Study Guide

The Flies

The Flies Summary

Orestes and his tutor arrive in Argos, Greece, a miserable town full of unfriendly citizens and flies the size of bumblebees. The reader is expected to be familiar with the Greek legend back-story, though Sartre does help the reader by re-hashing the myth via conversation. Let's review it now.

Fifteen years ago, King Agamemnon was the ruler of Argos. He left for the Trojan War, and when he was gone his wife, Clytemnestra, took another lover, a man named Aegisthus. When Agamemnon returned from the war, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered him together and took the throne. Agamemnon's daughter, Electra, remained with the new couple in the palace, while his son Orestes was disposed of, allegedly, for good. As you can see, this disposal wasn't effective, as Orestes is still alive. He grew up in another part of Greece, but now that he's a grown man, he's returned to his hometown to assess the current situation.

What he finds is that every citizen of Argos has been consumed with guilt over the murder of King Agamemnon. They spend all day mourning, repenting, wailing, beating themselves up, and living in utter misery. King Aegisthus and Queen Clytemnestra, consumed with shame, have imposed this repentance upon their people.

On the day when Orestes returns to Argos, they're holding their annual Ceremony of the Dead. Once a year, the people of Argos roll back a stone blocking what they believe is the gateway to hell. According to local legend, the dead come forth and haunt the living for 24 hours, before returning to the underworld.

Orestes gets most of this information from Zeus, the King of the gods, who pretends to be a mortal man. Orestes also fails to reveal his true identity, and pretends to be a traveler named Philebus. As the Zeus and Orestes converse, we get the sense that each knows who the other really is.

Zeus is anxious to get Orestes out of Argos; he fears that the young man is seeking vengeance against the man who murdered his father. Since the gods are pleased to have a kingdom full of miserable penitents, Zeus would rather keep Aegisthus in power. But Orestes explains that he's not interested in vengeance. He has no ties to what happened in Argos. In fact, he has no meaningful memories or childhood or connections to anything, which bothers him. He feels as though he has no responsibilities or commitments.

After his conversation with Zeus, Orestes meets Electra – his sister. Again, he holds off on revealing his true identity. As the story goes, Electra remained behind in the palace with Aegisthus and Clytemnestra after her father was slain. It seems they have made her into somewhat of a servant; she resents them deeply. She also has a major beef with Zeus, whom she believes is an empty image with no substance. She predicts that a man will come one day and will reveal this to the world.

Interrupting Electra's rant is Clytemnestra, otherwise known as Electra and Orestes's mother, the Queen of Argos, and the wife of Aegisthus. She and her daughter have a pretty bad relationship, probably because Clytemnestra killed Electra's father and now treats her daughter like a slave. The Queen orders Electra to attend the Ceremony of the Dead later that day. Before the women leave, Electra advises that Philebus (a.k.a. Orestes) stick around, as the day promises some entertainment.

This sounds good to Orestes, who changes his mind and decides that he will stay in Argos. Zeus, probably in an attempt to keep an eye on the young man, offers to act as his guide. Together, the two (along with Orestes's tutor) attend the ceremony.

As Electra promised, the ceremony is indeed an interesting one, mostly because she shows up halfway through in an inappropriate white party dress (instead of the mandated black conservative funeral attire). She proceeds to dance on the temple steps while explaining to the townspeople that, actually, there are no invisible ghosts running around and tormenting them. While hesitant at first to listen to this "blasphemy," the townspeople become curious. What if Electra is right? However, Zeus is in attendance, and he soon silences Electra by crashing a huge boulder into the temple steps. The townspeople scream, "Burn the witch!", and Electra is quickly exiled.

After the crowd disperses, Orestes offers to take Electra away from this awful place. When she refuses, he reveals his true identity. Electra is a bit disappointed; she thought Orestes was going to be a raging, angry man who would ride into Argos with determination and gut the King and Queen. No, says Orestes, this wasn't his plan. He's a lover, not a fighter.

But then Orestes spends some time thinking. If he's so bothered by having no obligations, commitments, or loyalties, shouldn't he choose to commit himself to something? And what better action to commit himself to than killing the lecherous couple that murdered his father? OK, he says, turning to Electra, let's do it.

So the siblings sneak into the palace. While they're hiding out, waiting to make their move, they witness Zeus conversing with Aegisthus. The King of the gods reveals to the King Aegisthus that Orestes and Electra are planning to kill him, and he orders that they be thrown into jail. But Aegisthus refuses. He's tired of living his life miserable and repentant, and he'd rather just die. Besides, why is Zeus all concerned for the life of Aegisthus if he did nothing to save the life of Agamemnon fifteen years earlier? What's the difference?

Zeus explains that he's not trying to protect Aegisthus, nor is he concerned with justice. The gods like having people miserable and penitent. They encourage crimes if the criminals will spend their lives in remorse – as Aegisthus has done. Orestes, on the other hand, is a special case. He has figured out that man is free. Because he realizes this, he will feel no remorse for his actions. Zeus also reveals that he is powerless to do anything against Orestes: once a man realizes that he is truly free, the gods have no control over him.

Zeus leaves. Electra and her brother pop out of hiding and Orestes promptly slays Aegisthus. Before he dies, Aegisthus tells Orestes to beware of the flies. Electra starts freaking out; shouldn't they feel guilty over their crime? No, says Orestes, they should not. He promptly goes to slay the Queen, though Electra refuses to help. After both husband and wife are dead, Electra and Orestes flee to the temple of Apollo, which serves as a sanctuary for criminals in Argos.

At the temple, the siblings try to sleep, but are surrounded by the furies, a larger, meaner, and more human version of the flies, which plagued the characters in the first two acts of the play. (Sartre describes these furies as the goddesses of remorse.) Orestes seems immune to their taunting, but Electra is not. She engages them, though Orestes warns that this only gives them power over her. Electra's guilt is even manifested physically – the furies tear and ravage her face while she sleeps.

Zeus shows up and calls the furies off for a minute. He offers Orestes and Electra a deal – spend their lives in remorse, and he'll put them on the throne of Argos and keep the furies away from them. Orestes refuses, and the two of then launch into a lengthy debate on the nature of freedom, the gods, and man's place in the world.

This conversation represents the philosophical heart of The Flies. In it, Zeus argues that he is the god of the universe, and that Orestes is an insignificant bug. Orestes counters that Zeus may be the god of all creatures, the elements, and nature, but he is not the god of man. Zeus chose to make man free, and that was his big mistake. Zeus thinks it's odd for a man clinging to a criminal sanctuary to be speaking of freedom, but Orestes doesn't think so. Freedom is in the mind – it is the knowledge of one's freedom to choose and act – and not a physical state. Even a slave on the cross is free if he recognizes his own freedom.

