Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT I. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler).
ACT I. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler).
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- Sayest thou, Pammenes? shall these hated walls,
- Where I so long have dragged a life of woe,
- Afford at least the melancholy comfort
- Of mingling sorrow with my dear Electra?
- And will Ægisthus bring her to the tomb
- Of Agamemnon, bring his daughter here,
- To be a witness of the horrid pomp,
- The sad solemnity, which on this day
- Annual returns, to celebrate their crimes,
- And make their guilt immortal?
- O Iphisa,
- Thou honored daughter of my royal master,
- Like thee, confined within these lonely walls,
- The secrets of a vile abandoned court
- Do seldom reach Pammenes; but, ’tis rumored,
- The jealous tyrant brings Electra here,
- Fearful lest Argos, by her cries alarmed,
- Should rise to vengeance; every heart, he knows,
- Feels for the injured princess, therefore much
- He dreads her clamors; with a watchful eye
- Observes her conduct, treats her as a slave,
- And leads the captive to adorn his triumph.
- Good heaven! and must Electra be a slave!
- Shall Agamemnon’s blood be thus disgraced
- By a barbarian? Will her cruel mother,
- Will Clytemnæstra bear the vile reproach
- That on herself recoils, and all her race?
- Perhaps my sister is too fierce of soul,
- She mingles too much pride and bitterness
- Of keen resentment with her griefs; alas!
- Weak are her arms against a tyrant’s power:
- What will her anger, what her pride avail her?
- They only irritate a haughty foe,
- And cannot serve our cause: my fate at least
- Is milder, and this solitary state
- Shields me from wrongs which must oppress Electra.
- Far from my father’s foes, these pious hands
- Can pay due offerings to his honored shade:
- Far from his murderer, in this sad retreat
- Freely I weep in peace, and curse Ægisthus:
- I’m not condemned to see the tyrant here,
- Save when the Sun unwillingly brings round
- The fatal day that knit the dreadful tie,
- When that inhuman monster shed the blood
- Of Agamemnon, when base Clytemnæstra—
electra, iphisa, pammenes.
- O my Electra! art thou here? my sister—
- The day of horror is returned, Iphisa:
- The dreadful rites, the guilty feast prepared,
- Have brought me hither; thy Electra comes,
- Thy captive sister, comes a wretched slave,
- To bear the tidings of their guilty joy.
- To see Electra is a blessing still,
- It pours some joy into the bitter cup
- Of sorrow, thus to mix my tears with thine.
- Tears, my Iphisa! I have shed enough
- Of them already: O thou bleeding ghost
- Of my dead father, ever-honored shade,
- Is that the tribute which I owe to thee?
- I owe thee blood, and blood thou hast required;
- Amidst the pomp of this dire festival,
- Dragged by Ægisthus here, I will collect
- My scattered spirits, shake off these vile chains,
- And be my own avenger: yes, Iphisa,
- This feeble arm shall reach the tyrant’s heart:
- Did not the cruel Clytemnæstra shed
- A husband’s blood? did I not see her lift
- Her barbarous hand against him, and shall we
- Suspend the blow, and let a murderer live?
- O vengeance, and thou, animating virtue,
- That dost inspire me, art thou not as bold
- As daring guilt? we must revenge ourselves,
- We must, Iphisa: fearest thou then to strike,
- Fearest thou to die? shall Clytemnæstra’s daughter,
- The blood of Atreus fear? O rather lend
- Thy aid, and join the desperate Electra!
- My dearest sister, moderate thy rage,
- And calm thy troubled mind: against our foes
- What can we bring but unavailing tears?
- Who will assist us? who will lend us arms?
- Or how shall we surprise a watchful king,
- For guilt is ever fearful, by his guards
- Surrounded? why, Electra, wilt thou court
- Perpetual danger? should the tyrant hear
- Thy loud complaints, I tremble for thy life.
