Specimens of Greek Tragedy
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SPECIMENS OF GREEK TRAGEDY
GOLDWIN SMITH, D.C.L.
AESCHYLUS AND SOPHOCLES
Greek drama, forerunner of ours, had its origin in the festival of
Dionysus, god of wine, which was celebrated with dance, song, and
recitative. The recitative, being in character, was improved into the
Drama, the chief author of the improvement, tradition says, being
Thespis. But the dance and song were retained, and became the Chorus,
that peculiar feature of the Greek play. This seems to be the general
account of the matter, and especially of the combination of the lyric
with the dramatic element, so far as we can see through the mist of an
Thirlwall, still perhaps the soundest and most judicious, though not
the most vivid or enthusiastic, historian of Greece, traces the origin
of the Drama to "the great choral compositions uniting the attractions
of music and action to those of a lofty poetry, which formed the
favourite entertainment of the Dorian cities." This, he says, appears
to have been the germ out of which, by the introduction of a new
element, the recitation of a performer who assumed a character and
perhaps from the first shifted his mask, so as to exhibit the outlines
of a simple story in a few scenes parted by the intervening song of
the Chorus, Thespis and his successors unfolded the Attic Tragedy. Of
the further development of the Drama in the age of Pericles, Thirlwall
"The drama was the branch of literature which peculiarly signalised
the age of Pericles; and it belongs to the political, no less than to
the literary, history of these times, and deserves to be considered in
both points of view. The steps by which it was brought through a
series of innovations to the form which it presents in its earliest
extant remains, are still a subject of controversy among antiquarians;
and even the poetical character of the authors by whom these changes
were effected, and of their works, is involved in great uncertainty.
We have reason to believe that it was no want of merit, or of absolute
worth, which caused them to be neglected and forgotten, but only the
superior attraction of the form which the drama finally assumed. Of
Phrynichus in particular, the immediate predecessor of Aeschylus, we
are led to conceive a very favourable opinion, both by the manner in
which he is mentioned by the ancients who were acquainted with his
poems, and by the effect which it is recorded to have produced upon
his audience. It is clear that Aeschylus, who found him in undisputed
possession of the public favour, regarded him as a worthy rival, and
was in part stimulated by emulation to unfold the capacities of their
common art by a variety of new inventions. These, however, were so
important as to entitle their author to be considered as the father of
Attic tragedy. This title he would have deserved, if he had only
introduced the dialogue, which distinguished his drama from that of
the preceding poets, who had told the story of each piece in a series
of monologues. So long as this was the case, the lyrical part must
have created the chief interest; and the difference between the Attic
tragedy and the choral songs which were exhibited in a similar manner
in the Dorian cities was perhaps not so striking as their agreement.
The innovation made by Aeschylus altered the whole character of the
poem; raised the purely dramatic portion from a subordinate to the
principal rank, and expanded it into a richly varied and well
organised composition. With him, it would seem, and as a natural
consequence of this great change, arose the usage, which to us appears
so singular, of exhibiting what was sometimes called a trilogy, which
comprised three distinct tragedies at the same time."
"The tragic drama belonged essentially to the festivals in honour of
the god Dionysus; being originally a chorus sung in his honour, to
which were successively superadded: First, an iambic monologue; next,
a dialogue with two actors; lastly, a regular plot with three actors,
and a chorus itself interwoven into the scene. Its subjects were from
the beginning, and always continued to be, persons either divine or
heroic above the level of historical life, and borrowed from what was
called the mythical past. 'The Persae' of Aeschylus, indeed, forms a
splendid exception; but the two analogous dramas of his contemporary,
Phrynichus, 'The Phoenissae,' and 'The Capture of Miletus,' were not
successful enough to invite subsequent tragedians to meddle with
contemporary events. To three serious dramas, or a trilogy--at first
connected together by a sequence of subject more or less loose, but
afterwards unconnected and on distinct subjects, through an innovation
introduced by Sophocles, if not before--the tragic poet added a fourth
or satyrical drama; the characters of which were satyrs, the
companions of the god Dionysus, and other historic or mythical persons
exhibited in farce. He thus made up a total of four dramas, or a
tetralogy, which he got up and brought forward to contend for the
prize at the festival. The expense of training the chorus and actors
was chiefly furnished by the choregi,--wealthy citizens, of whom one
was named for each of the ten tribes, and whose honour and vanity were
greatly interested in obtaining a prize. At first these exhibitions
took place on a temporary stage, with nothing but wooden supports and
scaffolding; but shortly after the year 500 B.C., on an occasion when
the poets Aeschylus and Pratinas were contending for the prize, this
stage gave way during the ceremony, and lamentable mischief was the
result. After that misfortune, a permanent theatre of stone was
provided. To what extent the project was realised before the
invasion of Xerxes we do not accurately know; but after his
destructive occupation of Athens, the theatre, if any existed
previously, would have to be rebuilt or renovated, along with
other injured portions of the city."
"Thespis was the founder of Attic tragedy. He had introduced a
preliminary system of order into the alternation of recitative and
song, into the business of the actor, and into the management of dress
and stage. Solon was said to have disliked the art of Thespis,
regarding as dangerous the violent excitement of feelings by means of
phantastic representation; the Tyrants, on the other hand, encouraged
this new popular diversion; it suited their policy that the poor
should be entertained at the expense of the rich; the competition of
rival tragic choirs was introduced; and the stage near the black
poplar on the market-place became a centre of the festive merry-
makings in Attica."
Curtius thinks that Pisistratus, as a popular usurper and opponent of
the aristocracy, encouraged the worship of the popular god Dionysus
with the Tragic Chorus, and he gives Pisistratus the credit of this
glorious innovation. A similar policy was ascribed to Cleisthenes of
Sicyon by Herodotus (v. 67).
The Chorus thus remaining wedded to the Drama, parts the action with
lyric pieces more or less connected with it, and expressive of the
feelings which it excites. In Aeschylus and Sophocles the connection
is generally close; less close in Euripides. The Chorus also
occasionally joins in the dialogue, moralising or sympathising,
and sometimes, it must be owned, in a rather commonplace and insipid
strain. In "The Eumenides" of Aeschylus, the chorus of Furies takes
part as a character in the drama; in "The Suppliants" it plays the
The Drama came to perfection with Athenian art generally, and with
Athens herself in the period which followed the Persian war. The
performance of plays at the Dionysiac festival was an important event
in Athenian life. The whole city was gathered in the great open-air
theatre consecrated to Dionysus, whose priest occupied the seat of
honour. All the free men, at least, were gathered there; and when we
talk about the intellectual superiority of the Athenian people, we
must bear in mind that a condition of Athenian culture was the
delegation of industry to the slave. That audience was probably the
liveliest, most quick-witted, most appreciative, and most critical
that the world ever saw. Prizes were given to the authors of the best
pieces. Each tragedian exhibited three pieces, which at first formed a
connected series, though afterwards this rule was disregarded. After
the three tragic pieces was performed a satyric drama, to relieve the
mind from the strain of tragedy, and perhaps also as a conventional
tribute to the jollity of the god of wine. In the Elizabethan Drama
the tragic and comic are blended as they are in life.
