus insults
A mother, at her ripe age, too? Dost think
That she would stick at any deed of shame?
Electra. Nay, I am shamefaced, though to thee I seem
Shameless; I know such manners in a maid
Are ill-becoming, in a daughter strange;
But thy iniquity, thy cruel acts
Compel me; baseness is from baseness learnt.
Clytemnestra. Thou brazen monster! I, my words, my acts,
Are matter for thy glib speech!
Electra. The fault is thine, not mine; for thine the acts,
And mine are but the words that show them forth.
Clytemnestra. Now, by our lady Artemis, thou shalt rue
Thy boldness when Ægisthus comes again.
Electra. See, rage distracts thee; first thou grantest me
Free speech, and wilt not listen when I speak.
Clytemnestra. I let thee have thy say, and wilt not thou
Hush thy wild tongue and let me sacrifice?
Electra. Go, I entreat thee, sacrifice; nor blame
My voice; henceforth I shall not speak one word.
Clytemnestra. Bear this, my maid, this offering of earth's fruits,
That to our King I may uplift my prayers,
To rid me of the dread that haunts my soul.
O Phœbus, our Defender, lend an ear
To my petition; dark and veiled the words
For those who love me not, nor were it meet
To lay my whole heart bare, while she is by,
Ready to blab with her poisoned tongue
Through all the town some empty, rash report.
Darkly I pray; to my dark prayer attend!
The vision that I yesternight beheld
Of double import, if, Lycean King
It bodes me well, fulfil it; but if ill,
May it upon my enemies recoil!
If there be some who treacherously plot
To dispossess me of my wealth and power,
Prevent them, and vouchsafe that I may rule
The house of Atreus in security,
And wield the scepter, sharing prosperous days
With the same friends and with my children—those
By malice and deep hatred not estranged.
Grant, O Lycean Phœbus, of thy grace,
To me and mine fulfilment of my prayers.
And for those other things my heart desires,
Though unexpressed, thou as a god, dost know them;
For naught is hidden from the sons of Zeus.
Aged Servant. Good ladies, might a stranger crave to learn
If this indeed be King Ægisthus' house?
Chorus. It is, Sir; thou thyself hast guessed aright.
Aged Servant. And am I right in supposing that I see
His royal consort here? She looks a queen.
Chorus. Indeed thou art in presence of the queen.
Aged Servant. I greet thee, Madam, and I bear to thee
Fair news, and to Ægisthus, from a friend.
Clytemnestra. I welcome thy fair words, but first would know
Who sends thee.
Aged Servant. Phanoteus, the Phocian,
On a grave mission.
Clytemnestra. Tell me, stranger, what.
It must be friendly coming from a friend.
Aged Servant. Orestes' death, to sum in brief my tale.
Electra. Me miserable! Now am I undone.
Clytemnestra. What say'st thou, man, what say'st thou?
Heed not her.
Aged Servant. I say again, Orestes is no more.
Electra. Ah me, I'm lost, ah wretched me, undone!
Clytemnestra. Attend to thine own business. [To AGED SERVANT.]
Tell me, Sir,
The circumstance and manner of his death.
Aged Servant. That was my errand, and I'll tell thee all.
To the great festival of Greece he went,
The Delphic Games, and when the herald's voice
Announced the opening trial, the foot race,
He stepped into the lists, a radiant form,
The admired of all beholders. Like a shaft
He sped from starting point to goal and back,
And bore the crown of glorious victory.
To speak in brief where there is much to tell,
I never heard of prowess like to his.
This much I'll add, the judges of the games
Announced no single contest wherein he
Was not the victor, and each time glad shouts
Hailed the award—"An Argive wins, Orestes,
The son of Agamemnon, King of men,
Who led the hosts of Hellas." So he sped.
But when some angry godhead intervenes
The mightiest man is foiled. Another day,
When at sunsetting, chariots vied in speed,
He entered; many were the charioteers.
From Sparta one, and one Achæan, two
From Libya, skilled to guide the yokèd team;
The fifth in rank, with mares of Thessaly,
Orestes came, and an Æolian sixth,
With chestnut fillies, a Megarian seventh,
The eighth, with milk-white steeds, an Ænian,
The ninth from Athens, city built by gods;
Last a Bœotian made the field of ten.
Then, as the appointed umpires signed to each
By lot his place, they ranged their chariots,
And at the trumpet's brazen signal all
Started, all shook the reins and urged their steeds
With shouts; the whole plain echoed with a din
Of rattling cars and the dust rose to heaven.
They drove together, all in narrow space,
And plied their whips, each keen to leave behind
The press of whirling wheels and snorting steeds,
For each man saw his car beflecked with foam
Or felt the coursers' hot breath at his back.
Orestes, as he rounded either goal,
Steered close and shaved the pillar with his nave,
Urging his offside trace-horse, while he checked
The nearer. For a while they all sped on
Unharmed, but soon the Ænian's hard-mouthed steeds
Bolted, and 'twixt the sixth and seventh round
'Gainst the Barcæan chariot headlong dashed.
Then on that first mishap there followed close
Shock upon shock, crash upon crash, that strewed
With wrack of cars all the Crisæan plain.
This the shrewd charioteer of Athens marked,
Slackened and drew aside, letting go by
The surge of chariots running in mid course.
Last came Orestes who had curbed his team
(He trusted to the finish), but at sight
Of the Athenian, his one rival left,
With a shrill halloa in his horses' ears
He followed; and the two abreast raced on,
Now one, and now the other a head in front.
Thus far Orestes, ill-starred youth, had steered
Steadfast at every lap his steadfast team,
But at the last, in turning, all too soon
He loosed the left-rein, and ere he knew it
The axle struck against the pillar's edge.
The axle box was shattered, and himself
Hurled o'er the chariot rail, and in his fall
Caught in the reins' grip he was dragged along,
While his scared team dashed wildly o'er the course.
But as the crowd beheld his overthrow,
There rose a wail of pity for the youth—
His daring deeds and his disastrous end—
Now flung to earth, now bounding to the sky
Feet uppermost. At length the charioteers
Stayed in their wild career his steeds and freed
The corpse all blood-bestained, disfigured, marred
Past recognition by his nearest friend.
Straightway the Phocians burnt him on a pyre,
And envoys now are on their way to bring
That mighty frame shut in a little urn,
And lay his ashes in his fatherland.
Such is my tale, right piteous to tell;
But for all those who saw it with their eyes,
As I, there never was a sadder sight.
Chorus. Alas, alas! our ancient masters' line,
So it appears, hath perished root and branch.
Clytemnestra. Are these glad tidings? Rather would I say
Sad, but of profit. Ah how hard my lot
When I must look for safety to my losses.
Aged Servant. Why, lady, why downhearted at my news?
Clytemnestra. Strange is the force of motherhood; a mother,
Whate'er her wrongs, can ne'er forget her child.
Aged Servant. So it would seem our coming was in vain.
Clytemnestra. Nay, not in vain. How canst thou say "in vain,"
If of his death thou bringst convincing proof,
Who from my life drew life, and yet, estranged,
Forgot the hands that tended him, forgot
A mother's tender nurture, fled his home,
And since that day has never seen me more,
Slandered me as the murderer of his sire
And breathed forth vengeance?—Neither night nor day
Kind slumber closed these eyes, and brooding dread
Of death each minute stretched me on the rack.
But now on this glad day, of terror rid
From him and her, a deadlier plague than he,
That vampire who was housed with me to drain
My very life blood—now, despite her threats
Methinks that I shall pass my days in peace.
Electra. Ah woe is me! now verily may I mourn
Thy fate, Orestes, when thou farest thus,
Mocked by thy mother in death! Is it not well?
Clytemnestra. Not well with thee, but it is well with him.
Electra. Hear her, Avenging Spirit of the dead
Whose ashes still are warm!
Clytemnestra. The Avenger heard
When it pleased her, and hath ruled it well.
Electra. Mock on; this is thine hour of victory.
Clytemnestra. That hour Orestes shall not end, nor thou.
Electra. End it! 'Tis we are ended and undone.
Clytemnestra. Thy coming, Sir, would merit large reward,
If thou indeed hast stopped her wagging tongue.
Aged Servant. Then I may take my leave, if all is well.
Clytemnestra. Not so; such entertainment would reflect
On me and on thy master, my ally.
Be pleased to enter; leave this girl without
To wail her friends' misfortune and her own.