- Why let him hear them? I would have my grief
- Sink to his heart, and poison all his joys:
- Yes; I would have my cries ascend to heaven,
- And bring the thunder down; would have them raise
- A hundred kings, who never yet have dared,
- Unworthy cowards as they are, to avenge
- Great Agamemnon: but I pardon thee,
- And the vain terrors of thy fearful soul,
- That shrinks at danger; for he favors you,
- I know he does, and only crushes me
- Beneath his iron yoke: thou hast not been,
- Like me, a wretched persecuted slave;
- Thou didst not see the impious parricide,
- The horrid feast, the dire solemnity,
- When Clytemnæstra—O the dreadful image
- Is still before me, in this place, Iphisa,
- Where now thou tremblest to declare thy wrongs,
- There did these eyes behold our hapless father
- Caught in the deadly snare: Pammenes heard
- His dying groans, and ran with me to save him:
- But when I came, what did I see! my mother
- Plunging her ruthless dagger in his breast,
- To rob him of the poor remains of life.
- [Turning to Pammenes.
- Thou sawest me take Orestes in my arms,
- My dear Orestes; little knew he then
- Of danger, but as near his murdered father
- He stood, called out for aid to Clytemnæstra:
- She, midst the horrors of the guilty scene,
- Stopped for a moment short, and gave us time
- Safe to convey the victim from Ægisthus.
- Whether the tyrant has completed yet
- The imperfect vengeance in Orestes’ blood,
- I know not: O my brother, dost thou live,
- Or hast thou followed thy unhappy father?
- Alas! I weep for him, and fear for thee.
- These hands are loaded with inglorious chains,
- And these sad eyes, forever bathed in tears,
- See naught but guilt, oppression, and despair.
- Ye dear remains of Atreus’ honored race,
- Whose splendor I have seen, whose woes I feel,
- Permit a friend to fill your weeping souls
- With cheerful hope, that ever waits propitious
- To soothe affliction: call to mind what heaven
- Long since hath promised, that its vengeful hand
- Should one day lead Orestes to the place
- Where we preserved him; that Ægisthus there,
- Even at yon tomb, and on the fatal day
- Marked for his impious triumph o’er the dead,
- Should pay the forfeit of his crime: the Gods
- Can ne’er deceive; in darkness still they veil
- Their secret purpose from the eyes of men,
- And punishment with slow but certain steps,
- Still follows guilt.
- But wherefore stays so long
- Their tardy vengeance? I have languished here
- In grief and anguish many a tedious hour;
- Electra, still more wretched, is in chains:
- Meantime the proud oppressor lives in peace,
- And glories in his crimes.
- Thou seest, Pammenes,
- Ægisthus still renews his cruel triumph,
- And celebrates the fatal nuptials; still
- A wretched exile lives my dear Orestes,
- Forgetful of his father, and Electra.
- But mark the course of time: he touches now
- The age when manly strength, with courage joined,
- May aid your purpose; hope for his return,
- And trust in heaven.
- We will: thou son of wisdom,
- Thou good old man, O thou hast darted forth
- A ray of hope on my despairing soul!
- If with unpitying eye the gods beheld
- Our miseries here, and proud oppression, still
- Unpunished, trampled on the tender feet
- Of innocence, what hand would crown their altars
- With incense and oblation! but kind heaven
- Will give Orestes to a sister’s arms,
- And blast the tyrant: hear my voice, Orestes,
- O hear thy country’s, hear the cries of blood,
- That call thee forth; come from thy dreary caves,
- And pathless deserts, where misfortune long
- Hath tried thy courage; leave thy savage prey,
- And all the roaming monsters of the forest,
- To chase the beasts of Argos, to destroy
- The tyrants of the earth, the murderers
- Of kings; O haste, and let me guide thy hand
- Even to the traitor’s breast.
- No more: repress
- Thy griefs, Electra; see, thy mother comes.
clytemnæstra, electra, iphisa.
- Hence, and leave me;
- You may retire, Pammenes; stay, my daughters.
- Alas! that sacred name dispels my fears.
- Touching your fate, my children,
- I came to lay a mother’s heart before you.
- Barren, thank heaven, hath been my second bed,
- Nor brought a race of jealous foes to sow
- Division here. Alas! my little race
- Is almost run; the secret grief that long
- Hath preyed on my sad heart will finish soon
- A life of woe: spite of Ægisthus, still
- I love my children; spite of all his rage,
- Electra, thou who in thy infant years
- So oft hast given me comfort, when the loss
- Of Iphigenia, and her cruel father
- Oppressed my soul; though now thy pride disdains me,
- And braves my power, thou art my daughter still;
- Unworthy as thou art, there’s still a place
- In Clytemnæstra’s heart for her Electra.
