Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE - The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus
THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES 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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THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES
A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE
- I cannot think but curses climb the sky,
- And there awake God’s gentle-sleeping peace.
- Alle Schuld rächt sich auf Erden.
Eteocles, Son of Oedipus.
Chorus of Theban Virgins.
Ismene, } Sisters of Eteocles.
Antigone, } Sisters of Eteocles.
Scene—The Acropolis of Thebes.
- Sow not the seed of children, in despite
- Of the gods: for if thou shalt beget a son,
- Him who begat shall the begotten slay,
- And all thy house in bloody ruin perish.
With regard to the merits of the present piece, while its structure exhibits, in the most striking manner, the deficient skill of the early dramatists, its spirit is everywhere manly and noble, and instinct with the soul of the warlike actions which it describes. The best parts are epic, not dramatic—namely, those in which the Messenger describes the different characters and appearance of the seven chiefs posted each at a separate gate of the Cadmean city. The drama concludes with a Theban coronach or wall over the dead bodies of the self-slain brothers; for the proper relishing of which, the imaginative reproduction of some appropriate music is indispensable. The introduction after this of the Herald, announcing the decree of the Theban senate, whereby burial is denied to the body of Polynices, and the heroic display of sisterly affection on the part of Antigone, are—if this really was the last piece of a trilogy—altogether foreign both to the action and to the tone of the tragedy, and must be regarded as a blunder. If Schiller, and even Shakespeare, on occasions, could err in such matters, much more Æschylus.
THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES
- Ye citizens of Cadmus! he who sits
- Holding the helm in the high poop of state,
- Watchful, with sleepless eyes, must, when he speaks,
- Speak words that suit the time. If we succeed,
- The gods will have the praise; but should we fail
- (Which may averting Jove from me avert,1
- And from this Theban city!), I alone
- Must bear the up-heaped murmurings of the whole,
- A motley-voiced lament. Ye men of Thebes,
- Not manhood’s vigour only, but ye also
- Who lack ripe years, and ye whose green old age
- Nurses unwithered strength, arm, and redeem
- Your country’s honor from a cruel blot.
- Let not the citadel of your ancient sires,
- The altars of your native gods, your children,
- Nor the dear mother Earth, that nursed you, blame
- The slackness of your love—the nurse who bore
- Your creeping childhood on her fostering soil,
- And through your slow growth up to firmer years,
- Toiled that the strong arms of her faithful sons,
- Might shield her need. Up to this hour the god
- Inclines to us; though close hedged in by the foe,
- The vantage hath been ours. But now the seer,
- The shepherd of prophetic birds’ revolving
- In his ear and inward sense deep-pondered truths,2
- By no false art, though without help from fire,
- Even he soothsaying sings that the Argive camp
- Holds midnight council to attack the city.
- Therefore be ready; mount the battlements;
- Top every tower; crown every parapet;
- Fence every gate with valiant-hearted men,
- Well harnessed for the fight: and never fear
- This trooping alien foe. The gods will give
- A happy issue. Myself have sent out scouts,
- Sure men, not wont to linger. Their advice
- Shall shield us from surprise.
- Most excellent lord of Thebes! what I have seen
- With mine own eyes, no idle unvouched tale,
- I bring thee from the camp Seven warlike chiefs
- I saw, in solemn sacrifice assembled:
- Holding the head of the devoted ox,
- Over the shield with iron rimmed they dipped
- Their hands in the steaming blood, and swore an oath,
- By Mars, Enýo, and blood-loving Terror,3
- Either to raze the walls of Thebes, and plunder
- The citadel of Cadmus, or else drench
- This soil with Argive blood. Then, as for death
- Prepared, they decked the chariot of Adrastus4
- With choice love-tokens to their Argive kin,
- Dropping a tear, but with their mouths they gave
- No voice. An iron-hearted band are they,
- Breathing hot war, like lions when their eye
- Looks instant battle. Such my news; nor I
- Slow to report; for in the camp I left them
- Eager to share among their several bands
- Our gates by lot. Therefore, bestir thee; fence
- Each gate with the choicest men: dash all delay;
- For now the Argive host, near and more near,
- All panoplied comes on; the dark-wreathed dust
- Rolls, and the snowy foam of snorting chargers
- Stains the pure Theban soil. Like a wise pilot
- That scents the coming gale, hold thou the city
- Tight, ere the storm of Ares on our heads
- Burst pitiless. Loud the mainland wave is roaring.
- This charge be thine: myself, a sleepless spy,
- Will bring thee sure word from the hostile camp:
- Safe from without, so ye be strong within
- O Jove! O Earth! O Gods that keep the city!
- And thou fell Fury of my father’s curse!
- Destroy not utterly this Cadméan seat
- Rent, razed, deracinated by the foe!
- Yield not our pious hearths, where the loved speech
- Of Hellas echoes, to a stranger host!
- Let not the free-born Theban bend the neck,
- To slavery thralled, beneath a tyrant’s yoke!
- Be ye our strength! our common cause we plead;
- A prosperous state hath cause to bless the gods.
TheChorus5enter the scene in great hurry and agitation.
- O wailing and sorrow, O wailing and woe!
- Their tents they have left, many-banded they ride,
- And onward they tramp with the prance of pride,
- The horsemen of the foe.
- The dark-volumed dust-cloud that rides on the gale,
- Though voiceless, declares a true messenger’s tale;
- With clattering hoofs, on and on still they ride,6
- It swells on my ear, loud it rusheth and roareth,
- As a fierce wintry torrent precipitous poureth,
- Rapidly lashing the mountain side.
- Hear me ye gods, and ye goddesses hear me!
- The black harm prevent that swells near and more near me!
- As a wave on the shore when the blast beats the coast,
- So breaks o’er the walls, from the white-shielded host,7
- The eager war-cry, the sharp cry of fear,
- As near still it rolls, and more near.
TheChorusbecome more and more agitated. They speak one to another in short hurried exclamations, and in great confusion.
- To which of the gods and the goddesses now
- Shall I pay my vow?
- Shall I cling to the altar, and kneeling embrace
- The guardian gods of the Theban race?
- Ye blissful Olympians, throned sublime,
- In the hour of need, in the urgent time,
- May the deep drawn sigh,
- And the heart’s strong cry
- Ascend not in vain to your seats sublime!
- Heard ye the shields rattle, heard ye the spear?
- In this dark day of dole,
- With chaplet and stole8
- Let us march to the temples, and worship in fear!
- I heard the shield’s rattle, and spear clashed on spear
- Came stunning my ear.
- O Ares, that shines in the helmet of gold,9
- Thine own chosen city wilt thou behold
- To slavery sold?
- O Ares, Ares, wilt thou betray
- Thy Theban home to-day?
TheChoruscrown the altars of the gods, and then, falling on their knees, sing the following Theban Litany, in one continuous chaunt.
- Patron gods that keep the city,
- Look, look down upon our woe,
- Save this band of suppliant virgins
- From the harsh-enslaving foe!
- For a rush of high-plumed warriors
- Round the city of the free,
- By the blast of Ares driven,
- Roars, like billows of the sea.
- Father Jove the consummator,
- Save us from the Argive spear;
- For their bristling ranks enclose us,
- And our hearts do quake with fear,
- And their steeds with ringing bridles10
- Knell destruction o’er the land;
- And seven chiefs, with lance in hand,
- Fixed by lot to share the slaughter,
- At the seventh gate proudly stand.