The subjects were taken usually from mythology, especially from the
circle of legends relating to the siege of Troy, to the tragic history
of the house of Atreus, the equally tragic history of the house of
Laius, and the adventures of Hercules. The subject of "The Persae" of
Aeschylus is a contemporary event, but this, as Grote says, was an
exception. Heroic action and suffering, the awful force of destiny and
of the will of heaven, are the general themes of Aeschylus and
Sophocles; passion, especially feminine passion, is more frequently
the theme of Euripides. Romantic love, the staple of the modern drama
and novel, was hardly known to the Greeks, whose romantic affection
was friendship, such as that of Orestes and Pylades, or Achilles and
Patroclus. The only approach to romantic love in the extant drama is
the love of Haemon and Antigone in the "Antigone" of Sophocles; and
even here it is subordinate to the conflict between state law and law
divine, which is the key-note of the piece; while the lovers do not
meet upon the scene. The sterner and fiercer passions, on the whole,
predominate, though Euripides has given us touching pictures of
conjugal, fraternal, and sisterly love. In the "Oedipus Coloneus" of
Sophocles also, filial love and the gentler feelings play a part in
harmony with the closing scene of the old man's unhappy life. In the
"Philoctetes," Sophocles introduces, as an element of tragedy,
physical pain, though it is combined with moral suffering.
A popular entertainment was of course adapted to the tastes of the
people. Debate, both political and forensic, was almost the daily
bread of the people of Athens. The Athenian loved smart repartee and
display of the power of fencing with words. The thrust and parry of
wit in the single-line dialogues (_stichomythia_) pleased them
more than it pleases us. Rhetoric had a practical interest when not
only the victory of a man's opinions in the political assembly, but
his life and property before the popular tribunal, might depend on his
tongue. The Drama was also used in the absence of a press for
political or social teaching, and for the insinuation of political or
social opinions. In reading these passages we must throw ourselves
back twenty-three centuries, into an age when political and social
observation was new, like politics and civilised society themselves,
and ideas familiar to us now were fresh and struggling for expression.
The remark may be extended to the political philosophy which struggles
for expression in the speeches of Thucydides.
The trio of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides has been compared with
that of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and with that
of Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire. The parallel will hardly hold good
except as an illustration of the course of youth, perfection, and
decay through which every art or product of imagination seems to run,
unlike science, which continually advances. The epoch of the Athenian
three, like that of the Elizabethan three, like that of the great
Spanish dramatists, was one of national achievement, and their drama
was thoroughly national; whereas the French drama was the highly
artificial entertainment of an exclusive Court.
Aeschylus (B.C. 525-456) was the heroic poet of Athens. He had fought
certainly at Marathon, and, we may be pretty sure, at Salamis, so that
the narrative of the battle of Salamis in "The Persae" is probably
that of an eye-witness; and that he had fought at Marathon, not that
he had won the prize in drama, was the inscription which he desired
for his tomb. He is of the old school of thought and sentiment, full
of reverence for religion and for eternal law. The growing scepticism
had not touched him. His morality is lofty and austere. In politics he
was a conservative, of the party of Cimon, opposed to the radically
democratic party of Pericles; and his drama, especially the Oresteian
trilogy, teems with conservative sentiment and allusion. His
characters are of heroic cast. He deals superbly with the moral forces
and destiny; though it may be that more philosophy has been found in
him, especially by his German commentators, than is there, and that
obscurity arising from his imperfect command of language has sometimes
been mistaken for depth. His "Agamemnon" is generally deemed the
masterpiece of Greek tragedy. His language is stately and swelling, in
keeping with the heroic part of his characters; sometimes it is too
swelling, and even bombastic. Though he is the greatest of all, art in
him had not arrived at technical perfection. He reminds us sometimes
of the Aeginetan marbles, rather than the frieze of the Parthenon.
In Sophocles (B.C. 495-405) the dramatic art has arrived at technical
perfection. His drama is regarded as the literary counterpart of the
Parthenon. Its calm and statuesque excellence exactly met the
requirements of the taste which we call classic, and seems to
correspond with the character of the dramatist, which was notably
gentle, and with his form, which was typically beautiful. His
characters are less heroic, and nearer to common humanity than those
of Aeschylus. He appeals more to pity. His art is more subtle,
especially in the treatment, for which he is famous, of the irony of
fate. In politics, social sentiment, and religion, while he is more of
the generation of Pericles than Aeschylus, he is still conservative
and orthodox. If he belongs to democracy, it is a democracy still kept
within moral bounds, and owning a master in its great chief, with whom
he seems to have been personally connected. Nor does he ever court
popularity by bringing the personages of the heroic age down to the
common level. He, as well as Aeschylus, is dear to Aristophanes, the
satiric poet of conservatism, while Euripides is hateful.
Euripides (B.C. 480-406) perhaps slightly resembles Voltaire in this,
that he belongs to a different historic zone from his two
predecessors, from Sophocles as well as from Aeschylus, in political
and social sentiment, though not in date. He belongs to a full-blown
democracy, and is evidently the dramatic poet of the people. To please
the people he lays dignity and stateliness aside, brings heroic
characters down to a common level, and introduces characters which are
unheroic. He gives the people plenty of passion, especially of
feminine passion, without being nice as to its sources, or rejecting
such stories as those of Phaedra and Medea, which would have been
alien to the taste, not only of Aeschylus, but of Sophocles. He gives
them plenty of politics, plenty of rhetoric, plenty of discussion,
political and moral, plenty of speculation, which in those days was
novel, now and then a little scepticism. His "Alcestis" is melodrama
verging on sentimental comedy, and heralding the sentimental comedy of
Menander known to us in the versions of Terence. The chord of pathos
he can touch well. His degradation, as the old school thought it, of
the drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and what they deemed his
pandering to vulgar taste, brought upon him the bitter satire of
Aristophanes. Yet he did not win many prizes. Perhaps the vast theatre
and the grand choric accompaniments harmonised ill with his unheroic
style. He is clearly connected with the Sophists, and with the
generation the morality of which had been unsettled by the violence of
faction and the fury of the Peloponnesian war. Still there is no
reason for saying that he preached moral scepticism or impiety.
Probably he did not intend to preach anything, but to please his
popular audience and to win the prize. The line quoted against him,
"My lips have sworn, but my mind is unsworn," read in its place, has
nothing in it immoral. Perhaps he had his moods: he was religious when
he wrote "The Bacchae." As little ground is there for dubbing him a
woman-hater. If he has his Phaedra and Medea, he has also his Alcestis
and Electra. He seems to have prided himself on his choric odes. Some
of them have beauty in themselves, but they are little relevant to the
A full and critical account of the plays will not be expected in the
Preface to a series of extracts; it will be found in such literary
histories as that of Professor Mahaffy. Nor can it be necessary to
dilate on the merit of the pieces selected. The sublime agony of
Prometheus Bound, the majesty of wickedness in Clytaemnestra,
the martial grandeur of the siege of Thebes, or of the battle of
Salamis, in Aeschylus; the awful doom of Oedipus, his mysterious end,
the heroic despair of Ajax, the martyrdom of Antigone to duty, in
Sophocles; the passion of Phaedra and Medea, the conjugal
self-sacrifice of Alcestis, the narratives of the deaths of Polyxena
and the slaughter of Pentheus by the Bacchae, in Euripides, speak for
themselves, if the translation is at all faithful, and find their best
comment in the reader's natural appreciation.
The number of those who do not read the originals will be increased by
the dropping of Greek from the academical course. To give them
something like an equivalent for the original in English is the object
of a translation. As prose can never be an equivalent for poetry, and
as the thoughts and diction of poetry are alien to prose, it is
necessary to run the risks of a translation in verse. To translate as
far as possible line for line, is requisite in the case of the Greek
dramatists, if we would not lose the form and balance which are of the
essence of Greek art. It is necessary also to preserve as much as
possible the simplicity of diction, and to avoid words and phrases
suggestive of very modern ideas. After all, it is difficult, with a
material so motley and irregular as the English language, to produce
anything like the pure marble of the Greek. There are translations of
Greek tragedies or parts of them by writers of high poetic reputation,
which are no doubt poetry, but are not Greek art.
