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Electra 2

Electra 2 holding the urn with the false ashes of her brother. 4916: Hermann Wilhelm Bissen 1798-1868: Electra, 1858. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

"O chariot-race of Pelops long ago, source of many a sorrow, what disaster you have brought upon this land! For ever since Myrtilus sank to rest beneath the waves, hurled to utter destruction from his golden chariot in disgraceful outrage, from that time to this, outrage and its many sorrows were never yet gone from this house." (Mycenaean women. Sophocles, Electra 504).

Electra 2 is mainly remembered for having waited for the return of her brother Orestes 2, hoping that he would avenge their father Agamemnon, who was murdered, at his return from Troy, by his own wife Clytaemnestra and her lover, the usurper Aegisthus.

The problem with Iphigenia at Aulis

King Agamemnon of Mycenae did not prove to be a loving father towards Iphigenia. For he, caring more for the affairs of the state than for the life of his daughter, let her be sacrificed at Aulis, a Boeotian harbor, so that the fleet he commanded could finally sail to Troy. For this army—that was determined to appear in front of that city and obtain, through negotiation or by force, the restoration of Helen and the Spartan property that the seducer Paris, guided by a goddess, had stolen—was now being detained by the will of another goddess, who would not grant favorable winds for the fleet to sail. And because of the winds and for the sake of another woman, who was now at Troy, Iphigenia was killed, some say. But others affirm that Iphigenia, who perhaps was Agamemnon's stepdaughter, never perished at Aulis, and that instead was saved by Artemis (the goddess who had stayed the winds), who took her to Tauris, a coastal region in the Black Sea, today called Crimea. In any case, the Aulis affair, was neither forgotten nor forgiven; and Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra, who called Iphigenia her "sweet flower," did not wait for her husband, who many years later returned victorious from the Trojan War, with crown or garland but with a two-edged sword, murdering him as soon as he came into the palace, with the help of her lover Aegisthus, the king's cousin.

Heir into exile

This was Clytaemnestra's revenge, and Aegisthus' day of glory. For he, through the assassination of his cousin, believed to have put an end to the feud started by their parents Atreus and Thyestes 1, thereby gaining the throne of Mycenae for himself. But for Agamemnon's children this was a sad and dangerous circumstance, since they could not hope that the new king would be well disposed towards the heirs of his enemy. And as it became evident for them that Aegisthus, fearing Agamemnon's descent, would try to kill the little prince Orestes 2, he was smuggled out of the country, either by his sister Electra 2, or by some faithful servants, and brought to Phocis, in the region bordering the Gulf of Corinth west of Boeotia.

The plight of Electra 2

But while Orestes 2 was raised in safety by his uncle Strophius 1 in Phocis, his sister Electra 2 stayed at home, sharing her life with her enemies. At the beginning, she was simply prevented by Aegisthus to marry, lest she might have a son that would avenge Agamemnon. But later—due to the fact that the fears felt by those who achieve their aims through murder have no limits—Aegisthus started shuddering at her possibly bearing a son in secret to a man of noble blood. To put an end to this apprehension, he planned then to murder Electra 2, but he was prevented by Clytaemnestra, who wisely feared the hatred that such a deed would arouse. This is why Aegisthus, some say, conceived instead the idea of marrying Electra 2 to an insignificant man. For, he reasoned, a nobody would neither go stirring up old blood nor asking that the debt for Agamemnon's death should be paid. Clytaemnestra agreed to this arrangement; for, as it is said, women's love is for their lovers, not their children. And so Electra 2, some say, married a peasant who never touched her; but others affirm that she neither left the palace nor married anyone at that time. In any case, she never ceased to mourn her father, and having no offspring of her own, she hoped, during several years, for the return of her brother Orestes 2. And as she cherished that hope, she let her hate grow against her adulterous mother, and against the tyrant who usurped her father's throne and bed. And by never putting an end to her lamentations, she poisoned the nights and days of those who had vanquished Agamemnon, and were now king and queen, destroying the enjoyment of their splendor, and calling upon them the powers and curses of the Underworld:

"O House of Hades and Persephone! O Hermes of the shades! O potent Curse, and you fearsome daughters of the gods, the Erinyes, who take note when a life is unjustly taken, when a marriage-bed is thievishly dishonored, come, help me, bring vengeance for the murder of my father and send me my brother." (Electra 2. Sophocles, Electra 110).

This is why her mother, who could not find peace in the midst of so much mourning, reproached her:

"Wicked and hateful girl, have you alone lost your father, and is no one else in the world grieving? May your death be harsh, and may the gods below never free you from your current mourning." (Clytaemnestra to Electra 2. Sophocles, Electra 290).

Vengeance nourished with grief

Electra 2 had no consolation during these years, when she ceaselessly mourned her father while seeing herself as the child of a wretched mother. And although all know that neither weeping nor prayer can resurrect anybody, Electra 2 spent her days bathing in tears, and treading with unwearied determination on the path of sorrows. Yet she did not cherish pain for its own sake, but because she knew that vengeance is best nourished with deep grief. And as revenge would follow the steps of Orestes 2, she added to her grief limitless longing for her brother.