- Save us, Pallas, war-delighting
- Daughter of immortal Jove!
- Save us, lord of billowy ocean!
- God of pawing steeds, Poseidon,11
- Join thine aid to his above,
- And with thy fish-piercing trident
- Still our hearts, our fears remove.
- Save us Ares! father Ares,
- Father now thy children’s need!
- Save us Cypris, mother of Thebans,12
- For we are thy blood indeed!
- Save us, save us, Wolf-Apollo,13
- Be a wolf against the foe!
- Whet thine arrows, born of Leto,
- Leto’s daughter bend thy bow!
The Litany is here interrupted by the noise of the besiegers storming the city, and is continued in a hurried irregular manner.
I hear the dread roll of the chariots of war!
O holy Hera!
And the axles harsh-creaking with dissonant jar!
O Artemis dear!
And the vext air is madded with quick-branished spears.
To Thebes, our loved city, what hope now appears?
And when shall the gods bring an end of our fears?
Hark! hark! stony hail the near rampart is lashing!
O blest Apollo!
And iron-bound shield against shield is clashing!
- The issue of war with the gods abideth,
- The doubtful struggle great Jove decideth.
- O Onca, blest Onca,14 whose worshippers ever
- Invoke thee, the queen of the Oncan gate,
- The seven-gated city deliver, deliver,15
- Thou guardian queen of the gate.
TheChorusunite again into a full band, and sing the Finale of the Litany in regular Strophe and Antistrophe.
- Gods and goddesses almighty!
- Earthly and celestial powers!
- Of all good things consummators,
- Guardians of the Theban towers!
- Save the spear-encompassed city
- From a foreign-speaking foe!16
- Hear the virgin band, that prays thee
- With the out-stretched arms of woe!
- Gods and demigods! the city
- Aid that on your aid depends,
- Watch around us, and defend us;
- He is strong whom God defends.
- Bear the incense in remembrance
- Of our public sacrifice;
- From a people rich in offerings
- Let no prayer unanswered rise!
- Answer me this, insufferable brood!
- Is this your wisdom, this your safety-note
- To Theban soldiers, this your war-cry, thus
- In prostrate woe clasping the guardian gods,
- To scream and wail the vain lament of fools?
- I pray the gods, in good or evil days,
- May never fate be mine to lodge with women.
- When fortune’s brave, their pride’s unbearable,
- But, comes a thought of fear, both hall and forum
- Must ring with their laments. Why run ye thus
- From street to street, into the hearts of men
- Scattering dastardy, and bruiting fear?
- Nay, but ye chiefly help the enemy’s cause
- Without the gate, and we by friends within
- Are more besieged; such aid expect from women!
- Thebans give ear; whoso shall disobey
- My word in Thebes, man, woman, old, or young,
- Whoe’er he be, against himself he writes
- Black sentence to be stoned by the public hand.
- Without the gates let brave men fight; within
- Let women tend their children, and their webs.
- Hear ye, or hear ye not? or do I speak
- To the deaf?
- Son of Oedipus be witness!
- Should not terror rob our wits,
- When we hear the roll of chariots,
- Whirling wheels, and creaking axles,
- And the unresting tramp of horses
- Champing fierce their fire-forged bits?
- What then? when with the storm the good ship labours,
- Shall the wise helmsman leave his proper post,
- To clasp the painted gods upon the prow?17
- When we heard war’s rattling hail-drift
- Round our ramparts wildly rave,
- Trusting to the gods of Cadmus,
- Spurred by fear, we hither hurried,
- Here to pray, and clasp the statues
- Of the good gods strong to save.
- Pray that our well-manned walls be strong to save us,
- Else will the gods help little. Who knows not
- That, when a city falls, they pass to the Victor?18
- Never, never may the council
- Of the assembled gods desert us,
- While I live, and look on day!
- Never, never may the stranger
- Rush through the streets, while midnight burning
- Lights the robber to his prey!
- Weak prayers confound wise counsel. Know ye not
- Obedience is the mother of success,
- And pledge of victory. So the wise have spoken.
- But the gods are strong. When mortals
- Stretch the arm in vain to save us,
- Help is waiting from above.
- When dark night enveils the welkin,
- And thick-mantled ruin gathers,
- They enclasp us round with love.
- Leave sacrifice and oracles to men,
- And ’gainst the imminent foe pray to the gods.
- Women should hold their tongues, and keep their homes.
- By the strength of gods the city
- Each rude tide hath learnt to stem;
- Who shall charge us with offending,
- When we make our vows to them?
- Your vows I grudge not, nor would stint your prayers;
- But this I say, blow not your fears about,
- Nor taint the general heart with apprehension.
- Startled by the blare of battle,
- Hearing clash of combat fell,
- With a quaking heart I hied me
- To this sacred citadel.
- And when ye hear that some are dead or wounded,
- Drag not the news with wailings through the town;
- For blood of mortals is the common food19
- Of the war god.
Hark! the angry steeds are snorting.
Hear what thou wilt; but do not hear aloud
- The Earth beneath me groans, the wall is shaking.
The walls are mine to uphold. Pray you, be silent.
- Woe’s me, the clash of arms, loud and more loud,
- Rings at the gate!
And thou the loudest!—Peace!
Great council of the gods, O save us! save us!
Perdition seize thee! thy words flow like water.
O patron gods, save me from captive chains!
Thy fear makes captive me, and thee, and all.
O mighty Jove, fix with thy dart the foe!
O Jove, of what strange stuff hast thou made women!
Men are no better, when their city’s captured.
Dost clasp the gods again, and scream and howl?
Fear hurries on my overmastered tongue
One small request I have; beseech you hear me.
Speak: I am willing, if I can, to please thee
Please me by silence; do not fright thy friends.
I speak no more: and wait my doom with them.
- This word is wiser than a host of wails.
- And now, instead of running to and fro,
- Clinging to every image as you pass,
- Pray to the gods with sober supplication,
- To aid the Theban cause: and, when ye hear
- My vow, lift up a blithe auspicious shout,
- A sacred hymn, a sacrificial cry,
- As brave Greek hearts are wont, whose voice shall speak
- Sure confidence to friends, and to the foe
- Dismay. Now, hear my vow. If they who keep
- The city, keep it now from the Argive spear,
- I vow to them, and to the patron gods
- Of field and forum, and the holy fount
- Of Dirce and Ismenus’ sacred stream,20
- That blood of lambs and bulls shall wash their altars,
- And spear-pierced trophies, Argive harnesses,
- Bedeck their holy halls. Such be your prayers;
- Not sighs and sobs, and frantic screams, that shake
- The hearts of men, but not the will of gods.
- Meanwhile, with six choice men, myself the seventh,
- I’ll gallantly oppose these boastful chiefs
- That block our outlets. Timely thus I’ll gag
- The swift-winged rush of various-bruited news,
- That in the hour of danger blazes fear.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Well thou speakest; but unsleeping
- Terrors shake my virgin frame,
- And the blasts of war around me
- Fan my fears into a flame.
- As the dove her dovelets nursing,
- Fears the tree-encircling serpent,
- Fatal neighbour of her nest;
- Thus the foe, our walls enclosing,
- Thrills with ceaseless fears my breast.
