Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHOEPHORÆ OR, THE LIBATION-BEARERS A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE - The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus
CHOEPHORÆ OR, THE LIBATION-BEARERS A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE - Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus 
The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906).
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CHOEPHORÆ OR, THE LIBATION-BEARERS
A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE
- Ἐκ γὰρ Ὀρέσταο τίσις [Editor: illegible character]σσεται Ἀτρέιδαο
- Ὀπποτ [Editor: illegible character]ν ‘ηβήσ[Editor: illegible character] τε κὰι ἠ̂ς ἱμείρεται ἄιης.
- Think upon our father,
- Give the sword scope—think what a man was he
Orestes, Son of Agamemnon.
Pylades, Friend of Orestes
Chorus of Captive Women.
Electra, Sister of Orestes.
Nurse of Orestes.
Clytemnestra, Mother of Orestes.
Sceneas in the preceding piece. The Tomb of Agamemnon in the centre of the Stage.
“Good, how good, when one who dies unjustly leaves a son behind him To avenge his death!”
—Odyss. iii. 196,
As a composition, the Choephoræ is decidedly inferior both to the Agamemnon which precedes, and the Eumenides which follows it; and the poet, as if sensible of this weakness, following the approved tactics of rhetoricians and warriors, has dexterously placed it in a position where its deficiencies are least observed. At the same time, in passing a critical judgment on this piece we must bear in mind two things—first, that some parts of this play that appear languid, long-drawn, and ineffective to us who read, may have been overflowing with the richest emotional power in their living musical exhibition; and, secondly, that many parts, especially of the choral chaunts, have been so maimed and shattered by time that the modern commentator is perhaps as much chargeable with the faults of the translation as the ancient tragedian.
- Hermes, that wieldest underneath the ground
- What power thy father lent,1 be thou my saviour
- And my strong help, and grant his heart’s request
- To the returning exile! On this mound,
- My father’s tomb, my father I invoke,
- To hear my cry!
- * * * * * *
- * * My early growth of hair
- To Inachus I vowed;2 this later lock
- The right of grief for my great sire demands.
- * * * * *
- But what is this? what sad procession comes
- Of marshalled maids in sable mantles clad?
- What mission brings them? Some new woe that breaks
- Upon our fated house? Or, do they come
- To soothe the ancient anger of the dead
- With sweet libations for my father’s tomb?
- ’Tis even so for lo! Electra comes—
- My sister—with them in unblissful grief
- Pre-eminent. O Jove, be thou mine aid,3
- And nerve my hand to avenge my father’s wrong!
- Stand we aside, my Pylades, that we
- May learn the purpose of the murky pomp.
[They go aside.
Chorus,dressed in sable vestments, bearing vessels with libations.
- STROPHE I.
- Missioned from these halls I come
- In the sable pomp of woe,
- Here to wail and pour libations,
- with the bosom-beating blow;
- And my cheeks, that herald sorrow,4
- With the fresh-cut nail-ploughed furrow,
- Grief’s vocation show.
- See! my rent and ragged stole
- Speaks the conflict of my soul;
- My vex’d heart on grief is feeding,
- Night and day withouten rest;
- Riven with the ruthless mourning,
- Hangs the linen vest, adorning
- Woefully my breast.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- Breathing wrath through nightly slumbers,
- By a dream-encompassed lair,
- Prophet of the house of Pelops,
- Terror stands with bristling hair.
- Through the dark night fitful yelling,
- He within our inmost dwelling
- Did the sleeper scare.
- Heavily, heavily terror falls
- On the woman-governed halls!
- And, instinct with high assurance,
- Speak the wise diviners all;
- “The dead, the earth-hid dead are fretful,
- And for vengeance unforgetful,
- From their graves they call.”
- STROPHE II.
- This graceless grace to do, to ward
- What ills the dream portendeth
- This pomp—O mother Earth!—and me
- The godless woman sendeth.
- Thankless office! Can I dare,
- Naming thee, to mock the air?
- Blood that stains with purple track
- The ground, what price can purchase back?
- O the hearth beset with mourning!
- O the proud halls’ overturning!
- Darkness, blithe sight’s detestation,
- Sunless sorrow spread
- Round the house of desolation,
- Whence the lord is fled.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- The kingly majesty that was
- The mighty, warlike-hearted,
- That swayed the general ear and will,
- The unconquered, hath departed.
- And now fear rules,5 and we obey,
- Unwillingly, a loveless sway.
- Who holds the key of plenty’s portals
- Is god, and more than god to mortals;
- But justice from her watchful station,
- With a sure-winged visitation
- Swoops; and some in blazing noon
- She for doom doth mark,
- Some in lingering eve, and some
- In the deedless dark.
- When mother Earth hath drunk black gore,
- Printed on the faithful floor,
- The staring blot remaineth;
- There the deep disease is lurking;
- There thrice double-guilt is working
- Woes that none restraineth.
- As virgin-chambers once polluted
- Never may be pure again,
- So filthy hands with blood bedabbled6
- All the streams of all the rivers
- Flow to wash in vain
- For me I suffer what I must;
- By ordinance divine,
- Since Troy was levelled with the dust
- The bondman’s fate is mine.
- What the masters of my fate
- In their strength decree,7
- Just or unjust, matters not,
- Is the law to me.
- I must look content; and chain
- Strongest hate with tightest rein;
- I for my mistress’ woes must wail,
- And for my own, beneath the veil;8
- I must sit apart,
- And thaw with tears my frozen heart,
- When no eye may see.
- Ye ministering maids with dexterous heed
- That tend this household, as with me ye share
- This pomp of supplication, let me share
- In your good counsel. Speak, and tell me how,
- This flood funereal pouring on the tomb,
- I shall find utterance in well-omened words?
- Shall I declare me bearer of sweet gifts
- From a dear wife to her dear lord? I fear
- To mingle faslehood with libations pure,
- Poured on my father’s tomb.9 Or shall I pray,
- As mortals wont to pray, that he may send
- Just retribution, and a worthy gift
- Of ill for ill to them that sent these garlands?
- Or shall I silent stand, nor with my tongue
- Give honour, as in dumb dishonoured death
- My father died, and give the Earth to drink
- A joyless stream, as who throws lustral ashes10
- With eyes averse, and flings the vase away?
- Your counsel here I crave; ye are my friends,
- And bear with me, within these fated halls
- A common burden. Speak, and no craven fear
- Lurk in your breasts! The man that lives most free,
- And him to sternest masterdom enthralled,
- One fate abides Lend me your wisdom, friends.
- Thy father’s tomb shall be to me an altar;
- As before God I’ll speak the truth to thee.
Speak thus devoutly, and thou’lt answer well.
- Give words of seemly honour, as thou pourest,
- To all that love thy father.
Who are they?
Thyself the first, and whoso hates Ægisthus.
That is myself and thou.
Thyself may’st judge.
Hast thou none else to swell the scanty roll?
One far away, thy brother, add—Orestes.
’Tis well remembered, very well remembered.
Nor them forget that worked the deed of guilt.
Ha! what of them? I’d hear of this more nearly.
Pray that some god may come, or mortal man.
Judge or avenger?
- Roundly pray the prayer,
- Some god or man may come to slay the slayer.
And may I pray the gods such boon as this?
- Why not? What other quittance to a foe
- Than hate repaid with hate, and blow with blow?11
- [approaching to the tomb of Agamemnon]. Hermes, that
- swayest underneath the ground,12
- Of powers divine, Infernal and Supernal,
- Most weighty herald, herald me in this,
- That every subterranean god, and earth,
- Even mother earth, who gave all things their birth,
- And nurseth the reviving germs of all,
- May hear my prayer, and with their sleepless eyes
- Watch my parental halls. And while I dew
- Thy tomb with purifying stream, O father,
- Pity thou me, and on thy loved Orestes
- With pity look, and to our long lost home
- Restore us!—us, poor friendless outcasts both,
- Bartered by her who bore us, and exchanged
- Thy love for his who was thy murderer.
- Myself do menial service in this house;
- Orestes lives in exile; and they twain
- In riot waste the fruits of thy great toils.
- Hear thou my prayers, and quickly send Orestes
- With happy chance to claim his father’s sceptre!
- And give thou me a wiser heart, and hand
- More holy-functioned than the mother’s was
- That bore thy daughter. Thus much for myself,
- And for my friends. To those that hate my father,
- Rise thou with vengeance mantled-dark to smite
- Those justly that unjustly smote the just.
- These words of evil imprecation dire,13
- Marring the pious tenor of my prayer,
- I speak constrained: but thou for me and mine
- Send good, and only good, to the upper air,
- The gods being with thee, mother Earth, and Justice
- With triumph in her train. This prayer receive
- And these libations. Ye, my friends, the while
- Let your grief blossom in luxuriant wail,
- Lifting the solemn pæan of the dead.
- Flow! in plashing torrents flow!
- Wretched grief for wretched master!