- For me! O heaven, and am I yet beloved;
- And dost thou feel for thy unhappy daughter?
- O, if thou dost, behold her chains, behold
- Yon tomb—
- Unkind Electra, thus to wake
- The sad remembrance! thou hast plunged a dagger
- Into thy mother’s breast; but I deserve it.
- Thou hast disarmed Electra, nature pleads
- A mother’s cause; I own myself to blame
- For all the bitterness of sorrow poured
- In dreadful execrations on thy head.
- By thee delivered to the tyrant’s power,
- I would have torn thee from him; I lament,
- But cannot hate thee. O, if gracious heaven
- Hath touched thy soul with wholesome penitence,
- Obey its sacred will, and hear the voice
- Of conscience, that commands thee to unloose
- The horrid ties that bind thee to a wretch
- Despised and hated; follow the great God
- Who leads thy footsteps to the paths of virtue;
- Call back your son, let him return to fill
- The throne of his great ancestors, to scourge
- A tyrant, to avenge his murdered father,
- His sisters, and his mother: haste and send
- For my Orestes.
- Talk no more of that,
- Electra, nor speak thus of my Ægisthus:
- I grieve to see thee in these shameful bonds;
- But know, a sovereign cannot tamely brook
- Repeated insults, or embrace a foe:
- You had provoked him to, be cruel; I,
- Who am but his first subject, oft have tried
- To soothe his anger, but in vain: my words,
- Instead of healing, but inflamed the wound:
- Electra is indebted to herself
- For all her deep-felt injuries; henceforth bend
- To thy condition; let thy sister teach thee
- That we must yield submissive to our fate,
- If e’er we hope to change it. I could wish
- To end my days in peace amongst my children;
- But if thy rapid and imprudent zeal
- Should bring Orestes here before the time,
- His life might answer for it, and thy own,
- If the king see him: though I pity thee,
- Electra, yet I owe a husband more
- Than a lost son, whom I have cause to fear.
- O heaven, that monster! he thy husband, he!
- And is it thus thou pitiest me? alas,
- What will this poor, this light remorse avail thee,
- This fleeting sorrow? was thy tenderness
- But for a moment, dost thou threaten me,
- [To Iphisa.
- Is this, Iphisa, this a mother’s love?
- [To Clytemnæstra.
- It seems thou threatenest my Orestes too;
- Thou hast no cause to fear, nor I to hope
- For him: alas! perhaps he is no more;
- Perhaps Ægisthus, the detested tyrant,
- He whom but now thou didst not blush to call
- Thy husband, hath in secret ta’en his life.
- Believe me, Madam, when I call the gods
- To witness, poor Electra and myself
- Are strangers to the fate of dear Orestes;
- Have pity then on your afflicted daughter,
- Pity your helpless son and spare Electra:
- She has been wronged; her tears and her reproaches
- Suit well her fate, and ought to be forgiven.
- I must not hope it, must not even complain;
- And if Orestes lives but in my thoughts
- ’Tis deemed a crime. I know Ægisthus well,
- Know his fierce nature; if he fears my brother,
- He’ll soon destroy him.
- Know, thy brother lives;
- If he’s in danger, ’tis from thy imprudence;
- Therefore be humble, moderate thy transports,
- Respect thy mother: thinkest thou I come here,
- Elate with joy, to lead the splendid triumph?
- O no, to me it is a day of sorrow;
- Thou weepest in chains, and I upon a throne.
- I know the cruel vows thy hatred made
- Against me: O, Electra! cease thy prayers,
- The gods have heard thee but too well already:
- Retire, and leave me.
- How it shocks my soul
- To see my children! O the guilty bed!
- My fatal marriage, and long prosperous crimes,
- Adultery and murder, horrid bonds!
- How ye torment me now! my little dream
- Of happiness is o’er, and conscience darts
- Its sudden rays on my affrighted soul.
- How can Ægisthus live so long in peace!
- Fearless he leads me on to share with him
- These cruel triumphs; but my spirits fail,
- My strength forsakes me, and I tremble now
- At every omen; fear my subjects, fear
- All Argos, Greece, Electra, and Orestes.
- How dreadful ’tis to hate the blood that flowed
- Congenial with our own, to dread the names
- Which mortals hold so sacred and so dear!
