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Electra and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture

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Mythological Figures Orestes and Elektra Depicted in Classical Greek Sculptures

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Electra and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture

Electra (Elektra) was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the king and queen of Mycenae during the Trojan war. Homer refers to her as Laodice(Laodike). In Homer, Iliad, 9.114 Agamemnon offers one of his daughters for Achilles to marry: "Three daughters have I in my well-builded hall, [145] Chrysothemis, and Laodice, and Iphianassa; of these let him lead to the house of Peleus which one he will, without gifts of wooing, and I will furthermore give a dower full rich, such as no man ever yet gave with his daughter."

The name 'Electra', (Ήλέκτρην) means 'light play' and comes from Indo-European: 'wlek-', 'light' and 'ter-3', 'To cross over, pass through, overcome'. The name also applies to the substance amber probably because of the way amber transmits light. Our word for electron and electricity comes from amber rather than from an ancient Greek woman.

The mother of electra, Clytemnestra, had a lover who conspired with her to murder Agamemnon. Electra had some premonition of these happenings and managed to remove her brother Orestes and entrust him to Strophius. Strophius was the husband of Anaxibia, the sister of Agamemnon. and the father of Pylades. The details of this are intwined in the following passage in Homer, Odyssey 3.303 "but meanwhile Aegisthus devised this woeful work at home. Seven years he reigned over Mycenae, rich in gold, after slaying the son of Atreus, and the people were subdued under him; but in the eighth came as his bane the goodly Orestes back from Athens, and slew his father's murderer, the guileful Aegisthus, for that he had slain his glorious father. Now when he had slain him, he made a funeral feast for the Argives over his hateful mother and the craven Aegisthus; and on the self-same day there came to him Menelaus, good at the war-cry, bringing much treasure, even all the burden that his ships could bear."

Electra lived for eight years after the murder of her father with a strong feeling of humiliation and vengeance. Ultimately she was able to help her brother, Orestes, take the vengeance she sought. It was Orestes who came home and murdered Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Ultimately he was tried for this crime. Electra stood by her brother and defended him during entire trial. Though the court was divided he was freed by a single vote. Electra's desire for revenge was very destructive, but her compassion for her brother was her redemption. Later she was given in marriage to Pylades by her brother Orestes. She was the mother of Medon and Strophius. Later she was able to bring her father's sceptre to Phocis.

Reference to Electra in Ancient Literature

Images of Electra in Ancient Art


To ask a question about this topic note the topic (Electra) and Click here

Questions and Answers

Question: How has the ideal of Electra influenced society (in art, literature, etc) from the Grecian times and downward?

Answer: The ideal of Electra:

For if he that is dead
is earth and nothing,
poorly lying,
and they shall never in their turn
pay death for death in justice,
then shall all shame be dead
and all men's piety.

Though Electra was a popular drama subject, she was not very popular as a visual art subject. She has captured the imagination of women who feel that the cause of women need advocacy. It is good that the cause of death be determined, and if there is a criminal cause then the criminal should be punished. But is Electra the main force behind this idea? The science of criminology was started in Bologna in the Renaissance.

Psychologists fixed on the Oedipus complex because Oedipus married his mother Jocasta. But they need a name for a women in love with her father. This is an honor that Electra received when they named it the Electra complex, but I am not sure that she deserved it.

Question: I am doing a play based on the Orestia and I am havinh a difficult time finding images of Electra. Can you help me?

Answer: One of the following images of about 455 BCE could be of Electra:

For your purposes one of these images should work. No one recorded Electra's image because she lived about 1250 BCE and the plays were written 400 to 500 BCE. The previous pictures are contemporary with the authors of the plays. If you wish pictures contemporary with the subject then study these: Sarcophagus with dead man

Question: who was she?

Answer: Electra and Chrysothemis were the sisters of Iphigenia and Orestes. After the death of her father Agamenon, she lived a wretched life distrusted by her mother and her husband and dreaming only of vengence on them for killing her father.

Question: centaurs nd lipath

Answer: Lapiths and Centaurs were related by being descended from Ixion. Lapiths were a primitive tribe living in Thessaly. Centaurs were monsters with the head and body of a man attached to the body and legs of a horse. When Pirithous was to be married the Centaurs came to the wedding because there were related to the bride. The Centaurs got drunk and started to seize the women. A terrible battle followed which is a favorite subject of artists.