The lyric portions of the Greek Drama are admired and even
enthusiastically praised by literary judges whose verdict we shall not
presume to dispute. To translation, however, the choric odes hardly
lend themselves. Their dithyrambic character, their high-flown
language, strained metaphors, tortuous constructions, and frequent,
perhaps studied, obscurity, render it almost impossible to reproduce
them in the forms of our poetry. Nor perhaps when they are strictly
analysed will much be found, in many of them at least, of the material
whereof modern poetry is made. They are, in fact, the libretto of a
chant accompanied by dancing, and must have owed much to the melody
and movement. In attempting to render the grand choric odes of the
"Agamemnon," moreover, the translator is perplexed by corruptions of
the text and by the various interpretations of commentators, who,
though they all agree as to the moral pregnancy and sublimity of the
passage, frequently differ as to its precise meaning. A metrical
translation of these odes in English is apt to remind us of the
metrical versions of the Hebrew Psalms. A part of one chorus in
Aeschylus, which forms a distinct picture, has been given in
rhythmical prose; three choruses of Sophocles and two of Euripides
have, not without misgiving, been rendered in verse.
The spelling of proper names is in a state of somewhat chaotic
transition which makes it difficult to take a definite course. The
precisians themselves are not consistent: they still speak of Troy,
Athens, Plato, and Aristotle. In the versions themselves the Greek
forms have been preferred, though a pedantic extreme has been avoided.
In the Preface and Introduction the forms familiar to the English
reader have been used.
For Aeschylus and Euripides, the editions of Paley in the _Bibliotheca
Classica_ have been used; for Sophocles, that of Mr. Lewis Campbell.
Prometheus is brought in by the Spirits of Might and Force, Hephaestus
accompanying them. Lines 1-113
The Sin of Prometheus. Lines 444-533
Prometheus defies Zeus. Lines 928-1114
Atossa's Dream. Lines 1478-216
The Battle of Salamis and the Destruction of the Persian Fleet. Lines
THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.
The Champions. Lines 370-673
The Fall of Troy announced at Mycenae. Lines 1-39
The Chorus recounts the Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Lines 177-240
The Meeting of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. Lines 828-947
Cassandra's Prophecy. Lines 1149-1391
Cassandra's Prophecy fulfilled. Lines 1343-1554
Orestes discovers himself to Electra. Lines 158-274
Clytaemnestra pleads to her Son Orestes for her Life in Vain. Lines
THE EUMENIDES (FURIES).
Orestes is tried as a Matricide before the Court of the Areopagus at
Athens. Lines 536-747
OEDIPUS THE KING.
The Plague-stricken Thebans supplicate Oedipus for Relief. Lines 1-77
Oedipus calls upon Tiresias to reveal the Murderer of Laius. Lines
The Death of Polybus announced. The Secret of Oedipus's Incest and
Murder revealed. Lines 924-1085
Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus puts out his Eyes. The Scene
described. Lines 1223-1296
Oedipus bewails his Calamities. His Colloquy with Creon. Lines
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS.
Oedipus and Antigone arrive at Colonus and enter the Consecrated
Ground. Lines 1-110
The Chorus chants the Praises of Colonus. Lines 668-719
Length of Days: Choric Hymn. Lines 1211-1238
The End of Oedipus. Lines 1579-1667
Antigone proposes to Ismene to take a Part in paying the Last Rites to
their Brother Polynices. Lines 1-99
Antigone is caught by the Guard paying Funeral Rites to the Corpse of
Polynices, and is brought before Creon. Lines 384-581
A Colloquy between Creon and his Son Haemon, to whom Antigone is
betrothed. Lines 631-780
The Power of Love: Choric Hymn. Lines 781-800
Antigone is sent to her Death by Creon. Lines 882-928
Creon, having been brought to Repentance by the Denunciations of the
Prophet Tiresias, sets out to bury the Corpse of Polynices and release
Antigone from the Cave of Death. The Issue is recounted by a Messenger
to the Queen, Eurydice. Lines 1155-1243
Tecmessa, a Captive with whom Ajax lives as his Wife, tells the Chorus
of Salaminian Mariners what has befallen their Chieftain. Lines
Ajax bewails his own Fall. Tecmessa tries to comfort him and turn him
from Violent Courses. Lines 430-595
Ajax pretends to be softened, and to be going forth only for the
Harmless Purpose of Purification in a Running Stream, though he is
really going to his Death. Lines 646-692
The Last Speech of Ajax. Lines 815-865
The Tutor of Orestes tells Clytaemnestra a Fictitious Story of her
Son's Death by a Fall in a Chariot Race. Electra is on the Scene.
Electra's Sister Chrysothemis, having found the offerings of Orestes
on his Father's Tomb, brings what she deems glad Tidings to Electra,
who meets her with the Announcement that the Pedagogos has just
brought Certain News of their Brother's Death. Electra, now reduced to
Despair, proposes to Chrysothemis that they should themselves attempt
to slay Aegisthus. Lines 871-1057
Orestes enters with the Urn which, it is pretended, contains his
Ashes. His Recognition ensues. Lines 1097-1231
Deianira imparts the Secret of her Device for regaining the Love of
her Husband, Hercules, and puts the Fatal Robe into the Hands of
Lichas, the Herald, that he may carry it to Hercules. Lines 531-632
Deianira recounts to the Chorus an Alarming and Portentous Incident.
Then Hyllus, the Son of Hercules, comes and announces the Catastrophe.
Ulysses explains the Plan of Action to Neoptolemus, and labours to
bend him to his Purpose. Lines 1-134
Neoptolemus having filched the Bow of Philoctetes, Philoctetes prays
him to restore it. Lines 927-962
Prometheus, the good Titan, has been raising mankind from the
condition of primeval brutes by teaching them the arts of
civilisation. At last he steals fire from heaven for their use.
By this he incurs the wrath of Zeus, who, having deposed his
father Chronos, has become king of the gods. As a punishment
Prometheus is condemned by Zeus to be chained to a rock in the
Caucasus, with an eagle always feeding on his breast. But Prometheus
knows the secret of a mysterious marriage which is destined in time to
take place, and by the offspring of which Zeus in his turn is to be
dethroned. Strong in his consciousness of this, he defies Zeus, who by
the agency of Hermes tries in vain to wrest the secret from him. The
persons of the drama, besides Prometheus, are Hephaestus, better known
by his Latin name of Vulcan, Might and Force personified, Hermes the
messenger of Heaven, and the wandering Io. The chorus consists of sea-
nymphs, who sympathise with the suffering Prometheus. This drama is a
sublime enigma. Aeschylus was conservative and deeply religious. How
could he write a play the hero of which is a benefactor of man
struggling against the tyranny of the king of the gods, and the sequel
of which found a fit and congenial composer in Shelley, whose
sentiment and manner the "Prometheus Bound" wonderfully anticipates
and perhaps helped to form? Again, how could the Athenians, in an age
when their piety had not yet given way to scepticism, have endured
such dramatic treatment of the chief of the gods? It is almost as if a
Mystery Play had been presented in the Middle Ages with Satan for the
hero and the First Person of the Trinity in the character of an
oppressor. Perhaps the position of Zeus in the drama as a usurper may,
in some degree, have softened the religious effect.
* * * * *
Prometheus is brought in by the Spirits of Might and Force,
Hephaestus accompanying them.
SCENE: _The Caucasus_.
Unto earth's utmost boundary we have come,
To Scythia's realm, th' untrodden wilderness.
Hephaestus, now it is thy part to do
The Almighty Father's bidding, and to bind
This arch-deceiver to yon lowering cliff
With bonds of everlasting adamant.
