ΑρχικήΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Casaula, Eleonora - "Electra Re-visited; Hate and Violence in the Mourning"

Casaula, Eleonora - "Electra Re-visited; Hate and Violence in the Mourning"

Electra Re-visited.

Hate and Violence in the Mourning


By Eleonora Casaula

Electra forms a significant part of the mythological psychoanalitical repertoire and it is posible to consider her as the femenine homonym of Oedipus, in spite of the difference of opinión between Freud and Jung.

Open and blatanly, without the participation of any oracules or subterfuge  Electra loved her father, Agamemnon, without getting to commit incest and hated her mother, Clytemnestra, for murdering him.

I will comment briefly on the background of this tragedy. When the troyan war broke out, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and his brother Menelao, and  other greek kings came together to participate in the fight . During the voyage, they landed and entered a forest watched over by godess Artemisa, where they hunted a deer. This action unleashed the fury of the godess and , in retaliation, she prevented the wind from blowing and therefore the ships remained put. Due to the participation of a fortun-teller the greeks knew that the godess demanded a sacrifice to compensate for the loss she had suffered. In order to  meet her requirement, Agamemnon sent for the oldest and most beautiful of his daughters, Iphigeneia, to be offered as a gift to Artemisa. Duly compensated, the goddess allowed the flete to continue  their voyage towards Troy. When the war was over, Agamemon returned to his kindom and his wife Clytemnestra badly grieved for the sacrifice of Iphigeneia and took vengeance by killing him in conspiracy  with her lover Aegisthus,  who had already taken over the throne of Mycenae. It is in this moment  where the pick of the tragedy that appeals to me is situated. Elektra, the second daughter, deeply affected by her father´s death, gives vent to her feelings of pain and frustration through endless insults and lamentations.

Clytemnestra, her mother, exhausted and frieghtened, decides to expel her from the palace. The life of Electra is held together by the hope that her brother Orestes will return. His murder had been ordered previously to eliminate all male heirs, but he was saved by his tutor. Together the siblings must kill their mother and Aegisthus. In this way, the lineage of the Atridas will be purified from criminal charges and guilts as a consequence of the actions of Clytemnestra, and the government of the kingdom would return to Orestes, Agamemnon ´s legitimate heir.

Upto here  is the tragedy of Sófocles.

Now in 1909, the opera Elektra offers his first in Dresden, with music by Richard Strauss and script by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. This versión, re-visiting the mith, gives the tragedy a particular bias. presented and original slant on this classic tragedy. Approaching the subject from the feminine point of view, reveals with violence and crudeness the  polysemia of the bond between mother and daughter. On this occasion the real issue  is the drama involving the hatread betwiin mother and daughter rather than the love that Electra feels for her father. The male  characters in the opera are restricted in the text. Agamemnon has already dead, Orestes y Aegisthus, have a minor relevance in the text and on the stage. The passionate conflicts among women unwound throughout the whole opera.

In other words, it can be said that von Hoffmannsthal locates the core of the tragedy on the diadic bond whereas the classic tragedy is centered on the Oedipus triad. In this way, we could consider this aesthetic proposal as an earlier vision of the oedipical conceptualization put forward by Melanie Klein.

Both the greek playwright and the psychoanalytical authors inspired in the greek drama to research essential emotional aspects of the human condition, have emphasized the amorous aspect, insisting  in the pain before the loss of the treasured object.

In the Sophokles´s tragedy, for instance, the chorus sings, addressing Electra, "why are you so much in love with pain?

It is thus that we see Electra, personifying a  mourning  lover who has lost her loved one and  at the same time a princess jealous for the honour of her lineage, anxiously seeking the re-establishment of order, even by means of murder.

The opera Elektra, on the other hand, goes much further, and its dramatic power focusses on the scene between mother and daughter in which there is no sign whatsover of love, but merely a heartless confrontation between two women who are intensely frustrated and discharged their anger and hattred on each other.

The mother Clytemnestra, fearfully walks around the palace protected by some maids and slaves. Burdened by infinite charms, she tries to fight against the omens that torment her. During the night, she is afflicted by nightmairs, premonitions of vengeance in her children´s hands of her children. Sick and tired, she seeks advice from fortune teller who know which are the appropiate offerings to relieve her horror.

Chrysothemis, the youngest daughter, represents the counterpart of Elektra within the cast. In contrast with her sister, she wants to forget the inherited responsibility of her parents for all the crimes that  they have committed. She earnestly wants to stop the avalanche of hatred to achieve fullfilment of her femininity by becoming a wife and a mother.

Elektra, on the other hand, has wasted  her youth and deprived of libidinal drive, persevers in a unique motivation: to mantain a hateful relationship with her mother Clytemnestra, at all costs. A deeply letal maternal image  is rooted in her mind, which seems to obstruct the natural development of her femininity. Her vitality is engaged in the realization  of her dreams of vengeance. The agression, dettached from any loving links, reaches momentum  and  becomes a goal in itself

until  it gets to an death´ecstacy.

Now I´m going to transcribe the central dialogue between Clytemnestra and Electra, mother and daughter.


I don´t mind me what happens outside my house?

I live here and I am the owner

And I will receive the appropiate words from you in any moment

you have already betrayed yourself

You know which is the appropiate sacrifice

and also the rites which are suited to me

If you do not want to tell them in freedom,

you must tell them weighed down with chains.