- Hark! in hurrying throngs careering
- Rude they beat our Theban towers,
- And a rain of rock-torn fragments
- On the roofs of Cadmus showers!
- Save us, gods that keep the city,
- Save us, Jove-begotten Powers!
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- Say what region shall receive ye,
- When the Theban soil is waste?
- When pure Dirce’s fount is troubled,
- From what waters shall ye taste?
- Theban soil, the deepest, richest,
- That with fruits of joy is pregnant,
- Dirce, sweetest fount that runs,
- From Poseidon earth-embracing,
- And from Tethys’ winding sons.21
- Patron-gods maintain your glory,
- Sit in might enthroned to-day:
- Smite the foe with fear; fear stricken
- Let them fling their arms away:
- Hear our sharp shrill-piercing wailings,
- When for Cadmus’ weal we pray!
- STROPHE II.
- Sad it were, and food for weeping,
- To behold these walls Ogygian,
- By the stranger spearman mounted,
- Levelled by the Argive foe,
- And these towers by god-sent vengeance
- Laid in crumbling ashes low.
- Sad it were to see the daughters,
- And the sonless mothers grey,
- Of old Thebes, with hair dishevelled,
- And rent vestments, even as horses
- Dragged by the mane, a helpless prey;
- Sad to hear the victors’ clamour
- Mingling with the captive’s moan,
- And the frequent-clanking fetter
- Struggling with the dying groan.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- Sad, most sad, should hands unlicensed
- Rudely pluck our opening blossom;
- Sad—yea better far to die!
- Changing nuptial torch and chamber
- For dark homes of slavery.
- Ah! my soul within me trembles,
- When it shapes the sight of shame,
- Swift the chase of lawless murder,
- And the swifter chase of flame;
- Black the surly smoke upwreathing,
- Cries, confusion, choking heat;
- Shrine-polluting, man-subduing
- Mars, wild borne from street to street!
- STROPHE III.
- Towers and catapults surrounding,
- And the greedy spear upswallowing
- Man by man, its gory food:
- And the sucking infants clinging
- To the breasts that cannot bear them,
- Cries to ears that cannot hear them
- Mingle with their mother’s blood.
- Plunder, daughter of Confusion,
- Startles Plenty from his lair,
- And the robber with the robber
- Bargains for an equal share;
- Gods! in such a night of terrors
- How shall helpless maidens fare?
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- Planless is the strife of Plunder.
- Fruits of patient years are trampled
- Reckless in the moment’s grave;
- And the maids that tend the household,
- With a bitter eye of weeping,
- See the treasured store of summers
- Hurried by the barren wave.
- Woe, deep woe, waits captive maidens,
- To an untried thraldom led,
- Bound, by chains of forced affection,
- To some haughty husband’s bed:
- Sooner, sooner may I wander
- Sister of the sunless dead!
- Methinks I see the scout sent by the king:
- Doubtless he brings us news; his tripping feet
- Come swift as wheels that turn on willing axles.
- The king himself, the son of Oedipus,
- Comes in the exact nick to hear his tidings:
- With rapid and unequal steps he too
- Urges the way.
EnterMessengerandEteoclesfrom opposite sides
- What I have seen I come
- To tell; the movements of the foe, the station
- That lot hath given each champion at the gates.
- First at the Prœtian portal Tydeus stands,22
- Storming against the seer, who wise forbids
- To pass Ismenus’ wave, before the sacrifice
- Auspicious smiles. But he, for battle burning,
- Fumes like a fretful snake in the sultry noon,
- Lashing with gibes the wise Oiclidan seer,23
- Whose prudence he interprets dastardy,
- Cajoling death away. Thus fierce he raves,
- And shakes the overshadowing crest sublime,
- His helmet’s triple mane, while ’neath his shield
- The brazen bells ring fear.24 On his shield’s face
- A sign he bears as haughty as himself,
- The welkin flaming with a thousand lights,
- And in its centre the full moon shines forth,
- Eye of the night, and regent of the stars.
- So speaks his vaunting shield: on the stream’s bank
- He stands, loud-roaring, eager for the fight,
- As some fierce steed that frets against the bit,
- And waits with ruffling neck, and ears erect,
- To catch the trumpet’s blare. Who will oppose
- This man? what champion, when the bolts are broken,
- Shall plant his body in the Prœtian gate?
- No blows I fear from the trim dress of war,
- No wounds from blazoned terrors. Triple crests
- And ringing bells bite not without the spear;
- And for this braggart shield, with starry night
- Studded, too soon for the fool’s wit that owns it
- The scutcheon may prove seer. When death’s dark night
- Shall settle on his eyes, and the blithe day
- Beams joy on him no more, hath not the shield
- Spoken significant, and pictured borne
- A boast against its bearer? I, to match
- This Tydeus, will set forth the son of Astacus,
- A noble youth not rich in boasts, who bows
- Before the sacred throne of Modesty,
- In base things cowardly, in high virtue bold.
- His race from those whom Ares spared he draws,25
- Born from the sown field of the dragon’s teeth,
- His name Melanippus. Mars shall throw the dice
- Bravely for him, and Justice call him brother,
- While girt he goes from his loved Theban mother
- To ward the Argive spear.
- May the gods protect our champion!
- Be the cause of Right his shield!
- But I fear to see the breathless
- Bleeding bodies of true warriors
- Strewn upon the battle field.
- Speed well your pious prayers! The lot hath placed
- Proud Capaneus before the Electran gate,26
- A giant warrior mightier than the first,
- And boasting more than mortal. His high threats
- May never Chance fulfil! for with the aid
- Of gods, or in the gods’ despite, he vows
- To sack the city, and sets the bolted wrath
- Of Jove at nought, his lightnings and his thunders
- Recking no more—so speaks the vauntful tongue—
- Than vulgar noonday heat. His orbéd shield
- The blazon of a naked man displays,
- Shaking a flaring torch with lofty threat
- In golden letters—i will burn the city.
- Such is the man: who shall not quail before
- A pride that flings defiance to the gods?
- Here, too, we meet the strong with something stronger.
- When men are proud beyond the mark of right,
- They do proclaim with forward tongue their folly,
- Themselves their own accuser. This brave Capaneus
- With empty threats and wordy exercise,
- Fights mortal ’gainst immortals, and upcasts
- Loud billowy boasts in Jove’s high face But I
- In Jove have faith that he will smite this boaster
- With flaming bolts, to vulgar heat of noon
- In no wise like. The gallant Polyphontus,
- A man of glowing heart, against this blusterer
- I’ll send, himself a garrison to pledge
- Our safety, by the grace of Artemis,
- And the protecting gods. Name now the others.
- Perish, with his boasts, the boaster,
- By strong thunder prostrate laid!
- Never, never may I see him
- Into holy homes of virgins
- Rushing, with his godless blade!
- Hear more. The third lot to Eteocles
- Leapt from the upturned brazen helm,27 and fixed him
- At the Netaean gate.28 His eager steeds,
- Their frontlets tossed in the breeze, their swelling nostrils
- High-snorting with the impatient blast of war,
- Their bridles flapping with barbaric clang,
- He curbs, and furious ’gainst the city wheels them,
- Even as a whirling storm. His breadth of shield,
- Superbly rounded, shows an armed man
- Scaling a city, with this proud device,
- Not Mars himself shall hurl me from these towers.