Thy attribute, all-fabricating fire,
He stole and gave to man. Such is the crime
For which he pays the penalty to Heaven,
That he may learn henceforth meekly to bear
The rule of Zeus and less befriend mankind.
Spirits of Might and Force, by you the word
Of Zeus has been fulfilled; your task is done.
But I--to bind a god, one of my kin,
To a storm-beaten cliff, my heart abhors.
And yet this must I do, for woe is him
That does not what the Almighty Sire commands.
Thou high-aspiring son of Themis sage,
Unwilling is the hand that rivets thee
Indissolubly to this lonely rock,
Where thou shalt see no face and hear no voice
Of man, but, scorched by the sun's burning ray,
Change thy fair hue for dark, and long for night
With starry kirtle to close up the day,
And for the morn to melt the frosts of night,
Still racked with tortures endlessly renewed,
And which to end redeemer none is born.
Such is the guerdon of thy love for man.
A god thyself, thou gav'st, despite the gods,
To mortals more than is a mortal's due.
And therefore must thou keep this dreary rock,
Erect, with frame unbending, reft of sleep,
And many a bootless wail of agony
Shalt utter. Change of mind in Zeus is none,
Ruthless the rule when power is newly won.
To work! A truce to these weak wails of ruth.
Whom the gods hate why dost thou not abhor--
Him that betrayed thy attribute to man?
Great force have kindred and companionship.
True, but to disobey the Almighty Sire
How canst thou dare? Fearest thou not this more?
Relentless still and pitiless art thou.
Thy wailings are no medicines for his woes;
Then waste no pains on that which profits naught.
O thrice accurs'd this master-craft of mine!
Why dost thou curse it? Simple truth to say,
Thy art is no way guilty of these ills.
Would it had fallen to any lot but mine.
The one thing to the gods themselves denied
[Footnote: In this passage I have retained the old reading eprachthae
with the interpretation of the Scholiast.]
Is sovereignty, for Zeus alone is free.
Too well I know it, and gainsay it not.
Be quick, then, and make fast this sinner's chain,
Lest the Almighty see thee loitering.
Here are the fetters for his arms; behold them.
Grasp him, and with thy hammer round his arms
Strike and strike hard and clench them to the rock.
The work goes on apace and tarries not.
Strike harder, clench, leave nothing loose; his craft,
E'en in extremity, can find a way.
This arm is fixed past any power to loose.
Clench now the other firmly; let him know
That all his cunning is no match for Zeus.
Fault with my work can no one find save he.
Drive then the ruthless spike of adamant
Right through the sinner's breast and see it holds.
Alas, Prometheus! I bemoan thy pains.
Thou loiterest, moaning for the foe of Zeus;
One day thou mayest be moaning for thyself.
Thou see'st a sight most piteous to behold.
I see yon sinner meeting his desert.
Proceed, make fast the fetters round his sides.
Needs must I do it, press me not too hard.
Press thee I will, and shout into thine ear.
Go down and clench the gyves about his legs.
That work with little labour has been done.
Now let thy hammer all the bonds make fast;
The overseer of this thy work is stern.
Thy speech is ruthless as thy looks are grim.
Be thou soft-hearted an thou wilt, but spare
To flout my sternness and my strong resolve.
Let us be gone; the gyves are on his legs.
There revel in thy insolence, there rob
Gods of their attributes to give to man.
Can mortal man in aught thy durance ease?
Ill chosen was the name that thou hast borne.
Foresight it means, but thou dost foresight need
To set thy limbs free from his handiwork.
O glorious firmament; O swift-winged winds,
Ye rivers and ye gleaming ocean waves
Innumerable, and thou great Mother Earth,
Thou, too, O sun, with thy all-seeing eye,
Look how a god is treated by the gods!
See the pains that I must bear,
Even to the thousandth year!
Such the chains that heaven's new king
Forges for my torturing.
Ah me! Ah me! my present woe
Does but the pangs to come foreshow,
Pangs that an end will never know.
Yet hold! The darkness of futurity
Is to my eye not dark, nor can aught come
That I do not foresee. Our destiny
We all must bear as lightly as we may,
Since none may wrestle with necessity.
And yet to speak or not to speak alike
Is miserable. High service done to man--
For this I bear the adamantine chain.
I to its elemental fountain tracked,
In fern-pith stored and bore by stealth away,
Fire, source and teacher of all arts to men.
Such mine offence, whereof the penalty
I pay, thus chained in face of earth and heaven.
* * * * *
_THE SIN OF PROMETHEUS_.
Think not it is from pride or wantonness
That I forbear to speak; my heart is wrung
With looking on these ignominious bonds.
Who was it that to these new deities
Their attributes apportioned? Who but I?
Of that no more; to you as well as me
The tale is known; but list while I recount
How vile was man's estate, how void was man
Of reason, till I gave him mind and sense.
Not that I would upbraid the race of men:
I would but show my own benevolence.
Eyesight they had, yet nothing saw aright;
Ears, and yet heard not; but like forms in dreams,
For ages lived a life confused, nor bricks
Nor woodwork had to build them sunny homes,
But dwelt beneath the ground, as do the tribes
Diminutive of ants, in sunless caves.
Nor had they signs to mark the season's change,
Coming of winter or of flowery spring
Or of boon summer; but at random wrought
In all things, till I taught them to discern
The risings and the settings of the stars;
The use of numbers, crown of sciences,
Was my invention; mine were letters too,
The implement of mind in all its works.
First I trained beasts to draw beneath the yoke,
The collar to endure, the rider bear,
And thus relieve man of his heaviest toils.
First taught the steed, obedient to the rein,
To draw the chariot, wealth's proud appanage.
Nor, before me, did any launch the barque
With its white wings to rove the ocean wave.
These blessings, hapless that I am, have I
Devised for man, and yet device have none
Myself to liberate from these fell bonds.
Sad is thy lot, to thy unwisdom due.
Now, like a bad physician that himself
Has into sickness fallen, thou dost despair
And hast no medicine for thine own disease.
Hear what remains, and thou wilt wonder more
At all the feats of my inventive mind.
Greatest of all was this; when they fell sick
Men had no help, no medicine edible,
Potion or ointment, but for lack of cure
Wasted away and perished, till my skill
Taught them to mix the juice of sovran herbs,
With which they now ward off all maladies.
Of divination many ways I traced,
Laid down the rules for telling which of dreams
Would be fulfilled, and of foreboding sounds
The mystery unfolded. Then I taught
What sights are ominous to wayfarers.
I showed which of the birds that wing the heavens
Were lucky, which unlucky, and what were
Their loves and hatreds and foregatherings.
Then what the flesh of victims signified,
Of its appearances which pleased the gods,
How shaped, how streaked each part behoved to be,
And the burnt offerings on the altar laid,
Thighs wrapped in fat and chine. I read the signs
Of sacrificial flames unread before.
More yet I did; the wealth that lurks for man
In earth's dark womb,--gold, silver, iron, brass,--
Who was it brought all this to light but I?
All others lie who would the honour claim.
In one short sentence a long tale is told
Alone Prometheus gave all arts to man.
Take heed; be not to mortals overkind,
But to thyself in this dire strait unkind.
Good hope have I, one day to see thee stand
Free from those bonds and mate the power of Zeus.
Not yet that consummation fate ordains.
A thousand years of agony must pass
Before my tortured frame puts off this chain.
For skill is weak matched with necessity.
Who, then, is pilot of necessity?
Fates three, and the unchanged Erinnyes.
And have these powers the mastery over Zeus?
Not Zeus himself can baffle destiny.
What is his destiny but endless rule?
I may not tell thee; importune me not.
Dread is the secret that thou hidest thus.