Electra. Seemed she to you a mother woe-begone,
Weeping and wailing for a son thus slain,
This miserable woman? No, she left us
With mocking laughter. Dearest brother mine,
Thy death was my death warrant. Woe is me!
With thee has gone my last fond hope, that thou
Wast living yet and wouldst return some day
To avenge my sire and me, unhappy me.
Now whither shall I turn, alone, bereft
Of thee and of my sire? Henceforth again
Must I be slave to those I most abhor,
My father's murderers. Is it not well with me?
No, never will I cross their threshold more,
But at these gates will lay me down to die,
There pine away. If any in the house
Think me an eyesore, let him slay me; life
To me were misery and death a boon.
Chorus. Where, O Zeus, are thy bolts, O Sun-god, where is thy ray,
If with thy lightning, thy light, these things be not shown to the day?
Electra. Ah me! Ah me!
Chorus. Daughter, why weepest thou?
Electra. Woe!
Chorus. Hush! No rash cry!
Electra. Thou'lt be my death.
Chorus. What meanest thou?
Electra. If ye would whisper hope
That they we know for dead may be alive;
Ye trample on a bleeding heart.
Chorus. Nay, I bethink me how
The Argive seer was swallowed up,
Snared by a woman for a golden chain,
And now in the nether world—
Electra. Ah me!
Chorus. A living soul he reigns.
Electra. Ah woe!
Chorus. Aye woe! for the murderess—
Electra. Was slain.
Chorus. Aye, slain.
Electra. I know, I know. A champion was raised up
To avenge the mourning ghost.
No champion for me,
The one yet left is taken, torn away.
Chorus. A weary, weary lot is thine.
Electra. I know it well, too well,
When life, month in month out,
Like a dark torrent flows,
Horror on horror, pain on pain.
Chorus. We have watched its tearful course.
Electra. Cease then to turn it where—
Chorus. What wouldst thou say?
Electra. No comfort's left of hope
From him of royal blood,
Sprung from one stock with me.
Chorus. Death is the common lot.
Electra. To die as he died, hapless youth,
Entangled in the reins
Beneath the tramp of coursers' hoofs!
Chorus. Torture indescribable!
Electra. Yea, in a strange land far away—
Chorus. Alas!
Electra. To lie untended by my hands,
Unwept, ungraced with burial by me!


