Specimens of Greek Tragedy
Part 2 out of 5
That Troy is taken, as the light proclaims,
My watch the highest throw of fortune's dice
Has cast, and with my lords all must be well.
No more I say, a heavy curb is laid
Upon my lips; these walls, if they had voice,
Would tell their secret; as for me, I speak
To those who know, to others I am mute.
* * * * *
_THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA._
The chorus recounts the sacrifice of Iphigenia, one of the train of
horrors connected with the doom of the house of Atreus.
Wind-bound and suffering dearth, the Achaean fleet
O'er against Calchis lay.
On Aulis' tide-washed shore,
While from the Strymon gales,
Bearing delay and famine on their wing,
Bane of the mariner,
Wasting both hull and rope,
Were wearing out the flower of Argive youth.
Then did the seer proclaim
For that unwelcome wind
A new and cruel cure
In name of Artemis.
Which, hearing, the Atridae with their staves
Smote on the ground and wept.
Then spake the elder King:
"To disobey were dire,
Yet dire it is to slay
My child, the pride and beauty of my home,
And at the altar stain
A father's hand with blood of virgin sacrifice.
Which way is not despair?
How can I prove disloyal to the host,
And this alliance lose?
If for this sacrifice of virgin life,
The wind to lay, heaven calls
So sternly, I obey."
Fate's yoke when he had donned,
Over his spirit came
A dark, unholy change;
Thenceforth he doffed all pity and remorse.
From the heart of man delusion strong,
Parent of evil, casts out virtuous fear.
Unmoved, he slew his child a war to aid
Waged for a woman's wrong
Upon the fleet's behalf.
Her prayers, her calling on her father's name,
Her virgin youth,
Those royal warriors held of no account.
Prayer said, her father bade the ministers
Lift her that, fainting, in her robes sank down
Upon the altar, as it were a kid,
And guard upon her beauteous lips to set
Of forceful silence, lest
A curse might issue from them on the house.
Letting her saffron veil fall on the ground,
She smote each minister of sacrifice
With piteous glances, mute
As is a picture, and in vain essayed
To speak. She many a time
In hospitable hall
Had sung, and with her innocent, chaste voice
Wished to her sire health and prosperity.
What then ensued I saw not nor recount.
The seer's behest was done.
* * * * *
_THE MEETING OF AGAMEMNON AND CLYTAEMNESTRA._
Friends, aged citizens of Argos here,
I will not shrink from speaking of my love,
Since years wear off a woman's bashfulness.
Myself alone can tell the life I led
While my lord lay before the walls of Troy.
Sad, passing sad, the lot of woman left
Lorn of her consort in the lonely home,
And hearing day by day reports of ill;
Every new comer bringing evil news,
And the last worse than him that went before.
Had my lord met all wounds that rumour gave,
His body had been but one net of wounds;
Had he, as oft as rumour blew him, died,
He must have been a three-lived Geryon,
And thrice put on a shroud of funeral earth
Above him, reckoning not the earth below,
Thrice dead, and in three several graves interred.
Driven to despair mid all these dark reports,
By hanging oft I sought to end my days,
And was by others saved and forced to live.
Hence is it that thy child, pledge of our love,
Orestes, is not here to greet his sire,
As had been meet. Let not that trouble thee.
Strophios the Phocian took the boy in trust,
Thine ancient friend in arms, forewarning us
That troublous times might come, should aught befall
My lord, and the unbridled multitude
O'erthrow the senate, as mankind are wont
To trample on the fallen. 'Tis truth I tell.
The very fountains of my tears are dry,
Sorrow no drop hath left, my eyes are sore
Through my night watchings for the beacon light
That should bring news of thee, but brought it not.
A gnat's light whirring broke the dream of thee
That in an hour compressed an age of woe.
Now all this past, from carking sorrow free,
I hail my lord, the watchdog of our fold,
The ship's main stay, the pillar that upbears
A lofty roof, dear as an only child,
Welcome as land to seamen tossed at sea,
As cheerful day after the stormiest night,
As well-spring to the thirsty traveller.
Sweet after careful stress is careless ease.
Such is my salutation to my lord,
Which should not draw on us the evil eye.
Enough we've borne already. Now, beloved,
Step from thy chariot; yet not on the earth
Shall Ilium's glorious conqueror set his foot.
Haste, haste, ye handmaidens, to whom the charge
Was given to spread the ground with tapestry,
And make a purple pathway for my lord,
Whom justice brings to his unlooked for home.
For aught beside, care, lovingly awake,
The gods so willing, shall good order take.
Daughter of Leda, guardian of my home,
Thy speech is as my absence, long drawn out.
Well measured praise from other lips must come;
I pray thee stint thy woman's blandishments,
Nor, like some proud barbarian's minion vile,
Crawl to my feet with abject flatteries.
I would not have thy draperies on me draw
The evil eye; to gods such state belongs,
Not mortals; for a mortal thus to tread
On broidery were to tempt the wrath of heaven.
Pay to me honours human, not divine.
Foot-cloths or broidery need I none to tell
What fame will voice aloud. Discretion still
Is the best gift of heaven, and he alone
Is truly blest who prospers to the end.
Let but this fortune hold, I've naught to fear.
Yet herein yield to her that loves thee well.
Know that I will not swerve from my resolve.
Is it some vow, vowed in an hour of fear?
I well knew my own mind when thus I spoke.
Had Priam conquered, what would he have done?
He, certes, would have trod on tapestry.
Be not affrighted by the tongues of men.
Yet is the people's voice a mighty power.
Who shrinks from envy dares not to be great.
To love contention is not womanly.
Yet the victorious can afford defeat.
Dost thou, too, prize defeat as victory?
Defeat or victory, yield thee at my prayer.
