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Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus [1906]

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Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906).

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About this Title:

A collection of the major plays of the great Athenian playwright Aeschylus.

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The text is in the public domain.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

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this is no. 62 of EVERYMAN’S LIBRARY. the publishers will be pleased to send freely to all applicants a list of the published and projected volumes arranged under the following sections:

travel ❦ science ❦ fiction theology ❦ philosophy history ❦ classical for young people essays ❦ oratory poetry & drama biography reference romance

the ordinary edition is bound in cloth with gilt design and coloured top. there is also a library edition in reinforced cloth

London: J. M. DENT & SONS Ltd. New York: E. P. DUTTON & CO.

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london & toronto
published by j m dent & sons ltd & in new york by e p • dutton & co
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First Issue of this Edition 1906
Reprinted 1906, 1911, 1914, 1917, 1920, 1925, 1928

printed in great britain

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Professor John Stuart Blackie [1809-1895], in his day fondly called “Scotland’s greatest Greek scholar,” began his translation of Æschylus when he was still comparatively a young man, in 1837-8, and he did not complete it, working intermittently, until 1846. Even then, there was a process of revision and correction to be gone through, which carried on the work by a further term of three or four years.

The translation had occupied twelve years, says Miss Stoddart, in her biography (1895), but only the first three and the last three of those years were specially devoted to the work. Carlyle interested himself in finding a London publisher for the translation, and he characteristically mingled his praise of it with blame. He spoke of it indeed as “spirited and lively to a high degree,” and added, “the grimmer my protest against your having gone into song at all with the business.” It was Professor Aytoun who suggested the rhymed choruses. Leigh Hunt wrote to Blackie, approving where Carlyle had demurred. He said: “Your version is right masculine and Æschylean, strong, musical, conscious of the atmosphere of mystery and terror which it breathes in;” and he especially admired the poetic interpretation given “to the lyrical nature of these fine Cassandra-voiced ringing old dramas.”

The following is a list of the chief English translators of Æschylus:—

The Tragedies translated into English Verse; R. Potter, 1777, 1779.

The Seven Tragedies literally translated into English Prose, from the Text of Blomfield and Schütz, 1822, 1827.

Literal translation by T. A. Buckley, 1849.

The Lyrical Dramas . . . into English Verse; J. S. Blackie, 1850: into English Prose, F. A. Paley, 1864, 1891; E. H. Plumptre, 1868, 1873; Anna Swanwick, 1873; from a revised Text, W. Headlam, 1900, etc.

The Seven Plays in English Verse; L. Campbell, 1890.

The Agamemnon was translated by Dean Milman, 1865; and “transcribed” by Robert Browning, 1877. A. W. Verrall’s edition of the text, with commentary and translation, appeared in 1889.

The most important of the earlier editions of the text was that by Stanley; of the more recent, that by Schütz, Wellauer, and Hermann.

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  • Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . page 1
  • On the Genius and Character of the Greek Tragedy . . . 10
  • The Life of Æschylus . . . . . . . . . 28
  • Agamemnon . . . . . . . . . . . 35
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 37
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 335
  • Choephoræ; or, the Libation-Bearers . . . . . 93
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 95
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 358
  • The Eumenides . . . . . . . . . . 131
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 133
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 373
  • Prometheus Bound . . . . . . . . . 175
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 177
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 387
  • The Suppliants . . . . . . . . . . 213
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 215
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 404
  • The Seven against Thebes . . . . . . . 255
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . 257
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 416
  • The Persians . . . . . . . . . . 295
    • Introductory Remarks . . . . . . . . 297
    • Notes . . . . . . . . . . . 427
  • List of Editions, etc. . . . . . . . . . 438
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The poet who publishes an original work, or the painter who exhibits the product of his own brush, does well, in the general case, to spare himself the trouble of any sort of introductory exposition or explanation; for the public are apt to look upon all such preambles as a sort of forestalling of their own critical rights: besides that a good work of art contains within itself all that is necessary to unfold its own story to an intelligent spectator. A translator, however, is differently situated. In interposing himself between the original author and the public, he occupies the position of an optical artist, who, when he presents to the infirm human eye the instrument that is to enable it to scan the path of the stars, is bound, not merely to guarantee the beauty, but to explain to the intelligent spectator the principle, and to make intelligible the reality of the spectacle. Or, as all similes limp, we may say that a translator stands to the public in the position of the old Colchian sorceress, who having cut a live body in pieces, and submitted it to a new fermentation in a magic pot, engaged to produce it again re-invigorated in all its completeness. The spectators of such a process have a right to know, not only that something—it may be a very beautiful and a very attractive thing—has come out of the cauldron, but also that the identical thing put in has come out without transmutation or transformation. And if there has been transmutation or transformation to any extent, they are entitled to know how far.

Now, with regard to poetical translation, I honestly confess that I consider the reproduction, according to the German idea of a facsimile in all respects corresponding to the original, an impossible problem. In the alembic of the translator’s mind it is not merely that the original elements of the organic whole, being disintegrated, are to be restored, but the elements out of which the restoration is to be made, are altogether different; as if a man should be required to make a counterpart to a silk vesture with cotton twist, or to copy a glowing Venus of Titian in chalk. The reproduction, in such a case, can never be perfect; the copy may be something like—very like—the original, but it is not the same; it may be better in some points, and in some points worse. Just so in language. It is impossible sometimes to translate from one language into another. Edition: current; Page: [2] Greek, for instance, is a language so redundant with rich efflorescence, so tumid with luxuriant growth and overgrowth of all kinds, that our temperate language, unless it allow itself to run into sheer madness, must often refuse to follow it. Like a practised posture-maker or expert ballet-dancer, the old Hellenic dialect can caper gracefully through movements that, if attempted, would twist our English tongue into distortion or dislocation. Æschylus, in particular, was famous, even amongst the Greeks, for the fearless, masculine licence with which he handled the most flexible of all languages. This licence I profess to follow only where I can do so intelligibly and gracefully. The reader must not expect to find, in the guise of the English language, an image of Æschylus in every minute verbal feature, such as its gigantic outline has been sketched by Aristophanes.

Some men of literary note, in the present day, observing the great difficulties with which poetical translators have to contend, especially when using a language of inferior compass, have been of opinion that the task ought not to be attempted at all—that all poetical translations, from Greek at least into English, should be done in prose; and, in confirmation of this opinion, they point to the English translation of the Hebrew Bible as a model. But if, as Southey says, “a translation is good precisely as it faithfully represents the matter, manner, and spirit of the original,”* it is difficult to see how this doctrine can be entertained. Poetry is distinguished from prose more by the manner than by the matter; and rhythmical regularity or verse is precisely that quality which distinguishes the manner of poetry from that of prose. In one sense, and in the best sense, Plato and Richter and Jeremy Taylor are poets; in another sense, and in the best sense, Æschylus and Dante and Shakespere are philosophers; but that which a poet as a poet has, and a philosopher as a philosopher has not, is verse; and this element the advocates of a prose translation of poetical works are content to miss out! That the argument from the English translation of the Bible is not applicable to every case, will appear plain to any one who will figure to himself Robert Burns or Horace or Beranger in a prose dress. In the Bible we seek for the simplicity of religious inculcation or devout meditation, and would consider the finest rhythmical decorations out of place. Besides, the style of the Hebrew poetry is eminently simple; and the rhythmical element of language, so far as I can learn, was never highly cultivated by the Jews, whose mission on earth was of a different kind. The Greeks, on the other hand, were eminently a poetical people; the poetry of their drama, though not without its Edition: current; Page: [3] own simplicity, is, in respect of mere linguistic organism, of a highly decorated order; and by nothing is that decoration so marked as by a systematic attention to rhythm. I consider, therefore, that prose translations of the Greek dramatists will never satisfy the just demands of a cultivated taste, for the plain reason that they omit that element which is most characteristic of the manner of the original.

I am persuaded that the demand for prose translations of poets had arisen, in this country, more from a sort of desperate reaction against certain vicious principles of the old English school of translation, than from a serious consideration either of the nature of the thing, or of the capacity of our noble language. In Germany, I do not find that this notion has ever been entertained; plainly because the German poetical translations did not err, like our English ones, in conspiring, by every sort of fine flourishing and delicate furbishment, to obscure or to blot out what was most characteristic in their originals. The proper problem of an English translator is not how to say a thing as the author would have said it, had he been an Englishman; but how, through the medium of the English language, to make the English reader feel both what he said and how he said it, being a Greek. Now, any one who is familiar with the general run of English rhythmical translations, of which Pope’s Iliad is the pattern, must be aware that they have too often been executed under the influence of the former of these principles rather than the latter. In Pope’s Homer, and in Sotheby’s also, I must add, we find many, perhaps all the finest passages very finely done; but so as Pope or Sotheby might have done themselves in an original poem written at the present day, while that which is most peculiarly Homeric, a certain blunt naturalness and a talkative simplicity, we do not find in these translators at all. The very things which most strike the eye of the accomplished connoisseur, and feed the meditations of the student of human nature, are omitted.

Now, I at once admit that a good prose translation—that is to say, a prose translation done by a poet or a man of poetical culture—of such an author as Homer, is preferable, for many purposes, to a poetical translation so elegantly defaced as that of Pope. A prose translation, also, of any poet, done accurately in a prosaic style by a proser, however much of a parody or a caricature in point of taste, may not be without its use, if in no other way, as a ready check on the free licence of omission or inoculation which rhythmical translators are so fond to usurp. But it is a mistake to suppose, because Pope, under the influence of Louis XIV. and Queen Anne, could not Edition: current; Page: [4] write a good poetical translation of Homer, that therefore such a work is beyond the compass of the English language.* I believe that, if Alfred Tennyson were to give the world a translation of the Iliad in the measure of Locksley Hall, he would cut Pope out of the market of the million, even at this eleventh hour. We are, in the present epoch of our literary history, arrived at a very favourable moment for producing good translations. A band of highly-original and richly-furnished minds has just left the stage, leaving us the legacy of a poetical language which, under their hand, received a degree of rhythmical culture, of which it had been before considered incapable. The example of the Germans, also, now no longer confined to the knowledge of a few, stands forth to show us how excellent poetical translations may be made, free, at least, from those faults from which we have suffered. There is no reason why we should despair of producing poetical versions of the Classics which shall be at once graceful as English compositions, and characteristic as productions of the Greek or Roman mind. I, for one, have already passed this judgment on my own attempt, that if I have failed in these pages to bring out what is Greek and what is Æschylean prominently, in combination with force, grace, and clearness of English expression, it is for lack of skill in the workman, not for want of edge in the tool.

The next question that calls for answer is: it being admitted that a rhythmical translation of a Greek poem is preferable to a prose one, should we content ourselves with a blank rhythm (such as Shelley has used in Queen Mab, and Southey in Thalaba), or should we adopt also the sonorous ornament of rhyme. On this subject, when I first commenced this translation, about twelve years ago, I confess my feelings were strongly against the use of rhyme in translations from the antique; but experience and reflection have taught me considerably to modify, and, in some points of view, altogether to abandon this opinion. With regard to this matter, Southey has expressed himself thus:—“Rhyme is to passages of no inherent merit what rouge and candle-light are to ordinary faces. Merely ornamental passages, also, are aided by it, as foil sets off paste. But when there is either passion or power, the plainer and more straightforward the language can be made, the better.” This is the lowest ground on which the plea for rhyme can be put; but even thus, it will be impossible for a discriminating translator to ward off its application to the Greek tragedy. In all poetry written for music, there will Edition: current; Page: [5] occur, even from the best poets, not a few passages on which the mere reader will pronounce, in the language of Horace, that they are comparatively

“Inopes rerum nugaeque canorae.”

To these, rhyme is indispensable. Without this, these “trifles” will lose that which alone rendered them tolerable to the ancient ear; they will cease to be “canorous.” One must consider at what a disadvantage an ancient composer of “a goat-song” is placed, when the studiously modulated phrase which he adapted to the cheerful chirpings of the lyre, or the tumultuous blasts of the flute, is torn away from that music-watered soil which was its life, and placed dry and bloodless on the desk of a modern reader, beside the thought-pregnant periods of a Coleridge, and the curiously-elaborated stanzas of a Wordsworth. Are we to make him even more blank and disconsolate, by refusing him those tuneful closes of modern rhythmical language, which scarcely our sternest masters of the lyre can afford to disdain? It appears to me that rhyme is so essential an accomplishment of lyrical language, according to English use, that a translator is not doing justice to his author who habitually rejects it. I have accordingly adopted it more or less in every play, except the Prometheus, the calm statuesque massiveness of which seemed to render the common decorations of lyric poetry dispensable. In the Seven against Thebes, I have, in the first two choral chaunts, rhymed only in the closes; and in the opening chorus of the Agamemnon, I have used irregular rhyme. In the Furies, again, I have allowed myself to be borne along in the most free and luxuriant style of double rhyme of which I was capable, partly, I suppose, because my admiration of that piece stimulated all my energies to their highest pitch; partly, because, there being no question that the lyric metre of the tragedians exhibits the full power of their language, the translator is not doing justice to the work who does not endeavour, as far as may be, to bring out the full power of his. The fact of the matter is, the translator’s art is always more or less of the nature of a compromise. If the indulgence of a luxuriant freedom is apt to trench on accuracy, the observance of a strict verbal accuracy is ill compatible with that grace and elasticity of movement without which poetry has no existence. In the present translation, I have been willing to try several styles, if not to suit the humour of different readers, (which, however, were anything but an illegitimate object), at least to satisfy myself what could be done.

I shall now say a word on the principles which I have adopted with regard to the representation of the various Greek metres by Edition: current; Page: [6] corresponding varieties of English verse. I say corresponding or analogous emphatically; for, whatever apish tricks the Germans may have taught their pliant tongue to play, the conservative English ear, “peculiarly intolerant of metrical innovations,”* will not allow itself to be seduced—whether by the arguments of Southey, or the example of Longfellow—from the familiar harmonies of our old Saxon measures Nor, indeed, is this stiffness of native metrical habit, a circumstance at all to be regretted. Every language has its own measures, which are natural and easy to it, as every man has his own way of walking, which he cannot forego for another, without affectation I do not think Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs a whit the better, but rather the worse, for being written in the measure of the Odyssey; and the artificial choral versification of Humboldt, Franz, Schoemann, and Muller, in their translations from Æschylus, is, to my ear, mere metrical monstrosity, which would read much better if it were broken down into plain prose. I have, therefore, not attempted anything of this kind in my translation, except accidentally; that is to say, when the Greek measure happened to be at the same time an English measure, as in the case of the Trochaic Tetrameter, of which the reader will find examples in the conclusion of the Agamemnon, and in various parts of the Persians. This measure, as Aristotle informs us, is a remnant of the old energetic triple time to which the sportive Bacchic chorus originally danced; and, as it seems to be used by the tragedians in passages where peculiar energy or elevation is intended,§ I do not think the translator is at liberty to confound it in his version with the common dialogue. With regard to the Iambic dialogue itself, there can be no question that our heroic blank verse of ten syllables, both in point of character and compass, is the natural and adequate representative of the Greek trimeter of twelve. The Anapæstic verse occasions more difficulty. The Edition: current; Page: [7] proper nature of this measure, as corresponding to our modern march-time in music, has been pointed out by Muller;* and in conformity with his views, I have, in my translation, accurately marked the distinction, in the Agamemnon, the Suppliants, and the Persians, between the Anapæstic verses sung by the Chorus to march-time, when entering the Orchestra, and the regular odes or hymns sung after they were arrived at their proper destination round the Thymele. But how are we to render this verse in English? Our own Anapæstic verse, though the same when counted by the fingers, has, if I mistake not, a light, ambling, unsteady air about it, which is quite the reverse of the weighty character of the “equal rhythm,” as the ancients called both it and its counterpart the Dactylic. I have, therefore, thought myself safer in using, for this measure, the Trochaic verse of eight syllables, varied with occasional sevens and fives, generally without rhyme, in the Agamemnon with a few rhymes irregularly interspersed. In the Persians only I have made the experiment, tried also by Connington in the Agamemnon, of rendering the Greek by the common English Anapæsts; the delicate-treading (ὰβροβάται) sons of Susa not seeming to require the same weight and firmness of diction for their sad vaticinations, as the stout-hearted Titan for his words of haughty defiance, and the Herald of the Thunderer for his threats.

With regard to the proper choral odes—the most difficult, and, in my view, the most important part of my task—I have allowed myself a licence, which some may think too large, but which, if I were to do the work over again, I scarcely think I should contract. In very few cases have I given anything like a curious imitation of the original; and, when I have done so—as in the Trochaic Chaunt of the Furies, Vol. I. p. 212, and in the Cretics mingled with Trochees, in the short ode of the Suppliants, Vol. II. p 107—it was more to humour the whim of the moment than from any fixed principle. For, to speak truth, rhyming men will have their whim; and I do not think it politic or judicious to deprive the translator altogether of that rhythmical freedom which is the great delight of the original composer. Edition: current; Page: [8] But another, and the principal reason with me for not attempting a systematic imitation of the choral measures, was, that many of them failed to produce, on my ear, an intelligible musical effect, which I could set myself to reproduce; while, in other cases, though I clearly saw the rhythmical principle on which they were constructed (for I do not speak of the blind jargon of inherited metrical terminology), I saw with equal clearness that in our English poetry written to be read, systematic imitation of ancient metres written on musical principles, and with a view to musical exhibition, is, in the majority of cases, altogether absurd and impertinent. I confined myself, therefore, to the selection of such English metres as to my ear seemed most dramatically to represent the feeling of the original, making a marked contrast everywhere between the rhythmical movement of joy and sorrow, and always distinguishing carefully between what was piled up with a stable continuity of sublime emotion, and what was ejaculated in a hurried and broken style, where the Dochmiac verse prevails.*

So much for metres With regard to the more strictly linguistic part of my task, I have only to say that I thought it proper to assume Wellauer’s cautiously edited text as a safe general foundation, with the liberty, of course, to deviate from it whenever I saw distinct and clearly made out grounds. The other editions, old and new, which I have used are enumerated in an Appendix at the end of the second volume. There also will be found those Commentaries and Translations which I have consulted on all the difficult passages; my obligations to which are, of course, great, and are here gratefully acknowledged. I desire specially to name, as having been of most service to me, Linwood, Peile, and Paley among the English; Wellauer, Welcker, Müller, and Schoemann among the German scholars. My manner of proceeding with previous English translations was to borrow from them an occasional phrase or hint, only after I had finished and carefully revised my own. But my obligations in respect of poetical diction to my fellow-labourers in the same field are very few, and are for the most part specially acknowledged.

The introductory remarks to each play are intended to supply the English reader with that particular mythological or historical knowledge, and to inspire him with those Hellenic views and feelings, Edition: current; Page: [9] which are necessary to the enjoyment of the different dramas. The appended notes proceed on the principle, generally understood in this country, though apparently neglected in erudite Germany, that translations are made, not for the learned mainly, but for the unlearned. I have, therefore, not assumed even the most common points of mythological and antiquarian lore. Some of the notes, especially those on moral and religious points, have a higher view than mere explanation. They are intended to stir those human feelings, and suggest those trains of moral reflection without which the most profound scholarship issues only in a multitudinous cracking of empty nut-shells, and a ghastly exhibition of gilded bones. The few notes of a strictly hermeneutical character that are mingled with these, are mere jottings to preserve for my own use, and that of my fellow-students of the Greek text, the grounds of decision which have moved me in some of the more difficult passages, where I have either departed from Wellauer’s text, or where something appeared to lie in the various renderings fraught with a more than common poetical significance. In the general case, however, the translation must serve as its own commentary; and, though I do not pretend to have read every thing that has been written on the disputed passages of this most difficult, and, in many places, sadly corrupt author, I hope there is evidence enough in every page of my work to show that I have conscientiously grappled with all real difficulties in any way affecting the meaning of the text, and not leapt to a conclusion merely because it was the most obvious and most convenient one. If here and there I have made a rapid dash, a headlong plunge, or a bold sweep, beyond the rules of a strict philology, it was because these were the only tactics that the desperation of the case allowed.*

In conclusion, I am glad to take this opportunity of publicly returning my thanks to two gentlemen of well-known literary taste and discernment, who took the trouble to read my sheets as they went through the press, and favour me with their valuable suggestions.

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“In der Beurtheilung des Hellenischen Alterthums soll der Scharfsinnige nicht aus sich herauszuspinnen suchen, was nur aus der Verbindung mannichfacher Ueberlieferungen gewonnen werden kann.”


The reader will have observed that the word tragedy, which is generally associated with the works of Æschylus, does not occur either in the general title-page of this translation, or in the special superscriptions of the separate pieces; in the one place the designation “Lyrical Dramas” being substituted, and in the other “Lyrico-dramatic Spectacle.” This change of the common title, by which these productions are known in the book-world, was not made from mere affectation, or the desire of singularity, but from the serious consideration that “the world is governed by names,” and that the word “tragedy” cannot be used in reference to a serious lyrico-dramatic exhibition on the ancient Greek stage, without importing a host of modern associations that will render all healthy sympathy with the Æschylean drama, and all sound criticism, extremely difficult. Names, indeed, are a principal part of the hereditary machinery with which the evil Spirit of Error in the region of thought, as well as in that of action, juggles the plain understandings of men that they become the sport of every quibble, and believe a lie. By means of names the plastic soul of man contrives at first, often crudely enough, to express some part of a great truth, and make it publicly recognised; but when, in the course of natural growth and progress the thing has been altered, while the word, transmitted from age to age, and itinerant from East to West, remains; then the vocal sign performs its natural functions as a signifier of thought no longer, but is as a mask, which either tells a complete lie, or looks with the one-half of its face a meaning which the other half (seen only by the learned) is sure to contradict. I have, therefore, thought it convenient to do away with this cause of misunderstanding in the threshold: and the purpose of the few remarks that follow is to make plain to the understanding of the most unlearned the reason of the terminology which I have adopted, and guard him yet more fully against the misconceptions which are Edition: current; Page: [11] sure to arise from suffering his chamber of thought to be preoccupied by the echoes of a false nomenclature.

If the modern spectator of a tragedy of Shakespere or Sheridan Knowles comes from the vivid embodiments of a Faucit or a Macready, to the perusal of what are called the “tragedies of Æschylus,” and applies the subtle rules of representative art there exemplified, to the extant remains of the early Greek stage, though he will find some things strikingly conceived and grandly expressed, and a general tone of poetic elevation, removed alike from what is trivial, and what is morbid; yet he must certainly be strangely blinded by early classical prepossessions, if he fails to feel that, as a whole, a Greek tragedy, when set against the English composition of the same name, is exceedingly narrow in its conception, meagre in its furniture, monotonous in its character, unskilful in its execution, and not seldom feeble in its effort. No doubt a generous mind will be disposed to look with a kindly and even a reverent sympathy on the inferiority of the infant fathers of that most difficult of all the poetic arts, which has now, in this late age of the world, under the manly British training, exhibited such sturdiness of trunk, such kingliness of stature, and such magnificence of foliage; it may be also, that the novelty and the strangeness of some things in the Greek tragedy—to those at least who have not had their appetite palled by early Academic appliances—may afford a pleasant compensation for what must appear its glaring improprieties as falling under the category of a known genus of poetic art; still, to the impartial and experienced frequenter of a first-rate modern theatre, the first effect of an acquaintance with the old Greek tragedy is apt to be disappointment. He will wonder what there is in these productions so very remarkable that the select youth of Great Britain should, next to their mother’s milk, be made to suck in them, and and them only, as the great intellectual nutriment of the freshfledged soul, till, in the regular course of things, they are fit to be fed on Church and State controversies and Parliamentary reports, and other diet not always of the lightest digestion; and he will be apt to imagine that in this, as in other cases, an over-great reverence for antiquity has made sensible men bow the knee to idols—that learned professors, like other persons, have their hobby-horses, which they are fond of over-riding—and that no sane man should believe more than the half of what is said by a professional trumpeter. All this will be very right in the circumstances, and very true so far. But the frequenter of the modern theatre must consider farther—if he wishes to be just—whether he be not violating one of Edition: current; Page: [12] the great proprieties of nature, in rushing at once from the narrow confined gas-lighted boxes of a modern theatre into the large sweeping sun-beshone tiers of an ancient one. No man goes from a ball-room into a church without a certain decent interval, and, if possible, a few moments of becoming preparation So it is with literary excursions. We must be acclimatized in the new country before we can feel comfortable We must not merely deliver our criticism thus (however common such a style may be)—I expected to find that, I find this; and I am disappointed, but we must ask the deeper and the only valuable question — What ought I to have expected to find, what shall I surely find of good, and beautiful, and true, if my eyes are open, and my free glance pointed in the right direction? In short, if a man will enjoy and judge a Greek “tragedy,” he must seek to know not what it is in reference to the general idea of tragedy which he brings with him from modern theatrical exhibitions, but what it was to the ancient Greeks, sitting in the open air, on their wooden bench, or on their seat hewn from the native rock, with the merry Bacchic echoes in their ears, long before Aristotle laid down those nice rules of tragic composition which only Shakespere might dare to despise.

Let us inquire, therefore, setting aside alike Shaksperian examples and Aristotelian canons, what the τραγῳδία, or “tragedy,” was to the ancient Greeks. Nor have we far to seek. The name, when the modern paint is rubbed off, declares its own history; and we find that the main idea of the old word τραῳδία—as, by the way, the only idea of the modern word τραγουδι*—is a song. Of the second part of this word, we have preserved the root in our English words ode, melody, monody, thenody, and the other half of the word means goat; whether that descriptive addition to the principal substantive came from the circumstance that the song was originally sung by persons habited like goats, or from other circumstances connected with the worship of Dionysus, to whom this animal was sacred, is of no importance for our present purpose. The main fact to which we have to direct attention, is that the word tragedy, when analysed, bears upon its face, and in the living Greek tongue proclaims loudly to the present hour, that the essential character of this species of poetry—when the name was originally given to it—was lyrical, and Edition: current; Page: [13] not at all dramatic or tragic, in the modern sense of these words. A drama, in modern language, means an action represented by acting persons; and a tragedy is such a represented action, having a sad issue; but neither of these elements belonged to the original Greek tragedy, as inherited from his rude predecessors by Æschylus, nor (as we shall immediately show) do they form the prominent or characteristic part of that exhibition, as transmitted by him to his successors. With regard to the origin of the Greek “goat-song,” and its condition previous to the age of Æschylus, there is but one uncontradicted voice of tradition on the subject; the curious discussions and investigations of the learned affecting only certain minute points of detail in the progress, which have no interest for the general student. That tradition is to the effect that the Greek lyrical drama, as we find it in the extant works of Æschylus, arose out of the Dithyrambic hymns sung at the sacred festivals of the ancient Hellenes in honour of their god Dionysus, or, as he is vulgarly called, Bacchus; hymns which were first extemporized under the influence of the stimulating juice of the grape,* and then sung by a regularly trained Chorus, under the direction of the famous Methymnean minstrel, Arion. The simplest form which such hymns, under such conditions, could assume, was that of a circular dance by a band of choristers round the statue or the altar of the god in whose honour the hymn was sung. This is not a matter peculiar to Greece, but to be found at all times, and all over the world, wherever there are men who are not mere brutes. So in the description of the religious practices of the ancient Mexicans, our erudite poet Southey has the following beautiful passage, picturing a sacred choral dance round the altar of sacrifice:—

  • Round the choral band
  • The circling nobles gay, with gorgeous plumes,
  • And gems which sparkled to the midnight fire,
  • Moved in the solemn dance, each in his hand,
  • In measured movements, lifts the feathery shield,
  • And shakes a rattling ball to measured sounds;
  • With quicker steps, the inferior chiefs without,
  • Edition: current; Page: [14]
  • Equal in number, but in just array,
  • The spreading radii of the mystic wheel
  • Revolved; and outermost, the youths roll round,
  • In motions rapid as their quickened blood.

Now, according to the general tradition of old Greek commentators and lexicographers, the Dithyramb or Bacchic Hymn was also called a Circular Hymn,* an expression which a celebrated Byzantine writer has interpreted to mean “a hymn sung by a chorus standing in a ring round the altar. It is, no doubt, true that the phrase χορὸς κύκλιος, or circular chorus, does not necessarily mean a chorus of this description; the term, as has been ingeniously observed, like our own word roundelay, and the German Rund-gesang, being capable of an equally natural application to a hymn composed of parts, that run back to the point from which they started, and form, as it were, a circle of melody. But, whatever etymologists may make of the word, the fact that there were hymns sung by the ancient Greeks in chorus round the altars of their gods is not denied; and seems, indeed, so natural and obvious, that we shall assume it as the first form of the “goat-song,” in which form it continued up to a period which it is impossible to define; the only certainty being that, whereas, in olden times, it was composed of fifty men, it was afterwards diminished to twelve or fifteen, and arranged in the form of a military company in regular rank and file.§ Such a chorus, therefore, was the grand central trunk out of which the Attic tragedy branched and bloomed to such fair luxuriance of verbal melody. We shall now trace, if we can, the natural steps of progress.

Let us suppose that the Leader of a Chorus, trained to sing hymns in honour of the gods, is going to make them sing publicly a hymn Edition: current; Page: [15] in honour of Ζεύς [Editor: illegible character]κέσιος—Jove, in his benign character as the friend of the friendless, and the protector of suppliants. Instead of a vague general supplication in the abstract style to which we are accustomed in our forms of prayer, what could be more natural than for a susceptible and lively Greek to conceive the persons of the Chorus as engaged in some particular act of supplication, well known in the sacred traditions of the people, whose worship he was leading, and to put words in their mouths suitable to such a situation? This done, we have at once drama, according to the etymological meaning of the word; that is to say, a represented action. The Chorus represents certain persons, we shall say, the daughters of Danaus, fugitives from their native Libya, arrived on the stranger coast of Argolis, and in the act of presenting their supplications to their great celestial protector. Such an exhibition, if we will not permit it to be called by the substantive name of drama, is, at all events, a dramatized hymn; an ode so essentially dramatic in its character, that it requires but the addition of a single person besides the Chorus to form a complete action; for an action, like a colloquy, is necessarily between two parties—meditation, not action, being the natural business of a solitary man. Now, the single person whose presence is required to turn this dramatized hymn into a proper lyrical drama is already given. The Leader of the Chorus, or the person to whom the singing band belonged, and who superintended its exhibitions, is such a person. He has only, in the case supposed, to take upon himself the character of the person, the king of the Argives, to whom the supplication is made, to indicate, by word or gesture, the feelings with which he receives their address, and finally to accept or reject their suit; this makes a complete action, and a lyrical drama already exists in all essentials, exactly such as we read the skeleton of it at the present hour, in the Suppliants of Æschylus. To go a step beyond this, and add (as has been done in our play) another actor to represent the party pursuing the fugitives, is only to bring the situation already existing to a more violent issue, and not essentially to alter the character of the exhibition. Much less will the mere appendage of a guide or director to the main body of the Chorus, in the shape of a father, brother, or other accessory character, change the general effect of the spectacle. The great central mass which strikes the eye, and fills ear and heart with its harmonious appeals, remains still what it was, even before the leader of the band took a part in the lyric exhibition. The dramatized lyric, and the lyrical drama, differ from one another only according to the simile already used, as a tree with two or three branches differs from a tree with a simple stem. Edition: current; Page: [16] The main body and stamina are the same in each. The Song is the soul of both.