Chrysothemis. Joy, dearest sister, sped me hitherward,
And haply with unseemly haste I ran
To being the joyful tidings and relief
From all thy woes and weary sufferings.
Electra. And where canst thou have found a remedy
For irremediable woes like mine?
Chrysothemis. Orestes—hear it from my lips—is here,
In bodily presence, as thou see'st me now.
Electra. Art mad, poor sister, making mockery
Of thine own misery and mine withal?
Chrysothemis. I mock not, by our father's hearth I swear it;
In very truth we have him here again.
Electra. O misery! And, prithee, from whose mouth
Hadst thou this tale so blindly credited?
Chrysothemis. I trusted to none other than myself,
The clearest proof and evidence of my eyes.
Electra. What proof, what evidence! What sight, poor girl,
Lit this illusion in thy fevered brain?
Chrysothemis. O, as thou lov'st me, listen, then decide,
My story told, if I am mad or sane.
Electra. Well, if it pleases thee to speak, speak on.
Chrysothemis. I will, and tell thee all that I have seen.
As I approached our sire's ancestral tomb,
I noted that the sepulcher still was wet
With streams of milk, and round the monument
Garlands were wreathed of every flower that blows.
I marvelled much and peered around in dread
Of someone watching me; but when I found
That nothing stirred, nearer the tomb I crept;
And there upon the grave's edge lay a lock
Of hair fresh-severed; at the sight there flashed
A dear familiar image on my soul,
Orestes; 'twas a token and a sign
From him whom most of all the world I love.
I took it my hands and not a sound
I uttered but my eyes o'erbrimmed for joy.
I knew, I knew it then as now, for sure:
This shining treasure could be none but his.
Who else could set it there save thee or me?
And 'twas not I assuredly, nor thou;
How couldst thou, when thou mayst not leave the house
Not e'en to sacrifice? Our mother then?
When did our mother's heart that way incline?
Could she have 'scaped our notice, had she done it?
No, from Orestes comes this offering.
Courage, dear sister. Never destiny
Ran one unbroken course. On us till now
She frowned; today gives promise of her smiles.
Electra. Alas! I pity thy simplicity,
Fond sister.
Chrysothemis. Are not then my tidings glad?
Electra. Thou knowst not in what land of dreams thou art.
Chrysothemis. Wouldst have me doubt the evidence of my eyes?
Electra. He is dead, I tell thee; look not to the dead
For a deliverer; that hope has gone.
Chrysothemis. Ah woe is me! Who told thee of his death?
Electra. One who was present when he met his fate.
Chrysothemis. Where is the man? 'Tis strange, 'tis passing strange.
Electra. Within; our mother's not unwelcome guest.
Chrysothemis. Ah me! Ah me! And whose then can have been
Those wreaths, that milk outpoured upon the grave?
Electra. To me it seems most like that they were brought
A kindly offering to Orestes dead.
Chrysothemis. And I, poor fool, was hurrying in hot haste
To bring my joyful message, unaware
Of our ill plight; and now that I have brought it
I find fresh sorrows added to the old.
Electra. So stands the case; but be advised by me
And lighten this the burden of our woes.
Chrysothemis. Wouldst have me raise the dead to life again?
Electra. I meant not that; I am not so demented.
Chrysothemis. What wouldst thou then that lies within my powers?
Electra. Be bold to execute what I command.
Chrysothemis. If it can profit, I will not refuse.
Electra. Success, remember, is the reward of toil.
Chrysothemis. I know it, and will help thee all I can.
Electra. Then listen how I am resolved to act.
From friends, thou knowest now as well as I,
We cannot look for comfort; death hath snatched
All from us and we two are left alone.
While yet my brother lived and tidings came
Of his prosperity, I still had hopes
That he would yet appear to avenge his sire;
But now that he is dead, to thee I turn;
From thee a sister craves a sister's aid,
To slay—shrink not—our father's murderer,
Ægisthus. There, I plainly tell thee all.
Why hesitate? What faintest ray of hope
Is left to excuse thy waiting, whose lot
Henceforth must be to mourn the ancestral wealth
Whereof thou art defrauded, to lament
A youth that withers fast, unloved, unwed.
For dream not wedded bliss can e'er be thine;
Too wary is Ægisthus to permit
That children should be born of thee or me