Orestes now wants to open the eyes of the citizens of Argos the same way his own eyes have been opened. Zeus points out that the citizens of Argos are ready to stone Orestes to death. Freedom is a burden, he says, and bestowing it on the general populace would only lead them to despair. Yes, it would, says Orestes, but "human life begins on the far side of despair."

At this point, Zeus admits that Orestes has him beaten. He heard that a man would one day announce the god's decline, and it seems that Orestes is that man. Before Zeus goes, however, he wins the territorial battle over Electra; she commits herself to a life of remorse and runs off stage.

Orestes now flings open the doors of the temple and addresses the angry mob of townspeople waiting for him outside. He reveals his identity – Orestes, son of Agamemnon – and owns up to the murders from the early evening. He explains that he has taken on a burden and so earned his right as the King of Argos. Yet he doesn't want to stay and rule; he wishes to be "a king without a kingdom." Still, he says, he has freed them all with his actions. He takes their sins upon his own back, so they are free from their burden of remorse. Now he will walk in the sun. Orestes exits, and the furies run shrieking after him.

  • Act I, Scene i

    • The scene is a public square in Argos, Greece. A large, blood-smeared statue of Zeus, "God of flies and death," towers over the scene. A procession of women carrying urns makes its way through the square.
    • Enter Orestes and the Tutor.
    • The Tutor tries to stop one of the women in the procession to ask for directions, but she spits at him and keeps moving.
    • The Tutor criticizes Orestes for bringing them to this awful, searing-hot, and inhospitable place when they could have gone through any other number of towns.
    • Orestes is distraught that he was born here in Argos and yet is a stranger in his own land.
    • He instructs the Tutor to knock on a nearby door.
    • Begrudgingly, the Tutor complies. It is opened briefly before the resident behind it slams it in their faces.
    • Orestes tries to speak with an "idiot boy" to ask where King Aegisthus can be found, but the boy only answers, "Hoo! Hoo!"
    • Back stage, Zeus passes by silently. The Tutor notices and remarks that the bearded man has been following them since Delphi. Orestes tries to pass it off as chance, but the Tutor isn't convinced.
    • Meanwhile both men are surrounded by swarms of enormous flies.
    • Zeus approaches and explains that fifteen years ago, the stench of carrion drew the insects to the city, and they haven't left since.
    • The Tutor asks the speaker for his name, and Zeus replies that he is Demetrios, from Athens. He admits to having crossed paths with the men about two weeks earlier.
    • The men hear "hideous shrieks" coming from the direction of the palace, but Zeus explains that they are merely ceremonial, since today is Dead Men's Day.
    • Zeus continues. He is familiar with the customs here because he spends a lot of time in Argos. In fact, he was here the day that King Agamemnon came home from Troy. His wife, Queen Clytemnestra, was then sleeping with Aegisthus.
    • The residents of Argos knew trouble was brewing, but they said nothing.
    • Zeus notes that Orestes has grown pale at his words, but Orestes ignores this revealing comment.
    • Zeus continues. Agamemnon was a good King, but he made the mistake of banning public executions.
    • The result was that his subjects became bloodthirsty and were eager to see violence. Ironically, this had bad consequences for Agamemnon's own life: the Argives allowed Aegisthus to murder Agamemnon.
    • Orestes wants to know if Demetrios, too, held his tongue. Yes, says Zeus/Demetrios, he didn't say anything either. The whole town was in a sort of ecstasy over the idea of murder.
    • Orestes's anger is roused by this story. He asks why the gods didn't intervene.
    • Zeus explains that, rather than intervene, the gods sent the flies as punishment. He claims these flies are a symbol, but doesn't offer any further explanation.
    • Zeus stops a woman who is passing by, all dressed in black. He asks why she is in mourning.
    • She's not; everyone in Argos wears black all the time, she explains.
    • Then he asks where she was when King Agamemnon was murdered. She was alone and helpless, she says, so she stayed inside and bolted her door.
    • Zeus accuses her of having listened in to the screams of the gruesome murder. He claims she was turned on by it and must have had a lot of fun in bed with her husband that night as a result. He advises that she repent her sins.
    • She does repent, explains the woman. So does every one in her family. They go around miserable for their sins all day long. Even her children regret being born and beg forgiveness for their lives.
    • The old woman runs away, and Zeus tells Orestes that everyone should live life as she does.
    • Confused, Orestes asks what kind of man Demetrios is. Zeus tells him not to worry about that. Then he asks if Orestes thinks the gods should have struck Aegisthus down.
    • Orestes, a self-professed stranger in this land, doesn't know how to answer that question. He asks if Aegisthus feels remorse for his actions.
    • Probably not, says Zeus, but then again the whole city is repenting on his behalf.
    • More screams are heard, and he explains that the townspeople hold this day of mourning every year on the anniversary of Agamemnon's death, to make sure they don't forget the dead or their sins. He comments that such devotion is near and dear to him.
    • Orestes is confused by this comment.
    • Zeus responds that he meant near and dear to the gods.
    • Orestes doesn't understand this either. Why do the gods care about this misery and mourning?
    • Zeus tells him not to try to understand, or to pass judgment on the gods.
    • So Orestes changes the subject. Didn't King Agamemnon have a daughter, Electra?
    • Yes, says Zeus, and she lives in the palace now. She was a child when her father was killed. Agamemnon also had a son, Orestes, though everyone thinks he's dead. (Aegisthus ordered him killed, but there is a rumor that he was abandoned in the woods and subsequently rescued.)
    • Zeus, for his part, would prefer it if the son were dead.
    • Orestes wants to know why.