The academic student, who is familiar with these matters, is aware that what has been here constructed hypothetically, as a natural result of the circumstances, is the real historical account of the origin and progress of the Greek tragedy, as it is shortly given in a well-known passage of Diogenes Laertius. “In the oldest times,” says that biographer of the philosophers, “the Chorus alone went through the dramatic exhibition (διεδραματ[Editor: illegible character]ζεν) in tragedy; afterwards Thespis, to give rest to the Chorus, added one actor distinct from the singers; then Æschylus added a second, and Sophocles a third; which gave to tragedy its complete development.”* The reason mentioned here for the addition of the first actor by Thespis, is a very probable one. The convenience or ease of the singers contributed, along with the lively wit of the Greeks, and a due regard for the entertainment of the spectators, to raise the dramatized ode, step by step, into the lyrical drama.

In the above account, two secondary circumstances connected with this transition, have not been mentioned The first is, that the jocund and sometimes boisterous hymn, in honour of the wine-god, should have passed into the lyrical representation of an action generally not at all connected with the worship or history of that divinity; and, secondly, that this action should have changed its tone from light to grave, from jocular to sad, and become, in fact, what we, in the popular language of modern times, call tragic. Now, for the first of these circumstances, I know nothing that can be said in the way of historical philosophy, except that man is fond of variety, that the Greek genius was fertile, and that accident often plays strange tricks with the usages and institutions of mortal men. For the other point, there can be no doubt that the worship of the god of physical and animal joy, being violent in its character, had its ebb as well as its flow, its broad-gleaming sunshine not without the cloud, its wail as well as its rejoicing. Whether Dionysus meant the sun, or only wine, which is the produce of the solar heat, or both, it is plain that his worshippers would have to lament his departure, at least as often as they hailed his advent; and, in this natural alternation, a foundation was laid for the separation of the original Dithyrambic Edition: current; Page: [17] Chorus into a wild, sportive element, represented by the Aristophanic comedy, and a deeply serious, meditative element represented by tragedy But we must beware, in reference to Æschylus at least, of supposing that the lyrical drama, as exhibited by him, however solemn and awe-inspiring, was necessarily sad, or, as we say, tragic in its issue. Aristotle indeed, in his famous treatise, lays down the doctrine that the main object of tragic composition is to excite pity and terror, and that Euripides, “though in other respects he manages badly, is in this respect the most tragic of the tragedians, that the most of his pieces end unfortunately.”* But there is not the slightest reason, in the nature of things, why a solemn dramatic representation, any more than a high-toned epical narrative, should end unfortunately. The Hindoo drama, for one, never does; and, in the case of our poet, it is plain that the great trilogy, of which the Orestes is the middle piece, is constructed upon the principle of leading the sympathizing spectator through scenes of pity and terror, as stations in a journey, but finally to a goal of moral peace and harmonious reconciliation. That the great trilogy of the Prometheus, of which only one part remains, had an equally fortunate termination, is not to be doubted. Here, therefore, we see another impertinence in that modern word tragedy, which, in the superscriptions of these plays, I have been so careful to eschew.

We shall now examine one or two of the Æschylean pieces by a simple arithmetical process, and see how essentially the lyrical element predominates in their construction. Taking Wellauer’s edition, and turning up the Suppliants, I find that that play, consisting altogether of 1055 lines, is opened by a continuous lyric strain of 172 lines. Then we have dialogue, in part of which the Chorus uses lyric measures to the extent of 22 lines Then follows a short choral song of only 20 lines. The next Chorus comprises 76 lines, and the next 70. After this follows another dialogue, in which the Chorus, being in great mental agitation, use, according to the uniform practice of Æschylus, lyric measures to the extent altogether of 20 verses. Then follows another regular choral hymn of 47 lines. After that a violent lyrical altercation between the Chorus and a new actor, to the amount of 74 lines, in the most impassioned lyrical rhythm. Then follow 14 lines of anapæsts; and the whole concludes with a grand lyrical finale of 65 lines: altogether 580—considerably more than the half of the piece by bare arithmetic, and equal to two-thirds of it fully, if we consider how much more time the singing, with the musical accompaniments, must have occupied than the simple Edition: current; Page: [18] declamation. No more distinct proof could be required how essentially the account of Diogenes Laertius is right; how true it is that the choral part of the Æschylean drama is both its body and its soul, while the dialogic part, to use the technical language of Aristotle’s days, was, in fact, only an ἐπεισόδιον (from which our English word Episode) or thing thrown in between the main choral acts of the representation, for the sake of variety to the spectators, and, as the writer says, of rest to the singers. We thus see, also, what an incorrect and indefinite idea of the Æschylean drama Aristotle had when he says—so far as we can gather his meaning—that “Æschylus first added a second actor; he also abridged the chorus, and made the dialogue the principal part of tragedy.”* The last article, so far as the play of the Suppliants is concerned, is simply not true. Let us make trial of another play. The Agamemnon, which, for many reasons, is one of the best for testing the mature genius of the bard, contains about 1600 lines; and, without troubling the reader with details, it will be found that about the half of this number is written in lyric measures. When we consider, further, that the most splendid imaginative pictures, and the wildest bursts of passion, all the interest, the doubt, and the anxiety, the fear, the terror, the surprise, and the final issue, are, according to the practice of Æschylus, regularly thrown into lyric measures, we shall be convinced that Aristotle (if we rightly apprehend him) was altogether mistaken when he led the moderns to imagine that the father of tragedy had really given such a preponderance to the dialogic element, that the lyric part is to be looked on, in his productions, as in any way subordinate. Unless it be the Prometheus, I do not know a single extant play of Æschylus in which the lyric element occupies a position which, in actual representation, would justify the dictum of the Stagyrite. And even in this play, let it be observed, how grandly the poet makes his anapæsts swell and billow with sonorous thunder in the finale; as if to make amends for the somewhat prolix epic recitals with which he had occupied the spectator, and to prove that a Greek tragedy could never be true to itself, unless it left upon the ear, in its last echoes, the permanent impression of its original character as a Song

Three observations strike me, that may conveniently be stated as corollaries from the above remarks. First, That those translators have erred who, whether from carelessness, or from ignorance, or from a desire to accommodate the ancient tragedy as much as possible to the modern, have given an undue predominance to blank Edition: current; Page: [19] verse in their versions, making it appear as if the spoken part of the Æschylean tragedy bore a much larger proportion, than it really does, to the sung. Second, Those critics have erred who, applying the principles of modern theatrical criticism to the chaunted parts of the ancient lyrical drama, have found many parts dull or wearisome, extravagant, and even ridiculous, which, there can be no doubt, with their proper musical accompaniment, were the most impressive, and the most popular parts of the representation. Third, We err altogether, when we judge of the excellence of an ancient Greek drama as a composition, by its effect on us when reading it. The Suppliants, for instance, is generally considered a stupid play; because it wants grand contrasts of character and striking dramatic situations, and contains so much of mere reiterated supplication. But this reiteration, though wearisome to us who read the text-book of the lost opera, was, in all probability, that on which the ravished ears of the devout ancient auditors dwelt with most voluptuous delight. In general, without re-creating some musical accompaniment, and dwelling with ear and heart on the frequent variations of the lyric burden of the piece, a man is utterly incapable of passing any sane judgment on an Æschylean drama. Such a piece may contain in abundance everything that the auditors desired and enjoyed, and yet be very stupid now to us who merely read and criticise.

The fact of the matter is, that the marshalled band of singers, however satisfactory to an ancient audience, who looked principally for musical excitement in their tragedies, and not for an interesting plot, was not at all calculated for allowing a dramatic genius to bring out those tragic situations in which the modern reader delights; but rather stood directly in the way of such an effect The fine development of character under the influence of various delicate situations, and in collision with different persons, all acting their part in some complex knot of various-coloured life, could not be exhibited in a performance where a band of singers on whom the eye of the spectators principally rested, and who formed the great attraction for the masses,* constantly occupied the central ground, and constantly interfered with every thing that was either said or done, whether it was convenient for them to do so or not. For a perfect tragedy, as conceived scientifically by Aristotle, and executed with a grand practical instinct by Shakespere, the Chorus was, in the very nature Edition: current; Page: [20] of the thing, an incumbrance and an impediment. It was only very seldom that the persons of that body could form such an important part of the action, and come forward with such a startling dramatic effect as in the Eumenides. Too often they were obliged to hang round the action as an atmosphere, or look at it as spectators; spectators either impartial altogether, and then too wise for dramatic sympathy, or half-partial, and then, by indecision of utterance, often making themselves ridiculous, as in a noted scene of the Agamemnon (Vol I p. 79), or contemptible, as in the Antigone* The proper position of the Chorus in a regularly constructed drama, is, like the witches in Macbeth, to form a mysterious musical background (not a fore-ground, as in the Greek tragedy), or to circle, as in the opera of Masaniello, the principal character with a band of associates naturally situated to assist and cheer him on to his grand enterprise. But the Greek Chorus, even in the time of Sophocles and Euripides, who enlarged the spoken part, was too independent, too stationary, too central a nucleus of the representation, not to impede the movements of the acting persons who performed the principal parts. As a form of art, therefore, the Greek tragedy, so soon as it attempted to assume the scientific ground so acutely seized on by the subtle analysis of Aristotle, was necessarily clumsy and incongruous. The lyric element, which was always the most popular element, refused to be incorporated with the acting element, and yet could not be altogether displaced, a position of scenic affairs which has strangely perplexed not a few modern critics, looking for a dramatic plot with all the dramatic proprieties in a composition where the old Hellenic spectator only felt a hymn to Jove; and curiously tasking their wits to find excuses for a poet like Euripides, who, with blossoming lyrics and sonorous rhetoric, might gain the prize of the “goat-song,” even over the head of a Sophocles, and yet, in point of dramatic propriety, as we demand it in our modern plays, be constantly perpetrating enormities which a clever schoolboy at Westminster or Eton might avoid.

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So much for the artistic form of the Æschylean drama. As for the matter, it was essentially a combination of mythologial, legendary, and devotional elements, such as naturally belonged to a people whose religion was intimately blended with every passion of the human heart, and every chance of human life, and whose gods were only a sort of glorified men, as their men sometimes were nothing less than mortal gods The Greek lyrical dramas were part of the great public exhibitions at the great feasts of Bacchus, which took place, some in the winter season, and some in the spring of the year;* and in this respect they bear a striking resemblance both to the Hindoo dramas (for which see Wilson), to the so-called mysteries and moralities of mediæval piety, and to the sacred dramas of Metastasio, exhibited to the court at Vienna. And what sort of an aspect does ancient polytheistic piety present, what sort of an attitude does it maintain, in these compositions? An aspect surprisingly fair, considering what motley confusion it sprang from, an attitude singularly noble, seeing how nearly it was allied to mere animal enjoyment, and how prone was its degeneration into the mire of the grossest sensuality. The pictured pages of Livy, and brazen tablets of the grave Roman senate still extant, tell only too true a tale into what a fearful mire of brutishness the fervent worship of Dionysus might plunge its votaries. And yet out of this Bacchantic worship, so wild, so animal, and so sensual, arose the Greek tragedy, confessedly amongst the most high-toned moral compositions that the history of literature knows. Our modern Puritans, who look upon the door of a theatre (according to the phrase of a famous Edinburgh preacher) as the gate of hell, might take any one of these seven plays which are here presented in an English dress, and with the simple substitution of a few Bible designations for Heathen ones, find, so far as moral and religious doctrine is concerned, that, with the smallest possible exercise of the pruning-knife, they might be exhibited in a Christian Church, and be made to subserve the purposes of practical piety, as usefully as many a sermon The following passage from the Agamemnon is not a solitary gem from a heap of rubbish, but the very soul and significance of the Æschylean drama:—

  • “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.”
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The only serious charge that, to my knowledge, has ever been made against the morality of the Greek drama, is that in it “an innocent person, one in the main of a virtuous character, through no crime of his own, nay not by the vices of others, but through mere Fatality and Blind Chance, is involved in the greatest of all human miseries.” This is the critical judgment of Dr. Blair (lecture xlvi.) in reference to the famous Labdacidan story of Œdipus.* Now, though the personal history of Œdipus contains many incidents that expose it justly to criticism, especially when brought upon the stage in a modernized dress by modern French or other poets (which abuse the learned Doctor no doubt had principally in view); yet, as applied to the whole Labdacidan story, or to the subjects of the Greek drama generally, the allegation is either extremely shallow, or altogether false, There is no destiny or fatality of any kind in the Æschylean drama, other than that which, according to the Mosaic record, drove Adam out of Paradise; that destiny which a divine decree, seeing the end in the beginning, has prepared, and that fatality which makes a guilty man not merely the necessary architect of his own misery, but the propagator of a moral contagion, more or less, to the offspring that inherits his pollution and his curse. On this subject I need make no lengthened observations here, as I have brought it and other points of moral and religious feeling prominently forward, both in the introductory observations to the separate plays, and in various places of the notes. I shall only say that the reader who does not find a high moral purpose and a deep religious meaning in the specimens of ancient Greek worship now submitted to his inspection, has no eye for what is best in these pages, and had better throw the book down. The Germans, who look deeper into these matters than we have either time, inclination, or, in the general case, capacity to do, have written volumes on the subject. To me it has seemed more suitable to the genius of the English reader merely to hint the existence of this rich mine of moral wealth, leaving to the quiet thinker where, amid our various political and ecclesiastical clamour, he may have found a corner, to work out the vein with devout spade and mattock for himself.

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A few words must now be said on the Dance, as an essential part of the lyrical element of the Greek tragedy. Our sober British, stern Protestant, and precise Presbyterian notions, make it very difficult for us to realize this peculiarity. Even the old Heathen Roman could say, “Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit”;* much more must it be hard for a modern Presbyterian Christian to recognise, in the twinkling-footed celerity of the merry dance, an exercise which a pious old Dorian could look upon as an indispensable part of an act of public worship. To read the weighty moral sentences of a solemn Æschylean Chorus, and then figure to ourselves their author as a dancing-master, is an unnatural and almost painful transition of thought to a Christian man in these times; and yet Athenæus tells us, that the author of the Prometheus really was a professor of the orchestric art, and a very cunning one too. The fundamental truth of the case is, that the religion of the Greeks was not, like ours, a religion only of moral emotions and theological principles, but a religion of the whole man, with rather too decided a tendency, in some parts, it must be confessed, towards a disturbance of the equipoise on the side of the senses. But, whatever may be thought of Bacchic orgies and other associate rites, with regard to dancing, there is plainly nothing in the exercise, when decorously conducted, inconsistent either with dignity, or with piety; and the feelings of ancient Romans and modern Presbyterians on the subject, must be regarded as the mere products of arbitrary association. Certain it is, that all the Greek philosophers looked upon dancing as an essential element, not only in the education of a gentleman, but in the performance of public worship; nay, even among the severe Jews, we read that David, on occasion of a great religious festival, danced before the Lord; and only an idle woman called him an idle fellow for doing so. We need not be surprised, therefore, if among the merry Greeks, professing a religion fully as much of physical enjoyment as of moral culture, orchestric evolutions, along with sacred hymns, formed an essential part of the tragic exhibitions belonging to the feasts of the great god Dionysus. On the details of this matter, we are sadly wanting in satisfactory information; but that the fact was so, there can be no doubt. The only point with regard to which there is room for a serious difference of opinion is, whether every performance of the Edition: current; Page: [24] Chorus in full band included dancing, or whether it was only introduced occasionally, as the ballet in our modern operas. On this point, the greatest authority in Greek Literature at present living has declared strongly in favour of the latter view; and, in doing so, he has been followed by one of the first philologers of our own country;* and as I have not been led, in the course of my studies, to make any particular examination of this subject, I am loath to contradict anything proceeding from such an authoritative quarter. One great branch of the evidence, I presume, on which this view is supported, lies in the words of the old Scholiast to the choral chaunt in the Phœnissae of Euripides, beginning with these words, Τύριον διδμα λιπονˆ[Editor: illegible character] ἒβαν. “This chaunt,” says the annotator, “is what is called a στάσιμον, or standing chorus; for when the Chorus, after the πάροδος, remaining motionless, sings a hymn arising out of the subject of the play, this song is called a στάσιμον. A πάροδος, on the other hand, is a song sung as they are marching into the orchestra on the first entrance.” Now, no doubt, if this matter be taken with a literal exactitude, the expression, ἀκίνητος, or without moving, will exclude dancing; but if we merely take it generally, as opposed to the great sweeping evolutions of the Chorus, and as implying only a permanent occupation of the same ground in the centre of the orchestra, by the band, as a whole, while the individual members might change their places in the most graceful and beautiful variety of forms, we are thus saved from the harshness of giving to the orchestric element, in many plays, a subordinate position, equally at variance with the original character of the Chorus, and with the place which the dance held as a prominent part of Greek social life With regard to Æschylus, in particular, I do not see how I should be acting in consistency with the testimony of Athenæus just quoted, if I were to assign such a small proportion of the choric performances to orchestric accompaniment, as Boeckh and Donaldson have done in their editions of the play of Sophocles, which the genius of Miss Faucit has rendered so dear to the friends of the drama in this country. It would be easy to show, from internal evidence such as Boeckh finds in what he calls the Orchestric Chorus, or ἐμμέλεια of the Antigone, that certain choruses of Æschylus are more adapted for violent and extensive orchestric movements than others. But I have thought it more prudent, considering Edition: current; Page: [25] the general uncertainty that surrounds this matter, not to make any allusion to dancing in any one performance of the Chorus more than another; contenting myself with carefully distinguishing everywhere between the anapæstic parts where the Chorus is plainly making extensive movements, and the Choral Hymn with regular Strophe and Antistrophe, which is sung when they are placed in their proper position in a square band round the Thymele (θυμέλη), or Bacchic altar, in the centre of the orchestra.*

Having said so much with regard both to the form and substance of the lyric portion of the Æschylean drama, I have said almost all that I was anxious to say; for, in stating this matter clearly, I have brushed out of the way the principal part of that host of modern associations which is so apt to disturb our sympathetic enjoyment of the great masterpieces of Hellenic art. Anything that might be said in detail on the Iambic or dialogic part of ancient tragedy would only serve to set in a yet stronger light the grand fact which has been urged, that the strength of the Greek drama lies in the singing, and not in the acting. It were easy to show by an extensive analysis, that the classical “goat-singers” had but very imperfect notions on the subject of stage dialogue; and that it was a light thing for them to deal at large in mere epic description, or rhetorical declamation, without offending the taste of a fastidious audience, or sinning grossly against the understood laws of the sort of composition which they exhibited. Notwithstanding Aristotle’s nicely-drawn distinction, the narrated, or purely epic parts of the Greek tragedy, are often the best This is the case not seldom even with Æschylus, whose native dramatic power the voice of a master has judged to be first-rate. But with him the infant state of the art, and the insufficient supply of actors,§ combined with a radical faultiness of structure, produced, in not a few instances, the same anti-dramatic results as the want of dramatic genius in Euripides. Further, to Edition: current; Page: [26] use the language of Mr. Donaldson—“the narrowness and distance of the stage rendered any (free and complex) grouping unadvisable. The arrangement of the actors was that of a processional bas relief. Their movements were slow, their gesticulations abrupt and angular, and their delivery a sort of loud and deep-drawn sing-song, which resounded throughout the immense theatre. They probably neglected everything like by-play and making points, which are so effective on the English stage. The distance at which the spectators were placed would prevent them from seeing those little movements and hearing those low tones which have made the fortune of many a modern actor. The mask, too, precluded all attempts at varied expression, and it is probable that nothing more was expected from the performer than was looked for from his predecessor, the rhapsode—viz., good recitation.” These observations, flowing from a realization of the known circumstances of the case, will sufficiently explain to the modern reader the extreme stiffness and formality which distinguishes the tragic dialogue of the Greeks from that dexterous and various play of verbal interchange which delights us so much in Shakespere and the other masters of English tragedy. Every view, in short, that we can take, tends to fix our attention on the musical and the religious elements, as on the life-blood and vital soul of the Hellenic τραγῳδία; forces us to the conclusion that, with a due regard to organic principle, its proper designation is sacred opera,* and not tragedy, in the modern sense of the word Edition: current; Page: [27] at all; and leads us to look on the dramatic art altogether in the hands of Æschylus, not as an infant Hercules strangling serpents, but as a Titan, like his own Prometheus, chained to a rock, whom only, after many ages, a strong Saxon Shakespere could unbind.

To conclude. If these observations shall seem to any conceived in a style too depreciatory of the masterpieces of Hellenic art, such persons will observe, that what has been here said of a negative character has reference only to the form of these productions as works of art, and not to their poetic contents. An unfortunate external arrangement is often, as in the case of the German writer Richter, united in intimate amalgamation with the richest and most exuberant energy of intellectual and moral life. However imperfect the Greek “tragedies” are as forms of artistic exhibition, they are not the less admirable, for the mass of healthy poetic life of which they are the embodiment, and the grand combination of artistic elements which they present As among the world’s notable men there are some who are great rather by a harmonious combination of the great healthy elements of humanity, than by the gigantic development of any one faculty, so in literature there are phenomena which must be measured by the mass of inward life which they concentrate, not by the structural perfection of form which they exhibit. The lyrical tragedy of the Greeks presents, in a combination elsewhere unexampled, the best elements of our serious drama, our opera, our oratorio, our public worship, and our festal recreations. The people who prepared and enjoyed such an intellectual banquet were not base-minded. Had their stability been equal to their susceptibility, the world had never seen their equal. As it is, they are like to remain for ages the great Hierophants of the intellectual world, whose influence will always be felt even by those who are ignorant or impudent enough to despise them; and among the various branches of art and science which owed a felicitous culture to their dexterous and subtle genius, there is certainly no phenomenon in the wide history of imaginative manifestation more imposing and more significant than that which bears on its face the signature of the rude god of wine, and his band of shaggy and goat-footed revellers.

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  • τονˆτον τὸν βακχεɩ̂ον ἅνακτα.
  • Aristophanes.
  • . . . personæ pallæque repertor honestæ.
  • Horace

The richest heritage that a great dramatic poet can receive from the past, is a various store of legendary tradition, in the shape of ballads or popular epos; the greatest present blessing that can happen to him from Heaven, is to live in an age when every mighty thought to which he can give utterance finds a ready response in the hearts of the people, urged by the memory of great deeds recently achieved, to aspire after greater yet to come. Both these blessings were enjoyed by the founder of the serious lyrical drama of the Greeks. In Homer, Æschylus recognised his heritage from the past.* Marathon and Salamis were the first sublime motions of those strong popular breezes by which the flight of his eagle muse was sustained

The Parian marble, more trustworthy than the discordant statements of ill-informed, or ill-transcribed lexicographers and scholiasts, enables us to fix the date of Æschylus, in the year 525 before Christ. Born an Athenian, in the deme of Eleusis, of an ancient and noble family, he had ample opportunity, by the contagion of the place, in his boyish days, of brooding over those lofty religious ideas which formed the characteristic inspiration of his drama. Pausanias (I. 21) relates of him that, on one occasion, when he was watching the vineyards as a mere boy, Dionysus appeared to him and ordered him to write dramas. Of this story, we may say that it either is true, literally, or invented to symbolize something that must have been true. The next authentic fact in the life of the poet, testified by Suidas, is that in his twenty-fifth year (499, b c.), the same in which Sardes was burnt by the Ionians, he first appeared as a competitor for the tragic prize. But, as the strongest intellectual genius is often that which, like the oak, grows slowest, we do not find him registered as having actually gained the prize in such a competition till the lapse of sixteen years. Meanwhile, the soul of Greece had been called out at Marathon to prepare the world, as it were, for Edition: current; Page: [29] that brilliant display of self-dependence which was afterwards made at Salamis. At both these victories, which belonged to the world as much as to Greece, Æschylus was present, as also, according to some accounts, at Artemisium and Platæae—learning in all these encounters how much more noble it is to act poetry than to sing it, and borrowing from them certain high trumpet-notes of martial inspiration that stirred the soul deeper than any that could have been fetched from the fountains of Helicon, or the double peak of Parnassus Braced in this best school of manhood, he continued his exertions as a dramatic poet, bringing gradually to firmness and maturity the dim broodings of his early years, till, in the year 484, according to the marble already quoted, he was publicly declared victor in that species of composition, of which, from the great improvement he made in it, he was afterwards to be celebrated as the father In a few years after this, he, with his brother Ameinias, performed a distinguished part at the battle of Salamis; and this victory he eight years afterwards celebrated in his play of the Persians, the earliest of his extant productions, of which the date is certainly known* The next mention that we find of the poet, among the few stray and comparatively unimportant notices that remain, is that some time between the year 478, that is, two years after the battle of Salamis, and the year 467, he paid a visit to Sicily, and along with Pindar, Bacchylides, Simonides, and other famous poets, was hospitably entertained by Hieron the famous tyrant of Syracuse. The two dates mentioned are those which mark the beginning and the end of the reign of that ruler; within which period, of course, the visit to Sicily must have taken place. Plutarch, in his life of Cimon (c. 8), connects Æschylus’ departure for Sicily with the first tragic victory gained by the young Sophocles in the year preceding the death of Hiero; but it is possible that this precise date may have no other foundation than the story which attributed the Sicilian journey of the elder bard to his envy of the rising greatness of the younger; an instance of that sort of impertinence in which small wits constantly indulge when they busy themselves to assign motives for the actions of great ones. But the precise period is of small moment When in Sicily, we are told Edition: current; Page: [30] that Æschylus re-exhibited his play of the Persians,* and also wrote a play called the Aetneans, to celebrate the foundation of the new city of Etna by his patron. This event, we are informed by Diodorus (xi 49), took place in the year 476, a date which would require the presence of the poet in Sicily six years before the date mentioned by Plutarch. Connected with Sicily, there is worthy of mention also, in a life of Æschylus, the notable eruption of Etna, which took place in the year 479—the same in which the battle of Platæae took place—because there is a distinct allusion to this in the Prometheus Bound (vol. II p. 34), which enables us to say that this famous drama could not have been written before the forty-seventh year of the poet’s life—that is to say, the full maturity of his powers. The next date in the life of the poet, according to the recently discovered διδασκαλία to the Seven against Thebes, is the representation of the great Oedipodean tetralogy in the year 467; and the next date is a yet more important one, the year of the representation of that famous trilogy, still extant, which has always been looked on as his masterpiece. The argument of the Agamemnon fixes the exhibition of the trilogy of which it is the first piece, to the year of the archonship of Philocles, b.c. 458. It is known, also, that the poet died at Gela, in Sicily, two years after wards, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, the date being given in the marble; and there can be little doubt that the cause of this, his final retirement to that island, must have been a growing distance between him and the Athenian public, arising from diversity of political feeling, and the state of parties in the Attic capital. In that city, democracy had been in steady advance from the time of Cleisthenes (b.c 509), and was now ebullient under the popular inspiration of the recent Persian wars, and glorified by the captainship of Pericles The tendencies of the poet of the Eumenides (as explained in the introduction to that play) were all aristocratic; and it is in the highest degree probable that the reception given by democratic spectators to his eulogy of the aristocratic Court of the Areopagus, in the play just mentioned, may have been such as to induce him to consult his own comfort, if not his safety, by withdrawing altogether from a scene where his continual presence might only tend to irritate those whom it could not alter.

After his death the Athenians testified their esteem for his character by decreeing—what was quite an extraordinary privilege Edition: current; Page: [31] according to their stage practice—that his dramas might be exhibited at the great Dionysiac festivals, when their author could be no longer a competitor for the prize* The people of Gela, justly proud that the bones of so great a man should repose in their soil, erected a monument to his memory with the following inscription:—

  • “Here Æschylus lies, from his Athenian home
  • Remote, ’neath Gola’s wheat-producing loam.
  • How brave in battle was Euphorion’s son
  • The long-haired Mede can tell that fled from Marathon.”

With regard to the great merits of Æschylus both as a poet and as the creator of the tragic stage, there is but one testimony among the writers of antiquity. He not only introduced, as we have elsewhere stated, a second, and afterwards a third actor—without which there was no scope for the proper representation of an action—but he made the greatest improvements in the whole machinery and decorations of the stage, gave dignity to the actors by a minute attention to their masks, dresses, and buskins, besides attending specially to the graceful culture of the dance, according to the testimony of Athenæus above quoted. As a dramatist he is distinguished by peculiar loftiness of conception and grandeur of phraseology. His style is sometimes harsh and abrupt, but it is always manly and vigorous; his metaphors are bold and striking, with something at times almost oriental in their cast; and, though not free from the offence of mixing incongruous metaphors—the natural sin of an imagination at once fearless and fertile—I do not think he can be fairly charged with turgidity and bombast; for, as Aristophanes remarks, in the Frogs, there is a superhuman grandeur about his characters which demands a more than common elevation of phrase. As to the obscurity with which he has been charged, Edition: current; Page: [32] the comparative clearness of those plays which have been most frequently transcribed is a plain indication that this fault proceeds more from the carelessness of stupid copyists, than from confusion of thought or inadequate power of expression in the writer. In some cases, as in the prophecy of Calchas in the opening scene of the Agamemnon, the obscurity is studied and most appropriate Poetry, like painting, will have its shade. But the great excellence of Æschylus, as a poet, is the bracing tone of thorough manhood, noble morality, and profound piety which pervades his works Among those who are celebrated by Virgil as walking with Orpheus and Musæus in blissful Elysium—

Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti,

the poet of the Eumenides deserves the first rank. There is a tradition current, in various shapes, among the ancient writers that he was brought before the Court of the Areopagus (so nobly eulogised by himself), on the charge of impiety, but that he was acquitted That the Athenians might have taken offence at the freedom and boldness with which he handled religious, as other topics, is possible, though certainly by no means probable, considering how little of fixed doctrine there was in their imaginative theology; but it is more like the truth, according to the accounts which we have, that the offence which he gave consisted in some purely accidental allusion occurring in one of his plays, to some points that were, or seemed to be connected with the awful Eleusinian mysteries.* Certain it is that no writer could be less justly charged with impiety or irreligion In his writings, religion is the key-note; and the noblest moral sentiments spring everywhere from the profoundest faith in a system of retribution carried on by the various personages of the great celestial aristocracy, of which Jove is the all-powerful and the all-wise head. So sublime, indeed, is the Æschylean theology, that certain modern writers, as if unwilling to think that such pure notions could co-exist with a belief in the popular religion, have concluded that the poet, like Euripides afterwards, must have been a free-thinker; and have imagined that they have found sure indications to this effect in his writings. But, though Æschylus was a Pythagorean (Cic. Tusc. II. 10), we have no proof that the Pythagoreans, any more than their successors, the Platonists, were given to scepticism. The seriousness of a poetic mind like that of Æschylus is, at all times, naturally inclined to faith; and the multiform Edition: current; Page: [33] polytheism of the Greeks was as pliable in the hands of pure men for pure purposes, as in the hands of gross men, to give a delusive ideality to their grossness1

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  • “Ὁι Τρώων μεν ὑπεξέϕυγον στονόεσσαν ἀυτὴν
  • Ἐν νόστῳ δ’ απόλοντο κακη̂ς ἰότητι γυναιλός”
  • “Greeks that ’scaped the Trojan war-cry, and the wailing battle-field,
  • But home returning basely perished by a wicked woman’s guile”
  • Homer, Odys. xi 383-4.
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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.

SceneThe Royal Palace in Arges.