- But injured nature, banished from my heart,
- Indignant frowns, and to avenge herself
- Now bids me tremble at the name of son.
- Cruel Ægisthus, wherefore wouldst thou lead me
- To this sad place, the seat of death and horror?
- Is then the solemn pomp, the feast of joy,
- The sweet remembrance of our prosperous days,
- Grown hateful to thee? is our marriage day
- A day of horror?
- No: but here, Ægisthus,
- There may be danger: my unhappy children
- Have filled this heart with anguish: poor Iphisa
- Weeps her hard lot; Electra is in chains;
- This fatal place reminds me of the blood
- We shed, reminds me of my dear Orestes,
- Of Agamemnon.
- Let Iphisa weep,
- And proud Electra rave; I bore too long
- Her bitter taunts, ’tis fit her haughtiness
- Should now be humbled; I’ll not suffer her
- To stir up foul rebellion in my kingdom,
- To tell the factions that Orestes comes,
- And call down vengeance on me; every hour
- That hated name is echoed in my ear,
- I must not bear it.
- Ha! what name was that?
- Orestes! O, I shudder at the thought
- Of his approach: an oracle long since
- Declared, that here, even at the fatal tomb
- Whither thou leadest, his parricidal hand
- Should one day rise vindictive, and destroy us.
- Why therefore wouldst thou tempt the gods, why thus
- Expose a life so dear to Clytemnæstra?
- Be not alarmed; Orestes ne’er shall hurt thee:
- His be the danger; for I have sent forth
- Some friends in search of him, and soon I hope
- Shall see him in the toils; a wretched exile
- From clime to clime he roams, and now it seems
- In Epidaurus’ gloomy forest hides
- His ignominious head; but there perhaps
- We have more friends than Clytemnæstra thinks of;
- The king may serve us.
- I know
- He’s fierce, implacable, revengeful; stung
- By his misfortunes, all the blood of Atreus
- Boils in his breast, and animates his rage.
- Alas! my lord, his rage is but too just.
- Be it our business then to make it vain;
- Thou knowest I’ve sent my Plisthenes in secret
- To Epidaurus.
- To fix
- My throne in safety, and remove thy fears:
- Yes, Plisthenes, my son, by thee adopted
- Heir to my kingdom, knows too well how much
- His interest must depend on the event
- E’er to neglect his charge: he is thy son,
- Think of no other: had Electra’s heart
- Submissive yielded to another’s counsels,
- She had been happy in my Plisthenes:
- But she shall feel the power which she contemns,
- She and her haughty brother, her Orestes,
- He may be found perhaps.—You seem disturbed.
- Alas! Ægisthus, must we sacrifice
- More victims? must I purchase length of days
- With added guilt? Thou knowest whose blood we shed—
- And must my son too perish, must I pay
- So dear a price for life?
- First let me ask the sacred oracle—
- What canst thou hope from gods or oracles,
- Were they consulted on the blissful day
- That gave Ægisthus to his Clytemnæstra?
- Thou hast recalled a time when heaven, I fear,
- Was much offended: love defies the gods,
- But fear adores them; guilt weighs down my soul,
- Do not oppress my feeble spirits; time,
- That changes all, hath altered this proud heart;
- The hand of heaven is on me, and subdues
- The haughty rage that once inspired my breast;
- Not that my tender friendship for Ægisthus
- Can e’er decay, our interests are the same;
- But to behold my daughter made a slave,
- To think on my poor lost abandoned son,
- To think that now, even now, perhaps he dies
- By vile assassins, or, if living, lives
- My foe, and hates the guilty Clytemnæstra,
- Is it not dreadful? pity me, Ægisthus,
- I am a mother still.
- Thou art my wife;
- Thou art my queen; resume thy wonted courage,
- And be thyself again; indulge no more
- This foolish fondness for ungrateful children,
- Who merit not thy love; consult alone
- Ægisthus’ safety, and thy own repose.
- Repose! the guilty mind can ne’er enjoy it.
End of the First Act.
Nothing could add more to the horror of the crime than such a circumstance. Clytemnæstra, not content with murdering her husband, instituted a solemn feast in commemoration of the happy event, and called it, with cruel raillery, “the supper of Agamemnon” Dinias, in his “History of Argos,” informs us, it was on the thirteenth of the month Gamelion, which answers to the beginning of our January.