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Electra | Study Guide


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Episode 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 2 of Sophocles's play Electra.

Electra | Episode 2 | Summary



Clytemnestra comes out of the palace and criticizes Electra for disobeying her when Aegisthus is away. Moreover, Clytemnestra defends her right to kill Agamemnon because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the gods for the sake of helping his brother Menelaus make war on Troy. Electra replies that Artemis demanded the sacrifice from Agamemnon because of his own actions, not his brother's: Agamemnon had killed a stag in the goddess's grove. Unless he made the sacrifice she demanded, the goddess would make the fleet unable to sail to Troy by withholding wind from its sails. Electra argues further that by Clytemnestra's logic—a life for a life—Clytemnestra would also have to die. What's more, she says, Clytemnestra married an enemy and rejected her children. How is that an act of vengeance for the loss of a daughter?

Electra and her mother continue to argue about Electra's unseemly actions and words. Then, Clytemnestra prays to Apollo about the dream she had, asking that she prosper and her enemies fail.

Paedagogus arrives disguised as a messenger sent by a friend of Aegisthus to tell them Orestes is dead and gives a highly detailed account of the chariot race in which Orestes was killed. He explains that the body was immediately burned. An urn containing the ashes will be arriving shortly so that he can be buried "in his fatherland." Clytemnestra is both sad to hear her son is dead and relieved to learn she no longer has to fear his vengeance. She takes Paedagogus into the palace with her, leaving Electra despondent and resolved never to enter the palace again.


Episode 2 develops the characters of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus and illustrates the extent of Electra's grief, anger, and independence. Upon encountering Electra, Clytemnestra is immediately defensive. She returns to what must be, for these two, an old subject—her reasons for killing Agamemnon. The discussion escalates into an argument and culminates in Clytemnestra threatening Electra. Her chosen weapon is Aegisthus: "thou shalt not fail to pay for this boldness, so soon as Aegisthus returns." Aegisthus himself will not appear until the very last scene of the play, but such descriptions allow the audience to form a strong impression of him as a dominant authority figure.

After arguing with Electra, Clytemnestra prays to Apollo that he "vouchsafe that ... I may bear sway over the house of the Atreidae and this realm, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now, and with those of my children from whom no enmity or bitterness pursues me." With Electra standing within earshot, Clytemnestra has to get in a dig at her. As soon as she finishes her prayer, it is answered in the person of a messenger bringing the news that Orestes is dead. Once again this is dramatic irony. While Electra mourns and Clytemnestra feels a mingling of grief and relief, the audience knows that Orestes is very much alive and that each woman's response to the news is unwarranted.

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