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Of all that rich variety of Epic materials with which the early minstrel-literature of Greece supplied the drama of a future age, there was no more notable cycle among the ancients than that which went by the popular name of Νόστοι, or the Returns; comprehending an account of the adventures that befell the various Hellenic heroes of the Trojan war in their return home To this cycle, in its most general acceptation, the Odyssey itself belongs; though the name of Νόστοι, according to the traditions of the ancient grammarians, is more properly confined to a legendary Epic, composed by an old poet, Agias of Troezene, of which the return of Agamemnon and Menelaus forms the principal subject. Of this Epos the grammarian Proclus* gives us the following abstract:—

“Athena raises a strife between Agamemnon and Menelaus concerning their voyage homeward Agamemnon remains behind, in order to pacify the wrath of Athena; but Diomede and Nestor depart, and return in safety to their own country After them Menelaus sails, and arrives with five ships in Egypt; the rest of his vessels having been lost in a storm Meanwhile, Calchas and Leonteus and Polypœtes go to Colophon, and celebrate the funeral obsequies of Tiresias, who had died there. There is then introduced the shade of Achilles appearing to Agamemnon, and warning him of the dangers that he was about to encounter. Then follows a storm as the fleet is passing the Capharean rocks, at the south promontory of Eubœa, on which occasion the Locrian Ajax is destroyed by the wrath of Athena, whom he had offended. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, under the protection of Thetis, makes his way overland through Thrace (where he encounters Ulysses in Maronea), to his native country, and proceeding to the country of the Molossi, is there recognised by his grandfather, the aged Peleus, the father of Achilles. The poem then concludes with an account of the murder of Agamemnon by Ægisthus and Clytemnestra, of the revenge taken on her by Orestes and Pylades, and of the return of Menelaus to Lacedæmon.”

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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.”

And the same subject is reverted to in the Third Book (v. 194), where old Nestor, in Pylos, gives an account to Telemachus, first of his own safe return, and then of the fate of the other Greeks, so far as he knew; and, again, in the Fourth Book (v. 535) where Menelaus is informed of his brother’s sad fate (slain “like a bull in a stall”) by the old prophetic Proteus, the sea harlequin of the African coast; and, also, in the Eleventh Book (v. 405), where Ulysses, in Hades, hears the sad recital from the injured shade of the royal Atridan himself.

The tragic events by which Agamemnon and his family have acquired such a celebrity in the epic and dramatic annals of Greece, are but the sequel and consummation of a series of similar events commencing with the great ancestor of the family; all which hang together in the chain of popular tradition by the great moral principle so often enunciated in the course of these dramas, that sin has always a tendency to propagate its like, and a root of bitterness once planted in a family, will grow up and branch out luxuriantly, till, in the fulness of time, it bears those bloody blossoms, and fruits of perdition that are its natural product. The guilty ancestor, in the present case, is the Edition: current; Page: [39] well-known Tantalus, the peculiar style of whose punishment in the infernal regions has been stereotyped, for the modern memory, in the shape of one of the most common and most expressive words in the English language. Tantalus, a son of Jove, a native of Sipylos in Phrygia, and who had been admitted to the table of the gods, thinking it a small matter to know the divine counsels, if he did not, at the same time, gratify his vanity by making a public parade of his knowledge before profane ears, was punished in the pit of Tartarus by those tortures of ever reborn and never gratified desire which every schoolboy knows. His son, Pelops, an exile from his native country, comes with great wealth to Pisa; and having, by stratagem, won, in a chariot race, Hippodamia, the daughter of Oernomaus, king of that place, himself succeeded to the kingdom, and became so famous, according to the legend, as to lend a new name to the southern peninsula of Greece which was the theatre of his exploits.* In his career also, however, the traces of blood are not wanting, which soil so darkly the path of his no less famous descendants. Pelops slew Myrtilus, the charioteer by whose aid he had won the race that was the beginning of his greatness; and it was the Fury of this Myrtilus—or “his blood crying to Heaven,” as in Christian style we should express it—that, according to one poet (Eurip Orest. 981), gave rise to the terrible retributions of blood by which the history of the Pelopidan family is marked Of Pelops, according to the common account, Atreus and Thyestes were the sons. These having murdered their stepbrother, Chrysippus, were obliged to flee for safety to Mycenæ, in Argolis, where, in the course of events, they afterwards established themselves, and became famous for their wealth and for their crimes. The bloody story of these hostile brothers commences with the seduction, by Thyestes, of Aerope, the wife of Atreus; in revenge for which insult, Atreus recalls his banished brother, and, pretending reconciliation, offers that horrid feast of human flesh—the blood of the children to the lips of the father—from which the sun turned away his face in horror. The effect of this deed of blood was to entail, between the two families of Thyestes and Atreus, a hereditary hostility, the fruits of which appeared afterwards in the person of Ægisthus, the son of the former, who is found, in this first play of the trilogy, engaged with Clytemnestra in a treacherous plot to avenge his father’s wrongs, by the murder of his uncle’s son

Agamemnon, the son, or, according to a less common account (for which see Schol. ad Iliad II. 249), the grandson of Atreus, being Edition: current; Page: [40] 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, Edition: current; Page: [41] 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.

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  • 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,
  • Edition: current; Page: [44]
  • Would say strange things Myself to those that know
  • Am free of speech, to whoso knows not dumb.


Enter Chorus in 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
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  • 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.

The Chorus, having now arranged themselves into a regular band in the middle of the Orchestra, sing the First Choral 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
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  • 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.
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  • EPODE.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
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  • 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

  • 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;

  • 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.

  • 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?
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  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
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  • 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!

Enter Clytemnestra.

  • 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.
  • How!
  • 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?

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  • 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,
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  • 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.
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    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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
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  • 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.

  • 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.
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  • 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.

  • 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;
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  • 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!

  • 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!
  • EPODE.

  • 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,
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  • 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.

Enter Clytemnestra.

  • 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.

Enter Herald.

  • 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
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  • 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?

  • How?
  • 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,
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  • 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,
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  • 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,
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  • 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.


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  • 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.

  • 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.
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • ’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,
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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
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  • 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.

Enter Agamemnon with attendants; Cassandra behind.

  • 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,
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  • 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,
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  • 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
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  • 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?
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’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!



  • Whence these shapes of fear that haunt me?
  • These hovering portents why?
  • Is my heart a seer inspired,
  • To chaunt unbidden and unhired67
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,
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  • Heap gifts on gifts from yearly furrows,
  • And save the house from swamping sorrows,
  • And lean starvation’s jaws.

  • 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.

Enter Clytemnestra.

  • 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
  • Edition: current; Page: [72]
  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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,*
  • That, with never-sated wail,
  • Crieth Itys! Itys! aye,76
  • As it scatters, in sweet flow,
  • The thick blossoms of its woe,77
  • So singest thou to-day.


  • Ah! the clear-toned nightingale!
  • Mellow bird, thou dost not wail,
  • For the good gods gave to thee
  • A light shape of fleetest winging,
  • A bright life of sweetest singing,
  • But a sharp-edged death to me.
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  • By a god thou art possessed,
  • And he goads thee without rest,
  • And he racks thy throbbing brain
  • With a busy-beating pain,
  • And he presses from thy throat
  • The heavy struggling note,
  • And the cry that rends the air.
  • Who bade her tread this path,
  • With the prophecy of wiath,
  • And the burden of despair?


  • O the wedlock and the woe
  • Of the evil Alexander,
  • To his chiefest friends a foe!
  • O my native stream Scamander,
  • Where in youth I wont to wander,
  • And was nursed for future woes,
  • Where thy swirling current flows!
  • But now on sluggish shore
  • Of Cocytus I shall pour,
  • ’Mid the Acherusian glades,
  • My divinings to the shades.


  • Nothing doubtful is the token;
  • For the words the maid hath spoken
  • To a very child are clear.
  • She hath pierced me to the marrow;
  • And her cry of shrieking sorrow
  • Ah! it crushes me to hear.


  • The proud city lieth lowly,
  • Nevermore to rise again!
  • It is lost and ruined wholly;
  • And before the walls in vain
  • Hath my pious father slain
  • Many meadow-cropping kine,
  • To appease the wrath divine.
  • Where it lieth it shall lie,
  • Ancient Ilium: and I
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  • On the ground, when all is past,
  • Soon my reeking heart shall cast.78


  • Ah! the mighty god, wrath-laden,
  • He hath smote the burdened maiden
  • With a weighty doom severe.
  • From her heart sharp cries he wringeth,
  • Dismal, deathful strains she singeth,
  • And I wait the end in fear.
  • No more my prophecy, like a young bride
  • Shall from a veil peep forth, but like a wind
  • Waves shall it dash from the west in the sun’s face,79
  • And curl high-crested surges of fierce woes,
  • That far outbillow mine. I’ll speak no more
  • In dark enigmas. Ye my vouchers be,
  • While with keen scent I snuff the breath of the past,
  • And point the track of monstrous crimes of eld.
  • There is a choir, to destiny well-tuned,
  • Haunts these doomed halls, no mellow-throated choir,
  • And they of human blood have largely drunk:
  • And by that wine made bold, the Bacchanals
  • Cling to their place of revels. The sister’d Furies
  • Sit on these roofs, and hymn the prime offence
  • Of this crime-burthened race; the brother’s sin
  • That trod the brother’s bed.* Speak! do I hit
  • The mark, a marksman true? or do I beat
  • Your doors, a babbling beggar prophesying
  • False dooms for hire? Be ye my witnesses,
  • And with an oath avouch, how well I know
  • The hoary sins that hang upon these walls
  • Would oaths make whole our ills, though I should wedge them
  • As stark as ice?80 But I do marvel much
  • That thou, a stranger born, from distant seas,
  • Dost know our city as it were thine own.

Even this to know, Apollo stirred my breast.


Apollo! didst thou strike the god with love?


Till now I was ashamed to hint the tale.

  • The dainty lips of nice prosperity
  • Misfortune opens.
  • Like a wrestler he
  • Strove for my love; he breathed his grace upon me.
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And hast thou children from divine embrace?


I gave the word to Loxias, not the deed


Hadst thou before received the gift divine?


I had foretold my countrymen all their woes


Did not the anger of the god pursue thee?


It did; I warned, but none believed my warning.

  • To us thou seem’st to utter things that look
  • Only too like the truth.
  • Ah me! woe! woe!
  • Again strong divination’s troublous whirl
  • Seizes my soul, and stirs my labouring breast
  • With presages of doom. Lo! where they sit,
  • These pitiful young ones on the fated roof,
  • Like to the shapes of dreams! The innocent babes,
  • Butchered by friends that should have blessed them, and
  • In their own hands their proper bowels they bear,
  • Banquet abhorred, and their own father eats it.*
  • This deed a lion, not a lion-hearted
  • Shall punish; wantonly in her bed, whose lord
  • Shall pay the heavy forfeit, he shall roll,
  • And snare my master—woe’s me, even my master,
  • For slavery’s yoke my neck must learn to own.
  • Ah! little weens the leader of the ships,
  • Troy’s leveller, how a hateful bitch’s tongue,
  • With long-drawn phrase, and broad-sown smile, doth weave
  • His secret ruin. This a woman dares;
  • The female mars the male. Where shall I find
  • A name to name such monster? dragon dire,
  • Rock-lurking Scylla, the vexed seaman’s harm,
  • Mother of Hades, murder’s Mænad, breathing
  • Implacable breath of curses on her kin.81
  • All-daring woman! shouting in her heart,
  • As o’er the foe, when backward rolls the fight,
  • Yet hymning kindliest welcome with her tongue.
  • Ye look mistrustful; I am used to that.
  • That comes which is to come; and ye shall know
  • Full soon, with piteous witness in your eyes,
  • How true, and very true, Cassandra spake.
  • Thyestes’ banquet, and his children’s flesh
  • I know, and shudder; strange that she should know
  • The horrors of that tale; but for the rest
  • She runs beyond my following.
  • Thus I said;
  • Edition: current; Page: [79]
  • Thine eyes shall witness Agamemnon’s death
  • Hush, wretched maiden! lull thy tongue to rest,
  • And cease from evil-boding words!
  • Alas!
  • The gods that heal all evil, heal not this.

If it must be, but may the gods forefend!


Pray thou, and they will have more time to kill.


What man will dare to do such bloody deed?


I spake not of a man: thy thoughts shoot wide


The deed I heard, but not whose hand should do it.


And yet I spake good Greek with a good Greek tongue.


Thou speakest Apollo’s words: true, but obscure.

  • Ah me! the god! like fire within my breast
  • Burns the Lycéan god.* Ah me! pain! pain!
  • A lioness two-footed with a wolf
  • Is bedded, when the noble lion roamed
  • Far from his den; and she will murder me.
  • She crowns the cup of wrath; she whets the knife
  • Against the neck of the man, and he must pay
  • The price of capture, I of being captive.
  • Vain gauds, that do but mock my grief, farewell!
  • This laurel-rod, and this diviner’s wreath
  • About my neck, should they outlive the wearer?
  • Away! As ye have paid me, I repay.
  • Make rich some other prophetess with woe!
  • Lo! where Apollo looks, and sees me now
  • Doff this diviner’s garb, the self-same weeds
  • He tricked me erst withal, to live for him,
  • The public scorn, the scoff of friends and foes,
  • The mark of every ribald jester’s tongue,
  • The homeless girl, the raving mountebank,
  • The beggar’d, wretched, starving maniac.
  • And now who made the prophetess unmakes her,
  • And leads me to my doom—ah! not beside
  • My father’s altar doomed to die! the block
  • From my hot life shall drink the purple stain.
  • But we shall fall not unavenged: the gods
  • A mother-murdering shoot shall send from far
  • To avenge his sire; the wanderer shall return
  • To pile the cope-stone on these towering woes.
  • The gods in heaven a mighty oath have sworn,
  • To raise anew the father’s prostrate fate
  • By the son’s arm.—But why stand here, and beat
  • Edition: current; Page: [80]
  • The air with cries, seeing what I have seen;
  • When Troy hath fallen, suffering what it suffered,
  • And they who took the city by the doom
  • Of righteous gods faring as they shall fare?
  • I will endure to die, and greet these gates
  • Of Hades gaping for me Grant me, ye gods,
  • A mortal stroke well-aimed, and a light fall
  • From cramped convulsion free! Let the red blood
  • Flow smoothly from its fount, that I may close
  • These eyes in peaceful death.
  • O hapless maid!
  • And wise as hapless! thou hast spoken long!
  • But if thou see’st the harm, why rush on fate
  • Even as an ox, whom favouring gods inspire
  • To stand by the altar’s steps, and woo the knife.

I’m in the net. Time will not break the meshes.


But the last moment of sweet life is honoured.


My hour is come, what should I gain by flight?


Thou with a stout heart bravely look’st on fate.


Bravely thou praisest: but the happy hear not Such commendations.82

  • Yet if death must come,
  • His fame is fair who nobly fronts the foe.

Woe’s me, the father and his noble children!


Whither now? What father and what children? Speak.

  • [Approaching and starting back from the house.]
  • Woe! woe!

What means this woe? What horrid fancy scares thee?


Blood-dripping murder reeks from yonder house.


How? ’Tis the scent of festal sacrifice.


The scent of death—a fragrance from the grave.


Soothly no breath of Syrian nard she names.

  • But now the time is come. I go within
  • To wail for Agamemnon and myself.
  • I’ve done with life. Farewell! My vouchers ye,
  • Not with vain screaming, like a fluttering bird,83
  • Above the bush I cry. Yourselves shall know it
  • Then when, for me a woman, a woman dies,
  • And for a man ill-wived a man shall fall
  • Trust me in this. Your honest faith is all
  • The Trojan guest, the dying woman, craves.

O wretched maid! O luckless prophetess

  • Yet will I speak one other word, before
  • Edition: current; Page: [81]
  • I leave this light. Hear thou my vows, bright sun,
  • And, though a slave’s death be a little thing,
  • Send thou the avenging hand with full requital,
  • To pay my murderers back, as they have paid.
  • Alas! the fates of men! their brightest bloom
  • A shadow blights; and, in their evil day,
  • An oozy sponge blots out their fleeting prints,
  • And they are seen no more. From bad to worse
  • Our changes run, and with the worst we end.84


  • Men crave increase of riches ever
  • With insatiate craving. Never
  • From the finger-pointed halls
  • Of envied wealth their owner calls,
  • “Enter no more! I have enough!”
  • This man the gods with honour crowned;
  • He hath levelled with the ground
  • Priam’s city, and in triumph
  • Glorious home returns;
  • But if doomed the fine to pay
  • Of ancient guilt, and death with death
  • To guerdon in the end,
  • Who of mortals will not pray,85
  • From high-perched Fortune’s favour far,
  • A blameless life to spend.

[From within.] O I am struck! struck with a mortal blow!


Hush! what painful voice is speaking there of strokes and mortal blows?


O struck again! struck with a mortal blow!

  • ’Tis the king that groans; the work, the bloody work, I fear, is doing.
  • Weave we counsel now together, and concert a sure design.86
1st Chorus.
  • I give my voice to lift the loud alarm,
  • And rouse the city to besiege the doors.
2nd Chorus.
  • Rather forthwith go in ourselves, and prove
  • The murderer with the freshly-dripping blade.
3rd Chorus.
  • I add my pebble to thine. It is not well
  • That we delay. Fate hangs upon the moment.
4th Chorus.
  • The event is plain, with this prelusive blood
  • They hang out signs of tyranny to Argos.
5th Chorus.
  • Then why stay we? Procrastination they
  • Tramp underfoot; they sleep not with their hands.
6th Chorus.
  • Not so. When all is dark, shall we unwisely
  • Rush blindfold on an unconsulted deed?
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7th Chorus.
  • Thou speakest well. If he indeed be dead,
  • Our words are vain to bring him back from Hades.
8th Chorus.
  • Shall we submit to drag a weary life
  • Beneath the shameless tyrants of this house?
9th Chorus.
  • Unbearable! and better far to die!
  • Death is a gentler lord than tyranny.
10th Chorus.
  • First ask we this, if to have heard a groan
  • Gives a sure augury that the man is dead.
11th Chorus.
  • Wisdom requires to probe the matter well:
  • To guess is one thing, and to know another.
12th Chorus.
  • So wisely spoken87 With full-voiced assent
  • Inquire we first how Agamemnon fares.

[The scene opens from behind, and discovers Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra.]

  • I spoke to you before; and what I spoke
  • Suited the time; nor shames me now to speak
  • Mine own refutal. For how shall we entrap
  • Our foe, our seeming friend, in scapeless ruin,
  • Save that we fence him round with nets too high
  • For his o’erleaping? What I did, I did
  • Not with a random inconsiderate blow,
  • But from old Hate, and with maturing Time.
  • Here, where I struck, I take my rooted stand,
  • Upon the finished deed:88 the blow so given,
  • And with wise forethought so by me devised,
  • That flight was hopeless, and to ward it vain.
  • With many-folding net, as fish are caught,
  • I drew the lines about him, mantled round
  • With bountiful destruction; twice I struck him,
  • And twice he groaning fell with limbs diffused
  • Upon the ground; and as he fell, I gave
  • The third blow, sealing him a votive gift
  • To gloomy Hades, saviour of the dead.
  • And thus he spouted forth his angry soul,
  • Bubbling a bitter stream of frothy slaughter,
  • And with the dark drops of the gory dew
  • Bedashed me; I delighted nothing less
  • Than doth the flowery calix, full surcharged
  • With fruity promise, when Jove’s welkin down
  • Distils the rainy blessing. Men of Argos,
  • Rejoice with me in this, or, if ye will not,
  • Edition: current; Page: [83]
  • Then do I boast alone. If e’er ’twas meet
  • To pour libations to the dead, he hath them
  • In justest measure. By most righteous doom,
  • Who drugged the cup with curses to the brim,
  • Himself hath drunk damnation to the dregs.
  • Thou art a bold-mouthed woman. Much we marvel
  • To hear thee boast thy husband’s murder thus.
  • Ye tempt me as a woman, weak, unschooled.
  • But what I say, ye know, or ought to know,
  • I say with fearless heart. Your praise or blame
  • Is one to me. Here Agamemnon lies,
  • My husband, dead, the work of this right hand—
  • The hand of a true workman. Thus it stands.


  • Woman! what food on wide earth growing
  • Hast thou eaten of? What draught
  • From the briny ocean quaffed,
  • That for such deed the popular breath
  • Of Argos should with curses crown thee,
  • As a victim crowned for death?
  • Thou hast cast off: thou hast cut off
  • Thine own husband:89 thou shalt be
  • From the city of the free
  • Thyself a cast-off: justly hated
  • With staunch hatred unabated.
  • My sentence thou hast spoken; shameful flight,
  • The citizens’ hate, the people’s vengeful curse:
  • For him thou hast no curse, the bloody man
  • Who, when the fleecy flocks innumerous pastured,
  • Passed the brute by, and sacrificed my child,
  • My best-beloved, fruit of my throes, to lull
  • The Thracian blasts asleep. Why did thy wrath,
  • In righteous guerdon of this foulest crime,
  • Not chase this man from Greece? A greedy ear
  • And a harsh tongue thou hast for me alone.
  • But mark my words,90 threats I repay with threats;
  • If that thou canst subdue me in fair fight,
  • Subdue me; but if Jove for me decide,
  • Thou shalt be wise, when wisdom comes too late.


  • Thou art high and haughty-hearted,
  • And from lofty thoughts within thee
  • Edition: current; Page: [84]
  • Mighty words are brimming o’er:
  • For thy sober sense is madded
  • With the purple-dripping gore;
  • And thine eyes with fatness swell91
  • From bloody feasts: but mark me well,
  • Time shall come, avenging Time,
  • And hunt thee out, and track thy crime:
  • Then thou, when friends are far, shalt know
  • Stroke for stroke, and blow for blow.
  • Hear thou this oath, that seals my cause with right:
  • By sacred Justice, perfecting revenge,
  • By Até, and the Erinnys of my child,
  • To whom I slew this man, I shall not tread
  • The threshold of pale Fear, the while doth live
  • Ægisthus, now, as he hath been, my friend,
  • Stirring the flame that blazes on my hearth,
  • My shield of strong assurance. For the slain,
  • Here lieth he that wronged a much-wronged woman,
  • Sweet honey-lord of Trojan Chryseids.
  • And for this spear-won maid, this prophetess,
  • This wise diviner, well-beloved bed-fellow,
  • And trusty messmate of great Agamemnon,
  • She shares his fate, paying with him the fee
  • Of her own sin, and like a swan hath sung
  • Her mortal song beside him. She hath been
  • Rare seasoning added to my banquet rare.


  • O would some stroke of Fate—no dull disease
  • Life’s strings slow-rending,
  • No bed-bound pain—might bring, my smart to soothe,
  • The sleep unending!
  • For he, my gracious lord, my guide, is gone,
  • Beyond recalling;
  • Slain for a woman’s cause, and by the hands
  • Of woman falling.

  • O Helen! Helen! phrenzied Helen,
  • Many hearts of thee are telling
  • Damned destruction thou hast done,
  • There where thousands fell for one
  • ’Neath the walls of Troy
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  • Bloomed from thee the blossom gory
  • Of famous Agamemnon’s glory;
  • Thou hast roused the slumbering strife,
  • From age to age, with eager knife,
  • Watching to destroy.


  • Death invoke not to relieve thee
  • From the ills that vainly grieve thee!
  • Nor, with ire indignant swelling,
  • Blame the many-murdering Helen!
  • Damned destruction did she none,
  • There, where thousands fell for one,
  • ’Neath the walls of Troy.

  • O god that o’er the doomed Atridan halls93
  • With might prevailest,
  • Weak woman’s breast to do thy headlong will
  • With murder mailest!
  • O’er his dead body, like a boding raven,
  • Thou tak’st thy station,
  • Piercing my marrow with thy savage hymn
  • Of exultation.


  • Nay, but now thou speakest wisely;
  • This thrice-potent god precisely
  • Works our woe, and weaves our sorrow.
  • He with madness stings the marrow,
  • And with greed that thirsts for blood;
  • Ere to-day’s is dry, the flood
  • Flows afresh to-morrow.


  • Him, even him, this terrible god, to bear
  • These walls are fated;
  • From age to age he worketh wildly there
  • With wrath unsated.
  • Not without Jove, Jove cause and end of all,
  • Nor working vainly.
  • Comes no event but with high sway the gods
  • Have ruled it plainly.
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  • O the king! the king! for thee
  • Tears in vain my cheek shall furrow,
  • Words in vain shall voice my sorrow!
  • As in a spider’s web thou liest;
  • Godless meshes spread for thee,
  • An unworthy death thou diest!


  • There, even there thou liest, woe’s me, outstretched
  • On couch inglorious;
  • O’er thee the knife prevailed, keen-edged, by damned
  • Deceit victorious.


  • Nay, be wise, and understand;
  • Say not Agamemnon’s wife
  • Wielded in this human hand
  • The fateful knife.
  • But a god, my spirit’s master,
  • The unrelenting old Alastor94
  • Chose this wife, his incarnation,
  • To avenge the desecration
  • Of foul-feasting Atreus, he
  • Gave, to work his wrath’s completion
  • To the babes this grown addition.


  • Thy crime is plain: bear thou what thou hast merited,
  • Guilt’s heavy lading;
  • But that fell Spirit, from sire to son inherited,
  • Perchance was aiding.
  • Black-mantled Mars through consanguineous gore
  • Borne onwards blindly,
  • Old horrors to atone, fresh Murder’s store
  • Upheaps unkindly.

  • O the king! the king! for thee
  • Tears in vain my cheek shall furrow,
  • Words in vain shall voice my sorrow!
  • As in a spider’s web thou liest;
  • Godless meshes spread for thee,
  • An unworthy death thou diest.
Edition: current; Page: [87]


  • There, even there, thou liest, woe’s me, outstretched
  • On couch inglorious!
  • O’er thee the knife prevailed, keen-edged, by damned
  • Decent victorious.


  • Say not thou that he did die
  • By unworthy death inglorious,
  • Erst himself prevailed by damned
  • Deceit victorious,
  • Then when he killed the deep-lamented
  • Iphigenía, nor relented
  • When for my body’s fruit with weeping
  • I besought him. Springs his reaping
  • From what seed he sowed. Not he
  • In Hades housed shall boast to-day;
  • So slain by steel as he did slay.


  • I’m tossed with doubt, on no sure counsel grounded,
  • With fear confounded.
  • No drizzling drops, a red ensanguined shower,
  • Upon the crazy house, that was my tower,
  • Comes wildly sweeping,
  • On a new whetstone whets her blade the Fate
  • With eyes unweeping.


  • O Earth, O Earth, would thou hadst yawned,
  • And in thy black pit whelmed me wholly,
  • Ere I had seen my dear-loved lord
  • In the silver bath thus bedded lowly!
  • Who will bury him? and for him
  • With salt tears what eyes shall brim?
  • Wilt thou do it—thou, the wife
  • That slew thy husband with the knife?
  • Wilt thou dare, with blushless face,
  • Thus to offer a graceless grace?
  • With false show of pious moaning,
  • Thine own damned deed atoning?


  • What voice the praises of the godlike man
  • Shall publish clearly?
  • Edition: current; Page: [88]
  • And o’er his tomb the tear from eyelids wan
  • Shall drop sincerely?


  • In vain thy doubtful heart is tried
  • With many sorrows. By my hand
  • Falling he fell, and dying died.95
  • I too will bury him; but no train
  • Of mourning men for him shall plain
  • In our Argive streets; but rather
  • In the land of sunless cheer
  • She shall be his convoy; she,
  • Iphigenía, his daughter dear.
  • By the stream of woes* swift-flowing,
  • Round his neck her white arms throwing,
  • She shall meet her gentle father,
  • And greet him with a kiss.


  • Crime quitting crime, and which the more profanely
  • Were questioned vainly;
  • ’Tis robber robbed, and slayer slain, for, though
  • Oft-times it lag, with measured blow for blow
  • Vengeance prevaileth,
  • While great Jove lives.96 Who breaks the close-linked woe
  • Which Heaven entaileth?


  • O Earth, O Earth, would thou hadst yawned,
  • And in thy black pit whelmed me wholly,
  • Ere I had seen my dear-loved lord
  • In the silver bath thus bedded lowly!
  • Who will bury him? and for him
  • With salt tears, what eyes shall brim?
  • Wilt thou do it? thou, the wife
  • That killed thy husband with the knife?
  • Wilt thou dare, with blushless face,
  • Thus to offer a graceless grace?
  • With false show of pious moaning
  • Thine own damned deed atoning?
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  • What voice the praises of the god-like man
  • Shall publish clearly?
  • And o’er his tomb the tear from eyelids wan
  • Shall drop sincerely?


  • Cease thy cries. Where Heaven entaileth,
  • Thyself didst say, woe there prevaileth.
  • But for this tide enough hath been
  • Of bloody work. My score is clean.
  • Now to the ancient stern Alastor,
  • That crowns the Pleisthenids* with disaster,
  • I vow, having reaped his crop of woe
  • From me, to others let him go,
  • And hold with them his bloody bridal,
  • Of horrid murders suicidal!
  • Myself, my little store amassed
  • Shall freely use, while it may last,
  • From murdering madness healed.

Enter Ægisthus.

  • O blessed light! O happy day proclaiming
  • The justice of the gods! Now may I say
  • The Olympians look from heaven sublime, to note
  • Our woes, and right our wrongs, seeing as I see
  • In the close meshes of the Erinnyes tangled
  • This man—sweet sight to see!—prostrate before me,
  • Having paid the forfeit of his father’s crime.
  • For Atreus, ruler of this Argive land,
  • This dead man’s father—to be plain—contending
  • About the mastery, banished from the city
  • Thyestes, his own brother and my father.
  • In suppliant guise back to his hearth again
  • The unhappy prince returned, content if he
  • Might tread his native acres, not besprent
  • With his own blood. Him with a formal show
  • Of hospitality—not love—received
  • The father of this dead, the godless Atreus;
  • And to my father for the savoury use
  • Of festive viands gave his children’s flesh
  • To feed on; in a separate dish concealed
  • Edition: current; Page: [90]
  • Were legs and arms, and the fingers’ pointed tips,97
  • Broke from the body. These my father saw not;
  • But what remained, the undistinguished flesh,
  • He with unwitting greed devoured, and ate
  • A curse to Argos. Soon as known, his heart
  • Disowned the unholy feast, and with a groan
  • Back-falling he disgorged it. Then he vowed
  • Dark doom to the Pelopidae, and woes
  • Intolerable, while with his heel he spurned98
  • The supper, and thus voiced the righteous curse:
  • Thus perish all the race of Pleisthenes!
  • See here the cause why Agamemnon died,
  • And why his death most righteous was devised
  • By me; for I, Thyestes’ thirteenth son,
  • While yet a swaddled babe, was driven away
  • To houseless exile with my hapless sire.
  • But me avenging Justice nursed, and taught me,
  • Safer by distance, with invisible hand
  • To reach this man, and weave the brooded plot,
  • That worked his sure destruction. Now ’tis done;
  • And gladly might I die, beholding him,
  • There as he lies where Vengeance trapped his crimes.
  • Ægisthus, that thou wantonest in the woe
  • Worked by thy crime I praise not. Thou alone
  • Didst slay this man, and planned the piteous slaughter
  • With willing heart. So say’st thou: but mark well,
  • Justice upon thy head the stony curse
  • Shall bring avoidless from the people’s hand.
  • How? Thou who sittest on the neathmost bench,
  • Speak’st thus to me who ply the upper oar?
  • ’Tis a hard task to teach an old man wisdom,
  • And dullness at thy years is doubly dull;
  • But chains and hunger’s pangs sure leeches are,
  • And no diviner vends more potent balms
  • To drug a doting wit.99 Have eyes, and see,
  • Kick not against the pricks, nor vainly beat
  • Thy head on rocks.
Chorus [to Clytemnestra].
  • Woman, how couldst thou dare,
  • On thine own hearth to plot thy husband’s death;
  • First having shamed his bed, to welcome him
  • With murder from the wars?
  • Speak on; each word shall be a fount of tears,
  • I’ll make thy tongue old Orpheus’ opposite.
  • Edition: current; Page: [91]
  • He with sweet sounds led wild beasts where he would,
  • Thou where thou wilt not shalt be led, confounding
  • The woods with baby cries. Thou barkest now,
  • But, being bound, the old man shall be tame.
  • A comely king wert thou to rule the Argives!
  • Whose wit had wickedness to plan the deed,
  • But failed the nerve in thy weak hand to do it.
  • ’Twas wisely schemed with woman’s cunning wit
  • To snare him. I, from ancient date his foe,
  • Stood in most just suspicion. Now, ’tis done;
  • And I, succeeding to his wealth, shall know
  • To hold the reins full tightly. Who rebels
  • Shall not with corn be fatted for my traces,
  • But, stiffly haltered, he shall lodge secure
  • In darkness, with starvation for his mate.
  • Hear me yet once. Why did thy dastard hand
  • Shrink from the deed? But now his wife hath done it,
  • Tainting this land with murder most abhorred,
  • Polluting Argive gods. But still Orestes
  • Looks on the light; him favouring Fortune shall
  • Nerve with one stroke to smite this guilty pair.