Rejects comfort

Such was Electra 2's determination: to live in grief and longing, and wait for vengeance to replace them. That is why she found no consolation in such words as:

"Not to you alone of mortals … has sorrow come …" (Mycenaean women to Electra 2. Sophocles, Electra 110).

Instead her grief and longing were her only comfort and hope in the palace, where she lived as a slave:

"I waste away without children and have no loving husband to champion me, but like some despised foreign slave, I serve in the halls of my father, wrapped in shabby garments and standing to eat scanty meals." (Electra 2 to the Mycenaean women. Sophocles, Electra 190).

She was hated for her ceaseless wailing. But by exercising her talent in achieving misfortune, she succeeded in breeding wars in the depth of her heart against the murderers of her father. And from those wars she expected relief; that is why she says:

"Let me be, let me be, my comforters!" (Electra 2 to the Mycenaean women. Sophocles, Electra 229).

Orestes 2 and Electra 2. 8714: 'Orestes og Elektra' fundet 1623. Menelaos, Romersk 1. årh. f./e. Kr. Rom, Museo Nazionale Romano (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen).

Grief nourished with the hope of vengeance

For he who knows the cause of his own wailing and deems to have been forced into it, neither wishes any respite from his pains nor to restrain his cries, but to confront compulsion with a greater force when Time, who "… purges all things …" (Aeschylus, Eumenides 285). comes. In the meanwhile, mourning her father is the proper way of waiting, and honouring the heart's desire:

"For if the dead is to lie a wretch, merely dust and nothingness, while his slayers do not pay back to him blood for blood in penalty, then shame and reverence will vanish from all humanity." (Electra 2 to the Mycenaean women. Sophocles, Electra 244).

And to mourning Electra 2 added indignation on account of the scandal that wrapped the rulers of the palace, letting herself be utterly disgusted when she saw Aegisthus sitting on her father's throne, and wearing Agamemnon's robes. But the chief outrage was, as she put it, to see

"… the murderer in my father's bed at my wretched mother's side …" (Electra 2 to the Mycenaean women. Sophocles, Electra 266).

For whereas Clytaemnestra regarded the murder of Agamemnon as an act of deliverance, Electra 2 considered it as a treacherous deed performed by a depraved wife and a polluted usurper. These in turn, having grown weary of so much mourning, had decided to imprison her beyond the land's borders, if Electra 2 refused to cease complaining. "Unjust complaints," Clytaemnestra thought, for the father whom she constantly bewailed had at Aulis sacrificed Electra 2's own sister. But this was not an argument that could estrange Electra 2 from her father's memory.

For according to her, the unhappy situation that forced her father to sacrifice Iphigenia against his will had been caused by a goddess, and it had been, she said, under fierce constraint that Agamemnon at last sacrificed her.

Smuggling in and out

It is to these dire straits that Orestes 2, long awaited with hope by his sister, and with fear by the others, finally approached with his friend Pylades. Yet he did not come blowing a trumpet at the gates of Mycenae, but instead he sent, as some say, a messenger to the palace to announce his death, supposedly occurred in the course of a contest at Delphi. And in order to disperse any doubts, he came later himself disguised as a Phocian man, carrying a bronze urn, said to be filled with his own dust. This is how Orestes 2, who once had been smuggled out of the palace, now smuggled himself into it again.

Good or bad news?

When Clytaemnestra heard the news, she did not know whether to call them fortunate or terrible. For knowing that Orestes 2 would come some day to avenge his father, she now had to rejoice at her own misery, and regard the death of her child as the lucky circumstance which would preserve her own life. So watching the dissociation of her own soul she reflected:

"There is a terrible power in motherhood; a mother may be wronged, but she can feel no hate for those whom she bore." (Clytaemnestra to the messengers. Sophocles, Electra 770).

For often had Orestes 2 from his exile charged his mother with murder and made terrible threats, filling her heart with fear, and making Sleep desert her. That is why she felt that from now on she could live her days in peace. But for Electra 2 no champion remained, and seeing herself alone, except for her weak sister Chrysothemis 1, she decided to slay Aegisthus with her own hands.

Vengeance accomplished

Orestes 2 and Pylades. 7125: Orestes and Pylades. Pompei, casa del Citarista. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

It was then that Orestes 2 appeared in front of his sister; and he and Pylades, carrying the urn, came into the palace, and slew Clytaemnestra. And when Electra 2 heard her wounded mother crying, she exclaimed:

"Stab her doubly, if you can!" (Electra 2. Sophocles, Electra 770).

Later arrived Aegisthus; and she guided him so that he would meet the messengers with the urn, who being his bane, slew him too. Details, which usually proliferate in all circumstances, are different in other accounts (see Orestes 2). But despite details, all remember Electra 2 as the courageous girl, who through love of her father and brother, spent years nourishing, with woe and longing, the vengeance that would fall upon her mother, whom she detested, and upon the usurper, whom she despised.

