In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Euripides' Orestes

  • Introduction
  • Bibliography
  • Editions and Textual Criticism
  • Scholia
  • Commentaries
  • Translations
  • Introductions and General Works
  • Intertextuality
  • Stagecraft
  • Comic Elements
  • Themes and Imagery
  • Meter and Music
  • The Chorus
  • Reception

Classics Euripides' Orestes
Timothy Moore, Efimia Karageorgiou
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0392


Orestes (408 BCE) is the last extant play Euripides produced in Athens before he left for Macedon, and it is widely believed to reflect the poet’s bitterness at the city’s political and moral turmoil during the last years of the Peloponnesian War. It includes a number of unique features, including conspicuous intertextuality and anachronism, touching scenes of friendship, a remarkable portrayal of madness or apparent madness onstage, exciting stage action, Greek tragedy’s longest agon, characters who would seem to draw both sympathy and disgust from the audience, and striking musical effects. It was the most popular tragedy in Antiquity, and it speaks especially well to the concerns and troubles of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The plot begins a few days after Orestes, following the command of Apollo, has killed his mother Clytemnestra. He lies on stage asleep, deathly ill, tormented by the Furies, and the Argive assembly will soon vote on whether to stone him. Electra, who is watching over him, delivers the prologue. After a brief scene with Helen, who has stopped in Argos on her way back from Troy with Menelaus, Electra is joined by a chorus of Argive women, who are sympathetic to Electra and Orestes. Orestes awakes and sees the Furies, but recovers and is consoled by Electra. Orestes’ one hope for salvation is disappointed when Menelaus refuses to help him after a heated debate between Orestes and Tyndareus, the father of Clytemnestra and Helen. Pylades arrives, exiled from his own home by his father because of his role in the matricide, and Orestes decides to go with him to the assembly to plead in his own defense. He is unsuccessful: the assembly orders that both Orestes and Electra must kill themselves. After agreeing to die along with his friends, Pylades proposes that before dying they kill Helen in order to gain vengeance on Menelaus. Electra adds an additional suggestion: that they hold Menelaus’s daughter Hermione hostage so that Menelaus will protect them from the Argives. The gods rescue Helen, but when Menelaus arrives, Orestes threatens to kill Hermione and to burn down the palace, at which point Apollo appears, takes the blame for the matricide, orders Orestes to marry Hermione, and explains that Helen has become a goddess.


Porter 1994 reviews in detail scholarship on Orestes through 1992. Hose 2005 summarizes work from 1970 to 2000. More recent works can be found in L’Année philologique and Gnomon Online.

  • Gnomon Online.

    Collects scholarship in classics since 2005. More up to date than L’Année philologique, but without abstracts.

  • Hose, Martin. 2005. Euripides, Orestes 1970–2000. Lustrum 47: 557–589.

    Reviews scholarship in the last third of the twentieth century, noting that in this period scholarship was divided between those who viewed Orestes and his associates as criminals and those who saw them as driven to desperation by necessity. An addendum (p. 723) lists works from 2001 to 2005. In German.

  • L’Année philologique.

    Collects scholarship in classics since 1924, along with brief abstracts of articles and chapters. Available by subscription. Abstracts in various languages.

  • Porter, John R. 1994. Studies in Euripides’ Orestes. Mnemosyne Supplements 128. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004329249

    Porter’s first chapter (pp. 1–44) is a history of critical views of Orestes, noting that most scholarship has tended to condemn Orestes and his associates.

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