Think of some other question; this to tell
The time is not yet ripe; deep in my breast
The secret must be buried; thus alone
May I from chains and tortures be set free.
* * * * *
_PROMETHEUS DEFIES ZEUS_.
Yet, yet shall Zeus, for all his proud self-will,
Be humbled. On a wedlock he is bent
Whereof the fateful offspring shall one day
Hurl him from sovereignty to nothingness,
And so fulfil the curse old Chronos spake,
When from his immemorial throne he fell.
And this his doom how to escape not one
Of all the gods can rede him saving I.
But to me all is known. Then let him sit
Triumphant while his thunders roll through heaven,
And his hand grasps the flaming thunderbolt;
All his artillery shall not save its lord
From utter shame and ruin bottomless.
Such the antagonist himself arrays
Against himself, dread and invincible,
One who a fiercer than the lightning's flame,
A louder than the thunder's peal shall find,
And wrest the truncheon that makes earth to quake,
Poseidon's trident, from its wielder's hand.
Wrecked on misfortune's rock, he then shall know
How high it is to reign, to serve how low.
Thy wish is father to thy prophecy.
My wish is one with destiny's decree.
Think'st thou that Zeus will e'er his master find?
Ay! and a load harder than mine to bear.
Dost thou not fear to cast such words at Zeus?
What should I fear when I must never die?
But Zeus may yet enhance thine agony.
Prepared for all, his malice I defy.
'Tis wise to bow to the inevitable.
Cringe, if thou wilt, sue, bend the knee to power.
Little reck I of Zeus. Then let him work
His tyrant will for his allotted span.
Not long shall he be monarch of the gods.
But lo! the Almighty's henchman I behold,
That errands bears for this new dynasty;
His lacqueyship must some new fiat bring.
Thou of the crafty soul and bitter tongue,
Sinner, that did'st betray to mortal man
The attributes of gods, stealer of fire,
The Father bids thee tell what wedlock this
That thou dost boast shall hurl him from his throne.
Speak plain, Prometheus, and take heed that I
Have not a second journey, for such shifts,
As well thou seest, turn not the heart of Zeus.
High are the words and full of majesty
For him that runs the errands of the gods.
New are ye, new to rule, and deem your tower
Of puissance proof against calamity.
Yet therefrom two lords I have seen cast out;
A third, him that now reigns, cast out shall see
Most quickly and most foully. Think'st thou I
Will crouch before these gods of yesterday?
Far, far from me that thought of shame. Do thou
The way thou camest measure back with speed,
For to thy question I give answer none.
It was by such self-will before displayed,
That thou did'st pluck these woes upon thy head.
My woes, how great so e'er, I would not change
For servitude like thine; of that be sure.
Better, thou think'st, be bondsman to this rock
Than be the faithful pursuivant of Zeus.
'Tis meet the scorner should be met with scorn.
Thou seem'st to revel in thy present lot.
Revel! I would that I could see my foes
Thus revelling, of whom I count thee one.
Layest thou the blame on me of thy mischance?
I hate, without exception, all the gods
Who my good deeds with injury requite.
Thy words bespeak no common sickness thine.
If hating foes be sickness, I am sick.
Thou wert past bearing wert thou prosperous.
Zeus knows not how to say Alas!
Time in its course can teach us anything.
Yet thee it has not taught to rule thy tongue.
No, else I had not parleyed with a slave.
It seems thou wilt not tell what Zeus demands.
Were I his debtor I the debt would pay.
As though I were a child thou twittest me.
Art thou not sillier than a silly child,
To think that I will tell thee what thou ask'st?
No torture does Zeus know, he has no rack
By which he can my secret wrest from me,
Till from these cruel bonds I am released.
Let him hurl lightnings with his red right hand,
Let him with whirling snow and earthquake shock,
Confound and wreck this universal frame,
Never shall he constrain me to reveal
The child of fate that hurls him from his throne.
Look, will this insolence amend thy lot?
I have well looked, and fixed is my resolve.
Bow thy proud soul, insensate wretch, and do
What wisdom bids in thine extremity.
Waste no more words, thou dost but chide the sea;
Dream not that I can be o'erawed by Zeus,
That I will from my manhood derogate
And sue to him that from my soul I hate,
With womanish uplifting of my hands,
For liberation from these fetters.--Never!
Methinks I spend my eloquence in vain,
For all my prayers nor melt nor move thy heart.
Like a raw colt that pulls against the reins,
Taking the bit between his teeth, art thou.
And yet thy mettle will but weakness prove;
For dogged resolution by itself,
With wisdom unallied, is impotence.
See if thou wilt not to my words give ear,
What stormy billows of resistless woe
Will overwhelm thee. First the Almighty Sire
Will with his thunder cleave this beetling rock,
And bury thee beneath its shattered base,
Within its stony arms enfolding thee;
And many an age shall pass ere thou return
To daylight. Then the winged hound of Zeus,
The ravening eagle with devouring maw,
Shall deeply trench thy quivering flesh and come,
Day after day, an uninvited guest,
To feast upon thy ulcerated heart.
Of this thy agony expect no end
Until some god appears to take on him
Thy load of suffering, and for thee descend
To the dark depths of the dread under-world.
Advise thee then, and deem not that my words
Are feigned, for I in bitter earnest speak.
The lips of the Almighty cannot lie;
Each word they utter surely is fulfilled.
Use then thy forecast and be circumspect,
Nor o'er good counsel let self-will prevail.
As seems to us, Hermes has spoken well,
In that he redes thee put away self-will,
And take far-sighted prudence to thy heart.
Give ear; for one so wise to err were shame.
Well known beforehand was to me
The purport of this embassy.
His foe am I, he is my foe,
And I his worst can undergo.
Then let his forked lightnings flash,
Heaven with his pealing thunder crash:
Let him the wild winds loose and make
Earth to her deep foundation shake;
Bid the swoll'n waves, by tempest driven,
Mount up and drench the stars of heaven;
And let my helpless form be hurled
Headlong to the dark under-world
Midst raging wreck of earth and sky.--
There ends his power, I cannot die.
Madness it is inspires thy thought.
Thy words are words of one distraught.
What here is wanting that can be
Sure token of insanity?
But now, ye ocean nymphs whose eyes
Weep for yon sinner's agonies,
Go hence, the heavens begin to lower,
Go hence, or with its awful stour
The thunder will your souls o'erpower.
Go hence; good Hermes, change thy rede
And I will to thy words give heed.
But ne'er to me such counsel name
As e'en to think upon were shame,
Whate'er Prometheus may betide,
Be mine to suffer at his side.
Of all foul things abhorred by me
The most abhorred is perfidy.
Lay then to heart what now I say,
And think not in destruction's day
On fortune's spite the blame to throw,
Or say that Zeus has wrought your woe.
When thou hast rushed into the net
Of doom for fate by folly set,
Thou wilt thy just reward have met.
Now the dread hour has come: earth reels,
Through heaven the crashing thunder peals,
Forked lightnings blaze about the sky,
The sand in clouds is whirled on high;
From east, from west, from south, from north,
The winds in mad career rush forth,
And elemental battle join;
The welkin mingles with the brine;
Upon me comes in flood and fire
The blast of the Almighty's ire.
Look, holy mother, on this sight;
Look on it, Aether, source of light,
See justice overborne by might.
Xerxes has led the hosts of Asia on the fatal expedition against
Hellas. His mother, Atossa, remaining at Susa, has a fatal dream,
which she recounts to the chorus of aged Persians.
* * * * *
By dreams I have been haunted every night,
Since with his armament my son went forth
To smite the land of the Ionians.
Yet never dream has come so startling clear
As last night's vision; let me tell it thee:--
Methought two women, beauteously attired,
The robes of one in Persian fashion wrought.