- O’er this heaped mound freely flow,
- Refuge of my heart’s disaster!
- O thou dark majestic shade,
- Hear, O hear me! While anear thee
- Pours this sorrow-stricken maid
- The pure libation,
- May the solemn wail we lift
- Atone the guilt that taints the gift
- With desecration!
- O that some god from Scythia far,
- To my imploring,
- Might send a spearman strong in war,
- Our house restoring!
- Come Mars, with back-bent bow, thy hail
- Of arrows pouring,
- Or with the hilted sword assail,
- And in the grapple close prevail,
- Of battle roaring!
- These mild libations, earth-imbibed, my father
- Hath now received. Thy further counsel lend.
In what? Within me leaps my heart for fear.
Seest thou this lock of hair upon the tomb?
A man’s hair is it, or a low-zoned maid’s?16
Few points there are to hit. ’Tis light divining
I am thine elder, yet I fain would reap Instruction from young lips
- If it was clipt
- From head in Argos, it should be my own.17
- For they that should have shorn the mourning lock
- Are foes, not friends.
’Tis like, O strange! how like!
Like what? What strange conception stirs thy brain?
- ’Tis like—O strange!—to these same locks I wear.
- And yet—
- Not being yours, there’s none, I know,
- Can claim it but Orestes.
- In sooth, ’tis like
- Trimmed with one plume Orestes was and I
But how should he have dared to tread this ground?
- Belike, he sent it by another’s hand,
- A votive lock to grace his father’s tomb.
- Small solace to my grief, if that he lives,
- Yet never more may touch his native soil.
- I, too, as with a bitter wave was lashed,
- And pierced, as with an arrow, at the sight
- Of this loved lock; and from my thirsty eyne
- With troubled overflowings unrestrained
- The full tide gushes: for none here would dare
- To gift a lock to Agamemnon’s grave;
- No citizen, much less the wife that slew him.
- My mother most unmotherly, her own children
- With godless hate pursuing, evil-minded:
- And though to think this wandering lock have graced
- My brother’s head—even his—my loved Orestes,
- Were bliss too great, yet will I hold the hope.
- O that this lock might with articulate voice
- Pronounce a herald’s tale, and I no more
- This way and that with dubious thought be swayed!
- That I might know if from a hostile head
- ’Twas shorn, and hate it as it hate deserves,
- Or, if from friends, my sorrows’ fellow make it,
- The dearest grace of my dear father’s tomb!
- But the gods know our woes; them we invoke,
- Whirled to and fro in eddies of dark doubt,
- Like vessels tempest-tossed. If they will save us,
- They have the power from smallest seed to raise
- The goodliest tree. But lo! a further proof18 —
- Footsteps, a perfect print, that seem to bear
- A brotherhood with mine! Nay, there are two—
- This claimed by him, and that by some true friend
- That shares his wanderings. See, the heel, the sole,
- Thus measured with my own, prove that they were
- Both fashioned in one mould ’Tis very strange!
- I’m racked with doubt, my wits are wandering.
- [coming forward]. Nay, rather thank the gods! Thy first prayer granted,
- Pray that fair end may fair beginning follow.19
Sayest thou? What cause have I to thank the gods?
Even here before thee stands thine answered prayer.
One man I wish to see: dost know him—thou?
Thy wish of wishes is to see Orestes.
Even so: but wishing answers no man’s prayer.
- I am the man. No dearer one expect
- That wears that name.
Nay, but this is some plot?
That were to frame a plot against myself.
Unkind, to scoff at my calamities!
To scoff at thine, were scoffing at mine own.
And can it be? Art thou indeed Orestes?
- My bodily self thou seest, and dost not know!
- And yet the votive lock shorn from my head,
- Being to thine, my sister’s hair, conform,
- And my foot’s print with curious ardour scanned,
- Could wing thy faith beyond the reach of sense,
- That thou didst seem to see me! Take the lock,
- And match it nicely with this mother crop
- That bore it. More; behold this web,20 the fruit
- Of thine own toil, the strokes of thine own shuttle,
- The wild beasts of the woods by thine own hand
- Empictured! Nay, be calm, and keep thy joy
- Within wise bounds Too well I know that they
- Who should be friends here are our bitterest foes.
- O of my father’s house the chiefest care!
- Seed of salvation, hope with many tears
- Bewept, with thy strong arm thou shalt restore
- Thy father’s house. O my life’s eye, thou dost
- Four several functions corporate in one
- Discharge for me! My father thou, and thine
- The gentler love that should have been my mother’s,
- My justly hated mother; and in her place,
- Who died by merciless immolation, thou
- Must be my sister, so even as thou art
- My faithful brother, loved much and revered.
- May Power and Justice aid thee, mighty Twain,21
- And a third mightier, Jove supremely great.
- O Jove, great Jove, of all these things be thou
- Spectator! And behold the orphan’d brood,
- Of eagle father strangled in the folds
- And deadly coil of loathly basilisk!
- Them sireless see in dire starvation’s gripe,
- Too weak of wing to bear unto the nest
- Their father’s prey. So we before thee stand,
- Myself and this Electra, sire-bereaved,
- And exiles both from our paternal roof.
- If we, the chickens of the pious father
- That crowned thee with much sacrifice, shall fail,
- Where shalt thou find a hand like his, to offer
- Gifts from the steaming banquet? If the brood
- Of the eagle perish, where shall be thy signs,
- That speak from Heaven persuasive to mankind?
- If all this royal trunk shall rot, say who,
- When blood of oxen flows on holidays,
- Shall stand beside thine altar? O give ear,
- And of this house so little now, and fallen
- So low, rebuild the fortunes!
- Hush, my children!
- If ye would save your father’s house, speak softly,
- Lest some one hear, and, with swift babblement,
- Inform their ears who rule; whom may I see
- Flayed on a fire, with streaming pitch well fed!
- Fear not. The mighty oracle of Loxias,
- By whose commands I dare the thing I dare,
- Will not deceive me. He, with shrill-voiced warning,
- Foretold that freezing pains through my warm liver
- Should torturing shoot, if backward to avenge
- My father’s death, and even as he was slain,
- To slay the slayers, exasperate at the loss22
- Of my so fair possessions. Thus to do
- He gave me strict injunction: else myself
- With terrible pains, of filial zeal remiss,
- Should pay the fine. The evil-minded Powers
- Beneath the Earth23 would visit me in wrath,
- A leprous tetter with corrosive tooth
- Creep o’er my skin, and fasten on my flesh,
- And with white scales the white hair grow, defacing
- My bloom of health; and from my father’s tomb
- Ripe with avenging ire the Erinnyes
- Should ruthlessly invade me. Thus he spake,
- And through the dark his prescient eyebrow arched.24
- Sharp arrows through the subterranean night,
- Shot by dear Shades that through the Infernal halls
- Roam peaceless, madness, and vain fear o’ nights,
- Prick with sharp goads, and chase from street to street,
- With iron scourge, the meagre-wasted form
- Of the Fury-hunted sinner; him no share
- In festal cup awaits, or hallowed drop
- Of pure libation;25 the paternal wrath,
- Hovering unseen, shall drive him from the altar;
- Him shall no home receive, no lodgment hold,
- Unhonoured and unfriended he shall die,
- Withered and mummied with the hot dry plague.
- Such oracle divine behoves me trust
- With single faith, or, be I faithless, still
- The vengeance must be done. All things concur
- To point my purpose; the divine command
- My sore heart-grief for a loved father’s death,
- The press of want, the spoiling of my goods,
- The shame to see these noble citizens,
- Proud Troy’s destroyers, basely bent beneath
- The yoke of two weak women: for he hath
- A woman’s soul: if not, the proof is near.
- Mighty Fates, divinely guiding
- Human fortunes to their end,
- Send this man, with Jove presiding,
- Whither Justice points the way.
- Words of bitter hatred duly
- Pay with bitter words for thus
- With loud cry triumphant shouting
- Justice pays the sinner’s debt.
- Blood for blood and blow for blow,
- Thou shalt reap as thou didst sow;
- Age to age with hoary wisdom
- Speaketh thus to men.26
- O father, wretched father, with what air
- Of word or deed impelling,
- Shall I be strong to waft the filial prayer
- To thy dim distant dwelling?
- There where in dark, the dead-man’s day, thou liest,27
- Be our sharp wailing
- (Grace of the dead, and Hades’ honour highest),
- With thee prevailing!
- Son, the strong-jawed funeral fire
- Burns not the mind in the smoky pyre;
- Sleeps, but not forgets the dead
- To show betimes his anger dread.
- For the dead the living moan,
- That the murderer may be known.
- They who mourn for parent slain
- Shall not pour the wail in vain,
- Bright disclosure shall not lack
- Who through darkness hunts the track.
- Hear thou our cries, O father, when for thee
- The frequent tear is falling;
- The wailing pair o’er thy dear tomb to thee
- From their hearts’ depths are calling;
- The suppliant and the exile at one tomb
- Their sorrow showering,
- Helpless and hopeless; mantled round with gloom,
- Woe overpouring!
