The story of Electra was treated by the three major classical tragedians, each in his own characteristic way. For Aeschylus, the story of Electra in the Chophoroi (458 b.c.e.; Libation Bearers, 1777) is but a single episode in the sweeping history of a family; it is the second play of the Oresteia, a connected trilogy that presents the story of Electra’s household from the return of her father, Agamemnon, to the acquittal of her brother, Orestes. For Euripides, the Electra was a psychological profile of a woman who had endured outrage and humiliation for nearly a decade; Euripides openly criticized Aeschylus’s treatment of this story and changed many details of the plot. For Sophocles, Electra became the embodiment of heroic defiance, a return to many of the themes earlier explored in the Antigone.
Indeed, there are many ways in which Sophocles’ version of Electra bears a closer resemblance to his Antigone than to the treatments of Electra by the other two playwrights. First, Sophocles contrasts both Electra and Antigone with a sister (Chrysothemis and Ismene, respectively) who is willing to compromise in order to live in peace. Both Electra and Antigone, in Sophocles’ version of their stories, devote themselves to a cause to such an extent that they forego husband and children; Aeschylus’s Electra has at least the serving women for comfort, and...
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