    • Zeus says that, hypothetically, were he having a conversation with this Orestes guy, he would tell him to leave Argos, since the sinners here are repenting and should be left alone. What has happened here has nothing to do with him.
    • Besides, he continues, the gods love seeing these people miserable and repenting, so Orestes shouldn't interfere. He has nothing to provide them with in place of their repentance.
    • Then Zeus looks him right in the eye and says that, if Orestes tampers, he will cause disaster – for Argos and for himself.
    • Then Orestes responds, "Well, if I were Orestes, which I'm not, I would say…" except then the Tutor coughs and kicks him in the shins, so he stops talking.
    • The men bid each other good-bye, but before they go, Zeus shows them a trick. He points at the flies swarming around their heads and says, "Abraxas, galla, galla, tsay, tsay." The flies all fall to the ground.
    • More ironic is Orestes's reaction: "By Jove!" (Jove was the Roman equivalent of Zeus.)
    • Zeus leaves.
    • Turning to the Tutor, Orestes questions whether or not that guy was human.
    • The Tutor reasons that there is nothing besides humans, but Orestes resists the Tutor's philosophy.
    • Orestes turns toward the palace and rants about how wronged he's been, the fact that there's a murderer on his father's throne, and that his mother betrayed his father.
    • He also deeply resents that he has no childhood memories.
    • This offends the Tutor, who has devoted his entire life to teaching Orestes literature, philosophy, history, and art.
    • The Tutor explains that Orestes has knowledge and wisdom beyond his years, that he has no ties, like religion or family, clouding his judgment. As a result, Orestes "know[s] better than to commit [him]self" to a single cause. (The Tutor identifies this last part as Orestes's greatest strength.)
    • Yes, Orestes appreciates all this.
    • Orestes feels that there are different kinds of men in the world. Some are born with a "certain path assigned to them," and they journey forward towards some deed they must commit. Others, like himself, are rootless, and without purpose.
    • Orestes again laments that he has no ties to a family or home, because he was taken from his home when he was a small child.
    • Sure, if he had stayed here in Argos, he might not have any of the other academic skills the Tutor taught him, but he would know every detail of the door frame, how many steps from the hall to the dining room, and every floorboard would hold memories of his childhood.
    • Orestes recognizes that, because of the wrong done to him, this is not his palace, as it otherwise might have been. Since he has no memories of this place, "there is nothing to detain [him and the Tutor] here" in Argos.
    • The Tutor approves of this conclusion.
    • Orestes would have gained nothing by staying in Argos, argues the Tutor. If he had remained after Agamemnon's murder, he would be wallowing in repentance, like the rest of the town.
    • Maybe so, Orestes says, but he would own that repentance. He would have a purpose and a tie to his kingdom, and even to all these flies buzzing around.
    • Eventually Orestes stops thinking about "what ifs" and suggests that they leave this town already.
    • The Tutor is greatly relieved.
    • Since he revealed Orestes's true past to him a few months ago he's been worried that his pupil would come to Argos and avenge his father's murder.
    • Orestes tells him not to worry. Sure, killing Aegisthus would be fun, but he knows it wouldn't serve any real purpose. He again claims that what's going on here in Argos is no business of his. A king should share in his subjects' memories and pain, but Orestes has nothing in common with these people, no ties to them. He doesn't even share their remorse.
    • Then again, hesitates Orestes, he would kill his own mother if it meant he could share in the memories and remorse of these townspeople, and "fill the void" within him.
    • Still, he says, let's go to Sparta.
    • Just then, Electra comes on stage, carrying a large can of ashes. She makes her way to the big statue of Zeus, which she proceeds to insult, mock, and rub herself against in an inappropriate manner.
    • From her ranting, it seems Electra's beef with Zeus is this: he enjoys watching the suffering of the Argives. She's knows he detests her because she's young and beautiful. He prefers decay and sorrow. On this, his feast day, while others are bringing him wine and bread, she brings moldy, rotting food. To add insult to injury, she spits on the statue.
    • Then she predicts (she's still speaking to the statue, having not noticed Orestes and his tutor yet) that some day a man will cleave Zeus in two, and everyone will see that he is just a statue made out of wood.
    • Right after this prediction, Electra realizes that there are two men watching her.
    • She's startled. Orestes explains that his name is Philebus, and that he's from Corinth and a stranger to these parts.
    • Electra is relieved to meet him, since she hates everyone that has anything to do with Argos.
    • Orestes tells the Tutor to leave them alone.
    • He then compliments Electra on being beautiful. She's surprised to hear this; no one has ever told her she's beautiful, though she speculates it's because everyone in the palace hates her.
    • She goes on to explain that she works as a servant in the palace, and describes in detail her duties, which include washing the stains off the King and Queen's bed sheets and their underwear.
    • She gets her revenge by bringing rotting food and ashes to smear on the statue of Zeus, whom she detests.
    • Electra reveals that every night her mother, whom she also finds disgusting, kisses her good night.
    • Orestes wants to know if she's ever thought of leaving Argos.
    • No, she has no friends and is afraid of being alone.
    • However, she excitedly reveals to Orestes that she's waiting for something – but she won't say what (or whom).
    • Then she compliments Orestes on his looks and wants to know more about his story.
    • She imagines that Corinth – his hometown – is beautiful and happy. Orestes confirms that yes, it is.
    • It all sounds nice to Electra, who has spent her life in a town that is "sick with fear" and plagued by remorse.
    • Then Electra asks a particularly loaded question: what if a young man from Corinth came home one day to find his father murdered, his mother sleeping with the murderer, and his sister treated as a servant in her own home?