Nay, if thou for brawls art eager, and for battle, thou shalt know—

  • Ho! my gallant co-mates, rouse ye!100 ’tis an earnest business now!
  • Quick, each hand with sure embracement hold the dagger by the hilt!

I can also hold a hilted dagger—not afraid to die.


Die!—we catch the word thou droppest, lucky chance, if thou wert dead!

  • Not so, best-beloved! there needeth no enlargement to our ills.
  • We have reaped a liberal harvest, gleaned a crop of fruitful woes,
  • Gained a loss in brimming measure: blood’s been shed enough to-day.
  • Peacefully, ye hoary Elders, enter now your destined homes,
  • Ere mischance o’ertake you, deeming what is done hath so been done,
  • As it behoved to be, contented if the dread god add no more,
  • He that now the house of Pelops smiteth in his anger dire.
  • Thus a woman’s word doth warn ye, if that ye have wit to hear.
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  • Babbling fools are they; and I forsooth must meekly bear the shower,
  • Flowers of contumely cast from doting drivellers, tempting fate!
  • O! if length of hoary winters brought discretion, ye should know
  • Where the power is; wisely subject you the weak to me the strong.

Ill beseems our Argive mettle to court a coward on a throne.


Shielded now, be brave with words; my deeds expect some future day.


Ere that day belike some god shall bring Orestes to his home.


Feed, for thou hast nothing better, thou and he, on empty hope.


Glut thy soul, a lusty sinner, with sin’s fatness, while thou may’st.


Thou shalt pay the forfeit, greybeard, of thy braggart tongue anon.


Oh, the cock beside its partlet now may crow right valiantly!

  • Heed not thou these brainless barkings. While to folly folly calls,
  • Thou and I with wise command shall surely sway these Argive halls.


  • πάρεστι σιγὰς (σιγηλος) ἄτιμος ἀλόιδορος
  • ἄληστος ἀϕεμένων ἰο̂εɩ̂ν;

modified thus by Orelli—

  • ἄπιστος ἀϕεμέναν ἰδεɩ̂ν
  • —(See Wellauer)

With a reference to Menelaus and not to Helen. In doing so, I am not at all moved by any merely philological consideration; but I may observe that the remark made by Well., Peile, and Con, that the words cannot refer to Menelaus, because he has not yet been mentioned, can have little weight in the present chorus, in the first antistrophe of which Paris is first alluded to, by dim indications, and afterwards distinctly by name This method of merely hinting at a person, before naming him, is common in all poetry, but peculiarly characteristic of Æschylus. Besides, it is impossible to deny that the πόθος in the next line refers to Menelaus, and can refer to no other. Con., who refers the words to Helen, translates thus—

  • “She stands in silence, scorned, yet unrebuking,
  • Most sweetly sorrowfully looking
  • Of brides that have from wedlock fled,”

to which I have this further objection, that it is contrary to the poet’s intention and to the moral tone of the piece, to paint the fair fugitive with such an engaging look of reluctance to leave her husband; on the contrary, he blames her in the strongest language, ἄτλητα τλα̂σα, and represents her as leaving Argos with all the hurry of a common elopement, where both parties are equally willing for the amorous flight, βέβακε ρίμϕα διὰ πυλα̂ν. After which our fancy has nothing to do but imagine her giving her sails to the wind as swiftly as possible, and bounding gaily over the broad back of ocean with her gay paramour. In this connection, to say “she stands,” appears quite out of place. In my view of this “very difficult and all but desperate passage” (Peile) I am supported by Sym. in an able note, which every student ought to read, by Med. and Sew., Buck., Humb., and Droys. Neither is Fr. against me, because, though following a new reading of Hermann,

  • πάρεστι σιγὰς ἀτίμους ἀλοιδόρους
  • ’αισχρωˆς ἀϕειμενων ιδειν,

he avoids all special allusions to Menelaus, it is evident that the picture of solitary desolation given in his translation can have no reference but to the palace of the king of Sparta—

  • “Ein Schweigen, sieh! voll von Schmach, nicht gebrochen church
  • Vorwurf, beherrscht die Einsamkeit”
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  • Ἐκ γὰρ Ὀρέσταο τίσις [Editor: illegible character]σσεται Ἀτρέιδαο
  • Ὀπποτ [Editor: illegible character]ν ‘ηβήσ[Editor: illegible character] τε κὰι ἠ̂ς ἱμείρεται ἄιης.
  • Homer.
  • Think upon our father,
  • Give the sword scope—think what a man was he
  • Landoe.
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Orestes, Son of Agamemnon.

Pylades, Friend of Orestes

Chorus of Captive Women.

Electra, Sister of Orestes.

Nurse of Orestes.

Clytemnestra, Mother of Orestes.



Scene as in the preceding piece. The Tomb of Agamemnon in the centre of the Stage.

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The right of the avenger of blood, so familiar to us from its prominency in the Mosaic Law (see Numbers, chap. 35), is a moral phenomenon which belongs to a savage or semi-civilized state of society in all times and places; and appears everywhere with the most distinct outline in the rich records of the early age of Greece, which we possess in the Homeric poems. No doubt, the most glowing intensity, and the passionate exaggeration of the feeling, from which this right springs, is found only among the hot children of the Arabian desert;* and in no point of his various enactments were the wisdom and the humanity of their great Jewish lawgiver more conspicuous than in the appointment of sacerdotal cities of refuge, which set certain intelligible bounds of space and time to the otherwise interminable prosecution of family feuds, and the gratification of private revenge. But the great traits of the system of private revenge for manslaughter, stand out clearly in the Iliad and Odyssey; and the whole of the ancient heroic mythology of Greece is full of adventures and strange chances that grew out of this germ. Out of many, I shall mention only the following instance. In the twenty-third book of the Iliad (v. 82), when the shade of Patroclus appears at the head of his sorrowful, sleeping friend, after urging the necessity of instant funeral, for the peace of his soul, he proceeds to make a further request, as follows:—

  • “This request I make, this strict injunction I on thee would lay,
  • Not apart from thine Achilles, place thy dear Patroclus’ bones;
  • But together as, like brothers, in your father’s house we grew,
  • Then when me, yet young, Menœtius from the Locrian Opus guiding,
  • To the halls of Peleus brought because that I had slain a man,
  • Even thy son, Amphidamas, whom unwittingly of life I reft
  • In a brainish moment, foolishly, when we quarrelled o’er the dice;
  • Then the horseman, Peleus, kindly took me to his house, and kindly
  • Reared me with his son, and bade me be thy comrade to the end;
  • So my bones, when they are gathered, place where thine shall also be,
  • In the two-eared golden urn which gracious Thetis gave to thee.”

In these verses, we see the common practice of the heroic ages in Greece, with regard to manslaughter. No matter how slight the occasion might be out of which the lethal quarrel arose; how Edition: current; Page: [96] innocent scever of all hostile intention the unhappy offender; the only safety to him from the private revenge of the kinsman of the person unwittingly slain, was to flee to a country that acknowledged some foreign chief, and find both a friend and a country in a distant land. All this, too, in an era of civilization, when courts of law and regular judges (as from various passages of Homer is apparent) were not altogether unknown; but nature is stronger than law, and passion slow to yield up its fiery right of summary revenge, for the cold, calculating retribution of an impartial judge.

The person on whom the duty of avenging shed blood, according to the heroic code of morals, fell, was the nearest of kin to the person whose blood had been shed; and accordingly we find (as stated more at large by Gesenius and Michaelis*) that in the Hebrew language, the same word means both an avenger of blood and a kinsman, while in the cognate Arabic the term for an avenger means also a survivor—that is, the surviving kinsman. In the same way, when Clytemnestra, as we have just seen in the previous drama, had treacherously murdered her husband Agamemnon, the code of social morality then existing laid the duty of avenging this most unnatural deed on the nearest relation of the murdered chieftain, viz.—his son, Orestes; a sore duty indeed, in this case, as the principal offender was his own mother: so that in vindicating one feeling of his filial nature the pious son had to do violence to another; but a duty it still remained; and there does not appear the slightest trace that it was considered one whit the less imperative on account of the peculiar relation that existed here between the dealer of the vengeful blow and the person on whom it was dealt. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed was the old patriarchal law on the subject, proclaimed without limitation and without exception; and the cry of innocent blood rose to Heaven with peculiar emphasis when the sufferer was both a father and a king.

“Good, how good, when one who dies unjustly leaves a son behind him To avenge his death!”

Odyss. iii. 196,

is the wisdom of old Nestor with regard to this subject and this very case: and the wise goddess Athena, the daughter of the Supreme Councillor, in whom “all her father lives,” stamps her distinct approval on the deed of Orestes, by which Clytemnestra was murdered, and holds him up as an illustrious example to Telemachus, by which his own conduct was to be regulated in Edition: current; Page: [97] reference to the insolent and unjust suitors who were consuming his father’s substance.

  • “This when thou hast done, and well accomplished, as the need demands,
  • Then behoves thee in thy mind with counsel rife to ponder well
  • How the suitors that obscenely riot in thy father’s halls
  • Thou by force or fraud may’st slay: for surely now the years are come,
  • When too old thou art to trifle like a child with childish things
  • Hast not heard what fair opinion the divine Orestes reaped
  • From the general voice consenting to the deed, then when he slew
  • The deceitful false Ægisthus, slayer of his famous sire”
  • Odyssey i. 293.

Public opinion, therefore, to use a modern phrase, not only justified Orestes in compassing the death of his mother, but imperatively called on him to do so. Public opinion, however, could not control Nature, nor save the unfortunate instrument of paternal retribution from that revulsion of feeling which must necessarily ensue, when the hand of the son is once red with the blood of her whose milk he had sucked. Orestes finds himself torn in twain by two contrary instincts, the victim of two antagonist rights. No sooner are the Furies of the father asleep, than those of the mother awake; and thus the bloody catastrophe of the present piece prepares the way for that tragic conflict of opposing moral claims set forth with such power in the third piece of this trilogy—the Eumenides.

The action of this play is the simplest possible, and will, for the most part, explain itself sufficiently as it proceeds. Clytemnestra, disturbed in conscience, and troubled by evil dreams, sends a chorus of young women to offer libations at the tomb of Agamemnon, which, in the present play, may fitly be conceived as occupying the centre of the stage.* These “libation-bearers” give the name to the piece. In their pious function, Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon, joins; and as she is engaged in the solemn rite, her brother Orestes (who had been living as an exile in Phocis with Strophius, married to Anaxibia, the sister of Agamemnon) suddenly arrives, and making himself known to his sister, plans with her the murder of Ægisthus and Clytemnestra—which is accordingly executed. Scarcely is this done, when the Furies of the murdered mother appear, and commence that chase of the unhappy son from land to land, which is ended in the next piece only by the eloquent intercession of Apollo, and the deliberative wisdom of the blue-eyed virgin-goddess of the Acropolis

As a composition, the Choephoræ is decidedly inferior both to Edition: current; Page: [98] the Agamemnon which precedes, and the Eumenides which follows it; and the poet, as if sensible of this weakness, following the approved tactics of rhetoricians and warriors, has dexterously placed it in a position where its deficiencies are least observed. At the same time, in passing a critical judgment on this piece we must bear in mind two things—first, that some parts of this play that appear languid, long-drawn, and ineffective to us who read, may have been overflowing with the richest emotional power in their living musical exhibition; and, secondly, that many parts, especially of the choral chaunts, have been so maimed and shattered by time that the modern commentator is perhaps as much chargeable with the faults of the translation as the ancient tragedian.

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Enter Orestes and Pylades.

  • Hermes, that wieldest underneath the ground
  • What power thy father lent,1 be thou my saviour
  • And my strong help, and grant his heart’s request
  • To the returning exile! On this mound,
  • My father’s tomb, my father I invoke,
  • To hear my cry!
  • * * * * * *
  • * * My early growth of hair
  • To Inachus I vowed;2 this later lock
  • The right of grief for my great sire demands.
  • * * * * *
  • But what is this? what sad procession comes
  • Of marshalled maids in sable mantles clad?
  • What mission brings them? Some new woe that breaks
  • Upon our fated house? Or, do they come
  • To soothe the ancient anger of the dead
  • With sweet libations for my father’s tomb?
  • ’Tis even so for lo! Electra comes—
  • My sister—with them in unblissful grief
  • Pre-eminent. O Jove, be thou mine aid,3
  • And nerve my hand to avenge my father’s wrong!
  • Stand we aside, my Pylades, that we
  • May learn the purpose of the murky pomp.

[They go aside.

Chorus, dressed in sable vestments, bearing vessels with libations.


  • Missioned from these halls I come
  • In the sable pomp of woe,
  • Here to wail and pour libations,
  • with the bosom-beating blow;
  • And my cheeks, that herald sorrow,4
  • With the fresh-cut nail-ploughed furrow,
  • Grief’s vocation show.
  • Edition: current; Page: [100]
  • See! my rent and ragged stole
  • Speaks the conflict of my soul;
  • My vex’d heart on grief is feeding,
  • Night and day withouten rest;
  • Riven with the ruthless mourning,
  • Hangs the linen vest, adorning
  • Woefully my breast.

  • Breathing wrath through nightly slumbers,
  • By a dream-encompassed lair,
  • Prophet of the house of Pelops,
  • Terror stands with bristling hair.
  • Through the dark night fitful yelling,
  • He within our inmost dwelling
  • Did the sleeper scare.
  • Heavily, heavily terror falls
  • On the woman-governed halls!
  • And, instinct with high assurance,
  • Speak the wise diviners all;
  • “The dead, the earth-hid dead are fretful,
  • And for vengeance unforgetful,
  • From their graves they call.”

  • This graceless grace to do, to ward
  • What ills the dream portendeth
  • This pomp—O mother Earth!—and me
  • The godless woman sendeth.
  • Thankless office! Can I dare,
  • Naming thee, to mock the air?
  • Blood that stains with purple track
  • The ground, what price can purchase back?
  • O the hearth beset with mourning!
  • O the proud halls’ overturning!
  • Darkness, blithe sight’s detestation,
  • Sunless sorrow spread
  • Round the house of desolation,
  • Whence the lord is fled.

  • The kingly majesty that was
  • The mighty, warlike-hearted,
  • That swayed the general ear and will,
  • The unconquered, hath departed.
  • Edition: current; Page: [101]
  • And now fear rules,5 and we obey,
  • Unwillingly, a loveless sway.
  • Who holds the key of plenty’s portals
  • Is god, and more than god to mortals;
  • But justice from her watchful station,
  • With a sure-winged visitation
  • Swoops; and some in blazing noon
  • She for doom doth mark,
  • Some in lingering eve, and some
  • In the deedless dark.
  • EPODE.

  • When mother Earth hath drunk black gore,
  • Printed on the faithful floor,
  • The staring blot remaineth;
  • There the deep disease is lurking;
  • There thrice double-guilt is working
  • Woes that none restraineth.
  • As virgin-chambers once polluted
  • Never may be pure again,
  • So filthy hands with blood bedabbled6
  • All the streams of all the rivers
  • Flow to wash in vain
  • For me I suffer what I must;
  • By ordinance divine,
  • Since Troy was levelled with the dust
  • The bondman’s fate is mine.
  • What the masters of my fate
  • In their strength decree,7
  • Just or unjust, matters not,
  • Is the law to me.
  • I must look content; and chain
  • Strongest hate with tightest rein;
  • I for my mistress’ woes must wail,
  • And for my own, beneath the veil;8
  • I must sit apart,
  • And thaw with tears my frozen heart,
  • When no eye may see.

Enter Electra.

  • Ye ministering maids with dexterous heed
  • That tend this household, as with me ye share
  • Edition: current; Page: [102]
  • This pomp of supplication, let me share
  • In your good counsel. Speak, and tell me how,
  • This flood funereal pouring on the tomb,
  • I shall find utterance in well-omened words?
  • Shall I declare me bearer of sweet gifts
  • From a dear wife to her dear lord? I fear
  • To mingle faslehood with libations pure,
  • Poured on my father’s tomb.9 Or shall I pray,
  • As mortals wont to pray, that he may send
  • Just retribution, and a worthy gift
  • Of ill for ill to them that sent these garlands?
  • Or shall I silent stand, nor with my tongue
  • Give honour, as in dumb dishonoured death
  • My father died, and give the Earth to drink
  • A joyless stream, as who throws lustral ashes10
  • With eyes averse, and flings the vase away?
  • Your counsel here I crave; ye are my friends,
  • And bear with me, within these fated halls
  • A common burden. Speak, and no craven fear
  • Lurk in your breasts! The man that lives most free,
  • And him to sternest masterdom enthralled,
  • One fate abides Lend me your wisdom, friends.
  • Thy father’s tomb shall be to me an altar;
  • As before God I’ll speak the truth to thee.

Speak thus devoutly, and thou’lt answer well.

  • Give words of seemly honour, as thou pourest,
  • To all that love thy father.

Who are they?


Thyself the first, and whoso hates Ægisthus.


That is myself and thou.


Thyself may’st judge.


Hast thou none else to swell the scanty roll?


One far away, thy brother, add—Orestes.


’Tis well remembered, very well remembered.


Nor them forget that worked the deed of guilt.


Ha! what of them? I’d hear of this more nearly.


Pray that some god may come, or mortal man.


Judge or avenger?

  • Roundly pray the prayer,
  • Some god or man may come to slay the slayer.

And may I pray the gods such boon as this?

  • Why not? What other quittance to a foe
  • Than hate repaid with hate, and blow with blow?11
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  • [approaching to the tomb of Agamemnon]. Hermes, that
  • swayest underneath the ground,*12
  • Of powers divine, Infernal and Supernal,
  • Most weighty herald, herald me in this,
  • That every subterranean god, and earth,
  • Even mother earth, who gave all things their birth,
  • And nurseth the reviving germs of all,
  • May hear my prayer, and with their sleepless eyes
  • Watch my parental halls. And while I dew
  • Thy tomb with purifying stream, O father,
  • Pity thou me, and on thy loved Orestes
  • With pity look, and to our long lost home
  • Restore us!—us, poor friendless outcasts both,
  • Bartered by her who bore us, and exchanged
  • Thy love for his who was thy murderer.
  • Myself do menial service in this house;
  • Orestes lives in exile; and they twain
  • In riot waste the fruits of thy great toils.
  • Hear thou my prayers, and quickly send Orestes
  • With happy chance to claim his father’s sceptre!
  • And give thou me a wiser heart, and hand
  • More holy-functioned than the mother’s was
  • That bore thy daughter. Thus much for myself,
  • And for my friends. To those that hate my father,
  • Rise thou with vengeance mantled-dark to smite
  • Those justly that unjustly smote the just.
  • These words of evil imprecation dire,13
  • Marring the pious tenor of my prayer,
  • I speak constrained: but thou for me and mine
  • Send good, and only good, to the upper air,
  • The gods being with thee, mother Earth, and Justice
  • With triumph in her train. This prayer receive
  • And these libations. Ye, my friends, the while
  • Let your grief blossom in luxuriant wail,
  • Lifting the solemn pæan of the dead.


  • Flow! in plashing torrents flow!
  • Wretched grief for wretched master!
  • O’er this heaped mound freely flow,
  • Refuge of my heart’s disaster!
  • O thou dark majestic shade,
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  • Hear, O hear me! While anear thee
  • Pours this sorrow-stricken maid
  • The pure libation,
  • May the solemn wail we lift
  • Atone the guilt that taints the gift
  • With desecration!
  • O that some god from Scythia far,
  • To my imploring,
  • Might send a spearman strong in war,
  • Our house restoring!
  • Come Mars, with back-bent bow, thy hail
  • Of arrows pouring,
  • Or with the hilted sword assail,
  • And in the grapple close prevail,
  • Of battle roaring!


  • These mild libations, earth-imbibed, my father
  • Hath now received. Thy further counsel lend.

In what? Within me leaps my heart for fear.


Seest thou this lock of hair upon the tomb?


A man’s hair is it, or a low-zoned maid’s?16


Few points there are to hit. ’Tis light divining


I am thine elder, yet I fain would reap Instruction from young lips

  • If it was clipt
  • From head in Argos, it should be my own.17
  • For they that should have shorn the mourning lock
  • Are foes, not friends.

’Tis like, O strange! how like!


Like what? What strange conception stirs thy brain?

  • ’Tis like—O strange!—to these same locks I wear.
  • And yet—
  • Not being yours, there’s none, I know,
  • Can claim it but Orestes.
  • In sooth, ’tis like
  • Trimmed with one plume Orestes was and I

But how should he have dared to tread this ground?

  • Belike, he sent it by another’s hand,
  • A votive lock to grace his father’s tomb.
  • Small solace to my grief, if that he lives,
  • Yet never more may touch his native soil.
  • I, too, as with a bitter wave was lashed,
  • And pierced, as with an arrow, at the sight
  • Of this loved lock; and from my thirsty eyne
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  • With troubled overflowings unrestrained
  • The full tide gushes: for none here would dare
  • To gift a lock to Agamemnon’s grave;
  • No citizen, much less the wife that slew him.
  • My mother most unmotherly, her own children
  • With godless hate pursuing, evil-minded:
  • And though to think this wandering lock have graced
  • My brother’s head—even his—my loved Orestes,
  • Were bliss too great, yet will I hold the hope.
  • O that this lock might with articulate voice
  • Pronounce a herald’s tale, and I no more
  • This way and that with dubious thought be swayed!
  • That I might know if from a hostile head
  • ’Twas shorn, and hate it as it hate deserves,
  • Or, if from friends, my sorrows’ fellow make it,
  • The dearest grace of my dear father’s tomb!
  • But the gods know our woes; them we invoke,
  • Whirled to and fro in eddies of dark doubt,
  • Like vessels tempest-tossed. If they will save us,
  • They have the power from smallest seed to raise
  • The goodliest tree. But lo! a further proof18
  • Footsteps, a perfect print, that seem to bear
  • A brotherhood with mine! Nay, there are two—
  • This claimed by him, and that by some true friend
  • That shares his wanderings. See, the heel, the sole,
  • Thus measured with my own, prove that they were
  • Both fashioned in one mould ’Tis very strange!
  • I’m racked with doubt, my wits are wandering.
  • [coming forward]. Nay, rather thank the gods! Thy first prayer granted,
  • Pray that fair end may fair beginning follow.19

Sayest thou? What cause have I to thank the gods?


Even here before thee stands thine answered prayer.


One man I wish to see: dost know him—thou?


Thy wish of wishes is to see Orestes.


Even so: but wishing answers no man’s prayer.

  • I am the man. No dearer one expect
  • That wears that name.

Nay, but this is some plot?


That were to frame a plot against myself.


Unkind, to scoff at my calamities!


To scoff at thine, were scoffing at mine own.


And can it be? Art thou indeed Orestes?

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  • My bodily self thou seest, and dost not know!
  • And yet the votive lock shorn from my head,
  • Being to thine, my sister’s hair, conform,
  • And my foot’s print with curious ardour scanned,
  • Could wing thy faith beyond the reach of sense,
  • That thou didst seem to see me! Take the lock,
  • And match it nicely with this mother crop
  • That bore it. More; behold this web,20 the fruit
  • Of thine own toil, the strokes of thine own shuttle,
  • The wild beasts of the woods by thine own hand
  • Empictured! Nay, be calm, and keep thy joy
  • Within wise bounds Too well I know that they
  • Who should be friends here are our bitterest foes.
  • O of my father’s house the chiefest care!
  • Seed of salvation, hope with many tears
  • Bewept, with thy strong arm thou shalt restore
  • Thy father’s house. O my life’s eye, thou dost
  • Four several functions corporate in one
  • Discharge for me! My father thou, and thine
  • The gentler love that should have been my mother’s,
  • My justly hated mother; and in her place,
  • Who died by merciless immolation,* thou
  • Must be my sister, so even as thou art
  • My faithful brother, loved much and revered.
  • May Power and Justice aid thee, mighty Twain,21
  • And a third mightier, Jove supremely great.
  • O Jove, great Jove, of all these things be thou
  • Spectator! And behold the orphan’d brood,
  • Of eagle father strangled in the folds
  • And deadly coil of loathly basilisk!
  • Them sireless see in dire starvation’s gripe,
  • Too weak of wing to bear unto the nest
  • Their father’s prey. So we before thee stand,
  • Myself and this Electra, sire-bereaved,
  • And exiles both from our paternal roof.
  • If we, the chickens of the pious father
  • That crowned thee with much sacrifice, shall fail,
  • Where shalt thou find a hand like his, to offer
  • Gifts from the steaming banquet? If the brood
  • Of the eagle perish, where shall be thy signs,
  • That speak from Heaven persuasive to mankind?
  • If all this royal trunk shall rot, say who,
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  • When blood of oxen flows on holidays,
  • Shall stand beside thine altar? O give ear,
  • And of this house so little now, and fallen
  • So low, rebuild the fortunes!
  • Hush, my children!
  • If ye would save your father’s house, speak softly,
  • Lest some one hear, and, with swift babblement,
  • Inform their ears who rule; whom may I see
  • Flayed on a fire, with streaming pitch well fed!
  • Fear not. The mighty oracle of Loxias,
  • By whose commands I dare the thing I dare,
  • Will not deceive me. He, with shrill-voiced warning,
  • Foretold that freezing pains through my warm liver
  • Should torturing shoot, if backward to avenge
  • My father’s death, and even as he was slain,
  • To slay the slayers, exasperate at the loss22
  • Of my so fair possessions. Thus to do
  • He gave me strict injunction: else myself
  • With terrible pains, of filial zeal remiss,
  • Should pay the fine. The evil-minded Powers
  • Beneath the Earth23 would visit me in wrath,
  • A leprous tetter with corrosive tooth
  • Creep o’er my skin, and fasten on my flesh,
  • And with white scales the white hair grow, defacing
  • My bloom of health; and from my father’s tomb
  • Ripe with avenging ire the Erinnyes
  • Should ruthlessly invade me. Thus he spake,
  • And through the dark his prescient eyebrow arched.24
  • Sharp arrows through the subterranean night,
  • Shot by dear Shades that through the Infernal halls
  • Roam peaceless, madness, and vain fear o’ nights,
  • Prick with sharp goads, and chase from street to street,
  • With iron scourge, the meagre-wasted form
  • Of the Fury-hunted sinner; him no share
  • In festal cup awaits, or hallowed drop
  • Of pure libation;25 the paternal wrath,
  • Hovering unseen, shall drive him from the altar;
  • Him shall no home receive, no lodgment hold,
  • Unhonoured and unfriended he shall die,
  • Withered and mummied with the hot dry plague.
  • Such oracle divine behoves me trust
  • With single faith, or, be I faithless, still
  • The vengeance must be done. All things concur
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  • To point my purpose; the divine command
  • My sore heart-grief for a loved father’s death,
  • The press of want, the spoiling of my goods,
  • The shame to see these noble citizens,
  • Proud Troy’s destroyers, basely bent beneath
  • The yoke of two weak women: for he hath
  • A woman’s soul: if not, the proof is near.
  • Mighty Fates, divinely guiding
  • Human fortunes to their end,
  • Send this man, with Jove presiding,
  • Whither Justice points the way.
  • Words of bitter hatred duly
  • Pay with bitter words for thus
  • With loud cry triumphant shouting
  • Justice pays the sinner’s debt.
  • Blood for blood and blow for blow,
  • Thou shalt reap as thou didst sow;
  • Age to age with hoary wisdom
  • Speaketh thus to men.26


  • O father, wretched father, with what air
  • Of word or deed impelling,
  • Shall I be strong to waft the filial prayer
  • To thy dim distant dwelling?
  • There where in dark, the dead-man’s day, thou liest,27
  • Be our sharp wailing
  • (Grace of the dead, and Hades’ honour highest),
  • With thee prevailing!


  • Son, the strong-jawed funeral fire
  • Burns not the mind in the smoky pyre;
  • Sleeps, but not forgets the dead
  • To show betimes his anger dread.
  • For the dead the living moan,
  • That the murderer may be known.
  • They who mourn for parent slain
  • Shall not pour the wail in vain,
  • Bright disclosure shall not lack
  • Who through darkness hunts the track.
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  • Hear thou our cries, O father, when for thee
  • The frequent tear is falling;
  • The wailing pair o’er thy dear tomb to thee
  • From their hearts’ depths are calling;
  • The suppliant and the exile at one tomb
  • Their sorrow showering,
  • Helpless and hopeless; mantled round with gloom,
  • Woe overpouring!
  • Nay, be calm; the god that speaks
  • With voice oracular shall attune
  • Thy throat to happier notes;
  • Instead the voice of wail funereal,
  • Soon the jubilant shout shall shake
  • His father’s halls with joy, and welcome
  • The new friend to his home.


  • If but some Lycian spear, ’neath Ilium’s walls,
  • Had lowly laid thee,
  • A mighty name in the Atridan halls
  • Thou wouldst have made thee!
  • Then hadst thou pitched thy fortune like a star,
  • To son and grandson shining from afar;
  • Beyond the wide-waved sea, the high-heaped mound
  • Had told for ever
  • Thy feats of battle, and with glory crowned
  • Thy high endeavour.


  • Ah! would that thou hadst found thy end
  • There, where dear friend fell with friend,
  • And marched with them to Hades dread,
  • The monarch of the awful dead,28
  • Sitting beside the throne with might
  • Of them that rule the realms of night;
  • For thou in life wert monarch true,
  • Expert each kingly deed to do,
  • Leading, with thy persuasive rod,
  • Submissive mortals like a god.


  • Thou wert a king, no fate it was for thee
  • To die as others
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  • ’Neath Ilium’s walls, far, far beyond the sea,
  • With many brothers.
  • Unworthy was the spear to drink thy blood,
  • Where far Scamander rolls his swirling flood.
  • Justly who slew had drawn themselves thy lot,
  • And perished rather,
  • And thou their timeless fate had welcomed, not
  • They thine, my father.
  • Child, thy grief begetteth visions
  • Brighter than gold, and overtopping
  • Hyperborean bliss.29
  • Ah, here the misery rudely riots,
  • With double lash. These twins, their help
  • Sleeps beneath the ground; and they
  • Who hold dominion here, alas!
  • With unholy sceptre sway.
  • Woe is me! but chiefly woe
  • Children dear to you!


  • Chiefly to me! Thy words shoot like an arrow,
  • And pierce my marrow.
  • O Jove, O Jove! that sendest from below30
  • The retribution slow,
  • Against the stout heart and bold hand,
  • That dared defy thy high command.
  • Even though a parent feel the woe,
  • Prepare, prepare the finished blow.


  • Mine be soon to lift the strain,
  • O’er the treacherous slayer slain,
  • To shout with bitter exultation,
  • O’er the murtherous wife’s prostration!
  • Why should I the hate conceal,
  • That spurs my heart with promptest zeal,
  • Bitter thoughts, that gathering grow,
  • Like blustering winds, that beat the plunging vessel’s prow?