- Nay, be calm; the god that speaks
- With voice oracular shall attune
- Thy throat to happier notes;
- Instead the voice of wail funereal,
- Soon the jubilant shout shall shake
- His father’s halls with joy, and welcome
- The new friend to his home.
- If but some Lycian spear, ’neath Ilium’s walls,
- Had lowly laid thee,
- A mighty name in the Atridan halls
- Thou wouldst have made thee!
- Then hadst thou pitched thy fortune like a star,
- To son and grandson shining from afar;
- Beyond the wide-waved sea, the high-heaped mound
- Had told for ever
- Thy feats of battle, and with glory crowned
- Thy high endeavour.
- Ah! would that thou hadst found thy end
- There, where dear friend fell with friend,
- And marched with them to Hades dread,
- The monarch of the awful dead,28
- Sitting beside the throne with might
- Of them that rule the realms of night;
- For thou in life wert monarch true,
- Expert each kingly deed to do,
- Leading, with thy persuasive rod,
- Submissive mortals like a god.
- Thou wert a king, no fate it was for thee
- To die as others
- ’Neath Ilium’s walls, far, far beyond the sea,
- With many brothers.
- Unworthy was the spear to drink thy blood,
- Where far Scamander rolls his swirling flood.
- Justly who slew had drawn themselves thy lot,
- And perished rather,
- And thou their timeless fate had welcomed, not
- They thine, my father.
- Child, thy grief begetteth visions
- Brighter than gold, and overtopping
- Hyperborean bliss.29
- Ah, here the misery rudely riots,
- With double lash. These twins, their help
- Sleeps beneath the ground; and they
- Who hold dominion here, alas!
- With unholy sceptre sway.
- Woe is me! but chiefly woe
- Children dear to you!
- Chiefly to me! Thy words shoot like an arrow,
- And pierce my marrow.
- O Jove, O Jove! that sendest from below30
- The retribution slow,
- Against the stout heart and bold hand,
- That dared defy thy high command.
- Even though a parent feel the woe,
- Prepare, prepare the finished blow.
- Mine be soon to lift the strain,
- O’er the treacherous slayer slain,
- To shout with bitter exultation,
- O’er the murtherous wife’s prostration!
- Why should I the hate conceal,
- That spurs my heart with promptest zeal,
- Bitter thoughts, that gathering grow,
- Like blustering winds, that beat the plunging vessel’s prow?
- O thou that flourishest, and mak’st to flourish,
- By thy hands perish
- All they that hate me! Cleave the heads of those,
- That are Orestes’ foes!
- Pledge the land in peace to live,
- For injustice justice give;
- Ye that honoured reign below,31
- Furies! prepare the crowning blow.
- Wont hath been, and shall be ever,
- That when purple gouts bedash
- The guilty ground, then blood doth blood
- Demand, and blood for blood shall flow.
- Fury to Havoc cries, and Havoc,
- The tainted track of blood pursuing,
- From age to age works woe.
- Ye powers of Hades dread!
- Fell Curses of the Dead,
- Hear me when I call!
- Behold! The Atridan hall,
- Dashed in dishonoured fall,
- Lies low and graceless all.
- O mighty Jove, I see
- Mine only help in thee!
- Thy piteous tale doth make my heart
- From its central hold back start;
- Hope departs, and blackening Fear
- Rules my fancy, while I hear.
- And if blithe confidence awhile32
- Lends my dull faith the feeble smile,
- Soon, soon departs that glimpse of cheer,
- And all my map of things is desolate and drear.
- For why! our tale of wrong
- In hate of parents strong,
- Spurneth the flatterer’s arm,
- Mocketh the soothing charm.
- The mother gave her child33
- This wolfish nature wild;
- And I from her shall learn
- To be thus harsh and stern.
- Like a Persian mourner34
- Singing sorrow’s tale,
- Like a Cissian wailer,
- I did weep and wail.
- O’er my head swift-oaring
- Came arm on arm amain,
- The voice of my deploring
- Like the lashing rain!
- Sorrow’s rushing river
- O’er me flooding spread,
- Black misfortune’s quiver
- Emptied on my head!
- Mother bold, all-daring,
- On a bloody bier
- Thine own lord forth bearing
- Slain without a tear.
- Alone, unfriended he did go
- Down to the sunless homes below.
- Thou hast named the dire dishonor;
- The gods shall send swift judgment on her.
- By Heaven’s command,
- By her own son’s hand,
- Slain she shall lie;
- And I, having dealt the fated death,
- Myself shall die!
- Be the butcher’s work remembered,
- Mangled was he, and dismembered;
- Like vilest clay,
- She cast him away,
- With burial base;
- Mocking the son, the father branding
- With dark disgrace.
- Thou dost tell too truly
- All my father’s woe.
- I, the while, accounted
- Lower than most low,35
- Like a dog, was sundered
- From my father’s hearth,
- An evil dog, and wandered
- Far from seats of mirth;
- In my chamber weeping
- Tears of silent woe,
- From rude gazers keeping
- Grief too great for show.
- Hear these words; and hearing
- Nail them in thy soul,
- With steady purpose nearing,
- And noiseless pace, thy goal.
- Go where just wrath leads the way,
- With stout heart tread the lists to-day.
O father, help thy friends, when helping thee!
My tears, if they can help, shall flow for thee.
- And this whole mingled choir shall raise for thee
- The sistered cry: O hear!
- In light of day appear,
- And help thy banded friends, to avenge thy foes for thee!
Now might with might engage, and right with right!
And the gods justly the unjust shall smite.
- The tremulous fear creeps o’er my frame to hear
- Thy words; for, though long-dated,
- The thing divinely fated
- Shall surely come at last, our cloudy prayers to clear.
- O home-bred pain,
- Stroke of perdition that refuses
- Concord with the holy Muses!
- O burden more than heart can bear,
- Disease that no physician’s care
- Makes sound again!
- So; even so.
- No far-sent leech this tetter uses;
- A home-bred surgery it chooses.
- I the red strife myself pursue,
- Pouring this dismal hymn to you,
- Ye gods below!
- Blessed powers, propitious dwelling,
- Deep in subterranean darkness,
- Hear this pious prayer;
- May all trials end in triumph
- To the suppliant pair!
- Father, who died not as a king should die,
- Give me to rule, as thou didst rule, these halls.
- My supplication hear, thy strong help lend me,
- Scathless myself37 to work Ægisthus’ harm.
- Thus of the rightful feasts that soothe the Shades
- Thou too shalt taste,38 and not dishonoured lie,
- When savoury fumes mount to our country’s dead.
- And I my whole of heritage will offer,
- The blithe libations of my marriage feast.
- Thy tomb before all tombs I will revere.
- O Earth, relax thy hold, and give my father
- To see the fight!
- O Persephassa, send
- The Atridan forth, in beauty clad and strength.
The bath that drank thy life remember, father.
The close-drawn meshes of thy death remember.
- The chain, not iron-linked, that bound thee, then
- When to the death the kingly game was hunted.
Then when with treacherous folds they curtained thee.
Wake, father, wake to avenge thy speechless wrongs!
Lift, father, lift thy dear-loved head sublime!
- Send justice forth to work the just revenge,
- Like quit with like, and harm with harm repay;
- Thou wert the conquered then, rise now to conquer.
- And hear this last request, my father, looking
- On thy twin chickens nestling by thy tomb;
- Pity the daughter, the male seed protect,
- Nor let the name revered of ancient Pelops
- Be blotted from the Earth! Thou art not dead,
- Though housed in Hades, while thy children live,
- For children are as echoes that prolong
- Their parents’ fame; the floating cork are they
- That buoyant bear the net deep sunk in the sea.
- Hear, father—when we weep, we weep for thee,
- And, saving us, thou savest thine own honour.
- Well spoken both:39 and worthily fall the tears
- On this dear tomb, too long without them. Now,
- If to the deed thy purpose thou hast buckled,
- Orestes, try what speed the gods may give thee.40
- I’ll do the deed. Meanwhile not idly this
- I ask of thee—what moved her soul to send
- These late libations, limping remedy
- For wounds that cannot heal? A sorry grace
- To feed the senseless dead with sacrifice,
- When we have killed the living. What she means
- I scarce may guess, but the amend is less
- Than the offence. All ocean poured in offering
- For the warm life-drops of one innocent man
- Is labour lost. Old truth thus speaks to all.
- How was it?
- That I well may tell, for I
- Was with her. Hideous dreams did haunt her sleep;
- Night-wandering terrors scared her godless breast,
- That she did send these gifts to soothe the Shades.
What saw she in her dream?
- She dreamt, she said,
- She had brought forth a serpent.
A serpent, say’st thou?
- Ay! and the dragon birth portentous moved,
- All swaddled like a boy.
Eager for food, doubtless, the new-born monster?
