Works by Euripides, playwright of ancient Athens

comments by me

I hold the opinion that Euripides hoped that the element of surprise at the conclusion of each play would be part of the appreciation by the audience. He probably intended this to whatever extent it was possible, given the limitation that the stories were taken from classical myths that all educated people had already studied.

Unfortunately, most modern books which introduce or describe classic literature and mythology deprive you of the surprises. Typically a teacher or textbook will begin the discussion of a character with a phrase similar to, "Medea, the woman who...." --- the surprise ending is blurted out when the character's name is mentioned for the first time. You are fortunate if you get to read the story before a well-meaning educator ruins it for you.

Therefore, in the synopses below, I set up each story by describing who the characters are, and what seemingly insurmountable predicaments they have found themselves in. Then I insert a spoiler alert. I warn you to stop reading at that point, if you don't want me to tell you the ending. I give you a chance to link back to the table of contents at the top of the page. If you keep reading, you find each play summarized through it conclusion.

I hope you like it! Have fun! ---- M.L., editor of crimsonbird.com

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Alcestis

(Produced in 438 BC)

The fates have decreed that a man named Admetus is to die. Apollo is powerless to prevent Death from taking someone, but he has used some sort of trickery (not specified) to make the best arrangement he can under the circumstances: Admetus may live if someone volunteers to die in his place. Alcestis, the wife of Admetus, volunteers to die so that her husband can live. Since they live in a society that believes men are superior to women, Admetus agrees to allow his wife to die in his place.

As the play begins, Apollo is having a discussion with Death, during which Death cannot be persuaded to allow both of them to live.

Alcestis makes her husband promise that he will be both a father and a mother to their children. Admetus, overtaken with guilt, vows that he will never remarry, and he will never again enjoy music or any other pleasures. After Alcestis dies, Admetus and their small son express the feeling that the entire house is ruined forever, there will never again be any happiness in it.

Admetus' father, Pheres, comes to mourn, but Admetus gets angry with his father. Admetus says his father is a coward because the old man had not volunteered to die in place of the young woman. The father says his son is a coward to allow his wife to die in his place. Admetus tells his father that he wishes never to see him again. Pheres goes away declaring that his son is no better than a murderer.

Heracles [later called Hercules by the Romans] shows up at the door, with a goblet in his hand, drunk and ready to party, because Admetus had been too ashamed to tell Heracles what's going on in the house.

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The synopsis continues ...

After Heracles hears the story, he wonders whether he might be able to intervene to save the life of Alcestis. Perhaps he can ambush Death and prevent him from taking the soul to Hades. Alcestis thinks Heracles has made an unrealistic suggestion. Admetus and Heracles continue their long conversation. They talk about what a wonderful wife and mother Alcestis always was, and about Admetus' vow that he will never betray her by taking another wife.

Admetus sees a veiled woman, a specter. He doesn't recognize her. Heracles explains that she is Alcestis. She is saved. Heracles has gone to the tomb and physically overpowered Death. But she doesn't speak. Heracles says that after three days she will be able to speak, and will be back to normal. Admetus is grateful and invites Heracles to stay a while longer and help them celebrate, but Heracles says he has to go off to perform a labor. Admetus says the family will have a happy life after all, and acknowledges that he is the recipient of unusually good luck. The chorus says that divine intervention comes in many forms, and what was unexpected a god has been able to achieve.

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Medea

(Produced in 431 BC)

Note: This drama raises consideration about the meaning of "cause" or "fault." Euripides shows that an unjust society can be to blame for criminal behavior. Medea commits unspeakable crimes. Among her victims are not only those who have wronged her, but also innocent individuals. However, it is clear that these events would not have taken place if women were not oppressed by men, if wives were not considered by society to be the chattel of their husbands. Is an individual entirely to blame for her crimes, if she wouldn't have committed those crimes if she had lived in a just world? Therefore, when the story is resolved, she escapes punishment, with a note about how Zeus works in mysterious ways.