Question: what about electra with aiskhelos,sofoklis and urpedes?

Answer: Most of our information about Electra comes from the plays by Euripides and Sophocles. But Electra is a historical person and she is mentioned in Apollodorus and Pausanias.

Question: what is the electra complezx?

Answer: This is a psychological abnormality where a daughter has a strong sexual attraction to her father. This is in contrast to the Oedipus complex where a son has a strong sexual attraction to his mother. Neither complex is particularly well-named. Oedipus did not know Jocasta was his mother when he married her; in fact he may not even have been attracted to her. He married her so he could become king. She came with the office. Electra loved her father, but it probably was not sexual love which drove her to seek vengeance on her mother and her step-father for killing her father. There is some sense to the fact that a daughter who loves her father sexually might hate her mother and this is what the psychologists focus on. But all that can be said for Electra is that she hated her mother for killing her father.

Question: I'm taking a course in college and we're studying the electra complex so i would like to know all about electra, what happened in her life and why they named a complex after her.

Answer: In addition to reading this article, you need to read the two plays called Electra.

Question: what famous person can be compared to electra?

Answer: You could try Lucrezia Borgia(1480-1519).

Question: Who is the tragic hero in Electra?

Answer: Orestes is driven crazy by his deed of murder.

Question: what were the traits of character of Electra that she inherited either from her mother or father?

Answer: I think you can talk of similarities between Electra and her mother and father, but it seems silly to talk of inherited traits. Inheritance studies require large families, if you cannot do chemical and genetic analysis. We cannot do any kind of scientific studies on Electra because she lived and died at the time of the Trojan war and all we have are stories from almost 800 years later.

Of course Euripides does make a comment about this: "Often a father's blood running in separate veins, makes the two bodies almost mirrors in their form." (Euripides' Electra, line 520)

Question: My middle name is Electra, and ever since I began research on my names, I was facinated with Electra, can you tell me approximately how old was Electra when she accomplished her vengeance?

Answer: She was older than a typical bride but not beyond the age of child-bearing. Perhaps she was 25.

Question: what message was Euripides tring to portray to the Greek audience?

Answer: Violence as the answer to violence is no solution.

Question: i am doing a paper on the different thems thst are presented in the Electra. I have decided to focus on crime and punishment. i am also thinking of talking about restoring one's honr. But i am having trouble thinking of what relevant events i should bring up in the paper. Help me please ASAP

The problem with Electra is that it is hard to know what is a crime. Consider this quote from Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.18.1: "On it is a stone ram, because Thyestes obtained the golden lamb after debauching his brother's wife. But Atreus was not restrained by prudence from retaliating, but contrived the slaughter of the children of Thyestes and the banquet of which the poets tell us. [2] But as to what followed, I cannot say for certain whether Aegisthus began the sin or whether Agamemnon sinned first in murdering Tantalus, the son of Thyestes. It is said that Tantalus had received Clytaemnestra in marriage from Tyndareus when she was still a virgin. I myself do not wish to condemn them of having been wicked by nature; but if the pollution of Pelops and the avenging spirit of Myirtilus dogged their steps so long, it was after all only consistent that the Pythian priestess said to the Spartan Glaucus, the son of Epicydes, who consulted her about breaking his oath, that the punishment for this also comes upon the descendants of the sinner." This is just the first of many disturbing aspects of Clytemnestra's life that makes crime in her case difficult to determine. But you need to look at these various incidents if you wish to come to a conclusion.

Question: are all the characters in euripidies' elecra all equally victious and contemptable?

Answer: No. It is easy to think everyone is vicious and contemptible because everyone is interested in themselves. You cannot get along in the world unless you can put yourselves in the other persons shoes and see how you would act then. The neat thing about the characters in Electra is that these are normally capable people trying to accomplish what they think is good and making mistakes. If you learn from their mistakes then you will not make these mistakes.

Question: In what ways, if any, can Electra be compared to the accepted role model of women in Ancient Greek society?

Answer: She is fairly passive and tied to her family.

Question: what year was the theory formed?

