Monday, December 26, 2016

Electra by Sophocles

Electra spends her life lamenting the murder of her father

Electra mourns her wasted life, as her murderous mother and stepfather do not allow her to marry and have a family. Her sister and her mother do not understand why she keeps carrying on like this. Two young men approach – they bring news of the death of Electra’s brother Orestes in a chariot accident – a noble death. They carry an urn containing his bones. Electra mourns over the bones, but then one of the young men has a message: He’s Orestes, alive, and the news of his death is a ruse to allow him to kill the usurpers. His mother the queen arrives, the young man lies to her, brings her inside, then, with Electra urging him on, kills her. Another ruse follows. The king arrives – the fake news of Orestes's death makes him happy. A covered body is presented. The king lifts the veil to discover his dead wife. Orestes leads him into the house to kill him in the spot his father was murdered. The play abruptly ends.

This Electra is embittered, deranged by hatred. She certainly isn’t the instrument of blind justice getting its just due. I love how Orestes himself isn’t that much of a gung ho avenger – he’s only here because the oracle told him too. He is more disturbed than Electra with the fact that, in order to avenge the murder of their father, they must break an even bigger taboo and kill their mother. Also, I love the interplay between Electra and her younger sister Chrysothemis, who doesn’t want to rock the boat. Besides, as women, what can they do? Better to go along and not be on the outside looking in.

I read an old fashioned translation. I am coming around to the idea that the reader will get much more out of a modern translation.

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