    • She wants to know if this young man would slink away, or if he would exact vengeance.
    • Before Orestes can answer this question, the voice of the Queen, from off-stage, calls Electra by name.
    • Queen Clytemnestra enters.
    • Orestes carefully observes this mother.
    • He muses to himself that this is the woman he's been dreaming about for years. He can see that she's haggard, which he expected, though he "hadn't counted on those dead eyes."
    • Clytemnestra tells her daughter Electra that, according to the King's order, she is to wear her black dress and jewels for the Ceremony of the Dead.
    • If she's a servant, Electra tells her mother, why should she have to attend the ceremony and pretend to be a princess?
    • It's clear that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are careful to keep up appearances, to make it seem as though Electra is a happy and well-adjusted young princess.
    • Electra resents that she's expected to share in the town's remorse for a crime she never committed (i.e., the murder of King Agamemnon). She refuses to beg the gods' forgiveness when she is innocent herself.
    • Clytemnestra makes it clear that these orders come from King Aegisthus.
    • Electra counters that it is Clytemnestra's duty to follow these orders, since she is Aegisthus's wife, but Electra herself has no obligation to obey her stepfather.
    • The Queen starts to condemn her daughter, but then stops herself. She realizes that she isn't exactly in a position to lecture anyone. She comments that she recognizes her own former beauty in Electra.
    • This irritates Electra, who doesn't want to be compared to her mother in any way, shape, or form.
    • Orestes assures her that she is not like her mother.
    • Clytemnestra wants to know who this guy is.
    • Before Orestes has a chance to answer, Electra quickly explains that his name is Philebus and he's from Corinth.
    • The Queen starts asking him questions, and Orestes claims that he's on his way to Sparta to enlist in the army.
    • Clytemnestra is surprised that he's gone out of his way to travel through Argos, which most people try to avoid.
    • She talks about the town and its repentance for a horrible crime committed fifteen years ago. As the Queen, she bears the heaviest load.
    • Electra quickly tells Orestes not to pity Clytemnestra. Everyone's favorite pastime, she says, is confessing his or her sins to anyone who'll listen. They love newcomers because they act as a fresh audience.
    • She adds that you must judge the citizens for the sins they are willing to confess, but that you must not point out any other, hidden sins that they don't reveal.
    • The Queen laments her haggard looks, claiming that she was once beautiful and has clearly suffered (physically) for her crime.
    • She then admits that she doesn't regret killing Agamemnon – she rejoiced to see his blood. What she does regret is that Aegisthus handed over her son to his lackeys to be killed.
    • Electra is taken aback. Doesn't her mother care about her own daughter?
    • Clytemnestra assures her daughter that one day she, too, will commit an inexpiable crime. She'll try to run away from it, but every time she looks behind her there it will be, plaguing her with guilt.
    • "And then at last," Clytemnestra says, "you will realize that you staked your life on a single throw of the dice, and nothing remains for you but to drag your crime after you until you die. For that is the law, just or unjust, of repentance."
    • Electra realizes that Clytemnestra regrets losing her youth and good looks more than she regrets her crime.
    • Both women heartily agree that they hate each other.
    • The Queen turns to Philebus, (a.k.a. Orestes), and blames him for this argument. Usually she and her daughter just hate in each other in silence. She would like him to leave as soon as possible.
    • Then she turns to Electra and says that, while she does hate her, she would rather cut off her own arm than do her any harm. Still, Aegisthus doesn't harbor such reservations, so Electra had better be careful not to anger him.
    • Electra says she doesn't care about Aegisthus; she's not going to attend his Ceremony of the Dead.
    • Then she turns to Philebus and explains, finally, what the Ceremony of the Dead actually is.
    • The people of Argos gather outside of a big cavern above the town, so deep and dark that no one has ever found its end. Legend has it the cavern leads to hell. The Argives normally keep it blocked with a great stone. Once a year they roll the stone aside and the dead roam the city for one night, while the living beg their macabre visitors not to hurt them.
    • Electra doesn't want to take part because the dead belong to the people of Argos; they are not her dead.
    • Clytemnestra reminds her daughter that if she doesn't attend the ceremony willingly, Aegisthus will have her brought in by force.
    • Fine, Electra consents, she'll be there. She then asks Philebus (a.k.a. Orestes) to stay for the ceremony, as he might find parts of it entertaining.
    • Before exiting, the Queen begs Philebus to leave town; she's afraid he'll bring disaster upon all of them.
    • Finally left alone, Orestes says to himself, "For my mother's sake."
    • Next Zeus comes on stage and tells him that the Tutor and he have procured some horses, the better for making a hasty departure.
    • But Orestes has changed his mind; he's going to stay in Argos after all.
    • Given this change of plan, Zeus offers to act as Orestes's host. He invites him to an inn he knows, and then recites the chant to kill the flies buzzing around Orestes's head.
    • Zeus mysteriously advises the young man to take advantage of his company.
    • Then he asks if Philebus (a.k.a. Orestes) knows the story of Telemachus, and the wise older man he once met.
    • (A little explanation here: Telemachus was the son of Odysseus, a Greek hero and friend to Agamemnon. While looking for his father, Telemachus was counseled by an old man named Mentor, who turned out to be Athena in disguise. Zeus is hinting at the fact that he's Zeus, since he hasn't revealed his true identity to Orestes yet. This reminds us to tell you to check out Shmoop's Odyssey guide, which gives details of the ancient epic poem.)
  • Act II, Scene i

