Castor and Polydeuces
Castor and Polydeuces (the Dioscuri) are the twin sons of Zeus and Leda and the brothers of Clytemnestra and Helen (of Troy). They are immortal (the constellation Gemini) and descend from heaven at Clytemnestra’s death to pronounce the fate of Electra and Orestes. Castor expresses sympathy for humans and says that it is Apollo’s fault that the children of Agamemnon killed their mother. He absolves them of guilt.
Chorus of Argive Women
The Chorus is composed of women sympathetic to Electra and Agamemnon’s descendents. They are women who live outside the city and come to comfort the exiled Electra in the countryside where she lives with her farmer husband. They comment on the action and on the past history of Argos, including the origin of the curse on the House of Atreus, Agamemnon’s father.
Clytemnestra is the mother of Electra and Orestes, the former wife of Agamemnon, who with her lover Aegisthus killed Agamemnon when he returned from the Trojan War. As the play opens, she is the Queen of Mycenae and lives in luxury with Aegisthus while Orestes, the rightful heir, is exiled, and her daughter, Electra, has been banished and married off. Clytemnestra is vengeful, giving as an excuse for killing Agamemnon that he had sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia. She is vain and likes luxury. She also lives in fear because the people do not like her. She dares not show her face at the ceremony that Aegisthus holds, arranging to come later. Euripides gives her a human touch when she expresses some regret to Electra for her behavior, but Electra says her regret is too late and feels her mother deserves death. The Chorus lumps Clytemnestra with her sister, Helen of Troy, as two evil sisters bringing ruin to Greece. Both committed adultery, though later in the play Castor says that Helen was actually innocent, since Zeus made a double of her to go to Troy and start the war. Helen comes back to her husband Menelaus and together, they bury Clytemnestra.
Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon and the one according to Euripides who actually promotes and carries out the murder of her mother, Clytemnestra, for killing her father. In the play Electra acts primarily grieved for the wrongs done to her brother and to her father by the evil Clytemnestra. Her mother helped her lover Aegisthus in the murder and then married him so that the children of Agamemnon were disinherited. She committed a crime against the whole family line and the city-state of Argos. Electra is also personally grieved that her mother threw her out of the palace and consented to her marriage to a peasant farmer, taking away her identity and the future of her children. Though living a life of poverty, Princess Electra is noble in recognizing the virtue of her peasant husband for trying to help her. She voluntarily helps him on the farm though he has not insisted on it. She encourages her brother, Orestes, to carry out revenge on their father’s killers and herself arranges the trap for their mother, Clytemnestra. Euripides makes her the more aggressive of the siblings, actually guiding the sword hand of Orestes as he kills their mother. Later, she is given as a wife to Pylades and leaves Argos.
The messenger is the manservant of Orestes who returns to Electra as soon as Orestes kills Aegisthus to tell her the news. She had threatened to commit suicide if Orestes failed, so he sends word to her about his victory. The messenger has a long piece describing how Orestes tricked Aegisthus and killed him during a festival. Since violence happened offstage in Greek plays, messengers usually reported important events. This is the only place we feel the presence of Aegisthus; his appearance is secondhand through the messenger.
The old man is the former tutor of Agamemnon who is banished from court and now lives the life of a shepherd in the countryside outside Mycenae. He was responsible for saving the life of the child Orestes by taking him to Phocis to be raised by King Strophius. He is the first to recognize that Orestes has returned by seeing the funeral offerings on the tomb of Agamemnon and the only one to recognize the young man by a scar on his face. He helps Electra and Orestes to carry out their plans.
Orestes is the son of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. After his father’s murder by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, he was taken to Phocis to live in exile. As a young man, he receives word from the god, Apollo, through an oracle, that he must return to Argos and kill Aegisthus and his mother for their crime. Orestes is portrayed as a brave young man but with a sensitive moral nature. He cannot bear to see what has happened to his sister Electra in his absence or hear of the sacrilege to his father’s corpse. This stirs up his spirit of revenge, but he hesitates at killing his mother, for matricide is a great sin. It is so difficult for him that he begins to question the gods and the oracle for telling him to do this. Perhaps it was a demon and not a god who gave the command? He gives in to his sister’s plan to kill their mother, and finally, it is she who guides his sword hand while he hides his eyes in his cloak. Immediately he begins to suffer remorse for his act. Castor absolves him of guilt but says he must first go mad pursued by the Furies before he can be cleansed and pronounced innocent by Athena’s court. Orestes thus ends the curse on the House of Atreus.
The peasant farmer is given a noble character by Euripides to show that class is not a determining factor in behavior and righteousness. The farmer is married off to the princess by Aegisthus to assure she will have no noble sons as heirs. The farmer has a right to treat Electra any way he wants to, having been given leave by the king. In his mind, however, he is loyal to Agamemnon and does not want to defile his house or court the revenge of Orestes. He treats his wife with kindness and dignity, excusing her from work and from his bed. Orestes praises his manners and goodness and the farmer is rewarded with riches and taken to Phocis with Pylades and Electra.
Pylades is the son of King Strophius of Phocis, and a cousin of Orestes. They are raised as foster brothers in Phocis. Orestes calls Pylades his only true friend, willing to come back to Mycenae and help him revenge his father’s death. The old man tells Orestes he has no backers but his sister and friend, Pylades. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, Pylades is the one who encourages Orestes to go through with his mother’s murder instead of Electra. He is rewarded with Electra’s hand after the plot succeeds.