As the story begins, Medea is overcome with sadness. Her husband Jason as abandoned her and their children, and has married a new bride, the princess, the daughter of Creon, the king. Though the nurse advises moderation over excess, Medea's sadness turns into anger and a drive for revenge.

Because she has complained publicly about the deed, the king commands that Medea and her children are going to be banished. Jason visits her and offers to help her and the kids financially after they begin their exile. She replies that she doesn't want his money; she only wants to find a way to make him suffer. He says she is only making her situation worse, because it was her big mouth that got her exiled, and because now she is refusing to take his money. Jason and Medea trade sarcastic remarks, each claiming to have done so much good for the other in the past, and each denying that the other has done much good.

A subtle psychological dialogue takes place, in which each remarks on the motives of the other. Jason says he had taken a new wife for the sake of the children, because they will be better off materially if they have relatives who are royalty. Medea says Jason is rationalizing his behavior when the truth is that he had dumped her merely because he desired a fresh, young bride. Jason says that Medea is the one who is rationalizing, because the very thought that any other woman could be more desirable than her damages her ego.

When she is alone, Medea hatches a plot for revenge.

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The synopsis continues ...

Medea plans the details of her revenge. She will go to Jason and pretend to be submissive, ask for his forgiveness, and send a lovely gift to his new bride.

She will send the queen a beautiful dress, so imbued with poison that it will kill her as soon as she tries it on, and kill anyone else who touches it. Then, Medea explains, she will do something that will hurt herself and the innocent, but, more importantly, it will hurt Jason, which is all that matters now -- she will murder her own children, who are also Jason's children.

Medea sends for Jason. When he arrives, she behaves apologetically and says that she accepts his decision to go with his new bride. She tells the children to love their father, and forget all former hatred. Jason believes the act and is glad that Medea has come to her senses. She says that she will send the queen an expensive gift. Jason says that is foolish for a poor person to send an expensive gift to the princess, but she insists that she wants to take this act of friendship. Exit Jason.

The tutor arrives with the children and asks why Medea seems to be so miserable, but she is vague. The tutor leaves. For several pages, Medea wails about how she loves the children, and desires only to hug them and kiss them, and yet she will soon be taking a sword and stabbing them.

A messenger arrives and tells Medea to flee, for the princess is dead, her father Creon is also dead after embracing the dying girl and thereby touching the poisoned dress, and Medea's crime is known. Medea makes the messenger describe the details about how they died. Exit the messenger. Medea knows that she doesn't have much time, so the time to kill the children is near. The children know what's about to happen, and they call out to be saved from their mother.

The leader of the chorus tells Jason that his children have been murdered by their mother. Jason wants to punish Medea. Medea flies overhead, in a chariot drawn by winged dragons [an example of Euripides' use of the deus ex machina]. Flying around, Medea boasts that Jason will not be able to lay a hand on her. Jason curses Medea, but she says that Zeus knows that Jason has got what he deserved. Jason and Medea accuse each other of being the true cause of the deaths of the children. Jason demands the bodies of the children so he can bury them, but she says she will bury them herself. Jason calls out to Zeus about how he has been wronged by Medea. The chorus replies that wise Zeus works in mysterious ways and that it is the "end of the story."

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Hippolytus

(Produced in 428 BC)

Note: This one of the plays that modern critics have in mind when they say Euripides depicted the gods as being nothing but brutes, discarding the tradition according to which poets and playwrights were reverent when depicting the gods.

The play begins with Aphrodite delivering a monologue. She is angry because a young hunter named Hippolytus ignores her completely, while he adores another goddess, Artemis. He has unforgivably insulted the goddess of love by taking a vow of celibacy. She will use her magic to take revenge on Hippolytus and his family. She says that she knows that what she is about to do will cause much suffering, but this fact will not deter her from taking revenge. The goddess disappears.

