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We will be reading Aeschylus’s trilogy of plays known as “The Oresteia” beginning with “Agamemnon”.
Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906). Chapter: AGAMEMNON
Accessed from oll.libertyfund.org/title/1039/107068 on 2007-12-07
The text is in the public domain.
Chorus of Argive Elders.
Clytemnestra, Wife of Agamemnon.
Agamemnon, King of Argos and Mycenæ.
Cassandra, a Trojan Prophetess, Daughter of Priam.
Ægisthus, Son of Thyestes.
Scene—The Royal Palace in Arges.
The last sentence of this curious notice contains the Epic germ of which the famous trilogy—the Agamemnon, the Choephorœ, and the Eumenides of Æschylus—the three plays contained in the present volume, present the dramatic expansion. The celebrity of the legends with regard to the return of the mighty Atridan arose naturally from the prominent situation in which he stood as the admiral of the famous thousand-masted fleet; and, besides, the passage from the old Troezenian minstrel just quoted, is sufficiently attested by various passages—some of considerable length—in the Odyssey, which will readily present themselves to the memory of those who are familiar with the productions of the great Ionic Epopœist. In the very opening of that poem, for instance, occur the following remarkable lines:—
- “Strange, O strange, that mortal men immortal gods will still be blaming,
- Saying that the source of evil lies with us; while they, in sooth,
- More than Fate would have infatuate with sharp sorrows pierce themselves!
- Thus even now Ægisthus, working sorrow more than Fate would have,
- The Atridan’s wife hath wedded, and himself returning slain,
- Knowing well the steep destruction that awaits him, for ourselves
- Sent the sharp-eyed Argus-slayer, Hermes, to proclaim our will,
- That nor him he dare to murder, nor his wedded wife to woo.
- Thus spoke Hermes well and wisely; but thy reckless wit, Ægisthus,
- Moved he not; full richly therefore now thy folly’s fine thou payest.”
Agamemnon, the son, or, according to a less common account (for which see Schol. ad Iliad II. 249), the grandson of Atreus, being distinguished above the other Hellenic princes for wealth and power, was either by special election appointed, or by that sort of irregular kingship common among half-civilized nations, allowed to conduct the famous expedition against Troy that in early times foreshadowed the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the influence of the Greek language and letters in the East. Such a distant expedition as this, like the crusades in the middle ages, was not only a natural living Epos in itself, but would necessarily give rise to that intense glow of popular sympathy, and that excited state of the popular imagination, which enable the wandering poets of the people to make the best poetic use of the various dramatic incidents that the realities of a highly potentiated history present. Accordingly we find, in the very outset of the expedition, the fleet, storm-bound in the harbour of Aulis, opposite Eubœa, enabled to pursue its course, under good omens, only by the sacrifice of the fairest daughter of the chief. This event—a sad memorial of the barbarous practice of human sacrifice, even among the polished Greeks—formed the subject of a special play, perhaps a trilogic series of plays, by Æschylus. This performance, however, has been unfortunately lost; and we can only imagine what it may have been by the description in the opening chorus of the present play, and by the beautiful, though certainly far from Æschylean, tragedy of Euripides. For our present purpose, it is sufficient to note that, in the Agamemnon, special reference is made to the sacrifice of Iphigenia, both as an unrighteous deed on the part of the father, for which some retribution was naturally to be expected, and as the origin of a special grudge in the mind of the mother, which she afterwards gratifies by the murder of her husband
As to that deed of blood itself, and its special adaptation for dramatic purposes, there can be no doubt; as little that Æschylus has used his materials in the present play in a fashion that satisfies the highest demands both of lyric and dramatic poetry, as executed by the first masters of both. The calm majesty and modest dignity of the much-tried monarch; the cool self-possession, and the smooth front of specious politeness that mark the character of the royal murderess the obstreperous bullying of the cowardly braggart, who does the deed with his heart, not with his hand; the half-wild, half-tender ravings of the horror-haunted Trojan prophetess; these together contain a combination of highly wrought dramatic elements, such as is scarcely excelled even in the all-embracing pages of our own Shakespere As far removed from common-place are the lyrical—in Æschylus never the secondary—elements of the piece The sublime outbreak of Cassandra’s prophetic horror is, as the case demanded, made to exhibit itself as much under the lyric as in the declamatory form; while the other choral parts, remarkable for length and variety, are marked not only by that mighty power of intense moral feeling which is so peculiarly Æschylean, but by the pictorial beauty and dramatic reality that distinguish the workmanship of a great lyric master from that of the vulgar dealer in inflated sentiment and sonorous sentences.
- I pray the gods a respite from these toils,
- This long year’s watch that, dog-like, I have kept,
- High on the Atridan’s battlements,1 beholding
- The nightly council of the stars, the circling
- Of the celestial signs, and those bright regents,
- High-swung in ether, that bring mortal men
- Summer and winter. Here I watch the torch,
- The appointed flame that wings a voice from Troy,
- Telling of capture; thus I serve her hopes,
- The masculine-minded who is sovereign here2
- And when night-wandering shades encompass round
- My dew-sprent dreamless couch (for fear doth sit
- In slumber’s chair, and holds my lids apart),
- I chaunt some dolorous ditty, making song,
- Sleep’s substitute, surgeon my nightly care,
- And the misfortunes of this house I weep,
- Not now, as erst, by prudent counsels swayed.
- Oh! soon may the wished for sign relieve my toils,
- Thrice-welcome herald, gleaming through the night!
[The beacon is seen shining.]
- All hail thou cresset of the dark! fair gleam
- Of day through midnight shed, all hail! bright father
- Of joy and dance, in Argos, hail! all hail!
- Hillo! hilloa!
- I will go tell the wife of Agamemnon
- To shake dull sleep away, and lift high-voiced,3
- The jubilant shout well-omened, to salute
- This welcome beacon, if, indeed, old Troy
- Hath fallen—as flames this courier torch to tell.
- Myself will dance the prelude to this joy.
- My master’s house hath had a lucky throw,
- And thrice six falls to me,4 thanks to the flame!
- Soon may he see his home; and soon may I
- Carry my dear-loved master’s hand in mine!
- The rest I whisper not, for on my tongue
- Is laid a seal.5 These walls, if they could speak,
- Would say strange things Myself to those that know
- Am free of speech, to whoso knows not dumb.
EnterChorusin procession. March time.
- Nine years have rolled, the tenth is rolling,
- Since the strong Atridan pair,
- Menelaus and Agamemnon,
- Sceptied kings by Jove’s high grace,6
- With a host of sworn alliance,
- With a thousand triremes rare,
- With a righteous strong defiance,
- Sailed for Troy From furious breast
- Loud they clanged the peal of battle;
- Like the cry of vultures wild
- O’er the lone paths fitful-wheeling,7
- With their plumy oarage oaring
- Over the nest by the spoiler spoiled,
- The nest dispeopled now and bare,
- Their long but fruitless care.
- But the gods see it: some Apollo,
- Pan or Jove, the wrong hath noted,
- Heard the sharp and piercing cry
- Of the startled birds, shrill-throated
- Tenants of the sky;
- And the late-chastising Fury8
- Sent from above to track the spoiler,
- Hovers vengeful nigh.
