Electra By Sophocles: Chrysothemis The Forgotten Sister

2509 words - 10 pages

In the story of Electra, Chrysothemis “is in many ways the invisible woman” (Choate 183). As stated by Amber Jacobs, “her name has been committed to our mythical corpus, yet with a seeming insignificance” (Jacobs 179). Sophocles is the only Greek playwright who mentions her in his version of Electra’s tale. As the tale goes, Chrysothemis was viewed as the obedient daughter, and in an effort to uphold the story of Electra as well as the social norms of the time, Sophocles depicts Chrysothemis as the perfect daughter — dainty, modest, and obedient. Despite having more scenes than her mother, Clytaemnestra, Chrysothemis was not viewed as the captivating character. Her role was not coveted among actors of the time. She was depicted as the good girl, and her character was considered as static and bland (183). It conformed to guidelines articulated in Aristotle’s Poetics, which stated that a female character in an ideal tragedy should act feminine (Aristotle 60). Hofmannsthal takes a completely different approach on Chrysothemis’s character, molding her in a way that makes her more modern, relevant, and significant to the story. This new approach changes how the relationships in the story are perceived and how Chrysothemis is received by the audience. Despite being the forgotten sister in the House of Atreus, Chrysothemis evolves throughout the various renditions of Electra, going from a reserved, obedient sister in Sophocles’ Electra to an independent, opinionated young woman in Hofmannsthal’s Electra.
Sophocles presents Chrysothemis as a reserved sister who remains obedient to her murderous mother, despite the effects it has had on her lifestyle and family dynamic. Chrysothemis encounters Electra in passing on her way out of the castle give offerings at her father’s grave. After a heated conversation in which Electra questions Chrysothemis’s loyalty to her father, Chrysothemis retaliates, and her choice of words gives us a glimpse of her character. When Chrysothemis insinuates that Electra does not care for her present lifestyle and that she is throwing it all away with her behavior, Electra says, “Do not teach me falseness to those I love” (Sophocles 140), to which Chrysothemis replies, “That is not what I teach, but to yield to authority” (141), implying that yielding to authority is the only way to ensure that their lavish lifestyle will continue. It is evident that Chrysothemis believes that she must remain obedient to her mother, Clytaemnestra, and Aegisthus to avoid being perceived as a threat and losing the lifestyle she has grown up with. She is obedient despite knowing her mother and Aegisthus murdered her father and usurped his throne. She represents the ideal daughter because in no way does she challenge the status quo or rebel against her parents. She is forced to accept her situation and honor her mother and Aegisthus. She represents the ideal female character, for she is passive and does not question her family dynamic, especially...

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