Hippolytus enters. He walks past a status of Aphrodite without even noticing it, and emphatically praises Artemis. His attendant questions him about his contempt for Cypris (another name for Aphrodite), and Hippolytus explains his position. (The facts are gradually revealed that Hippolytus' finds sexuality repulsive because of the pain he has known all his life by being born outside of marriage, the son of the Athenian king Theseus and the Amazon queen Hippolyte.)

In the palace, the queen, Theseus' wife Phaedra, is raving as though she were losing her mind, about how she wishes she were frolicking in the fields or hunting in the mountains, and how she wishes she were dead. The nurse intensely interrogates Phaedra but can't get her to reveal what causing her mood. The nurse is clever at asking questions and deducing the problem from Phaedra's responses. It slips out that Phaedra feels guilty because she is in love with someone besides her husband -- but with whom? Phaedra shows a response as soon as the nurse mentions the name of Hippolytus. The nurse is able to guess that Phaedra is in love with her own step-son. Phaedra goes on and on about her shame, how she considers an adulteress to be the worst creature in the world, and reiterating that she wishes she were dead.

The nurse believes that she is doing the right thing when she goes to Hippolytus and tells him about Phaedra's feelings. She expects him to be reasonable. Instead, he starts screaming about women generally being a nuisance, how fathers can't wait to unload their daughters by marrying them off to foolish men who will take them, and how he wishes Zeus had created the world with some other form of procreation so that there wouldn't have to exist any women. Phaedra is outside the door and listening to all the shouting, and wailing about how her life is ruined. Phaedra yells at the nurse for butting in and talking to Hippolytus.

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The synopsis continues ...

The nurse is informed that Phaedra is dead after hanging herself from a noose. Theseus is informed. He grieves that the best of women is gone, the house is ruined, and the children will be orphans.

Theseus says that his son Hippolytus probably murdered her -- perhaps he raped or seduced her, and then murdered her. Hippolytus enters, and his father repeats the accusations to his face. Hippolytus declares that he is innocent, that the fact that he practices celibacy in inconsistent with the charge. Theseus curses his son and orders that he be banished from his homeland forever.

Some time later, a messenger comes to Theseus and informs him that his son Hippolytus is near death. While he was driving his chariot near the beach, a divinely-caused wave frightened the horses, so that the young man was thrown out of the chariot to hit his head on the rocks. It was Theseus's curse that caused it. The messenger informs Theseus that Poseidon is Theseus' father, and therefore Poseidon made the wish come true. Theseus is surprised to learn that Poseidon is his father, but accepts the answering of the prayer as proof of it.

The goddess Artemis appears to Theseus and reveals that his virgin son was innocent of all accusations. Theseus feels horribly guilty. Artemis "rubs it in" by dwelling on the point that his hasty judgment not only ruined his own family but also killed a man for whom she, the goddess, had affection.

Attendants enter, carrying the dying Hippolytus. Hippolytus and the goddess express their love for each other, and Theseus wails about his misery. Hippolytus curses Aphrodite for what she has done. Artemis says she will take revenge on Aphrodite by finding and killing someone that Aphrodite cares for. The goddess disappears. Hippolytus says he is almost dead, he can already see the gate to Hades, but he forgives his father. The father and son express love for one another. Hippolytus is dead. The last sentence of the drama is Theseus cursing Aphrodite for the harm she has done.

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Trojan Women

(Produced in 415 BC)

Note: The war has ended and the Greeks have defeated the Trojans (the people of Troy). After the fall of Troy, the men were slaughtered and the women and children were enslaved. (The Greeks even did this to the people of the city of Melos, to punish them for remaining neutral in the war.) Euripides wrote this play to display the horrors of war, which always makes innocent people its victims. Athenian society tolerated and even sponsored this dramatic presentation, even though it made a Trojan woman, who was the "enemy", the heroine, and even though it shows the Athenians' own patron goddess, Athena, calling for the Greeks to be punished.

The play begins in Troy, which is demolished. The air is filled with smoke. Hecuba, a Trojan woman, formerly a queen, is lying on the ground. Her husband King Priam, their daughter Polyxena, and their son Hector, have been killed. Now she is waiting for the captors to arrive and take her as a slave.