    • This scene takes place outside the big cavern that Electra discussed earlier in her description of the Ceremony of the Dead. The cavern is on the top of a mountain terrace, and the big boulder is still in place blocking the entrance on the right of the stage. On the left side of a stage, a series of steps leads up to a temple.
    • A crowd of Argos townspeople is gathered at the cavern's entrance.
    • A woman speaks to her child, who is terribly frightened at the prospect of the dead haunting him. His mother, rather than comforting him, informs him that it's good for him to be scared. In fact, he should spend his whole childhood being afraid so that he grows up into "a decent, god-fearing man."
    • Meanwhile some men discuss the Ceremony last year, when the dead were very fierce. Apparently they've been getting worse every year.
    • One man looks forward to tomorrow, when he can enjoy a year's rest before the next Ceremony of the Dead.
    • As the townspeople talk, it becomes clear that many of them have wronged their dead. One woman reveals that she cheated on her husband for ten years before his demise.
    • Everyone is worried that the dead will haunt him or her on account of their crimes.
    • They're also complaining about the suspense. They wish Aegisthus would show up, and move the boulder so the ceremony can begin.
    • While they chatter, Zeus leads Orestes on stage, followed by the Tutor.
    • The Tutor immediately notes how awful everyone looks. Just as with Queen Clytemnestra, sorrow and misery show on their haggard faces.
    • Zeus checks him, explaining that in the eyes of the gods the Tutor himself is as low as these folks. At least the citizens of Argos know how bad they smell.
    • What Zeus means is, they know how awful and disgusting they are, which is why they repent. The Tutor on the other hand doesn't, and wrongly thinks himself happy and innocent.
    • Orestes is horrified by the verbal self-flagellation he witnesses.
    • The crowd, unable to bear the agony of anticipation, and clamors for Aegisthus.
    • The King comes on stage along with Clytemnestra, his bodyguards, and the high priest. He immediately chastises his people for lamenting their lot.
    • Then he notices that Electra isn't there; he orders his bodyguards to get her and bring her in by force. Much to the dismay of his people, he delays the ceremony while the bodyguards look and then come back empty handed. They can't find her.
    • Aegisthus decides to hold the ceremony and deal with his rebellious stepdaughter later.
    • The high priest runs the show. He has the boulder removed and then delivers a speech addressed to the dead, telling them to come up and roam the city.
    • While no physical beings emerge from the cave, Aegisthus declares that the dead are streaming forth, and the townspeople freak out accordingly.
    • They ask for mercy, yet Aegisthus tells them the dead have no mercy. "In their eternal keeping your crimes [against them] have no reprieve," he declares.
    • Everyone continues to lament, wail, and beg for mercy.
    • Suddenly, Aegisthus claims to spot Agamemnon.
    • Orestes draws his sword, angered that his father's name is drawn into this mess at all, but Zeus stops him.
    • Before they can argue, Electra comes on stage, clad in an inappropriate white dress.
    • The high priest is outraged that she's wearing a party dress (everyone else is in black funeral attire) to such a solemn occasion.
    • Electra then explains that these are their dead, not hers, and that she need take no part in this ceremony.
    • Aegisthus agrees that these are not her dead, but reminds her that she descends from Atreus, that she is "the last survivor of an accursed race."
    • (A little explanation here: Atreus was Agamemnon's father, and therefore Electra's paternal grandfather. He and his brother murdered their half-brother in an attempt to win the throne. Later, Atreus's brother had an affair with Atreus's wife, so Atreus killed his brother's sons, cooked them, and fed them to his father. Additionally, Agamemnon sacrificed his other daughter, Iphigenia, Electra's sister, to the gods in order to sail safely home after the Trojan war. This family is wicked and cursed. You can actually go further back to Atreus's grandfather, Tantalus, who killed his son Pelops (Atreus's father) and tried to feed him to the gods. As punishment, Tantalus is stuck in eternal torment in the underworld. Every time he reaches for fruit, it gets a bit further away. Every time he reaches for water, the pool dries up. Here we have the origin of the word "tantalize." The point is, Atreus and his descendents (which include both Orestes and Electra), are doomed to do awful things, like murder their own family members.)
    • Back to Aegisthus. He calls his daughter a whore and threatens to make her weep at some point in the future.
    • The crowd firmly sides with the King, condemning Electra as a sacrilegious upstart.
    • Electra doesn't see what the big deal is. Is it a crime to be happy? She laughs as she talks. She says if her father is present, he is laughing with her, glad to see his daughter happy.
    • Electra continues. She tries to explain to the townspeople that their fear and misery is all in their heads, that there are no dead clamoring around them. She tells them of other cities in Greece, (she might be thinking of the stories Philebus told her of Corinth), where men are happy, children play, and mothers are glad to be mothers.
    • Aegisthus tries to silence her, to no avail.
    • The townspeople would like to hear more of these happy places.
    • They're starting to think that Agamemnon is speaking through her.
    • Electra continues about having a place in the sun, and being happy and light as a feather. Up at the top of the temple steps, she dances while she talks.
    • Now the high priest tries to shut her up, still with no success.
    • In response, Electra addresses her dead sister Iphigenia and her father Agamemnon. She tells them to send some sign, if she is blaspheming as the high priest claims.
    • No sign. The townspeople are now completely captivated by her.