For his destruction. But, if thou attend
My counsel, thou shalt reap large benefits:
First, from our dead sire, and our brother too,
A name for piety; and furthermore,
A free-born woman thou shalt stand revealed;
And worthy offers shall be thine, for worth
In women ever captivates all men.
Seest thou not too the honour thou shalt win
Both for thyself and me, if thou consent?
What countryman, what stranger will not greet
Our presence, when he sees us, with acclaim?
"Look, friends, upon this sister pair," he'll cry,
"Who raised their father's house, who dared confront
Their foes in power, who jeopardized their lives
In bloody vengeance. Honour to the pair,
Honour and worship! Yea at every feast
Let all the people laud their bravery."
So will our fame be sounded far and wide,
Nor shall our glory fail in life or death.
Sweet sister, hear me, take thy father's part,
Side with thy brother, give me, give thyself
Relief from sorrow; and remember this,
A life of shame is shame for noble souls.
Chorus. Forethought for those that speak and those that hear,
In such grave issues, is most serviceable.
Chrysothemis. Before she spake, were not her mind perverse,
She had remembered caution, but she, friends,
Remembers not. [To ELECTRA.] What glamor fooled thee thus
To take up arms thus boldly and enlist me?
Thou art a woman, see'st thou not? no man,
No match in battle for thine adversaries;
Their fortune rises with the flowing tide,
Ours ebbs and leaves us soon a stranded hulk;
Who then could hope to grapple with a foe
So mighty and escape without a fall?
Bethink thee, if thy speech were overheard,
We are like to change our evil plight for worse.
Small comfort or small benefit to win
Glory and die a very shameful death!
Mere death were easy, but to crave for death
And be denied that last boon—there's the sting.
Nay, I entreat, before we wreck ourselves
And perish root and branch, restrain thy rage.
All thou hast said for me shall be unsaid,
An empty breath. O learn at length, though late,
To yield, nor match thy weakness with their strength.
Chorus. Hearken! for mortal man there is no gift
Greater than forethought and sobriety.
Electra. 'Tis as I thought: before thy answer came
I knew full well thou wouldst refuse thine aid.
Unaided then and by myself I'll do it,
For done it must be, though I work alone.
Chrysothemis. Ah well-a-way!
Would thou hadst been so minded on that day
Our father died! What couldst thou not have done!
Electra. My temper was the same, my mind less ripe.
Chrysothemis. Study to keep the same mind all thy days.
Electra. This counsel means refusal of thine aid.
Chrysothemis. Yes, for misfortune dogs such enterprise.
Electra. I praise thy prudence, hate thy cowardice.
Chrysothemis. E'en when thou shalt commend me, I will bear
Thy commendation no less patiently.
Electra. That trial thou wilt ne'er endure from me.
Chrysothemis. Who lives will see; time yet may prove thee wrong.
Electra. Begone! in thee there is no power to aid.
Chrysothemis. Not so; in thee there is no will to learn.
Electra. Go to thy mother; tell it all to her.
Chrysothemis. My hatred of thee does not reach so far.
Electra. Thou wouldst dishonour me; that much is sure.
Chrysothemis. Dishonour? No, I seek to save thine honour.
Electra. Am I to make thy rule of honour mine?
Chrysothemis. When thou art wise, then thou shalt guide us both.
Electra. Sound words; 'tis sad they are so misapplied.
Chrysothemis. Thou hittest well the blot that is thine own.
Electra. How? dost deny the plea I urge is just?
Chrysothemis. No; but e'en justice sometimes worketh harm.
Electra. I choose not to conform to such a rule.
Chrysothemis. Well, if thy purpose hold, thou'lt own me right.
Electra. It holds; I shall not swerve in awe of thee.
Chrysothemis. Is this thy last word? Wilt not be advised?
Electra. No, naught is worse than ill advice.
Chrysothemis. Thou seemest deaf to all that I can urge.
Electra. My resolution was not born today.
Chrysothemis. Then I will go, for thou canst not be brought
To approve my words, nor I to approve thy ways.
Electra. Go in then; I shall never follow thee,
E'en shouldst thou beg me: 'tis insane to urge
A hopeless cause.
Chrysothemis. Well, if thou art wise
In thine own eyes, so let it be; later,
Sore stricken, thou wilt take my words to heart.


