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Clytemnestra to Electra: A Translation of Sophocles, Electra 516-551

Hapax Legomenon

Clytemnestra to Electra: A Translation of Sophocles, Electra 516-551

Lucy Van Essen-Fishman, '08

In much of Greek literature, Clytemnestra is the paradigm for subversive female power. In Aeschylus, Clytemnestra vaunts over her murdered husband with all the triumph of an Iliadic hero, and by the end of the Agamemnon, her motives have paled in comparison to her bloodlust. Sophocles, however, lets his Clytemnestra defend herself, and when she does so, she nearly drowns out Electra's reply.
In translating this speech, I was mainly concerned with the bitterness and urgency of Clytemnestra's justification. At the beginning of the speech, Clytemnestra's frustration with her stubbornly grieving daughter comes out clearly both in her phrasing and in the way she moves to defend herself without any accusation from Electra. This fight is an old one; mother and daughter have surely been rehashing this same conversation since the death of Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra still needs to prove herself. This need, however, stretches beyond this scene from Sophocles; when an iconic character like Clytemnestra goes on the defensive, she must try to defend herself from the myth itself and from a great deal of literature to come.

* * * * *

Roaming out and about again, it seems?
Indeed, Aegisthus isn't here to hold you back
lest you should stain our name beyond the gates;
and, now he's gone, you've no concern
for me - yes, many times to many different people
you've called me overbold and ruling past my rights,
committing outrage against you and yours.
But I am not so very arrogant - I speak to you
as viciously as you always speak to me.
For your father - and what else? - is your constant pretext,
that because of me he died. Because of me - well
I know it - for these charges I have no alibi.
But Justice took him down, not I alone,
an act you would have helped with, had you sense.
For it was your father, this one you are mourning always,
who dared, all alone out of all the Greeks
to sacrifice your sister to the gods - he did not labor
when he begot her, not as I did, bearing her in pain.
So, show me, then, on what, on whose account
he sacrificed her. Perhaps, you say, for the Argives?
It was not for them to slaughter what was mine.
But, you say, for his brother, Menelaus, he killed her -
was he prepared to pay my price for this?
Did Menelaus not have his own two children,
who were fitter to be killed than mine, of the father
and of the mother for whom the fleet set sail?
Or had Hades some desire for my child,
longing to taste her, more than he longed for them?
Or had your all-destroying father's tenderness
deserted my children for those of Menelaus?
Was this the intent of your rash and wicked father?
I think so, though it's far from your opinion;
and she would say so, too, if the dead could speak.
So, indeed I am not uneasy at what I've done,
but if I seem to you to speak so terribly,
hold your just opinion, then blame your neighbors.


Hapax Legomenon 2008

Hapax Legomenon 2007