So be it, an thou wilt. Let some one loose
My sandals, lest if, proudly shod with these,
I tread a path so costly, I may draw,
Presumptuous, from above the evil eye.
Great shame it were our substance thus to waste,
Trampling on costly web with sandaled feet.
Of that enough. Now take this stranger in
(_Pointing to Cassandra._)
In kindly wise; who gently use their power
Shall merit mercy in the eye of heaven.
Misfortune, not misdoing, makes the slave.
This damsel, choicest flower of all we won,
The army's gift to me, have I brought home.
Now let me, since my will has bent to thine,
Walk over purple to my royal hall.
There is a sea, there is a boundless sea,
And in its depths is gendered purple dye
Of costliest kind for vestments numberless.
Of this, the gods be thanked, our palace holds
Abundance, want or stint is there unknown.
Purple enow would I have gladly given
To trample in the mire, had oracles
Enjoined to pay such ransom for thy life.
With thee unto the leafless trunk has come
A leafy shelter from the dog-star's heat;
Since thy return to thy beloved hearth,
Our wintry frost shall yield to summer's sun,
And coolness, in the heat that turns the grape,
Reign in the house whose head is there once more.
Zeus, father in whose hands all issues are,
Give issue to thy counsels and my prayer.
* * * * *
Now shall my oracle no more peer forth
As from her virgin veil a bashful bride;
It shall grow clearer as the sky is cleared
By the brisk wind, and like a sunlit wave
Shall mount the billows of calamity.
No more in riddles will I prophesy.
Follow and bear me witness as I hunt,
Upon the trail of immemorial crime.
Within this house a company abides,
Singing in unison no mirthful strain,
A band of revellers that, to fire its heart,
Hath quaffed, not wine, but blood of murdered men,
The Furies that shall never quit these gates.
A hymn they sing, within the haunted hall,
Of the primeval curse, and tell in turn
What loathly vengeance paid a brother's shame.
[Footnote: Alluding to the banquet of Thyestes.]
Say, does my arrow miss or hit the mark?
Am I a begging, babbling soothsayer?
Bear witness on thy oath how well I know,
Untaught, the sinful record of this house.
What virtue hath an oath's solemnity
To make wrong right? Amazement fills my soul
To hear a stranger from beyond the sea
Thus hit the truth as though thou hadst been here.
Apollo bade me be a prophetess.
Was the god smitten with a mortal love?
Shame ever to this hour hath sealed my lips.
Prosperity is always delicate.
A wooer he who well could touch my heart.
Were children then begotten of your love?
I broke my plighted troth to Loxias.
When thou already hadst received the gift?
Yea; I foretold my country all its woes.
How was it Loxias failed to punish thee?
My punishment was ne'er to be believed.
To us what thou foreshow'st seems all too true.
Once more prophetic pangs come over me.
Mark ye those children on the palace there,
In aspect like the spectral shapes of dreams?
Meseems they by a kinsman's sword were slain.
See, in their hands they bear a loathsome feast,
The piteous flesh of which their father ate.
Vengeance is coming, yonder in the lair
A lion lurks, a coward skulking beast,
Plotting against my late returned lord.
My lord, I say, for slavery is my doom.
The army's chief that o'erthrew Ilium
Knows little what yon shameless paramour,
After her long and so fair-seeming speech,
Is bent to do in an accursed hour,
Like a fell fiend lurking in ambush there.
O crime of crimes, a woman slays her mate,--
What can I call her? The most poisonous snake;
A Scylla, with her lair among the rocks,
Lying in wait for luckless mariners;
Death's dam, against her kin implacably
Breathing her venom. What a shout she raised
Of exultation, as for battle won!
She feigns rejoicing at her lord's return.
Believe or disbelieve me; naught I care
That which must come, must come. Thou soon shalt see
And rue the truth of this my prophecy.
Thyestes, feasted with his children's flesh,
Shuddering, I understood, and am appalled
At hearing all so painted to the life.
But for the rest, I wander from the course.
I say thou shalt see Agamemnon die.
Hush, hapless maid, speak no ill-omened words.
Place for well-omened words this work has none.
Not if it come to pass, which heaven forfend.
While thou art praying they prepare to smite.
Where is the man to do so foul a deed?
Ill hast thou understood my prophecy.
By whom and how thy words have not revealed.
And yet I know too well thy country's tongue.
So do our prophets, yet their words are dark.
Ah, me! how fierce the fire, it fills my veins.
Spare me, Apollo, god of Lycia, spare.
Yon lioness that, since her royal mate
Departed, with a caitiff wolf has lain,
Will slay me, and as one that poison brews
Will in the caldron cast her jealousy,
And while she whets the knife to slay her lord
Say she takes vengeance for his lawless love.
Why do I bear on me these mockeries,
This prophet's wand, this fillet round my neck?
Go, lead the way to death; I follow soon;
Go, and adorn some other curse than me.
Behold Apollo's self is stripping me
Of my prophetic garb, and in that garb
Already has he, with unpitying eyes,
Seen me and mine the foeman's laughing-stock.
I had to bear the name of tramp, be spurned
As a poor famished beggar on the street.
And now the prophet to unprophet me
Has led me into this decoy of death,
Where for the altars of my sire, the block
Of butchery soon must my hot life-blood drink.
Yet shall we not fall unavenged of heaven.
Another minister of justice comes,
His sire's avenger on the womb that bore him.
A wanderer banished from his native land,
He shall return to put the coping stone
On murder's pile; for so the gods have sworn,
And his fall'n father's hand shall beckon him.
But why should I, forlorn, bemoan my fate,
Since I have seen Ilium, my fatherland,
Faring as it has fared, and they who dwelt
Therein so worsted in the court of heaven?
Be it accomplished, to my doom I go.
Hear me, ye gates of death, sure be the stroke,
That easily with no long agony
My blood may flow, and the last sleep be mine.
