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Immediate Family:

Daughter of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and Clytemnestra of Troy, Queen of Mycenae
Wife of Pylades
Partner of Zeus
Mother of Iasion (Jasius)
Sister of Iphegenia of Greece; Orestes, King of Argos, Mycenae and Sparta and Chrysothemis of Greece
Half sister of Chryses "the Younger"

Occupation: of the Pleiade, one of the Pleiades
Managed by: Henn Sarv
Last Updated:

About Electra

Euripides' Electra was probably written in the mid 410s BC, likely after 413 BC. It is unclear whether it was first produced before or after Sophocles' version of the Electra story.

The play begins by introducing Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's daughter, Electra. Electra was married off to a farmer, amidst fears that if she remained in the royal household and wed a nobleman, their children would be more likely to try to avenge Agamemnon's death. The man Electra is married to, however, is kind to her and has taken advantage of neither her family name nor her virginity. In return, Electra helps the peasant with household chores. Despite her appreciation for her peasant husband, Electra resents being cast out of her house and her mother's loyalty to Aegisthus. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, was taken out of the country and put under the care of the king of Phocis, where he became friends with the king's son Pylades.

Now grown, Orestes and his companion Pylades travel to Argos, hoping for revenge, and end up at the house of Electra and her husband. They have concealed their identities in order to get information, claiming that they are messengers from Orestes, but the aged servant who smuggled Orestes off to Phocis years before recognizes him by a scar, and the siblings are reunited. Electra is eager to help her brother in bringing down Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and they conspire together.

While the old servant goes to lure Clytemnestra to Electra's house by telling her that her daughter has had a baby, Orestes sets off and kills Aegisthus and returns with the body. His resolve begins to waver at the prospect of matricide but Electra coaxes him into going through with it. When Clytemnestra arrives, he and Electra kill her by pushing a sword down her throat (which is only recounted and not shown), leaving both feeling oppressive guilt. At the end, Clytemnestra's deified brothers Castor and Polydeuces (often called the Dioscuri) appear. They tell Electra and Orestes that their mother received just punishment but that their matricide was still a shameful act, and they instruct the siblings on what they must do to atone and purge their souls of the crime.

The enduring popularity of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy (produced in 458 BC) is evident in Euripides' construction of the recognition scene between Orestes and Electra. In The Libation Bearers (whose plot is roughly equivalent to the events in the Electra), Electra recognizes her brother by a series of tokens: a lock of his hair, a footprint he leaves at Agamemnon's grave, and an article of clothing she had made for him years earlier. Euripides' own recognition scene clearly parodies Aeschylus' account. In Euripides' play (510ff.), Electra laughs at the idea of using such tokens to recognize her brother because: there is no reason their hair should match; Orestes' footprint would in no way resemble her smaller footprint; and it would be illogical for a grown Orestes to still have a piece of clothing made for him when he was a small child.

Orestes is instead recognized from a scar he received on the forehead while chasing a doe in the house as a child (571-74). This is a mock-heroic allusion to a scene from Homer's Odyssey. In Odyssey 19.428-54, the nurse Eurycleia recognizes a newly returned Odysseus from a scar on his thigh that he received as a child while on his first boar hunt. In the Odyssey, Orestes' return to Argos and taking revenge for his father's death is held up several times as a model for Telemachus' behavior (see Telemachy). Euripides in turn uses his recognition scene to allude to the one in Odyssey 19. Instead of an epic heroic boar hunt, Euripides instead invents a semi-comic incident involving a fawn.[1]



ELECTRA was a daughter of Atlas and Pleione, and one of the seven Pleiades. Her story is a confusing one. Zeus fell in love with her and carried her to Olympus, a rather daring thing to do, considering the perennial jealousy of Hera. He succeeded in raping her, but she managed to escape in midrape and as a suppliant embraced the sacred Palladium, which Athena had establishe. Since she had been sullied, the divinity of her attacker notwithsanding, she was considered a defiler of the sacred object, and it was hurled from Olympus to land in Ilium (Troy), where it was revered as the city's principal security. Through her unwelcome encouter with the father of the gods, she became the mother of Iasion and Dardanus. They must have been twins, although this fact was never particularly emphasized. (According to an Italian version of her story, she was the wife of Corythus, king of Tuscia, and had Iasion by him and Dardanus later by Zeus.) When Dardanus and Iasion migrated to Samothrace from Arcadia (or Italy or Crete), they carried the Palladium with them. This is contrary to the story of its celestial origin, but there might have been two such images. Electra appears to have followed or accompanied her sons, for we find her on Samothrace. She was even said to have been the mother of Harmonia by Zeus in Samothrace, although Harmonia is nearly always called the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. In keeping, though, with the accounts of the origin of the Samothracian mysteries, the presence of Harmonia appeared to be called for in establishing a connection between the Samothracian and Theban Cabeiri. It seems hardly likely that Electra voluntarily would have submitted Zeus after her first unfortunate experience with him. Thoroughly instructed in the mysteries by Demeter, his lover, Iasion passed on their knowledge to numerous heroes. He later married Cybele, according to some. Dardanus went to the Troad and was hospitably received by Teucer, the king of the region, who gave him part of the kingdom and his daughter Bateia. He built the city of Dardania (later Troy) and initiated the inhabitants into the mysteries of the gods of Samothrace. He introduce3d the cult of Cybele into Phrygia. Electra went with him to the Troad, and she brought the Palladium along from Samothrace. Again we have a conflicting account. Here is the very person who allegedly contaminated the Olympian Palladium, so that it was cast out of heaven, now bringing it to the city whose site was determined by the landing place in the earlier account. Apparently there needed to be an explanation fror the introduction of the mysteries into Troy. Although the Palladium was connected with Athena, who had no strong role in the mysteries, its function of guaranteeing the safety of the city was perhaps given more credibility by having Dardanus and Electra heavily involved in worship of the Cabeiri. Electra remained in Troy until its fall, according to some writers. Even though the Pleiades had a kind of second-class immortality, being daughters of a Titan, this would have made Electra well over 100 years old. According to the story, she watched the city founded by her son perishing in flames and tore out her hair in grief; she was placed among the stars as a comet. Other accounts say she and her sisters were already among the stars as the seven Pleiades and that Electra's brilliancy dimmed when Ilium was destroyed. [Apollodorus 3.10.1, 12.1.3; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 1.32,384, 2.325, 3.167, 7.207, 10.272; Tzetzes on Lycophron 29; Diodorus Siculus 5.48; Scholiast on Euripides' Phoenician Maidens 1136; Eustathius on Homer's Iliad 1155.]