Answer: Electra means amber, and the Greeks knew that amber has special attractive properties. It was not until 1892 that H. A. Lorentz proposed the theory of the electron to explain these properties.

Question: Psychologists fixed on the Oedipus complex because Oedipus married his mother Jocasta. But they need a name for a women in love with her father. This is an honor that Electra received when they named it the Electra complex, but I am not sure that she deserved it.

The Electra complex is a condition in Freudian psychology where a girl develops a guilt because she lacks a visible penis. This causes her to blame her mother and associate with her father. If she actually forms a sexual relation with her father she may develop extremely unproductivie social relations. Fathers that physically bond with their daughters when they are very young are much less likely to produce this difficulty. Daughters should be given the opportunity to develop their own skills so they can see value in their existence and are receiving approval similar to their male peers. Families in which female skills and male skills are both valued will have less difficulty. The fact that there was a sharp division of labor in ancient Greece by sex was not a problem as long as society valued the skills assigned to the females. The problem comes when women are devalued, either by themselves or in comparison to men. Even in a society such as ancient Greece where only men could work outside the home, women could be valued in subtle ways: The size of a dowry, the cost of clothes, value of jewelry, and the worth of the man she could attract.

Question: her daughter

Answer: Electra married Pylades and bore him two sons, Medon and Strophius

Question: Whilst view the web site, you I noticed one question "Question: the root meaning of "Electra"" to which you answered "Answer: The root word is electron which means amber in Greek." Yet I am assured by other souces that the real meaning is unwedded? which makes more sense which one is the correct answer

Answer: The Greek word 'electra' does mean amber according to most sources. It is always helpful if you mention sources, since I cannot find any that say 'electra' means unmarried. Amber is today quite a popular name for sexy young models, so 'amber' may mean unmarried. Amber is valuable for jewelry which is an asset for young women. Is it possible a young woman wore amber to indicate her availability?

Question: What is the Golden Mean???

Answer: Click here

Question: Was Electra a character in a greek myth? Or was she a real woman who did these things?

Answer: Myths are not just made up stories. Myths are stories which someone believes is true. Some myths seem to be fantastic enough to be made up, but many have a basis in fact. The problem sometimes is to determine what the facts are. The ancient dramas, such as Electra, were not just for entertainment. They were written to glorify the workings of the divine and to help people understand how the deities worked in the world. The ancient dramatists were trying to bring the ancient myths to life. What they had were ancient epics describing the myths. The took sometimes very small pieces of these epics and made them into believable plays. They did this by adding material from their own time to the reference from the past.

For example Homer mentions Electra in the Iliad: "Then, when we reach Achaean Argos, wealthiest of all lands, he shall be my son-in-law and I will show him like honour with my own dear son Orestes, who is being nurtured in all abundance. I have three daughters, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and lphianassa, let him take the one of his choice, freely and without gifts of wooing, to the house of Peleus; I will add such dower to boot as no man ever yet gave his daughter,..." Here Agamemnon lists his four children so Electra must be the same person as Laodice. The dramatists may have had another source, because the damatists wrote two plays about Electra which have afew things in common. But much of the material was provided by the playwright. The trick then is to find out which parts are truth.

Question: what are some accomplishments and failures of Electra?

Answer: She failed to bear her brother's burden, but she finally got him exonerated.

Question: If you never had a father in your life, does that mean that you never experienced an electra complex?

Answer: No. The father could be any man, either real or imagined.

Question: how does the electra complex and oedipal coimplex relate to the story Oedipus Rex?

Answer: The plays Oedipus Rex and Electra suggested the names to the Vienese psyschiatrists that defined the complexes.

Statement: The very last answer suggests that it was Vienese psychiatrists that define the Electra Complex. I believe it was Jung who coined the term first, and he was swiss.

Answer: Thanks for the clarification.

Question: Do you know why Sir Arthur Evans's discovery was important?Thanks!!!

Answer: Heinrich Schliemann opened up a new world for archeology by verifying what many people thought were fairy stories made up by fertile imaginations. Sir Arthur John Evans, 1851-1941, English archaeologist, expanded on these discoveries by conducting excavations on the Greek island of Crete, principally at Knossos, and there uncovered the remains of the previously unknown Minoan civilization. This civilization was only hinted at by the Greek myth but the hints were contained in some of the more fantastic myths. What he did, then, was to cause a research in to even fantastic myths for possible historical interpretation. This has expanded the understanding of myths and how they are formed.

