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MonkeyNotes-Electra by Euripides
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Notes

The main theme of Electra is the theme of the daughterís intense hatred for the mother. Whatever be the reason, the situation is abhorable. Electra is a study of reality. Its men, women and gods are not depicted as better than they really are. Euripides aims to show that they are not as great as they have been considered to be.

Revenge often played an important role in Greek tragedies. This gave an unpleasant hue to otherwise attractive characters. In Electra, Euripides too deals with the revenge saga. Aeschylus justifies and purifies Orestes in the end. Sophocles depicts the act of killing Clymenestra as just and noble. Euripides hints that the act of murder was caused because of Orestesí weakness. He is faced with a dilemma as to whether he should face his own moral instincts or obey Apolloís oracle. The brutality of the command is as much a challenge to Orestes, as the command to sacrifice Iphigenia had been to his father. The apparent reasons for killing Clymenestra and Aegisthus are to avenge the death of Agamemnon, and also to obey the order received through Apolloís oracle. However, the psychical reasons are more. The child admires the motherís capacity to feed. Yet he is envious of this capacity and wishes to destroy this creativeness on which he/she is dependent. Similarly there is an envy of the fatherís capability and potency. This envy can come to the fore in case of adults and make them consciously or unconsciously wish for the elimination of the parent. Envy is primarily directed towards the motherís breast, and this results in the desire to make her helpless.


Clymenestra shows her breast to her children while she pleads for mercy hoping that they will spare her, realizing that she has fed them and looked after them during their infancy. But it is of no avail. It is not merely revenge and Apolloís oracle, but also envy at the deep unconscious level that makes Orestes strike her.

In Euripidesí Electra as well as Oresteia "hubris" plays an important role. "Hubris" is a literary term for insolence or pride. Agamemnon is more concerned about winning the war of Troy and becoming "king of kings." His countrymen, family and their feelings are not important to him. He is away at war for ten long years after sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia. He is inconsiderate about the anguish of his wife who is the mother of Iphigenia. Many people of his country die during the war. Women are widowed. Mothers lose their sons. He brings Cassandra who has been his lover. The excuse he gives is that he should be compassionate to the people whom he has conquered. But actually he wants to keep her for his pleasure. His destructiveness involving his near and dear ones is perhaps a remnant of his desire to destroy his parents (and may be siblings) during his childhood. In an adult this infantile attitude can diminish compassion.

In killing, Agamemnon, Clymenestra acted as a tool of justice. She punished him for the wrongs he had committed. She is not guilty or remorseful after having killed her husband. She then lived in luxury quite content with her new husband Aegisthus. In contrast to her, Orestes is overcome by tremendous feelings of guilt at having committed the murder of his mother. But he feels no remorse or guilt about murdering Aegisthus. His motives for both the murders are duty and love. He loves his dead father and identifies with him. There is hardly anything in the play to show that he wanted to triumph over his mother. He murders her partly due to Electraís instigation and partly due to the oracle. It is worthwhile to note that the main elements of "hubris" such as envy and the desire to triumph at any cost are not dominant in him.

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