  • O thou that flourishest, and mak’st to flourish,
  • By thy hands perish
  • All they that hate me! Cleave the heads of those,
  • That are Orestes’ foes!
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  • Pledge the land in peace to live,
  • For injustice justice give;
  • Ye that honoured reign below,31
  • Furies! prepare the crowning blow.
  • Wont hath been, and shall be ever,
  • That when purple gouts bedash
  • The guilty ground, then blood doth blood
  • Demand, and blood for blood shall flow.
  • Fury to Havoc cries, and Havoc,
  • The tainted track of blood pursuing,
  • From age to age works woe.


  • Ye powers of Hades dread!
  • Fell Curses of the Dead,
  • Hear me when I call!
  • Behold! The Atridan hall,
  • Dashed in dishonoured fall,
  • Lies low and graceless all.
  • O mighty Jove, I see
  • Mine only help in thee!


  • Thy piteous tale doth make my heart
  • From its central hold back start;
  • Hope departs, and blackening Fear
  • Rules my fancy, while I hear.
  • And if blithe confidence awhile32
  • Lends my dull faith the feeble smile,
  • Soon, soon departs that glimpse of cheer,
  • And all my map of things is desolate and drear.


  • For why! our tale of wrong
  • In hate of parents strong,
  • Spurneth the flatterer’s arm,
  • Mocketh the soothing charm.
  • The mother gave her child33
  • This wolfish nature wild;
  • And I from her shall learn
  • To be thus harsh and stern.
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  • Like a Persian mourner34
  • Singing sorrow’s tale,
  • Like a Cissian wailer,
  • I did weep and wail.
  • O’er my head swift-oaring
  • Came arm on arm amain,
  • The voice of my deploring
  • Like the lashing rain!
  • Sorrow’s rushing river
  • O’er me flooding spread,
  • Black misfortune’s quiver
  • Emptied on my head!
  • Mother bold, all-daring,
  • On a bloody bier
  • Thine own lord forth bearing
  • Slain without a tear.
  • Alone, unfriended he did go
  • Down to the sunless homes below.


  • Thou hast named the dire dishonor;
  • The gods shall send swift judgment on her.
  • By Heaven’s command,
  • By her own son’s hand,
  • Slain she shall lie;
  • And I, having dealt the fated death,
  • Myself shall die!


  • Be the butcher’s work remembered,
  • Mangled was he, and dismembered;
  • Like vilest clay,
  • She cast him away,
  • With burial base;
  • Mocking the son, the father branding
  • With dark disgrace.


  • Thou dost tell too truly
  • All my father’s woe.
  • I, the while, accounted
  • Lower than most low,35
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  • Like a dog, was sundered
  • From my father’s hearth,
  • An evil dog, and wandered
  • Far from seats of mirth;
  • In my chamber weeping
  • Tears of silent woe,
  • From rude gazers keeping
  • Grief too great for show.
  • Hear these words; and hearing
  • Nail them in thy soul,
  • With steady purpose nearing,
  • And noiseless pace, thy goal.
  • Go where just wrath leads the way,
  • With stout heart tread the lists to-day.



O father, help thy friends, when helping thee!


My tears, if they can help, shall flow for thee.

  • And this whole mingled choir shall raise for thee
  • The sistered cry: O hear!
  • In light of day appear,
  • And help thy banded friends, to avenge thy foes for thee!



Now might with might engage, and right with right!


And the gods justly the unjust shall smite.



  • The tremulous fear creeps o’er my frame to hear
  • Thy words; for, though long-dated,
  • The thing divinely fated
  • Shall surely come at last, our cloudy prayers to clear.


  • O home-bred pain,
  • Stroke of perdition that refuses
  • Concord with the holy Muses!
  • O burden more than heart can bear,
  • Disease that no physician’s care
  • Makes sound again!


  • So; even so.
  • No far-sent leech this tetter uses;
  • A home-bred surgery it chooses.
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  • I the red strife myself pursue,
  • Pouring this dismal hymn to you,
  • Ye gods below!
  • Blessed powers, propitious dwelling,
  • Deep in subterranean darkness,
  • Hear this pious prayer;
  • May all trials end in triumph
  • To the suppliant pair!
  • Father, who died not as a king should die,
  • Give me to rule, as thou didst rule, these halls.
  • My supplication hear, thy strong help lend me,
  • Scathless myself37 to work Ægisthus’ harm.
  • Thus of the rightful feasts that soothe the Shades
  • Thou too shalt taste,38 and not dishonoured lie,
  • When savoury fumes mount to our country’s dead.
  • And I my whole of heritage will offer,
  • The blithe libations of my marriage feast.
  • Thy tomb before all tombs I will revere.
  • O Earth, relax thy hold, and give my father
  • To see the fight!
  • O Persephassa,* send
  • The Atridan forth, in beauty clad and strength.

The bath that drank thy life remember, father.


The close-drawn meshes of thy death remember.

  • The chain, not iron-linked, that bound thee, then
  • When to the death the kingly game was hunted.

Then when with treacherous folds they curtained thee.


Wake, father, wake to avenge thy speechless wrongs!


Lift, father, lift thy dear-loved head sublime!

  • Send justice forth to work the just revenge,
  • Like quit with like, and harm with harm repay;
  • Thou wert the conquered then, rise now to conquer.
  • And hear this last request, my father, looking
  • On thy twin chickens nestling by thy tomb;
  • Pity the daughter, the male seed protect,
  • Nor let the name revered of ancient Pelops
  • Be blotted from the Earth! Thou art not dead,
  • Though housed in Hades, while thy children live,
  • For children are as echoes that prolong
  • Their parents’ fame; the floating cork are they
  • That buoyant bear the net deep sunk in the sea.
  • Hear, father—when we weep, we weep for thee,
  • And, saving us, thou savest thine own honour.
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  • Well spoken both:39 and worthily fall the tears
  • On this dear tomb, too long without them. Now,
  • If to the deed thy purpose thou hast buckled,
  • Orestes, try what speed the gods may give thee.40
  • I’ll do the deed. Meanwhile not idly this
  • I ask of thee—what moved her soul to send
  • These late libations, limping remedy
  • For wounds that cannot heal? A sorry grace
  • To feed the senseless dead with sacrifice,
  • When we have killed the living. What she means
  • I scarce may guess, but the amend is less
  • Than the offence. All ocean poured in offering
  • For the warm life-drops of one innocent man
  • Is labour lost. Old truth thus speaks to all.
  • How was it?
  • That I well may tell, for I
  • Was with her. Hideous dreams did haunt her sleep;
  • Night-wandering terrors scared her godless breast,
  • That she did send these gifts to soothe the Shades.

What saw she in her dream?

  • She dreamt, she said,
  • She had brought forth a serpent.

A serpent, say’st thou?

  • Ay! and the dragon birth portentous moved,
  • All swaddled like a boy.

Eager for food, doubtless, the new-born monster?


The nurturing nipple herself did fearless bare.


How then? escaped the nipple from the bite?

  • The gouted blood did taint the milk, that flowed
  • From the wounded paps.
  • No idle dream was this.
  • And he who sent it was my father.
  • Then
  • She from her sleep up started, and cried out,
  • And many lamps, whose splendour night had blinded,
  • Rushed forth, to wait upon their mistress’ word.
  • Straightway she sends us with funereal gifts,
  • A medicinal charm, if medicine be
  • For griefs like hers!
  • Now hear me, Earth profound,
  • And my dear father’s tomb, that so this dream
  • May find in me completion! Thus I read it—
  • As left the snake the womb that once hid me,
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  • And in the clothes was swathed that once swathed me
  • And as it sucked the breast that suckled me,
  • And mingled blood with milk once sucked by me,
  • And as she groaned with horror at the sight,
  • Thus it beseems who bore a monstrous birth
  • No common death to die. I am the serpent
  • Shall bite her breast. It is a truthful dream.
  • My seer be thou. Say have I read it well?
  • Bravely. Now, for the rest, thy friends instruct
  • What things to do, and what things to refrain.
  • ’Tis said in few. Electra, go within,
  • And keep my counsels in wise secrecy;
  • For, as they killed an honourable man
  • Deceitfully, by cunning and deceit
  • Themselves shall find the halter. Thus Apollo,
  • A prophet never known to lie, foretold.
  • Myself will come, like a wayfaring man
  • Accoutred, guest and spear-guest of this house,*
  • With Pylades, my friend, to the court gates.
  • We both will speak with a Parnassian voice,
  • Aping the Phocian tongue. If then it chance
  • (As seems most like, for this whole house with ills
  • Is sheer possessed)41 that with a welcome greeting
  • No servant shall receive us, we will wait
  • Till some one pass, and for their churlish ways
  • Rate them thus sharply. “Sirs, why dare ye shut
  • Inhospitable doors against the stranger,42
  • Making Ægisthus sin against the gods?”
  • When thus I pass the threshold of his courts,
  • And see him sitting on my father’s throne,
  • When he shall scan me face to face, and seek
  • To hear my tale; ere he may say the word,
  • Whence is the stranger? I will lay him dead,
  • Dressing him trimly o’er with points of steel.
  • The Fury thus, not scanted of her banquet,
  • Shall drink unmingled blood from Pelops’ veins,
  • The third and crowning cup.43 Now, sister, see to ’t
  • That all within be ordered, as shall serve
  • My end most fitly. Ye, when ye shall speak,
  • Speak words of happy omen; teach your tongue
  • Both to be silent, and to speak in season.
  • For what remains, his present aid I ask,
  • Who laid on my poor wits this bloody task.44


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  • Earth breeds a fearful progeny,45
  • To man a hostile band,
  • With finny monsters teems the sea,
  • With creeping plagues the land;
  • And winged portents scour mid-air,
  • And flaring lightnings fly,
  • And storms, sublimely coursing, scare
  • The fields of the silent sky.

  • But Earth begets no monster dire
  • Than man’s own heart more dreaded,
  • All-venturing woman’s dreadful ire,46
  • When love to woe is wedded.
  • No mate with mate there gently dwells,
  • There peace and joy depart,
  • Where loveless love triumphant swells,
  • In fearless woman’s heart.

  • This the light-witted may not know,
  • The wise shall understand,
  • Who hear the tale from age to age,
  • How Thestios’ daughter, wild with rage,47
  • Lighted the fatal brand,
  • The brand that burned with conscious flashes
  • At the cry of her new-born son;
  • And, when the brand had burned to ashes,
  • His measured course was run.

  • And yet a tale of bloody love
  • From hoary eld I know,
  • How Scylla gay, in gold arrayed,48
  • The gift of Minos old, betrayed
  • Her father to the foe.
  • Sleeping all careless as he lay,
  • She cut the immortal hair,
  • And Hermes bore his life away,
  • From the bold and blushless fair.
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  • Ah me! not far needs fancy range
  • For tales of harshest wrong:
  • Here, even here, damned wedlock thrives,
  • And lawless loves are strong.
  • Within these halls, where blazes now
  • No holy hearth, a bloody vow
  • Against her liege lord’s life
  • She vowed; and he, the king divine,
  • Whose look back-drove the bristling line,
  • Bled by a woman’s knife.

  • O woman! woman! Lemnos saw49
  • Your jealous fountains flow,
  • And, when the worst of woes is named,
  • It is a Lemnian woe.
  • From age to age the infected tale,
  • Far echoed by a wandering wail,
  • To East and West shall go;
  • And honor from the threshold hies,
  • On which the doom god-spoken lies;50
  • Speak I not wisely so?

  • Right through the heart shall pierce the blow,
  • When Justice is the sinner’s foe,
  • With the avenging steel;
  • In vain with brief success they strove,
  • Who trampled on the law of Jove,
  • With unregarding heel.

  • Firm is the base of Justice. Fate,
  • With whetted knife, doth eager wait
  • At hoary Murder’s door;
  • The Fury, with dark-bosomed ire,
  • Doth send the son a mission dire,
  • To clear the parent’s score.

Enter Orestes.

  • What, ho! dost hear no knocking? boy! within!
  • Is none within, boy? ho! dost hear me call
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  • The third time at thy portal? Is Ægisthus
  • A man, whose ears are deaf to the strangers’ cry?

[appearing at the door]. Enough I hear thee. Who art thou, and whence?

  • Tell those within that a poor stranger waits
  • Before the gate, bearer of weighty news.
  • Speed thee; night’s dusky chariot swoopeth down,
  • And the dark hour invites the travelling man
  • To fix his anchor ’neath some friendly roof.
  • Thy mistress I would see, if here a mistress
  • Rules, or thy master rather, if a master.
  • For with a man a man may plainly deal,
  • But nice regard for the fine feeling ear51
  • Oft mars the teller’s tale, when women hear.

Enter Clytemnestra.

  • Strangers, speak your desire. Whate’er becomes
  • This house to give is free to you to share.
  • Hot baths,52 a couch to soothe your travelled toil,
  • Blithe welcoming eyes, and gentle tendance; these
  • I freely give. If aught beyond ye crave,
  • There’s counsel with my lord. I’ll speak to him.
  • I am a stranger come from Phocian Daulis.
  • When I, my burden to my back well saddled,
  • Stood for the road accoutred, lo! a man
  • To me not known, nor of me knowing more,
  • But seeing only that my feet were bound
  • For Argos, thus accosted me (his name,
  • I learned, was Strophius the Phocian): Stranger,
  • If Argos be thy purpose, bear this message
  • From me to whom it touches near. Orestes
  • Is dead; charge well thy memory with the tale,
  • And bring me mandate back, if so his friends
  • Would have him carried to his native home,
  • Or he with us due sepulture shall find,
  • A sojourner for ever. A brazen urn
  • Holds all the remnant of the much-wept man,
  • The ashes of his clay. Thus Strophius spake:
  • And if ye are the friends, whom chiefly grief
  • Pricks for his loss, my mission’s done; at least
  • His parents will be grieved to hear ’t.


  • Woe’s me!
  • Sheer down we topple from proud height; harsh fate
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  • Is ours to wrestle with. O jealous Curse,
  • How dost thou eye us fatal from afar,
  • And with thy well-trimmed bow shoot chiefly there
  • Where thou wert least suspect! Thou hast me now
  • A helpless captive lorn, and reft of all
  • My trustiest friends. Orestes also gone,
  • Whose feet above the miry slough most sure
  • Seemed planted! Now our revelry of hope,
  • The fair account that should have surgeoned woe,
  • Is audited at nothing!54
  • Would the gods,
  • Where happy hosts give welcome, I were guest
  • On a more pleasant tale! The entertained
  • No greater joy can know than with good news
  • To recreate his entertainer’s ears;
  • But piety forbade, nor faith allowed
  • To lop the head of truth.
  • Thou shalt not fare the worse for thy bad news,
  • Nor be less dear to us. Hadst thou been dumb,
  • Some other tongue had vented the sad tale.
  • But ye have travelled weary leagues to-day,
  • And doubtless need restoring. Take him, boy,
  • With the attendant sharers of his travel,
  • To the men’s chambers. See them well bestowed,
  • And do all things as one, that for neglect
  • Shall give account. Meanwhile, our lord shall know
  • What fate hath chanced, his wit and mine shall find
  • What solace may be for these news unkind.

[Exeunt into the house.

  • When, O when, shall we, my sisters,
  • Lift the strong full-throated hymn,
  • To greet Orestes’ triumph? Thou,
  • O sacred Earth, and verge revered
  • Of this lofty mound, where sleeps
  • The kingly helmsman of our State,
  • Hear thou, and help! prevail the hour
  • Of suasive wile, and smooth deceit!55
  • Herald him Hermes—lead him, thou
  • The nightly courier of the dead,56
  • Through this black business of the sword!
  • In sooth the host hath housed a grievous guest;
  • For see where comes Orestes’ nurse, all tears!
  • Where goest thou, nurse, beyond our gates to walk,
  • And why walks Grief, an unfee’d page, with thee!
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Enter Nurse.

  • My mistress bids me bring Ægisthus quickly,
  • To see the strangers face to face, that he
  • May of their sad tale more assurance win
  • From their own mouths. Herself to us doth show
  • A murky-visaged grief; but in her eye
  • Twinkles a secret joy, that time hath brought
  • The consummation most devoutly wished
  • By her—to us and Agamemnon’s house
  • Most fatal issue, if these news be true.
  • Ægisthus, too, with a light heart will hear
  • These Phocian tidings. O wretched me! what weight
  • Of mingled woes from sire to son bequeathed,
  • Have the gods burdened us withal! Myself,
  • How many griefs have shaken my old heart;
  • But this o’ertops them all! The rest I bore,
  • As best I might, with patience: but Orestes,
  • My own dear boy, my daily, hourly care,
  • Whom from his mother’s womb these breasts did suckle—
  • How often did I rise o’ nights, and walked
  • From room to room, to soothe his baby cries;
  • But all my nursing now, and all my cares
  • Fall fruitless. ’Tis a pithless thing a child,
  • No forest whelp so helpless; one must even
  • Wait on its humour, as the hour may bring.
  • No voice it has to speak its fitful wants,
  • When hunger, thirst, or Nature’s need commands.
  • The infant’s belly asks no counsel. I
  • Was a wise prophetess to all his wants,
  • Though sometimes false, as others are. I was
  • Nurse to the child, and fuller to its clothes,
  • And both to one sad end. Alack the day!
  • This double trade with little fruit I plied,
  • What time I nursed Orestes for his father;
  • For he is dead, and I must live to hear it.
  • But I must go, and glad his heart, who lives
  • Plague of this house, with news that make me weep.

What say’st thou, Nurse? how shall thy master come?


How say’st thou? how shall I receive the question?


Alone, I mean, or with his guards?

  • She says
  • His spearmen shall attend him.
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  • Not so, Nurse!
  • If thou dost hate our most hate-worthy master,
  • Tell him to come alone, without delay,
  • To hear glad tidings with exulting heart.
  • The bearer of a tale can make it wear
  • What face he pleases.57
  • Well! if thou mean’st well,
  • Perhaps—
  • Perhaps that Jove may make the breeze
  • Yet veer to us.
  • How so? Our only hope,
  • Orestes, is no more.
  • Softly, good Nurse;
  • Thou art an evil prophet, if thou say’st so.

How? hast thou news to a different tune?

  • Go! go!
  • Mind thine own business, and the gods will do
  • What thing they will do.
  • Well! I’ll do thy bidding!
  • The gods lead all things to a fair conclusion!

  • O thou, o’er all Olympian gods that be,
  • Supremely swaying,
  • With words of wisdom, when I pray to thee,
  • Inspire my praying.
  • We can but pray; to do, O Jove, is thine,
  • Thou great director;
  • Of him within, who works thy will divine,
  • Be thou protector!
  • Him raise, the orphaned son whom thou dost see
  • In sheer prostration;
  • Twofold and threefold he shall find from thee
  • Just compensation.

  • But hard the toil. Yoked to the car of Fate,
  • When harshly driven,
  • O rein him thou! his goaded speed abate
  • Wisely from Heaven!
  • Jove tempers all, steadies all things that reel;
  • When wildly swerveth
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  • From the safe line life’s burning chariot wheel,
  • His hand preserveth.
  • Ye gods, that guard these gold-stored halls, this day
  • Receive the claimant,
  • Who comes, that old Wrong to young Right may pay
  • A purple payment.

  • Blood begets blood; but, when this blow shall fall,
  • O thou, whose dwelling
  • Is Delphi’s fuming throat, may this be all!
  • Of red blood, welling
  • From guilty veins, enough. Henceforth may joy
  • Look from the eyes of the Atridan boy,
  • Discerning clearly
  • From his ancestral halls the clouds unrolled,
  • That hung so drearly.

  • And thou, O Maia’s son,* fair breezes blow,
  • The full sail swelling!
  • Cunning art thou through murky ways to go,
  • To Death’s dim dwelling;
  • Dark are the doings of the gods; and we,
  • When they are clearest shown, but dimly see;
  • Yet faith will follow
  • Where Hermes leads, the leader of the dead,
  • And thou, Apollo.
  • EPODE.

  • Crown ye the deed; then will I freely pour
  • The blithe libation,
  • And, with pure offerings, cleanse the Atridan floor
  • From desecration!
  • Then with my prosperous hymn the lyre shall blend
  • Its kindly chorus,
  • And Argos shall be glad, and every friend
  • Rejoice before us!
  • Gird thee with manhood, boy; though hard to do,
  • It is thy father’s work; to him be true.
  • And, when she cries—Son, wilt thou kill thy Mother?
  • Cry—Father, Father! and with that name smother
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  • The rising ruth. As Perseus, when he slew
  • The stony Dread,* was stony-hearted, do
  • Thy mission stoutly;
  • For him below, and her above, pursue
  • This work devoutly.
  • The gods by thee, in righteous judgment, show
  • Their grace untender!
  • Thou to the man, that dealt the deathful blow,
  • Like death shalt render.

Enter Ægisthus.

  • Not uninvited come I, having heard
  • A rumour strange, by certain strangers brought,
  • No pleasant tale—Orestes’ death. In sooth,
  • A heavy fear-distilling sorrow this,
  • More than a house may bear, whose wounds yet bleed,
  • And ulcerate from the fangs of fate. But say,
  • Is this a fact that looks us in the face,
  • Or startling words of woman’s fears begotten,
  • That shoot like meteors through the air, and die?
  • What proof, ye maids, what proof?
  • Our ears have heard.
  • But go within; thyself shalt see the man;
  • Try well the teller, e’er thou trust the tale.
  • I’ll scan him well, and prove him close, if he
  • Himself was at the death, or but repeat
  • From blind report the news another told.
  • It will go hard, if idle breath cheat me.
  • My eyes are in my head, and I can see.

[Exit into the house.

  • Jove! great Jove! What shall I say?
  • How with pious fervour pray,
  • That from thee the answer fair
  • Be wafted to my friendly prayer?
  • Now the keen-edged axe shall strike,
  • With a life-destroying blow;
  • Now, or, plunged in deep perdition,
  • Agamemnon’s house sinks low,
  • Or the hearth with hope this day
  • Shall blaze, through all the ransomed halls,
  • And the son his father’s wealth
  • Shall win, and with his sceptre sway.
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  • In the bloody combat fresh,
  • He shall risk it, one with two;
  • Hand to hand the fight shall be.
  • Godlike son of Agamemnon,
  • Jove give strength to thee!

[from within]. Ah me! I fall. Ah! Ah!

  • Hear’st thou that cry? How is’t? Whose was that groan?
  • Let’s go aside, the deed being done, that we
  • Seem not partakers of the bloody work.59
  • ’Tis ended now.

Enter Servant.

  • Woe’s me! my murdered master!
  • Thrice woeful deed! Ægisthus lives no more.
  • Open the women’s gates! uncase the bolts!
  • Were needed here a Titan’s strength—though that
  • Would nothing boot the dead. Ho! hillo! ho!
  • Are all here deaf? or do I babble breath
  • In sleepers’ ears? Where, where is Clytemnestra?
  • What keeps my mistress? On a razor’s edge
  • Her fate now lies; the blow’s already poised,
  • That falls on her too—nor unjustly falls.

Enter Clytemnestra.


Well! what’s the matter? why this clamorous cry?


He, who was dead, has slain the quick. ’Tis so.

  • Ha! Thou speak’st riddles; but I understand thee.
  • We die by guile, as guilefully we slew.
  • Bring me an axe! an axe to kill a man!
  • Quickly!—or conqueror or conquered, I
  • Will fight it out. To this ’tis come at last.

Enter Orestes, dragging in the dead body of Ægisthus; with him Pylades.


Thee next I seek. For him, he hath enough.


Ah me! my lord, my loved Ægisthus dead!

  • Dost love this man? then thou shalt sleep with him,
  • In the same tomb. He was thy bedmate living,
  • Be thou his comrade, dead.
  • Hold thee, my son!
  • Look on this breast, to which with slumbrous eyes
  • Thou oft hast clung, the while thy baby gum
  • Sucked the nutritious milk.
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  • What say’st thou, Pylades?
  • Shall I curtail the work, and spare my mother?
  • Bethink thee well; the Loxian oracles,
  • Thy sure-pledged vows, where are they, if she live?
  • Make every man thy foe, but fear the gods.
  • Thy voice shall rule in this; thou judgest wisely.
  • Follow this man, here, side by side with him,
  • I’ll butcher thee. Seemed he a fairer man
  • Than was my father when my father lived?
  • Sleep thou, where he sleeps; him thou lovest well,
  • And whom thou chiefly shouldst have loved thou hatedst.

I nursed thy childhood, and in peace would die.60


Spare thee to live with me—my father’s murderer?


Not I; say rather Fate ordained his death.


The self-same Fate ordains thee now to die.


My curse beware, the mother’s curse that bore thee.


That cast me homeless from my father’s house.


Nay; to a friendly house I lent thee, boy.


Being free-born, I like a slave was sold.


I trafficked not with thee. I gat no gold.


Worse—worse than gold—a thing too foul to name!


Name all my faults; but had thy father none?

  • Thou art a woman sitting in thy chamber.61
  • Judge not the man that goes abroad, and labours.

Hard was my lot, my child, alone, uncherished.

  • Alone by the fire, while for thy gentle ease
  • The husband toiled.

Thou wilt not kill me, son?


I kill thee not. Thyself dost kill thyself.


Beware thy mother’s anger-whetted hounds.*


My father’s hounds have hunted me to thee.

  • The stone that sepulchres the dead art thou,
  • And I the tear on’t.
  • Cease: I voyaged here,
  • With a fair breeze; my father’s murder brought me.

Ah me! I nursed a serpent on my breast.



  • Thou hadst a prophet in thy dream, last night;
  • And since thou kill’d the man thou shouldst have spared,
  • The man, that now should spare thee, can but kill.

[He drives her into the house, and there murders her.

  • There’s food for sorrow here; but rather, since
  • Orestes could not choose but scale the height
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  • Of bloody enterprise, our prayer is this:
  • That he, the eye of this great house, may live.63

  • Hall of old Priam, with sorrow unbearable,
  • Vengeance hath come on the Argive thy foe;
  • A pair of grim lions, a double Mars terrible,64
  • Comes to his palace, that levelled thee low.
  • Chanced hath the doom of the guilty precisely,
  • Even as Phœbus foretold it, and wisely
  • Where the god pointed, was levelled the blow.
  • Lift up the hymn of rejoicing; the lecherous,
  • Sin-laden tyrant shall lord it no more;
  • No more shall the mistress so bloody and treacherous
  • Lavish the plundered Pelopidan store.

  • Sore chastisement65 came on the doomed and devoted,
  • With dark-brooding purpose and fair-smiling show;
  • And the daughter of Jove the eternal was noted,
  • Guiding the hand that inflicted the blow—
  • Bright Justice, of Jove, the Olympian daughter;
  • But blasted they fell with the breath of her slaughter
  • Whose deeds of injustice made Justice their foe.
  • Her from his shrine sent the rock-throned Apollo,66
  • The will of her high-purposed sire to obey,
  • The track of the blood-stained remorseless to follow,
  • Winged with sure death, though she lag by the way.
  • EPODE.

  • Ye rulers on Earth, fear the rulers in Heaven,
  • No aid by the gods to the froward is given;
  • For the bonds of our thraldom asunder are riven,
  • And the day dawns clear.
  • Lift up your heads; from prostration untimely
  • Ye halls of the mighty be lifted sublimely!
  • All-perfecting Time shall bring swift restitution,
  • And cleanse the hearth pure from the gory pollution,
  • Now the day dawns clear.
  • And blithely shall welcome them Fortune the fairest,67
  • The brother and sister, with omens the rarest;
  • Each friend of this house show the warm love thou bearest,
  • Now the day dawns clear!
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Enter Orestes, with the body of Clytemnestra.

  • Behold this tyrant pair, my father’s murderers,
  • Usurpers of this land, and of this house
  • Destroyers. They this throne did use in pride,
  • And now in love, as whoso looks may guess,
  • They lie together, all their vows fulfilled.
  • Death to my hapless father, and to lie
  • Themselves on a common bier—this was their vow;
  • And they have vowed it well. Behold these toils,
  • Wherewith they worked destruction to my father,
  • Chained his free feet, and manacled his hands.
  • There—spread it forth—approach—peruse it nicely.
  • This mortal vest, that so the father—not
  • My father, but the Sun that fathers all
  • With light68—may see what godless deed was done
  • Here by my mother. Let him witness duly,
  • That not unjustly I have spilt this blood—
  • My mother’s; for Ægisthus recks me not;
  • As an adulterer should, he died: but she,
  • That did devise such foul detested wrong
  • Against the lord, to whom beneath her zone
  • She bore a burden, once so valued, now
  • A weight that damns her; what was she?—a viper
  • Or a torpedo—that with biteless touch
  • Strikes numb who handles.69 Harsh the smoothest phrase
  • To name the bold unrighteous will she used.
  • And for this fowler’s net—this snare—this trap—
  • This cloth to wrap the dead70—this veil to curtain
  • A bloody bath—teach me a name for it!
  • Such murderous toils the ruffians use, who spill
  • Their neighbour’s blood, that they may seize his gold,
  • And warm their heart with plenty not their own.
  • Lodge no such mate with me! Sooner may I
  • Live by high Heaven accursed, and childless die.
  • A sorry work—alas! alas!
  • A dismal death she found.
  • Nor sorrow quite from man may pass
  • That lives above the ground.
  • A speaking proof! Behold, Ægisthus’ sword
  • Hath left its witness on this robe; the time
  • Hath paled the murtherous spot, but where it was
  • The sumptuous stole hath lost its radiant dye.
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  • Alas! I know not, when mine eyes behold
  • This father-murdering web, if I should own
  • Joy lord, or grief. Let grief prevail. I grieve
  • Our crimes, our woes, our generation doomed,
  • Our tearful trophies blazoned with a curse.
  • The gods so will that, soon or late,
  • Each mortal taste of sorrow;
  • A frown to-day from surly Fate,
  • A biting blast to-morrow.
  • Others ’twixt hope and fear may sway, my fate
  • Is fixed and scapeless.71 Like a charioteer,
  • Dragged from his course by steeds that spurned the rein,
  • Thoughts past control usurp me. Terror lifts,
  • Even now, the prelude to her savage hymn,
  • Within my heart exultant. But, while yet
  • My sober mind remains, witness ye all
  • My friends, this solemn abjuration! Not
  • Unjustly, when I slew, I slew my mother—
  • That mother, with my father’s blood polluted,
  • Of every god abhorred. And I protest
  • The god that charmed me to the daring point
  • Was Loxias, with his Pythian oracles,
  • Pledging me blameless, this harsh work once done,
  • Not done, foredooming what I will not say;
  • All thoughts most horrible undershoot the mark.
  • And now behold me, as a suppliant goes,
  • With soft-wreathed wool, and precatory branch,72
  • Addressed for Delphi, the firm-seated shrine
  • Of Loxias, navel of earth, where burns the flame
  • Of fire immortal named.73 For I must flee
  • This kindred blood, and hie me where the god
  • Forespoke me refuge. Once again I call
  • On you, and Argive men of every time,
  • To witness my great griefs. I go an exile
  • From this dear soil. Living, or dead, I leave
  • These words, the one sad memory of my name.
  • Thou hast done well; yoke not thy mouth this day
  • To evil words. Thou art the liberator
  • Of universal Argos, justly greeted,
  • Who from the dragon pair the head hath lopped.

[The Furies appear in the background.