Those of her mate in Dorian, met my view.
In stature they surpassed all womankind;
Peerless their forms; sisters they were in blood.
The heritage and dwelling-place of one
Was Hellas, of the other Asia.
Between these two methought a strife arose,
Which when my son perceived, he checked their wrath
And calmed them, and beneath his chariot's yoke
He led them both, and o'er their necks the rein
He stretched. Then of her trappings one seemed proud
And to the bit her mouth obedient lent.
But her companion, like a restive steed,
The harness broke, and, heeding not the bit,
O'erthrew the car and snapped the yoke in twain.
My son falls, and his sire Darius comes
To aid and comfort him, whom when he sees,
Xerxes his garments rends in sign of woe.
Such was my dream. When morning came I rose,
And first the night's pollution purged away
With purifying waters, then I sought
The altar, with my sacrificial train
To lay the gift, which turns the wrath divine,
Of honeyed meal before the powers who save.
Behold an eagle flying in affright
To Phoebus' shrine; fear struck me mute, my friends.
Then lo! a falcon on the eagle swoops,
Assails him with his wings and tears his head
With angry talons, while the mightier bird
Cowers unresisting. Awful 'twas to see,
Awful it is for you to hear. My son,
If well he fares, will boundless glory win,
If ill--yet he no reckoning owes the state;
Let him but live and he is master here.
* * * * *
The battle narrated by a Persian coming from the scene.
Alas! ye cities all of Asia,
Alas! thou Persia, treasure-house of wealth,
How at one stroke has your prosperity
Been overthrown and Persia's glory lost!
Ill-luck has he that evil tidings brings,
Yet needs must I my tale of woe unfold.
Persians, our host has perished utterly.
* * * * * * *
O'erwhelming sorrow has long held me mute.
Disaster such as this transcends all thought,
Bars all enquiry, chokes all utterance.
And yet we mortals must misfortune bear
When heaven ordains. Then, though thy heart be
Calm thee and tell us all, that we may know
Who of our warriors lives, whom we must mourn
Among our chiefs, as having by his death
Left void the station of his high command.
Xerxes himself lives and beholds the sun.
Thy word is sunshine to my sorrowing house;
A cheerful day after a dismal night.
Artembares, that led ten thousand horse,
Lies slain upon the rough Silenian shore;
And Dadaces, that led a thousand more,
Pierced by a spear plunged headlong from his barque;
And Tenagon, Bactria's true son and pride,
Lies on the wave-washed beach of Ajax' Isle.
Lileus, Arsames, Argestes too,
Round the dove-haunted island drifting, struck
Its girdling rocks on fell disaster's day.
Matallus, that from Chrysa came, has fallen,
He that dark horsemen thrice ten thousand led;
The flowing beard that graced his cheek in gore
Steeped unto crimson turned its russet hue.
Arabian Magos, Bactrian Artames,
Die in a strange land, never to return;
And Tharybis, of five times fifty sail
Commander, Lyrna's son, with his fair face
By foul mischance of war has been laid low.
While, bravest of the brave, Syennesis,
Cilicia's admiral, who to the foe
Most trouble gave, has met a glorious doom.
Alas! this overtops the height of woe;
For Persia naught remains but shame and wail.
But now take up thy story, let me hear
What was the number of the Hellenic fleet,
That thus it dared our Persian armament
In battle with encountering prows to brave.
Know that if numbers could have gained the day
Victory was ours, for the Hellenic fleet
Counted in all but thrice a hundred sail,
Of which were ten for swiftness set apart.
But with a thousand galleys Xerxes came--
His muster-roll I know--whereof the ships
For swiftness picked two hundred were and seven.
Think you herein ours was the weaker side?
Some deity against us turned the scale,
And brought confusion on our armament,
The powers of Heaven for Pallas' city fight.
Has Athens then escaped the avenger's hand?
Her walls are scatheless while her men remain.
Recount then how began the naval fight.
Lady, the origin of all our woes
Was the appearance of some evil power.
A man of Hellas from the Athenian fleet
Came forth unto thy son, King Xerxes, said
That, when the darkling shades of night came on,
His countrymen would flee, leaping aboard
Their ships, each as he might, to save their lives.
Which when King Xerxes heard, suspecting not
The Hellene's treachery nor the spite of heaven,
He gives this order to his admirals:--
As soon as daylight faded from the earth,
And darkness overspread the face of heaven,
In three divisions our main force to range,
Barring each outlet and each water-way,
And with the rest to circle Ajax' Isle;
All being warned that if the Hellenes found
A part unguarded and escaped their doom,
Each with his head should pay the penalty.
This fiat he with heart uplift sent forth,
As little knowing what the gods ordained.
Obedient to the word, our seamen all
Prepared their evening meal, then every man
In order to the rowlock lashed his oar.
Soon as the light of evening died away
And night came on, each man who plied the oar
Went to his ship with all the men-at-arms,
And the word passed along the lines of war.
Then they put forth, each in his place assigned,
And through the live-long night the captains kept
Our weary seamen toiling at the oar.
So passed the hours of darkness, yet the fleet
Of Hellas showed no sign of stealthy flight.
But when the white steeds of returning day
Suffused the land and sea with orient light,
From the Hellenic fleet the hymn of war
Pealed forth in unison, and echo loud
Rang out in answer from the rocky isle.
Amazement on the host of Asia fell
And consternation, for no thought of flight
Was in that solemn chant, but courage high,
Desire of battle, hope of victory.
Then did the trumpet, thrilling, fire all hearts.
The word was given, and with concordant sweep
Their dashing oars at once upturned the brine,
And soon their whole armada was in sight.
The right wing first came forth in fair array,
The whole fleet followed and the shout was raised
Through all the lines, "On, sons of Hellas, on;
On, for the freedom of your fatherland,
Your wives, your children, your forefathers' graves,
The temples of your gods; all are at stake."
In answer rang on our side, loud and wide,
The Persian war-cry. Time to lose was none.
At once, encountering with their brazen beaks
The squadrons met. A ship of Hellas first
Charged a Phoenician galley and stove in
Her stern-works; general then the onset grew.
At first the prowess of our Persian host
Made head, but, crowded in the narrow strait,
Our galleys, powerless mutual aid to lend,
Dashed on their consorts with their brazen beaks,
And swept each other's banks of oars away.
Meanwhile the watchful foe, surrounding them,
Charged on the rout; ship after ship went down
Before him, and the sea was lost to sight
Beneath the drifting wrecks and floating dead.
Then all resistance ended, and our ships
Plied one and all their oars in panic flight.
The foe, as 'twere a haul of tunny fish,
With splintered oars and fragments of the wreck
Assailed and slaughtered them; the waters rang
With mingled cries of death and victory,
Till night's dark veil descending closed the scene.
The sum of our disasters, though I spoke
For ten long days, I never could unfold.
Know in a word, so vast a multitude
Has never fallen in one disastrous day.
Alas! a huge wave of calamity
Has broken on our universal realm.
Thou art but half way through this tale of woe,
For a disaster on our army fell
Which twice outweighed all this that I have told.
Can fortune's spite what thou hast told surpass?
Go on, recount this new calamity
Which in thy estimation outweighs all.
The very flower of all our Persian host,
The trusted pillars of our monarchy,
Have met a piteous and a shameful end.
Ah! woe is me for this dire history.
Recount, then, how our noblest warriors fell.
An isle there is in face of Salamis,
Small and without a haven, on whose strand
Dance-loving Pan his measure often treads.
