Classics Sophocles’ Electra
by
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0270

Introduction

Electra is one of seven plays by Sophocles that have survived complete, out of the more than 120 that he wrote. It is probably from toward the end of his career, from 420 BC or later; whether it was earlier than Euripides’ play of the same name is not clear. Sophocles’ drama is based on the myth of Orestes, who killed his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus for having killed his father Agamemnon many years before. Whereas Aeschylus had treated this myth in a connected trilogy (his Oresteia of 458 BC), Sophocles, like Euripides, handles it in a single play; the two later tragedians concentrate on Electra, Orestes’ sister, who has long been awaiting her brother’s return. In Sophocles the emotions of Electra are at the heart of the drama: her longing for Orestes; her anger at her mother; her distraught reaction to the false news of her brother’s death; her joy when she discovers that the news is false; her bitter delight in the vengeance with which the drama ends. The play is notable also for the number of set-pieces that it contains: an agon (debate scene), a messenger speech, a recognition scene, an offstage homicide scene, all handled with originality and élan in this accomplished drama.

Editions and Commentaries

Choosing a good critical edition of this play is vital since the text of the manuscripts of Sophocles is quite corrupt, which leaves a lot of work for the editor. Some editions contain a text accompanied by a commentary explaining the editor’s decisions, and also exploring the play as a work of dramatic literature. Of these, Jebb 1894 is a deservedly classic commentary; Finglass 2007 is relatively up to date; Schmitz 2016 is good for German readers, as is Kaibel 1896; March 2001 is a fair introduction, although the interpretation of the play is rather odd; Kells 1973 is poor, though still in print. The handiest edition of the text without a commentary is Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, although its textual decisions are often wayward; Lloyd-Jones 1997 provides almost exactly the same text, with translation and drastically reduced apparatus. Dawe 1996 is worth consulting, though his textual choices cannot be relied on; Dain 1958 is now out of date. Kamerbeek 1974 contains a poor commentary without a printed text of the play. Xenis 2010 is essential for the scholia.

  • Dain, A. 1958. Sophocle: Tome II, Ajax—Oedipe Roi—Électre. Texte établi par Alphonse Dain et traduit par Paul Mazon. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres.”

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    Edition of the Greek text is poor, but the accompanying translation, for which see Mazon 1958 (cited under Translations), is first-rate.

  • Dawe, R. D. 1996. Sophoclis: Electra. 3d ed. Stuttgart: Teubner.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-663-12368-2E-mail Citation »

    Contains text with detailed apparatus; textual decisions often wayward, but nevertheless often worth a look.

  • Finglass, P. J. 2007. Sophocles: Electra. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 44. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    The most recent big edition, with unsatisfactorily short introduction but detailed commentary; analysis throughout of text, language, stagecraft, and meaning. Adopts a position between the extremes regarding positive versus negative views of Electra and her cause.

  • Jebb, R. C. 1894. Sophocles: The plays and fragments. Part VI, The Electra. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Edition with introduction, facing translation, and commentary. Still rewards consultation, although now rather out of date. Reprinted in Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus. (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004), P. E. Easterling General Editor, with an introduction by J. March.

  • Kaibel, G. 1896. Sophokles: Elektra. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner.

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    Still valuable German edition and commentary.

  • Kamerbeek, J. C. 1974. The plays of Sophocles: Commentaries. Vol. 5, The Electra. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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    Commentary with introduction but no text or apparatus; generally pedestrian.

  • Kells, J. H. 1973. Sophocles: Electra. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Edition with commentary. Generally unhelpful notes; one-sidedly anti-Electra in its interpretation.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H. 1997. Sophocles: Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus. Loeb Classical Library 20. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Text is a slightly revised version of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992; accompanying translation not as reliable as it should be. Corrected revision of 1994 impression.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H., and N. G. Wilson. 1992. Sophoclis Fabulae. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Contains text with apparatus; a standard edition but requires careful handling, since many conjectures which most scholars would not accept are nevertheless accepted into the text. Corrected revision of 1990 impression.

  • March, J. 2001. Sophocles: Electra. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips.

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    Edition with introduction, facing translation, and commentary. Sometimes useful; one-sidedly pro-Electra in its interpretation.

  • Schmitz, T. A. 2016. Sophokles: Elektra. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

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    Edition with introduction, facing translation, and commentary. Good introduction for readers of German without a previous background in tragedy.

  • Xenis, G. A. 2010. Scholia vetera in Sophoclis Electram. Sammlung griechischer und lateinischer Grammatiker 12. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    E-mail Citation »

    New critical edition of the scholia (ancient commentaries) on Sophocles’ Electra; the last (unsatisfactory) edition was produced in the 19th century.

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