A Double Meaning in Sophocles’ Electra 1110–1111 and the Tragedy’s Denouement


  • Josh Beer




trickster, Hermes, curse, Pelopidae, Spartans, wolf-god


In Electra 1111 there is a pun on the word Strophios, suggesting that Orestes is a “trickster”. After examining the differences of the accentuation of the word in the MSS, I consider the significance of the pun for interpreting the denouement of the tragedy. Much of the tragedy provides an intertextual dialogue with Aeschylus’ Oresteia but, in contrast to Aeschylus, the main emphasis of the curse on the family falls on Pelops not Atreus. The tragedy was first performed during the Peloponnesian War. All previous versions of the myth from the 6th century onwards seem to have had a political bias. If we take into account the subtlety of Sophoclean irony, Electra can be read as anti-Spartan. In the Peloponnesian War the Delphic Apollo was pro-Spartan (Thuc. 1.118.3). His oracle, enjoining Orestes to use deceit in his revenge, frames the whole dramatic action. Proverbially, wolves were known for deceit. In several passages of Electra, Apollo is identified as Lykeios wolf-like”, noticeably at l. 1379, before Electra enters the curse-ridden house.