- Thus great Jove, the high protector
- Of the hospitable laws,9
- ’Gainst Alexander sends the Atridans,
- Harnessed in a woman’s cause,
- The many-lorded fair.
- Toils on toils shall come uncounted,
- (Jove hath willed it so);
- Limb-outwearying hard endeavour,
- Where the strong knees press the dust,
- Where the spear-shafts split and shiver,
- Trojan and Greek shall know.
- But things are as they are: the chain
- Of Fate doth bind them; sighs are vain,
- Tears, libations, fruitless flow,
- To divert from purposed ire
- The powers whose altars know no fire.10
- But we behind that martial train
- Inglorious left remain,
- Old and frail, and feebly leaning
- Strength as of childhood on a staff.
- Yea! even as life’s first unripe marrow
- In the tender bones are we,
- From war’s harsh service free.
- For hoary Eld, life’s leaf up-shrunken,
- Totters, his three-footed way
- Feebly feeling, weak as childhood,
- Like a dream that walks by day.
- But what is this? what wandering word,
- Clytemnestra queen, hath reached thee?
- What hast seen? or what hast heard
- That from street to street swift flies
- Thy word, commanding sacrifice?
- All the altars of all the gods
- That keep the city, gods supernal,
- Gods Olympian, gods infernal,
- Gods of the Forum, blaze with gifts;
- Right and left the flame mounts high,
- Spiring to the sky,
- With the gentle soothings cherished
- Of the oil that knows no malice,11
- And the sacred cake that smokes
- From the queen’s chamber in the palace.
- What thou canst and may’st, declare,
- Be the healer of the care
- That bodes black harm within me; change it
- To the bright and hopeful ray,
- Which from the altar riseth, chasing
- From the heart the sateless sorrow
- That eats vexed life away.
TheChorus,having now arranged themselves into a regular band in the middle of the Orchestra, sing the FirstChoral Hymn.
- I’ll voice the strain.12 What though the arm be weak
- That once was strong,
- The suasive breath of Heaven-sent memories stirs
- The old man’s breast with song.
- My age hath virtue left
- To sing what fateful omens strangely beckoned
- The twin kings to the fray,
- What time to Troy concentuous marched
- The embattled Greek array.
- Jove’s swooping bird, king of all birds, led on
- The kings of the fleet with spear and vengeful hand:
- By the way-side from shining seats serene,
- Close by the palace, on the spear-hand seen,
- Two eagles flapped the air,
- One black, the other silver-tipt behind,
- And with keen talons seized a timorous hare,
- Whose strength could run no more,
- Itself, and the live burden which it bore.
- Sing woe and well-a-day! But still
- May the good omens shame the ill.
- The wise diviner of the host beheld,
- And knew the sign;
- The hare-devouring birds with diverse wings
- Typed the Atridan pair,
- The diverse-minded kings,13
- And thus the fate he chaunted:—Not in vain
- Ye march this march to-day;
- Old Troy shall surely fall, but not
- Till moons on moons away
- Have lingering rolled. Rich stores by labour massed
- Clean-sweeping Fate shall plunder. Grant the gods,
- While this strong bit for Troy we forge with gladness,
- No heavenly might in jealous wrath o’ercast
- Our mounting hope with sadness.
- For the chaste Artemis a sore grudge nurses
- Against the kings: Jove’s winged hounds she curses,14
- The fierce war-birds that tore
- The fearful hare, with the young brood it bore.
- Sing woe and well-a-day! but still
- May the good omens shame the ill.
- The lion’s fresh-dropt younglings, and each whelp
- That sucks wild milk, and through the forest roves,
- Live not unfriended; them the fair goddess loves,15
- And lends her ready help.
- The vision of the birds shall work its end
- In bliss, but dashed not lightly with black bane;
- I pray thee, Pæan, may she never send16
- Contrarious blasts dark-lowering, to detain
- The Argive fleet.
- Ah! ne’er may she desire to feast her eyes
- On an unblest unholy sacrifice,
- From festal use abhorrent, mother of strife,
- And sundering from her lawful lord the wife.
- Stern-purposed waits the child-avenging wrath17
- About the fore-doomed halls,
- Weaving dark wiles, while with sure-memoried sting
- Fury to Fury calls.
- Thus hymned the seer, the doom, in dubious chaunt
- Bliss to the chiefs dark-mingling with the bane,
- From the way-haunting birds; and we
- Respondent to the strain,
- Sing woe and well-a-day! but still
- May the good omens shame the ill.
- STROPHE I.
- Jove, or what other name18
- The god that reigns supreme delights to claim,
- Him I invoke; him of all powers that be,
- Alone I find,
- Who from this bootless load of doubt can free
- My labouring mind.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- Who was so great of yore,
- With all-defiant valour brimming o’er,19
- Is mute; and who came next by a stronger arm
- Thrice-vanquished fell;
- But thou hymn victor Jove: so in thy heart
- His truth shall dwell.
- STROPHE II.
- For Jove doth teach men wisdom, sternly wins
- To virtue by the tutoring of their sins,
- Yea! drops of torturing recollection chill
- The sleeper’s heart, ’gainst man’s rebellious will
- Jove works the wise remorse:
- Dread Powers, on awful seats enthroned, compel
- Our hearts with gracious force.20
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- The elder chief, the leader of the ships,
- Heard the dire doom, nor dared to ope his lips
- Against the seer, and feared alone to stand
- ’Gainst buffeting fate, what time the Chalcian strand
- Saw the vexed Argive masts
- In Aulis tides hoarse-refluent,21 idly chained
- By the fierce Borean blasts;
- STROPHE III.
- Blasts from Strymon adverse braying,
- Harbour-vexing, ship-delaying,
- Snapping cables, shattering oars,
- Wasting time, consuming stores,
- With vain-wandering expectation,
- And with long-drawn slow vexation
- Wasting Argive bloom.
- At length the seer forth-clanged the doom,
- A remedy strong to sway the breeze,
- And direful Artemis to appease,
- But to the chiefs severe:
- The Atridans with their sceptres struck the ground,
- Nor could restrain the tear.
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- Then spake the elder. To deny,
- How hard! still harder to comply!
- My daughter dear, my joy, my life,
- To slay with sacrificial knife,
- And with life’s purple-gushing tide,
- Imbrue a father’s hand, beside
- The altar of the gods.
- This way or that is ill: for how
- Shall I despise my federate vow?
- How leave the ships? That all conspire
- Thus hotly to desire
- The virgin’s blood—wind-soothing sacrifice—
- Is the gods’ right. So be it22
- STROPHE IV.
- Thus to necessity’s harsh yoke he bared
- His patient neck. Unblissful blew the gale
- That turned the father’s heart23
- To horrid thoughts unholy, thoughts that dared
- The extreme of daring. Sin from its primal spring
- Mads the ill-counsell’d heart, and arms the hand
- With reckless strength. Thus he
- Gave his own daughter’s blood, his life, his joy,
- To speed a woman’s war, and consecrate24
- His ships for Troy.
- ANTISTROPHE IV.