O maiden, thrice unhappy, yet inspired,
If truly, as thy long address imports,
Thou dost foresee thy fate, what bids thee go
As goes a doomed steer to the sacrifice?
Friends, there is no escaping by delay.
And yet of times to die the last is best.
The day has come; naught shall I gain by flight.
Great-hearted maiden, strong is thy resolve.
Not on the happy is such praise bestowed.
Yet to die gloriously is happiness.
Father, alas, for thee and thy brave sons!
How now? What fearful object meets thine eye?
Ah, me! Ah, me!
What means thy shriek? What phantom dost thou see?
There is a smell of murder from that house.
Nay, 'tis the smell of household sacrifice.
It is the odour of a charnel-house.
No savour that of Syrian frankincense.
I go my own and Agamemnon's dirge
To chant within the halls. Good-bye to life.
Not like a foolish bird scared at the bush
Am I. Bear witness, when I am no more,
When for my woman's blood a woman dies,
And for a man ill-wed a man is slain;
With my last breath I crave of ye this boon.
I weep to see thee going to thy doom.
Once more I fain would speak; not to renew
Weak wailings, but to call on yonder sun
And bid him bring the avenger to requite
The cruel murderess of a poor weak slave.
Alas! for man, if in his prosperous hour,
Fate faintly limns the shape of happiness,
Soon comes the sponge and wipes the picture out;
And sad is the beginning, worse the end.
* * * * *
_CASSANDRA'S PROPHECY FULFILLED_.
The doorway of the palace opens and reveals Clytaemnestra within the
portal standing over the corpse of Agamemnon. She has slain him with
an axe in the bath, having entangled him in a sleeveless robe.
Much did I say before to serve the time
Which now to contradict I think no shame.
How else could hate encircle with its toils
The enemy that was a seeming friend,
So that the prey might not o'erleap the net?
Old is the quarrel; over my revenge
Long have I brooded, now it comes at last.
Here where I stand the deed of death was done,
And I so managed, I deny it not,
That he could neither fly nor fend the blow.
As he had been a fish I round him cast,
Like a close net, a rich but deadly robe.
Twice did I strike, twice did he groan, then sank;
And as he lay another stroke I gave,
To make the lucky number, and commend
His soul to Hades, guardian of the dead.
So did his angry spirit pass away,
While over me he threw a jet of blood,
Which gladdened me as doth the rain from heaven
The corn-field in the swelling of the ear.
Elders of Argos, hear! This have I done,
And in this glory, take it as ye will.
To pour a glad libation on the corpse,
Did piety permit, were more than just.
He mixed a bowl of curses for the house,
And what he mixed himself came home to drink.
Amazement fills us at thy hardihood
That thus dost triumph o'er thy murdered lord.
Ye think to deal with a weak woman's heart,
But I, with soul unquailing, to your face
Tell you, approve or damn me as you may,
Here Agamemnon lies, my lord that was,
A corpse that is, the work of this right hand,
Its righteous work. There is no more to say.
Lady, what baleful herb
Of earth or potion dire
Drawn from the flowing ocean, hadst thou drunk,
That on thee thou hast brought the public curse?
Thou hast cast off, cut off;
Thyself will be cast out,
A thing of loathing to our citizens.
Yea, thy award to me is banishment,
And execration, and the people's curse.
But no such measure didst thou mete this man
When recklessly, as it had been a beast,
While in his pastures sheep were numberless,
He sacrificed his child, the dearest child
That I had borne, to charm the Thracian gales.
Him from the land to drive for his foul deed
Thy justice moved thee not. But now I come
Before the bar, the judge is merciless.
I warn thee that thy threats are launched at one
Who, if thou canst in equal combat win,
Will yield; but, should heaven otherwise ordain,
Thou may'st too late be put to wisdom's school.
High, lady, is thy heart,
And haughty is thy speech;
Thy soul with murder is intoxicate;
Upon thy brow is the red stain of blood
Wilt thou, of aid bereft,
As thou hast struck, feel the avenging blow.
Hear while once more my solemn oath I pledge.
By the accomplished vengeance of my child,
By those dread powers whose sacrifice lies there,
I look not to see fear within my halls,
While on the hearth Aegisthus lights the fire
And to his mate is true as he is now.
With him for shield I shall not be afraid.
Low lies the man that did betray my love,
That toy of each Chryseis in the camp;
And with him lies this captive soothsayer,
His faithful leman and his sea-mate too.
For what they did the pair have dearly paid.
One there ye see, the other like a swan,
When she had sung her dying melody,
Fell in her paramour's embrace and lent
Fresh relish to my feast of happiness.
Would that a death, painless, not lingering,
Would on me bring the everlasting sleep,
Since my kind guard,
That for a woman's sake so much
Braved, by a woman's hand has met his end.
O Helen, thou for whom beneath Troy's wall
Myriads were doomed to die,
At last through thee the gout
Of blood which in this house
Was uneffaced, fresh murder has begot.
Pray not for death to come
In ire at this my deed,
With Helen be not wroth
Because her murderous face
Many a bold Danaan slew
And woe unmeasured brought.
Fiend, that dost haunt the hall
Of the Tantalidae,
And in a woman showed
A man's strength to my bane,
See how upon the dead,
Perched like a raven dire,
She chants her impious strain.
Now speakest thou aright,
Calling upon the fiend
That raveneth this race.
From him proceeds that lust
Congenital of blood
That ever craves fresh gore.
A demon dire and fell
Thou to this house
Would'st in dark strain assign.
Ah, me! All comes from Zeus,
Of all things source and cause,
Without whom naught befalls
Mankind. Of all this train
Of woes, what was there not by heaven decreed?
How shall I wail thee, king,
How vent my loyal grief?