- Choose thou a champion worthy to oppose
- This haughty chief, and pledge his country’s weal.
- Fear not: with happy omen, I will send,
- Have sent already, one to meet this foe,
- Whose boasts are deeds, brave Megareus, a son
- Of the dragon’s race, a warrior recking nothing
- The snortings of impatient steeds. This man
- Will, with his heart’s blood, pay the nursing fee
- Due to his Theban mother, or come back—
- Which grant the gods!—bearing on that proud shield
- Rich spoil to garnish forth his father’s halls,
- The painted champion, and the painted city,
- And him that living bore the false-faced sign.
- Now name the fourth, and spare me not your boasts.
- May the gods protect my champion!
- Ruin seize the ruthless foe!
- As they boast to raze the city,
- So may Jove with wrathful vengeance
- Lay their frenzied babblings low!
- The fourth’s Hippomedon Before the gate
- He stands of Onca Pallas, clamouring on
- With lordly port. His shield’s huge round he waved,
- (Fearful to view), a halo not a shield
- No vulgar cunning did his hand possess
- Who carved the dread device upon its face,
- Typhon, forth-belching, from fire-breathing mouth,
- Black smoke, the volumed sister of the flame,29
- And round its hollow belly was embossed30
- A ring of knotted snakes. Himself did rage,
- Shouting for battle, by the god of war
- Indwelt,31 and, like a Maenad, his dark eyes
- Look fear. Against this man be doubly armed,
- For, where he is, grim Fear is with him.
- Herself will guard the gate that bears her name,
- From her own ramparts hurl the proud assailer,
- And shield her nurslings from this crested snake.
- Hyperbius, the right valiant son of Oenops,
- Shall stand against this foe, casting his life
- Into the chance of war; in lordly port,
- In courage, in all the accoutrements of fight
- Hippomedon’s counterpart—a hostile pair
- Well matched by Hermes.32 But no equal match
- Their shields display—two hostile gods—the one
- Fire-breathing Typhon, father Jove the other,
- Erect, firm-planted, in his flaming hand
- Grasping red thunder, an unvanquished god.
- Such are the gods beneath whose wing they fight,
- For us the strong, for them the weaker power.
- And as the gods are, so the men shall be
- That on their aid depend. If Jove hath worsted
- This Typhon in the fight, we too shall worst
- Our adverse. Shall the king of gods not save
- The man whose shield doth bear the Saviour Jove.
- Earth-born Typhon, hateful monster,
- Sight that men and gods appals,
- Whoso bears in godless blazon
- Great Jove’s foe, shall Jove almighty
- Dash his head against the walls.
- So grant the gods! The fifth proud foe is stationed
- Before the Borean gate, hard by the tomb
- Of the Jove-born Amphion. By his spear
- He swears, his spear more dear to him than gods,
- Or light of day, that he will sack the city
- In Jove’s despite: thus speaks half-man, half-boy.
- The fair-faced scion of a mountain mother.
- The manly down, luxuriant, bushy, sprouts
- Full from his blooming cheek no virgin he
- In aspect, though most virgin-like his name.
- Keen are his looks, and fierce his soul; he too
- Comes not without a boast against the gates;
- For on his shield, stout forgery of brass,
- A broad circumference of sure defence,
- He shows, in mockery of Cadméan Thebes,
- The terrible Sphynx, in gory food delighting,
- Hugely embossed, with terror brightly studded,
- And in her mortal paw the monster rends
- A Theban man: for which reproachful sign
- Thick-showered the bearer bears the keenest darts,—
- Parthenopæus, bold Arcadian chief.
- No man seems he to shame the leagues he travelled
- By petty war’s detail. Not born an Argive,
- In Argos nursed, he now her love repays,
- By fighting ’gainst her foes. His threats—the god
- Grant they be only threats!
- Did they receive
- What punishment their impious vaunts deserve,
- Ruin with one wide swoop should swamp them all.
- This braggart stripling, fresh from Arcady,
- The brother of Hyperbius shall confront,
- Actor, a man whose hand pursues its deed,
- Not brandishing vain boasts No enemy,
- Whose strength is in his tongue, shall sap these walls,
- While Actor has a spear: nor shall the man
- Who bears the hated portent on his shield
- Enter our gate, but rather the grim sign
- Frown on its bearer, when thick-rattling hail
- Showered from our walls shall dint it. If the gods
- Are just, the words I speak are prophecy.
- The eager cry doth rend my breast,
- And on end stands every hair,
- When I hear the godless vaunting
- Of unholy men! May Até
- Fang them in her hopeless snare!
- The sixth a sober man, a seer of might,
- Before the Homoloidian gate stands forth,33
- And speaks harsh words against the might of Tydeus
- Rating him murderer, teacher of all ill
- To Argos, troubler of the city’s peace,
- The Furies’ herald, crimson slaughter’s minion,
- And councillor of folly to Adrastus.
- Thy brother too, the might of Polynices,
- He whips with keen reproaches, and upcasts
- With bitter taunts his evil-omened name,
- Making it spell his ugly sin that owns it.34
- O fair and pious deed, even thus he cries,
- To blot thy native soil with war, and lead
- A foreign host against thy country’s gods!
- Soothly a worthy deed, a pleasant tale
- For future years to tell! Most specious right,
- To stop the sacred fountain up whence sprung
- Thy traitor life! How canst thou hope to live
- A ruler well acknowledged in the land,
- That thou hast wounded with invading spear?
- Myself this foreign soil, on which I tread,
- Shall feed with prophet’s blood. I hope to die,
- Since die I must, an undishonoured death.
- Thus spake the seer, and waved his full-orb’d shield
- Of solid brass, but plain, without device.
- Of substance studious, careless of the show,
- The wise man is what fools but seem to be,35
- Reaping rich harvest from the mellow soil
- Of quiet thought, the mother of great deeds
- Choose thou a wise and virtuous man to meet
- The wise and virtuous. Whoso fears the gods
- Is fearful to oppose.
- Alas! the fate
- That mingles up the godless and the just
- In one companionship! wise was the man
- Who taught that evil converse is the worst
- Of evils, that death’s unblest fruit is reaped
- By him who sows in Até’s fields. The man
- Who, being godly, with ungodly men
- And hot-brained sailors mounts the brittle bark,
- He, when the god-detested crew goes down,
- Shall with the guilty guiltless perish. When
- One righteous man is common citizen
- With godless and unhospitable men,
- One god-sent scourge must smite the whole, one net
- Snare bad and good. Even so, Oicleus’ son,
- This sober, just, and good, and pious man,
- This mighty prophet and soothsayer, he,
- Leagued with the cause of bad and bold-mouthed men
- In his own despite—so Jove hath willed—shall lead
- Down to the distant city of the dead
- The murky march with them. He will not even
- Approach the walls, so I may justly judge.
- No dastard soul is his, no wavering will;
- But well he knows, if Loxias’ words bear fruit,
- (And, when he speaks not true, the god is dumb)
- Amphiaraus dies by Theban spear.
- Yet to oppose this man I will dispatch
- The valiant Lasthenes, a Theban true,
- Who wastes no love on strangers; swift his eye,
- Nor slow his hand to make the eager spear
- Leap from behind the shield. The gods be with him!
- May the gods our just entreaties
- For the cause of Cadmus hear!