  • Ah, me! see there! like Gorgons! look! look there!
  • Edition: current; Page: [130]
  • All dusky-vested, and their locks entwined
  • With knotted snakes. Away! I may not stay.
  • O son, loved of thy sire, be calm, nor let
  • Vain phantoms fret thy soul, in triumph’s hour.
  • These are no phantoms, but substantial horrors;
  • Too like themselves they show, the infernal hounds
  • Sent from my mother!
  • ’Tis the fresh-gouted blood
  • Upon thy hand, that breeds thy brain’s distraction.
  • Ha! how they swarm! Apollo! more—yet more!
  • And from their fell eyes droppeth murderous gore.
  • There is atonement.74 Touch but Loxias’ altar,
  • And he from bloody stain shall wash thee clean.
  • Ye see them not. I see them.75 There!—Away!
  • The hell-hounds hunt me: here I may not stay.
  • Nay, but with blessing go. From fatal harm
  • Guard thee the god whose eyes in love behold thee!76
  • Blown hath now the third harsh tempest,
  • O’er the proud Atridan palace,
  • Floods of family woe!
  • First thy damned feast, Thyestes,
  • On thy children’s flesh abhorrent;
  • Then the kingly man’s prostration,
  • And thy warlike pride, Achaia,
  • Butchered in a bath,
  • Now he, too, our greeted Saviour
  • Red with this new woe!
  • When shall Fate’s stern work be ended,
  • When shall cease the boisterous vengeance,
  • Hushed in slumbers low?


Here we have a notable example of the terms of that sort of excommunication which the religious and social feeling of the ancients passed against the perpetrators of atrocious crimes. See Introductory Remarks to the Eumenides.

  • “προς γαρ Διος ἐισιν ἂπαντες
  • ξεινοί τε πτωχοί τε.”

All strangers and beggars come from Jove.

  • ’εν ὰγγελῳ γὰρ κρυπτὸς ὠρθωθῃ ϕρενὶ
  • animo enini clam erigatur nuntio isto.

—See Butler’s Notes.

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  • ἄλγεα
  • Πολλὰ μἀλ’ δσσα τε μητρὸς Ἐριννύες ἐκτελέουσιν.
  • Odyssey xi. 289.
  • My solitude is solitude no more,
  • But peopled with the Furies
  • Byron.
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The Pythoness of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.


Hermes (Mute).

The Shade of Clytemnestra.

Chorus of Furies.

Pallas Athena.

Judges of the Court of Areopagus (Mute).

Convoy of the Furies.

SceneFirst at Delphi in the Temple of Apollo; then on the Hill of Mars, Athens.

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Though the ancient Greek religion, there can be no question, was too much the creation of mere imagination, and tended rather to cultivate a delicate sense of beauty than to strike the soul with a severe reverence before the awful majesty of the moral law, yet it is no less certain that to look upon it as altogether addressed to our sensuous emotions, however convenient for a certain shallow school of theology, would lead the calm inquirer after moral truth far away from the right track. As among the gods that rule over the elements of the physical world, Jove, according to the Homeric creed, asserts a high supremacy, which restrains the liberty of the celestial aristocracy from running into lawless licence and confusion; so the wild and wanton ebullitions of human passion, over which a Bacchus, a Venus, and a Mars preside, are not free from the constant control of a righteous Jove, and the sacred terror of a retributive Erinnys. The great lesson of a moral government, and a secret order of justice pervading the apparent confusion of the system of things of which we are a part, is sufficiently obvious in the whole structure of the two great Homeric poems; but if it exists in the midst of that sunny luxuriance of popular fancy as a felt atmosphere, it is planted by Æschylus, the thoughtful lyrist of a later age, on a visible elevation, whence, as from a natural pulpit, enveloped with dark clouds, or from a Heathen Sinai, involved in fearful thunders and lightnings, it trumpets forth its warnings, and hurls its bolts of flaming denunciation against Sin. The reader, who has gone through the two preceding pieces of this remarkable trilogy, without discovering this their deep moral significance, has read to little purpose; but it is here, in the concluding piece, that the grand doctrine of the moral government of the world is most formally enunciated; it is in the person of the Furies that the wrathful indignation of Jove against the violators of the moral law manifests itself, in the full panoply of terror, and stands out as the stern Avatar of an inexorable Justice. Here, therefore, if we will understand the moral seriousness, of which the gay Hellenic Polytheism was not without its background, let us fix our gaze. If the principles of “immutable morality,” of which our great English Platonist talks so comprehensively, are to be found anywhere, they are to be found here.

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The Furies (or the Εὐμενίδες, i.e. the Gracious-minded, as they are called by a delicate euphemism) are generally looked upon as the impersonations of an evil conscience, the incarnated scourges of self-reproach. In this view there is no essential error; but it may be beneficial, in entering on the perusal of the present piece, to place before the modern reader more literally the true Homeric idea of these awful Powers. In the Iliad and Odyssey, frequent mention is made of the Erinnyes; and from the circumstances, in which their names occur, in various passages of these poems, there can be no doubt that we are to view them primarily as the impersonation of an imprecation or curse, which a person, whose natural rights have been grossly violated, pronounces on the person, by whom this violation comes.* Thus the father of Phoenix (Il. ix. 453), being offended by the conduct of his son in relation to one of his concubines, “loads him with frequent curses, and invokes the hated Furies”—

Πολλὰ κατηρατο, στυγερὰς δ’ ἐπίκεκλετ Εριννῠς,

and “the gods,” it is added, “gave accomplishment to his curse, the subterranean Jove, and the awful Persephone” In the same book we find, in the narration of the war, between the Curetes and the Ætolians, about Calydon, how Althaea, the mother of Meleager, being offended with her son on account of his having slain her brother, cursed him, and invoked Pluto and Proserpine that he might die, and

  • Her the Fury that walketh in darkness,
  • Heard from Erebus’ depths, with a heart that knoweth no mercy.

Both these instances relate to offences committed against the revered character of a parent; but the elder brother also has his Erinnys.—(Il. xv. 204), and even the houseless beggar—(Od. xvii. 575), and, more than all, he to whose prejudice the sacred obligation of truth and honour have been set at nought by the perjured swearer—

  • Mighty Jove, be thou my witness, Jove of gods supremest, best,
  • Earth, and Sun, and Furies dread, that underneath the ground avenge
  • Whoso speaks and sweareth falsely—

says Agamemnon—(Il. xix. 257)—in restoring the intact Briseis to Achilles.

Thus, according to Homer’s idea, wherever there is a cry of righteous indignation, rising up to Heaven from the breast of an injured person, there may be a Fury or Furies; for they are not Edition: current; Page: [135] limited or defined in any way as to number. It is not, however, on every petty occasion of common offence that these dread ministers of divine vengeance appear. Only, when deeds of a deeper darkness are done, do these daughters of primeval Night (for so Æschylus symbolises their pedigree) issue forth from their subterranean caverns. There is something volcanic in their indignation, whose eruption is too terrible to be common. They chiefly frequent the paths, that are dabbled with blood. A murdered father, or a murdered mother especially, were never known to appeal to them in vain, even though Jove’s own prophet, Apollo, add his sanction to the deed. An Orestes may not hope to escape the bloody chase, which the “winged hounds,” invoked by a murdered Clytemnestra, are eager to prepare—the sacred precincts of an oracular Delphi may not repel their intrusion—the scent of blood “laughs in their nostrils,” and they will not be cheated of their game. Only one greatest goddess, in whose hands are the keys of her father’s armoury of thunder, may withstand the full rush of these vindictive powers. Only Pallas Athena, with her panoply of Olympian strength, and her divine wisdom of reconciliation can bid them be pacified.

In order to understand thoroughly the situation of the matricide Orestes, in the present play, we must consider further the ancient doctrine of pollution attaching to an act of murder, and the consequent necessity of purification to the offender. The nature of this is distinctly set forth by Orestes himself in a reply to his sister Iphigenia, put into his mouth by Euripides. “Loxias,” he says, “first sent me to Athens, and

  • There first arrived, no host would entertain me,
  • As being hated of the immortal gods,
  • And some, who pitied me, before me placed
  • Cold entertainment on a separate board;
  • Beneath the same roof though I lodged with them,
  • No interchange of living voice I knew,
  • But sat apart and ate my food alone.”
  • Iphig. Taur. 954.

Like an unclean leper among the Jews, the man polluted with human blood wandered from land to land, as with a Cain’s mark upon his brow, and every fellow-being shrank from his touch as from a living plague.

  • “For wisely thus our ancestors ordained,
  • That the blood-tainted man should know no joy
  • From sight of fellow-mortal or from touch,
  • But with an horrid sanctitude protected
  • Range the wide earth an exile.”
  • Eurip. Orest. 512.
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Under the ban of such a social excommunication as this, the first act of readmission into the fraternity of human society was performed by the sprinkling of swine’s blood on the exile, a ceremony described particularly in the following passage of Apollonius Rhodius, where Jason and Medea are purified by Circe from the taint of the murder of Absyrtus:—

  • “First to free them from the taint of murder not to be recalled,
  • She above them stretched the suckling of a sow whose teats distilled
  • The juice that flows when birth is recent; this she cut across the throat,
  • And with the crimson blood outflowing dashed the tainted suppliants’ hands.
  • Then with other pure libations she allayed the harm, invoking
  • Jove that hears the supplication of the fugitive stained with blood”
  • Argon. IV. 704-9.

The other “pure libations” here mentioned include specially water, of which particular mention is made in the legend of Alcmæon, which bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Orestes, and in which it is in the sacred stream of the Achelous alone that purification is at length found, from the deeply-engrained guilt of matricide.—(Apollodor, Lib. III., c. 7.) All this, however, availed only to remove the unhallowed taint, with which human blood had defiled the murderer. It was necessary, further, that he should be tried before a competent court, and formally acquitted, as having performed every atonement and given every satisfaction that the nature of the case required. According to the consuetudinary law of Athens, there were various courts in which different cases of murder and manslaughter were tried; but of all the courts that held solemn judgment on shed blood, none was more venerable in its origin, or more weighty in its authority, than the famous court of the Areopagus; and here it is, accordingly, that, after being wearied out by the sleepless chase of his relentless pursuers, Orestes, with the advice and under the protection of Apollo, arrives to gain peace to his soul by a final verdict of acquittal from the sage elders of Athens, acting by the authority and with the direction of their wise patron-goddess, Athena.

The connection of Athena and the Areopagus with the Orestean legend gives to the present play a local interest and a patriotic hue of which the want is too often felt in the existing remains of the Attic tragedy. But Athena and the grave seniors of the hill of Ares are not the only celestial personages here, in whom an Athenian audience would find a living interest. The Furies themselves enjoyed a special reverence in the capital of Athens, under the title of Σεμνὰι θεαι, or the dread goddesses, and the principal seat of this worship, whether by a happy conjunction or a wise choice, was situated on Edition: current; Page: [137] the north-east side (looking towards the Acropolis) of that very hill of the war god, where the venerable court that bore his name held its solemn sessions on those crimes, which it was the principal function of the Furies to avenge. Up to the present hour, the curious traveller through the wreck of Athenian grandeur sees pointed out the black rift of the rock into which the awful virgins, after accepting the pacification of Athena, are reported to have descended into their subterranean homes;* and it is with this very descent, amid flaming torch-light and solemn hymns, that the great tragedian, mingling peace with fear, closes worthily the train of startling superhuman terrors which this drama exhibits.

But Æschylus is not a patriot only, and a pious worshipper of his country’s gods in this play, he is also, to some small extent at least, manifestly a politician. The main feature of the constitutional history of Athens in the period immediately following the great Persian war, to which period our trilogy belongs, was the enlargement and the systematic completion of those democratic forms, of which the timocratic legislation of Solon, about a century and a-half before, had planted the first germs. Of these changes, Pericles, the man above all others who knew both to understand and to control his age, was the chief promoter; and in a policy whose main tendency was the substitution of a numerous popular for a narrow professional control of public business, it could not fail to be a main feature, that the authority of the judges of the old aristocratic courts was curtailed in favour of those bodies of paid jurymen, the institution of which is specially attributed to Pericles and his coadjutor Ephialtes. Whether these changes were politic or not, in the large sense of that word, need not be inquired here; Mr. Grote has done much to lengthen the focus of those short-sighted national spectacles, through which the English eye has been accustomed to view the classic democracies; but let it be that Pericles kept within the bounds of a wise liberty in giving a fair and a large trial to the action of democratic principles at that time and place; or let it be, on the other hand, that he overstepped the line

  • “Which whoso passes, or who reaches not,
  • Misses the mark of right”—

in either case, where decision was so difficult, and discretion so delicate, no one can accuse the thoughtful tragic poet of a stolid conservatism, when he comes forward, in this play, as the advocate of Edition: current; Page: [138] the only court of high jurisdiction in Athens, now left unshaken by the great surge of those popular billows, that were yet swelling everywhere with the eager inspiration of Marathon and Salamis.* The court of Areopagus was not now, since the legislation of Solon, and the further democratic movement of Cleisthenes, in any invidious or exclusive sense an aristocratic assembly, such as the close corporations of the old Roman aristocracy before the series of popular changes introduced by Licinius Stolo; it was a council, in fact, altogether without that family and hereditary element, in which the principal offence of aristocracy has always lain; its members were composed entirely (not recruited merely like our House of Lords) of those superior magistrates—archons annually elected by the people—who had retired from office. To magnify the authority of such a body, and maintain intact the few privileges that had now been left it, was, when an obvious opportunity offered, not only excusable in a great national tragedian, but imperative. One thing his political attitude in this matter certainly proves, that he was not a vulgar hunter after popularity, delighting to swell to the point of insane exaggeration the cry of the hour, but one of those men of high purpose, who prove a greater strength of patriotism by stemming the popular stream, than by swimming with it.

Besides the championship of the Court of the Areopagus, there is another political element in this rich drama, which, though of less consequence, must not be omitted. No sooner had the Persian invaders been fairly driven back from the Hellenic shore, than that old spirit of narrow local jealousy, which was the worm at the heart of Grecian political existence, broke out with renewed vigour, and gave ominous indications in the untoward affair of Tanagra, of that terrible collision which shook the two great rival powers a few years afterwards in the famous Peloponnesian war. Sparta and Athens, opposed as they were by race, by geographical position, and by political character, after some public attempts at co-operation, in which Cimon was the principal actor, shrunk back, as in quiet preparation for the great trial of strength, into a state of isolated antagonism. But, though open hostility was deferred, wise precaution could not sleep; and, accordingly, we find the Athenians, about this time, anxious to secure a base of operations, so to speak, against Sparta in the Peloponnesus, by entering into an alliance with Argos. As a genuine Athenian, Æschylus, whatever his political feelings might be towards Cimon and the Spartan party, could not but look with Edition: current; Page: [139] pleasure on the additional strength which this Argive connection gave to Athens in the general council of Greece; and, accordingly, he dexterously takes advantage of the circumstance of Orestes being an Argive, to trace back the now historical union of the two countries to a period where Fancy is free to add what links she pleases to the brittle bonds of international association

Such is a rapid sketch of the principal religious and political relations, some notion of which is necessary to enable the general English reader to enter with sympathy on the perusal of the very powerful and singular drama of the Eumenides The professional student, of course, will not content himself with what he finds here, but will seek for complete satisfaction in the luminous pages of Thirlwall and Grote—in the learned articles of Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, in the notes of Schoemann, and, above all, in the rare Dissertations of Ottfried Muller, accompanying his edition of the Eumenides—a work which I have read once and again with mingled admiration and delight—from which I have necessarily drawn with no stinted hand in my endeavours to comprehend the Orestean trilogy for myself, and to make it comprehensible to others; and which I most earnestly recommend to all classical students as a pattern-specimen of erudite architecture raised by the hand of a master, from whom, even in his points of most baseless speculation (as what German is without such?), more is to be learned than from the triple-fanged certainties of vulgar commentators.

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Scene.In front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

The Pythoness.
  • Old Earth, primeval prophetess, I first
  • With these my prayers invoke; and Themis1 next,
  • Who doth her mother’s throne and temple both
  • Inherit, as the legend runs; and third
  • In lot’s due course, another Earth-born maid
  • The unforced homage of the land received,
  • Titanian Phœbe;* she in natal gift
  • With her own name her hoary right bequeathed
  • To Phœbus: he from rocky Delos’ lake2
  • To Attica’s ship-cruised bays was wafted, whence
  • He in Parnassus fixed his sure abode.
  • Hither with pious escort they attend him:
  • The Sons of Vulcan pioneer his path,3
  • Smoothing the rugged desert where he comes:
  • The thronging people own him, and king Delphos,
  • The land’s high helmsman, flings his portals wide.
  • Jove with divinest skill his heart inspires,
  • And now the fourth on this dread seat enthroned
  • Sits Loxias, prophet of his father Jove.4
  • These be the gods, whom chiefly I invoke:
  • But thee, likewise, who ’fore this temple dwellest,5
  • Pallas, I pray, and you, ye Nymphs that love
  • The hollow Corycian rock,6 the frequent haunt
  • Of pleasant birds, the home of awful gods.
  • Thee, Bromius, too, I worship,7 not unweeting
  • How, led by thee, the furious Thyads rushed
  • To seize the godless Pentheus,8 ev’n as a hare
  • Is dogged to death. And you, the fountains pure
  • Of Pleistus, and Poseidon’s§ mighty power9
  • I pray, and Jove most high, that crowns all things
  • With consummation. These the gods that lead me
  • To the prophetic seat, and may they grant me
  • Best-omened entrance; may consulting Greeks,
  • If any be, by custom’d lot approach;
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  • For as the gods my bosom stir, I pour
  • The fateful answer.

[She goes into the Temple, but suddenly returns.

  • O horrid tale to tell! O sight to see
  • Most horrible! that drives me from the halls
  • Of Loxias, so that I nor stand nor run,
  • But, like a beast fourfooted stumble on,
  • Losing the gait and station of my kind,
  • A gray-haired woman, weaker than a child!10
  • Up to the garlanded recess I walked,
  • And on the navel-stone* behold! a man
  • With crime polluted to the altar clinging,
  • And in his bloody hand he held a sword
  • Dripping with recent murder, and a branch
  • Of breezy olive, with flocks of fleecy wool
  • All nicely tipt. Even thus I saw the man;
  • And stretched before him an unearthly host
  • Of strangest women, on the sacred seats
  • Sleeping—not women, but a Gorgon brood,
  • And worse than Gorgons, or the ravenous crew
  • That filched the feast of Phineus11 (such I’ve seen
  • In painted terror); but these are wingless, black,
  • Incarnate horrors, and with breathings dire
  • Snort unapproachable, and from their eyes
  • Pestiferous beads of poison they distil.
  • Such uncouth sisterhood, apparel’d so,12
  • From all affinity of gods or men
  • Divorced, from me and from the gods be far,
  • And from all human homes! Nor can the land,
  • That lends these unblest hags a home, remain
  • Uncursed by fearful scourges. But the god,
  • Thrice-potent Loxias himself will ward
  • His holiest shrine from lawless outrage. Him
  • Physician, prophet, soothsayer, we call,
  • Cleansing from guilt the blood-polluted hall.


The interior of the Delphic Temple is now presented to view. Orestes is seen clinging to the navel-stone; the Eumenides lie sleeping on the seats around. In the background Hermes beside Orestes. Enter Apollo.

Apollo [to Orestes].
  • Trust me, I’ll not betray thee. Far or near,
  • Thy guardian I, and to thine every foe
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  • No gentle god. Thy madded persecutors
  • Sleep-captured lie: the hideous host is bound.
  • Primeval virgins, hoary maids, with whom
  • Nor god, nor man, nor beast hath known communion.
  • For evil’s sake they are: in evil depth
  • Of rayless Tartarus, underneath the ground,
  • They dwell, of men and of Olympian gods
  • Abhorred. But hence! nor faint thy heart, though they
  • Are mighty to pursue from land to land
  • O’er measureless tracks, from rolling sea to sea,
  • And sea-swept cities. A bitter pasture truly
  • Was thine from Fate;13 but bear all stoutly. Hie thee
  • Away to Pallas’ city, and embrace
  • Her ancient image14 with close-clinging arms.
  • Just Judges there we will appoint to judge
  • Thy cause, and with soft-soothing pleas will pluck
  • The sting from thy offence, and free thee quite
  • From all thy troubles. Thou know’st that I, the god,
  • When thou didst strike, myself the blow directed.
  • Liege lord Apollo, justice to the gods
  • Belongs; in justice, O remember me.
  • Thy power divine assurance gives that thou
  • Can’st make thy will a deed.
  • Fear nought. Trust me.
  • [To Hermes] And thou, true brother’s blood, true father’s son,
  • Hermes, attend, and to this mission gird thee.
  • Fulfil the happy omen of thy name,
  • The Guide,* and guide this suppliant on his way.
  • For Jove respects thy function and thy pride,
  • The prosperous convoy, and the faithful guide.

[Exit Hermes, leading Orestes. Apollo retires.

Enter the Shade of Clytemnestra.

  • Sleeping? All sleeping! Ho! What need of sleepers?
  • While I roam restless, of my fellow-dead
  • Dishonoured and reproached, by fault of you,
  • That when I slew swift vengeance overtook me.
  • But being slain myself, my avengers sleep
  • And leave my cause to drift! Hear me, sleepers!
  • Such taunts I bear, such contumelious gibes,
  • Yet not one god is touched with wrath to avenge
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  • My death, who died by matricidal hands.
  • Behold these wounds!15 look through thy sleep, and see!
  • Read with thy heart; some things the soul may scan
  • More clearly, when the sensuous lid hath dropt,
  • Nor garish day confounds.16 Full oft have ye
  • Of my libations sipped the wineless streams,
  • The soothings of my sober sacrifice,
  • The silent supper from the solemn altar,
  • At midnight hour when only ye are worshipped.
  • But now all this beneath your feet lies trampled.
  • The man is gone; fled like a hind! he snaps
  • The meshes of your toils, and makes—O shame!
  • Your Deity a mark for scoffers’ eyes
  • To wink at! Hear me, ye infernal hags,
  • Unhoused from hell! For my soul’s peace I plead,
  • Once Clytemnestra famous, now a dream.17

[The Chorus moans.

  • Ye moan! the while the man hath fled, and seeks
  • For help from those that are no friends to me.18

[The Chorus moans again.

  • Sleep-bound art thou. Hast thou no bowels for me?
  • My Furies sleep, and let my murderer flee.

[The Chorus groans.

  • Groaning and sleeping! Up! What work hast thou
  • To do, but thine own work of sorrow? Rouse thee!

[The Chorus groans again.

  • Sleep and fatigue have sworn a league to bind
  • The fearful dragon with strong mastery.

[with redoubled groans and shrill cries].

Hold! seize him! seize him! seize there! there! there! hold!

  • Thy dream scents blood, and, like a dog that doth
  • In dreams pursue the chase, even so dost thou
  • At phantasms bark and howl. To work! to work!
  • Let not fatigue o’ermaster thus thy strength,
  • Nor slumber soothe the sense of sharpest wrong.
  • Torture thy liver with reproachful thoughts;
  • Reproaches are the pricks that goad the wise.
  • Up! blow a blast of bloody breath behind him!
  • Dry up his marrow with the fiery vengeance!
  • Follow! give chase! pursue him to the death!

Chorus,19 starting up in hurry and confusion.

Voice 1.

Awake! awake! rouse her as I rouse thee!

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Voice 2.
  • Dost sleep? arise! dash drowsy sleep away!
  • Brave dreams be prelude to brave deed! Ho, sisters!


Voice 1.
  • Shame, sisters, shame!
  • Insult and injury!
  • Shame, O shame!
Voice 2.

Shame on me, too: a bootless, fruitless shame!

Voice 1.
  • Insult and injury,
  • Sorrow and shame!
  • Burden unbearable,
  • Shame! O shame!
Voice 2.

The snare hath sprung: flown is the goodly game.

Voice 3.
  • I slept, and when sleeping
  • He sprang from my keeping;
  • Shame, O shame!


Voice 1.
  • O son of Jove, in sooth,
  • If thou wilt hear the truth,
  • Robber’s thy name!
Voice 2.

Thou being young dost overleap the old.20

Voice 1.
  • A suppliant, godless,
  • And bloodstained, I see,
  • And bitter to parents,
  • Harboured by thee.
Voice 2.

Apollo’s shrine a mother-murderer’s hold!

Voice 3.
  • Apollo rewardeth
  • Whom Justice discardeth,
  • And robber’s his name!


Voice 1.
  • A voice of reproach
  • Came through my sleeping,
  • Like a charioteer
  • With his swift lash sweeping.
Voice 2.
  • Thorough my heart,
  • Thorough my liver,
  • Keen as the cold ice
  • Shot through the river.
Voice 3.
  • Harsh as the headsman,
  • Ruthless exacter,
  • When tearless he scourges
  • The doomed malefactor.
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Voice 1.
  • All blushless and bold
  • The gods that are younger
  • Would rule o’er the old,
  • With the right of the stronger.
Voice 2.
  • The Earth’s navel-stone
  • So holy reputed,
  • All gouted with blood,
  • With fresh murder polluted,
  • Behold, O behold!
Voice 3.
  • By the fault of the younger,
  • The holiest holy
  • Is holy no longer.


Voice 1.
  • Thyself thy hearth with this pollution stained
  • Thyself, a prophet, free and unconstrained
Voice 2.
  • O’er the laws of the gods
  • Thou hast recklessly ridden,
  • Dispensing to men
  • Gifts to mortals forbidden;
Voice 3.
  • Us thou hast reft
  • Of our name and our glory,
  • Us and the Fates,
  • The primeval, the hoary.


Voice 1.
  • I hate the god. Though underneath the ground
  • He hide my prey, there, too, he shall be found.
Voice 2.
  • I at each shrine
  • Where the mortal shall bend him,
  • Will jealously watch,
  • That no god may defend him.
Voice 3.
  • Go where he will,
  • A blood-guilty ranger,
  • Hotly will hound him still
  • I, the Avenger!
  • Begone! I charge thee, leave these sacred halls!
  • From this prophetic cell avaunt! lest thou
  • A feathered serpent in thy breast receive,
  • Shot from my golden bow; and, inly pained,
  • Thou vomit forth black froth of murdered men,
  • Belching the clotted slaughter by thy maw
  • Insatiate sucked. These halls suit not for thee;
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  • But where beheading, eye-out-digging dooms,21
  • Abortions, butcheries, barrenness abound,
  • Where mutilations, flayings, torturings,
  • Make wretches groan, on pointed stakes impaled,
  • There fix your seats; there hold the horrid feasts,
  • In which your savage hearts exultant revel,
  • Of gods abominate—maids whose features foul
  • Speak your foul tempers plainly. Find a home
  • In some grim lion’s den sanguinolent, not
  • In holy temples which your breath pollutes.
  • Depart, ye sheep unshepherded, whom none
  • Of all the gods may own!
  • Liege lord, Apollo,
  • Ours now to speak, and thine to hear: thyself
  • Not aided only, but the single cause
  • Wert thou of all thou blamest.

How so? Speak!


Thine was the voice that bade him kill his mother.


Mine was the voice bade him avenge his father.


All reeking red with gore thou didst receive him.


Not uninvited to these halls he came.

  • And we come with him. Wheresoe’er he goes,
  • His convoy we. Our function is to follow.
  • Follow! but from this holy threshold keep
  • Unholy feet.
  • We, where we must go, go
  • By virtue of our office.
  • A goodly vaunt!
  • Your office what?
  • From hearth and home we chase
  • All mother-murderers.
  • She was murdered here,
  • That murdered first her husband.22
  • Yet should she
  • By her own body’s fruitage have been slain?
  • Thus speaking, ye mispraise the sacred rites
  • Of matrimonial Hera23 and of Jove,
  • Unvalued make fair Aphrodite’s grace,
  • Whence dearest joys to mortal man descend.
  • The nuptial bed, to man and woman fated,24
  • Hath obligation stronger than an oath,
  • And Justice guards it. Ye who watch our crimes,
  • If that loose reins to nuptial sins ye yield,
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  • Offend, and grossly. If the murtherous wife
  • Escape your sharp-set vengeance, how can ye
  • Pursue Orestes justly? I can read
  • No even judgment in your partial scales,
  • In this more wrathful, and in that more mild.
  • She who is wise shall judge between us, Pallas.

The man is mine already. I will keep him.


He’s gone; and thou’lt but waste thy toil to follow.


Thy words shall not be swords, to cut my honors.


Crowned with such honors, I would tear them from me!

  • A mighty god beside thy father’s throne
  • Art thou, Apollo. Me this mother’s blood
  • Goads on to hound this culprit to his doom.
  • And I will help this man, champion and save him,
  • My suppliant, my client; should I not,
  • Both gods and men would brand the treachery.

The scene changes to the Temple of Pallas in Athens. A considerable interval of time is supposed to have elapsed between the two parts of the Play.

Enter Orestes.

  • Athena queen, at Loxias’ hest I come.
  • Receive the suppliant with propitious grace.
  • Not now polluted, nor unwashed from guilt
  • I cling to the first altar; time hath mellowed
  • My hue of crime, and friendly men receive
  • The curse-beladen wanderer to their homes.
  • True to the god’s oracular command,
  • O’er land and sea with weary foot I fare,
  • To find thy shrine, O goddess, and clasp thine image;
  • And now redemption from thy doom I wait.

Enter Chorus.

  • ’Tis well. The man is here. His track I know.
  • The sure advisal of our voiceless guide
  • Follow; as hound a wounded stag pursues,
  • We track the blood, and snuff the coming death.
  • Soothly we pant, with life-outwearying toils
  • Sore overburdened! O’er the wide sea far
  • I came, and with my wingless flight outstripped
  • The couriers of the deep. Here he must lie,
  • In some pent corner skulking. In my nostrils
  • The scent of mortal blood doth laugh me welcome.
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Voice 1.

Look, sisters, look!

Voice 2.
  • On the right, on the left, and round about,
  • Search every nook!
Voice 3.
  • Warily watch him,
  • The blood-guilty ranger,
  • That Fraud may not snatch him,
  • From me the Avenger!
Voice 1.
  • At the shrine of the goddess,
  • He bendeth him lowly,
  • Embracing her image,
  • The ancient the holy.
Voice 2.
  • With hands crimson-reeking,
  • He clingeth profanely,
  • A free pardon seeking
  • From Pallas—how vainly!
Voice 3.
  • For blood, when it floweth,
  • For once and for ever
  • It sinks, and it knoweth
  • To mount again never.
Voice 1.
  • Thou shalt pay me with pain;
  • From thy heart, from thy liver
  • I will suck, I will drain
  • Thy life’s crimson river.
Voice 2.
  • The cup from thy veins
  • I will quaff it, how rarely!
  • I will wither thy brains,
  • Thou shalt pine late and early.
Voice 3.
  • I will drag thee alive,
  • For thy guilt matricidal,
  • To the dens of the damned,
  • For thy lasting abidal.


