Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon, Frederic Leighton c. 1869

Electra is one of the most popular mythological characters in tragedies.[1] She is the main character in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and Eugene O'Neill.[1] Her characteristic can be stated as a vengeful soul in the libation bearers, because she plans out an attack with her brother to kill the evil Clytemnestra.

In psychology, the Electra complex is named after her.


Electra's parents were King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Her sisters were Iphigeneia and Chrysothemis, and her brother was Orestes. In the Iliad, Homer is understood to be referring to Electra in mentioning "Laodice" as a daughter of Agamemnon.[2]

Murder of AgamemnonEdit

Orestes, Electra and Hermes at the tomb of Agamemnon, lucanian red-figure pelike, c. 380–370 BC, Louvre (K 544)

Electra was absent from Mycenae when her father, King Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War. When he came back, he brought with him his war prize, the Trojan princess Cassandra, who had already borne him twin sons. Upon their arrival, Agamemnon and Cassandra were murdered, by either Clytemnestra herself, her lover Aegisthus or both. Clytemnestra had held a grudge against her husband for agreeing to sacrifice their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis so he could send his ships to fight in the Trojan war. In some versions of this story, Iphigenia was saved by the goddess at the last moment.

Eight years later, Electra was brought from Athens with her brother, Orestes. (Odyssey, iii. 306; X. 542). According to Pindar (Pythia, xi. 25), Orestes was saved by either his old nurse or by Electra, and was taken to Phanote on Mount Parnassus, where King Strophius took charge of him. When Orestes was twenty, the Oracle of Delphi ordered him to return home and avenge his father's death.

Murder of ClytemnestraEdit

According to Aeschylus, Orestes saw Electra's face before the tomb of Agamemnon, where both had gone to perform rites to the dead where a recognition occurred, and they arranged how Orestes should accomplish his revenge.[3] Orestes and his friend Pylades, son of King Strophius of Phocis and Anaxibia, killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus (in some accounts with Electra helping).

Before her death, Clytemnestra cursed Orestes. The Erinyes or Furies, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety, fulfill this curse with their torment. They pursue Orestes, urging him to end his life. Electra was not hounded by the Erinyes.

In Iphigeneia in Tauris, Euripides tells the tale somewhat differently. In his version, Orestes was led by the Furies to Tauris on the Black Sea, where his sister Iphigenia was being held. The two met when Orestes and Pylades were brought to Iphigenia to be prepared for sacrifice to Artemis. Iphigeneia, Orestes, and Pylades escaped from Tauris. The Furies, appeased by the reunion of the family, abated their persecution. Electra then married Pylades.[4]

Adaptations of the Electra storyEdit

Electra and Orestes, from an 1897 Stories from the Greek Tragedians, by Alfred Church





  • Elektra (Laodice) is the unnamed protagonist and speaker in Yannis Ritsos's long poem Beneath the Shadow of the Mountain. This poem forms part of the cycle colloquially referred to as the New Oresteia.
  • Electra is the eponymous narrator of her story in the book 'Electra' by Henry Treece. (Bodley Head, 1963: Sphere Books., 1968).
  • Electra on Azalea Path is the title of Sylvia Plath's poem published in 1959, in reference to the Electra Complex
  • A central character in Donna Leon's crime fiction series is a present-day young woman named Elettra (the Italian form of "Electra"), who is highly resourceful and who bears some resemblance to the mythological character.
  • House of Names by Colm Toibin 2018. A retelling of the story of Agamemnon’s death and the resulting events.



  1. ^ a b Evans (1970), p. 79
  2. ^ "Agamemnon" in Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, as quoted at eNotes.com
  3. ^ Fagles (1977), p. 188
  4. ^ Luke Roman, Monica Roman, Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology, Infobase Publishing, 2010, p.143.

See alsoEdit


  • Evans, Bergen (1970). Dictionary of Mythology. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-20848-3.
  • Vellacott, Philip (1963). Euripides: Medea and Other Plays. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044129-8.
  • Fagles, Robert (1977). Aeschylus: The Oresteia. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-044333-2.

External linksEdit