Condemned to death

After the deaths of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, the throne of Mycenae did not immediately revert to Orestes 2, since he, being pursued by the ERINYES of his mother, went mad. Besides, the two siblings were tried by the full court of the Argive people, who found them guilty of matricide, and voted to condemn them to die, leaving them the choice to hang themselves, or to use a sword, or to be killed by someone appointed by the citizens. However, in order to escape this doom, they decided, on account of Menelaus' reluctance to protect his nephew and niece, to kill Helen, and by Electra 2's advice, to take Hermione as a hostage, and threat to kill her if Menelaus would dare to make any move after Helen's death. The plot failed, but the divine intervention it caused protected them (see Orestes 2).

Aegisthus' son

While Orestes 2 was away purging his crime in various weird ways, a false messenger came to Electra 2 in Mycenae saying that Orestes 2 and Pylades had been sacrificed in Tauris. It was then that Aletes 1, son of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, hearing that the family of the Atrides was extinct, seized power in Mycenae, and Electra 2 became once again the subject of an usurper, now her own half-brother. Electra 2 then, accompanied by the messenger, traveled to Delphi in order to inquire about her brother's death, and happened to arrive the same day that Iphigenia and Orestes 2 returned from Tauris. When the sisters met, the false messenger said that Iphigenia was the murderess of her brother. So Electra 2 seized a burning firebrand from the altar, and would have blinded her if Orestes 2 had not appeared and intervened.

Married to an ally and loyal friend

Now Orestes 2 was cured, and after killing Aletes 1, he became ruler of a vaster kingdom than his father's, marrying Electra 2 to his loyal friend Pylades, who remained an ally. Nothing has been reported about the sons of Electra 2 and Pylades, nor about her death.

Others with identical name

Electra 1 is one of the OCEANIDS. Electra 3 is one of the PLEIADES. Electra 4 is one of the DANAIDS. Electra 5 was a maid of Helen.







Medon 7

Strophius 3

Pylades was son of the Phocian Strophius 1, son of Crisus, son of Phocus 3, son of Aeacus and Psamathe 1, one of the NEREIDS. Pylades was the best friend of Orestes 2, the two of them having been brought up together in the house of Pylades' father . Pylades followed Orestes 2 to Mycenae, and helped him to avenge his father Agamemnon. Later, when Orestes 2 went mad for having murdered her mother Clytaemnestra, Pylades followed him in his wanderings to the land of the Taurians. When their difficult adventures came to an end, Pylades married Orestes 2's sister Electra 2.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Abas 2, Acrisius, Aeacus, Aegina, Aegyptus 1, Aeolia, Aeolus 1, Aerope 1, Aetolus 2, Agamemnon, Agenor 1, Agenor 6, Aglaia 2, Alcidice, Aleus, Amyclas 1, Amythaon 1, Anaxibia 4, Anchinoe, Andromeda, Aphidas 1, Apollo, Arcas 1, Ares, Asopus, Asterius 3, Atlas, Atreus, Belus 1, Callisto, Calyce 1, Calydon, Catreus, Chrysothemis 1, Cleoboea 1, Cleocharia, Cleolla, Clytaemnestra, Corybas, Crete 1, Cretheus 1, Creusa 3, Crisus, Cynortes, Danae, Danaus 1, Deimachus 1, Demonice, Deucalion 1, Dias, Diomede 2, Doris 1, Dorus 1, Electra 2, Enarete, Endymion, Epaphus, Epicasta 1, Europa, Eurotas, Eurythemis, Gaia, Gorgophone 2, Hellen 1, Hippodamia 3, Hypermnestra 1, Ide 1, Idomene, Io, Iphigenia, Ithone, Lacedaemon, Ladon 1, Lapithus 1, Leda, Lelex 2, Libya, Lycaon 2, Lycastus 1, Lyctius, Lynceus 2, Medon 7, Meliboea 1, Memphis, Metope 1, Minos 1, Minos 2, Nereus, Nilus, Nonacris, Oebalus 1, Oeneus 4, Oenomaus 1, Orestes 2, Orseis, Pelasgus 1, Pelops 1, Peneus, Perimede 3, Perseus 1, Pheres 1, Phocus 3, Phoenix 1, Phorbus, Pleione, Pleuron, Plisthenes 1, Pluto 3, Pontus, Poseidon, Proetus 1, Pronoe 2, Psamathe 1, Pylades, Pyrrha 1, Salmoneus, Sparta, Stilbe, Strophius 1, Strophius 3, Tantalus 1, Taygete, Tectamus, Telephassa, Thestius 1, Tyndareus, Tyro, Xanthippe 1, Zeus.

Related sections Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra, Orestes 2  

Aes.LB. passim; Apd.Ep.2.16, 6.28; Eur.Ele. passim; Eur.Ore. passim; Pau.2.16.7; Soph.Ele. passim.