Electra

Electra

Electra

Electra

Synopsis

Based on the conviction that only translators who write poetry themselves can properly recreate the celebrated and timeless tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the Greek Tragedy in New Translations series offers new translations that go beyond the literal meaning of the Greek in order to evoke the poetry of the originals. Under the general editorship of Peter Burian and Alan Shapiro, each volume includes a critical introduction, commentary on the text, full stage directions, and a glossary of the mythical and geographical references in the play. Although it has been at times overshadowed by his more famous Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone, Sophocles' Electra is remarkable for its extreme emotions and taut drama. Electra recounts the murders of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus by Clytemnestra's son Orestes, to avenge their murder of his father Agamemnon, commander of the Greeks at Troy, upon his return home. Sophocles' version is presented from the viewpoint of Electra, Orestes' sister, who laments her father, bears witness to her mother's crime, and for years endures her mother's scorn. Despite her overwhelming passion for just revenge, Electra admits that her own actions are shameful. When Orestes arrives at last, her mood shifts from grief to joy, as Orestes carries out the bloody vengeance. Sophocles presents this story as a savage though necessary act of vengeance, vividly depicting Electra's grief, anger, and exultation. This translation equals the original in ferocity of expression, and leaves intact the inarticulate cries of suffering and joy that fill the play.

Excerpt

The long siege of Troy, a city on the coast of Asia Minor, is one of the major events in the world of Greek myth. The first surviving work of Greek literature, the Iliad of Homer, is largely concerned with it. The Iliad itself is about an event in the ninth year of that siege, a quarrel in the Greek campbetween Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek rulers, and Achilles, their best warrior, that leads to Achilles' withdrawal. This in turn leads to a series of events that end with the death of the Trojans' best warrior, Hector. But in the course of that story, Homer tells us much of the earlier history of the war and reveals that after Hector's death Troy's fall will inevitably follow.

Homer's Odyssey is concerned with the ten years' wandering and eventual return home of Odysseus, another Greek leader at Troy. Here, too, other stories are brought in, among them the story of Agamemnon's return home and his murder by Aegisthus and his wife. While he had been in Troy, his cousin Aegisthus had seduced his wife, Clytemnestra, and upon his return home Aegisthus and Clytemnestra had arranged a feast for him at which he, his war-prize and concubine Cassandra, and his followers were murdered. Eight years later, Orestes, his son, returned to Mycenae and murdered Aegisthus and buried Aegisthus and Clytemnestra—Homer does not say who killed her. In the references to this event, Orestes' action is always viewed in a positive light—he is pointed out as an example for Odysseus' son Telemachus to follow, as he comes of age, and becomes dissatisfied with the suitors of his mother who have made themselves at home for several years and are consuming his estate.

The story of Agamemnon's return is much more elaborate in Aeschylus' dramatic trilogy, the Oresteia, which was produced some 250 years later (assuming Homer's date to be about 700 b.c.) in 458 b.c. In particular, the story has become much more problematic. In the . . .

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