The sea god Poseidon, who has supported the Trojans, is sad as he looks over the ruins. Hecuba doesn't see him. The god delivers a sympathetic monologue describing how the women have been allocated to their new masters by having the Greek soldiers draw lots for them.

The goddess Athena comes and tells Poseidon that she has switched sides -- she now wishes to punish the Greeks and help the Trojans, her former enemies. She has changed her mind because of the brutality the Greek soldier Ajax showed toward Hecuba's daughter Cassandra, a priestess at Apollo's shrine. Poseidon says he will do whatever Athena asks in order to punish the Greeks. Athena says that Zeus plans to smash their ships with lightning and hurricanes. Poseidon adds that he can help by making rough water to drown the sailors.

Hecuba rises slowly from her prostrate position and wails about the city being up in smoke, and at the thought that she will be spending her old age in slavery. The Greek herald Talthybius arrives and delivers the news about the drawing of lots for the prisoners. Hecuba is to become the slave of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, whom she loathes as the worst criminal. Her virgin daughter Cassandra will be forced to serve as the concubine of King Agamemnon.

Cassandra is in denial -- she speaks as though she were simply going to become a bride, and she carries a nuptial torch. Her mother tells her that she's not in her right mind. Cassandra tells her mother not to worry but to rejoice, because Cassandra intends to be the worse "wife" any man ever had -- she intends to take vengeance by killing her new "husband". She adds that another reason to cheer up is the fact that all the Trojans who died achieved glory by bravely defending their home. Hecuba still thinks Cassandra is out of her mind for speaking of her impending slavery as wedlock. Cassandra also boasts that when her mother becomes the slave of Odysseus, Hecuba will make him so miserable that all of trials he had encountered during his ten year journey [note: the basis of Homer's Odyssey] will seem mild in comparison.

After Cassandra leaves with Talthybius, Hecuba continues weeping about her destiny to spend her old age as a slave. It's not only captivity that depresses her, but the fact that she, a former queen, will have to do such humble work as baking bread.

A wagon rolls by, on which Andromache is being carried away to slavery. (Note: Andromache is Hecuba's daughter-in-law, i.e., the widow of Hecuba's son Hector.) Andromache holds her infant son Astyanax (Hecuba's grandson) in her arms. Hecuba and Andromache call out to each other and have a 3-page conversation about their anguish. [Note: In reality, a dialogue between a person on the ground and a person on a moving wagon could not be so long].

Andromache says that the dead are the lucky ones because they know no pain; Hecuba shouldn't mourn for her daughter Polyxena because, now that she is dead, it is as the same as though she had never lived at all. Hecuba disagrees -- death is simply nothingness, but in life there is always hope. Andromache is more concerned about her present dilemma: the son of Achilles, the murderer of her husband, is going to be her new master -- should she honor Hector by hating her master, which will make things rough on her, or should she make things easier on herself by treating her new master as her husband, which would be treason to Hector?

Hecuba tells Andromache to raise her infant son Astyanax to someday become an avenger. Suddenly, the herald Talthybius comes to Andromache and tells her that he has some bad news about Astyanax. She asks whether the bad news is that he and she will be separated by having different masters. Talthybius says that the boy won't have any master at all. The Greeks have decided that it would be unwise to permit the son of a Trojan hero to grow up, therefore they are going to kill him by throwing him from the battlements. Andromache curses the evil Greeks, she and her son hug and kiss, and she hands the child over to Talthybius.

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The Greek king Menelaus enters and boasts about the recapture of Helen, who is now just another Trojan prisoner. Menelaus plans to kill Helen because she ran away with the Trojan prince Paris, which started the ten-year war. Helen enters and pleads that she is innocent, and that Paris had kidnapped her. Hecuba tells Menelaus to give Helen a fair trial, but Hecuba has no sympathy with Helen and wants to speak as the prosecutor. Helen puts forth an insanity plea -- due to divine intervention, she was not in her right mind when she ran off with Paris. (Note: the name Alexander is also used for Paris.) Helen blames the goddesses Cypris (Aphrodite) and Pallas (Athena), but Hecuba speaks in defense of the goddesses.