[End of Second Episode]


Chorus. Wise nature taught the birds of air
For those who reared them in the nest to care;
The parent bird is nourished by his brood,
And shall not we, as they,
The debt of nature pay,
Shall man not show like gratitude?
By Zeus who hurls the lightning,
By Themis throned in heaven,
There comes a judgment day;
Not long shall punishment delay.
O voice that echoes to the world below,
Bear to the dead a wail of woe,
Tell him his house is stricken sore,
Tell him his children now no more
In love together dwell;
Dire strife the twain divides,

Alone Electra bides,
Alone she braves the surging swell.

Disconsolate doth she her sire bewail,
Like the forlornest nightingale;
Reckless of life, could she but quell
The cursed pair, those Furies fell.
Where shall ye find on earth
A maid to match her worth?

No generous soul were fain
By a base life his fair repute to stain.
Such baseness thou didst scorn,
Choosing, my child, to mourn with them that mourn.
Wise and of daughters best—
With double honours thou art doubly blest.

O may I see thee tower
As high above thy foes in wealth and power
As now they tower o'er thee;
For now thy state is piteous to see.
Yet brightly dost thou shine,
For fear of Zeus far-famed and love of laws divine.



Orestes. Pray tell me, ladies, were we guided right,
And are we close upon our journey's end?
Chorus. What seek'st thou, stranger, and with what intent?
Orestes. I seek and long have sought Ægisthus' home.
Chorus. 'Tis here; thy guide is not at all to blame.
Orestes. Would one of you announce to those within
The auspicious arrival of our company?
Chorus. This maiden, as the next of kin, will do it.
Orestes. Go, madam, say that visitors have come
And seek Ægisthus—certain Phocians.
Electra. Ah woe is me! You come not to confirm
By ocular proof the rumours that we heard?
Orestes. I've heard no "rumours." Agèd Strophius
Charged me with tidings of Orestes.
Electra. Ha!
What tidings, stranger? how I quake with dread!
Orestes. Ashes within this narrow urn we bear,
All that remains of him, as thou mayst see.
Electra. Ah me unhappy! in my very sight
Lies visible the burden of my woes.
Orestes. If for Orestes thou art weeping, know
This brazen urn contains the dust of him.
Electra. O if it hold his ashes, let me, friend,
O let me, let me take it in my hands.
Not for this dust alone, but for myself
And all my house withal, I'll weep and wail.
Orestes. Bring it and give it her, who'er she be;
For not as an ill-wisher, but as friend,
Or haply near of kin, she asks the boon.
Electra. Last relics of the man I most did love,
Orestes! high in hope I sent thee forth;
How hast thou dashed all hope in thy return!
Radiant as day when thou set forth, and now
I hold a dusty nothing in my hands.
Would I had died before I rescued thee
From death and sent thee to a foreign land!
Then hadst thou fallen together with thy sire
And lain beside him in the ancestral tomb:
Now in a strange land, exiled, far from home,
Far from thy sister thou hast died, ah me!
How miserably! I was not by to bathe
And deck with loving hands thy corpse, and snatch
Thy charrèd bones from out the flaming pyre.
Alas! by foreign hands these rites were paid,
And now thou comest back to me, of dust
A little burden in this little urn.
O for the nursing and the toil, no toil,
I spent on thee an infant, all in vain!
For thou wast ne'er thy mother's babe, but mine;
Thou hadst no nurse in all the house but me,
I was thy sister, none so called but me.
But now all this hath vanished in a day,
Dead with thy death, a whirlwind that passed by,
And left all desolate; thy father's gone,
And I am dead in thee, and thou art lost;
And our foes laugh. That mother, mother none,
Whose crimes, as oft thou gav'st me secret word,
Thou wouldst thyself full speedily avenge,
Is mad for joy. But now most evil fate,
Thy fate and mine, hath blasted all and sent me,
Instead of that dear form I loved so well,
Cold ashes and an unavailing shade.
Ah me! Ah me!
O piteous corpse!
Ah woe is me!
O woeful coming! I am all undone,
Undone by thee, beloved brother mine!
Take me, O take me to thy last lone home,
A shadow to a shade, that I may dwell
With thee forever in the underworld;
For here on earth we shared alike, and now
I fain would die to share with thee thy tomb;
For with the dead there is no mourning, none.
Chorus. Child of a mortal sire, Electra, think,
Orestes too was mortal; calm thy grief.
Death is a debt that all of us must pay.
Orestes. Ah me! what shall I say where all words fail?
And yet I can no longer curb my tongue.
Electra. What sudden trouble made thee speak like this?
Orestes. Is this the famed Electra I behold?
Electra. 'Tis she, and very wretched is her state.
Orestes. O for the heavy change! Alas, alas!
Electra. Surely thy pity, sir, is not for me.
Orestes. O beauty marred by foul and impious spite!
Electra. Yea, sir, this wreck of womanhood am I.
Orestes. Alas, how sad a life of singleness!
Electra. Why gaze thus on me, stranger, and lament?
Orestes. Of my own ills how little then I knew!
Electra. Was this revealed by any word of mine?
Orestes. By seeing thee conspicuous in thy woes.
Electra. And yet my looks reveal but half my woes.
Orestes. Could there be woes more piteous to behold?
Electra. Yea, to be housemate with the murderers—
Orestes. Whose murderers? at what villainy dost hint?
Electra. My father's; and their slave am I perforce.
Orestes. Who is it puts upon thee this constraint?
