ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and
ELECTRA, sister of ORESTES
CHRYSOTHEMIS, sister of
AN OLD MAN, formerly the
PAEDAGOGUS or Attendant Of ORESTES
CHORUS OF WOMEN OF MYCENAE
PYLADES, son of Strophius, King
of Crisa, the friend Of ORESTES.
A handmaid of CLYTEMNESTRA. Two
attendants of ORESTES
At Mycenae, before the palace of
the Pelopidae. It is morning and the new-risen sun is bright. The
PAEDAGOGUS enters on the left of the spectators, accompanied by the
two youths, ORESTES and PYLADES.
Son of him who led our hosts at
Troy of old, son of Agamemnon!- now thou mayest behold with thine
eyes all that thy soul hath desired so long. There is the ancient
Argos of thy yearning,- that hallowed scene whence the gadfly drove
the daughter of Inachus; and there, Orestes, is the Lycean Agora,
named from the wolf-slaying god; there, on the left, Hera's famous
temple; and in this place to which we have come, deem that thou
seest Mycenae rich in gold, with the house of the Pelopidae there,
so often stained with bloodshed; whence I carried thee of yore,
from the slaying of thy father, as thy kinswoman, thy sister,
charged me; and saved thee, and reared thee up to manhood, to be
the avenger of thy murdered sire.
Now, therefore, Orestes, and
thou, best of friends, Pylades, our plans must be laid quickly; for
lo, already the sun's bright ray is waking the songs of the birds
into clearness, and the dark night of stars is spent. Before, then,
anyone comes forth from the house, take counsel; seeing that the
time allows not of delay, but is full ripe for deeds.
True friend and follower, how
well dost thou prove thy loyalty to our house! As a steed of
generous race, though old, loses not courage in danger, but pricks
his ear, even so thou urgest us forward, and art foremost in our
support. I will tell thee, then, what I have determined; listen
closely to my words, and correct me, if I miss the mark in aught.
When I went to the Pythian
oracle, to learn how I might avenge my father on his murderers,
Phoebus gave me the response which thou art now to hear:- that
alone, and by stealth, without aid of arms or numbers, I should
snatch the righteous vengeance of my hand. Since, then, the god
spake to us on this wise, thou must go into yonder house, when
opportunity gives thee entrance, and learn all that is passing
there, so that thou mayest report to us from sure knowledge. Thine
age, and the lapse of time, will prevent them from recognising
thee; they will never suspect who thou art, with that silvered
hair. Let thy tale be that thou art a Phocian stranger, sent by
Phanoteus; for he is the greatest of their allies. Tell them, and
confirm it with thine oath, that Orestes hath perished by a fatal
chance,- hurled at the Pythian games from his rapid chariot; be
that the substance of thy story.
We, meanwhile, will first crown
my father's tomb, as the god enjoined, with drink-offerings and the
luxuriant tribute of severed hair; then come back, bearing in our
hands an urn of shapely bronze,-now hidden in the brushwood, as I
think thou knowest,- so to gladden them with the false tidings that
this my body is no more, but has been consumed with fire and turned
to ashes. Why should the omen trouble me, when by a feigned death I
find life indeed, and win renown? I trow, no word is ill-omened, if
fraught with gain. Often ere now have I seen wise men die in vain
report; then, when they return home, they are held in more abiding
honour: as I trust that from this rumour I also shall emerge in
radiant life, and yet shine like a star upon my foes.
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!
Enough;- be it now thy care, old
man, to go and heed thy task; and we twain will go forth; for so
occasion bids, chief ruler of every enterprise for men.
Ah me, ah me!
Hark, my son,- from the doors,
methought, came the sound of some handmaid moaning within.
Can it be the hapless Electra?
Shall we stay here, and listen to her laments?
No, no: before all else, let us
seek to obey the command of Loxias, and thence make a fair
beginning, by pouring libations to thy sire; that brings victory
within our grasp, and gives us the mastery in all that we do.
Exeunt PAEDAGOGUS on the
spectators' left, ORESTES and PYLADES the right.- Enter ELECTRA,
from the house. She is meanly clad.
O thou pure sunlight, and thou
air, earth's canopy, how often have ye heard the strains of my
lament, the wild blows dealt against this bleeding breast, when
dark night fails! And my wretched couch in yonder house of woe
knows well, ere now, how I keep the watches of the night,- how
often I bewail my hapless sire; to whom deadly Ares gave not of his
gifts in a strange land, but my mother, and her mate Aegisthus,
cleft his head with murderous axe, as woodmen fell an oak. And for
this no plaint bursts from any lip save mine, when thou, my father,
hath died a death so cruel and so piteous!
But never will I cease from dirge
and sore lament, while I look on the trembling rays of the bright
stars, or on this light of day; but like the nightingale, slayer of
her offspring, I will wail without ceasing, and cry aloud to all,
here, at the doors of my father.
O home of Hades and Persephone! O
Hermes of the shades! potent Curse, and ye, dread daughters of the
gods, Erinyes,- Ye who behold when a life is reft by violence, when
a bed is dishonoured by stealth,- come, help me, avenge the murder
of my sire,- and send to me my brother; for I have no more the
strength to bear up alone against the load of grief that weighs me
As ELECTRA finishes her lament,
(the CHORUS OF WOMEN OF MYCENAE enter. The following
lines between ELECTRA and the
CHORUS are chanted responsively.)
Ah, Electra, child of a wretched
mother, why art thou ever pining thus in ceaseless lament for
Agamemnon, who long ago was wickedly ensnared by thy false mother's
wiles, and betrayed to death by dastardly hand? Perish the author
of that deed, if I may utter such prayer!
Ah, noble-hearted maidens, ye
have come to soothe my woes. I know and feel it, it escapes me not;
but I cannot leave this task undone, or cease from mourning for my
hapless sire. Ah, friends whose love responds to mine in every
mood, leave me to rave thus,- Oh leave me, I entreat you!
But never by laments or prayers
shalt thou recall thy sire from that lake of Hades to which all
must pass. Nay, thine is a fatal course of grief, passing ever from
due bounds into a cureless sorrow; wherein there is no deliverance
from evils. Say, wherefore art thou enamoured of misery?
Foolish is the child who forgets
a parent's piteous death. No, dearer to my soul is the mourner that
laments for Itys, Itys, evermore, that bird distraught with grief,
the messenger of Zeus. Ah, queen of sorrow, Niobe, thee I deem
divine,- thee, who evermore weepest in thy rocky tomb!