In this fell spider's web thou liest low,
Expiring by a stroke
Accursed as no freeman ought to lie,
By treachery struck down
With its two-handed axe.
Charge not on me this deed.
Imagine not that I
Am Agamemnon's queen.
Like to the dead man's wife
The fiend that vengeance takes
For Atreus' ghastly feast
Here hath repaid the debt,
A man for infants slain.
Oh, whither can I turn,
In vain my mind I task.
The house thus wrecked, despair lies every way.
I shudder at this pouring rain of blood,
No more by drops it falls.
Fate for some other murderous deed
On a new whetstone sharpens her knife's edge.
Would earth had swallowed me
Ere in the silver vessel of the bath
I saw my king laid low.
Who will his funeral rites
Perform? Wilt thou be able unabashed,
Having thy husband slain,
To wail for him, and to his injured shade
Requital for such wrong
By unloved service pay?
Not unto thee belongs
This care. 'Twas we that slew,
And we will bury him.
Not from his house shall go
His mourning train.
By the swift-flowing stream
Of lamentation his loved child,
Iphigenia, shall her father meet,
Embrace and fondly kiss.
Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon, has been living beneath the hated
domination of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, the murderer and murderess
of her father. Her brother Orestes, the avenger of blood and the hope
of her house, has been living in banishment, while she has been
looking and longing for his return. At length he returns with his
faithful comrade Pylades, and intimates his presence by placing a lock
of his hair as his offering on Agamemnon's tomb. Electra announces the
discovery to the Chorus of Trojan women, who bear her libation for her
to the tomb of her father, and from whom the play is named.
* * * * *
_ORESTES DISCOVERS HIMSELF TO ELECTRA._
My father's grave has drunk the holy wine;
Now lend your ears to the strange news I bring.
Speak on, my heart thrills with expectancy.
I found this lock of hair upon the tomb.
Who was it, man or maid, that laid it there?
This to divine were not so difficult.
Old as I am on thy young lips I hang.
From what head could the lock be cut but mine?
They that should offer mourning locks are foes.
This lock of hair is wondrous like in hue.
Like to whose hair? 'Tis this I long to learn.
Like, passing like, to hers that speaks to thee.
Think'st thou Orestes sent it secretly?
The lock in hue is like no hair but his.
But how could he adventure to come here?
Perchance he sent the offering to his sire.
This will not staunch the fountain of my woes,
If he is ne'er to set foot in our land.
Not less through me a tide of passion rolled,
And as it were an arrow pierced my breast,
While from my eyes coursed down my thirsty cheeks
The gushing tears, till sorrow's fount was dry,
As on this lock I looked. No citizen
Of ours could own it saving one alone;
Nor was it shred by her the murderess
That but usurps a mother's hallowed name,
To us, her children, so unmotherly.
Surely to say what I would fain believe,
That this fair offering from Orestes comes
Dearest of men, I dare not, yet I hope.
Oh, would it had a voice to speak to me,
And so to end distraction in my soul;
That I might cast it scornfully away,
If it were taken from a hated head.
If from a head I love, that it might pay
With me sad homage to my father's tomb.
The heavenly powers on whom we call well know
With what a sea, like storm-tossed mariners,
We battle; yet, if destiny be kind,
From a small seed a mighty tree may spring.
Then, for a second sign, foot-prints I find
Like to my own in shape and measurement.
For there were two imprints, one of his own,
The other of a fellow-traveller's foot;
And those of his own foot, compared with mine,
In their whole shape exactly correspond.
I am all anguish and bewilderment.
ORESTES (_suddenly entering_).
Pray for whatever else thy soul desires,
And may a like fulfilment crown the prayer.
What prayer of mine now have the gods fulfilled?
Whom thou didst yearn to see is now before thee.
Whom I did yearn to see? What was his name?
Orestes, by thy craving lips pronounced.
In what respect, then, has my prayer been heard?
The bearer of that name beloved am I.
Stranger, is this some trick thou playest on me?
An 'twere, I should conspire against myself.
Sure thou art sporting with my misery.
Sporting with thine were sporting with my own.
And is it to Orestes' self I speak?
Orestes' self, whom seeing thou dost doubt
Thine eyesight, though a lock of hair or prints
Of feet that tallied with thine own could raise
My apparition in thy fluttering heart.
Apply the lock which tallies with thy hair
To this my head from which it was cut off.
Look on this robe, the work of thine own hand,
And trace the figures which thy shuttle wrought.
But calm thee, let not joy distract thy soul,
For near of kin we know is far from kind.
O hope and darling of my father's house,
Seed of redemption, watered with my tears,
Trust thy right arm; it shall win back thy home.
Thou art the fourfold object of my love:
Electra has no father left but thee;
No mother--hateful she who bears that name;
Thou art to me in my lost sister's place;
The brother thou that dost my name uphold;
Only let might and justice and the king
Of gods and men be with thee in the fight.
Zeus, Zeus, look down on what is passing here,
Take pity on the eagle's brood, whose sire,
Trapped in the coils of a most deadly snake,
Was stung to death and left his orphan brood
A prey to hunger. For no strength have they
To bring the quarry home, as did their sire.
In me and my Electra here thou seest
Two eaglets of their sire alike bereft,
And outcasts both from what was once their home.
High honour did our father pay to thee,
Rich gifts he gave thy shrine; his offspring gone,
Who will be left to heap thy altars more?
Thy race of eagles lost, thou wilt have none
To be the herald of thy will to man.
This royal stock blasted, thou wilt have none
To tend thy shrine on days of sacrifice.
Watch o'er us, and the house that now seems fallen
Past hope, may to its ancient greatness rise.
My children, of your line sole trust and stay,
Be silent lest your words be overheard,
And borne by some loose babbler to the ear
Of those in power, whom soon I hope to see
Laid smouldering on the pitchy funeral pile.