Electra. My mother, not a mother save in name.
Orestes. By blows or petty tyrannies or how?
Electra. By blows and tyrannies of every kind.
Orestes. And is there none to help or stay her hand?
Electra. None; there was one, the man whose dust I hold.
Orestes. Poor maid! my pity's stirred at sight of thee.
Electra. Thou art the first who ever pitied me.
Orestes. I am the first to feel a common woe.
Electra. What, canst thou be some kinsman from afar?
Orestes. If these are friends who hear us, I would answer.
Electra. Yes, they are friends; thou needst not fear to speak.
Orestes. Give back this urn, and then I'll tell thee all.
Electra. Ask not so hard a thing, good sir, I pray.
Orestes. Do as I bid thee; thou shalt not repent it.
Electra. O, I entreat thee, rob me not of that
The most I prize on earth.
Orestes. It may not be.
Electra. Ah! woe for thee, Orestes, woe is me,
If I am not to give thee burial.
Orestes. Guard well thy lips; thou hast no right to mourn.
Electra. No right to mourn a brother who is dead!
Orestes. To speak of him in this wise is not meet.
Electra. What, am I so dishonoured of the dead?
Orestes. Of none dishonoured: this is not thy part.
Electra. Not if Orestes' ashes here I hold?
Orestes. They are not his, though supposed to pass for his.
Electra. Where then is my unhappy brother's grave?
Orestes. There is no grave; we bury not the living.
Electra. What sayst thou, boy?
Orestes. Nothing that is not true.
Electra. He lives?
Orestes. As surely as I am alive.
Electra. What, art thou he?
Orestes. Look at this signet ring,
My father's; let it witness if I lie.
Electra. O happy day!
Orestes. O, happy, happy day!
Electra. Thy voice I greet!
Orestes. My voice gives greeting back.
Electra. My arms embrace thee!
Orestes. May they clasp me aye!
Electra. My countrywomen, dearest friends, behold
Orestes who in feigning died, and so
By feigning is alive again and safe.
Chorus. We see him, daughter, and this glad surprise
Makes our eyes overflow with happy tears.
Electra. Son of my best loved sire,
Now hast thou come, art here to find, to see
Thy heart's desire.
Orestes. E'en so; but best keep silence for a while.
Electra. What need for silence?
Orestes. 'Twere wise, lest someone from the house should hear.
Electra. Nay, by Queen Artemis, the virgin maid,
Of women-folk I ne'er will be afraid.
Orestes. Yet note that in the breasts of women dwells
The War-god too, as thou methinks hast found.
Electra. Ah me, ah me!
Thou wak'st a memory
Enduring, everlasting,
An ache time cannot quell.
Orestes. I know it, too; but when the hour shall strike
Then it behoves us to recall those deeds.
Electra. All time, each passing hour
Henceforward I were fain
To tell my griefs, my pain,
For late and hardly have I won free speech.
Orestes. 'Tis so; then forfeit not this liberty.
Electra. How forfeit it?
Orestes. By speaking out of season overmuch.
Electra. But who would barter speech for silence now,
Who could be dumb,
Now that beyond all thought and hope
I've seen thee come?
Orestes. That sight was then vouchsafed thee when the gods
First urged me to turn my steps towards home.
Electra. If a god guided thee
To seek our halls, this boon
Surpasses all before, I see
The hand of heaven.
Orestes. To check thy gladness I am loth, and yet
This ecstasy of joy—it makes me fear.
Electra. O after many a weary year
Restored to glad my eyes,
Seeing my utter misery, forbear—
Orestes. What is thy prayer?
Electra. Forbear to rob me of the light,
The presence of thy face.
Orestes. If any dared attempt it, I were wrath.
Electra. Dost thou consent?
Orestes. How could I otherwise?
Electra. [To CHORUS] Friends, a voice is in my ear,
That I never hoped to hear.
At the glad sound how could I
Be mute nor raise a joyous cry?
But I have thee, and the light
Of thy countenance so bright
Not e'en sorrow can eclipse,
Or still the music of those lips.
Orestes. Spare me all superfluity of words—
How vile our mother, how Ægisthus drains
By waste and luxury our father's house;
The time admits not such a flood of speech.
But tell me rather what will best assist
Our present need—where we must show ourselves,
Or lie in wait, and either way defeat
The mockery and triumph of our foes.
And see that when we twain are gone within
Our mother reads not in thy radiant looks
Our secret; weep as overwhelmed with grief
At our feigned story; when the victory's won
We shall have time and liberty to laugh.
Electra. Yea, as it pleaseth thee it pleases me,
Brother, for all my pleasure is thy gift,
Not mine; nor would I purchase for myself
The greatest boon that cost thee the least pang:
So should I cross the Providence that guides us.
How it stands with us, doubtless thou hast heard.
Ægisthus, as thou knowest, is away;
Only our mother keeps the house, and fear not
That she will see my face lit up with smiles;
My hatred of her is too deep ingrained.
Moreover, since thy coming I have wept,
Wept for pure joy and still must weep to see
The dead alive, on one day dead and living.
It works me strangely; if my sire appeared
In bodily presence, I should now believe it
No mocking phantom but his living self.
Thus far no common fate hath guided thee;
So lead me as thou wilt, for left alone
I had myself achieved of two things one,
A noble living or a noble death.
Orestes. Hush, hush! I hear a stir within the house
As if one issued forth.
Electra. [To ORESTES and PYLADES] Pass in, good sirs,
Ye are sure of welcome; they within will not
Reject your gift, though bitter it may prove.