Hecuba speaks like a prosecuting attorney, e.g., pointing out that Helen can't claim that she was forced to go with Paris because no one heard an outcry, and submitting similar facts in evidence. Hecuba urges Menelaus to command that Helen be put to death. Menelaus rules that Helen went with Paris willingly, and she has blamed the gods only in an attempt to construct a defense. Menelaus tells the servants to take Helen to the ships and bring her to Sparta to await her punishment.

Talthybius arrives with the body of Astyanax, telling Hecuba that Andromache has sailed away, and that Hecuba has only a short time to bury her grandson. Hecuba prepares to bury the child on Hector's shield. She says that the shield, although going with the dead, is more glorious than the shield of Odysseus or any other Greek.

Talthybius enters with soldiers. He says the soldiers carry torches and are about to burn what's left of Troy, meanwhile, he tells Hecuba and the other Trojan women that it's time to get on the ships and sail to their new homes. Hecuba resolves to rush off to the flames, and perish in the same flames that are destroying her country. Talthybius tells the soldiers to seize her, so that her new master, Odysseus, won't be deprived of his prize.

The chorus says that Troy is finished; even its name will be forgotten.

(Note: Nothing has become of the promise to help Troy, made by Poseidon and Athena in the beginning of the play.)

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Andromache

Written and performed sometime between 430 and 424 BC -- the exact year isn't known. (Note: You may wish to read the synopsis of Trojan Women before this one. Chronologically, this is a continuation of the story.)

Andromache, a Trojan woman captured by the Greeks, sits at the altar in the temple of the sea nymph Thetis. Her soliloquy describes how her husband Hector was killed by Achilles, and her infant son Astyanax was killed by being thrown from the battlements. Then she became the slave of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, slayer of Hector. [Note: Pyrrhus is another name for Neoptolemus.] Andromache was forced to function as the "wife" of, and bear children for, the son of the man who killed her true husband. Then Neoptolemus abandoned Andromache to marry a Spartan woman named Hermione, the daughter of Helen and Menelaus. Neoptolemus later learned that Hermione was unable to have children and lost his affection for her. Hermione falsely accused Andromache of achieving revenge by casting a magic spell to make her infertile and despised by her husband. Hermione threatened Andromache's life. Andromache explains that Hermione is being unreasonable -- it was only by force that Andromache ever occupied Neoptolemus' bed in the first place, it was his decision to consort with Hermione, and if he now despises Hermione, then Andromache has had nothing to do with it.

Now, Andromache sits in the temple for an indefinite period of time, and refuses to leave the sanctuary unless she receives assurances that she won't be murdered by Hermione or Hermione's father or agents. Neoptolemus would never approve of such a murder plot, but he is overseas.

After Andromache's soliloquy, her handmaid enters. Andromache asks what murderous plot Hermione and her father are devising. The handmaid delivers the sad news that Molossus, the son of Andromache and Neoptolemus, is the one they plan to murder. Although he had secret plans for escaping, they somehow found out his plans and are able to track his location.

Andromache instructs the handmaid to make a journey to Delphi to see if she can summon Neoptolemus, who, although he no longer loves her, would come to save her. After the handmaid departs, Andromache, alone, laments about the misery of life. The chorus tells Andromache to stop complaining and accept the fact that she has a slave's fate.