My trust is in Apollo's oracle
That bade me set forth on this enterprise,
With high command and threats of dire disease
To gripe my vitals if I failed to wreak
Vengeance upon my father's murderers,
Enjoining me to slay as they had slain,
Taking no fine as quittance for his blood.
For this was I to answer with my life.
And as I would escape the penalties
[Footnote: This passage is corrupt or dislocated, and perplexes the
commentators. I have tried to give the general sense.]
That injured and neglected ghosts demand;
As fell diseases that with cankering maw
Eat the distempered flesh from off the bones,
Madness and panic fears that haunt by night;
Then banishment from human intercourse;
From the libation, from the loving cup,
And from the altar, whence a father's wrath
Unseen should drive the recreant; at the last
Death without honour and without a friend.--
Think ye that I such oracles could slight?
And if I did, the deed must still be done;
For many motives join to set me on:
The gods command, my murdered father calls
For vengeance, and my desperate need impels;
All bid me save our famous citizens,
Troy's glorious conquerors, from the base yoke
Of yonder pair of women; for his heart
Is womanish, if not, we soon will know.
* * * * *
_CLYTAEMNESTRA PLEADS TO HER SON ORESTES FOR HER LIFE IN VAIN._
Alas! my lord is slain, my lord is slain,
My lord is slain; Aegisthus is no more.
Haste and unbar the woman's chamber, haste;
Be stirring, or your aid will come too late.
What, ho! what, ho!
I shout unto the sleeping or the deaf.
Whither has Clytaemnestra gone? What does she?
Now is the queen on peril's sharpest edge,
And like to fall by the avenger's sword.
How now? What means this shouting in the house?
It means that dead men kill and live men die.
Ah me! Too well I can thy riddle guess;
By treason as we slew, we shall be slain.
Fetch me the axe, which well this hand can wield,
And we will strike for death or victory,
For to this mortal issue have we come.
'Tis thee I seek; thy leman has enough.
Ah me! Aegisthus, then, my love, is slain.
Thy love is he? Then shalt thou share his tomb,
And be his faithful consort to the end.
Oh, stay thy hand, my child, and spare this breast,
On which so often thou didst slumbering lie
And suck with baby lips the milk of life.
Say, Pylades, shall nature's plea be heard?
Half of Apollo's best has been fulfilled;
Think on the other half and on thine oath.
Better defy the world than brave the gods.
Thou hast well spoken, and I do assent.
Come in; I'll lay thee at thy leman's side.
He to my father living was preferred,
And now in death his partner thou shalt be,
The guerdon due to thy adulterous love.
I nursed thee; let me at thy side grow old.
What, dwell with thee, my father's murderess?
Blame destiny, my son, for what I did.
Blame destiny for what I now must do.
Hast thou no reverence for a mother's prayer?
That mother ruthlessly cast off her child.
Not cast thee off; but sent thee to a friend.
Twice was I sold, although a freeman born.
What was the price that I received for thee?
To tell thee in plain words I am ashamed.
Tell it, but tell thy sire's transgression too.
Home-keeping wives should not the toilers chide.
'Tis sad for wives to lie without their mates.
Yet wives are fed by those that sweat abroad.
It seems, my child, thou wilt thy mother slay.
Not on my head but thine thy blood will be.
Strike, and a mother's Furies follow thee.
A father's will, if I withhold the blow.
Deaf as the grave is he to whom I wail.
As died my father thou art doomed to die.
My womb too truly has a serpent borne.
No lying prophet was thy dream of fear.
Unnatural was thy deed, so be thy doom.
The ancient Council of the Areopagus, like other primeval councils,
was at once political and judicial. It was the venerable stronghold of
the old Athenian and conservative party to which Aeschylus belonged,
and was at this time being attacked by the radical party under
Pericles and Ephialtes. To save it from its enemies by awakening
national sentiment on its behalf, Aeschylus presents it as the high
court of justice selected on account of its supreme moral authority
totry the grand mythical case of Orestes arraigned by the Furies for
matricide. There is also a good word for the diplomatic connection
between Argos, represented by Orestes, and Athens. Orestes by Apollo's
advice has appealed to the Areopagus. The court consists of Athenian
citizens. Athene in person presides. The Furies appear as the
accusers. They form the Chorus, which in this case plays a part
in the drama. Apollo appears as a witness for his accused votary,
and as responsible for the act which he had commanded. The result is
the acquittal of Orestes by the presiding goddess. The proceedings are
opened by Athene.
* * * * *
Herald, proclaim good order through the host,
Then let the loud Tyrrhenian trumpet's blast
Thrill forth its warning to the multitude.
'Tis meet that while the judges take their seats
All citizens keep silence and give ear
To that which now and for all time to come
I have ordained, that justice may be done.
CHORUS OF FURIES.
(_Seeing_ APOLLO _approach_.)
Rule, Lord Apollo, o'er thy own domain.
What portion hast thou in this cause of ours?
First, as a witness in this cause I come,
To say this man with me took sanctuary,
And that I cleansed him of the stain of blood.
Next, as a party to this cause I come,
Since I was the prime mover of the deed.
Call on the cause, then, and let right be done.
The cause is called, and the word rests with you.
(_To the_ FURIES.)
Let the accuser first be heard and lay
The cause before the court, for so is best.
Many we are, yet brief our speech shall be;
Do thou to questions plain, plain answer give;
And tell us first, didst thou thy mother slay?
I slew my mother, and deny it not.
One bout, then, of our wrestling match is won.
Too soon thou boastest; not yet am I thrown.
Now must thou tell us how the deed was done.
I drew my sword and smote her that she died.
Who was it counselled thee, and set thee on?
His oracle that is my witness here.
Sayest thou the prophet counselled matricide?
