Electra by Sophocles

Electra by Sophocles Glossary


An Ancient Greek playwright, most famous for writing the Oresteia, and whose work influenced Sophocles.


The Greek god of the truth, light, and the sun. Orestes goes to Apollo's Oracle at Delphi in order to find out how he should be revenged on Clytemnestra earlier in the play, and the Oracle gives him a message from the god.


the capital of Greece today, and a hugely important city in Ancient Greece.


Atreus was Agamemnon's grandfather (and Pelops' father). Thyestes, brother to Atreus (and son of Pelops), was the father of Aegisthus. Therefore the conflict between Agamemnon and Aegisthus plays out within one family - and indeed, the House of Atreus (it is the palace of Atreus in front of which the play takes place) is cursed to destroy itself. The curse on the House of Atreus is the starting point for many of the stories contained in Greek drama.

Delphic oracle

An oracle is someone or something supposed to be able to give infallible information. The Oracle at Delphi gave out prophecies inspired by the god Apollo - and, in the Electra story, the Oracle is usually supposed to have ordered Orestes to go home and avenge his father's death. Sophocles' play opens with Orestes recounting what the Oracle told him.


a sombre, melancholy song, usually associated with being sung on the occasion of a death, or at a funeral.


A libation was a ritual pouring of liquids, as a form of worship of, or an offering to, a god (or gods). Clytemnestra is usually supposed to pour libations at line 636 of Sophocles' play.


A settlement south-west of Athens, in Greece. In the Ancient world, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, and a military stronghold.


Pelops wanted to win the horse race that would decide whether he got to marry Hippodameia. He went to Myrtilus, and asked him to hinder his opponent, Oenamaus, and allow him to win the race: in return, Myrtilus would be allowed the first night with Hippodameia.

Myrtilus replaced Oenamaus' bronze chariot pins with beeswax, which meant that, as the race took place, they overheated, melted, and in the accident which followed, killed Oenamaus, who cursed Myrtilus with his dying breath.

Myrtilus tried to seduce Hippodameia, but she repelled his advances, and Pelops then murdered Myrtilus by throwing him into the sea.


Greek word for 'household', but can also mean 'family' or 'bloodline'


in Greek, literally means "dancing space"). The central, circular area of the Greek stage, usually flat, and a space on which the chorus would perform.


A trilogy of plays by Aeschylus that dramatise the events before Agamemnon's murder right up until Orestes' acquittal by a court of the crime of matricide. The first play, Agamemnon, shows Clytaemestra killing her husband Agamemnon on his return home.

The second play, Libation Bearers dramatises the same part of the story as Sophocles' Electra: Orestes' killing of Clytaemestra in revenge for his father's murder.

The third play, Eumenides deals with Orestes being pursued by the Furies for the matricide he has committed, and his trial for matricide in front of Athena and a jury, where he is eventually acquitted.


the adjective meaning "from Phocis". Phocis was an important district in Ancient Greece.


the Greek for a 'signet': it is Agamemnon's signet which Orestes uses to help Electra recognise him in this play. A signet was a seal associated with only one person.


a song, sung by the Chorus, standing still - usually after they have taken up their place in the orchestra.


A kind of vase, usually without handles, often with a wider center, with a narrow neck and narrow bottom. In classical times, urns were often specifically associated with funerals: and the urn which Orestes brings with him in this play is supposed to contain his ashes.