- Jove! when the sharp spear approaches,
- Sit enthroned upon our rampires,
- Darting bolts, and darting fear!
- Against the seventh gate the seventh chief
- Leads on the foe, thy brother Polynices;
- And fearful vows he makes, and fearful doom
- His prayers invoke. Mounted upon our walls,
- By herald’s voice Thebes’ rightful prince proclaimed,
- Shouting loud hymns of capture, hand to hand
- He vows to encounter thee, and either die
- Himself in killing thee, or should he live
- And spare thy recreant life, he will repay
- Like deed with like, and thou in turn shalt know
- Dishonouring exile. Thus he speaks and prays
- The family gods, and all the gods of Thebes,
- To aid his traitor suit. Upon his shield,
- New-forged, and nicely fitted to the hand,
- He bears this double blazonry—a woman
- Leading with sober pace an armed man
- All bossed in gold, and thus the superscription,
- “I, Justice, bring this injured exile back,
- To claim his portion in his father’s hall.”
- Such are the strange inventions of the foe.
- Choose thou a man that’s fit to meet thy brother;
- Nor blame thy servant: what he saw he says:
- To helm the state through such rude storm be thine!
- O god-detested! god-bemadded race!36
- Woe-worthy sons of woe-worn Oedipus!
- Your father’s curse is ripe! but tears are vain,
- And weeping might but mother worser woe.
- O Polynices! thy prophetic name
- Speaks more than all the emblems of thy shield;
- Soon shall we see if gold-bossed words can save thee,
- Babbling vain madness in a proud device.
- If Jove-born Justice, maid divine, might be
- Of thoughts and deeds like thine participant,
- Thou mightst have hope; but, Polynices, never,
- Or when the darkness of the mother’s womb
- Thou first didst leave, or in thy nursling prime,
- Or in thy bloom of youth, or in the gathering
- Of beard on manhood’s chin, hath Justice owned thee,
- Or known thy name; and shall she know thee now
- Thou leadst a stranger host against thy country?
- Her nature were a mockery of her name
- If she could fight for knaves, and still be Justice.
- In this faith strong, this traitor I will meet
- Myself: the cause is mine, and I will fight it.
- For equal prince to prince, to brother brother,
- Fell foe to foe, suits well. And now to arms!
- Bring me my spear and shield, hauberk and greaves!
- Dear son of Oedipus! let not thy wrath
- Wax hot as his whom thou dost chiefly chide!
- Let the Cadméans with the Argives fight;
- This is enough: their blood may be atoned.
- But, when a brother falls by brother’s hands,
- Age may not mellow such dark due of guilt.
- If thou canst bear an ill, and fear no shame,
- Bear it: but if to bear is to be base,
- Choose death, thy only refuge from disgrace.
- Whither wouldst thou? calm thy bosom,
- Tame the madness of thy blood;
- Ere it bear a crimson blossom,
- Pluck thy passion in the bud.
- Fate urges on; the god will have it so.37
- Now drift the race of Laius, with full sail,
- Abhorred by Phœbus, down Cocytus’ stream!
- Let not ravening rage consume thee!
- Bitter fruit thy wrath will bear;
- Sate thy hunger with the thousands,
- But of brother’s blood beware!
- The Curse must work its will: and thus it speaks,
- Watching beside me with dry tearless eyes,
- Death is thy only gain, and death to-day
- Is better than to-morrow!38
- Save thy life: the wise will praise thee;
- To the gods with incense come,
- And the storm-clad black Erinnys
- Passes by thy holy home.
- The gods will reck the curse, but not the prayers
- Of Laius’ race. Our doom is their delight.
- ’Tis now too late to fawn the Fate away.
- Nay! but yet thou mayst: the god,
- That long hath raged, and burneth now,
- With a gentler sway soft-wafted,
- Soon may fan thy fevered brow.
- The Curse must sway, my father’s burning curse.
- The visions of the night were true, that showed me
- His heritage twin-portioned by the sword.
We are but women: yet we pray thee hear us.
Speak things that may be, and I’ll hear. Be brief.
Fight not before the seventh gate, we pray thee.
My whetted will thy words may never blunt.
Why rush on danger? Victory’s sure without thee.
So speak to slaves; a soldier may not hear thee.
But brother’s blood—pluck not the bloody blossom.
If gods are just, he shall not ’scape from harm.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- I fear the house-destroying power; I fear
- The goddess most ungodlike,39
- The all-truth-speaking seer
- Of evil things, whose sleepless wrath doth nurse
- Fulfilment of the frenzied father’s curse.
- The time doth darkly lower;
- This strife of brother’s blood with brother’s blood
- Spurs the dread hour.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- O son of Scythia, must we ask thine aid?
- Chalybian stranger thine,40
- Here with the keen unsparing blade
- To part our fair possessions? thou dost deal
- A bitter lot, O savage-minded steel!
- Much loss is all the gain,
- When mighty lords with their stark corpses measure
- Their whole domain.
- STROPHE II.
- When the slain shall slay the slayer,
- And kindred blood with blood
- Shall mingle, when the thirsty Theban soil
- Drinks eager the black-clotting sanguine flood,
- Who then shall purge the murderous stain,
- Who wash it clean again?
- When ancient guilt and new shall burst,
- In one dire flood of woe?
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- With urgent pace the Fury treadeth,
- To generations three
- Avenging Laius’ sin on Laius’ race;
- What time he sinned against the gods’ decree,
- When Phœbus from Earth’s central shrine
- Thrice sent the word divine—
- Live childless, Laius, for thy seed
- Shall work thy country’s woe.
- STROPHE III.
- But he to foolish words gave ear,
- And ruin to himself begot,
- The parricidal Oedipus, who joined
- A frenzied bond in most unholy kind,
- Sowing where he was sown; whence sprung a bud
- Of bitterness and blood.
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- The city tosses to and fro,
- Like a drifted ship; wave after wave,
- Now high, now low, with triple-crested flow
- Now reared sublime, brays round the plunging prow
- These walls are but a plank: if the kings fall
- ’Tis ruin to us all.
- STROPHE IV.
- The ancestral curse, the hoary doom is ripe.
- Who now shall smooth such hate?
- What hand shall stay, when it hath willed to strike,
- The uplifted arm of Fate?
- When the ship creaks beneath the straining gale,
- The wealthy merchant flings the well-stowed bale
- Into the gulf below.
- ANTISTROPHE IV.
- When the enigma of the baleful Sphynx
- By Oedipus was read,
- And the man-rending monster on a stone
- Despairful dashed her head;
- What mortal man by herd-possessing men,
- What god by gods above was honoured then,
- Like Oedipus below!
- STROPHE V.
- But when his soul was conscious, and he saw
- The monstrous wedlock made ’gainst Nature’s law,
- Him struck dismay,
- In wild deray,
- He from their socket roots uptore
- His eyes, more dear than children, worthy no more
- To look upon the day.
- ANTISTROPHE V.
- And he, for sorry tendance wrathful,41 flung
- Curses against his sons with bitter tongue,
- “They shall dispute
- A dire dispute,
- And share their land with steel.” I fear
- The threatened harm; with boding heart I hear
- The Fury’s sleepless foot.
- Fear not, fair maids of Theban mothers nursed!