He did, and so far I repent me not.
Thou wilt when in the judgment thou art cast.
No fear have I; aid from the dead will come.
Aid from the dead to thee, a matricide?
My mother bore a double taint of crime.
How doubly? let the judges understand.
She slew her consort and my sire in one.
Her death has made her peace, but thou still liv'st.
Why did ye not pursue her while she lived?
Because she was not kin to him she slew.
Am I of kin, then, to my mother's blood?
Wretch, wast thou not beneath her girdle borne,
And dar'st thou to forswear thy mother's blood?
Apollo, now stand forth and testify.
Say, was my mother rightly slain or not?
The deed itself is not by us denied;
Whether't was rightly done or not, judge thou,
That I may plead thy sentence to this court.
I will before this high Athenian court
Bear witness true: the prophet cannot lie;
For never in my seat of prophecy
Spoke I of man, of woman, or of state,
Aught else than the Olympian father bade.
I pray you, mark the force of this my plea,
And yield obedience to the will of Zeus,
For Zeus is mightier than a judge's oath.
Zeus, as thou sayest, inspired this oracle
Which bade Orestes, for his father's death
Take vengeance, reckless of a mother's claim.
'Twas different when a noble warrior fell,
One that the heaven-entrusted sceptre swayed,
Slain by a woman's hand, not with the bow,
As slays the fierce far-darting Amazon,
But in such wise as Pallas and the court
Impanelled to decide this cause shall hear.--
As from the war he happily returned
She met him with perfidious flatteries.
Then in his bath, as to the laver's edge
He came, she, like a canopy, outspread
A robe and smote him tangled in its folds.
By such foul practice died a man of all
Worshipped, the puissant leader of our host.
Such was his murderess; well the tale may touch
The hearts of those who shall pass judgment here.
Zeus, then, it seems, is on the father's side,
Yet Zeus his aged father put in bonds.
How squares that story with thy present plea?
I pray the court to hark to his reply.
O hateful brood, abhorred of all the gods,
He who is bound may be unbound again.
There's many a way to set a captive free;
But when the dust has drunk the blood of man,
Death knows no cure or resurrection.
For death my father hath no remedy,
All else he with his will omnipotent
Sorts as him lists, exhaustless in his power.
Suppose yon wretch acquitted on thy plea,
Can he, polluted with a mother's blood,
At Argos dwell and in his father's home?
What public altar can he use, what guild
Of kinsmen will admit him to their rite?
With this, too, will I deal, and mark me well,
The mother is not parent to the child,
But only fosters that she hath conceived.
The male is the true parent, and his mate
But holds the germ, so it 'scape blight, in trust.
This can I prove by puissant argument.
A father sans a mother there may be.
There stands the daughter of Olympian Zeus,
She ne'er was nurtured in the darkling womb,
Yet could no god in heaven beget her peer.
Pallas, as always my endeavour is
Thy city and thy people to exalt,
So I have sent this suppliant to thy hearth,
That he might be thy ever faithful friend,
And thou might'st count him as a sure ally,
Him and his race hereafter, and this bond
Unbroken through all ages might endure.
The pleadings now are ended, and I call
Upon the panel for a righteous vote.
On our side the last arrow has been shot;
We wait but for the verdict of the court.
What order can I take that will content ye?
Ye all have heard the pleadings in this cause;
Now in your hearts let justice rule the vote.
Ye men of Athens, hear what is ordained
For this first trial of a homicide.
So long as Aegeus' nation shall endure
Upon this hill shall Justice hold her seat.
Here Theseus' foes, the Amazons, did camp
In days of old; here they a fortress built
In rivalry to this new-founded town;
Here sacrificed to Ares, whence the name
Of Ares' Hill; and here, by day and night,
Indwelling reverence and the fear of wrong
Shall keep my people from unrighteousness,
So they abstain from innovation rash.
Foul the clear fountain with impurities,
And of its waters thou canst drink no more.
Hold fast the golden mean, from anarchy
And from a despot's rule alike removed;
Nor cast all awe out of the commonwealth,
For who is righteous that is void of awe?
What now is founded if ye will revere,
Your land and state shall such a bulwark have
As hath no nation in the universe
From Pelops' realm to Scythia's utmost wild.
This counsel I establish incorrupt,
August, high-souled, and ever vigilant
To guard the public weal while others sleep.
Such is my counsel to my citizens
For times to come. Now let the judges rise.
Their ballots take, and a true verdict give
According to their oath; no more I say.
(_One_ FURY _speaking for the rest_.)
I warn ye to respect this company,
Whom else your land may find sore visitants.
I warn ye to respect the oracles
Of Zeus and mine, nor dare to make them void.
Bloodshedding falls not within thy domain;
Thy holy shrine will holy be no more.
Was then my sire misled in that from blood
He cleansed Ixion, first of homicides?
Say what thou wilt of justice, if we miss,
We shall return in wrath to haunt the land.
Both by the new and by the ancient gods
Thou art despised: the victory will be mine.
'Twas thou that didst in Pheres' house cajole
The fates to grant a mortal endless life.
Was it not well to do good unto him
That honoured me, and at his utmost need?
Thou didst, subverting all the rule of eld,
Beguile with wine those ancient deities.
And thou wilt soon, barred of thy cruel will,
Spit forth thy venom, yet not harm thy foe.
Since thy pert youth doth spurn my reverend age.
I wait the issue of this cause in doubt
Whether to lay my curse upon this land.
To me it falls at last to give my vote,
And I my vote will for Orestes give;
No mother bore me, to the male I cleave
In all things saving that I wedlock shun
With my whole heart, and am my father's child.
Therefore, a woman's fate that slew her lord,
The guardian of her home, concerns me not.
Now, if there be a tie, Orestes wins.