The nurturing nipple herself did fearless bare.
How then? escaped the nipple from the bite?
- The gouted blood did taint the milk, that flowed
- From the wounded paps.
- No idle dream was this.
- And he who sent it was my father.
- She from her sleep up started, and cried out,
- And many lamps, whose splendour night had blinded,
- Rushed forth, to wait upon their mistress’ word.
- Straightway she sends us with funereal gifts,
- A medicinal charm, if medicine be
- For griefs like hers!
- Now hear me, Earth profound,
- And my dear father’s tomb, that so this dream
- May find in me completion! Thus I read it—
- As left the snake the womb that once hid me,
- And in the clothes was swathed that once swathed me
- And as it sucked the breast that suckled me,
- And mingled blood with milk once sucked by me,
- And as she groaned with horror at the sight,
- Thus it beseems who bore a monstrous birth
- No common death to die. I am the serpent
- Shall bite her breast. It is a truthful dream.
- My seer be thou. Say have I read it well?
- Bravely. Now, for the rest, thy friends instruct
- What things to do, and what things to refrain.
- ’Tis said in few. Electra, go within,
- And keep my counsels in wise secrecy;
- For, as they killed an honourable man
- Deceitfully, by cunning and deceit
- Themselves shall find the halter. Thus Apollo,
- A prophet never known to lie, foretold.
- Myself will come, like a wayfaring man
- Accoutred, guest and spear-guest of this house,
- With Pylades, my friend, to the court gates.
- We both will speak with a Parnassian voice,
- Aping the Phocian tongue. If then it chance
- (As seems most like, for this whole house with ills
- Is sheer possessed)41 that with a welcome greeting
- No servant shall receive us, we will wait
- Till some one pass, and for their churlish ways
- Rate them thus sharply. “Sirs, why dare ye shut
- Inhospitable doors against the stranger,42
- Making Ægisthus sin against the gods?”
- When thus I pass the threshold of his courts,
- And see him sitting on my father’s throne,
- When he shall scan me face to face, and seek
- To hear my tale; ere he may say the word,
- Whence is the stranger? I will lay him dead,
- Dressing him trimly o’er with points of steel.
- The Fury thus, not scanted of her banquet,
- Shall drink unmingled blood from Pelops’ veins,
- The third and crowning cup.43 Now, sister, see to ’t
- That all within be ordered, as shall serve
- My end most fitly. Ye, when ye shall speak,
- Speak words of happy omen; teach your tongue
- Both to be silent, and to speak in season.
- For what remains, his present aid I ask,
- Who laid on my poor wits this bloody task.44
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Earth breeds a fearful progeny,45
- To man a hostile band,
- With finny monsters teems the sea,
- With creeping plagues the land;
- And winged portents scour mid-air,
- And flaring lightnings fly,
- And storms, sublimely coursing, scare
- The fields of the silent sky.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- But Earth begets no monster dire
- Than man’s own heart more dreaded,
- All-venturing woman’s dreadful ire,46
- When love to woe is wedded.
- No mate with mate there gently dwells,
- There peace and joy depart,
- Where loveless love triumphant swells,
- In fearless woman’s heart.
- STROPHE II.
- This the light-witted may not know,
- The wise shall understand,
- Who hear the tale from age to age,
- How Thestios’ daughter, wild with rage,47
- Lighted the fatal brand,
- The brand that burned with conscious flashes
- At the cry of her new-born son;
- And, when the brand had burned to ashes,
- His measured course was run.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- And yet a tale of bloody love
- From hoary eld I know,
- How Scylla gay, in gold arrayed,48
- The gift of Minos old, betrayed
- Her father to the foe.
- Sleeping all careless as he lay,
- She cut the immortal hair,
- And Hermes bore his life away,
- From the bold and blushless fair.
- STROPHE III.
- Ah me! not far needs fancy range
- For tales of harshest wrong:
- Here, even here, damned wedlock thrives,
- And lawless loves are strong.
- Within these halls, where blazes now
- No holy hearth, a bloody vow
- Against her liege lord’s life
- She vowed; and he, the king divine,
- Whose look back-drove the bristling line,
- Bled by a woman’s knife.
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- O woman! woman! Lemnos saw49
- Your jealous fountains flow,
- And, when the worst of woes is named,
- It is a Lemnian woe.
- From age to age the infected tale,
- Far echoed by a wandering wail,
- To East and West shall go;
- And honor from the threshold hies,
- On which the doom god-spoken lies;50
- Speak I not wisely so?
- STROPHE IV.
- Right through the heart shall pierce the blow,
- When Justice is the sinner’s foe,
- With the avenging steel;
- In vain with brief success they strove,
- Who trampled on the law of Jove,
- With unregarding heel.
- ANTISTROPHE IV.
- Firm is the base of Justice. Fate,
- With whetted knife, doth eager wait
- At hoary Murder’s door;
- The Fury, with dark-bosomed ire,
- Doth send the son a mission dire,
- To clear the parent’s score.
- What, ho! dost hear no knocking? boy! within!
- Is none within, boy? ho! dost hear me call
- The third time at thy portal? Is Ægisthus
- A man, whose ears are deaf to the strangers’ cry?
[appearing at the door]. Enough I hear thee. Who art thou, and whence?
- Tell those within that a poor stranger waits
- Before the gate, bearer of weighty news.
- Speed thee; night’s dusky chariot swoopeth down,
- And the dark hour invites the travelling man
- To fix his anchor ’neath some friendly roof.
- Thy mistress I would see, if here a mistress
- Rules, or thy master rather, if a master.
- For with a man a man may plainly deal,
- But nice regard for the fine feeling ear51
- Oft mars the teller’s tale, when women hear.
- Strangers, speak your desire. Whate’er becomes
- This house to give is free to you to share.
- Hot baths,52 a couch to soothe your travelled toil,
- Blithe welcoming eyes, and gentle tendance; these
- I freely give. If aught beyond ye crave,
- There’s counsel with my lord. I’ll speak to him.
- I am a stranger come from Phocian Daulis.
- When I, my burden to my back well saddled,
- Stood for the road accoutred, lo! a man
- To me not known, nor of me knowing more,
- But seeing only that my feet were bound
- For Argos, thus accosted me (his name,
- I learned, was Strophius the Phocian): Stranger,
- If Argos be thy purpose, bear this message
- From me to whom it touches near. Orestes
- Is dead; charge well thy memory with the tale,
- And bring me mandate back, if so his friends
- Would have him carried to his native home,
- Or he with us due sepulture shall find,
- A sojourner for ever. A brazen urn
- Holds all the remnant of the much-wept man,
- The ashes of his clay. Thus Strophius spake:
- And if ye are the friends, whom chiefly grief
- Pricks for his loss, my mission’s done; at least
- His parents will be grieved to hear ’t.
- Woe’s me!
- Sheer down we topple from proud height; harsh fate
- Is ours to wrestle with. O jealous Curse,
- How dost thou eye us fatal from afar,
- And with thy well-trimmed bow shoot chiefly there
- Where thou wert least suspect! Thou hast me now
- A helpless captive lorn, and reft of all
- My trustiest friends. Orestes also gone,
- Whose feet above the miry slough most sure
- Seemed planted! Now our revelry of hope,
- The fair account that should have surgeoned woe,
- Is audited at nothing!54
- Would the gods,
- Where happy hosts give welcome, I were guest
- On a more pleasant tale! The entertained
- No greater joy can know than with good news
- To recreate his entertainer’s ears;
- But piety forbade, nor faith allowed
- To lop the head of truth.
- Thou shalt not fare the worse for thy bad news,
- Nor be less dear to us. Hadst thou been dumb,
- Some other tongue had vented the sad tale.
- But ye have travelled weary leagues to-day,
- And doubtless need restoring. Take him, boy,
- With the attendant sharers of his travel,
- To the men’s chambers. See them well bestowed,
- And do all things as one, that for neglect
- Shall give account. Meanwhile, our lord shall know
- What fate hath chanced, his wit and mine shall find
- What solace may be for these news unkind.
[Exeunt into the house.
- When, O when, shall we, my sisters,
- Lift the strong full-throated hymn,
- To greet Orestes’ triumph? Thou,
- O sacred Earth, and verge revered
- Of this lofty mound, where sleeps
- The kingly helmsman of our State,
- Hear thou, and help! prevail the hour
- Of suasive wile, and smooth deceit!55
- Herald him Hermes—lead him, thou
- The nightly courier of the dead,56
- Through this black business of the sword!
- In sooth the host hath housed a grievous guest;
- For see where comes Orestes’ nurse, all tears!
- Where goest thou, nurse, beyond our gates to walk,
- And why walks Grief, an unfee’d page, with thee!
- My mistress bids me bring Ægisthus quickly,
- To see the strangers face to face, that he
- May of their sad tale more assurance win
- From their own mouths. Herself to us doth show
- A murky-visaged grief; but in her eye
- Twinkles a secret joy, that time hath brought
- The consummation most devoutly wished
- By her—to us and Agamemnon’s house
- Most fatal issue, if these news be true.