If you don´t want to speak well.fed

you will speak in hanger.

Dreams are something from which one can set free.

I will eventually find those who I have to bleed

in order to sleep again.


¿someone to bleed?

Your own nape of the neck, when the hunter  has captured you!

He chases you and you, run away shrieking.

But it goes after you

He chases you round the house

And pursues you through the house

You  want to go to the right

There is the bed

Towards the left is the bathroon,

Foamy like blood!

(Clytemnestra, voiceless in terror, makes gestures to enter the palace, but Electra stop her by pulling her robes)

he goes to the hunt

Vault, by vault behind  the vanit go to the hunt

And ,I, I, I, I,  I, who has sent him to you

will be like a dog

 behind your track

If you want to find refuge in a cave,

I yump to your side

and thus We take you ahead until a wall blocks you and there


I clairly see a shadow


There is the father.

.. .

Before his feet We make you bow down, 

You wish to scream

But the air strangles the unborn scream


Out of mind, you bend the neck

and you already feel the looking for your point of life


and you listen to your own heart

beating among your ribs


These moments are given to you

To envy all those

who are shackled to the walls

At the bottom of the cisterns

begging for death

to get their liberation.

But you, you are a prisoner of yourself

As in the burning innermost parts

Of a bronze beast and then,

 as now, you cannot scream


The axe falls buzzing and I am there,

and  I at last see  how you die


and that who is still alive

should cry in happiness

and be happy to live.


The drama of Electra seen from the perspective of Winnicott, is presented to us as a story of passions between woman. However, this drama is  shown basically marked by the stamp of the pure masculine element. In fact, the mother "acts", works. Her daughter´s death, Ifigenia, thriggers her actions. She murders her husband as a means of retaliation. She  allies her lover Aegistos, exiles her son, Orestes, punishes Electra and offers sacrifices to the gods. She turn the retaliatory and phobic actino in to the best defence against pain and frustration. Her behaviour is animated by the desire to cut, to undo, to reject, dropping every disposition to provide identity.

Electra herself, also "does", works and manages in her enviroment. She blackmails her sister to make her an accomplice. Symbol of her will to cut is the axe, which killed her father. It is jelously kept  away by herself. She also demands the return of her brother, who being a man s a man with has the necessary strenth to brandish the axe and destroy  his father´s assassins. At the same time that Electra strongly claims her desire for mutilation, she admits her own female fragility which would prevent her from carrying it out.

She needs to merge with the masciluine body of her brother Orestes, to carry out the action that is hindered by her femenility. We could say that she  becames masculine in order to act from there.

The fulfilment of vengeance must show itself implicitly in cut , in division.     Separation of the head from the body by means of beheading with an axe. Electra´s acts reache the climax  in the final scene, when all the murders have alrerady been committed, political and emotional orders have been  restored, she starts a dance. An ecstacy´s dance. Rid of all agressive drive. Mind and Body become sheer  sensorial activity, a physiological exercise that instead of giving life as happens with infants, leads to death. In other words, the starting point of the human development changes into involution.

Thus Electra seems to be telling us that life and vitality only makes sense as long as the will to hate exist. When anger, frustration and vengeance are met, death only remains. The assumption led me to a second observation that seems to be of interest and it can be related with the concept of creativity.

Winnicott has posed that the creative condition is implicit in the notion of vitality, defining creativity as "the condition of being, being alive".

As a counterpart to this notion of essential vigour, he describes a devitalized condition that he calls "complience", understanding this as

a feeling of uselessness in the individual that is linked with the idea that nothing is important and life is not worthliving.

Our heroin, Electra, condamned by her mother to live in the out of palace must eat with the dogs and wander around among the slaves who symbolically washe the spilt blood.

She  has lost all libidinal desire, renounced to marriage, protected her virginity as a banner and denied the bearing of children. Nevertheless, these resignations that, in synthesis represent the rejection to the vital fulfilment of her femenine nature, her vitality seems to be intact.

In spite of her life conditions which are almost inhuman, she doesn´t  die nor gets sick. She doesn´t become insane. Nevertheless she survives, plans and thinks. She thinks about a plan paradoxically distructive constructive: the murder of the Clytemnestra and her lover. Without any possibility of participating in the community, rejected by kings and slaves, she dreams, and longs for a proyect that will directly affects the community: to overthrow the traitors and re-establish the legitimate heir Orestes, and revert the misfortune that has fallen on the Atridas. In full possesión of her faculties she prepares the paln. She summons up her strength, evaluates the needs for allies, tries to involve her  stubborn sister Crisotemis, and waits patiently with the hope that Orestes will return.

From this perspectuive we could think that sheer agresión separated from the condition of vitality has been fed by evil intentions leading creativity.

The organization proposes by Winnicott, namely , a  functioning in the individual in two distinct tracks: vitality- passivity and has been confused by Electra. She lives in order to kill her mother, her food is blood although she also wishes to die.

Unlike the classic vampire who regards the narcicisstic love, before the love of object, Elektra´s greed has limits. Life has lost meaning and even more she  dies in ecstacy when frustration has been satisfied through retaliation.

The agressive intentionality has taken possesión of  her creativity, leading her to live in order to kill and channels agresion towards death while being in possession of strong vitality represented through her dance.

Has complience been reverted into vitality?

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