1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Electra

ELECTRA (Ἠλέκτρα), “the bright one,” in Greek mythology. (1) One of the seven Pleiades, daughter of Atlas and Pleïone. She is closely connected with the old constellation worship and the religion of Samothrace, the chief seat of the Cabeiri (q.v.), where she was generally supposed to dwell. By Zeus she was the mother of Dardanus, Iasion (or Eëtion), and Harmonia; but in the Italian tradition, which represented Italy as the original home of the Trojans, Dardanus was her son by a king of Italy named Corythus. After her amour with Zeus, Electra fled to the Palladium as a suppliant, but Athena, enraged that it had been touched by one who was no longer a maiden, flung Electra and the image from heaven to earth, where it was found by Ilus, and taken by him to Ilium; according to another tradition, Electra herself took it to Ilium, and gave it to her son Dardanus (Schol. Eurip. Phoen. 1136). In her grief at the destruction of the city she plucked out her hair and was changed into a comet; in another version Electra and her six sisters had been placed among the stars as the Pleiades, and the star which she represented lost its brilliancy after the fall of Troy. Electra’s connexion with Samothrace (where she was also called Electryone and Strategis) is shown by the localization of the carrying off of her reputed daughter Harmonia by Cadmus, and by the fact that, according to Athenicon (the author of a work on Samothrace quoted by the scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius i. 917), the Cabeiri were Dardanus and Iasion. The gate Electra at Thebes and the fabulous island Electris were said to have been called after her (Apollodorus iii. 10. 12; Servius on Aen. iii. 167, vii. 207, x. 272, Georg. i. 138).

(2) Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, sister of Orestes and Iphigeneia. She does not appear in Homer, although according to Xanthus (regarded by some as a fictitious personage), to whom Stesichorus was indebted for much in his Oresteia, she was identical with the Homeric Laodice, and was called Electra because she remained so long unmarried (Ἀ-λέκτρα). She was said to have played an important part in the poem of Stesichorus, and subsequently became a favourite figure in tragedy. After the murder of her father on his return from Troy by her mother and Aegisthus, she saved the life of her brother Orestes by sending him out of the country to Strophius, king of Phanote in Phocis, who had him brought up with his own son Pylades. Electra, cruelly ill-treated by Clytaemnestra and her paramour, never loses hope that her brother will return to avenge his father. When grown up, Orestes, in response to frequent messages from his sister, secretly repairs with Pylades to Argos, where he pretends to be a messenger from Strophius bringing the news of the death of Orestes. Being admitted to the palace, he slays both Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. According to another story (Hyginus, Fab. 122), Electra, having received a false report that Orestes and Pylades had been sacrificed to Artemis in Tauris, went to consult the oracle at Delphi. In the meantime Aletes, the son of Aegisthus, seized the throne of Mycenae. Her arrival at Delphi coincided with that of Orestes and Iphigeneia. The same messenger, who had already communicated the false report of the death of Orestes, informed her that he had been slain by Iphigeneia. Electra in her rage seized a burning brand from the altar, intending to blind her sister; but at the critical moment Orestes appeared, recognition took place, and the brother and sister returned to Mycenae. Aletes was slain by Orestes, and Electra became the wife of Pylades. The story of Electra is the subject of the Choëphori of Aeschylus, the Electra of Sophocles and the Electra of Euripides. It is in the Sophoclean play that Electra is most prominent.

There are many variations in the treatment of the legend, for which, as also for a discussion of the modern plays on the subject by Voltaire and Alfieri, see Jebb’s Introduction to his edition of the Electra of Sophocles.