    • Aegisthus can't do anything now, but he plans to kill Electra later, probably when the whole kingdom isn't watching.
    • When the townspeople accuse Aegisthus of having lied to them all these years, Zeus figures it's about time for him to do something.
    • The god causes the huge boulder that once blocked the cavern to roll across the stage and crash into the temple steps.
    • Electra stops dancing, and the townspeople go back to begging for mercy and forgiveness from the gods and the dead.
    • Now the townspeople want to "drown the witch," which is bad news for Electra.
    • But Aegisthus orders them back, claiming that vengeance against her is his, not theirs. He also rubs it in, advising that they had better not doubt his word ever again.
    • Electra, however, remains unconvinced. She says she failed to convert everyone this time, but maybe she'll have better luck in her next attempt.
    • Aegisthus knows that he can't punish her right now, as the law doesn't allow for punishment on the Day of the Dead. Instead, he banishes her and threatens to punish anyone who assists or even looks her way.
    • Everyone exits, leaving Electra behind.
    • Zeus turns to Orestes and hopes that he learned his lesson today. Look at how the good (i.e., the repentant and miserable) have been rewarded, while the bad (i.e., Electra) were punished.
    • Orestes doesn't appreciate this insult of his sister and heads across stage to talk to Electra.
    • He tells Zeus and the Tutor to leave so they can be alone.
    • Both men exit.
    • Orestes speaks up to Electra, who is still standing up on the temple steps. He tells her that she's in danger and shouldn't be in this city anymore.
    • Electra responds that this is his fault, as his eyes deceived her.
    • Orestes has no time for this cryptic jabbering; he's got horses ready and wants to get both of them out of Argos, sooner rather than later.
    • He wants to take her to Corinth.
    • Electra finds this extremely amusing. She remarks that yesterday her life was so simple – she could simply wish for the Queen and King's death without confusion. Until she met Philebus, she believed that a wise person could want nothing more from life than to pay back the wrong that's been done to him.
    • She again says that Philebus, with his "girlish face and eager eyes," fooled her, and made her "forget [her] hatred." He tricked her into thinking that she could change the situation in Argos simply by appealing to the masses with words.
    • But now she knows that "an evil thing is conquered only by another evil thing," and that only violence can save the people of her city.
    • She wants Philebus to leave.
    • Orestes is worried that the townspeople will kill Electra, but she explains that they have a shrine to Apollo which functions as a sanctuary for criminals.
    • Then she adds that she's waiting for her brother, Orestes, and that only he can set her free. She pictures him as "a big, strong man, a born fighter, with bloodshot eyes like [their] father, always smoldering with rage."
    • She knows that his destiny lies in Argos and that the city calls to him.
    • Orestes wants to know what she would think if her brother wasn't like that, if instead he was kind and gentle and didn't want violence or revenge.
    • In that case, claims Electra, she would spit in his face and send him away.
    • Orestes figures now is as good a time as any to reveal his true identity to his sister.
    • At first, Electra isn't happy. But she quickly decides that she loves her brother, even more than the image she had in her head of a vengeful and angry young man.
    • Orestes again begs her to come away with him, and she again refuses, claiming she must stay and play out her part in the tragedy.
    • She doesn't think Orestes should stay, though, since he doesn't really belong to the family or the city.
    • Orestes tries to argue, but Electra, who continues to call him Philebus, doesn't want to stain his young and innocent self with the blood of vengeance.
    • Yet Orestes maintains that he doesn't want happiness or innocence – he wants his share of the family memories. He wants to have a home, to belong somewhere.
    • Orestes then raises his hands to the sky and beseeches the gods to help him make his decision.
    • Meanwhile Zeus has approached. When Orestes asks that a sign be given if he is meant to abandon Argos, Zeus flashes lightning around the huge boulder.
    • Electra finds this hilarious, since now Philebus/Orestes has to leave, as she wanted.
    • Orestes readies to leave, but then he changes his mind: no god will tell him what to do.
    • He explains to Electra that something has changed, that he feels different, colder, empty. He feels as though something "just died."
    • Then he explains that Electra is his sister, that the city is his city and that his people are living at the bottom of a pit.
    • He continues that he is too light (read: too innocent) to go down into the pit right now, but he will take on a burden (read: commit a crime) so that he is able to weigh himself down into the pit with the rest of them.
    • While he talks he takes Electra by the arm, though she struggles to resists him.
    • Then, to cement his new resolution, he makes some rather explicit plans to rip open the city by its belly.
    • Electra comments that Orestes's kind and gentle eyes are now neither kind nor gentle, and in fact are smoldering.
    • On the plus side, he more resembles the Orestes she used to dream about.
    • Orestes decides he's going to 'steal the guilt' of all the people of Argos by taking their burden of remorse upon himself. Then he will have earned the right to feel at home in this city.
    • Electra would like an explanation.
    • Her brother obliges.
    • Only the King and Queen force the citizens to carry their guilt. If Electra sneaks him into the palace and allows him access to their bedchamber, he'll murder everyone, thus releasing the citizens from the shackles of guilt imposed by the royal couple.
    • Electra is excited that her brother becomes the vengeful, angry man of her dreams, and is eager for him to protect her through what will surely be a difficult 24 hours
  • Act II, Scene ii

