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Electra | Prologos | Summary

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Summary

Orestes arrives in Mycenae accompanied by his friend Pylades and his friend and former tutor, Paedagogus. All are in disguise. Paedagogus identifies features of the area and reminds Orestes that his sister asked the tutor to rescue him after the murder of their father, Agamemnon. Paedagogus points out that it is morning and they need to make concrete plans for revenge before anyone comes out of the palace.

Orestes explains that the oracle told him he must act alone when exacting vengeance. He asks Paedagogus to gain entrance to the palace by claiming to be a messenger bringing the news that Orestes has died in a chariot accident. Once inside he is to learn all that he can. In the meantime Orestes and Pylades will decorate Agamemnon's tomb with "drink-offerings and the luxuriant tribute of severed hair" as commanded by Apollo. He states his intention to "cleanse" the "halls of my fathers" and "restore my house."

The men hear Electra moaning inside the palace. Orestes suggests they stay and listen, but Paedagogus tells him they must hurry to set their plan in motion.

Analysis

The primary function of the prologos is to introduce the topic of the play, which in this case is revenge. Paedagogus does this by introducing Orestes as the son and avenger of Agamemnon, reminding the audience of Orestes's backstory and identifying himself and Pylades.

After their father's murder, Electra, fearing that Orestes—as Agamemnon's heir—would soon follow his father into death, entrusted her younger brother to Paedagogus, who had been a sort of second father to the children. She asked him to take Orestes to Agamemnon's allies in Phocis and keep him safe. In a Greek noble family, Paedagogus (tutor) was an important member of the household. He lived with the family and taught the children, being responsible for their educational upbringing just as the nurse was responsible for their day-to-day care. This relationship explains not only her faith in Paedagogus to do what was best for her young brother but also her joy at being reunited with him later in the play.

In the play's opening lines, Paedagogus provides an important description of the setting. Within the context of the plot, it makes sense that Orestes's old tutor should point out the features of the landscape since he was an adult when he was last there, whereas Orestes was a young child. There might or might not have been painted representations of landscape and temples onstage, so he describes them as well to help the audience locate the action. Paedagogus identifies the skēne as the palace, "the house of the Pelopidae ... so often stained with bloodshed." Thus, the Palace of Mycenae is not just a building but a symbol of the murdered Agamemnon's cursed bloodline, the House of Atreus.

Finally, the old tutor completes the introduction by mentioning the time of day: "already the sun's bright ray is waking the songs of the birds into clearness, and the dark night of stars is spent." A Greek play always took place within a short time period, usually a day or less, and that is true of Electra. The action begins in the very early morning and will end in the afternoon.

Orestes then picks up the thread of the story, filling in the particulars of their plan. This information becomes important later because the success of the plan depends on the other characters accepting this trio's deceit. His monologue also addresses the theme of revenge and justice.

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