Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 23

Electra - Psychology, Adaptations of the Electra story

In Greek tragedies, but not in Homer, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who assisted her brother Orestes when he arrived in Argos to avenge his father, and who later married his friend Pylades. Her personality is developed in different ways by the playwrights.

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over 9 years ago

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.