Judges, to whom that office is assigned,
Be quick, turn out the ballots from the urns.
Phoebus, kind god, what will the verdict be?
O Night, my sable mother, now look down.
For me salvation or despair is nigh.
For us, fresh veneration or disgrace.
Ye men of Athens, truly count the votes,
Strictly observing justice in the tale,
For want of caution here will work much woe,
While a great house may by one vote be saved.
Thou art acquitted of blood-guiltiness,
For equal are the numbers of the votes.
O Pallas, thou hast saved a royal house!
I was an exile; thou hast brought me home.
And now shall every son of Hellas say,
He is once more an Argive, once more holds.
His father's state, for which my gratitude
Is due to Pallas and to Loxias,
And, lastly, to the all-preserving Zeus,
Who, taking pity on my father's fate,
Saved me from these my mother's advocates.
Now to my home I go; but first I swear
To thee and thine an everlasting oath,
That never from my land shall chieftain come
To lift against this land his martial spear.
Ourselves, though then we in our graves shall be,
Will on the breakers of our covenant
Send such disaster, such perplexity,
Such faintness, and such evil auguries,
That they shall surely rue their enterprise;
But if my people keep the covenant,
And ever true allies to thine remain,
My spirit shall fight with them from the tomb.
Now fare ye well, thou and thy citizens;
Still in war's wrestle may your foemen fall,
And ever on your spears sit victory.
OEDIPUS THE KING.
Oedipus is the son of Laius, King of Thebes, and Queen Jocasta. It had
been prophesied of him, before his birth, that he would kill his
father and lie with his mother. To avert this, when born, he is
devoted by his mother to death by exposure on a mountain. But he is
saved and taken to Polybus, King of Corinth, who adopts him, and whose
son he believes himself to be. Having heard of the prophecy concerning
himself, he leaves Corinth to avoid its fulfilment; but on his road
falls in with Laius, has a quarrel with his attendants, and kills him.
He then goes to Thebes, delivers the Thebans from the Sphinx, by
guessing her riddle, is rewarded with the kingdom, and marries the
widowed Queen Jocasta, his own mother, who bears children to him. The
gods, offended by the presence of murder and incest, send a plague on
Thebes. Oedipus sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to consult the oracle
at Delphi respecting the visitation. The oracle bids the Thebans expel
the murderer of Laius. This leads to an inquiry after the murderer,
and through successive disclosures, in the management of which the
poet exerts his art, to the revelation of the dreadful secret. It is a
story of overmastering fate.
* * * * *
The plague sent by the angry gods is raging at Thebes.
The people are gathered in supplication round the altars before
the palace of Oedipus, who comes forth to them.
My children, progeny of Cadmus old,
Why in this posture do I find you here,
With wool-wreathed branches in your suppliant hands?
The city is with breath of incense filled,
Filled with sad chant, and voices of lament,
Whereof the truth to learn from other lips
Deeming not right, myself am present here,
That Oedipus, the world-renowned, am hight.
Say, reverend sir, since thee it well beseems
To speak for all, what moves this company,
Fear or desire? Know that I fain would aid
With all my power. Hard-hearted I must be
If pity for such suppliants touched me not.
Oedipus, puissant ruler of our land,
Behold us prostrate at thy altars here,
And mark our ages; some are callow boys,
Others are priests laden with years, as I
Am priest of Zeus; others are chosen youths.
The rest, with suppliant emblems in their hands,
Sit in the mart, or at the temples twain
Of Pallas' or Ismenus' prescient hearth.
The city, as thou dost perceive, is tossed
On the o'er-mastering billows, and no more
Can lift her head above the murderous surge.
Her foodful fruits all withering in the germ,
Her flocks and herds expiring on the lea,
Her births abortive, while the fiery fiend
Of deadly pestilence has swooped on her,
Making the homes of Cadmus desolate,
And gluts dark Hades with the wail of death.
An equal of the gods, I and these youths
That here sit on this earth, account thee not;
But we account thee first of men to deal
With visitation or cross accident.
A stranger thou didst bring to us release
From tribute to that cruel songstress paid.
Advantage from our guidance thou hadst none,
'Twas by the inspiration of a god
As we believe that thou didst redeem our State.
Now, Oedipus, thou whom we all revere,
We bow before thee, and implore thy grace
To find some succour for us if thou canst
By heavenly teaching or through human aid.
In men, who by experience have been tried,
We find the happiest fruits of policy.
Come, best of men, lift up our city's head!
Look to thy own renown; thy zeal once shown
Has earned for thee a patriot saviour's name.
Let us not think of thee as of a prince
That raised us up to let us fall again;
But make our restoration firm and sure.
'Twas under happy omens that thou then
Didst succour us; what then thou wast, be now.
Our king thou art; if king thou wilt remain,
Reign o'er a peopled realm, not o'er a waste.
Naught is the bravest ship without her crew,
The strongest fort without its garrison.
Poor children, little needs to tell me that
For which ye come to pray; too well I know
Ye all are sick. And, sick as ye may be,
There is not one whose sickness equals mine.
The grief of each of you touches himself,
And touches none beside: your sovereign's heart
Bears your griefs, and the city's and his own.
Not from a slumber have ye wakened me,
Trust me, I many an anxious tear have shed,
And many a path have tried in wandering thought.
Such remedy as, scanning all, I find
I have applied. Creon, Menoeceus' son
And my Queen's brother, to the Pythian shrine
Of Phoebus I have sent to ask what act
Or word of mine this city will redeem.
And now, as anxiously I mete the time,
My soul is troubled, for, to my surprise,
He has been absent longer than he ought.
But when he comes, a caitiff I shall be
If I do not all that the god ordains.
* * * * *
_THE DAWN OF DISCOVERY_.