- In vain with prayers, in vain she beats dull ears
- With a father’s name; the war-delighting chiefs
- Heed not her virgin years.
- The father stood; and when the priests had prayed
- Take her, he said; in her loose robes enfolden,
- Where prone and spent she lies,25 so lift the maid.
- Even as a kid is laid,
- So lay her on the altar; with dumb force
- Her beauteous mouth gag, lest it breathe a voice
- Of curse to Argos.
- STROPHE V.
- And as they led the maid, her saffron robe26
- Sweeping the ground, with pity-moving dart
- She smote each from her eye,
- Even as a picture beautiful, fain to speak,
- But could not. Well that voice they knew of yore;
- Oft at her father’s festive board,
- With gallant banqueters ringed cheerly round,
- The virgin strain they heard27
- That did so sweetly pour
- Her father’s praise, whom Heaven had richly crowned
- With bounty brimming o’er.
- ANTISTROPHE V.
- The rest I know not, nor will vainly pry;
- But Calchas was a seer not wont to lie.
- Justice doth wait to teach
- Wisdom by suffering. Fate will have its way.
- The quickest ear is pricked in vain to-day,
- To catch to-morrow’s note. What boots
- To forecast woe, which, on no wavering wing,28
- The burthen’d hour shall bring.
- But we, a chosen band,
- Left here sole guardians of the Apian land,
- Pray Heaven, all good betide!
- Hail Clytemnestra! honour to thy sceptre!
- When her lord’s throne is vacant, the wife claims
- His honour meetly. Queen, if thou hast heard
- Good news, or to the hope of good that shall be,
- With festal sacrifice dost fill the city,
- I fain would know; but nothing grudge thy silence.
- Bearing blithe tidings, saith the ancient saw,
- Fair Morn be gendered from boon mother Night!
- News thou shalt hear beyond thy topmost hope;
- The Greeks have ta’en old Priam’s city.
- Troy taken! the word drops from my faithless ear.
The Greeks have taken Troy. Can I speak plainer?
Joy o’er my heart creeps, and provokes the tear.
Thine eye accuses thee that thou art kind.
What warrant of such news? What certain sign?
Both sign and seal, unless some god deceive me.
Dreams sometimes speak; did suasive visions move thee?
Where the soul sleeps, and the sense slumbers, there Shall the wise ask for reasons?
- Ever swift
- Though wingless, Fame,29 with tidings fair hath cheered thee.
Thou speak’st as one who mocks a simple girl.
Old Troy is taken? how?—when did it fall?
The self-same night that mothers this to-day.
But how? what stalwart herald ran so fleetly?
- Hephæstus. He from Ida shot the spark,30
- And flaming straightway leapt the courier fire
- From height to height; to the Hermæan rock
- Of Lemnos, first from Ida; from the isle
- The Athóan steep of mighty Jove received
- The beaming beacon; thence the forward strength
- Of the far-travelling lamp strode gallantly31
- Athwart the broad sea’s back. The flaming pine
- Rayed out a golden glory like the sun,
- And winged the message to Macistus’ watch-tower.
- There the wise watchman, guiltless of delay,
- Lent to the sleepless courier further speed,
- And the Messapian station hailed the torch
- Far-beaming o’er the floods of the Eurípus.
- There the grey heath lit the responsive fire,
- Speeding the portioned message; waxing strong,
- And nothing dulled across Asopus’ plain
- The flame swift darted like the twinkling moon,
- And on Cithæron’s rocky heights awaked
- A new receiver of the wandering light.
- The far-sent ray, by the faithful watch not spurned,
- With bright addition journeying, bounded o’er
- Gorgópus’ lake and Ægiplanctus’ mount,
- Weaving the chain unbroken.32 Hence it spread
- Not scant in strength, a mighty beard of flame,33
- Flaring across the headlands that look down
- On the Saronic gulf.34 Speeding its march,
- It reached the neighbour-station of our city,
- Arachne’s rocky steep; and thence the halls
- Of the Atridæ recognised the signal,
- Light not unfathered by Idæan fire.
- Such the bright train of my torch-bearing heralds,
- Each from the other fired with happy news,
- And last and first was victor in the race35
- Such the fair tidings that my lord hath sent,
- A sign that Troy hath fallen.
- And for its fall
- Our voice shall hymn the gods anon: meanwhile
- I’m fain to drink more wonder from thy words.
- This day Troy fell. Methinks I see’t; a host
- Of jarring voices stirs the startled city,
- Like oil and acid, sounds that will not mingle,
- By natural hatred sundered. Thou may’st hear
- Shouts of the victor, with the dying groan,
- Battling, and captives’ cry, upon the dead—
- Fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, wives—
- The living fall—the young upon the old;
- And from enthralléd necks wail out their woe
- Fresh from the fight, through the dark night the spoilers
- Tumultuous rush where hunger spurs them on,
- To feast on banquets never spread for them.
- The homes of captive Trojan chiefs they share
- As chance decides the lodgment; there secure
- From the cold night-dews and the biting frosts,
- Beneath the lordly roof, to their hearts’ content36
- They live, and through the watchless night prolong
- Sound slumbers Happy if the native gods
- They reverence, and the captured altars spare,37
- Themselves not captive led by their own folly!
- May no unbridled lust of unjust gain
- Master their hearts, no reckless rash desire!
- Much toil yet waits them. Having turned the goal,38
- The course’s other half they must mete out,
- Ere home receive them safe Their ships must brook
- The chances of the sea; and, these being scaped,
- If they have sinned39 the gods their own will claim,
- And vengeance wakes till blood shall be atoned.
- I am a woman; but mark thou well my words;
- I hint the harm; but with no wavering scale,
- Prevail the good! I thank the gods who gave me
- Rich store of blessings, richly to enjoy.
- Woman, thou speakest wisely as a man,
- And kindly as thyself. But having heard
- The certain signs of Agamemnon’s coming,
- Prepare we now to hymn the gods; for surely
- With their strong help we have not toiled in vain.
- O regal Jove! O blessed Night!
- Thou hast won thee rich adornments,
- Thou hast spread thy shrouding meshes
- O’er the towers of Priam Ruin
- Whelms the young, the old. In vain
- Shall they strive to o’erleap the snare,
- And snap the bondsman’s galling chain,
- In woe retrieveless lost.
- Jove, I fear thee, just protector
- Of the wrong’d host’s sacred rights;
- Thou didst keep thy bow sure bent
- ’Gainst Alexander; not before
- The fate-predestined hour, and not
- Beyond the stars, with idle aim,
- Thy cunning shaft was shot.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- The hand of Jove hath smote them; thou
- May’st trace it plainly,
- What the god willed, behold it now
- Not purposed vainly!
- The gods are blind,40 and little caring,
- So one hath said, to mark the daring
- Of men, whose graceless foot hath ridden
- O’er things to human touch forbidden.
- Godless who said so; sons shall rue
- Their parents’ folly,
- Who flushed with wealth, with insolence flown,
- The sober bliss of man outgrown,
- The trump of Mars unchastened blew,
- And stirred red strife without the hue
- Of justice wholly.