- The city hath ’scaped the yoke; the insolent boasts
- Of violent men hath fallen; the ship o’ the state
- Is safe, in sunshine calm we float; in vain
- Hath wave on wave lashed our sure-jointed beams,
- No leaky gap our close-lipped timbers knew,
- Our champions with safety hedged us round,
- Our towers stand firm. Six of the seven gates
- Show all things prosperous, the seventh Phœbus
- Chose for his own (for still in four and three
- The god delights),42 he led the seventh pair,
- Crowning the doom of evil-counselled Laius.
What sayst thou? What new ills to ancient Thebes?
Two men are dead—by mutual slaughter slain.
Who?—what?—my wit doth crack with apprehension.
Hear soberly: the sons of Oedipus—
O wretched me! true prophet of true woe.
Too true. They lie stretched in the dust.
- Sayst so?
- Sad tale! yet must I school mine ears to hear it.
Brother by brother’s hand untimely slain.
The impartial god smote equally the twain.
- A wrathful god the luckless race destroys,
- And I for plaints no less than pæans bring thee43
- Plentiful food. The state now stands secure,
- But the twin rulers, with hard-hammered steel,
- Have sharply portioned all their heritage,
- By the dire curse to sheer destruction hurried
- What land they sought they find it in the grave,
- The hostile kings in one red woe are brothered;
- The soil that called them lord hath drunk their blood.
- O Jove almighty! gods of Cadmus,
- By whose keeping Thebes is strong,
- Shall I sing a joyful pæan,
- Thee the god full-throated hymning
- That saved the state from instant harm?
- Or shall drops of swelling pity
- To a wail invert my ditty?
- O wretched, hapless, childless princes!
- Truly, truly was his name
- Prophet of your mutual shame!
- Godless was the strife ye cherished,
- And in godless strife ye perished!
- CHORAL HYMN.
- The curse that rides on sable wing,
- Hath done its part,
- And horror, like a creeping thing,
- Freezes my heart.
- Their ghastly death in kindred blood
- Doth pierce me thorough,
- And deeply stirs the Thyad flood
- Of wail and sorrow.
- An evil bird on boding wing
- Did darkly sway,
- When steel on steel did sternly ring
- In strife to-day.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- The voice that from the blind old king
- With cursing came,
- In rank fulfilment forth doth bring
- Its fruit of shame.
- O Laius, thou didst work our woe
- With faithless heart;
- Nor Phœbus with a half-dealt blow
- Will now depart.
- His word is sure, or pacing slow,
- Or winged with speed,
- And now the burthened cloud of woe,
- Bursts black indeed.
[The bodies ofEteoclesandPolynicesare brought on the stage.
- Lo! where it comes the murky pomp,
- No wandering voice, but clear, too clear
- The visible body of our fear!
- Twin-faced sorrow, twin-faced slaughter,
- And twin-fated woe is here.
- Ills on ills of monstrous birth
- Rush on Laius’ god-doom’d-hearth.
- Sisters raise the shrill lament,
- Let your lifted arms be oars!
- Let your sighs be breezes lent,
- Down the wailing stream to float
- The black-sail’d Stygian boat;
- Down to the home which all receiveth,
- Down to the land which no man leaveth,
- By Apollo’s foot untrodden,
- Sullen, silent, sunless shores!
- But I see the fair Ismene,
- And Antigone the fair,
- Moving to this place of mourning,
- Slow, a sorrow-guided pair.
- We shall see a sight for weeping
- (They obey a doleful hest)
- Lovely maids deep-bosomed pouring
- Wails from heavy-laden breast.
- Chaunts of sorrow, dismal prelude
- Of their grief, to us belong:
- Let us hymn the dread Erinnys!
- To the gloomy might of Hades,
- Let us lift the sombre song.
EnterAntigoneandIsmenein sorrowful silence.
- Hapless sisters! maids more hapless
- Ne’er were girded with a zone:
- I weep, and wail, and mine, believe me,
- Is a heart’s sigh, no hireling moan
[Here commences the Funeral Wail over the dead bodies ofEteoclesandPolyniceswith mournful music.
- Alas! alas! the hapless pair.
- To friendly voice and warning Fate
- They stopped the ear: and now too late
- Dear bought with blood their father’s wealth
- In death they share.
- Outstretched in death, and prostrate low
- Them and their house the iron Woe
- Hath sternly crushed.
- Alas! alas! the old thrones reel,
- The lofty palace topples down;
- And Death hath won a bloody crown,
- And thou sure end of strife hast made,
- O keen cold steel!
- And, with fulfilment on her wing,
- Curse-laden from the blind old king
- The Fury rushed.
- Pierced through the left, with gaping gashes
- Gory they lie.
- All gashed and gored, by fratricidal
- Wounds they die.
- A god, a god doth rule the hour,
- Slaughter meets slaughter, and the curse
- Doth reign with power.
- See where the steel clean through hath cut
- Their bleeding life,
- Even to the marrow deep hath pierced
- The ruthless knife.
- Deep in their silent hearts they cherished
- The fateful curse,
- And, with fell purpose sternly hating,
- Defied remorse.
- From street to street shrill speeds the cry
- Of wail and woe.
- And towers and peopled plains reply
- With wail and woe.
- And all their wealth a stranger heir
- Shall rightly share.
- The wealth that waked the deadly strife,
- The strife that raged till rage and strife
- Ceased with their life.
- With whetted heart, and whetted glaive,
- They shared the lot;
- Victor and vanquished each in the grave
- Six feet hath got.
- A harsh allotment! who shall praise it,
- Friend or foe?
- Harsh strife in pride begun, and ending
- In wail and woe.
- Sword-stricken here they lie, they lie
- A breathless pair.
- Sword-stricken here they find, they find
- What home, and where?
- A lonely home, a home of gloom
- In their fathers’ tomb.
- And wailing follows from the halls
- The dismal bier;
- Wailing and woe the heart-strings breaking,
- And sorrow from its own self taking
- The food it feeds on, moody sadness,
- Shunning all sights and sounds of gladness,
- And from the eye spontaneous bringing
- No practised tear;
- My heart within me wastes, beholding
- This dismal bier.
- And on the bier we drop the tear
- And justly say,
- To friend and foe, they purchased woe
- And wail to-day.
- And to Hades showed full many the road
- In the deadly fray.
- O ill-starred she!—there hath not been
- Nor will be more,
- Of sore-tried women children-bearing,
- One like her, like sorrow sharing.
- With her own body’s fruit she joined
- Wedlock in most unholy kind,
- And to her son, twin sons the mother,
- O monstrous! bore:
- And here they lie, by brother brother
- Now drenched in gore.
- Ay, drenched in gore, in brothered gore,44
- Weltering they lie;
- Mad was the strife, and sharp the knife
- That bade them die.
- The strife hath ceased: life’s purple flood
- The dry Earth drinks;
- And kinsman’s now to kinsman’s blood
- Keen slaughter links.
- The far sea stranger forged i’ the fire
- The pointed iron soothed their ire.
- A bitter soother! Mars hath made
- A keen division
- Of all their lands, and lent swift wing
- To the curse that came from the blind old king
- With harsh completion.
- They strove for land, and did demand
- An equal share;
- In the ground deep, deep, where now they sleep,
- There’s land to spare.
- A goodly crop to you hath grown
- Of woe and wailing;
- Ye reaped the seed by Laius sown,
- The god prevailing.