Oedipus, having learned from the oracle that the cause of the
wrath of the gods and of the plague is the presence of the
murderer of Laius in the land, sends for the blind prophet,
Tiresias, to tell him who is the murderer. Tiresias, knowing
the secret, is reluctant to reveal it, and an altercation ensues,
Oedipus suspecting that Tiresias has been set on by Creon, the
Queen's brother, who he thinks is intriguing to supplant him in
Tiresias, thou whose thought embraces all,
Revealed or unrevealed, in heaven or earth,
In how sad plight our city is, thy mind,
If not thy eye, discerns. Prophet, in thee
Resides our sole hope of deliverance.
Phoebus, if thou hast not the tidings heard,
Has to our envoys answered, that the plague
Will never leave this city till we find
The murderers of the late King Laius,
And slay them or expel them from the land.
Then, if a way thou know'st, by augury
Or divination, put forth all thy power,
Save this our commonwealth, thyself and me;
Put from us the pollution of this blood.
To thee alone we look; what gifts one has
To use for good is of all toil the best.
Ah! what an ill possession knowledge is
When ignorance were gain. This well I know,
And yet forgot, else had I not come here.
What ails thee that thou bring'st this face of gloom?
Let me go home, for each of us will bear
His burden easiest if so thou dost.
Whatever thou dost know, the voice of right
And call of patriot duty bids thee speak.
Speech is not always opportune; in thee
It is not; thy mistake I would not share.
Oh, by the gods, I pray thee stand not mute!
We all as suppliants kneel in heart to thee.
Then are ye all misguided. As for me,
I tell not that which told would hurt us both.
How! dost thou know and yet refuse to tell?
Wilt thou prove traitor and undo the State?
I will not bring down woe on thee and me.
Press me no more; thy questioning is vain.
O vilest of mankind, for thou would'st move
A stone to righteous wrath, wilt thou not speak
But still stand there unmoved and obdurate?
Thou dost reprove my heart, yet near thine own
Is something that the censor wots not of.
Whose wrath would not be kindled when he heard
Language so hateful to a patriot's ear?
Even if I keep silence, it must come.
That which must come why not disclose to me?
I will speak no word more; then, if thou wilt,
Freely give vent to thy most savage wrath.
Freely my anger shall give utterance
To what I think: I think that in thy mind
This murder was engendered, was thy act
Save the mere blow, and hadst thou not been blind,
I should have deemed thee the sole murderer.
Ha! Then I call upon thee to be true
To thy own proclamation, and henceforth
Abstain from intercourse with these or me,
As he that brings on us the curse of blood.
Hast thou the impudence such calumny
To vent, and dream'st thou of impunity?
I fear thee not; truth's power is on my side.
Whence did it come to thee? not from thy art.
From thee that made me speak against my will.
Speak how? Repeat thy words that I may know.
Didst thou not understand or tempt'st thou me?
Fully I did not. Say it once again.
I say the murderer whom thou seek'st is thou.
Unpunished twice thy slanders shall not go.
Shall I say more, further to fire thy wrath?
All that thou wilt; 'twill be of none effect.
I say that thou dost with thy next of kin
Foully consort, not knowing where thou art.
And think'st thou still unscathed to say these things?
I do, if there is any strength in truth.
In truth is strength, but that strength is not thine;
Thou in eyes, ears, and mind alike art blind.
And thou art wretched, casting in my teeth
What all men presently will cast in thine.
Thy lot is utter darkness; neither I
Nor any one who sees, can fear thy wrath.
Not mine is chastisement; Apollo's might
Sufficient is, and will bring all to pass.
Is this contrivance Creon's or thine own?
Thyself, not Creon, is thy enemy.
O wealth, O sovereignty, O art of arts
That givest victory in the race of life,
How are ye still by envious malice dogged!
This place of power, which now I hold, by me
Unsought, was by the city's will bestowed.
Yet the thrice-loyal Creon, my fast friend,
Seeks now to oust me by foul practices,
Using for tool this knavish soothsayer,
This lying mountebank, whose greedy palm
Has eyes, while in his science he is blind.
Show me the proofs of thy prophetic gift.
Why, when the riddling Sphinx was here, didst thou
Fail by thy skill to save the commonwealth?
The riddle was not such as all can read,
But gave thy art fair opportunity,
Yet neither inspiration served thee then,
Nor omens, but I, skilless Oedipus,
Out of my ignorance confounded her,
By my own wit, unhelped by auguries;
I, whom thou now conspirest to depose,
Hoping that thou wilt stand by Creon's throne.
These pious efforts, trust me, will be rued
By thee and him that sets thee on; thy years
Are thy defence from instant chastisement.
To us, Lord Oedipus, alike thy word
And the seer's seem the utterance of your wrath.
Wrath here is out of place, what we would seek
Is a right reading of the oracle.
High is thy throne, yet must thou stoop so low
As to endure free speech; that power is mine.
I to my god am servant, not to thee,
And therefore, ask not Creon's patronage.
I tell thee who with blindness tauntest me,
Sight though thou hast thou seest not what thou art,
Nor where thou hast been dwelling, nor with whom.
Know'st thou thy birth? No, nor that thou art loathed
By thine own kin, the living and the dead.
One day thy sire's and mother's awful curse,
With double scourge, will whip thee from this land.
Dark then shall be those eyes which now are light,
And with thy cries what place shall not resound,
What glen of wide Cithaeron shall not ring,
As soon as thou dost learn into what port
Of marriage swelling sails have wafted thee?
Much is in store beside to bring thee down
Unto thy children's level and thy own.
Then trample upon Creon and my gift
Of prophecy. Of all mankind is none
Whom ruin more complete awaits than thee.
Who can endure this caitiff's insolence?
Go to perdition on the instant; pack,
And of thy presence let this house be rid.
I had not come except at thy command.
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