    • The scene is the throne room of the palace. "An awe-inspiring, blood-smeared statue of Zeus occupies a prominent position." The sun is setting.
    • Electra has snuck Orestes into the palace. She hides him as two palace guards pass them in the hallway.
    • The guards are discussing the flies, which they think are worse than ever on account of all the dead roaming around.
    • They hear a creaking and are convinced it is Agamemnon, come back to sit on his throne.
    • One of the soldier reckons that, if dead flies come back, too, then the air must be teeming with the little creatures.
    • As the soldiers investigate the room, Orestes and Electra escape detection and remain in hiding.
    • King Aegisthus enters with the Queen and orders all the soldiers away.
    • He and his wife discuss the fiasco earlier that day at the temple; Aegisthus reveals that he played on the fear of the townspeople to keep them in line.
    • He apologizes to Clytemnestra for what he did to her daughter, and admits that after fifteen years he's tired of forcing remorse on everyone.
    • Yet he maintains that no man in Argos is sadder than he.
    • Aegisthus worries aloud about the dead roaming around until Clytemnestra gently reminds him that, actually, he's the one who invented that whole story to "impress [his] people." Remember? Oh right, says Aegisthus. He orders his wife to leave him alone.
    • Now alone, Aegisthus speaks to the statue of Zeus. He claims he is an empty shell, "more dead than Agamemnon."
    • He is not sad, since "neither sad nor gay is the desert, a boundless waste of sand under a burning waste of sky."
    • He's not sad; he's sinister. And he wishes he could cry, but he can't.
    • The real Zeus enters.
    • Aegisthus doesn't recognize him and threatens to have the god thrown out as an intruder. Zeus flashes some lightning to reveal his true identity.
    • Aegisthus claims that he has paid Zeus through his fifteen years of remorse.
    • Zeus reminds him that no matter how much you repent, it is never enough.
    • When Aegisthus complains that the task he's undertaken is killing him, Zeus tells him to stop whining; he's got at least another twenty years left.
    • The King is not happy to hear this. He would rather die.
    • In that case, says Zeus, what would Aegisthus do if a man ran towards him at this very moment baring a sword?
    • Aegisthus isn't sure what he would do. Well, says Zeus, dying isn't a good idea, since Aegisthus will be tortured in hell for all eternity.
    • By the way, continues Zeus, Electra and Orestes are coming to kill him tonight.
    • The King isn't particularly outraged. That's the natural order of things, he figures, and there's nothing he can do about the revenge Agamemnon's children rightfully seek.
    • Zeus responds that, actually, yes, there is something the King can do: he can have Electra and Orestes thrown into a dungeon.
    • But the King refuses; he is too tired to fight back, even though his refusal means defying the order of the gods.
    • Zeus finds this resistance amusing, and condescends to his "little rebel."
    • Aegisthus might make a show of defiance, but in his heart he has already said yes to Zeus's orders. Zeus wants the crime averted; therefore it will be averted.
    • The King wants to know if Zeus similarly warned Agamemnon of his impending death.
    • No, says Zeus, since Agamemnon wasn't as dear to him as Aegisthus is.
    • But Aegisthus believes that Zeus is actually trying to protect Orestes here. He suspects that the god is concerned with preserving the young man's innocence, not the old man's life.
    • Zeus maintains that this is not the case. He explains that not all crimes (like Agamemnon's murder as opposed to Aegisthus's) are equal in his eyes.
    • Then Zeus comes clean.
    • He admits to committing the first crime. He chose to make man mortal, which amounted to basically murdering everyone. When men murder, therefore, they're not killing one another so much as they're hastening the death that's already on its way.
    • Zeus reveals that, had Aegisthus not killed Agamemnon, the latter would have died of natural causes a mere three months later.
    • The reason Zeus let the murder happen is that it meant Aegisthus and his people would be atoning for it for the rest of their lives. A people trapped in misery and penitence pleases the gods.
    • Finally Aegisthus realizes what this is all about.
    • If Orestes kills him, the young man will feel no remorse. A remorseless crime is no good for Zeus and the other gods.
    • Correct, affirms Zeus.
    • King Aegisthus again refuses to prevent the crime.
    • Zeus explains that he made kings on earth in his own image, and that, like it or not, no matter how much Aegisthus hates him, he has to admit that he is similar to Zeus.
    • He goes on to claim that both of them "harbor the same dark secret in [their] hearts" – "the bane of gods and kings" – "the bitterness of knowing men are free."
    • (This point about freedom is an important one – we'll return to it later.)
    • Aegisthus is shocked that a god would compare himself to a mortal. Since he took the throne of Argos, he says, he's been trying to build up a fearsome image of himself before his people. Now, this false image is all he sees when he looks at himself. He has lost his sense of personal identity, and wants to know if he is anything else besides the dread he inspires in his people.
    • Zeus points out that he has the same problem himself. He indicates the blood-smeared statue of his likeness and says that that image has become his entire being.
    • Zeus and Aegisthus are both doomed: they have an insatiable passion for order.
    • Aegisthus agrees. The longing for order is why he committed that crime against Agamemnon fifteen years ago.
    • Zeus again commands the King – this time in the name of order – to lock up Orestes. He claims the young man is dangerous because he knows he is free.
    • If Orestes knows he is free, says Aegisthus, then locking him in chains won't help. Why doesn't Zeus strike him down with a thunderbolt?
    • Because, responds Zeus, once a man knows he is free, the gods are powerless against him.
    • Fine, says Aegisthus, he will act according to Zeus's will.
    • Zeus departs.
    • Just after he leaves, Electra and Orestes come out of hiding. She bars the door while her brother approaches the King.
    • Orestes commands the King to draw his sword and defend himself, but Aegisthus refuses; he would rather die.
    • Orestes sighs and strikes the man down with his sword.
    • As he dies, Aegisthus asks Orestes if he feels any remorse.
    • No, says Orestes, why should he? He's "only doing what is right."
    • Aegisthus doesn't think so, since Zeus commanded that Orestes not kill the King.
    • But the gods don't determine justice, counters Orestes. It is a matter between men. It's his own job to kill Aegisthus and return to the people of Argos "their sense of human dignity."
    • Aegisthus moans and writhes in pain, which disturbs Electra, who finds death an ugly sight.
    • The King curses both of them, and finally Orestes strikes him again.
    • Aegisthus delivers his final line: "Beware of the flies, Orestes, beware of the flies. All is not over."
    • Orestes kicks the dead body and tells Electra to lead him to the Queen's bedroom.
    • Electra is shocked at his attitude. Why kill Clytemnestra when she can do no more harm?
    • She notes the remarkable change that has come over her brother since he first arrived in Argos.
    • Orestes doesn't want to stand around and talk. If Electra won't show him where the bedroom is, he'll find it himself.
    • Now Electra is left alone with Aegisthus's dead body. She wonders aloud if her mother will scream when Orestes kills her, but reasons that she (Electra) must want this to happen.
    • Then she looks at the dead body.
    • Electra used to hate Aegisthus, but now that he's dead, her hatred is dead too. She can't bear looking into his open eyes, so she covers them up.
    • Then the sound of Clytemnestra screaming echoes down the hallway.
    • Electra has wanted this for years, and now that it's happened her "heart is a lump of ice."
    • She tries to convince herself that she's happy this all happened.
    • Orestes enters, his sword covered in blood.
    • Electra throws herself into her brother's arms and claims that she's joyous.
    • She wants to know if the Queen begged for mercy.
    • Orestes makes it clear that he's not sorry for what he did. "There are some memories that one does not share," he says, so he won't give her the details.
    • But Electra pushes. Did Clytemnestra die cursing them? Yes, says Orestes, she did.
    • Orestes claims that a new day is dawning, that he and Electra are now free. Yesterday he had nothing, but today she belongs to him.
    • Electra looks at him closely; he looks different, she says.
    • He explains that "freedom has crashed down on [him] like a thunderbolt" and so changed him.
    • But Electra doesn't feel free. She's a concerned that they've just killed their mother and can't undo it.
    • Orestes doesn't want to undo it – it was a good deed, he says.
    • He is happy to carry the burden of this murder, as that burden is his freedom. Yesterday he felt aimless, as though he had no path, but today he has his own direction to travel.
    • But Electra isn't listening.
    • She claims she can't see anymore and that her brother's voice is cutting her like a knife.
    • Suddenly Electra cries out – she sees thousands of "them" swarming all around her, beating their wings.
    • Orestes thinks she's talking about the flies, but Electra responds that the flies are the Furies, the goddesses of remorse, and that they will never leave the two of them alone.
    • Just then voices come from the hallway outside. The Queen's cries of death summoned the guards.
    • Orestes takes Electra and heads for the shrine of Apollo, to spend the night there "sheltered from men and flies."
    • Tomorrow, he says, he will speak to his people.
  • Act III, Scene i