- Live wiselier thou, not waxing gross
- With gain, thou shalt be free from loss.
- Weak is his tower, with pampering wealth
- In brief alliance
- Who spurns great Justice’ altar dread
- With damned defiance,
- Him the deep hell shall claim, and shame
- His vain reliance.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- Self-will fell Até’s daughter,41 still
- Fore-counselling ruin,
- Shall spur him on resistless borne
- To his undoing.
- Fined with sharp loss beyond repairing,
- His misery like a beacon flaring,
- Shall shine to all. Like evil brass,
- That tested shows a coarse black mass,
- His deep distemper he shall show
- By dints of trial.
- Even as a boy in wanton sport,42
- Chasing a bird to his own hurt,
- And to the state’s redeemless loss,
- Whom, when he prays, the gods shall cross
- With sheer denial,
- And sweep the lewd and lawless liver
- From earth’s fair memory for ever;
- Thus to the Atridans’ palace came
- False Alexander,
- And shared the hospitable board,
- A bold offender,
- Filching his host’s fair wife away
- To far Scamander.
- STROPHE II.
- She went, and to the Argive city left
- Squadrons shield-bearing,
- Battle preparing,
- Swords many-flashing,
- Oars many-plashing;
- She went, destruction for her dowry bearing,
- To the Sigean shore;
- Light with swift foot she brushed the doorstead, daring
- A deed undared before.
- The prophets of the house loud wailing,43
- Cried with sorrow unavailing,
- “Woe to the Atridans! woe!
- The lofty palaces fallen low!
- The marriage and the marriage bed,
- The steps once faithful, fond to follow
- There where the faithful husband led!”
- He silent stood in sadness, not in wrath,44
- His own eye scarce believing,
- As he followed her flight beyond the path
- Of the sea-wave broadly heaving.
- And phantoms sway each haunt well known,
- Which the lost loved one wont to own,
- And the statued forms that look from their seats
- With a cold smile serenely,
- He loathes to look on; in his eye
- Pines Aphrodité leanly.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- In vain he sleeps; for in the fretful night
- Shapes of fair seeming
- Flit through his dreaming,
- Soothing him sweetly,
- Leaving him fleetly
- Of bliss all barren. The shape fond fancy weaves him
- His eager grasp would keep,
- In vain; it cheats the hand; and leaves him, sweeping
- Swift o’er the paths of sleep.
- These sorrows pierce the Atridan chiefs,
- And, worse than these, their private griefs,
- But general Greece that to the fray
- Sent her thousands, mourns to-day;
- And Grief stout-hearted at each door
- Sits to bear the burden sore
- Of deathful news from the Trojan shore.
- Ah! many an Argive heart to-day
- Is pricked with wail and mourning,
- Knowing how many went to Troy,
- From Troy how few returning!
- The mothers of each house shall wait
- To greet their sons at every gate,
- But, alas! not men, but dust of men
- Each sorrowing house receiveth,
- The urn in which the fleshly case
- Its cindered ruin leaveth.
- STROPHE III.
- For Mars doth market bodies, and for gold
- Gives dust, and in the battle of the bold
- Holds the dread scales of Fate.
- Burnt cinders, a light burden, but to friends
- A heavy freight,
- He sends from Troy; the beautiful vase he sends
- With dust, for hearts, well lined, on which descends
- The frequent tear.
- And friends do wail their praise; this here
- Expert to wield the pointed spear,
- And this who cast his life away,
- Nobly in ignoble fray,
- For a strange woman’s sake.
- And in their silent hearts hate burns;
- Against the kings
- The moody-muttered grudge creeps forth,
- And points its stings.
- Others they mourn who ’neath Troy’s wall
- Entombed, dark sleep prolong,
- Low pressed beneath the hostile sod,
- The beautiful, the strong!
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- O hard to bear, when evil murmurs fly,
- Is a nation’s hate; unblest on whom doth lie
- A people’s curse!
- My heart is dark, in my fear-procreant brain
- Bad begets worse.
- For not from heaven the gods behold in vain
- Hands red with slaughter. The black-mantled train
- Who watch and wait,
- In their own hour shall turn to bane
- The bliss that grew from godless gain.
- The mighty man with heart elate
- Shall fall; even as the sightless shades,
- The great man’s glory fades.
- Sweet to the ear is the popular cheer
- Forth billowed loudly;
- But the bolt from on high shall blast his eye45
- That looketh proudly.
- Be mine the sober bliss, and far
- From fortune’s high-strung rapture,
- Not capturing others, may I never
- See my own city’s capture!
- Swift-winged with thrilling note it came,
- The blithe news from the courier-flame;
- But whether true and witnessed well,
- Or if some god hath forged a lie,
- What tongue can tell?
- Who is so young, so green of wit,
- That his heart should blaze with a fever fit,
- At a tale of this fire-courier’s telling,
- When a new rumour swiftly swelling,
- May turn him back to dole? To lift the note
- Of clamorous triumph ere the fight be fought,
- Is a light chance may fitly fall,
- Where women wield the spear.46
- A wandering word by woman’s fond faith sped
- Swells and increases,
- But with dispersion swift a woman’s tale
- Is lost and ceases.
- Soon shall we know if the light-bearing lamps
- And the bright signals of the fiery changes
- Spake true or, dream-like, have deceived our sense
- With smiling semblance. For, behold, where comes,
- Beneath the outspread olive’s branchy shade,
- A herald from the beach; and thirsty dust,
- Twin-sister of the clay, attests his speed.
- Not voiceless he, nor with the smoking flame
- Of mountain pine will bring uncertain news.
- His heraldry gives increase to our joy,
- Or—but to speak ill-omened words I shun;—
- May fair addition fair beginning follow!
- Whoso fears evil where no harm appears,
- Reap first himself the fruit of his own fears.
- Hail Argive land! dear fatherland, all hail!
- This tenth year’s light doth shine on my return!
- And now this one heart’s hope from countless wrecks
- I save! Scarce hoped I e’er to lay my bones
- Within the tomb where dearest dust is stored.
- I greet thee, native land! thee, shining sun!
- Thee, the land’s Sovereign, Jove! thee, Pythian King,
- Shooting no more thy swift-winged shafts against us.
- Enough on red Scamander’s banks we knew
- Thee hostile; now our saviour-god be thou,
- Apollo, and our healer from much harm!47
- And you, all gods that guide the chance of fight,
- I here invoke; and thee, my high protector,
- Loved Hermes, of all heralds most revered.
- And you, all heroes that sent forth our hosts,
- Bring back, I pray, our remnant with good omens.
- O kingly halls! O venerated seats!
- O dear-loved roofs, and ye sun-fronting gods,48
- If ever erst, now on this happy day,
- With these bright-beaming eyes, duly receive
- Your late returning king; for Agamemnon
- Comes, like the sun, a common joy to all.
- Greet him with triumph, as beseems the man,
- Who with the mattock of justice-bringing Jove
- Hath dug the roots of Troy, hath made its altars
- Things seen no more, its towering temples razed,
- And caused the seed of the whole land to perish.