- Ægisthus, too, with a light heart will hear
- These Phocian tidings. O wretched me! what weight
- Of mingled woes from sire to son bequeathed,
- Have the gods burdened us withal! Myself,
- How many griefs have shaken my old heart;
- But this o’ertops them all! The rest I bore,
- As best I might, with patience: but Orestes,
- My own dear boy, my daily, hourly care,
- Whom from his mother’s womb these breasts did suckle—
- How often did I rise o’ nights, and walked
- From room to room, to soothe his baby cries;
- But all my nursing now, and all my cares
- Fall fruitless. ’Tis a pithless thing a child,
- No forest whelp so helpless; one must even
- Wait on its humour, as the hour may bring.
- No voice it has to speak its fitful wants,
- When hunger, thirst, or Nature’s need commands.
- The infant’s belly asks no counsel. I
- Was a wise prophetess to all his wants,
- Though sometimes false, as others are. I was
- Nurse to the child, and fuller to its clothes,
- And both to one sad end. Alack the day!
- This double trade with little fruit I plied,
- What time I nursed Orestes for his father;
- For he is dead, and I must live to hear it.
- But I must go, and glad his heart, who lives
- Plague of this house, with news that make me weep.
What say’st thou, Nurse? how shall thy master come?
How say’st thou? how shall I receive the question?
Alone, I mean, or with his guards?
- She says
- His spearmen shall attend him.
- Not so, Nurse!
- If thou dost hate our most hate-worthy master,
- Tell him to come alone, without delay,
- To hear glad tidings with exulting heart.
- The bearer of a tale can make it wear
- What face he pleases.57
- Well! if thou mean’st well,
- Perhaps that Jove may make the breeze
- Yet veer to us.
- How so? Our only hope,
- Orestes, is no more.
- Softly, good Nurse;
- Thou art an evil prophet, if thou say’st so.
How? hast thou news to a different tune?
- Go! go!
- Mind thine own business, and the gods will do
- What thing they will do.
- Well! I’ll do thy bidding!
- The gods lead all things to a fair conclusion!
- CHORAL HYMN.58
- O thou, o’er all Olympian gods that be,
- Supremely swaying,
- With words of wisdom, when I pray to thee,
- Inspire my praying.
- We can but pray; to do, O Jove, is thine,
- Thou great director;
- Of him within, who works thy will divine,
- Be thou protector!
- Him raise, the orphaned son whom thou dost see
- In sheer prostration;
- Twofold and threefold he shall find from thee
- Just compensation.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- But hard the toil. Yoked to the car of Fate,
- When harshly driven,
- O rein him thou! his goaded speed abate
- Wisely from Heaven!
- Jove tempers all, steadies all things that reel;
- When wildly swerveth
- From the safe line life’s burning chariot wheel,
- His hand preserveth.
- Ye gods, that guard these gold-stored halls, this day
- Receive the claimant,
- Who comes, that old Wrong to young Right may pay
- A purple payment.
- STROPHE II.
- Blood begets blood; but, when this blow shall fall,
- O thou, whose dwelling
- Is Delphi’s fuming throat, may this be all!
- Of red blood, welling
- From guilty veins, enough. Henceforth may joy
- Look from the eyes of the Atridan boy,
- Discerning clearly
- From his ancestral halls the clouds unrolled,
- That hung so drearly.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- And thou, O Maia’s son, fair breezes blow,
- The full sail swelling!
- Cunning art thou through murky ways to go,
- To Death’s dim dwelling;
- Dark are the doings of the gods; and we,
- When they are clearest shown, but dimly see;
- Yet faith will follow
- Where Hermes leads, the leader of the dead,
- And thou, Apollo.
- Crown ye the deed; then will I freely pour
- The blithe libation,
- And, with pure offerings, cleanse the Atridan floor
- From desecration!
- Then with my prosperous hymn the lyre shall blend
- Its kindly chorus,
- And Argos shall be glad, and every friend
- Rejoice before us!
- Gird thee with manhood, boy; though hard to do,
- It is thy father’s work; to him be true.
- And, when she cries—Son, wilt thou kill thyMother?
- Cry—Father, Father! and with that name smother
- The rising ruth. As Perseus, when he slew
- The stony Dread, was stony-hearted, do
- Thy mission stoutly;
- For him below, and her above, pursue
- This work devoutly.
- The gods by thee, in righteous judgment, show
- Their grace untender!
- Thou to the man, that dealt the deathful blow,
- Like death shalt render.
- Not uninvited come I, having heard
- A rumour strange, by certain strangers brought,
- No pleasant tale—Orestes’ death. In sooth,
- A heavy fear-distilling sorrow this,
- More than a house may bear, whose wounds yet bleed,
- And ulcerate from the fangs of fate. But say,
- Is this a fact that looks us in the face,
- Or startling words of woman’s fears begotten,
- That shoot like meteors through the air, and die?
- What proof, ye maids, what proof?
- Our ears have heard.
- But go within; thyself shalt see the man;
- Try well the teller, e’er thou trust the tale.
- I’ll scan him well, and prove him close, if he
- Himself was at the death, or but repeat
- From blind report the news another told.
- It will go hard, if idle breath cheat me.
- My eyes are in my head, and I can see.
[Exit into the house.
- Jove! great Jove! What shall I say?
- How with pious fervour pray,
- That from thee the answer fair
- Be wafted to my friendly prayer?
- Now the keen-edged axe shall strike,
- With a life-destroying blow;
- Now, or, plunged in deep perdition,
- Agamemnon’s house sinks low,
- Or the hearth with hope this day
- Shall blaze, through all the ransomed halls,
- And the son his father’s wealth
- Shall win, and with his sceptre sway.
- In the bloody combat fresh,
- He shall risk it, one with two;
- Hand to hand the fight shall be.
- Godlike son of Agamemnon,
- Jove give strength to thee!
[from within]. Ah me! I fall. Ah! Ah!
- Hear’st thou that cry? How is’t? Whose was that groan?
- Let’s go aside, the deed being done, that we
- Seem not partakers of the bloody work.59
- ’Tis ended now.
- Woe’s me! my murdered master!
- Thrice woeful deed! Ægisthus lives no more.
- Open the women’s gates! uncase the bolts!
- Were needed here a Titan’s strength—though that
- Would nothing boot the dead. Ho! hillo! ho!
- Are all here deaf? or do I babble breath
- In sleepers’ ears? Where, where is Clytemnestra?
- What keeps my mistress? On a razor’s edge
- Her fate now lies; the blow’s already poised,
- That falls on her too—nor unjustly falls.
Well! what’s the matter? why this clamorous cry?
He, who was dead, has slain the quick. ’Tis so.
- Ha! Thou speak’st riddles; but I understand thee.
- We die by guile, as guilefully we slew.
- Bring me an axe! an axe to kill a man!
- Quickly!—or conqueror or conquered, I
- Will fight it out. To this ’tis come at last.
EnterOrestes,dragging in the dead body ofÆgisthus;with himPylades.
Thee next I seek. For him, he hath enough.
Ah me! my lord, my loved Ægisthus dead!
- Dost love this man? then thou shalt sleep with him,
- In the same tomb. He was thy bedmate living,
- Be thou his comrade, dead.
- Hold thee, my son!
- Look on this breast, to which with slumbrous eyes
- Thou oft hast clung, the while thy baby gum
- Sucked the nutritious milk.
- What say’st thou, Pylades?
- Shall I curtail the work, and spare my mother?
- Bethink thee well; the Loxian oracles,
- Thy sure-pledged vows, where are they, if she live?
- Make every man thy foe, but fear the gods.
- Thy voice shall rule in this; thou judgest wisely.
- Follow this man, here, side by side with him,
- I’ll butcher thee. Seemed he a fairer man
- Than was my father when my father lived?
- Sleep thou, where he sleeps; him thou lovest well,
- And whom thou chiefly shouldst have loved thou hatedst.
I nursed thy childhood, and in peace would die.60
Spare thee to live with me—my father’s murderer?
Not I; say rather Fate ordained his death.
The self-same Fate ordains thee now to die.
My curse beware, the mother’s curse that bore thee.
That cast me homeless from my father’s house.
Nay; to a friendly house I lent thee, boy.
Being free-born, I like a slave was sold.
I trafficked not with thee. I gat no gold.
Worse—worse than gold—a thing too foul to name!
Name all my faults; but had thy father none?
- Thou art a woman sitting in thy chamber.61
- Judge not the man that goes abroad, and labours.
Hard was my lot, my child, alone, uncherished.
- Alone by the fire, while for thy gentle ease
- The husband toiled.
Thou wilt not kill me, son?
I kill thee not. Thyself dost kill thyself.
Beware thy mother’s anger-whetted hounds.
My father’s hounds have hunted me to thee.