Thither the King despatched these chosen bands
That when from sinking ships crews swam ashore,
They of their foes might make an easy prey,
And their friends rescue from a watery grave,
Ill the event foreseeing. For when heaven
Gave the Hellenes victory on the sea,
At once their bodies they in armour sheathed,
Leaped from their galleys forth, and all the isle
With arms encircled. Outlet for escape
Our hopeless bands had none. A ceaseless storm
Of stones was rained upon them, and the shafts,
Whistling from many a bowstring, scattered death.
At last, combining in one charge, the foe
Fell on them, stabbed them, hacked them limb from limb,
Nor stayed the butchery till the last was slain.
Xerxes, when he such utter ruin saw
From the high throne where, on an eminence
Hard by the sea, he overlooked the scene,
Sent forth a piercing cry and rent his clothes;
Then gave his troops the order to retreat
And headlong took to flight. Now thou dost know
The harvest and the aftermath of woe.
THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.
The unnatural brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, are competitors for
the lordship of Thebes. Eteocles is in possession. Polynices, having
married the daughter of Adrastus, King of Argos, leads an army, raised
by the help of his father-in-law, against Thebes.
In this army there are seven champions. The Argive army is drawn out
in array against the city in seven divisions, each division facing one
of the seven gates of Thebes, and with a champion at its head. The
champions are described to Eteocles by a Theban, who has been sent to
watch the movements of the enemy. Under the name of Amphiaraus lurks a
description of Aristides "the just," the head of the conservative
party to which Aeschylus belonged, whose conscientiousness and
moderation are obliquely contrasted with the revolutionary violence
of the ultra-democratic party headed by Themistocles. The chorus
consists of Theban maidens.
* * * * *
The order of our foemen you shall hear,
And at which gate each champion has his post.
Tydeus stands ready at the Proetian gate,
Fuming, for still the seer forbids to ford
Ismenus, since the omens are not fair.
Thereat the chieftain, mad with warlike rage
As is a snake with heat at noonday, raves;
And on the prudent seer Oeclides heaps
Taunts of faint-heartedness and craven fear.
While thus he storms, wild on his helmet waves,
The shaggy crest threefold, and on his shield
The brazen bells ring out a fearful note.
Upon that shield a proud device he wears,
A firmament all luminous with stars,
While in the centre shines the moon full-orbed,
Empress of constellations, eye of night.
Thus in his boastful panoply he stalks
Along the river panting for the fray,
As a proud charger at the trumpet sound
Frets, paws the earth, and flecks his bit with foam.
Think whom thou hast to cope with this dread chief,
Who of that gate unbarred shall warder be.
My spirit quails at no proud panoply.
Escutcheons wound not, nor will waving crests
Or clashing bells bite without thrust of spear.
This night of which thou tellest on his shield,
Albeit it blaze with all the stars of heaven,
May to the bearer's self prove ominous;
For if death's night should fall upon his eyes
His boastfulness will turn to prophecy,
And his device will have foreshown his doom.
To cope with Tydeus and that post to guard,
I send the gallant son of Astacus,
Whose noble blood is loyal to the rule
Of honour and abhors vainglorious words,
Whose chivalry fears nothing but reproach,
Sprung from that remnant of the Earth-born race,
Which the sword spared, a true son of the soil,
Melanippus. Ares' hand the die will cast,
But nature sends our soldier to the field
To drive the invader from his mother-land.
Heaven shield our country's champion with its might,
Him who will combat for the right,
And guard our warriors all from perils of the fight.
Good fortune on thy chosen warder wait.
Before the Electran gate stands Capaneus,
Whose giant frame o'ertops e'en Tydeus' self.
His vaunts are more than mortal, and he hurls
Against our towers threats which may heaven forfend.
Be it the will of heaven or not, he vows
That he will storm this town, nor Zeus himself
With red right hand shall scare him from his prey.
Of lightnings or of thunderbolts he recks
No more than of the rays of noonday sun.
For his device he bears a naked man
With burning torch in hand, whose legend says
In golden letters, "I will fire this town."
Bethink thee whom thou hast this chief to mate,
Who without quailing will his vaunts withstand.
Why, here we have gain added unto gain.
When pride and folly in the heart abide,
The tongue fails not their presence to betray.
Capaneus threatens what his hand would do,
Scorning the gods, and with unchastened lips,
Madly exulting, vents against high heaven
And heaven's high king his swelling blasphemies.
Surely I trust that on his impious head
The lightning shall be launched more fiery far
Than are the rays of any noonday sun.
To meet him with his braggart menaces
Stout Polyphontus goes, a gallant soul,
Who well can hold the post, so Artemis
And all protecting gods his arm will aid.
Tell us whose lot is at another gate.
Perish the man who would lay low our towers;
Smite him with lightning, kindly powers,
Ere he can storm our home and spoil our virgin bowers.
Hear, then, who has his post at the next gate.
Eteocles is his name, him the third lot,
Forth from the brazen helmet leaping, set
To lead his band against the Eastern gate.
There to and fro he wheels his fiery steeds,
That pant in their caparisons to charge
The portal, and with snorting nostrils proud
Make uncouth music through their mouth-pieces.
Nor lowly the device upon his shield:
A man-at-arms is on a ladder seen
Scaling the wall of a beleaguered town,
And underneath the vaunting legend dares
Ares himself to beat back the assault.
Against this champion you must bid go forth
One that can save our town from slavery.
He goes--is gone, with victory on his helm;
A chief whose boasting is in deeds, not words,
Megareus, of earth-born lineage, Creon's son.
Him shall no snortings of impetuous steeds
Scare from the gate, but either with his blood
He will repay the earth that gave him life,
Or both the warriors and the town to boot
Bear off and with the spoils adorn his home.
Give us some more vainglory; stint not speech.
Good luck with him that guards my city go,
Ill luck with the o'erweening foe.
High is their boast; may Zeus, the avenger, lay them low.
At the fourth gate, where stands Athene's fane
Of Onke hight, another chief appears,
Towering with giant bulk--Hippomedon.
Broad as a threshing-floor his buckler is,
And terror seized me as he whirled it round.
Nor was it any common craftsman's hand
That wrought the emblem which that buckler bears,
A Typhon vomiting with fiery mouth,
Black clouds of smoke, the wavering mate of fire.
And all around his hollow buckler's rim
A coil of twining snakes is riveted.
Loud is his battle-cry. By Ares fired
He like a Maenad storms and raves for fight.
Against this champion's onset guard thee well;
Already rout is threatened at the gate.
The deity herself that has her fane
Hard by the gates, abhorring insolence,
Will ward this deadly serpent from her brood.
But as our man, valiant Hyperbius,
The son of Oenops, to the lists has gone,
Ready at need to brave the risks of war,
In form, in spirit, and in arms alike
Reproachless. Hermes well has matched the pair.
For as each champion is the other's foe,
So are the gods that on their shields they bear:
Hippomedon has Typhon breathing fire,
But on the buckler of Hyperbius
Is Zeus the unconquered, thunderbolt in hand;
And who e'er knew the arm of Zeus to fail?
Such are the patron deities of whom
The weaker are the foe's, the mightier ours.
So will it fare with those they patronise,
If Zeus o'er Typhon has the mastery;
For Zeus, the saviour, on Hyperbius' shield
Blazoned, will save his liegeman in the fight.
The foe of Zeus bearing that form of hate,
By gods and mortals reprobate,
The hell fiend soon, I trust, shall fall before the gate.
So may it be, now to the fifth I come
Whose station is at the Borraean gates,
Hard by the tomb that holds Amphion's dust.
This champion swears by what he higher deems
Than god and dearer than his eyes, his spear,
That he will Cadmus' city storm and sack
In heaven's despite. So vows the wood nymph's son,
That fair-faced stripling, scarcely yet a man,
For on his cheek still blooms the down of youth.
