Thursday, December 14, 2017

Electra and Orestes - Image and Word

Philippus Velyn
Electra protecting her young brother Orestes from soldiers
when their father Agamemnon is murdered by their mother Clytemnestra

before 1836
etching (book illustration)
British Museum 

Samuel Cotes
Miniature portrait of Mary Ann Yates as Electra in Voltaire's Oreste
holding an urn she mistakenly believes to contain the ashes of Orestes 

watercolor on ivory
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

We have his remains in a small urn here 
for he's dead, as you see.

.    .    .

If this were all you were, Orestes,
how could your memory
fill my memory,
how is it your soul fills my soul?
I sent you out, I get you back:
tell me
how could the difference be simply
You are nothing at all.
Just a crack where the light slipped through.
Oh my child.
I thought I could save you.
I thought I could send you beyond.
But there is no beyond.
You might as well have stayed that day
to share your father's tomb.
Instead, somewhere, I don't know where 
suddenly alone you stopped 
where death was.
You stopped.
And I would have waited
and washed you
and lifted you
up  from the fire,
like a whitened coal.
Strangers are so careless!
Look how you got smaller, coming back.
All my love
gone for nothing.
Days of my love, years of my love.
Into your child's fingers I put the earth and the sky.
No mother did that for you.
No nurse.
No slave.
I.  Your sister
without letting go,
day after day, year after year,
and you my own sweet child.

 from the Electra of Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson (Oxford University Press, 2001).  Electra's 'speech to the urn' (quoted here only in part) was as famous in antiquity as Hamlet's 'to be or not to be' in the modern West – and it again became a famous set-piece in 18th-century dramatic adaptations of the story, but has since fallen back into an undeserved obscurity.

Anonymous Etruscan gemcutter
Engraved Scarab - Electra and Orestes
5th century BC
British Museum

Henry Daniel Thielcke after Princess Elizabeth of Hesse-Homburg (daughter of George III)
Orestes and his friend Pylades mourning at the Tomb of Agamemnon
hand-colored stipple engraving
British Museum

Meissen Royal Manufactory
Orestes and Pylades
ca. 1790
porcelain statuette
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Barthélemy Roger after Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune
Orestes and Electra
 (illustration for Voltaire's Oreste)

ca. 1798-1801
etching, engraving
British Museum

Francesco Piranesi after Tommaso Piroli
Sculpture group of Orestes and Electra
British Museum

Surely, stranger, you're not feeling sorry for me?

It shocks me, the way you look: do they abuse you?

Yes, in fact. But who are you?

What an ugly, loveless life for a girl.

Why do you stare at me? Why are you so sympathetic?

I had no idea how bad my situation really is.

And what makes you realize that? Something I said?

Just to see the outline of your suffering.

Yet this is only a fraction of it you see.

What could be worse than this?

To live in the same house with killers.

What killers? What evil are you hinting at?

My own father's killers.
And I serve them as a slave. By compulsion.

Who compels you?

Mother she is called. Mother she is not.

How do you mean? Does she strike you? Insult you?

Yes. And worse.

But have you no one to protect you?
No one to stand in her way?

No. There was someone. Here are his ashes.

Oh girl. How I pity the dark life you live.

No one else has ever pitied me, you know.

No one else has ever been part of your grief.

 from the Electra of Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Daniel Chodowiecki
Pylades supports Orestes while Electra kneels
(illustration for Electra by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter)

British Museum

Charles François Adrien Macret after Clément Pierre Marillier
Orestes and Clytemnestra
(illustration for Electre by Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon)
ca. 1783
etching, engraving
British Museum

Anonymous Greek artists working in South Italy
Orestes about to slay Clytemnestra
ca. 340 BC
Paestan red-figure neck amphora
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Anonymous Greek artists working in South Italy
Orestes slaying Clytemnestra
ca. 550-525 BC
terracotta relief
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Anonymous Etruscan atists
Lid - Young Man Reclining
Front Orestes and Pylades slaying Clytemnestra and Aegisthus
5th-4th century BC
alabaster sarcophagus 
British Museum

Anonymous Attic Greek artists
Orestes, Apollo and a Fury
ca. 450-440 BC
red-figure column krater 
British Museum

George Chinnery
Orestes pursued by Furies
British Museum