- The stone that sepulchres the dead art thou,
- And I the tear on’t.
- Cease: I voyaged here,
- With a fair breeze; my father’s murder brought me.
Ah me! I nursed a serpent on my breast.
- Thou hadst a prophet in thy dream, last night;
- And since thou kill’d the man thou shouldst have spared,
- The man, that now should spare thee, can but kill.
[He drives her into the house, and there murders her.
- There’s food for sorrow here; but rather, since
- Orestes could not choose but scale the height
- Of bloody enterprise, our prayer is this:
- That he, the eye of this great house, may live.63
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Hall of old Priam, with sorrow unbearable,
- Vengeance hath come on the Argive thy foe;
- A pair of grim lions, a double Mars terrible,64
- Comes to his palace, that levelled thee low.
- Chanced hath the doom of the guilty precisely,
- Even as Phœbus foretold it, and wisely
- Where the god pointed, was levelled the blow.
- Lift up the hymn of rejoicing; the lecherous,
- Sin-laden tyrant shall lord it no more;
- No more shall the mistress so bloody and treacherous
- Lavish the plundered Pelopidan store.
- STROPHE II.
- Sore chastisement65 came on the doomed and devoted,
- With dark-brooding purpose and fair-smiling show;
- And the daughter of Jove the eternal was noted,
- Guiding the hand that inflicted the blow—
- Bright Justice, of Jove, the Olympian daughter;
- But blasted they fell with the breath of her slaughter
- Whose deeds of injustice made Justice their foe.
- Her from his shrine sent the rock-throned Apollo,66
- The will of her high-purposed sire to obey,
- The track of the blood-stained remorseless to follow,
- Winged with sure death, though she lag by the way.
- Ye rulers on Earth, fear the rulers in Heaven,
- No aid by the gods to the froward is given;
- For the bonds of our thraldom asunder are riven,
- And the day dawns clear.
- Lift up your heads; from prostration untimely
- Ye halls of the mighty be lifted sublimely!
- All-perfecting Time shall bring swift restitution,
- And cleanse the hearth pure from the gory pollution,
- Now the day dawns clear.
- And blithely shall welcome them Fortune the fairest,67
- The brother and sister, with omens the rarest;
- Each friend of this house show the warm love thou bearest,
- Now the day dawns clear!
EnterOrestes,with the body ofClytemnestra.
- Behold this tyrant pair, my father’s murderers,
- Usurpers of this land, and of this house
- Destroyers. They this throne did use in pride,
- And now in love, as whoso looks may guess,
- They lie together, all their vows fulfilled.
- Death to my hapless father, and to lie
- Themselves on a common bier—this was their vow;
- And they have vowed it well. Behold these toils,
- Wherewith they worked destruction to my father,
- Chained his free feet, and manacled his hands.
- There—spread it forth—approach—peruse it nicely.
- This mortal vest, that so the father—not
- My father, but the Sun that fathers all
- With light68 —may see what godless deed was done
- Here by my mother. Let him witness duly,
- That not unjustly I have spilt this blood—
- My mother’s; for Ægisthus recks me not;
- As an adulterer should, he died: but she,
- That did devise such foul detested wrong
- Against the lord, to whom beneath her zone
- She bore a burden, once so valued, now
- A weight that damns her; what was she?—a viper
- Or a torpedo—that with biteless touch
- Strikes numb who handles.69 Harsh the smoothest phrase
- To name the bold unrighteous will she used.
- And for this fowler’s net—this snare—this trap—
- This cloth to wrap the dead70 —this veil to curtain
- A bloody bath—teach me a name for it!
- Such murderous toils the ruffians use, who spill
- Their neighbour’s blood, that they may seize his gold,
- And warm their heart with plenty not their own.
- Lodge no such mate with me! Sooner may I
- Live by high Heaven accursed, and childless die.
- A sorry work—alas! alas!
- A dismal death she found.
- Nor sorrow quite from man may pass
- That lives above the ground.
- A speaking proof! Behold, Ægisthus’ sword
- Hath left its witness on this robe; the time
- Hath paled the murtherous spot, but where it was
- The sumptuous stole hath lost its radiant dye.
- Alas! I know not, when mine eyes behold
- This father-murdering web, if I should own
- Joy lord, or grief. Let grief prevail. I grieve
- Our crimes, our woes, our generation doomed,
- Our tearful trophies blazoned with a curse.
- The gods so will that, soon or late,
- Each mortal taste of sorrow;
- A frown to-day from surly Fate,
- A biting blast to-morrow.
- Others ’twixt hope and fear may sway, my fate
- Is fixed and scapeless.71 Like a charioteer,
- Dragged from his course by steeds that spurned the rein,
- Thoughts past control usurp me. Terror lifts,
- Even now, the prelude to her savage hymn,
- Within my heart exultant. But, while yet
- My sober mind remains, witness ye all
- My friends, this solemn abjuration! Not
- Unjustly, when I slew, I slew my mother—
- That mother, with my father’s blood polluted,
- Of every god abhorred. And I protest
- The god that charmed me to the daring point
- Was Loxias, with his Pythian oracles,
- Pledging me blameless, this harsh work once done,
- Not done, foredooming what I will not say;
- All thoughts most horrible undershoot the mark.
- And now behold me, as a suppliant goes,
- With soft-wreathed wool, and precatory branch,72
- Addressed for Delphi, the firm-seated shrine
- Of Loxias, navel of earth, where burns the flame
- Of fire immortal named.73 For I must flee
- This kindred blood, and hie me where the god
- Forespoke me refuge. Once again I call
- On you, and Argive men of every time,
- To witness my great griefs. I go an exile
- From this dear soil. Living, or dead, I leave
- These words, the one sad memory of my name.
- Thou hast done well; yoke not thy mouth this day
- To evil words. Thou art the liberator
- Of universal Argos, justly greeted,
- Who from the dragon pair the head hath lopped.
[TheFuriesappear in the background.
- Ah, me! see there! like Gorgons! look! look there!
- All dusky-vested, and their locks entwined
- With knotted snakes. Away! I may not stay.
- O son, loved of thy sire, be calm, nor let
- Vain phantoms fret thy soul, in triumph’s hour.
- These are no phantoms, but substantial horrors;
- Too like themselves they show, the infernal hounds
- Sent from my mother!
- ’Tis the fresh-gouted blood
- Upon thy hand, that breeds thy brain’s distraction.
- Ha! how they swarm! Apollo! more—yet more!
- And from their fell eyes droppeth murderous gore.
- There is atonement.74 Touch but Loxias’ altar,
- And he from bloody stain shall wash thee clean.
- Ye see them not. I see them.75 There!—Away!
- The hell-hounds hunt me: here I may not stay.
- Nay, but with blessing go. From fatal harm
- Guard thee the god whose eyes in love behold thee!76
- Blown hath now the third harsh tempest,
- O’er the proud Atridan palace,
- Floods of family woe!
- First thy damned feast, Thyestes,
- On thy children’s flesh abhorrent;
- Then the kingly man’s prostration,
- And thy warlike pride, Achaia,
- Butchered in a bath,
- Now he, too, our greeted Saviour
- Red with this new woe!
- When shall Fate’s stern work be ended,
- When shall cease the boisterous vengeance,
- Hushed in slumbers low?
NOTES TO THE CHOEPHORÆ
Here we have a notable example of the terms of that sort of excommunication which the religious and social feeling of the ancients passed against the perpetrators of atrocious crimes. See Introductory Remarks to the Eumenides.
- “προς γαρ Διος ἐισιν ἂπαντες
- ξεινοί τε πτωχοί τε.”
- Πολλὰ μἀλ’ δσσα τε μητρὸς Ἐριννύες ἐκτελέουσιν.
- My solitude is solitude no more,
- But peopled with the Furies
The Pythoness of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.
The Shade of Clytemnestra.
Chorus of Furies.
Judges of the Court of Areopagus (Mute).
Convoy of the Furies.
Scene—First at Delphi in the Temple of Apollo; then on the Hill of Mars, Athens.
Πολλὰ κατηρατο, στυγερὰς δ’ ἐπίκεκλετ Εριννῠς,
In order to understand thoroughly the situation of the matricide Orestes, in the present play, we must consider further the ancient doctrine of pollution attaching to an act of murder, and the consequent necessity of purification to the offender. The nature of this is distinctly set forth by Orestes himself in a reply to his sister Iphigenia, put into his mouth by Euripides. “Loxias,” he says, “first sent me to Athens, and
- There first arrived, no host would entertain me,
- As being hated of the immortal gods,
- And some, who pitied me, before me placed
- Cold entertainment on a separate board;
- Beneath the same roof though I lodged with them,
- No interchange of living voice I knew,
- But sat apart and ate my food alone.”
Like an unclean leper among the Jews, the man polluted with human blood wandered from land to land, as with a Cain’s mark upon his brow, and every fellow-being shrank from his touch as from a living plague.