    • This scene takes place at the Temple of Apollo, at twilight (so later that same night). A statue of Apollo is at the center of the stage, where Electra and Orestes sleep, their arms wrapped around its legs. The furies surround the two of them; they sleep standing up. There is a large bronze door at the back of the stage.
    • The furies slowly wake and stretch themselves. They circle the pair slowly, hatching plots to torment them until the end of days.
    • It's clear that they take joy in their work. They're particularly excited that they get to ravage such young and beautiful criminals.
    • There's also a clear literary indication that we should associate the furies with the flies; they "buzz" as they hover around Orestes and Electra while singing a lovely little song of torment.
    • Electra wakes up from a nightmare and tells Orestes to go away when he tries to comfort her. She accuses him of murdering Clytemnestra.
    • This isn't exactly a news flash to Orestes, who is at a bit of a loss over his sister's distress.
    • He also notices that her face looks clawed and ragged, whereas yesterday she looked so beautiful.
    • Electra admits that, yes, she has grown old in a single night.
    • Orestes notes that she now has the same dead eyes as Clytemnestra.
    • The furies chime in, claiming that Orestes revolts his sister.
    • They taunt Electra by describing the gory details of Clytemnestra's murder. She is taken in by their bating and asks them questions, wanting to know more.
    • Orestes warns her not to interact with the furies; he knows if she questions them or engages them in any way, "all is lost." He explains that they're trying to separate her from him, but that the two of them need to band together to bear the load of the crime they both committed.
    • He tries to tell her of the world outside the temple, where the sun is shining. Soon they will leave this place, he says, and the sunbeams will cut through the furies like swords.
    • Orestes continues: it is Electra's weakness that gives the furies their strength.
    • He's reliving their crime the same way she is, but unlike her, he is "beyond remorse" and completely free.
    • He tries to take her hand, but Electra refuses to be helped.
    • One of the furies addresses Electra as her little girl. She claims that only the suffering of the body can relieve Electra from the torment of her mind. "Let us hurt you," she croons. She begs Electra to come away from the sanctuary of Apollo so that they may torture her properly "with the cleansing fires of pain."
    • Electra stands to go, but Orestes grabs her.
    • He tells her that once the furies get a hold of her, all is lost.
    • But Electra doesn't listen. She breaks free and runs down the steps away from Apollo.
    • The furies fling themselves on her and she cries for help.
    • Enter Zeus, who orders the furies away from the young woman. The furies, who call him "master," reluctantly comply.
    • Lifting Electra from the ground, Zeus claims that his heart is torn between anger and compassion. He, too, notes the "cruel change" that has come over Electra's face.
    • Orestes and Zeus start in on each other.
    • When the god tries to call Orestes a criminal, the young man explains that he is not a criminal, he has no intention of atoning for his actions, and Zeus is powerless.
    • When Zeus points out the harm Orestes has caused his sister, he responds that he loves her, that she is free, that her suffering comes from within and only she can rid herself of it.
    • Zeus finds it amusing that a man clinging to a statue for safety calls himself free.
    • But Orestes claims that freedom is a state of mind. And by the way, if Zeus is really so powerful, why doesn't he just tell Apollo to stop protecting the two mortals?
    • Zeus retorts that that is not his way. He doesn't want to punish, but to save them.
    • Electra finds this doubtful, but Zeus assures her that, if she wishes, she can run free and safe even outside the walls of the temple.
    • All she has to do is repent her crime.
    • Orestes warns his sister that such repentance will weigh heavy on her soul.
    • Zeus insists that Electra never really wanted to commit the crime in the first place. She also finds this hard to believe, since she has dreamt of it for fifteen years.
    • The god assures her that she may have dreamt of these crimes, but she never truly desired them.
    • (Basically, Zeus is trying to get Electra off the hook, to justify and then write off her dreams of murder rather than allow her to face her desires and her crimes.)
    • Orestes tries to convince his sister not to let someone else tell her what she wanted or thinks.
    • Zeus explains to both of them that, if they will only repent and commit to a lifetime of mourning, he will seat them on the throne of Argos in place of the couple they killed.
    • Orestes refuses.
    • Zeus points out that all those people he saved are waiting outside the temple, ready with pitchforks and stones. Then Zeus displays his power, by pulling apart the walls of the temple.
    • He booms that he is good, and that the goodness he created is all over the natural world. Orestes, on the other hand, is evil, and a mere small mite in the vast universe.
    • So Orestes points out that Zeus may be the god of all the universe, and all nature, and creatures, but he is not the god of man.
    • Zeus messed up, Orestes says, by making man free. "I am my freedom," he says. "No sooner had you created me than I ceased to be yours."
    • This is all making Electra very nervous. She begs her brother to stop talking.
    • But Orestes is on a roll. These ideas are all very new to him, he explains. Just yesterday he was unaware, he used Zeus as his excuse for being alive. He felt as though he was at one with nature, with Zeus's "good." He was forgiving and gentle, obedient and young.
    • Now he feels that his youth is gone, that he's no longer one with nature. Instead, he feels alone in an empty universe. There is "nothing left in heaven, no right or wrong, nor anyone to give […] orders."
    • Zeus reminds the young man that the consequence of such freedom is exile, but Orestes accepts it.
    • When Zeus invites him back "to the flock," Orestes turns him down.
    • Orestes doesn't want to come back to nature; he wants to blaze his own trail. Every man must find his own way, he explains to Zeus, since both nature and god abhor mankind.
    • When Zeus admits that yes, he hates Orestes, the young man sees that as a weakness on the god's part, especially since Orestes himself doesn't hate Zeus. Rather, he feels that they have nothing to do with each other.
    • Then Orestes adds that, even if he tried, he could no longer feel remorse, and he can no longer sleep. Now he plans to open the eyes of all the citizens of Argos, the same way his own eyes have been opened.
    • The god recommends against this; opening their eyes will only make them more miserable.
    • But, counters Orestes, "human life begins on the far side of despair." (This is a famous line, by the way.)
    • Despair is what one needs to recognize one's own freedom, to be able to choose.
    • Well, says Zeus, you have me there.
    • The god throws in the towel. "In the fullness of time a man was to come to announce my decline," he says. "And you're that man, it seems."
    • Both Zeus and Orestes agree that they're sorry for each other, and they prepare to part ways. Before he goes, Zeus informs Electra that his reign is not yet over, and that she must choose with whom she sides. Then he exits.
    • Orestes tries to get his sister to come with him, but she wants to be left alone, much to his distress.
    • She wishes she had never met him. Before he arrived, she was poor, but she at least she held on to her dreams.
    • Now Orestes has stolen those from her and left her with nothing.
    • Orestes agrees this is true, but in return he's given her the gift of his crime, which weighs both of them down into the ground.
    • He offers her his hand, and says they will travel away from Argos and toward themselves, toward the Orestes and Electra waiting for them in the future.
    • Electra runs to the center of the stage, where the furies attack her.
    • She cries to Zeus, declaring that she bitterly repents, and begging for Zeus to help her. She runs off stage.
    • The first fury holds the others back, explaining that Electra is not for them. Orestes, on the other hand, will have to suffer for both siblings.
    • The furies smack their lips in anticipation. They know that Orestes will have to leave Apollo's sanctuary soon enough.
    • Just then the Tutor shows up with food for Orestes.
    • The Tutor is perturbed at the furies barring his way. He brings news that the townspeople of Argos, waiting outside the temple, are just as bloodthirsty for Orestes as these furies here.
    • Good, says the young man. Open the temple doors.
    • The Tutor thinks this is not a great idea. Unfortunately, Orestes is his master, so he is forced to obey.
    • The Tutor opens the two large double doors and the crowd surges in to the temple.
    • Light floods the temple, and Orestes exclaims, "The sun!"
    • Meanwhile the crowd stops at the threshold, though many of them shout to kill, maim, or otherwise dismember our young hero.
    • Orestes draws himself up and addresses the crowd. He introduces himself as the son of Agamemnon and their new leader, which makes this right here his coronation speech.
    • He starts by comparing himself to the late Aegisthus. Aegisthus was like all the other people of Argos – he did not have the courage of his crimes. That makes the murder of Agamemnon more of an accident than a real crime.
    • Orestes's own crime, on the other hand, belongs to him entirely. It is his life's work, and the people of Argos can neither punish not pity him for it. That's why they're all so afraid of him.
    • And yet, he says, he loves the people of Argos, and it was for them that he killed the King. He wanted to be one of their kind, to earn his kingship over them.
    • Now, explains Orestes, he takes all their crimes upon his own back. Their dead are now his dead, so they needn't fear ghosts anymore. Even the flies have left the citizens and attacked Orestes instead.
    • And yet, he will not take the throne of Argos. He wishes to be "a king without a kingdom." So he bids the people farewell and begs them to reshape their lives.
    • Then he tells them a quick story before he departs. One summer in Sycros there was a plague of rats. It was unbearable until a flute-player came to the center of the city, took out his instrument, and lured the rats away. Orestes claims he's doing the same thing with the flies.
    • Finished with his speech, Orestes walks out of the temple and into the sunshine. "Shrieking, the furies fling themselves after him."