  • There imprisoned thou shalt see
  • All who living sinned with thee,
  • ’Gainst the gods whom men revere,
  • ’Gainst honoured guest, or parents dear;
  • All the guilty who inherited
  • Woe, even as their guilt had merited.
  • For Hades,* in his halls of gloom,
  • With a justly portioned doom,26
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  • Binds them down securely:
  • All the crimes of human kind,
  • In the tablet of his mind,
  • He hath graven surely.
  • By manifold ills I have been taught to know
  • All expiations; and the time to speak
  • I know, and to be silent. In this matter
  • As a wise master taught me, so my tongue
  • Shapes utterance. The curse that bound me sleeps,
  • My harsh-grained guilt is finer worn, the deep
  • Ensanguined stain washed to a softer hue;
  • Still reeking fresh with gore, on Phœbus’ hearth,
  • The blood of swine hath now wrought my lustration,*
  • And I have held communings with my kind
  • Once and again unharming. Time, that smooths
  • All things, hath smoothed the front of my offence.
  • With unpolluted lips I now implore
  • Thy aid, Athena, of this land the queen.
  • Myself, a firm ally, I pledge to thee,
  • Myself, the Argive people, and their land,
  • Thy bloodless prize. And whether distant far
  • On Libyan plains beside Tritonian pools,
  • Thy natal flood, with forward foot firm planted,
  • Erect, or with decorous stole high-seated,27
  • Thy friends thou aidest, or with practised eye
  • The ordered battle on Phlegrean fields
  • Thou musterest28—come!—for gods can hear from far—
  • And from these woes complete deliverance send!
  • Not all Apollo’s, all Athena’s power
  • Shall aid thee. Thou, of gods and men forsook,
  • Shalt pine and dwindle, stranger to the name
  • Of joy, a wasted shadow, bloodless sucked
  • To fatten wrathful gods. Thou dost not speak,
  • But, as a thing devoted, standest dumb,
  • My prey, even mine! my living banquet thou,
  • My fireless victim. List, and thou shalt hear
  • My song, that binds thee with its viewless chain.
  • Deftly, deftly weave the dance!
  • Sisters lift the dismal strain!
  • Sing the Furies, justly dealing
  • Dooms deserved to guilty mortals;
  • Deftly, deftly lift the strain!
  • Whoso lifted hands untainted
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  • Him no Furies’ wrath shall follow,
  • He shall live unharmed by me;
  • But who sinned, as this offender,
  • Hiding foul ensanguined hands,
  • We with him are present, bearing
  • Unhired witness for the dead;
  • We will tread his heels, exacting
  • Blood for blood, even to the end.

    • Mother Night that bore me,
    • A scourge, to go before thee,
    • To scourge, with stripes delightless,
    • The seeing and the sightless,30
    • Hear me, I implore thee,
    • O Mother Night!
    • Mother Night that bore me,
    • The son of Leto o’er me
    • Rough rides, in thy despite.
    • From me, the just pursuer,
    • He shields the evil-doer,
    • The son to me devoted,
    • For mother-murder noted,
    • He claims against the right.
    • Where the victim lies,
    • Let the death-hymn rise!
    • Lift ye the hymn of the Furies amain!
    • The gleeless song, and the lyreless strain,31
    • That bindeth the heart with a viewless chain,
    • With notes of distraction and maddening sorrow,
    • Blighting the brain, and burning the marrow!
    • Where the victim lies,
    • Let the death-hymn rise,
    • The hymn that binds with a viewless chain!

    • Mother Night that bore me,
    • The Fate that was before me,
    • This portion gave me surely,
    • This lot for mine securely,
    • To bear the scourge before thee,
    • O Mother Night!
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    • And, in embrace untender
    • To hold the red offender,
    • That sinned in gods’ despite,
    • And wheresoe’er he wend him,
    • His keepers close we tend him.
    • In living or in dying,
    • From us there is no flying,
    • The daughters of the Night.
    • Where the victim lies,
    • Let the death-hymn rise!
    • Lift ye the hymn of the Furies amain!
    • The gleeless song, and the lyreless strain,
    • That bindeth the heart with a viewless chain,
    • With notes of distraction and maddening sorrow,
    • Blighting the brain, and burning the marrow!
    • Where the victim lies,
    • Let the death-hymn rise,
    • The hymn that binds with a viewless chain!

    • From primal ages hoary,
    • This lot, our pride and glory,
    • Appointed was to us,
    • To Hades’ gloomy portal,
    • To chase the guilty mortal,
    • But from Olympians, reigning
    • In lucid seats,* abstaining,
    • Their nectared feasts we taste not,
    • Their sun-white robes invest not
    • The maids of Erebus.
    • But, with scourge and with ban,
    • We prostrate the man,
    • Who with smooth-woven wile,
    • And a fair-faced smile,
    • Hath planted a snare for his friend;
    • Though fleet, we shall find him,
    • Though strong, we shall bind him,
    • Who planted a snare for his friend.

    • This work of labour earnest,32
    • This task severest, sternest,
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    • Let none remove from us.
    • To all their due we render,
    • Each deeply-marked offender
    • Our searching eye reproveth,
    • Though blissful Jove removeth,
    • From his Olympian glory,
    • Abhorr’d of all and gory,
    • The maids of Erebus.
    • But, swift as the wind,
    • We follow and find,
    • Till he stumbles apace,
    • Who had hoped in the race,
    • To escape from the grasp of the Furies!
    • And we trample him low,
    • Till he writhe in his woe,
    • Who had fled from the chase of the Furies.

  • The thoughts heaven-scaling
  • Of men haughty-hearted,
  • At our breath, unavailing
  • Like smoke they departed.
  • Our jealous foot hearing,
  • They stumble before us,
  • And bite the ground, fearing
  • Our dark-vested chorus.

  • They fall, and perceive not
  • The foe that hath found them;
  • They are blind and believe not,
  • Thick darkness hath bound them.
  • From the halls of the fated,
  • A many-voiced wailing
  • Of sorrow unsated
  • Ascends unavailing.

  • For the Furies work readily
  • Vengeance unsparing,
  • Surely and steadily
  • Ruin preparing.
  • Dark crimes strictly noted,
  • Sure-memoried they store them;
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  • And, judgment once voted,
  • Prayers vainly implore them.
  • For they know no communion
  • With the bright-throned union
  • Of the gods of the day;
  • Where the living appear not,
  • Where the pale Shades near not,
  • In regions delightless,
  • All sunless and sightless,
  • They dwell far away.

  • What mortal reveres not
  • Our deity awful?
  • When he names us, who fears not
  • To work deeds unlawful?
  • From times hoary-dated,
  • This statute for ever
  • Divinely was fated;
  • Time takes from it never.
  • For dishonour we bear not,
  • Though the bright thrones we share not
  • With the gods of the day.
  • Our right hoary-dated
  • We claim unabated,
  • Though we dwell, where delightless
  • No sun cheers the sightless,
  • ’Neath the ground far away.

Enter Athena.

  • The cry that called me from Scamander’s banks33
  • I heard afar, even as I hied to claim
  • The land for mine which the Achæan chiefs
  • Assigned me, root and branch, my portion fair
  • Of the conquered roods, a goodly heritage
  • To Theseus’ sons. Thence, with unwearied foot,
  • I journeyed here by these high-mettled steeds
  • Car-borne, my wingless ægis in the gale
  • Full-bosomed whirring. And now, who are ye,
  • A strange assembly, though I fear you not,
  • Here gathered at my gates? I speak to both,
  • To thee the stranger, that with suppliant arms
  • Enclasps my statue—Whence art thou? And you,
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  • Like to no generation seed-begotten,
  • Like to no goddess ever known of gods,
  • Like to no breathing forms of mortal kind;
  • But to reproach with contumelious phrase
  • Who wrong not us, nor courtesy allows,
  • Nor Themis wills. Whence are ye?
  • Daughter of Jove,
  • ’Tis shortly said: of the most ancient Night
  • The tristful daughters we, and our dread name,
  • Even from the fearful Curse we bear, we borrow.*

I know you, and the dreaded name ye bear.


Our sacred office, too—


That I would hear.


The guilty murderer from his home we hunt.


And the hot chase, where ends it?

  • There, where joy
  • Is never named.
  • And is this man the quarry,
  • That, with hoarse-throated whoop, thou now pursuest?

He slew his mother—dared the worst of crimes.

  • What mightier fear, what strong necessity
  • Spurred him to this?
  • What fear so strong that it
  • Should prompt a mother’s murder?

There are two parties. Only one hath spoken.


He’ll neither swear himself, nor take my oath.34

  • The show of justice, not fair Justice self,
  • Thou lovest.

How? Speak—thou so rich in wisdom.


Oaths are no proof, to make the wrong the right.


Prove thou. A true and righteous judgment judge.

  • I shall be judge, betwixt this man and thee
  • To speak the doom.
  • Even thou. Thy worthy deeds
  • Give thee the worth in this high strife to judge.
  • Now, stranger, ’tis thy part to speak. Whence come,
  • Thy lineage what, and what thy fortunes, say,
  • And then refute this charge against thee brought.
  • For well I note the sacredness about thee,
  • That marks the suppliant who atonement seeks,
  • In old Ixíon’s guise;35 and thou hast fled
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  • For refuge, to my holy altar clinging.
  • Answer me this, and plainly tell thy tale.
  • Sovran Athena, first from these last words
  • A cause of much concernment be removed.
  • I seek for no atonement; no pollution
  • Cleaves to thy sacred image from my touch.
  • Of this receive a proof. Thou know’st a murderer
  • Being unatoned a voiceless penance bears,
  • Till, from the hand of friendly man, the blood
  • Of a young beast from lusty veins hath sprent him,
  • Cleansing from guiltiness. These sacred rites
  • Have been performed: the blood of beasts hath sprent me,
  • The lucent lymph hath purged the filthy stain.
  • For this enough. As for my race, I am
  • An Argive born: and for my father, he
  • Was Agamemnon, king of men, by whom
  • The chosen admiral of the masted fleet,
  • The ancient city of famous Priam thou
  • Didst sheer uncity.36 Sad was his return;
  • For, with dark-bosomed guile, my mother killed him,
  • Snared in the meshes of a tangled net,
  • And of the bloody deed the bath was witness.
  • I then, returning to my father’s house
  • After long exile—I confess the deed—
  • Slew her who bore me, a dear father’s murder
  • With murder quitting. The blame—what blame may be—
  • I share with Loxias, who fore-augured griefs
  • To goad my heart if, by my fault, such guilt
  • Should go unpunished. I have spoken. Thou
  • What I have done, if justly or unjustly,
  • Decide. Thy doom, howe’er it fall, contents me.
  • In this high cause to judge, no mortal man
  • May venture; nor may I divide the law
  • Of right and wrong, in such keen strife of blood.
  • For thee, in that thou comest to my halls,37
  • In holy preparation perfected,
  • A pure and harmless suppliant, I, as pledged
  • Already thy protector, may not judge thee.
  • For these, ’tis no light thing to slight their office.
  • For, should I send them hence uncrowned with triumph,
  • Dripping fell poison from their wrathful breasts,
  • They’d leave a noisome pestilence in the land
  • Behind them. Thus both ways I’m sore perplexed;
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  • Absent or present, they do bring a curse.
  • But since this business needs a swift decision,
  • Sworn judges I’ll appoint, and they shall judge
  • Of blood in every age. Your testimonies
  • And proofs meanwhile, and all that clears the truth,
  • Provide. Myself, to try this weighty cause,
  • My choicest citizens will choose, and bind them
  • By solemn oath to judge a righteous judgment.

  • Ancient rights and hoary uses
  • Now shall yield to young abuses,
  • Right and wrong together chime,
  • If the vote
  • Fail to note
  • Mother-murder for a crime.
  • Murder now, made nimble-handed,
  • Wide shall rage without control;
  • Sons against their parents banded
  • Deeds abhorred
  • With the sword
  • Now shall work, while ages roll.

  • Now no more, o’er deeds unlawful,
  • Shall the sleeping Mænads* awful
  • Watch, with jealous eyes to scan;
  • Free and chainless,
  • Wild and reinless,
  • Stalks o’er Earth each murtherous plan.
  • Friend to friend his loss deploreth,
  • Lawless rapine, treacherous wound,
  • But in vain his plaint he poureth;
  • To his bruises
  • Earth refuses
  • Balm; no balm on Earth is found.

  • Now no more, from grief’s prostration,
  • Cries and groans
  • Heaven shall scale with invocation—
  • “Justice hear my supplication,
  • Hear me, Furies, from your thrones!”
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  • From the recent sorrow bleeding,
  • Father thus or mother calls,
  • Vainly with a piteous pleading,
  • For the House of Justice falls.

  • Blest the man in whose heart reigneth
  • Holy Fear;
  • Fear his heart severely traineth;
  • Blest, from troublous woe who gaineth
  • Ripest fruits of wisdom clear;*
  • But who sports, a careless liver,39
  • In the sunshine’s flaunting show,
  • Holy Justice, he shall never
  • Thy severest virtue know.

  • Lordless life, or despot-ridden,
  • Be they both from me forbidden.
  • To the wise mean strength is given,40
  • Thus the gods have ruled in heaven;
  • Gods, that gently or severely
  • Judge, discerning all things clearly.
  • Mark my word, I tell thee truly,
  • Pride, that lifts itself unduly,41
  • Had a godless heart for sire.
  • Healthy-minded moderation
  • Wins the wealthy consummation,
  • Every heart’s desire.

  • Yet, again, I tell thee truly,
  • At Justice’ altar bend thee duly.
  • Wean thine eye from lawless yearning
  • After gain; with godless spurning
  • Smite not thou that shrine most holy.
  • Punishment, that travels slowly,
  • Comes at last, when least thou fearest.
  • Yet, once more; with truth sincerest,
  • Love thy parents and revere,
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  • And the guest, that to protect him,
  • Claims thy guardian roof, respect him,
  • With an holy fear.*

  • Whoso, with no forced endeavour,
  • Sin-eschewing liveth,
  • Him to hopeless ruin never
  • Jove the Saviour giveth.
  • But whose hand, with greed rapacious,
  • Draggeth all things for his prey,
  • He shall strike his flag audacious,
  • When the god-sent storm shall bray,
  • Winged with fate at last;
  • When the stayless sail is flapping,
  • When the sail-yard swings, and, snapping,
  • Crashes to the blast.

  • He shall call, but none shall hear him,
  • When dark ocean surges;
  • None with saving hand shall near him,
  • When his prayer he urges.
  • Laughs the god, to see him vainly
  • Grasping at the crested rock;
  • Fool, who boasted once profanely
  • Firm to stand in Fortune’s shock;
  • Who so great had been
  • His freighted wealth with fearful crashing,
  • On the rock of Justice dashing,
  • Dies, unwept, unseen.

Enter Athena, behind a Herald.

  • Herald, proclaim the diet, and command
  • The people to attention; with strong breath
  • Give the air-shattering Tyrrhene trump free voice,42
  • To speak shrill-throated to the assembled throngs;
  • And, while the judges take their solemn seats,
  • In hushed submission, let the city hear
  • My laws that shall endure for aye; and these,
  • In hushed submission, wait the righteous doom.
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Enter Apollo.43

  • Sovran Apollo, rule where thou art lord;
  • But here what business brings the prophet? Speak.
  • I come a witness of the truth; this man
  • Is suppliant to me, he on my hearth
  • Found refuge, him I purified from blood.
  • I, too, am patron of his cause, I share
  • The blame, if blame there be, in that he slew
  • His mother. Pallas, order thou the trial.
Athena [to the Furies].
  • Speak ye the first, ’tis wiseliest ordered thus,
  • That, who complains, his plaint set forth in order,
  • Point after point, articulately clear.
  • Though we be many, yet our words are few.
  • Answer thou singly, as we singly ask;
  • This first—art thou the murderer of thy mother?

I did the deed. This fact hath no denial.


Once worsted! With three fits I gain the trial.


Boast, when thou seest me fall. As yet I stand.


This answer now—how didst thou do the deed.

  • Thus; with my pointed dagger, in the neck
  • I smote her.

Who the bloody deed advised?


The god of oracles. Here he stands to witness.


Commanding murder with prophetic nod?


Ay! and even now I do not blame the god.

  • Soon, soon, thou’lt blame him, when the pebble drops
  • Into the urn of justice with thy doom.

My murdered sire will aid me from the tomb.


Trust in the dead; in thy dead mother trust.


She died, with two foul blots well marked for vengeance.


How so? This let the judges understand


The hand that killed her husband killed my father.


If she for her crimes died, why livest thou?


If her thou didst not vex, why vex me now?


She slew a man, but not of kindred blood.

  • Is the son’s blood all to the mother kin,
  • None to the father?
  • Peace, thou sin-stained monster!
  • Dost thou abjure the dearest blood, the mother’s
  • That bore thee ’neath her zone?
Orest. [to Apollo].
  • Be witness thou.
  • Apollo, speak for me, if by the rule
  • Edition: current; Page: [161]
  • Of Justice she was murdered. That the deed
  • Was done, and by these hands, I not deny;
  • If justly or unjustly blood was spilt,
  • Thou knowest. Teach me how to make reply.
  • I speak to you, Athena’s mighty council;
  • And what I speak is truth: the prophet lies not.
  • From my oracular seat was published never
  • To man, to woman, or to city aught
  • By my Olympian sire unfathered* Ye
  • How Justice sways the scale will wisely weigh;
  • But this remember—what my father wills
  • Is law. Jove’s will is stronger than an oath.
  • Jove, say’st thou, touched thy tongue with inspiration,
  • To teach Orestes that he might avenge
  • A father’s death by murdering a mother?
  • His was no common father—Agamemnon,
  • Honoured the kingly sceptre god-bestowed
  • To bear—he slain by a weak woman, not
  • By furious Amazon with far-darting bow,
  • But in such wise as I shall now set forth
  • To thee, Athena, and to these that sit
  • On this grave bench of judgment. Him returning
  • All prosperous from the wars, with fairest welcome
  • She hailed her lord, and in the freshening bath
  • Bestowed him; there, ev’n while he laved, she came
  • Spreading death’s mantle out, and, in a web
  • Of curious craft entangled, stabbed him. Such
  • Was the sad fate of this most kingly man,
  • Of all revered, the fleet’s high admiral.
  • A tale it is to prick your heart with pity,
  • Even yours that seal the judgment.
  • Jove, thou sayest,
  • Prefers the father: yet himself did bind
  • With bonds his hoary-dated father Kronos.44
  • Make this with that to square, and thou art wise.
  • Ye judges, mark me, if I reason well.
  • O odious monsters, of all gods abhorred!
  • A chain made fast may be untied again.
  • This ill hath many cures; but, when the dust
  • Hath once drunk blood, no power can raise it. Jove
  • Himself doth know no charm to disenchant
  • Death; other things he turns both up and down,
  • At his good pleasure, fainting not in strength.
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  • Consider well whereto thy words will lead thee.
  • How shall this man, who spilt his mother’s blood,
  • Dwell in his father’s halls at Argos? How
  • Devoutly kneel at the public altar? How
  • With any clanship share lustration?45
  • This
  • Likewise I’ll answer. Mark me! whom we call
  • The mother begets not;46 she is but the nurse,
  • Whose fostering breast the new-sown seed receives.
  • The father truly gets; the dam but cherishes
  • A stranger-bud, that, if the gods be kind,
  • May blossom soon, and bear. Behold a proof!
  • Without a mother may a child be born,
  • Not so without a father. Which to witness
  • Here is this daughter of Olympian Jove,
  • Not nursed in darkness, in the womb, and yet
  • She stands a goddess, heavenly mother ne’er
  • Bore greater. Pallas, here I plight my faith
  • To magnify thy city and thy people;
  • And I this suppliant to thy hearth hath sent,
  • Thy faithful ally ever. May the league
  • Here sworn to-day their children’s children bind!

Now judges, as your judgment is, I charge you, So vote the doom. Words we have had enough.


Our quiver’s emptied. We await the doom.


How should the sentence fall to keep me free Of your displeasure?

  • What we said we said.
  • Even as your heart informs you, nothing fearing,
  • So judges justly vote, the oath revering.
  • Now, hear my ordinance, Athenians!47 Ye,
  • In this first strife of blood, umpires elect,
  • While age on age shall roll, the sons of Aegeus
  • This Council shall revere. Here, on this hill,
  • The embattled Amazons pitched their tents of yore,48
  • What time with Theseus striving, they their tents
  • Against these high-towered infant walls uptowered.
  • To Mars they sacrificed, and, to this day,
  • This Mars’ Hill speaks their story. Here, Athenians,
  • Shall reverence of the gods, and holy fear,
  • That shrinks from wrong, both night and day possess.
  • A place apart, so long as fickle change
  • Your ancient laws disturbs not; but, if this
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  • Pure fount with muddy streams ye trouble, ye
  • Shall draw the draught in vain From anarchy
  • And slavish masterdom alike my ordinance
  • Preserve my people! Cast not from your walls
  • All high authority; for where no fear
  • Awful remains, what mortal will be just?
  • This holy reverence use, and ye possess
  • A bulwark, and a safeguard of the land,
  • Such as no race of mortals vaunteth, far
  • In Borean Scythia, or the land of Pelops.*
  • This council I appoint intact to stand
  • From gain, a venerated conclave, quick
  • In pointed indignation, when all sleep
  • A sleepless watch These words of warning hear,
  • My citizens for ever. Now ye judges
  • Rise, take your pebbles, and by vote decide,
  • The sacred oath revering. I have spoken.

The Aeropagites advance; and, as each puts his pebble into the urn, the Chorus and Apollo alternately address them as follows:

  • I warn ye well: the sisterhood beware,
  • Whose wrath hangs heavier than the land may bear.
  • I warn ye well: Jove is my father; fear
  • To turn to nought the words of me, his seer.
  • If thou dost plead, where thou hast no vocation,
  • For blood, will men respect thy divination?
  • Must then my father share thy condemnation,
  • When first he heard Ixion’s supplication?
  • Thou say’st.49 But I, if justice be denied me,
  • Will sorely smite the land that so defied me.
  • Among the gods the elder, and the younger,
  • Thou hast no favour; I shall prove the stronger.
  • Such were thy deeds in Pheres’ house,50 deceiving
  • The Fates, and mortal men from death reprieving.
  • Was it a crime to help a host? to lend
  • A friendly hand to raise a sinking friend?
  • Thou the primeval Power didst undermine,
  • Mocking the hoary goddesses with wine.
  • Soon, very soon, when I the cause shall gain,
  • Thou’lt spit thy venom on the ground in vain.
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  • Thou being young, dost jeer my ancient years
  • With youthful insolence; till the doom appears,
  • I’ll patient wait; my hot-spurred wrath I’ll stay,
  • And even-poised betwixt two tempers sway.
  • My part remains; and I this crowning pebble
  • Drop to Orestes; for I never knew
  • The mother’s womb that bore me.* I give honor,
  • Save in my virgin nature, to the male
  • In all things; all my father lives in me.51
  • Not blameless be the wife, who dared to slay
  • Her husband, lord and ruler of her home.
  • My voice is for Orestes; though the votes
  • Fall equal from the urn, my voice shall save him.
  • Now shake the urn, to whom this duty falls,
  • And tell the votes.
  • O Phœbus, how shall end
  • This doubtful issue?
  • O dark Night, my mother,
  • Behold these things!
  • One moment blinds me quite,
  • Or to a blaze of glory opes my eyes.

We sink to shame, or to more honor rise.



  • Judges, count well the pebbles as they fall,
  • And with just jealousy divide them. One
  • Being falsely counted works no simple harm.
  • One little pebble saves a mighty house.
  • Hear now the doom. This man from blood is free.
  • The votes are equal; he escapes by me.
  • O Pallas, Saviour of my father’s house,
  • Restorer of the exile’s hope, Athena,
  • I praise thee! Now belike some Greek will say,
  • The Argive man revisiteth the homes
  • And fortunes of his father, by the aid
  • Of Pallas, Loxias, and Jove the Saviour
  • All-perfecting, who pled the father’s cause,
  • Fronting the wrathful Furies of the mother!
  • I now depart: and to this land I leave,
  • And to this people, through all future time,
  • An oath behind me, that no lord of Argos
  • Shall ever brandish the well-pointed spear
  • Against this friendly land. When, from the tomb,
  • Edition: current; Page: [165]
  • I shall perceive who disregards this oath
  • Of my sons’ sons, I will perplex that man
  • With sore perplexities inextricable;
  • Ways of despair, and evil-birded paths*
  • Shall be his portion, cursing his own choice.
  • But if my vows be duly kept, with those
  • That in the closely-banded league shall aid
  • Athena’s city, I am present ever.
  • Then fare thee well, thou and thy people! Never
  • May foe escape thy grasp! When thou dost struggle,
  • Safety and victory attend thy spear!


  • Curse on your cause,
  • Ye gods that are younger!
  • O’er the time-hallowed laws
  • Rough ye ride as the stronger.
  • Of the prey that was ours
  • Ye with rude hands bereave us,
  • ’Mid the dark-dreaded Powers
  • Shorn of honor ye leave us.
  • Behold, on the ground
  • From a heart of hostility,
  • I sprinkle around
  • Black gouts of sterility!
  • A plague I will bring,
  • With a dry lichen spreading;
  • No green blade shall spring
  • Where the Fury is treading.
  • To abortion I turn
  • The birth of the blooming,
  • Where the plague-spot shall burn
  • Of my wrath, life-consuming.
  • I am mocked, but in vain
  • They rejoice at my moaning;
  • They shall pay for my pain,
  • With a fearful atoning,
  • Who seized on my right,
  • And, with wrong unexampled,
  • On the daughters of Night
  • High scornfully trampled.
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  • Be ruled by me your heavy-bosomed groans
  • Refrain Not vanquished thou, but the fair vote
  • Leapt equal from the urn, with no disgrace
  • To thee. From Jove himself clear witness came;
  • The oracular god that urged the deed, the same
  • Stood here to vouch it, that Orestes might not
  • Reap harm from his obedience. Soothe ye, therefore;
  • Cast not your bolted vengeance on this land,
  • Your gouts of wrath divine distil not, stings
  • Of pointed venom, with keen corrosive power
  • Eating life’s seeds, all barrenness and blight.
  • A home within this land I pledge you, here
  • A shrine, a refuge, and a hearth secure,
  • Where ye on shining thrones shall sit, my city
  • Yielding devoutest homage to your power.
  • Curse on your cause,
  • Ye gods that are younger!
  • O’er the time-hallowed laws
  • Rough ye ride, as the stronger.
  • Of the prey that was ours
  • Ye with rude hands bereave us,
  • ’Mid the dark-dreaded Powers
  • Shorn of honor ye leave us.
  • Behold, on the ground
  • From a heart of hostility,
  • I sprinkle around
  • Black gouts of sterility!
  • A plague I will bring
  • With a dry lichen spreading;
  • No green blade shall spring
  • Where the Fury is treading.
  • To abortion I turn
  • The birth of the blooming,
  • Where the plague-spot shall burn
  • Of my wrath, life-consuming.
  • I am mocked, but in vain
  • They rejoice at my moaning;
  • They shall pay for my pain,
  • With a fearful atoning,
  • Who seized on my right,
  • And, with wrong unexampled,
  • On the daughters of Night
  • High scornfully trampled.
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  • Dishonoured are ye not: Spit not your rancour
  • On this fair land remediless. Rests my trust
  • On Jove, the mighty, I of all the gods
  • Sharing alone the strong keys that unlock
  • His thunder-halls:53 but this I name not here.
  • Yield thou: cast not the seed of reckless speech
  • To crop the land with woe Soothing the waves
  • Of bitter anger darkling in thy breast,
  • Dwell in this land, thy dreadful deity
  • Sistered with me. When thronging worshippers .
  • Henceforth shall cull choice firstlings for thine altars,
  • Praying thy grace to bless the wedded rite,
  • And the child-bearing womb—then honoured so,
  • How wise my present counsel thou shalt know.


Voice 1.
  • I to dwell ’neath the Earth
  • All clipt of my glory,
  • In the dark-chambered Earth,
  • I, the ancient, the hoary!
Voice 2.
  • I breathe on thee curses,
  • I cut through thy marrow,
  • For the insult that pierces
  • My heart like an arrow.
Voice 3.
  • Hear my cry, mother Night,
  • ’Gainst the gods that deceived me!
  • With their harsh-handed might
  • Of my right they bereaved me.
  • Thy anger I forgive; for thou’rt the elder
  • But though thy years bring wisdom, to me also
  • Jove gave a heart, not undiscerning. You—
  • Mark well my words—if now some foreign land
  • Ye choose, will rue your choice, and long for Athens.
  • The years to be shall float more richly fraught
  • With honor to my citizens; thou shalt hold
  • An honoured seat beside Erectheus’ home,54
  • Where men and women in marshalled pomp shall pay thee
  • Such homage, as no land on Earth may render.
  • But cast not ye on this my chosen land
  • Whetstones of fury, teaching knives to drink
  • The blood of tender bowels, madding the heart
  • With wineless drunkenness, that men shall swell
  • Like game cocks for the battle; save my city
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  • From brothered strife, and from domestic brawls.55
  • Without the walls, and far from kindred hearths
  • Rage war, where honor calls, and glory crowns.
  • A bird of blood within the house I love not.
  • Use thine election; wisely use it; give
  • A blessing, and a blessing take; with me
  • May this land dear to the gods be dear to thee!


Voice 1.
  • I to dwell ’neath the Earth
  • All clipt of my glory,
  • In the dark-chambered Earth
  • I, the ancient, the hoary!
Voice 2.
  • I breathe on thee curses,
  • I cut through thy marrow,
  • For the insult that pierces
  • My heart like an arrow.
Voice 3.
  • Hear my cry, mother Night,
  • ’Gainst the gods that deceived me!
  • With their harsh-handed might
  • Of my right they bereaved me.
  • To advise thee well I faint not. Never more
  • Shalt thou, a hoary-dated power, complain
  • That I, a younger, or my citizens,
  • From our inhospitable gates expelled thee
  • Of thy due honors shortened. If respect
  • For sacred Peitho’s* godhead, for the honey
  • And charming of the tongue may move thee, stay;
  • But, if ye will go, show of justice none
  • Remains, with rancour, wrath, and scathe to smite
  • This land and people. Stands your honoured lot
  • With me for ever, so ye scorn it not.

Sovran Athena, what sure home receives me?


A home from sorrow free. Receive it freely.


And when received, what honors wait me then?


No house shall prosper where thy blessing fails.


This by thy grace is sure?

  • I will upbuild
  • His house who honours thee.

This pledged for ever?


I cannot promise what I not perform

  • Thy words have soothed me, and my wrath relents.
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Here harboured thou wilt number many friends.


Say, then, how shall my hymn uprise to bless thee?

  • Hymn things that strike fair victory’s mark: from Earth,
  • From the sea’s briny dew, and from the sky
  • Bring blessings, the benignly-breathing gales
  • On summer wings be wafted to this land,
  • Let the Earth swell with the exuberant flow
  • Of fruits and flowers, that want may be unknown.
  • Bless human seed with increase, but cast out
  • The impious man; even as a gardener, I
  • Would tend the flowers, the briars and the thorns
  • Heaped for the burning. This thy province I
  • In feats of Mars conspicuous will not fail
  • To plant this city ’fore all eyes triumphant.


  • Pallas, thy welcome so kindly compelling
  • Hath moved me; I scorn not to mingle my dwelling
  • With thine, and with Jove’s, the all-ruling, thy sire.
  • The city I scorn not, where Mars guards the portals,
  • The fortress of gods,56 the fair grace of Immortals.
  • I bless thee prophetic; to work thy desire
  • To the Sun, when he shines in his full-flooded splendour,
  • Her tribute to thee may the swelling Earth render,
  • And bounty with bounty conspire!
  • Athens, no trifling gain I’ve won thee.
  • With rich blessing thou shalt harbour,
  • Through my grace, these much-prevailing
  • Sternest-hearted Powers. For they
  • Rule, o’er human fates appointed,
  • With far-reaching sway.
  • Woe to the wretch, by their wrath smitten!57
  • With strokes he knows not whence descending,
  • Not for his own, for guilt inherited,58
  • They with silent-footed vengeance
  • Shall o’ertake him: in the dust,
  • Heaven with piercing cries imploring,
  • Crushed the sinner lies.


  • Far from thy dwelling, and far from thy border,
  • By the grace of my godhead benignant I order
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  • The blight that may blacken the bloom of thy trees.
  • Far from thy border, and far from thy dwelling
  • Be the hot blast that shrivels the bud in its swelling,
  • The seed-rotting taint, and the creeping disease!
  • Thy flocks still be doubled, thy seasons be steady,
  • And, when Hermes is near thee,59 thy hand still be ready
  • The Heaven-dropt bounty to seize!
  • Hear her words, my city’s warders,
  • Fraught with blessing; she prevaileth
  • With Olympians and Infernals,
  • Dread Erinnys much revered.
  • Mortal fates she guideth plainly
  • To what goal she pleaseth, sending
  • Songs to some, to others days
  • With tearful sorrows dulled.


