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Electra | Study Guide


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Electra | Quotes


The time allows not of delay, but is full ripe for deeds.

Paedagogus, Prologos

Paedagogus, who used to be Orestes's tutor, seems to naturally continue in that role, making sure from the start that Orestes stays on task. But his reminder also signals the audience that this day, which has finally come after years of waiting, is to be a day of historic actions.


O my fatherland, and ye gods of the land, receive me with good fortune in this journey,—and ye also, halls of my fathers, for I come with divine mandate to cleanse you righteously; send me not dishonoured from the land, but grant that I may rule over my possessions, and restore my house!

Orestes, Prologos

With these words Orestes states his intention to rid his homeland of corruption (to "cleanse" it) and take the crown that is rightfully his by descent from Agamemnon. He says that this is his duty both to his family ("halls of my fathers") and to the gods ("divine mandate"). He is not just Electra's younger brother come to help her to unseat the murderers from the throne; he is a hero on a quest.


Piteous was the voice heard at [Agamemnon's] return, and piteous ... when the straight, swift blow was dealt him with the blade of bronze. Guile was the plotter, Lust the slayer, dread parents of a dreadful shape; whether it was mortal that wrought therein, or god.

Chorus, Parados

In retelling the nature of Agamemnon's death, the chorus takes sides against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, who murdered Agamemnon upon his return from Troy. The chorus raises the question of whether the gods were behind that murder—a question that the play's original audience might have asked—but firmly state that the killers were motivated not by duty but by "guile" and "lust." This chorus is firmly on Electra's side.


If the hapless dead is to lie in dust and nothingness, while the slayers pay not with blood for blood, all regard for man, all fear of heaven, will vanish from the earth.

Electra, Episode 1

Here Electra states her argument that her father's murder must be avenged on his murderers in order for justice to be done, and not only for her and her brother Orestes's sake. If they do not pay "blood for blood," the world itself will have been irremediably corrupted.


But thou, who tellest me of thy hatred, hatest in word alone, while in deeds thou art with the slayers of thy sire.

Electra, Episode 1

When Chrysothemis claims she is in agreement with Electra, Electra points out that Chrysothemis's actions contradict her words. Despite Chrysothemis's claim, she is dutiful and obedient to Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. She believes that by doing so, she maintains her freedom. Her sister's pragmatic attitude, Electra says, indicates a tacit approval of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus's crimes. For Electra her desire for justice and Chrysothemis's desire for pragmatism are in complete opposition.


Bethink thee, then, and do not blame me hereafter, when the blow hath fallen; now is the time to be wise.

Chrysothemis, Episode 1

Chrysothemis is worried for her sister. She counsels Electra to be more cautious in dealing with Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. She has warned Electra that Aegisthus will no longer tolerate Electra's insolence and condemnation; if Electra doesn't change her demeanor immediately, she will be locked away for good.


If [my dream] hath come for my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if for harm, then let it recoil upon my foes.

Clytemnestra, Episode 2

Clytemnestra is worried that her dream portends danger, but allows for the possibility of a positive interpretation. She prays to Apollo that he will allow it to come true if it is positive but shield her from harm if it is not, while turning the injury back upon her enemies. In an instance of dramatic irony, she prays to Apollo for his help without realizing that he is the god who has sent Orestes to kill her.


Sometimes justice itself is fraught with harm.

Chrysothemis, Episode 3

Electra has told Chrysothemis that Orestes is dead and begged her to join her in seeking justice for their father's death. But Chrysothemis is too cautious to help her; instead, she points out that seeking justice could be dangerous. Again she is pragmatic and chooses expedience over justice.


But now all this hath vanished in a day, with thy death; like a whirlwind, thou hast swept all away with thee.

Electra, Episode 4

When Electra speaks these words to her brother, she believes he has died and, with him, all her hopes for retribution. Again Sophocles makes this a pivotal day; for Electra, at this point in the play, the hope she has stubbornly clung to throughout the past years appears to have been dashed, and her future looks unrelentingly bleak.


A mother-in-name, but no mother in her deeds.

Electra, Episode 4

Here Electra is describing Clytemnestra to the young stranger who has brought the funeral urn. According to Electra, although Clytemnestra bore her children, her actions have shown that she has no maternal feeling for them. A mother should protect and love her children, not treat them as servants, ridicule their feelings, or endanger them, as Clytemnestra has.


In such deeds delay is evil, and 'tis well to make an end.

Paedagogus, Episode 4

Orestes and Electra have been reunited and are taking their time talking about their feelings and plans. But Paedagogus interrupts to again remind Orestes to take action. As he told him in the opening scene, their window of opportunity is limited. Any delays could prove dangerous and prevent them from achieving their goal. His comment also reminds the audience of how important this day will be in changing the course of events once Orestes and his companions fulfill their plan for revenge.


The curses are at work; the buried live; blood flows for blood, drained from the slayers by those who died of yore.

Chorus, Exodos

With these observations, the chorus hearkens back to the curse on the House of Atreides. Thus, not only is revenge exacted for Agamemnon's murder by his son, who was thought to be dead but is actually alive, but generations of the dead are affected by the curse. These words elevate the deeds of one day to a higher level and locate them in history and myth.


Hast thou not discovered ere now that the dead, as thou miscallest them, are living?

Orestes, Exodos

Aegisthus has just discovered that the body before him is not Orestes's but Clytemnestra's. Orestes's words function on two levels. On the literal level, he is speaking of himself: he was believed dead but is actually alive. On a figurative level, he acts for his father and grandfather, both of whom Aegisthus murdered, but are given symbolic new life through Orestes's act of revenge.


Is this dwelling doomed to see all woes of Pelops' line, now, and in time to come?

Aegisthus, Exodos

Aegisthus links the physical structure of the palace to the curse, "doomed to see all woes of Pelops' line." Aegisthus also links the actions of this single day to the past and future. Aegisthus has little right to complain about the family curse; he has played quite a large role in perpetuating it. He killed both his Uncle Atreus (Agamemnon's father) and Agamemnon himself.


And well it were if this judgment came straight-way upon all who dealt in lawless deeds ... so should not wickedness abound.

Orestes, Exodos

In Orestes's final words, he makes his action one of universal justice that transcends his ties to his family, his country, and his time.

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