- “For wisely thus our ancestors ordained,
- That the blood-tainted man should know no joy
- From sight of fellow-mortal or from touch,
- But with an horrid sanctitude protected
- Range the wide earth an exile.”
But Æschylus is not a patriot only, and a pious worshipper of his country’s gods in this play, he is also, to some small extent at least, manifestly a politician. The main feature of the constitutional history of Athens in the period immediately following the great Persian war, to which period our trilogy belongs, was the enlargement and the systematic completion of those democratic forms, of which the timocratic legislation of Solon, about a century and a-half before, had planted the first germs. Of these changes, Pericles, the man above all others who knew both to understand and to control his age, was the chief promoter; and in a policy whose main tendency was the substitution of a numerous popular for a narrow professional control of public business, it could not fail to be a main feature, that the authority of the judges of the old aristocratic courts was curtailed in favour of those bodies of paid jurymen, the institution of which is specially attributed to Pericles and his coadjutor Ephialtes. Whether these changes were politic or not, in the large sense of that word, need not be inquired here; Mr. Grote has done much to lengthen the focus of those short-sighted national spectacles, through which the English eye has been accustomed to view the classic democracies; but let it be that Pericles kept within the bounds of a wise liberty in giving a fair and a large trial to the action of democratic principles at that time and place; or let it be, on the other hand, that he overstepped the line
- “Which whoso passes, or who reaches not,
- Misses the mark of right”—
in either case, where decision was so difficult, and discretion so delicate, no one can accuse the thoughtful tragic poet of a stolid conservatism, when he comes forward, in this play, as the advocate of the only court of high jurisdiction in Athens, now left unshaken by the great surge of those popular billows, that were yet swelling everywhere with the eager inspiration of Marathon and Salamis. The court of Areopagus was not now, since the legislation of Solon, and the further democratic movement of Cleisthenes, in any invidious or exclusive sense an aristocratic assembly, such as the close corporations of the old Roman aristocracy before the series of popular changes introduced by Licinius Stolo; it was a council, in fact, altogether without that family and hereditary element, in which the principal offence of aristocracy has always lain; its members were composed entirely (not recruited merely like our House of Lords) of those superior magistrates—archons annually elected by the people—who had retired from office. To magnify the authority of such a body, and maintain intact the few privileges that had now been left it, was, when an obvious opportunity offered, not only excusable in a great national tragedian, but imperative. One thing his political attitude in this matter certainly proves, that he was not a vulgar hunter after popularity, delighting to swell to the point of insane exaggeration the cry of the hour, but one of those men of high purpose, who prove a greater strength of patriotism by stemming the popular stream, than by swimming with it.
Besides the championship of the Court of the Areopagus, there is another political element in this rich drama, which, though of less consequence, must not be omitted. No sooner had the Persian invaders been fairly driven back from the Hellenic shore, than that old spirit of narrow local jealousy, which was the worm at the heart of Grecian political existence, broke out with renewed vigour, and gave ominous indications in the untoward affair of Tanagra, of that terrible collision which shook the two great rival powers a few years afterwards in the famous Peloponnesian war. Sparta and Athens, opposed as they were by race, by geographical position, and by political character, after some public attempts at co-operation, in which Cimon was the principal actor, shrunk back, as in quiet preparation for the great trial of strength, into a state of isolated antagonism. But, though open hostility was deferred, wise precaution could not sleep; and, accordingly, we find the Athenians, about this time, anxious to secure a base of operations, so to speak, against Sparta in the Peloponnesus, by entering into an alliance with Argos. As a genuine Athenian, Æschylus, whatever his political feelings might be towards Cimon and the Spartan party, could not but look with pleasure on the additional strength which this Argive connection gave to Athens in the general council of Greece; and, accordingly, he dexterously takes advantage of the circumstance of Orestes being an Argive, to trace back the now historical union of the two countries to a period where Fancy is free to add what links she pleases to the brittle bonds of international association
Such is a rapid sketch of the principal religious and political relations, some notion of which is necessary to enable the general English reader to enter with sympathy on the perusal of the very powerful and singular drama of the Eumenides The professional student, of course, will not content himself with what he finds here, but will seek for complete satisfaction in the luminous pages of Thirlwall and Grote—in the learned articles of Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, in the notes of Schoemann, and, above all, in the rare Dissertations of Ottfried Muller, accompanying his edition of the Eumenides—a work which I have read once and again with mingled admiration and delight—from which I have necessarily drawn with no stinted hand in my endeavours to comprehend the Orestean trilogy for myself, and to make it comprehensible to others; and which I most earnestly recommend to all classical students as a pattern-specimen of erudite architecture raised by the hand of a master, from whom, even in his points of most baseless speculation (as what German is without such?), more is to be learned than from the triple-fanged certainties of vulgar commentators.
- “What power thy father lent.”
- “* * My early growth of hair
- To Inachus I vowed.”
These words will recall to the student of Homer a passage from the twenty-third book of the Iliad, where an account is given of the funeral ceremonies of Patroclus.
- “First the horsemen came, and then a cloud of infantry behind,
- Tens of thousands, his companions bore Patroclus in the midst,
- And the corpse they sadly covered with the locks which grief had shorn”
- v. 133-5.
- “Then another deed devised Achilles godlike, swift of foot,
- Stationed sad behind the pyre he clipt his locks of yellow hair,
- Which, luxuriant shed, he cherished to Spercheius’ flowing stream.”
- v 140-3
- “O Jove, be thou mine aid”
Of the high functions which belong to the supreme god of the Greeks, that of avenger is not the least notable, and is alluded to with special frequency in the Odyssey, of which poem, retribution in this life for wicked works is the great moral—whence the frequent line—
- ἀι κε πόθι Ζεὺς δωˆσι παλίντιτα [Editor: illegible character]ργα γενέσθαι.
- “And my cheeks, that herald sorrow.”
- “So filthy hands with blood bedabbled.”
- “What the masters of my fate
- In their strength decree.”
- “. . . beneath the veil.”
ὑϕ ε̂ιμάτων. Stan quotes the beautiful picture of Telemachus (Odyssey IV. 114), endeavouring to conceal his filial sorrow from the eyes of Menelaus at Sparta—
- “From his eye the tear-drop fell when he heard his father’s name,
- And with both his hands before his eyes he held the purple cloak.”
- “. . . libations pure,
- Poured on my father’s tomb.”
These libations are described in various passages of the Classics, of which the following may suffice.—
- “Then to all the dead I poured libations, first with honied milk,
- Then with sweetest wine, and then with water, and I strewed the grains
- Of whitest meal.”
- —Odyssey XI. 26
- “Go, my Hermione, without the door,
- And these libations take, and take my hair,
- And, standing over Clytemnestra’s tomb,
- Milk-mingled honey and the winy foam
- Pour, and thus speak”
- —Eurip, Orest 112.
- “And with the due libation’s triple flow
- She crowns the corpse”
- —Soph. Antig, 429.
- “. . . as who throws lustral ashes.”
- “What other quittance to a foe
- Than hate repaid with hate, and blow with blow?”
- “Hermes, that swayest underneath the ground”
- All the recent editors agree in bringing up the line—
- κήρυξ μέγιστε των άνω τε καὶ κάτω,
- “These words of evil imprecation dire.”
- κήρυξ μεγιστε των άνω τε καὶ κάτω,
mentioned above as having been thrown back by Hermann to the commencement of Electra’s address over the tomb of her father, immediately preceding the short choral ode. It is literally translated by E. P., Oxon.—
- “O mightiest herald of the powers above and below,”
- “. . . a low-zoned maid’s.”
- “If it was clipt
- From head in Argos, it should be my own.”
- “. . . But lo! a further proof”
- “Pray that fair end may fair beginning follow”
This seems to have been a sort of proverbial prayer among the Greeks, used for the sake of a good omen, as we find Clytemnestra, in the Agamemnon (p. 57 above), saying the same thing.
- [Editor: illegible character]υ γὰρ πρὸς έυ ϕανε̂ισι προσθήκη πελοι.
- v. 486.
“The ladies, in the simplicity of ancient times, valued themselves much and, indeed, were highly esteemed, for their skill in embroidery; those rich wrought vests made great part of the wealth of noble houses. Andromache, Helen, and Penelope, were celebrated for their fine work, of which Minerva herself was the patroness, and Dido was as excellent as the best of them.”—Pot. The student will recall a familiar instance from Virgil—
- “Munera practrea Iliacis crepta ruinis
- Ferre jubet, pallam signis auroque rigentem
- Et circumtextum croceo velamen acantho
- Ornatus Argivae Helenæ.”
- —Æneid I 651.
- “May Power and Justice and thee, mighty Twain.”