At this point, a few lines of the play have been lost over the centuries. The play resumes with Andromache and Hermione having a heated argument in the temple. Hermione repeats her accusation that Andromache has cast a spell on her, making her barren and making her lose her husband. Hermione says that either Andromache will die or, if some god saves her, she will "fall at my feet ... sweep my floors...." She adds that Andromache is so senseless that she would even sleep with those who slew her husband, which is typical behavior for Trojan barbarians. Andromache points out the illogic in everything Hermione says. Andromache is herself a slave: would that be the case if she had the power to cast magical spells? She argues that the real reason Neoptolemus has grown to hate Hermione is their incompatibility -- Hermione has always promoted rivalry by expressing her feeling that her own father Menelaus is a hero superior to Neoptolemus' dead father Achilles. Andromache adds that Hermione takes after wicked mother, Helen.

Hermione tells Andromache to give a final answer about whether she intends to leave the sanctuary of the temple. Andromache says she'll only leave if she has assurances that her life will be spared. Hermione says, in that case, she'll burn the temple with Andromache in it. Andromache dares Hermione to desecrate the temple of a goddess in such a way.

Hermione's father Menelaus enters and tells Andromache that he knows the location of her son. If she doesn't give herself up, her son will be killed for her crimes. Andromache replies with a sequence of logic. If Menelaus and Hermione kill Andromache, they will eventually be punished as murderers. If they kill her son, who is also Neoptolemus' son, the father, after he returns, will avenge the son's death. Either way, the killers would ruin themselves.

But Menelaus insists that, unless Andromache leaves the temple, her son is doomed. Pondering that she can give her own life to save her son, Andromache eventually agrees to leave the temple. She walks outside and says that her enemies may now kill her if they wish to.

Menelaus commands the slaves to seize Andromache, and also to capture her son -- Hermione will be permitted to decide whether he lives or dies. Andromache protests that she has been tricked into leaving the temple. Menelaus boasts that he has indeed tricked her. She says she has no reason to mourn now -- it was always clear that all Spartans are a wicked race, and she already "died" long ago when her own city of Troy was destroyed.

The men take her away. The chorus recites about how it causes nothing but trouble when a man is involved with two women.

In the next scene, Menelaus has Andromache and her son Molossus tied with ropes. They both expect to be killed. Andromache tells Molossus to beg Menelaus for mercy, which he does, but Menelaus is firm.

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Peleus is arriving. [Notes for clarification: Peleus was once married to the sea goddess Thetis, in whose temple Andromache now sits. Achilles is their son. Therefore, Neoptolemus is the grandson of Peleus. Although Peleus is old, he will be protective.]

Peleus tries to hurry up, despite his weak legs. He arrives and orders Menelaus to untie the ropes at once. He says his son's son acquired the woman for a prize, but only to treat well -- not for her to be harmed. Menelaus and Peleus threaten to thrash one another. As the threats and insults escalate, Peleus says that all Spartan women are unchaste -- Menelaus' wife Helen and daughter Hermione included. Menelaus says Peleus shouldn't insult his own family for the sake of a "foreign woman" (i.e., Andromache). Menelaus adds that Helen did Greece a favor by starting the war, because it was the first time the Greeks ever displayed any valor. Peleus ridicules the custom by which common soldiers do all the dirty work in warfare, while the generals claim all the glory. He begins untying Andromache, and dares anyone to try to stop him.

Only out of respect for Peleus' age, Menelaus exits. Peleus tells Andromache not to worry; she is safe now. She admits that she is safe for the moment, but likely to be endangered later.

In the next scene, the nurse is speaking to the chorus. She explains that Hermione has had a chance to reflect on her earlier behavior, and regrets plotting against Andromache and her son. When Neoptolemus returns home, he will be angry with Hermione, and she contemplates killing herself rather than face him. Hermione enters and expresses her feelings of guilt.

Orestes [the son of Clytemnestra and Menelaus' brother Agamemnon] enters. He asks Hermione why she's so gloomy, and she explains the story to him. She asks him to hide her from Neoptolemus. Orestes says he'll do more than that -- he resolves to ambush and kill Neoptolemus.

In the next scene, Peleus has a conversation with the leader of the chorus. The leader informs Peleus that Orestes plans to kill Neoptolemus and marry Hermione. Peleus panics at the endangerment of his grandson.

