Study Guide

Electra Justice and Judgment

By Sophocles

Justice and Judgment

THE OLD SLAVE
Dark night
Is vanished with her stars, and day's bright orb
Hath waked the birds of morn into full song. (17-20)

What does it mean that Orestes's arrival in Mycenae corresponds to dawn breaking? In other words, is the time of Orestes's arrival significant?

THE CHORUS
By frenzied lust the blow was given (197)

The Chorus claims that Agamemnon was murdered on account of the lust Clytemnestra and Aegisthus felt for each other. But Clytemnestra will later deny this claim. Unfortunately, we have no way of telling what motivated Clytemnestra and Aegisthus to carry out the regicide.

ELECTRA
Yet suffer me, dear women! Mighty force
Compels me. Who that had a noble heart
And saw her father's cause, as I have done,
By day and night more outraged, could refrain? (254-7)

Electra claims she is compelled to mourn her father. Does this mean she doesn't actually want to, and is only fulfilling a daughterly duty?

ELECTRA
unless she hear one say
"Orestes will arrive": then standing close,
She shouts like one possessed into mine ear,
'These are your doings, this your work, I trow.
You stole Orestes from my gripe, and placed
His life with fosterers; but you shall pay
Full penalty." (293-297)

We see that Clytemnestra is living in fear. In some way, then, at least psychologically, she is pursued by the Furies for her actions.

CLYTEMNESTRA
for not I alone
But Justice slew him; (527-8)

What meaning does "justice" take on in this context?

CLYTEMNESTRA
Come, let me question thee! On whose behalf
Slew he my child? Was 't for the Argive host? (534-5)

Agamemnon's reasons for sacrificing Iphigenia are almost as important to Clytemnestra, as the sacrifice itself.

ELECTRA
Then I will speak. You say you slew him. Where
Could there be found confession more depraved,
Even though the cause were righteous? (558-560)

Great argument – except this puts Electra in a sticky spot herself at the end of the play, especially since the Greeks thought matricide was worse than killing your spouse.

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