Marshal his mood and fierce his countenance,
And all unlike the maiden name he bears.
Nor does he lack his share of boastfulness,
For on the shield that with its brazen round
His body fenced, he bore our city's shame,
The rav'ning Sphynx, in burnished effigy
Empaled, and grasping in her felon claws
The limbs of a Cadmean citizen;
Which on the bearer drew a shower of darts.
Battle to huckster is not his intent,
Nor to have marched so far and marched in vain.
His name Parthenopaeus, Arcady
His home, Argos his nurse, whom to requite
He threatens that from which heaven save our towers.
Yes, only let their thoughts be paid them home
[Footnote: Two lines in this speech appear to have been lost.]
By the just gods, they with their impious vaunts
Will be consumed and perish utterly.
To cope with thy Arcadian goes a man
Modest in speech but nowise slack in deed,
Actor, his brother of whom last I spake,
Who will not let a tongue without an arm
Within our gates rave to our overthrow,
Nor entrance give the foe, who on his shield
To flout us bears the hated effigy.
His Sphynx, midst rattling darts, will hardly thank
Him that advanced her to our battlements.--
Heaven grant that as I say the event may be.
Thy tidings pierce my fluttering breast, and fright
Makes all my tresses rise upright
At that fell foeman's vaunt; may heaven confound his spite.
Five were accursed; one righteous man succeeds
The seer Amphiaraus, good and brave.
His post is at the Homoloian gate.
Here he reproaches heaps on Tydeus' head,
Calling him murderer and the public bane,
Leader of Argos in all evil ways,
The Furies' pursuivant, henchman of death,
That has Adrastus to his ruin trained.
Thy brother too, stained by his father's fate,
Great Polynices, with accusing face
Turned heavenward, he upbraids and thus he speaks:
"Certes a deed it is to please the gods,
Fair to recount and glorious to hand down,
Thus thy own city to lay low and raze
Her temples with an alien soldiery.
What stream can wash away a mother's curse?
How shall thy country, captive to a foe
By thee set on, requite thee with her love?
For me, this hostile land must be my tomb
And be enriched with my prophetic bones.
Forward! I look for no inglorious grave."
Thus spake the seer as he before him threw
His glittering shield. On it was no device.
Foremost to be, not seem, was still his aim.
His soul is as a plough-land deep and rich,
From which a harvest of good counsels grows.
Against him send some worthy opposite.
He most is to be feared who fears the gods.
Woe worth the day that links the righteous man
To the dark fortunes of iniquity.
In all the world is nothing so malign,
Of fruit so poisonous, as an evil friend.
One day shall ye behold the pious man,
Going on ship-board with an impious crew,
Sink amid sinners reprobate of heaven.
Another day shall ye behold the just,
In an outlawed and godless commonwealth,
Snared like their fellows in the net of doom
And struck by the avenging rod of heaven.
And so this seer, this son of OecleŰs,
A wise, just, blameless, and god-fearing man,
A famous prophet, to an impious host
Against his better judgment misallied
And drawn to march with them whose bourne is hell,
With them must perish; such the stern decree.
Hardly, I think, he will assault the gate;
Not that his heart will faint or arm will fail,
But that he knows he on this field must die,
Unless Apollo's oracle prove false,
Which if he tells not, prudence seals his lips.
Yet shall our champion be stout Lasthenes,
A churlish gate-ward to intruders he,
An aged head upon a youthful frame.
Quick is his eye and nimble is his hand
From the shield's cover to dart forth the spear.
But who shall win the gods alone can tell.
O hear our righteous prayer, ye heavenly powers,
The ruin be the foe's, not ours,
And may the thunder smite him who would storm our towers.
The chief whose post is at the seventh gate
Is thine own brother; hear his direful prayers,
His imprecations on our commonwealth.
He prays that he may mount our battlements,
Be there proclaimed our king, shout victory,
Meet thee, and slay thee, and insult thee slain,
Or, living, drive thee forth a banished man,
Disgracing thee as thou hast him disgraced.
With such fell words and adjurations dire
Of his paternal gods to hear his prayer,
Strong Polynices makes the field resound.
A shield he bears, fair-shaped and newly-wrought,
Whereon a twofold emblem is empaled:
A lady with a stately mien leads on
The golden likeness of a man-at-arms,
The legend says that Justice is her name
And she is bringing back a banished man
To claim his native city and his home.
[Footnote: Four lines, probably spurious, if not interpolated, are
O madness of the wicked, heaven-abhorred!
O hapless race of Oedipus my sire,
Alas! a father's curse is here fulfilled.
But now away with tears, away with wails,
Lest a worse cause of lamentation come.
For Polynices, all too truly named,
[Footnote: The last part of the name means _strife_.]
Soon shall he know what his device portends,
And whether golden letters on his shield,
Vaunt as they may, shall bring the boaster home.
Perchance if Justice, virgin child of Zeus,
Were in his thoughts and deeds, so it might be;
But neither when he issued from the womb,
Nor in his childhood's days, nor in his youth,
Nor since the beard has gathered on his chin,
Has Justice e'er vouchsafed a word to him.
Nor now, when on his native soil he treads
In enmity, is Justice at his side.
Nor could the deity deserve her name
If she could be a miscreant's paramour.
Herein I put my trust, and will myself
Accept this combat; better right has none;
Chieftains alike we meet, brethren we are
And deadly enemies. My armour, ho!
The only complete specimen of a trilogy extant is the "Oresteia" of
Aeschylus, comprising the "Agamemnon," the "Choephoroe" (Mourners),
and the "Eumenides" (Furies). In this series are presented the murder
of Agamemnon on his return from the conquest of Troy, by his queen,
Clytemnestra, and her paramour, Aegisthus; the slaying of Clytemnestra
and Aegisthus by the avenger of blood, Orestes, son of Agamemnon and
Clytemnestra, at the bidding of Apollo; the pursuit of Orestes as a
matricide by the Furies; and his final acquittal and restoration by
the favour of Apollo and Athene. The trilogy is full of political
sentiment and allusion. The last piece, "Eumenides," has a distinct
political purpose. In the murder of Agamemnon in his home, after his
return from his victory over the Asiatic enemies of Hellas, by
Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, the audience could hardly fail to see a
parallel to the persecution of Cimon, the hero of the conservative
party to which Aeschylus belonged, after his victories over the
Persians, by the leaders of the democratic party, Pericles and
* * * * *
_THE FALL OF TROY ANNOUNCED AT MYCENAE, WHERE AGAMEMNON'S PALACE IS,
BY BEACON FIRES._
Grant me, oh gods, deliverance from this toil,
This year-long watch, which, couched upon the roof
Of the Atridae, dog-like I have kept,
Scanning the nightly gatherings of the stars,
Those radiant potentates, that throned on high,
Lead on the changing seasons for mankind.
And now I still am looking for the sign,
The beacon light which is to flash from Troy
The tidings of the city's fall, for so
Ordains the will of our man-hearted queen.
Broken my rest, my couch is drenched with dew,
And by no pleasant dream is visited.
In place of slumber fear waits on me there,
So that my eyes can never close in sleep;
And if to sing or whistle I essay,
In hope to charm away my drowsiness,
Straightway I fall to weeping for this house,
That into evil hands of late has fallen.
Would but the light, that happy tidings bears,
Shine through the dark to end our sufferings.
_(Beacon light appears,)_
Offspring of night, all hail! A glorious day
Thou dost to Argos bring, with many a dance
And song in honour of this victory.
I go to call on Agamemnon's queen
To leave her couch, and forthwith in her halls
Bid the glad voice of jubilation rise
To greet this beacon fire. If true it be
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