- Shrill yelled the curse, a deathful shout,
- And scattered sheer in hopeless rout
- The kingly race did fall; and lo!
- Fell Até planteth
- Her trophy at the gate; and there
- Triumphant o’er the princely pair
- Her banner flaunteth.
[AntigoneandIsmenenow come forward, and standing beside the dead bodies, pointing now to the one, and now to the other, finish the Wail as chief mourners.
Wounded, thou didst wound again.
Thou didst slay, and yet wert slain.
Thou didst pierce him with the spear.
Deadly-pierced thou liest here.
Sons of sorrow!
Sons of pain!
Break out grief!
Flow tears amain!
Weep the slayer.
And the slain.
Ah! my soul is mad with moaning.
And my heart within is groaning.
O thrice-wretched, wretched brother!
Thou more wretched than the other!
Thine own kindred pierced thee thorough.
And thy kin was pierced by thee.
Sight of sadness!
Tale of sorrow!
Deadly to say!
Deadly to see!
We with you the sorrow bear.
And twin woes twin sisters share.
- Moera, baneful gifts dispensing45
- To the toilsome race of mortals,
- Now prevails thy murky hour:
- Shade of Oedipus thrice sacred,
- Night-clad Fury, dread Erinnys,
- Mighty, mighty is thy power!
Food to feed the eyes with mourning,
Exile sad, more sad returning!
Slain wert thou, when thou hadst slain
Found wert thou and lost again
Lost, in sooth, beyond reprieving.
Life-bereft and life-bereaving.
Race of Laius, woe is thee!
Woe, and wail, and misery!
Woe, woe, thy fatal name!
Prophet of our triple shame.
Deadly to say!
Deadly to see!
- Moera, baneful gifts dispensing
- To the toilsome race of mortals,
- Now prevails thy murky hour;
- Shade of Oedipus thrice sacred,
- Night-clad Fury, dread Erinnys,
- Mighty, mighty is thy power.
Thou hast marched a distant road.
Thou hast gone to the dark abode.
Cruel welcome met thee here.
Falling by thy brother’s spear.
Deadly to say!
Deadly to see!
Woe and wailing.
Wail and woe!
To my home and to my country.
And to me much wail and woe.
Chief woe to me!
Weeping and woe!
Alas! Eteocles, laid thus low!
O thrice woe-worthy pair!
A god, a god, hath dealt the blow!
Where shall they find their clay-cold lair?
An honoured place their bones shall keep.
With their fathers they shall sleep.
- Hear ye my words—my herald’s voice declaring
- What seemed and seems good to the Theban senate
- Eteocles, his country’s friend, shall find
- Due burial in its friendly bosom.46 He
- Is free from sin against the gods of Cadmus,
- And died, the champion of his country’s cause,
- As generous youths should die. Severer doom
- Falls on his brother Polynices. He
- Shall lie in the breeze unburied, food for dogs,
- Most fit bestowal of a traitor’s corpse;
- For, had some god not stept between to save us,
- And turned the spear aside, Cadméan Thebes
- Had stood no more. His country’s gods demand
- Such stern atonement of the impious will
- That led a hireling host against their shrines.
- On him shall vultures banquet, ravening birds
- His flesh shall tear; no pious hand shall pile
- The fresh green mound, no wailing notes for him
- Be lifted shrill, no tearful friends attend
- His funeral march. Thus they who rule in Thebes
- Have strictly ordered.
- Go thou back, and give
- This message to the rulers.—If none other
- Will grant the just interment to my brother
- Myself will bury him. The risk I reck not,
- Nor blush to call rebellion’s self a virtue,
- Where I rebel, being kind to my own kin.
- Our common source of life, a mother doomed
- To matchless woes, nor less the father doomed,
- Demand no vulgar reverence. I will share
- Reproach with the reproached, and with my kin
- Know kindred grief, the living with the dead.
- For his dear flesh, no hollow-stomach’d wolves
- Shall tear it—no! myself, though I’m but woman,
- Will make his tomb, and do the sacred office.
- Even in this bosom’s linen folds, I’ll bear
- Enough of earth to cover him withal
- This thing I’ll do I will. For bold resolves
- Still find bold hands; the purpose makes the plan.47
When Thebes commands, ’tis duty to obey.
When ears are deaf, ’tis wisdom to be dumb.
Fierce is a people with young victory flushed.
Fierce let them be; he shall not go unburied.
What? wilt thou honour whom the city hates?
And did the gods not honour whom I honour?
Once: ere he led the spear against his country.
Evil entreatment he repaid with evil.
Should thousands suffer for the fault of one?
- Strife is the last of gods to end her tale;
- My brother I will bury. Make no more talk.
Be wilful, if thou wilt. I counsel wisdom.
- Mighty Furies that triumphant
- Ride on ruin’s baleful wings,
- Crushed ye have and clean uprooted
- This great race of Theban kings.
- Who shall help me? Who shall give me,
- Sure advice, and counsel clear?
- Shall mine eyes freeze up their weeping?
- Shall my feet refuse to follow
- Thy loved remnant? but I fear
- Much the rulers, and their mandate
- Sternly sanctioned. Shall it be?
- Him shall many mourners follow?
- Thee, rejected by thy country,
- Thee no voice of wailing nears,
- All thy funeral march a sister
- Weeping solitary tears?
[TheChorusnow divides itself into two parts, of which one attaches itself toAntigoneand the corpse ofPolynices;the other toIsmeneand the corpse ofEteocles.
- Let them threaten, or not threaten,
- We will drop the friendly tear,
- With the pious-minded sister,
- We will tend the brother’s bier.
- And though public law forbids
- These tears, free-shed for public sorrow,
- Laws oft will change, and in one state
- What’s right to-day is wrong to morrow.
- For us we’ll follow, where the city
- And the law of Cadmus leads us,
- To the funeral of the brave.
- By the aid of Jove Supernal,
- And the gods that keep the city,
- Mighty hath he been to save;
- He hath smote the proud invader,
- He hath rolled the ruin backward
- Of the whelming Argive wave.
NOTES TO THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES
- “Which may averting Jove from me avert.”
The epithet ἀλεξητηριος or ἀλεξίκακος (Pausan. Att. III.) or the averter, applied to the gods (see Odys. III 346, is to be noted), as characteristic of the grand fact in the history of mind, that with rude nations the fear of evil is the dominant religious motive; so much so, that in the accounts which we read of some savage, or semi-savage nations, religion seems to consist altogether in a vague, dim fear of some unknown power, either without moral attributes altogether, or even positively malignant. In this historical sense, the famous maxim, primus in orbe deos fecit timor—however insufficient as a principle of general theology—is quite true. In the present passage, the phraseology is remarkable.
- [Editor: illegible character]ν Ζεὺς ἀλεξητήριος
- Ἐπώνυμος γένοιτο—
- “In his ear and inward sense deep-pondered truths,
- By no false art, though without help from fire.”
- “By Mars, Enýo, and blood-loving Terror.”
With Mars in Homer (II IV. 440) are coupled Φόβος and Δε̂ιμος, Fear and Terror, as in this passage of Æschylus, and Ἔρις, Strife.
- “Fear and Terror went with him, and Strife that rages without bound,
- Strife of Mars the man-destroyer, sister and companion dear.”
