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Orestes   

Before the royal palace at Argos. It is the sixth day after the murder
of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. ELECTRA is discovered alone. ORESTES
lies sleeping on a couch in the background.


ELECTRA There is naught so terrible to describe, be it physical
pain or heaven-sent affliction, that man's nature may not have to
bear the burden of it. Tantalus, they say, once so prosperous,-and
I am not now taunting him with his misfortunes,-Tantalus, the reputed
son of Zeus, hangs suspended in mid air, quailing at the crag which
looms above his head; paying this penalty, they say, for the shameful
weakness he displayed in failing to keep a bridle on his lips, when
admitted by gods, though he was but mortal, to share the honours of
their feasts like one of them.
He it was that begat Pelops, the father of Atreus, for whom the goddess,
when she had carded her wool, spun a web of strife, even to the making
of war with his own brother Thyestes. But why need I repeat that hideous
tale?
Well, Atreus slew Thyestes' children and feasted him on them; but,-passing
over intermediate events-from Atreus and Aerope of Crete sprang Agamemnon,
that famous chief,-if his was really fame,-and Menelaus. Now it was
this Menelaus who married Helen, Heaven's abhorrence; while his brother,
King Agamemnon, took Clytemnestra to wife, name of note in Hellas,
and we three daughters were his issue, Chrysothemis, Iphigenia, and
myself Electra; also a son Orestes; all of that one accursed mother,
who slew her lord, after snaring him in a robe that had no outlet.
Her reason a maiden's lips may not declare, and so leave that unexplained
for the world to guess at. What need for me to charge Phoebus with
wrong-doing, though he instigated Orestes to slay his own mother,
a deed that few approved; still it was his obedience to the god that
made him slay her; I, too, feebly as a woman would, shared in the
deed of blood, as did Pylades who helped us to bring it about.
After this my poor Orestes fell sick of a cruel wasting disease; upon
his couch he lies prostrated, and it is his mother's blood that goads
him into frenzied fits; this I say, from dread of naming those goddesses,
whose terrors are chasing him before them,-even the Eumenides. 'Tis
now the sixth day since the body of his murdered mother was committed
to the cleansing fire; since then no food has passed his lips, nor
hath he washed his skin; but wrapped in his cloak he weeps in his
lucid moments, whenever the fever leaves him; other whiles he bounds
headlong from his couch, as colt when it is loosed from the yoke.
Moreover, this city of Argos has decreed that no man give us shelter
at his fireside or speak to matricides like us; yea, and this is the
fateful day on which Argos will decide our sentence, whether we are
both to die by stoning, or to whet the steel and plunge it in our
necks. There is, 'tis true, one hope of escape still left us; Menelaus
has landed from Troy; his fleet now crowds the haven of Nauplia where
he is come to anchor, returned at last from Troy after ceaseless wanderings;
but Helen, that "lady of sorrows," as she styles herself, hath he
sent on to our palace, carefully waiting for the night, lest any of
those parents whose sons were slain beneath the walls of Troy, might
see her if she went by day, and set to stoning her. Within she sits,
weeping for her sister and the calamities of her family, and yet she
hath still some solace in her woe; for Hermione, the child she left
at home in the hour she sailed for Troys-the maid whom Menelaus brought
from Sparta and entrusted to my mother's keeping,-is still a cause
of joy to her and a reason to forget her sorrows.
I, meantime, am watching each approach, against the moment I see Menelaus
arriving; for unless we find some safety there, we have but feeble
anchor to ride on otherwise.
A helpless thing, an unlucky house! (HELEN enters from the palace.)
HELEN Daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, hapless Electra, too
long now left a maid unwed! how is it with thee and thy brother, this
ill-starred Orestes who slew his mother! Speak; for referring the
sin as I do to Phoebus, I incur no pollution by letting thee accost

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