- Such yoke on Ilium’s haughty neck the elder
- Atridan threw, a king whom gods have blessed
- And men revere, ’mongst mortals worthy most
- Of honour; now nor Paris, nor in the bond
- Partner’d with him, old Troy more crime may boast
- Than penalty; duly in the court of fight,
- In the just doom of rape and robbery damned,
- His pledge is forfeited,49 his hand hath reaped
- Clean bare the harvest of all bliss from Troy.
- Doubly they suffer for a double crime.
Hail soldier herald, how farest thou?
- Right well!
- So well that I could bless the gods and die.
Doubtless thy love of country tried thy heart?
To see these shores I weep for very joy.
And that soul-sickness sweetly held thee?
- Instruct my wit to comprehend thy words.
Smitten with love of them that much loved thee.
Say’st thou? loved Argos us as we loved Argos?
Ofttimes we sorrowed from a sunless soul.
- How so? Why should the thought of the host have clouded
- Thy soul with sadness?
- Sorrow not causeless came;
- But I have learned to drug all woes by silence.
Whom should’st thou quail before, the chiefs away?
I could have used thy phrase, and wished to die.
- Die now, an’ thou wilt, for joy! The rolling years
- Have given all things a prosperous end, though some
- Were hard to bear; for who, not being a god,
- Can hope to live long years of bliss unbroken?
- A weary tale it were to tell the tithe
- Of all our hardships; toils by day, by night,
- Harsh harbourage, hard hammocks, and scant sleep.
- No sun without new troubles, and new groans,
- Shone on our voyage; and when at length we landed,
- Our woes were doubled; ’neath the hostile walls,
- On marshy meads night-sprinkled by the dews,
- We slept, our clothes rotted with drenching rain,
- And like wild beasts with shaggy-knotted hair.
- Why should I tell bird-killing winter’s sorrows,
- Long months of suffering from Idéan snows,
- Then summer’s scorching heat, when noon beheld
- The waveless sea beneath the windless air
- In sleep diffused; these toils have run their hour.
- The dead care not to rise; their roll our grief
- Would muster o’er in vain; and we who live
- Vainly shall fret at the cross strokes of fate.
- Henceforth to each harsh memory of the past
- Farewell! we who survive this long-drawn war
- Have gains to count that far outweigh the loss.
- Well may we boast in the face of the shining sun,
- O’er land and sea our winged tidings wafting,
- The Achæan host hath captured Troy; and now
- On the high temples of the gods we hang
- These spoils, a shining grace, there to remain
- An heritage for ever.50 These things to hear
- Shall men rejoice, and with fair praises laud
- The state and its great generals, laud the grace
- Of Jove the Consummator. I have said.
- I own thy speech the conqueror; for a man
- Can never be too old to learn good news,
- And though thy words touch Clytemnestra most,
- Joy to the Atridan’s halls is wealth to me.
- I lifted first the shout of jubilee,
- Then when the midnight sign of the courier fire
- Told the deep downfall of the captured Troy,
- But one then mocked my faith, that I believed
- The fire-sped message in so true a tale.
- ’Tis a light thing to buoy a woman’s heart
- With hopeful news, they cried; and with these words
- They wildered my weak wit. And yet I sped
- The sacrifice, and raised the welcoming shout
- In woman’s wise, and at a woman’s word
- Forthwith from street to street uprose to the gods
- Well-omened salutations, and glad hymns,
- Lulling the fragrant incense-feeding flame.
- What needs there more? The event has proved me right,
- Himself—my lord—with his own lips shall speak
- The weighty tale; myself will go make ready
- With well-earned honour to receive the honoured.
- What brighter bliss on woman’s lot may beam,
- Than when a god gives back her spouse from war,
- To ope the gates of welcome. Tell my husband,
- To his loved home, desired of all, to haste.
- A faithful wife, even as he left her, here
- He’ll find expectant, like a watch-dog, gentle
- To him and his, to all that hate him harsh.
- The seals that knew his stamp, when hence he sailed,
- Unharmed remain, untouched: and for myself
- Nor praise nor blame from other man I know,
- No more than dyer’s art can tincture brass.51
- A boast like this, instinct with very truth,
- Comes from a noble lady without blame.
- Wise words she spake, and words that need no comment
- To ears that understand. But say, good Herald,
- Comes Menelaus safe back from the wars,
- His kindly sway in Argos to resume?
- I cannot gloss a lie with fair pretence;
- The best told lie bears but a short-lived fruit.
- Speak the truth plainly, if thou canst not pleasantly;
- These twain be seldom wedded; and here, alas!
- They stand out sundered with too clear a mark.
- The man is vanished from the Achæan host,
- He and his vessel. Thou hast heard the truth.
- Sailed he from Ilium separate from the fleet?
- Or did the tempest part him from his friends!
- Like a good marksman thou hast hit the mark,
- In one short sentence summing many sorrows.
- Alive is he or dead? What word hath reached you?
- What wandering rumour from sea-faring men?
- This none can tell, save yon bright sun aloft,
- That cherishes all things with his friendly light.
- How came the storm on the fleet? or how was ended
- The wrath of the gods?
- Not well it suits to blot
- With black rehearsal this auspicious day.
- Far from the honors of the blissful gods52
- Be grief’s recital. When with gloomy visage
- An ugly tale the herald’s voice unfolds,
- At once a general wound, and private grief,
- An army lost, the sons of countless houses
- Death-doomed by the double scourge so dear to Ares,
- A twin-speared harm, a yoke of crimson slaughter:
- A herald saddled with such woes may sing
- A pæan to the Erinnyes. But I,
- Who to this city blithe and prosperous
- Brought the fair news of Agamemnon’s safety,
- How shall I mingle bad with good, rehearsing
- The wintry wrath sent by the gods to whelm us?
- Fire and the sea, sworn enemies of old,53
- Made friendly league to sweep the Achæan host
- With swift destruction pitiless. Forth rushed
- The tyrannous Thracian blasts, and wave chased wave,
- Fierce ’neath the starless night, and ship on ship
- Struck clashing; beak on butting beak was driven;
- The puffing blast, the beat of boiling billows,
- The whirling gulph (an evil pilot) wrapt them
- In sightless death. And when the shining sun
- Shone forth again, we see the Ægean tide
- Strewn with the purple blossoms of the dead,
- And wrecks of shattered ships. Us and our bark
- Some god, no man, the storm-tost hull directing,
- Hath rescued scathless, stealing us from the fray,
- Or with a prayer begging our life from Fate.
- Kind Fortune helmed us further, safely kept
- From yeasty ferment in the billowy bay,
- Nor dashed on far-ledged rocks. Thus having ’scaped
- That ocean hell,54 scarce trusting our fair fortune,
- We hailed the lucid day; but could we hope,
- The chance that saved ourselves had saved our friends?
- Our fearful hearts with thoughts of them we fed,
- Far-labouring o’er the loosely-driving main.55
- And doubtless they, if yet live breath they breathe,
- Deem so of us, as we must fear of them,
- That they have perished. But I hope the best.