And in Livy (I. 27), Tullus Hostilius being pressed in battle, “duodecim vovit Salios, fanaquePallorietPavori.”—Compare Cic. de Nat. Deor. III. c 25. Enýo is coupled in Homer as a war-goddess with Athena—
- “Well Tydides knew that Venus was no goddess made for war,
- Not Athena, not Eýno city-sacking.”
- “. . . the chariot of Adrastus.”
- “With clattering hoofs, on and on still they ride.”
- “ the white-shielded host.”
- “With chaplet and stole.”
In modern times, the mightiest monarchs have not thought it beneath their dignity to present, and sometimes, even, to work a petticoat to the Virgin Mary. In ancient times, the presentation of a πέπλος to the maiden goddess of Athens was no less famous—
- “Take the largest and the finest robe that in thy chamber lies—
- Take the robe to thee so dear, and place it duly on the knees
- Of the beautiful-haired Athena.”
- —Il. VI. 273.
- “O Ares, that shines in the helmet of gold.”
- “And their steeds with ringing bridles.”
- “God of pawing steeds, Poseidon.”
- “Save us, Cypris, mother of Thebans.”
- “Save us, save us, Wolf-Apollo.”
- “The seven-gated city deliver, deliver.”
The current traditional epithet of Thebes, whose seven gates were as famous as the seven mouths of the Nile—
- “Rari quippe boni, numerus vix est totidem quot
- Thebarum portæ vel divitis ostia Nili”
- —Juv Sat XIII. 26.
And Homer, in the Odyssey XI. 263, talks of—
- “Amphion and Zethus,
- First who founded and uptowered the seat of seven-gated Thebes”
- “. . . a foreign-speaking foe!”
- “. . . the painted gods upon the prow.”
- “Who knows not
- That, when a city falls, they pass to the Victor”
- “For blood of mortals is the common food.”
I read ϕόνῳ, not ϕόβῳ, principally for the sake of the sentiment, as the other idea which ϕοβῳ gives, has been already expressed. Certainly Well. is too positive in saying that ϕόβῳ is “prorsus necessarium” Both readings give an equally appropriate sense: that in the text, which Pot. also gives; or this other—
- “Your fear but heaps the fuel of hot war
- I’ the hearts o’ the foe.”
- “Dirce and Ismenus’ sacred stream.”
- “From Poseidon earth-embracing,
- And from Tethys’ winding sons.”
- “. . . at the Prœtian portal Tydeus stands.”
- “. . . the wise Oiclidan seer.”
- “The brazen bells ring fear.”
A Scottish knight, in an old ballad, has these warlike bells on his horse’s mane—
- “At ilk tail o’ his horse’s mane,
- There hung a siller bell:
- The wind was loud, the steed was proud,
- And they gied a sindry knell.”
- —Young Waters.
And one of Southey’s Mexican heroes has them on his helmet—
- “Bells of gold
- Embossed his glittering helmet, and where’er
- Their sound was heard, there lay the press of war,
- And Death was busiest there.”
- —Madoc. II 18.
- “His race from those whom Ares spared he draws.”
- “Proud Capaneus before the Electran gate.”
- “. . . The third lot to Eteocles
- Leapt from the upturned brazen helm.”
The custom of using the helmet, for the situla or urn, when lots were taken in war, must have been noted by the most superficial student of Homer. Stan. has collected many instances, of which one may suffice—
- “Quickly, in the braren helm, we shake the lot, and first of all,
- Of Eurylochus, mighty-hearted, leapt the lot.”
- —Odyssey X. 206.
- “Black smoke, the volumed sister of the flame.”
Just as Homer, in a familiar passage, calls “sleep the mother of death” (Il. XIV. 231), adopted by Shelley in the exquisite exordium of Queen Mab—
- “How beautiful is Death,
- Death and his brother Sleep!”
- “Round its hollow belly was embossed
- A ring of knotted snakes.”
The old Argolic shield, round as the sun—
- “Argolici clypei aut Phœbæœ lampadis instar.”
- “. . . by the god of war
- “. . . a hostile pair
- Well matched by Hermes.”
- “The sixth a sober man, a seer of might,
- Before the Homoloidian gate stands forth.”
- “With bitter taunts his evil-omened name,
- Making it spell his ugly sin that owns it.”
- “The wise man is what fools but seem to be.”
“When this tragedy was first acted, Aristides, surnamed the Just, was present. At the declamation of these words—
- ὀυ γὰρ δοκε̂ιν ἄριστος ἀλλ’ [Editor: illegible character]ίναι θέλει,
- “O god-detested! god-bemadded race!”
- “. . . the god will have it so.”
- “Death is thy only gain, and death to-day
- Is better than to-morrow!”
λέγουσα [Editor: illegible character]έρδος πρότερον ὑστερου μόρου—mentioning to me an advantage (viz, in my dying now) preferable to a death at a later period, as his good genius might have whispered to Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. In translating thus a confessedly difficult passage I have Welcker (Trilog. 363), Butler, Blom., and Schutz, and E. P. Oxon., on my side, also the simple comment of Scholiast II.—κερδο̂ς, i.e. τὸ ννˆν τεθνα̂ναι πρότερον, i. e. τιμιώτερον. Lin. agreeing with Well. translates “urging the glory of the victory which precedes the death which follows after it.” Conz. is singular, and certainly not to be imitated in translating with Schol. I.—
- “Wer der erste tòdlet gewinnt den Sieg”
- “He who inflicts the first lethal blow gains the victory.”
Pot. has not grappled with the passage. If Lin.’s interpretation be preferred, I should render—
- “Beside me sits
- The Fury with dry tearless eye, and points to
- One glimpse of glory heralding black death.”
- “The glorious gain that shall precede the death’
- “. . . goddess most ungodlike.”
- “O son of Scythia, must we ask thine aid?
- Chalybian stranger thine.”
- “. . . for sorry tendance wrathful.”
- “. . . (for still in four and three
- The god delights).”
- “And I for plaints no less than pæans bring thee.”
- “Ay, drenched in gore, in brothered gore.”
- “Moera, baneful gifts dispensing.”
The word μοɩ̂ρα originally means lot, portion, part, that which is dealt or divided out to one. In this sense it occurs frequently in Homer, and is there regarded as proceeding from the gods, and specially from Jove. But with an inconsistency natural enough in popular poetry, we sometimes find μοɩ̂ρα in Homer, like ἀτη, elevated to the rank of a separate divine personage. “Not I,” says Agamemnon, in the Iliad (XIX 86), “was to blame for the quarrel with Achilles,
- ButJoveandMoeraand theFury,walking through the darkness dread.’
- “Due burial in its friendly bosom.”
- “Mighty Furies that triumphant
- Ride on ruin’s baleful wings.”
I have here, by a paraphrase, endeavoured to express the remarkably pregnant expression of the original κη̂ρες Εριννύες—combining, as it does, in grammatical apposition, two terrible divine powers, that the ancient poets generally keep separate. The κη̂ρες, or goddesses of destruction and violent death, occur frequently in Homer. Strictly speaking, they represent only one of the methods by which the retributive Furies may operate; but, in a loose way of talking, they are sometimes identified with them. Schoemann, in a note to the Eumenides, p. 62, has quoted to this effect, Hesiod v. 217, and Eurip. Elect. v. 1252:—
- “The terrible Kerés, blushless persecutors,
- Will chase thee wandering frenzied o’er the earth.”