43 pages 1 hour read



Fiction | Play | Adult | BCE

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Summary and Study Guide


Electra is a tragedy by Euripides usually thought to have been produced in the mid-410s BCE. Like Euripides’s other plays, it would have first been performed at the dramatic competition of the City Dionysia in Athens. The play is centered on the character of Electra, who, with the aid of her brother Orestes, devises a plot to avenge their father Agamemnon by killing their mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. The play explores themes of The Difference Between Justice and Revenge, Familial Relationships and Obligations, and The Relationship Between Social Status and Honor.

This study guide uses Emily Vermeule’s translation of the play from the third edition of the University of Chicago Press series The Complete Greek Tragedies (2013).

Content Warning: The source material features references to violence, especially murder.

Plot Summary

The play begins in the countryside of Argos, in front of the house of the Farmer. In the Prologue speech, the Farmer tells of how the usurpers Aegisthus and Clytemnestra married the princess Electra to him after murdering the rightful Agamemnon, hoping that such a marriage would humiliate her and prevent her from becoming a threat. Electra enters and the two discuss their chores before leaving to perform them. Orestes then enters with his close friend Pylades. Orestes explains that he means to find his sister and avenge his father with her help. Electra returns and sings a lament for the misfortunes that have fallen upon her father, her brother, and herself.

The Chorus enters the stage and sings the parodos, where they ask Electra to join them at a festival in honor of the goddess Hera. As the song breaks off, Electra sees Orestes and Pylades, whom she does not recognize. Orestes poses as a stranger and tells Electra that he has news about her brother. The Farmer arrives and offers hospitality to the strangers, but Electra sends him to fetch the Old Man, an enslaved person who once served Agamemnon, to speak to their guests. The Chorus sings the first stasimon, dedicated to the exploits of Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes who fought at Troy.

The second episode begins with the arrival of the Old Man. He soon recognizes Orestes by a scar he received in a childhood accident. After their reunion, Orestes and Electra devise a plot to kill Aegisthus and Clytemnestra: Aegisthus they will kill at a sacrifice he is holding on his estate, Clytemnestra by luring her to the Farmer’s home with the fabricated news that Electra has given birth to a son. The Old Man goes to fetch Clytemnestra, and the Chorus sings of the golden lamb that led to discord long ago between Orestes, Electra’s grandfather Atreus, and his brother Thyestes.

In the third episode, a Messenger reports the death of Aegisthus. Orestes returns, and after a moment of hesitation goes inside to wait for Clytemnestra. Upon arriving, Clytemnestra argues with Electra over past grievances. Electra finally asks Clytemnestra to enter the house. In the third stasimon, the Chorus sings of the death of Agamemnon as Clytemnestra’s death cries can be heard from inside the house.

Electra and Orestes stand over their mother’s body and question their actions. In a deus ex machina, the Dioscuri enter above the house to soothe Electra and Orestes, confirming that it was right for Clytemnestra to die even if her death was not carried out with perfect justice. They tell Orestes that he must now go into exile; they give Electra in marriage to Orestes’s companion Pylades. Electra and Orestes say a tearful goodbye as the Furies arrive to hound Orestes for his crime of matricide.