Places: Electra

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 418-410 b.c.e. (English translation, 1649)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: c. 1250-1200 b.c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Argos

*Argos Electra (AR-gohs). Ancient city in southeastern Greece, adjoining the Gulf of Argolis. Its area was prominent in the Bronze Age; therefore, its very name summons an ambience of antiquity and myth for Sophocles’ audience. In the play, the first speech (by Orestes’ mentor Paidagogos) introduces Argos as the old and sacred homeland for which Orestes has yearned. Like a guidebook, Paidagogos enumerates its most famous sights: the river Inachus (believed to have been a god and the first king of Argos), the marketplace (consecrated to the god Apollo), the temple of the goddess Hera, and the palace. By providing so much geographical information, Paidagogos reminds the audience that he is–as his name suggests–like a pedagogue, the tutor who led children to school in Ancient Greece. Therefore, Orestes’ coming to Argos is likened implicitly to education for him (and, presumably also for the audience, brought into this fabled place of splendor and tragedy).

Appropriate to the function of Greek drama as both religious instruction and ritual, the play concerns the spiritual cleansing of Argos. Despite Paidagogos’s acute awareness of the city’s beauty and venerable tradition, his speech presents the kingdom as desecrated and thus in need of the purification Orestes and Electra will bring by avenging their royal father’s death. According to a notion common among many ancient religions, only more blood can cleanse the earth from the impurity generated by the shedding of a king’s blood, in this case that of Agamemnon, murdered by his wife. Consequently, through a divinely ordained execution of the murderers, Orestes expects to make the land flourish again.

BibliographyReinhardt, Karl. Sophocles. Translated by Hazel Harvey and David Harvey. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. A structural appreciation of Electra as the first of Sophocles’ uniquely related last plays.Sophocles. Electra. Translated by William Sale. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973. Sensitive, detailed analyses of theme, meaning, and structure. Introduced by Eric A. Have-lock’s excellent general survey and Adam Parry’s sketch on metrics.Webster, T. B. L. An Introduction to Sophocles. 2d ed. New York: Methuen, 1969. A challenging portrait of a pious Sophocles, for whom god-inspired matricide is good.Whitman, Cedric H. Sophocles: A Study of Heroic Humanism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Sees Electra as a play that embraces the Homeric values of the Odyssey. Celebrates Electra’s suffering, endurance, and wise triumph.Winnington-Ingram, R. P. “The Electra of Sophocles: Prolegomena to an Interpretation.” In Oxford Readings in Greek Tragedy, edited by Erich Segal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Presents an interpretation in which the Furies were operative on Electra and Clytemnestra before her murder, allowing for both Homeric and Aeschylean interpretations.
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