A messenger arrives and tells Peleus that "your son's son", that is, Neoptolemus, is dead. Peleus is overcome with grief. He asks the messenger to describe the details of the murder. The messenger says that a gang of thousands of Delphian men, of whom Orestes was one, rioted at the temple of Delphi. The mob ambushed Neoptolemus as he stood praying at the temple. A huge number of men stabbed and stoned him, and some of the mob even trampled each other to death in the wild scene.

The sea nymph Thetis [the "sometimes wife" of Peleus] appears. She tells Peleus to bury Neoptolemus, and to see to it that Andromache marries Helenus, the brother of Andromache's dead husband Hector. It is fated that their offspring will produce a succession of kings. Then Thetis tells Peleus that she will make him immortal, to dwell with her forever.

The chorus ends the play with the same phrase which ends several of Euripides' plays -- the expected outcome has not come to be, and a god has found a way to bring about the unexpected.

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Electra

Produced c. 413 BC.

Sometimes spelled Elektra. Not to be confused with the plays Electra by Aeschylus and Electra by Sophocles. All of these works are about Electra and her brother Orestes, who plot the murder of their mother Clytemnestra to avenge Clytemnestra's murder of their father Agamemnon. Of the three playwrights who treated this theme, Euripides introduced the greatest display of psychological processes.

Background information: Clytemnestra began to hate her husband, the military leader Agamemnon, after he offered their daughter Iphigenia as a human sacrifice to produce the winds needed for the Greek ships at the start of the Trojan War. She acquired a lover Aegisthus, and the two of them killed Agamemnon.

As the play begins, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus now rule over Agamemnon's wealth. They have attempted to get Agamemnon's and Clytemnestra's other kids out of the way. The daughter Electra has been married involuntary to a peasant (given no name by Euripides but "Peasant") and is miserable. The son Orestes has been sent away to another city.

Orestes is instructed by Apollo's oracle to avenge the murder of his father by killing his own mother Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. He returns to his sister Electra and tells her of his plan, which she is willing to assist.

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An old man, given no name but Old Man, gives Orestes assistance in planning the details. Orestes plans to kill Aegisthus at a feast. Electra plans to send a false message to Clytemnestra saying that she has a new baby, and when Clytemnestra responds by coming to the cottage Orestes and Electra will kill her.

A messenger comes to Electra and tells her that Orestes has killed Aegisthus.

With Clytemnestra on her way to the cottage, Orestes thinks about the idea of committing matricide and hesitates. Electra encourages him. The murder of Clytemnestra is carried out. Orestes and Electra feel guilty but blame it on Apollo's command.

Castor and Pollux appear overhead. [Notes: They are two gods who are the sons of Zeus and Leda. In Greek they are called the Dioscuri ("offspring of Zeus"); in Latin they are called Gemini. Their appearance overhead on the stage is an example of Euripides' use of the deus ex machina.]

Castor and Pollux say that the crime of Electra and Orestes was not justified by the fact that Clytemnestra deserved punishment. It was wrong even through Apollo had commanded it. They dictate that Electra will marry Orestes' friend Pylades. Orestes will be hounded by the Furies (the three goddesses of revenge). Then he will be put on trial for killing his mother, but will be acquitted by the jury. Orestes and Electra say goodbye to each other once again. The end.

More background information: This story developed around the time the Athenians were trying to get used to the then-new idea that people seeking justice should go to courts of law, with juries composed of citizens, and that there are moral problems with taking personal revenge. It was believed that the goddess Athena invented the court of law and trial by jury. The story also includes the idea that a jury may determine that a defendant is guilty but nevertheless acquit the defendant due to extenuating circumstances. The jury decides that Orestes' duty to avenge his father overrides his crime of matricide, and he is released. The Furies agree to abide by the verdict, so the Furies' names are to be changed to the Eumenides (the kindly ones or forgiving ones).

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Written by M. L., crimsonbird.com editor, February 16, 2019