Question: electra not a study of distant time place or people but it is in every sense our story

Answer: The ancient Greeks managed to pack a lot of generality into their drama. This is partly true because their way of thinking is so seductive to us that we have adopted it. One result is that their mythology infects our subconscious. They were also able to focus on essentials.

Question: start of wearing clothes by women

Answer: Women started being illustrated in clothes about 3000 BCE except in the fertile crescent where they were clothed about 1000 years earlier. In Greece the breasts of women were not covered until about 1000 BCE.

Statement: Well, according to "Who's Who in Classical Mythology," by I-forget-who-but-you-could-look-it-up-on-Amazon, if you spell it Alectra, which has the same pronunciation, it breaks down to: "a" = no/not and "lectra" which means bed. So, "unbedded," or perhaps, "unwedded," if we apply modern labels to it.

Question: How does Electra fit in with and/or not blend with the traditional role of women in Greek society?

Answer: Electra emotes, plots, and schemes, and does not act. This is consistent with a fairly traditional role of women.

Question: What is Electras attitude, point of view and role in the Coephori?

Answer: See Aeschylus, Libation Bearers Which is also called The Choephori.

Question: About how old was Electra when her mother and lover killed King Agamemnon? An approximate age, please if you can.

Answer: She was old enough to know what the implications were of what was going on. We know this because it was she that spirited away Orestes. She must have been 15 or so when she spirited Orestes away.

Question: why you are so violent

Answer: Victims of violence often reply with violence.

Question: Do you think Euripedes' Electra is mourning more for herself than her father?

Answer: No. She really seeks justice.

Question: 'Euripides' Electra cannot be called a tragedy due to it's unheroic characters and extensive realism. Discuss.'

Answer: This is a possible student question.

Question: Question for 20-pg term paper about Electra

Answer: What was Electra's education most likely?

Question: how did Electra die?

Answer: Her life ended happily so she must have died in her sleep in old age.

Question: Why did ancient Greeks associate women with death?

Answer: At one time everything was associated with women. The main goddess was a woman. She was involved with the cycle of birth and death. When the male gods came to dominate, they did not take over all functions, but left some for women. Because women were involved with birth, it was logical to leave women with death also. The Gorgons, Fates, Furies, Graiae, Persephone, and Hecate are all remnants of this tradition.

Question: What were her powers

Answer: Electra was a mortal with limited powers. She was a princess with loyal subjects and servants so she was not without power. She also had a strong will. She had control of her hands but her mental control was more important.

Question: Why wasn't Electra married to her cousin, Castor of Sparta?

Answer: Castor was dead by the time of the Trojan war. Castor was Helens brother and was much older than Electra.

Question: Did Electra help kill Helen of Troy, if not, did anybody?

Answer: Electra and Orestes tried to kill Helen because she came with Melneleus to Argos on the very day that Orestes killed his mother and her lover. But in the play Orestes by Euripides Apollo wisks Helen away and leaves only Hermione to be threatened by Electra and Orestes.

Since Helen caused the Trojan war by eloping with Paris, and since many lives were lost in this war you would think that someone would blame Helen and seek revenge. And so there are stories to this effect. One story has her outlive Meneleus and get ousted from Sparta by a bastard stepson. She was at least 50 by this time and probably much older. She went to live with Polyxo, an old friend, on the island of Rhodes. Since her husband had been killed in the war Polyxo secretly hated Helen. She disguised her servants as Erinyes and had them hang Helen from a tree. For this reason Helen was worshipped as the Goddess of the Tree in Rhodes. One has to wonder if Helen was hung because she was beautiful or had she turned ugly. There is also the question of the tree. Trees were normally sacred. Would this defile the tree? The fact that she was worshipped suggests that she was deified and not killed. Perhaps she was identified with the nymph of the tree. Helen may have been a demoted goddess and this may have been a reference to her earlier worship. It might have been a myrtle tree associated with Aphrodite. There is also the possibility that Helen was crucified. Among the Jews a blasphemer or criminal was hung on a tree to humiliate him.