- And first and chief expect ye the return
- Of Menelaus. If the sun’s blest ray
- Yet looks on him, where he beholds the day
- By Jove’s devising,56 not yet willing wholly
- To uproot the race of Atreus, hope may be
- He yet returns. Thou hast my tale; and I
- Have told the truth untinctured with a lie.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Who gave her a name
- So true to her fame?
- Does a Providence rule in the fate of a word?
- Sways there in heaven a viewless power
- O’er the chance of the tongue in the naming hour?
- Who gave her a name,
- This daughter of strife, this daughter of shame,
- The spear-wooed maid of Greece?
- Helen the taker!57 ’tis plain to see
- A taker of ships, a taker of men,
- A taker of cities is she.
- From the soft-curtained chamber of Hymen she fled,
- By the breath of giant58 Zephyr sped,
- And shield-bearing throngs in marshalled array
- Hounded her flight o’er the printless way,
- Where the swift-plashing oar
- The fair booty bore
- To swirling Simois’ leafy shore,
- And stirred the crimson fray.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- For the gods sent a bride,
- Kin but not kind,59
- Ripe with the counsel of wrath to Troy,
- In the fulness of years, the offender to prove,
- And assert the justice of Jove;
- For great Jove is lord
- Of the rights of the hearth and the festal board.
- The sons of Priam sang
- A song to the praise of the bride:
- From jubilant throats they praised her then,
- The bride from Hellas brought;
- But now the ancient city hath changed
- Her hymn to a doleful note.
- She weeps bitter tears; she curses the head
- Of the woe-wedded Paris; she curses the bed
- Of the beautiful bride
- That crossed the flood,
- And filched the life of her sons, and washed
- Her wide-paved streets with blood.
- STROPHE II.
- Whoso nurseth the cub of a lion
- Weaned from the dugs of its dam, where the draught
- Of its mountain-milk was free,
- Finds it gentle at first and tame.
- It frisks with the children in innocent game,
- And the old man smiles to see;
- It is dandled about like a babe in the arm,
- It licketh the hand that fears no harm,
- And when hunger pinches its fretful maw,
- It fawns with an eager glee.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- But it grows with the years; and soon reveals
- The fount of fierceness whence it came:
- And, loathing the food of the tame,
- It roams abroad, and feasts in the fold,
- On feasts forbidden, and stains the floor
- Of the house that nursed it with gore.
- A curse they nursed for their own undoing,
- A mouth by which their own friends shall perish;
- A servant of Até, a priest of Ruin,60
- Some god hath taught them to cherish.
- STROPHE III.
- Thus to Troy came a bride of the Spartan race,
- With a beauty as bland as a windless calm,
- Prosperity’s gentlest grace;
- And mild was love’s blossom that rayed from her eye,
- The soft-winged dart that with pleasing pain
- Thrills heart and brain.
- But anon she changed: herself fulfilled
- Her wedlock’s bitter end;
- A fatal sister, a fatal bride,
- Her fateful head she rears;
- Herself the Erinnys from Jove to avenge
- The right of the injured host, and change
- The bridal joy to tears.
- ANTISTROPHE III.
- ’Twas said of old, and ’tis said to-day,
- That wealth to prosperous stature grown
- Begets a birth of its own:
- That a surfeit of evil by good is prepared,
- And sons must bear what allotment of woe
- Their sires were spared.
- But this I rebel to believe: I know
- That impious deeds conspire
- To beget an offspring of impious deeds
- Too like their ugly sire.
- But whoso is just, though his wealth like a river
- Flow down, shall be scathless his house shall rejoice
- In an offspring of beauty for ever.
- STROPHE IV.
- The heart of the haughty delights to beget
- A haughty heart.61 From time to time
- In children’s children recurrent appears
- The ancestral crime.
- When the dark hour comes that the gods have decreed,
- And the Fury burns with wrathful fires,
- A demon unholy, with ire unabated,
- Lies like black night on the halls of the fated:
- And the recreant son plunges guiltily on
- To perfect the guilt of his sires.
- ANTISTROPHE IV.
- But Justice shines in a lowly cell;
- In the homes of poverty, smoke-begrimed,
- With the sober-minded she loves to dwell.
- But she turns aside
- From the rich man’s house with averted eye,
- The golden-fretted halls of pride
- Where hands with lucre are foul, and the praise
- Of counterfeit goodness smoothly sways:
- And wisely she guides in the strong man’s despite
- All things to an issue of right.
- But, hail the king! the city-taking
- Seed of Atreus’ race.
- How shall I accost thee! How
- With beseeming reverence greet thee?
- Nor above the mark, nor sinking
- Beneath the line of grace?
- Many of mortal men there be,
- ’Gainst the rule of right preferring
- Seeming to substance; tears are free
- In the eye when woe its tale rehearseth,
- But the sting of sorrow pierceth
- No man’s liver; many force
- Lack-laughter faces to relax
- Into the soft lines traced by joy.
- But the shepherd true and wise
- Knows the faithless man, whose eyes,
- With a forward friendship twinkling,
- Fawn with watery love.62
- For me, I nothing hide. O King,
- In my fancy’s picturing,
- From the Muses far I deemed thee,
- And thy soul not wisely helming
- When thou drew’st the knife
- For Helen’s sake, a woman, whelming
- Thousands in ruin, rushing rashly
- On unwelcome strife.
- But now all’s well. No shallow smiles
- We wear for thee, thy weary toils
- All finished. Thou shalt know anon
- What friends do serve thee truly,
- And who in thy long absence used
- Their stewardship unduly.
- First Argos hail! and ye, my country’s gods,
- Who worked my safe return, and nerved my arm
- With vengeance against Priam! for the gods,
- Taught by no glozing tongue, but by the sight
- Of their own eyes knew justice; voting ruin
- And men-destroying death to ancient Troy,
- Their fatal pebbles in the bloody urn
- Not doubtingly they dropt; the other vase,
- Unfed with hope of suffrage-bearing hand,
- Stood empty. Now the captured city’s smoke
- Points where it fell. Raves Ruin’s storm; the winds
- With crumbled dust and dissipated gold
- Float grossly laden. To the immortal gods
- These thanks, fraught with rich memory of much good,
- We pay; they taught our hands to spread the net
- With anger-whetted wit, a woman’s frailty
- Laid bare old Ilium to the Argive bite,
- And with the setting Pleiads outleapt a birth
- Of strong shield-bearers from the fateful horse.
- A fierce flesh-tearing lion leapt their walls,
- And licked a surfeit of tyrannic blood.
- This prelude to the gods. As for thy words
- Of friendly welcome, I return thy greeting,
- And as your thought, so mine; for few are gifted
- With such rich store of love, to see a friend
- Preferred and feel no envy; ’tis a disease
- Possessing mortal men, a poison lodged
- Close by the heart, eating all joy away
- With double barb—his own mischance who suffers
- And bliss of others sitting at his gate,
- Which when he sees he groans. I know it well;
- They who seemed most my friends, and many seemed,
- Were but the mirrored show, the shadowy ghost
- Of something like to friendship, substanceless.