The reader will note this theological triad as very characteristic of the Greeks. Power (Κράτος) is coupled with Jove, as being his most peculiar physical attribute. Personified, this attribute appears in the Prometheus; and in Homer,
- “Jove, the lofty pealing Thunderer, and in power the chiefest god,”
answers to the opening words of our own solemn addresses to the Supreme Being—Almighty God Justice, again, belongs to Jove as the highest moral attribute; and this conjunction we find also very distinctly expressed in Homer.
- “By Olympian Jove I charge you, and by Themis who presides
- O’er the assemblies of the people”
- —Odyssey II 68
- “. . . exasperate at the loss
- Of my so fair possessions.”
- “. . The evil-minded Powers
- Beneath the Earth.”
- “And through the dark his prescient eyebrow arched.”
The reference of this impracticable line to Apollo comes from Pauw, and has been adopted by Schwenck, who reads—
- Ὁρωˆν τε λαμπρὸν ὲν σκότῳ νωμωˆν τ’ ’οϕρὺν.
Another way of squeezing a meaning from the line is to refer it to Agamem non—
- “With trains of heavier woes
- Raised by the Furies from my father’s blood,
- Who in the realms of night sees this, and bends
- His gloomy brows”
- “. . . him no share
- In festal cup awaits, or hallowed drop
- Of pure libation.”
- “Age to age with hoary wisdom
- Speaketh thus to men.”
- “There where in dark, the dead-man’s day, thou liest.”
Kl. appears to me to have supplied the true key to σκότω ϕάος ’ισόμοιρον, by comparing the exclamation of Ajax in Sophocles, v. 394—
- Ιω σκότος ’εμὸν ϕάος
- [Editor: illegible character]ερεβος ὠ ϕαεννότατον ὡς εμόι!
- “The monarch of the awful dead.”
The Hades of the ancients was, as is well remarked by Kl on this place, in all things an image of this upper world; an observation to be made on the surface of Virgil—
- “Quae gratia currum
- Armorumque fuit viris, quæ cura nitentes
- Pascere equos, eadem sequitur tellure repostos”
- Æneid VI 653.
But the parallel most striking to the present passage occurs in the address of Ulysses to Achilles, Odyssey XI 482—
- Never man before was happier, nor shall ever be, than thou,
- When thou wert among the living all the Argives honoured thee
- Like a god, and now amid the dead thou sway’st with mighty power”
To which address the hero gave the well-known reply, a reply characteristic at once of his own tremendous energy, and of the Greek views of a future state:—
- “Noble Ulysses, praise me not the state of death; for I would rather
- Be a serf, and break the clods to him that owneth acres few
- On Earth, than reign the mighty lord of millions of the shadowy dead.’
- “O Jove, O Jove! that sendest from below.”
- “Ye that honoured reign below.”
What the true reading of the corrupt original here is, no one can know; but it may be some satisfaction to the student to note that the different readings of all the emendators bring out substantially the same sense. I give the various translations as follows:—
- You, whose dreaded power
- The infernal realms revere, ye Furies, hear me!
- O ye powers that are honoured among the dead, listen to my prayer.
- —E. P., Oxon.
- Höret ihr Herrscher der Tiefe, hört mïch.
- Höret mich Erd, und des Abgrund’s mächte!
- “And if blithe confidence awhile.”
- “The mother gave her child
- This wolfish nature wild.”
- “Like a Persian mourner.”
With Kl., Peile, Fr., and Pal., I adopt Hermann’s emendation—
- κὰι μὴν ἀμεμϕη̂ τον δ ἐτείνατον λόγον.
- “. . . try what speed the gods may give thee.”
- “. . . this whole house with ills
- Is sheer possessed.”
- “. . . Sirs, why dare ye shut
- Inhospitable doors against the stranger?”
- “The third and crowning cup.
- “. . . his present aid I ask”
- Who laid on my poor wits this bloody task.”
- “Earth breeds a fearful progeny”
The sentiment of this chorus was familiar to the ancients, and was suggested with peculiar force to the minds of the tragedians, from the contemplation of those terrible deeds of old traditionary crime, which so often formed the subject of their most popular and most powerful efforts. Sophocles had a famous chorus in the Antigone, beginning in the same strain, though ranging over a wider and a more ennobling field—“πολλὰ τα δεινὰ κ’ουδὲν ανθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει”
- “Things of might hath Nature many
- In her various plan,
- But of daring powers who dareth
- Most on Earth is man”
In imitation of which, the
- “Audax omnia perpeti
- Gens humana ruit in vetitum nefas”
- “All-venturing woman’s dreadful ire.”
Kl. quotes here the Homeric
- ὡς ὀυκ ἀινότερον και κύντερον ἀλλο γυναικὸς.
- “Woman like a dog unblushing deeds of terrible name will do.”
- “Thestios’ daughter, wild with rage.”
- “How Scylla, gay, in gold arrayed.”
- “O woman! woman! Lemnos saw”
- “And honor from the threshold hies,
- On which the doom god-spoken lies”
- “But nice regard for the fine feeling ear.”
I have here with a certain freedom of version expressed Kl ’s idea, that the preference expressed by Orestes for a male ear to receive his message arose from the nature of his news; but I do not think it is “inept” to believe, with Bl. and Peiie, that we have here merely an instance of the general secluded state in which Greek women lived, so that it was esteemed not proper to talk with them, in public—as Achilles says, in Euripides—
- ἀισχρὸν δέ μοὶ γυναιξὶν συμβὰλλειν λόγους.
- “For me to hold exchange of words with women
- Were most improper”
- —Iphig Aulid 830.
- “. . . suasive wile, and smooth deceit!”
The reader need hardly be reminded that these qualities, so necessary to the present transaction, render the invocation (in the next line) peculiarly necessary of the god, who was the recognised patron of thieves, and of whom the Roman lyrist, in a well-known ode sings—
- “Te boves olim nisi reddidisses
- Per dolum amotas puerum minaci
- Voce dum terret, viduus pharetra
- Risit Apollo’
- “The nightly courier of the dead.”
- “The bearer of a tale can make it wear
- What face he pleases.”
I translate thus generally, in order to avoid the necessity of settling the point whether κυπτὸς or κρυπτὸς is the proper reading—a point, however, of little consequence to the translator of Æschylus, as the Venetian Scholiast to Il. O. 207 has been triumphantly brought forward to prove the real meaning of this otherwise corrupt and unintelligible verse. Pot. was not in a condition to get hold of the true text—so he has given the best version he could of what he had—
- “For the mind catches from the messenger
- A secret elevation and bold swell,”
- “Let’s go aside, the deed being done, that we
- Seem not partakers of the bloody work.”
- “I nursed thy childhood, and in peace would die.”
Clytemnestra says only that she wished to be allowed to spend her old age in peace; but she implies further, according to a natural feeling strongly expressed by Greek writers, that it was the special duty of her son to support her old age, and thus pay the fee of his nursing. Thus, in Homer, it is a constant lament over one who dies young in battle—
- “Not to his parents
- The nursing fee (θρέπτρα) he paid”
- —Il. IV. 478.
- “Thou art a woman sitting in thy chamber.”
- “Go to thy chamber, mother, and mind the business that suits thee;
- Tend the loom and the spindle, and give thy maidens the order
- Each to her separate work; but leave the bow and the arrows
- To the men and to me—for the man in the house is the master”
- Odyssey XXI. 350.
- “ . . the eye of this great house, may live.”
- “A pair of grim lions, a double Mars terrible.”
- “Her from his shrine sent the rock-throned Apollo.”
- “And blithely shall welcome them Fortune the fairest.”
- “. . . not
- My father, but the Sun that fathers all
- With light.”
There is a certain mannerism in this description of a thing by the negation of what is similar, to which the tragedians were much addicted. As to the invocation of the sun, see the note in the Prometheus to the speech beginning
- O divine ether and swift-winged winds.
- “Or a torpedo, that with biteless touch
- Strikes numb who handles.”
- “This cloth to wrap the dead.”
- “Others ’twixt hope and fear may sway, my fate
- Is fixed and scapeless.”
- Ἄλλοις ἄν ἐι δή. τουτ’ ἂρ διδ δπη τελε̂ι.
- “With soft-wreathed wool, and precatory branch.”
These insignia of suppliants are familiar to every reader of the Classics. I shall only recall two of the most familiar intances In the opening scene of the Iliad the priest of Apollo appears before Agamemnon, and
- “In his hand he held the chaplet of the distant-darting Phœbus
- On a golden rod”
And in the opening lines of the Œdipus Tyrannus, the old King asks the Chorus—
- “Why swarm ye here around the seats of the gods,
- With branches furnished such as suppliants bear?”
- “. . . navel of earth, where burns the flame
- Of fire immortal”
- “Ye see them not. I see them”
Ghosts and gods are never visible to the bystander, but only to the person or persons who may be under their special influence at the moment of their appearance—so in the Iliad (I. 197), Pallas Athena—
- “There behind him stood, and by the yellow hair she seized Pelides,
- Seen to him alone, the others saw not where the goddess stood”
- “ . . the god whose eyes in love behold thee!”