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Electra | Study Guide


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Episode 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 4 of Sophocles's play Electra.

Electra | Episode 4 | Summary



Orestes arrives with Pylades and two attendants, one of whom carries a funeral urn. All are still in disguise. Orestes asks the Chorus if this is Aegisthus's house. The Chorus Leader confirms that it is. Electra asks whether the urn holds Orestes's remains, and Orestes confirms that it does. She begs to hold it so that she can mourn for him, herself, and all their house. With the urn in her arms, she cries, saying that she has lost everything that mattered to her and wishing she were dead so she could join her brother.

Orestes is moved by Electra's pain and expresses his pity, asking who oppresses her so much. She tells her story. Orestes tries to convince her to give back the urn, but she won't, calling it her "chief treasure." He tells her she has "no right to lament" and admits he is Orestes, showing her their father's signet, which he carries. Electra rejoices.

Orestes cautions Electra to hide her joy so as not to give them away. Paedagogus comes out of the palace and scolds them both for holding such a long, loud conversation, which might have been overheard, endangering their plan. Electra doesn't recognize the old man, but Orestes introduces him. She again rejoices and wants to talk with her old tutor, calling him "father" as a term of affection, but he repeats that they must act now because Clytemnestra is alone. He follows Orestes and Pylades into the palace. A short time later, Electra goes in as well.


Orestes and his allies use disguise and deception as a part of their revenge plot, but at no point is it their goal to deeply wound Electra. In Episode 4, her grief over losing her brother provides some of the most compelling language in the play as she mourns him and wishes to die as well:

Ah me, ah me! O piteous dust! Alas, thou dear one, sent on a dire journey, how hast undone me,—undone me indeed, O brother mine!
Therefore take me to this thy home, me who am as nothing, to thy nothingness, that I may dwell with thee henceforth below; for when thou wert on earth, we shared alike; and now I fain would die, that I may not be parted from thee in the grave. For I see that the dead have rest from pain.

It is this tremendous grief and sense of family loyalty that finally convinces Orestes to reveal himself. But Electra has been so thoroughly convinced by their disguise, the messenger's story, and the empty urn, that it takes her some time to realize who he is. They trade comments that miss their mark in another barrage of stichomythia that comes to an end shortly after he produces concrete proof of his identity in the form of their father's signet.

This is the peripeteia ("reversal")—the moment in which Electra's fortunes make a 180-degree turn. Suddenly, she is raised from the depths of despair to triumph. The siblings' reunion culminates in an amoibaion (a sung dialogue) between Orestes and Electra in which she rejoices. Her passion for revenge has been temporarily overcome by her joy in Orestes having been restored to life. But during the song, her impetuous happiness is counterbalanced by his reminder to her to be patient. The two have remained talking too long, and it falls to Paedagogus to report on his success with Clytemnestra and remind them yet again that "now is the time to act."

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