- Ulysses only, most averse to sail,
- Was still most ready in the yoke with me
- To bear the harness; living now or dead,
- This praise I frankly give him. For the rest,
- The city and the gods, we will take counsel
- In full assembly freely. What is good
- We will give heed that it be lasting; where
- Disease the cutting or the caustic cure
- Demands, we will apply it. I, meanwhile,
- My hearth and home salute, and greet the gods,
- Who, as they sent me to the distant fray,
- Have brought me safely back. Fair victory,
- Once mine, may she dwell with me evermore!
- Men! Citizens! ye reverend Argive seniors,
- No shame feel I, even in your face, to tell
- My husband-loving ways. Long converse lends
- Boldness to bashfulness. No foreign griefs,
- Mine own self-suffered woes I tell. While he
- Was camping far at Ilium, I at home
- Sat all forlorn, uncherished by the mate
- Whom I had chosen; this was woe enough
- Without enforcement; but, to try me further,
- A host of jarring rumours stormed my doors,
- Each fresh recital with a murkier hue
- Than its precedent; and I must hear all.
- If this my lord, had borne as many wounds
- In battle as the bloody fame recounted,
- He had been pierced throughout even as a net;
- And had he died as oft as Rumour slew him,
- He might have boasted of a triple coil63
- Like the three-bodied Geryon, while on earth
- (Of him below I speak not), and like him
- Been three times heaped with a cloak of funeral dust.
- Thus fretted by cross-grained reports, oft-times
- The knotted rope high-swung had held my neck,
- But that my friends with forceful aid prevented.
- Add that my son, pledge of our mutual vows,
- Orestes is not here; nor think it strange.
- Thy Phocian spear-guest,64 the most trusty Strophius,
- Took him in charge, a twofold danger urging
- First thine beneath the walls of Troy, and further
- The evil likelihood that, should the Greeks
- Be worsted in the strife, at home the voice
- Of many-babbling anarchy might cast
- The council down, and as man’s baseness is,
- At fallen greatness insolently spurn.
- Moved by these thoughts I parted with my boy,
- And for no other cause. Myself the while
- So woe-worn lived, the fountains of my grief
- To their last drop were with much weeping drained;
- And far into the night my watch I’ve kept
- With weary eyes, while in my lonely room
- The night-torch faintly glimmered. In my dream
- The buzzing gnat, with its light-brushing wing,
- Startled the fretful sleeper; thou hast been
- In waking hours, as in sleep’s fitful turns
- My only thought. But having bravely borne
- This weight of woe, now with blithe heart I greet
- Thee, my heart’s lord, the watch-dog of the fold,
- The ship’s sure mainstay, pillared shaft whereon
- Rests the high roof, fond parent’s only child,
- Land seen by sailors past all hope, a day
- Lovely to look on when the storm hath broken,
- And to the thirsty wayfarer the flow
- Of gushing rill. O sweet it is, how sweet
- To see an end of the harsh yoke that galled us!
- These greetings to my lord; nor grudge me, friends,
- This breadth of welcome; sorrows we have known
- Ample enough. And now, thou precious head,
- Come from thy car, nay, do not set thy foot,
- The foot that trampled Troy, on common clay.
- What ho! ye laggard maids! why lags your task
- Behind the hour? Spread purple where he treads.
- Fitly the broidered foot-cloth marks his path,
- Whom Justice leadeth to his long-lost home
- With unexpected train. What else remains
- Our sleepless zeal, with favour of the gods,
- Shall order as befits.
- Daughter of Leda, guardian of my house!
- Almost thou seem’st to have spun thy welcome out
- To match my lengthened absence; but I pray thee
- Praise with discretion, and let other mouths
- Proclaim my pæans. For the rest, abstain
- From delicate tendance that would turn my manhood
- To woman’s temper. Not in barbaric wise
- With prostrate reverence base, kissing the ground,
- Mouth sounding salutations; not with purple,
- Breeder of envy, spread my path. Such honors
- Suit the immortal gods; me, being mortal,
- To tread on rich-flowered carpetings wise fear
- Prohibits. As a man, not as a god,
- Let me be honored. Not the less my fame
- Shall be far blazoned, that on common earth
- I tread untapestried. A sober heart
- Is the best gift of God; call no man happy
- Till death hath found him prosperous to the close.
- For me, if what awaits me fall not worse
- Than what hath fallen, I have good cause to look
- Bravely on fate.
- Nay, but my good lord will not
- In this gainsay my heart’s most warm desire.
My wish and will thou shalt not lightly mar.
Hast thou a vow belike, and fear’st the gods?
If e’er man knew, I know my will in this.
Had Priam conquered, what had Priam done?
His feet had trod the purple; doubt it not.
- What Priam would, thou may’st, unless the fear
- Of popular blame make Agamemnon quail.
But popular babble strengthens Envy’s wing.
Thou must be envied if thou wilt be great.
Is it a woman’s part to hatch contention?
For once be conquered; they who conquer may Yield with a grace.
- And thou in this vain strife
- Must be perforce the conqueror; is it so?
’Tis even so: for once give me the reins.
- Thou hast thy will. Come, boy, unbind these sandals,65
- That are the prostrate subjects to my feet,
- When I do tread; for with shod feet I never
- May leave my print on the sea-purple, lest
- Some god with jealous eye look from afar
- And mark me. Much I fear with insolent foot
- To trample wealth, and rudely soil the web
- Whose precious threads the pure-veined silver buys.
- So much for this. As for this maid, receive
- The stranger kindly: the far-seeing gods
- Look down with love on him who mildly sways.
- For never yet was yoke of slavery borne
- By willing neck; of all the captive maids
- The choicest flower she to my portion fell.
- And now, since thou art victor o’er my will,
- I tread the purple to my father’s hall.
- The wide sea flows; and who shall dry it up?
- The ocean flows, and in its vasty depths
- Is brewed the purple’s die, as silver precious,
- A tincture ever-fresh for countless robes.
- But Agamemnon’s house is not a beggar;
- With this, and with much more the gods provide us;
- And purple I had vowed enough to spread
- The path of many triumphs, had a god
- Given me such ’hest oracular to buy
- The ransom of thy life. We have thee now,
- Both root and trunk, a tree rich leafage spreading
- To shade this mansion from the Sirian dog.
- Welcome, thou double blessing [Editor: illegible character] to this hearth
- That bringest heat against keen winter’s cold,
- And coolness when the sweltering Jove prepares
- Wine from the crudeness of the bitter grape;
- Enter the house, made perfect by thy presence.
- Jove, Jove, the perfecter! perfect thou my vow,66
- And thine own counsels quickly perfect thou!
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Whence these shapes of fear that haunt me?
- These hovering portents why?
- Is my heart a seer inspired,
- To chaunt unbidden and unhired67
- Notes of dark prophecy?
- Blithe confidence, my bosom’s lord,
- That swayed the doubtful theme,
- Arise, and with thy clear command
- Chase the vain-vexing dream!
- Long years have rolled; and still I fear,
- As when the Argive band
- Unloosed their cables from the shore,68
- And eager plied the frequent oar
- To the far Ilian strand.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- Now they return: my vouching eyes
- To prop my faith conspire,
- And yet my heart, in self-taught hymns,
- As with a Fury’s burden brims,
- And will not own the lyre.