Aged Servant. Fool! madmen! are ye weary of your lives,
Or are your natural wits too dull to see
That ye are standing, not upon the brink,
But in the midst of mortal jeopardy?
Nay, had I not kept watch this weary while,
Here at the door, your plot had slipped inside
Ere ye yourselves had entered. As it is,
My watchfulness has prevented this mishap.
Now that your wordy eloquence has an end,
And your excessive cries of joy, go in.
'Tis ill delaying in such case, and well
To make an end.
Orestes. How shall I fare within?
Aged Servant. Right well; to start with, thou art known to none.
Orestes. Thou hast reported, I presume, my death.
Aged Servant. They'll speak of thee as though thou wert a shade.
Orestes. And are they glad thereat, or what say they?
Aged Servant. I'll tell thee when the time is ripe: meanwhile
Whate'er they do, however ill, is well.
Electra. I pray thee, brother, tell me who is this?
Orestes. Dost thou not see?
Electra. I know not, nor can guess.
Orestes. Not know the man to whom thou gav'st me once?
Electra. What man? how mean'st thou?
Orestes. He that stole me hence,
Through thy forethought, and safe to Phocis bore.
Electra. Can this be he who, when our sire was slain,
Faithful among the many false I found?
Orestes. 'Tis he; let that suffice thee; ask no more.
Electra. O happy day! O sole deliverer
Of Agamemnon's house, how cam'st thou hither?
Art thou indeed our saviour who redeemed
From endless woes my brother and myself?
O hands beloved, O messenger whose feet
Were bringers of glad tidings, how so long
Couldst thou be with me and remain unknown,
Stay me with feignèd fables and conceal
The truth that gave me life? Hail, father, hail!
For 'tis a father whom I seem to see.
Verily no man in the self-same day
Was hated so and so much loved as thou.
Aged Servant. Enough methinks; the tale 'twixt then and now—
Many revolving nights and days as many
Shall serve, Electra, to unfold it all.


Why stand ye here! 'tis time for you to act,
Now Clytemnestra is alone; no man
Is now within; but, if ye stay your hand,
Not only with her servants will ye fight
But with a troop more numerous and more skilled.
Orestes. Our business, Pylades, would seem to crave
No longer talk; let us instantly
Enter, but ere we enter first adore
The gods who keep the threshold of the house.
[ORESTES and PYLADES enter the palace.
Electra. O King Apollo! lend a gracious ear
To them and me, to me, too, who so oft
Laid on thy shrine with humble hands my best.
And now with vows (I cannot offer more),
Apollo, Lord Lycean, I beseech,
Implore, beg thee, prosper this our work,
Defend the right and show to godless men
How the gods deal with impiety.

[End of Third Episode]


Chorus. Breathing out blood and vengeance, lo!
Stalks Ares, sure though slow.
E'en now the hounds are on the trail;
Within, the sinners at their coming quail.
A little while and death shall realize
The vision that now floats before mine eyes.

For now within the house is led
By stealth the champion of the dead;
He treads once more the ancestral hall of kings,
And death new-whetted in his hands he brings.
Great Maia's son conducts him on his way
And shrouds him now, permits no more delay.


Electra. O dearest women, even as I speak
The men are at their work; but not a word.
Chorus. What work? what are they at?
Electra. E'en now she decks
The urn for burial and the pair stand by.
Chorus. Why rush thou forth?
Electra. To keep a watch for fear
Ægisthus should forestall us unawares.
Clytemnestra (within). Woe! woe! O woeful house,
Of friends forsaken, full of murderers!
Electra. Listen! a cry within—hear ye not, friends?
Chorus. I heard and shuddered—oh, an awesome cry.
Clytemnestra. Ah woe is me! Ægisthus, where art thou?
Electra. Hark; once again a wail.
Clytemnestra. O son, my son,
Have pity on thy mother!
Electra. Thou hadst none
On him or on the father that begat him.
Chorus. Unhappy realm and house,
The curse that dogged thee day by day
Is dying, dying fast.
Clytemnestra. I am stricken, ah!
Electra. Strike, if thou canst, again.
Clytemnestra. Woe, woe is me once more!
Electra. I would that woe
Were for Ægisthus not for thee alone.
Chorus. The curses work; the buried live again,
And blood for blood, the slayer's blood they drain,
The ghosts of victims long since slain.