It seems as though hanging was used not only as a torture and punishment, but also as a method to deprive the soul of the hanged access to Hades. The belief may have been that because Hades was underground, bodies had to be buried to give souls access. If the body was left hanging then birds would eat it and burial would be denied. Depriving the body of clothes would be a further humiliation. The pecking of birds on Helen's naked and decomposed body would be quite a contrast with the impact of her beauty in times past.

Of course all attempts to deprive Helen of eternity were futile. History has not assigned the results of the Trojan war to any decision that Helen made. It was her beauty that was the factor and in this way she was the tool of Aphrodite. That a woman's body should have a value apart from her moral nature is a dilemma which has long plagued ethics with varied results. Should Helen be blamed for receiving and maintaining a beautiful body? Shouldn't the blame fall on the others who wished to possess this body? Helen is a properly passive female who does little to affect the great scheme of things and so is hard to morally blame. But that she may have become the victim of retribution may be symbolic of other evils that befall women. A woman may be styled a temptress, an instrument of temptation, a natural force that needs control, and yet she need not do anything to earn these epithets. Yet the man who is tempted, or controlling, must act to earn this distinction. Thus the ethics are applied with a double standard.

Question: what is the word centaurs mean in greek?

Answer: Kentauros was originally the name of a primitive Thessalian tribe. It can be transliterated perhaps as without bull.

Question: how did the climate affect the shelter needs of the culture

Answers: A mild climate meant shelters could be simpler and more open.

Question: how is electra portrayed in libation bearers, electra and electra? does she have any power? does she differ from men (physically, mentally, socially) ? does her character tell us anythign about the men who produced her? does she have a specific role in society?

Answer: This is a good paper topic which can be answered using the materials cited.

Question: I have read Euripides' Electra and Sophocles' Electra and i am intriguied by how both play writes show Electra in a different light. I think that Electra is harder in Euripides version, what circumstances different from Sophocles play do u think has made her this way?

Answer: To both Sophocles and Euripides Electra was an historical person. For some reason there were a number of stories about her that both these authors had access to. Each author may have had access to different stories. First the author had to make sense of the story, then he had to fit that information into a play that brought Electra to life. to do this he included minor details that he observed around him. Finally he had to fit the whole play to the moral purpose that he wrote it for. Different playwrights had different purposes in writing a play. There may have even been political motivations.

Question: in contemporary terms do you think Electra "fully recovered" once justice was served, ie. did she regain a sense of normal joy, happiness, etc., or was she a traumatized, sad soul going through the motions of a marriage, motherhood, etc.

Answer: Electra lived during very difficult times. One theory has it that myths are formulated during stressful times. The explosion of the valcano at Thera may have done this. Half, or more, of the population was destroyed. The political scene was upended, and people had to struggle to survive. Yet 'necessity is the mother of invention" and the Greek people responded very well. One result was stories that are still being retold. Electra seemed to fare better than some. Her brother had trouble with the furies. She had to help him through this difficulty. Later she married and had a family.

Question: Was Electra a mythical person?

Answer: The general thinking is that the works of Homer are not works of fiction, but rather stories that have be passed down through the ages from poet to poet. But many aspects of these stories are hard to support as historical. So we look to archaeological evidence to support the historical aspects of these stories. Some aspects have been supported. But the life of Electra is not supported by archaeological evidence. She is mentioned once in Homer and not in Hesiod. Since she does appear in The Orestea of Stesichorus (640 - 555 BC) it is not likely she is a fictional character of Aeschylus. So she would have to be classifed as a mythical mortal.

One argument against her being a mythical mortal is her name. 'Electra' means 'goddess of light play'. This is a name which identifies a realm that is consistent with the ancient beliefs of the Indo-European Culture. It is generally believed that the goddess and the mortal are two separate beings. The name does not seem to relate to the stories of Electra presented in the ancient Greek Dramas. The names of both Clytemnestra and Penelope both relate to the myths including them. Helen has a name with a meaning similar to Electra and she is believed to be a demoted goddess. There were actually cults that worshipped Helen but Electra does not seem to have collected any cults.

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