- I fear, I fear: the bold-faced Hope
- Hath left my heart all drear;
- And my thought, not idly tossed within,
- Feels evil creeping near.
- For the heart hath scent of things to come
- And prophesies by fear;
- And yet I pray, may all conspire
- To prove my boding heart a liar,
- And me a foolish seer.
- STROPHE II.
- Full-blooded health, that in the veins
- With lusty pulses hotly wells,
- Shall soon have check. Disease beside it
- Wall to wall, ill-sundered, dwells.
- The proud trireme, with sudden shock,
- In its mid career, on a sunken rock
- Strikes, and all is lost.
- Yet there is hope; the ship may rein
- Its plunge, from whelming ruin free,
- If with wise sling the merchant fling
- Into the greedy sea
- A part to save the whole. And thus
- Jove, that two-handed stores for us,
- In our mid woe may pause,
- Heap gifts on gifts from yearly furrows,
- And save the house from swamping sorrows,
- And lean starvation’s jaws.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- But, oh! when black blood stains the ground,
- And the mortal mortal lies,
- Shall the dead hear when thou chauntest?
- To thy charming shall he rise?
- Once there was a leech so wise
- Could raise the dead, but, from the skies,
- Struck by Jove, he ceased.
- But cease my song. Were link with link
- In the chain of things not bound together69
- That each event must wait its time,
- Nor one dare trip the other,
- My tongue had played the prophet’s part,
- And rolled the burden from my heart;
- But now, to doubt resigned,
- With smothered fears, all dumb I wait
- The unravelling hour; while sparks of fate
- Flit through my darksome mind.
- Come thou, too, in; this maid, I mean; Cassandra!
- For not in wrath Jove sent thee here to share
- Our family lustrations, and to stand,
- With many slaves, beside the household altar.70
- Step from this car, nor bear thy spirit proudly
- Above thy fate, for even Alcmena’s son,
- To slavery sold, once bore the hated yoke.
- What must be, must be; rather thank the chance
- That gave thee to an old and wealthy house;
- For they who reap an unexpected growth
- Of wealth, are harsh to slaves beyond the line
- Of a well-tempered rule. Here thou shalt find
- The common use of bondage.
- Plainly she speaks;
- And thou within Fate’s iron toils once caught
- Wert wise to go—if go thou wilt—but, soothly,
- Thou hast no willing look.
- Nay! an’ she be not
- Barbarian to the bone, and speaking nought
- Save swallow jabber, she shall hear my voice.
- I’ll pierce her marrow with it.
- Captive maid,
- Obey! thou shouldst; ’tis best; be thou persuaded
- To leave thy chariot-seat and follow her.
- No time have I to stand without the gate
- Prating with her. Within, on the central hearth,
- The fire burns bright, the sheep’s fat slaughter waiting,
- To furnish forth a banquet that transcends
- The topmost of our hopes. Wilt thou obey,
- Obey me quickly! If with stubborn sense
- Thou hast nor ear to hear, nor voice to speak,
- Answer my sign with thy barbarian hand.
- A wise interpreter the maid demands;
- Like a wild beast new caught, even so she stands.
- Ay! she is mad; her wit to sober counsels
- Is deaf; she comes from the new-captured city,
- Untaught to bear the Argive bit with patience,
- But foams and dashes bloody froth. I will not
- Make myself base by wasting words on her.
- Poor maid, I may not blame; I pity thee.
- Come, leave thy seat, for, though the yoke be strange,
- Necessity compels, and thou must bear it.
- Ah! ah! woes me! woe! woe!
- Apollo! O Apollo!
- Why dost thou wail to Loxias? is he
- A gloomy god that he should list sad tales?
- Ah! ah! woes me! woe! woe!
- Apollo! O Apollo!
- Again with evil-omened voice she cries
- Upon the god least fit to wait on woe.
- Apollo! Apollo!
- My way-god, my leader Apollo!71
- Apollo the destroyer!
- Thou with light labour hast destroyed me quite.
- Strange oracles against herself she speaks;
- Ev’n in the bondsman’s bosom dwells the god.
- Apollo! Apollo!
- Apollo, my leader, whither hast thou led me?72
- My way-god, Apollo?
- What homes receive thy captive prophetess?
- The Atridæ’s homes. This, an’ thou knowst it not,
- I tell thee, and the words I speak are true.
- Ha! the house of the Atridæ!
- Well the godless house I know,
- With the dagger and the rope,
- And the self-inflicted blow!
- Where red blood is on the floor,
- And black murder at the door—
- This house—this house I know.
- She scents out slaughter, mark me, like a hound,
- And tracks the spot where she shall feast on blood.
- Ay! I scent a truthful scent,
- And the thing I say I know.
- See! see! these weeping children,
- How they vouch the monstrous woe!
- Their red wounds are bleeding fresh,
- And their father eats their flesh,
- This bloody house I know.
- The fame of thy divinings far renowned
- Have reached us, but we wish no prophets here.
- Ha! ha! what plots she now!
- A new sorrow, a new snare
- To the house of the Atridæ,
- And a burden none may bear!
- A black harm to all and each,
- A disease that none may leech,
- And the evil plot to mar
- All help and hope is far.
- Nay now I’m lost and mazed in vain surmise.
- What first she said I knew—the common rumour.
- Ha! woman wilt thou dare?
- Thy bed’s partner and thy mate
- In the warm refreshing bath
- Shall he find his bloody fate?
- How shall I dare to say
- What comes and will not stay?
- See, to do her heart’s command
- Where she stretches her red hand!
- Not yet I understand: through riddles dark
- And cloudy oracles my wits are wandering.
- Ha! what bloody sight is this!
- ’Tis a net of Hades spread—
- ’Tis a snare to snare her lord,
- The fond sharer of her bed.
- The black chorus of the place
- Shout for vengeance o’er the race,
- Whose offence cries for atoning,
- With a heavy death of stoning!
- What black Fury of the place
- Shall shout vengeance o’er the race?
- Such strange words I hate to hear.
- The blithe blood, that crimson ran73
- In my veins, runs pale and wan
- With the taint of yellow fear,
- As when in the mortal anguish,74
- Life’s last fitful glimpses languish
- And Fate, as now, is near!
- Ha! ha! the work proceeds!
- From the bull keep back the cow!
- Lo! now she seizes him
- By the strong black horn,75 and now
- She hath wrapt him round with slaughter;
- She strikes! and in the water
- Of the bath he falls. Mark well,
- In the bath doth murder dwell.
- No prophetic gift is mine
- The dark saying to divine,
- But this sounds like evil quite;
- For to mortal man was never
- The diviner’s voice the giver
- Of a message of delight,
- But in words of mazy mourning,
- Comes the prophet’s voice of warning,
- With a lesson of affright.
- Fill the cup, and brim the woe!
- ’Tis my own heart’s blood must flow
- Me! miserable me!
- From old Troy why didst thou bring me
- Poor captive maid, to sing thee
- Thy dirge, and die with thee?
- By a god thou art possessed,
- And he raveth in thy breast,
- And he sings a song of thee
- That hath music, but no glee.
- Like a dun-plumed nightingale,