Enter ORESTES and PYLADES from the palace.

Lo they come forth with gory hands that reek
Of sacrifice to Ares—'twas done well.
Electra. How have ye fared, Orestes?
Orestes. All within
Is well, if Phœbus' oracle spake well.
Electra. The wretched woman's dead?
Orestes. No longer fear
Thy mother's arrogance will flout thee more.
Chorus. Cease, for I see Ægisthus full in sight.
Electra. Back, youths, back to the house!
Orestes. Where see ye him?
Electra. Approaching from the suburb with an air
Of exultation. He is ours!
Chorus. Quick to the palace doorway! half your work
Is well done; do no less well what remains.
Orestes. Fear not, we shall.
Electra. Then speed thee on thy way.
Orestes. See, I am gone.
Electra. Leave what is here to me.
[Exeunt ORESTES and PYLADES; ÆGISTHUS approaches.
Chorus. 'Twere not amiss to breathe some soft words in his ear,
That he may blindly rush into the lists of doom.
Ægisthus. Could any of you tell me where to find
The Phocian strangers who, I hear, have brought
News of Orestes midst the chariots wrecked?
Thee, thee I question, thee, in former days
So willful: it concerns thee most, methinks,
And thou, as best informed, canst tell me best.
Electra. I know for sure, else were I unconcerned
In what has happened to my nearest kin.
Ægisthus. Where then are these newcomers? Tell me straight.
Electra. Within; they've won their kindly hostess' heart.
Ægisthus. Did they in very truth report his death?
Electra. They did; and more, they showed us the dead man.
Ægisthus. May I, too, view the body to make sure?
Electra. Thou mayst, but 'tis a gruesome spectacle.
Ægisthus. Thou givest me much joy against thy wont.
Electra. I wish thee joy, if here is food for joy.
Ægisthus. Silence! attend! throw open wide the gate,
For all Mycenæ, Argos all, to see.
If any heretofore was puffed with hopes
Of this pretender, now he sees him dead,
Let him in time accept my yoke, nor wait
Wisdom by punishment to learn too late.
Electra. My lesson's learnt already; time hath taught me
The wisdom of consenting with the strong.

[The scene opens showing a shrouded corpse with ORESTES and
PYLADES beside it]

Ægisthus. O Zeus, I look upon this form laid low
By jealousy of Heaven, but if my words
Seem to thee overbold, be they unsaid.
Take from the face the face-cloth; I, as kin,
I too would pay my tribute of lament.
Orestes. Lift it thyself; 'tis not for me but thee
To see and kindly greet what lieth here.
Ægisthus. Well said, so will I. [To ELECTRA.] If she be within
Go call me Clytemnestra, I would see her—
Orestes. She is beside thee; look not elsewhere.

[ÆGISTHUS lifts the face-cloth.]

Ægisthus. O horror!
Orestes. Why dost start? is the face strange?
Ægisthus. Who spread the net wherein, O woe is me,
I lie enmeshed?
Orestes. Hast thou not learnt ere this
The dead of whom thou spakest are alive?
Ægisthus. Alas! I read thy riddle; 'tis none else
Than thou, Orestes, whom I now address.
Orestes. A seer so wise, and yet befooled so long!
Ægisthus. O I am spoiled, undone! yet suffer me,
One little word.
Electra. Brother, in heaven's name
Let him not speak a word or plead his cause.
When a poor wretch is in the toils of fate
What can a brief reprieve avail him? No,
Slay him outright and having slain him give
His corpse to such grave-makers as is meet,
Far from our sight; for me no otherwise
Can he wipe out the memory of past wrongs.
Orestes [to ÆGISTHUS]. Quick, get thee in; the issue lies not now
In words; the case is tried and thou must die.
Ægisthus. Why hale me indoors? if my doom be just,
What need of darkness? Why not slay me here?
Orestes. 'Tis not for thee to order; go within;
Where thou didst slay my father thou must die.
Ægisthus. Ah! is there need this palace should behold
All woes of Pelops' line, now and to come?
Orestes. Thine own they shall; thus much I can predict.
Ægisthus. Thy skill as seer derives not from thy sire.
Orestes. Thou bandiest words; our going is delayed. Go.
Ægisthus. Lead the way.
Orestes. No, thou must go the first.
Ægisthus. Lest I escape?
Orestes. Nay, not to let thee choose
The manner of thy death; thou must be spared
No bitterness of death, and well it were
If on transgressors swift this sentence fall,
Slay him; so wickedness should less abound.

[End of Fourth Episode]


Chorus. House of Atreus! thou hast passed
Through the fire and won at last
Freedom, perfected today
By this glorious essay.

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