  • Far from your dwelling
  • Be death’s early knelling,
  • When falls in his green strength the strong
  • Your virgins, the fairest,
  • To brave youths the rarest
  • Be mated, glad life to prolong!
  • Ye Fates, high-presiding,60
  • The right well dividing,
  • Dread powers darkly mothered with me;
  • Our firm favour sharing,
  • From judgment unsparing
  • The homes of the just man be free!
  • But the guilty shall fear them,
  • When in terror shall near them
  • The Fates, sternly sistered with me.
  • Work your perfect will, dread maidens,
  • O’er my land benignly watching!
  • I rejoice. Blest be the eyes
  • Of Peitho, that with strong persuasion
  • Armed my tongue, to soothe the fierce
  • Refusal of these awful maids.
  • Jove, that rules the forum, nobly
  • In the high debate hath conquered.61
  • In the strife of blessing now,
  • You with me shall vie for ever.
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  • Far from thy border
  • The lawless disorder,
  • That sateless of evil shall reign!
  • Far from thy dwelling
  • The dear blood welling,
  • That taints thy own hearth with the stain,
  • When slaughter from slaughter
  • Shall flow, like the water,
  • And rancour from rancour shall grow!
  • But joy with joy blending
  • Live, each to all lending,
  • And hating one-hearted the foe!
  • When bliss hath departed,
  • From will single-hearted,
  • A fountain of healing shall flow.
  • Wisely now the tongue of kindness
  • Thou hast found, the way of love;
  • And these terror-speaking faces
  • Now look wealth to me and mine.
  • Her so willing, ye more willing
  • Now receive, this land and city,
  • On ancient right securely throned,
  • Shall shine for evermore


  • Hail, and all hail! mighty people be greeted!
  • On the sons of Athena shine sunshine the clearest!
  • Blest people, near Jove the Olympian seated,
  • And dear to the virgin his daughter the dearest.
  • Timely wise ’neath the wings of the daughter ye gather;
  • And mildly looks down on her children the father.
  • Hail, all hail to you! but chiefly
  • Me behoves it now to lead you
  • To your fore-appointed homes.
  • Go, with holy train attendant,
  • With sacrifice, and torch resplendent.
  • Underneath the ground.
  • Go, and with your potent godhead
  • Quell the ill that threats the city,
  • Spur the good to victory’s goal.
  • Lead the way ye sons of Cranaus,*
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  • To these strangers, strange no more;
  • Their kindly thoughts to you remember,
  • Grateful evermore.


  • Hail, yet again, with this last salutation,
  • Ye sons of Athena, ye citizens all!
  • On gods, and on mortals, in high congregation
  • Assembled, my blessing not vainly shall fall.
  • O city of Pallas, while thou shalt revere me,
  • Thy walls hold the pledge that no harm shall come near thee.
  • Well hymned. My heart chimes with you, and I send
  • The beamy-twinkling torches to conduct you
  • To your dark-vaulted chambers ’neath the ground.
  • They who attend my shrine, with pious homage,
  • Shall be your convoy. The fair eye of the land,
  • The marshalled host of Theseus’ sons shall march
  • In festive train with you, both man and woman,
  • Matron and maid, green youth and hoary age.
  • Honor the awful maids, clad with the grace
  • Of purple-tinctured robes; and let the flame
  • March ’fore their path bright-rayed; and, evermore,
  • With populous wealth smile every Attic rood
  • Blessed by this gracious-minded sisterhood.62

Convoy, conducting the Eumenides in festal pomp to their subterranean temple, with torches in their hands:


  • Go with honor crowned and glory,
  • Of hoary Night the daughters hoary,
  • To your destined hall.
  • Where our sacred train is wending,
  • Stand, ye pious throngs attending,
  • Hushed in silence all.

  • Go to hallowed habitations,
  • ’Neath Ogygian* Earth’s foundations:
  • In that darksome hall
  • Sacrifice and supplication
  • Shall not fail. In adoration
  • Silent worship all.
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  • Here, in caverned halls, abiding,
  • High on awful thrones presiding,
  • Gracious ye shall reign.
  • March in torches’ glare rejoicing!
  • Sing, ye throngs, their praises, voicing
  • Loud the exultant strain!

  • Blazing torch, and pure libation
  • From age to age this pious nation
  • Shall not use in vain.
  • Thus hath willed it Jove all-seeing,
  • Thus the Fate. To their decreeing
  • Shout the responsive strain!


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  • Δη̂σε δ’ἀλυκτοπέδ[Editor: illegible character]σι Προμηθέα ποικιλόβουλην
  • Δεσμοɩ̂ς ἀργαλέοισι.
  • Hesiod.
  • Neither to change, nor flatter, nor repent.
  • Shelley.
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Might and Force, Ministers of Jove.

Hephaesthus or Vulcan, the God of Fire.

Prometheus, Son of Iapetus, a Titan.

Chorus of Oceanides.


Io, Daughter of Inachus, King of Argos.

Hermes, Messenger of the Gods.

SceneA Rocky Desert in European Scythia.

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In the mythology of the ancient Greeks, as of many other nations, we find the earlier periods characterised by a series of terrible mundane struggles—wars in Heaven and wars on Earth—which serve as an introduction to, and a preparation for the more regularly ordered and more permanent dynasty that ultimately sways the sceptre of Olympus. In the theological poem of Hesiod, as in the prose narration of Apollodorus, Heaven and Earth are represented as the rulers of the first celestial dynasty; their offspring, called Titans, in the person of one of their number, Kronos, by a violent act of dethronement, forms a second dynasty; while he, in his turn, after a no less violent struggle, gives place to a third sceptre—viz., that of Jove—who, in the faith of the orthodox Athenian, was the supreme ruler of the world of gods, and men, now, after many throes and struggles, arrived, at its normal state, not henceforward to be disturbed. The general character which this succession of dynasties exhibits, is that of order arising out of confusion, peace out of war, and wisely-reasoned plan triumphing over brute force—

  • “Scimus ut impios
  • Titanas immanemque turmam
  • Fulmine sustulerit caduco,
  • Qui terram inertem, qui mare temperat
  • Ventosum, et urbes, regnaque tristia,
  • Divosque, mortalesque turbas,
  • Imperio regit unus aequo.”

This representation of the philosophic lyrist of a late age is in perfect harmony with the epithets μητιόεις and μητιέτα given to Jove by the earliest Greek poets, and with the allegory by which Μη̂τις, or Counsel personified, is represented as one of the wives of the Supreme Ruler. It is worthy of notice also, in the same view, that the legends about the Titans, Giants, and other Earth-born monsters, warring with Jove, are often attached to districts—such as Campania and Cilicia—in which the signs of early volcanic action are, even at the present day, unmistakeable; plainly indicating that such mythic narrations were only exhibitions, in the historical form (according to the early style), of great elemental convulsions and physical changes taking place on the face of the Earth.

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Among the persons most prominent in that primeval age of gigantic “world-strife” (if we may be allowed to Anglicize a German compound) stands Prometheus; not, however, like his Titan brethren in character, though identical with them in descent, and in the position which he finally assumed towards the god in whose hands the supreme government of the world eventually remained. Prometheus, as his name denotes, strives against the high authority of Jove, not by that “reasonless force which falls by its own weight,” but by intelligence and cunning. Viewed in this character, he was the natural ally, not of the serpent-footed Giants and the flame-breathing Typhon, but of the All-wise Olympian; and such, indeed, Æschylus, in the present piece (v. 219, p. 189 below), represents as having been his original position: but, as “before honor is humility, and before pride comes a fall,” so the son of Iapetus, like Tantalus, and so many others in the profoundly moral mythology of the Hellenes, found himself exalted into the fellowship of the blissful gods, only that he might be precipitated into a more terrible depth of misery. He was wise; nay, benevolent ([Editor: illegible character]κακητα, Hesiod. Theog., 614); his delight was to exercise his high intellect in the elevation of the infant human race, sunk in a state of almost brutish stupidity; he stood forward as an incarnation of that practical intellect (so triumphant in these latter days), which subjects the rude elements of nature, for human use and convenience, to mechanical calculation and control; but, with all this, he was proud, he was haughty; his Titanic strength and his curious intellect he used, to shake himself free from all dependence on the highest power, which the constitution of things had ordered should stand as the strong key-stone of the whole Not to ruin mankind, but to save them, he sinned the sin of Lucifer; he would make himself God; and, as in the eye of a court-martial, the subaltern who usurps the functions of the commander-in-chief stands not acquitted, because he alleges that he acted with a benevolent intent, or for the public good, so, in the faith of an orthodox Athenian, Prometheus was not the less worthy of his airy chains because he defied the will of Jove in the championship of mankind Neither man nor god may question or impugn the divine decree of supreme Jove, on grounds of expediency or propriety. With the will of Zeus, as with the laws of nature, there is no arguing. In this relationship the first, second, and third point of duty is submission Such is the doctrine of modern Christian theology; such, also, was the doctrine of the old Hellenic theologer, Hesiod

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  • Vain the wit is of the wisest to deceive the mind of Jove;
  • Not Prometheus, son of Iapetus, though his heart was moved by love,
  • Might escape the heavy anger of the god that rules the skies,
  • But, despite of all his cunning, with a strong chain bound he lies.
  • Theog. 613.

Those who are acquainted with the philological learning on this subject, which I have discussed elsewhere,* or even with the common ideas on the legend of Prometheus brought into circulation by the productions of modern poetry, are aware that the view just given of the moral significance of this weighty old myth, is not the current one, and that we are rather accustomed to look upon Prometheus as a sort of proto-martyr of liberty, bearing up with the strength of a god against the punishment unjustly inflicted on him by the celestial usurper and tyrant, Jove But Hesiod, we have just seen, looks on the matter with very different eyes, and the unquestioned supremacy of Jove that stands out everywhere, from the otherwise not always consistent theological system of the Iliad, leads plainly to the conclusion that Homer also, had he had occasion to introduce this legend, would have handled it in a spirit altogether different from our Shelleys and Byrons, and other earth-shaking and heaven-scaling poets of the modern revolutionary school. As little is there any ground (see the life of Æschylus, vol. I.) for the supposition that our tragedian has taken up different theological ground in reference to this myth, from that which belonged to the two great expositors of the popular creed, not to mention the staring absurdity of the idea, that a grave tragic poet in a serious composition, at a public religious festival, should have dared, or daring, should have been allowed, to hold up their supreme deity to a nation of freemen in the character of a cruel and unjust tyrant. Thrown back, therefore, on the original Hesiodic conception of the myth, we are led to observe that the imperfect and unsatisfactory ideas so current on this subject in modern times, have taken their rise from the practice (so natural under the circumstances) of looking on the extant piece as a complete whole, whereas nothing is more certain than that it is only a fragment; the second part, in fact, of a dramatic trilogy similar in conception and execution to that, of which we have endeavoured to present a reflection in the preceding pages. Potter, in his translation published a hundred years ago, prefaced his version of the present piece with the well-known fact, that Æschylus wrote three plays on this subject—the Fire-bringing Prometheus, the Prometheus Bound, and the Prometheus Unbound—but this intimation Edition: current; Page: [180] was not sufficient to prevent his readers, with the usual hastiness of human logic, from judging of what they saw, as if it were an organic whole, containing within itself every element necessary for forming a true conception of its character. The consequence was, that the hero of the piece, who, of course, tells his own story in the most favourable way for himself, was considered as having passed a final judgment on the case, as the friend and representative of man, he naturally seemed entitled to the gratitude of men; while Jove, being now only an idol in the world (perhaps a devil), and having no advocate in the heart of the modern reader, was made to stand—on the representation of the same Prometheus—as the type of heartless tyranny, and the impersonation of absolute power combined with absolute selfishness. This is Shelley’s view; but that such was not the view of Æschylus we may be assured, both from the consideration already mentioned, and from the poet’s method of reconciling apparently incompatible claims of opposite celestial powers, so curiously exhibited in the Eumenides. In the trilogy of the preceding pages, Orestes stands in a situation, so far as the development of the plot is concerned, precisely analogous to that of Prometheus in the present piece. His conduct, as submitted to the moral judgment of the spectator, produces the same conflict of contrary emotions of which his own bosom is the victim. With the one-half of our heart we approve of his avenging his father’s murder; with the other half, we plead that a son shall, on no ground of offence, allow his indignation to proceed so far as to imbrue his hands in the blood of her whose milk he had sucked. This contrariety of emotions excited in the second piece of the trilogy, produces the tragic knot, which it is the business of the poet to unloose, by the worthy interposition of a god. “Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus.”—Exactly so in the second piece of the Promethean trilogy, our moral judgment praises the benevolence of the god, who, to elevate our human race from brutish degradation, dared to defy omnipotent power, and to deceive the wisdom of the omniscient; while, at the same time, we cannot but condemn the spirit of unreined independence that would shake itself free from the great centre of moral cohesion, and the reckless boldness that casts reproach in the face of the great Ruler of the universe. In this state of suspense, represented by the doubtful attitude of the Chorus* through the whole play, the present fragment of the great Æschylean Promethiad leaves the well-instructed modern reader; and it admits Edition: current; Page: [181] not, in my view, of a doubt that, in the concluding piece, it remained for the poet to effect a reconciliation between the contending interests and clashing emotions, somewhat after the fashion of which we possess a specimen in the Eumenides. By what agency of individuals or of arguments this was done, it is hopeless now to inquire; the fragmentary notices that remain are too meagre to justify a scientific restoration of the lost drama; they who wish to see what erudite imagination can do in this direction may consult Welcker and Schoemann—Welcker, in the shape of prose dissertation in his Trilogie, p. 28; and Schoemann, in the shape of a poetical restoration of the lost poem, in the Appendix to his very valuable edition of this play. About one thing only can we be certain, that, in the ultimate settlement of disputed claims, neither will Prometheus, on the one hand, be degraded from the high position on which the poet has planted him as a sort of umpire between gods and men, nor will Jove yield one whit of his supreme right to exact the bitterest penalties from man or god who presumes to act independently of, and even in opposition to his will. The tragic poet will duly exercise his grand function of keeping the powers of the celestial world—as he does the contending emotions of the human mind—in due equipoise and subordination.*

The plot of the Prometheus Bound is the simplest possible, being not so much the dramatic progression of a course of events, as a single dramatic situation presented through the whole piece under different aspects. The theft of fire from Heaven, or (as the notice of Cicero seems to indicate) from the Lemnian volcano of Mosychlos, having been perpetrated in the previous piece, Might and Force, two allegorical personages, the ministers of Jove’s vengeance, are now introduced, along with Hephaestus, the forger of celestial chains, nailing the benevolent offender to a cold craggy rock in the wastes of European Scythia. In this condition when, after a long silence, he at length gives vent to his complaint, certain kindred divine persons—first, the Oceanides, or daughters of Ocean, and then their hoary sire himself, are brought on the scene, with words of solace and friendly exhortation to the sufferer. When all the arguments that these parties have to advance are exhausted in vain, another mythic personage, of a different character, and for a Edition: current; Page: [182] different purpose, appears. This is Io, the daughter of Inachus, the primeval king of Argos, who, having enjoyed the unblissful distinction of stirring the heart of Jove with love, is, by the jealous wrath of Hera, transmuted into the likeness of a cow,* and sent wandering to the ends of the Earth, fretted into restless distraction by the stings of a malignant insect. This character serves a threefold purpose. First, as a sufferer, tracing the origin of all her misery from Jove, she both sympathizes strongly with Prometheus, and exhibits the character of Jove in another unfavourable aspect; secondly, with her wild maniac cries and reinless fits of distraction, she presents a fine contrast to the calm self-possession with which the stout-hearted Titan endures the penalty of his pride; and, in the third place, as the progenitrix of the Argive Hercules, the destined instrument of the delivery of Prometheus, she connects the middle with the concluding piece of the trilogy. Last of all, when this strange apparition has vanished, appears on the scene the great Olympian negotiator, Hermes; who, with the eloquence peculiar to himself, and the threatened terrors of his supreme master, endeavours to break the pride and to bend the will of the lofty-minded offender. In vain. The threatened terrors of the Thunderer now suddenly start into reality; and, amid the roar of contending elements, the pealing Heaven and the quaking Earth, the Jove-defying son of Iapetus descends into Hell.

The superhuman grandeur and high tragic sublimity which belongs to the very conception of this subject, has suffered nothing in respect of treatment from the genius of the bard who dared to handle it. The Prometheus Bound, though inferior in point of lyric richness and variety to the Agamemnon, and though somewhat overloaded with narrative in one place, is nevertheless felt throughout to be one of the most powerful productions of one of the most powerful minds that the history of literature knows. No work of a similar lofty character certainly has ever been so extensively popular. The Prometheus Unbound of Shelley, and Lord Byron’s Manfred, bear ample witness, of which we may well be proud, to the relationship which exists between the severe Melpomene of ancient Greece, and the lofty British Muse.

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Enter Might and Force, leading in Prometheus; Hephaestus, with chains.

  • At length the utmost bound of Earth we’ve reached,
  • This Scythian soil, this wild untrodden waste.1
  • Hephaestus now Jove’s high behests demand
  • Thy care; to these steep cliffy rocks bind down
  • With close-linked chains of during adamant
  • This daring wretch2 For he the bright-rayed fire,
  • Mother of arts, flower of thy potency,
  • Filched from the gods, and gave to mortals. Here,
  • Just guerdon of his sin shall find him; here
  • Let his pride learn to bow to Jove supreme,
  • And love men well, but love them not too much.
  • Ye twain, rude Might and Force, have done your work
  • To the perfect end; but I—my heart shrinks back
  • From the harsh task to nail a kindred god3
  • To this storm-battered crag. Yet dare I must.
  • Where Jove commands, whoso neglects rebels,
  • And pays the traitor’s fine. High-counselled son
  • Of right-decreeing Themis,4 I force myself
  • No less than thee, when to this friendless rock
  • With iron bonds I chain thee, where nor shape
  • Nor voice of wandering mortal shall relieve
  • Thy lonely watch; but the fierce-burning sun
  • Shall parch and bleach thy fresh complexion. Thou,
  • When motley-mantled Night* hath hid the day,
  • Shalt greet the darkness, with how short a joy!
  • For the morn’s sun the nightly dew shall scatter,
  • And thou be pierced again with the same pricks
  • Of endless woe—and saviour shall be none.5
  • Such fruits thy forward love to men hath wrought thee.
  • Thyself a god, the wrath of gods to thee
  • Seemed little, and to men thou didst dispense
  • Forbidden gifts. For this thou shalt keep watch
  • Edition: current; Page: [184]
  • On this delightless rock, fixed and erect,
  • With lid unsleeping, and with knee unbent.
  • Alas! what groans and wails shalt thou pour forth,
  • Fruitless. Jove is not weak that he should bend,6
  • For young authority must ever be
  • Harsh and severe.
  • Enough of words and tears.
  • This god, whom all the gods detest, wilt thou
  • Not hate, thou, whom his impious larceny
  • Did chiefly injure?

But, my friend, my kinsman—

  • True, that respect; but the dread father’s word
  • Respect much more. Jove’s word respect and fear.
  • Harsh is thy nature, and thy heart is full
  • Of pitiless daring.
  • Tears were wasted here,
  • And labour lost is all concern for him

O thrice-cursed trade, that e’er my hand should use it!

  • Curse not thy craft; the cunning of thy hand
  • Makes not his woes; he made them for himself.
  • Would that some other hand had drawn the lot
  • To do this deed!
  • All things may be, but this
  • To dictate to the gods.7 There’s one that’s free,
  • One only, Jove.

I know it, and am dumb.

  • Then gird thee to the work, chain down the culprit,
  • Lest Jove thy laggard zeal behold, and blame.

The irons here are ready.

  • Take them, and strike
  • Stout blows with the hammer; nail him to the rock.

The work speeds well, and lingers not.

  • Strike! strike!
  • With ring, and clamp, and wedge make sure the work.
  • He hath a subtle wit will find itself
  • A way where way is none.

This arm is fast.

  • Then clasp this other. Let the sophist know,
  • Against great Jove how dull a thing is wit.

None but the victim can reprove my zeal.

  • Now take this adamantine bolt, and force
  • Its point resistless through his rebel breast.
  • Alas! alas! Prometheus, but I pity thee!
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  • Dost lag again, and for Jove’s enemies weep
  • Fond tears? Beware thou have no cause to weep
  • Tears for thyself.
  • Thou see’st no sightly sight
  • For eyes to look on.
  • I behold a sower
  • Reaping what thing he sowed. But take these thongs,
  • And bind his sides withal.
  • I must! I must!
  • Nor needs thy urging.
  • Nay, but I will urge,
  • Command, and bellow in thine ear! Proceed,
  • Lower—yet lower—and with these iron rings
  • Enclasp his legs.

’Tis done, and quickly done.

  • Now pierce his feet through with these nails. Strike hard!
  • There’s one will sternly prove thy work, and thee.

Harsh is thy tongue, and, like thy nature, hard.

  • Art thou a weakling, do not therefore blame
  • The firm harsh-fronted will that suits my office.

Let us away. He’s fettered limb and thew.

  • There lie, and feed thy pride on this bare rock,
  • Filching gods’ gifts for mortal men. What man
  • Shall free thee from these woes? Thou hast been called
  • In vain the Provident:8 had thy soul possessed
  • The virtue of thy name, thou hadst foreseen
  • These cunning toils, and hadst unwound thee from them.

[Exeunt all, except Prometheus, who is left chained.



  • O divine ether, and swift-winged winds,
  • And river-fountains, and of ocean waves
  • The multitudinous laughter,10 and thou Earth,
  • Boon mother of us all, and thou bright round
  • Of the all-seeing Sun, you I invoke!
  • Behold what ignominy of causeless wrongs
  • I suffer from the gods, myself a god.
  • See what piercing pains shall goad me
  • Through long ages myraid-numbered!
  • With such wrongful chains hath bound me
  • This new leader of the gods.
  • Ah me! present woes and future
  • I bemoan. O! when, O! when
  • Shall the just redemption dawn.
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  • Yet why thus prate? I know what ills await me.
  • No unexpected torture can surprise
  • My soul prophetic; and with quiet mind
  • We all must bear our portioned fate, nor idly
  • Court battle with a strong necessity.
  • Alas! alas! ’tis hard to speak to the winds;
  • Still harder to be dumb! my well-deservings
  • To mortal men are all the offence that bowed me
  • Beneath this yoke. The secret fount of fire
  • I sought, and found, and in a reed concealed it;11
  • Whence arts have sprung to man, and life hath drawn
  • Rich store of comforts For such deed I suffer
  • These bonds, in the broad eye of gracious day,
  • Here crucified Ah me! ah me! who comes?12
  • What sound, what viewless breath, thus taints the air,
  • God sent, or mortal, or of mingled kind?
  • What errant traveller ill-sped comes to view
  • This naked ridge of extreme Earth, and me?
  • Whoe’er thou art, a hapless god thou see’st
  • Nailed to this crag, the foe of Jove thou seest.
  • Him thou see’st, whom all the Immortals
  • Whoso tread the Olympian threshold,
  • Name with hatred; thou beholdest
  • Man’s best friend, and, therefore, hated
  • For excess of love.
  • Hark, again! I hear the whirring
  • As of winged birds approaching;
  • With the light strokes of their pinions
  • Ether pipes ill-boding whispers!—
  • Alas! alas! that I should fear
  • Each breath that nears me.

The Oceanides approach, borne through the air in a winged car.


  • Fear nothing; for a friendly band approaches;
  • Fleet rivalry of wings
  • Oar’d us to this far height, with hard consent
  • Wrung from our careful sire
  • The winds swift-sweeping bore me: for I heard
  • The harsh hammer’s note deep deep in ocean caves,
  • And, throwing virgin shame aside, unshod
  • The winged car I mounted.
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  • Ah! ah!
  • Daughters of prolific Tethys,13
  • And of ancient father Ocean,
  • With his sleepless current whirling
  • Round the firm ball of the globe
  • Look! with rueful eyes behold me
  • Nailed by adamantine rivets,
  • Keeping weary watch unenvied
  • On this tempest-rifted rock!


  • I look, Prometheus, and a tearful cloud
  • My woeful sight bedims,
  • To see thy goodliest form with insult chained,
  • In adamantine bonds,
  • To this bare crag, where pinching airs shall blast thee.
  • New gods now hold the helm of Heaven; new laws
  • Mark Jove’s unrighteous rule; the giant trace
  • Of Titan times hath vanished.14
  • Deep in death-receiving Hades
  • Had he bound me, had he whelmed me
  • In Tartarean pit, unfathomed,
  • Fettered with unyielding bonds!
  • Then nor god nor man had feasted
  • Eyes of triumph on my wrongs,
  • Nor I, thus swung in middle ether,*
  • Moved the laughter of my foes.


  • Which of the gods hath heart so hard
  • To mock thy woes? Who will withhold
  • The fellow-feeling and the tear,
  • Save only Jove But he doth nurse
  • Strong wrath within his stubborn breast,
  • And holds all Heaven in awe.
  • Nor will he cease till his hot rage is glutted,
  • Or some new venture shakes his stable throne.
  • By my Titan soul, I swear it!
  • Though with harsh chains now he mocks me,
  • Even now the hour is ripening,
  • When this haughty lord of Heaven
  • Shall embrace my knees, beseeching
  • Me to unveil the new-forged counsels
  • Edition: current; Page: [188]
  • That shall hurl him from his throne.15
  • But no honey-tongued persuasion,
  • No smooth words of artful charming,
  • No stout threats shall loose my tongue,
  • Till he loose these bonds of insult,
  • And himself make just atonement
  • For injustice done to me.


  • Thou art a bold man, and defiest
  • The keenest pangs to force thy will.
  • With a most unreined tongue thou speakest;
  • But me—sharp fear hath pierced my heart.
  • I fear for thee: and of thy woes
  • The distant, doubtful end
  • I see not. O, ’tis hard, most hard to reach
  • The heart of Jove!16 prayer beats his ear in vain.
  • Harsh is Jove, I know—he frameth
  • Justice for himself; but soon,
  • When the destined arm o’ertakes him,
  • He shall tremble as a child.
  • He shall smooth his bristling anger,
  • Courting friendship shunned before,
  • More importunate to unbind me
  • Than impatient I of bonds.
  • Speak now, and let us know the whole offence
  • Jove charges thee withal, for which he seized,
  • And with dishonor and dire insult loads thee.
  • Unfold the tale, unless, perhaps, such sorrow
  • Irks thee to tell.
  • To tell or not to tell
  • Irks me the same; which way I turn is pain.
  • When first the gods their fatal strife began,
  • And insurrection raged in Heaven—some striving
  • To cast old Kronos from his hoary throne,
  • That Jove might reign, and others to crush i’ the bud
  • His swelling mastery—I wise counsel gave
  • To the Titans, sons of primal Heaven and Earth;
  • But gave in vain Their dauntless stubborn souls
  • Spurned gentle ways, and patient-working wiles,
  • Weening swift triumph with a blow. But me,
  • My mother Themis, not once but oft, and Earth
  • (One shape of various names),17 prophetic told
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  • That violence and rude strength in such a strife
  • Were vain—craft haply might prevail. This lesson
  • I taught the haughty Titans, but they deigned
  • Scarce with contempt to hear my prudent words.
  • Thus baffled in my plans, I deemed it best,
  • As things then were, leagued with my mother Themis,
  • To accept Jove’s proffered friendship. By my counsels
  • From his primeval throne was Kronos* hurled
  • Into the pit Tartarean, dark, profound,
  • With all his troop of friends. Such was the kindness
  • From me received by him who now doth hold
  • The masterdom of Heaven; these the rewards
  • Of my great zeal: for so it hath been ever.
  • Suspicion’s a disease that cleaves to tyrants,
  • And they who love most are the first suspected.18
  • As for your question, for what present fault
  • I bear the wrong that now afflicts me, hear.
  • Soon as he sat on his ancestral throne
  • He called the gods together, and assigned
  • To each his fair allotment, and his sphere
  • Of sway supreme; but, ah! for wretched man!
  • To him nor part nor portion fell: Jove vowed
  • To blot his memory from the Earth, and mould
  • The race anew. I only of the gods
  • Thwarted his will;19 and, but for my strong aid,
  • Hades had whelmed, and hopeless ruin swamped
  • All men that breathe. Such were my crimes: these pains
  • Grievous to suffer, pitiful to behold,
  • Were purchased thus; and mercy’s now denied
  • To him whose crime was mercy to mankind:
  • And here I lie, in cunning torment stretched,20
  • A spectacle inglorious to Jove.
  • An iron-heart were his, and flinty hard,
  • Who on thy woes could look without a tear,
  • Prometheus; I had liefer not so seen thee,
  • And seeing thee fain would call mine eyesight liar.

Certes no sight am I for friends to look on.


Was this thy sole offence?

  • I taught weak mortals
  • Not to foresee harm, and forestall the Fates.
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  • A sore disease to anticipate mischance:
  • How didst thou cure it?
  • Blind hopes of good I planted
  • In their dark breasts.21
  • That was a boon indeed,
  • To ephemeral man.

Nay more, I gave them fire.


And flame-faced fire is now enjoyed by mortals?22


Enjoyed, and of all arts the destined mother.

  • And is this all the roll of thy offendings
  • That he should rage so fierce? Hath he not set
  • Bounds to his vengeance?

None, but his own pleasure.

  • And when shall he please? Vain the hope; thou see’st
  • That thou hast erred, and that thou hast to us
  • No pleasure brings, to thee excess of pain.
  • Of this enough. Seek now to cure the evil.
  • ’Tis a light thing for him whose foot’s unwarped
  • By misadventure’s meshes to advise
  • And counsel the unfortunate. But I
  • Foreknew my fate, and if I erred, I erred
  • With conscious purpose, purchasing man’s weal
  • With mine own grief. I knew I should offend
  • The Thunderer, though deeming not that he
  • Would perch me thus to pine ’twixt Earth and Sky,
  • Of this wild wintry waste sole habitant.
  • But cease to weep for ills that weeping mends not;
  • Descend, and I’ll discourse to thee at length
  • Of chances yet to come. Nay, do not doubt;
  • But leave thy car, nor be ashamed to share
  • The afflictions of the afflicted; for Mishap,
  • Of things that lawless wander, wanders most;
  • With me to-day it is with you to-morrow.
  • Not to sluggish ears, Prometheus,
  • Hast thou spoken thy desire,
  • From our breeze-borne car descending,
  • With light foot we greet the ground.
  • Leaving ether chaste, smooth pathway
  • Of the gently-winnowing wing,
  • On this craggy rock I stand,
  • To hear the tale, while thou mayst tell it,
  • Of thy sorrows to the end.
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Enter Ocean.23

  • From my distant caves cerulean24
  • This fleet-pinioned bird hath borne me;
  • Needed neither bit nor bridle,
  • Thought instinctive reined the creature;
  • Thus, to know thy griefs, Prometheus,
  • And to grieve with thee I come
  • Soothly strong the tie of kindred
  • Binds the heart of man and god;
  • But, though no such tie had bound me,
  • I had wept for thee the same.
  • Well thou know’st not mine the cunning
  • To discourse with glozing phrase:
  • Tell me how I may relieve thee,
  • I am ready to relieve;
  • Friend thou boastest none than Ocean
  • Surer, in the hour of need.
  • How now, old Ocean? thou too come to view
  • My dire disasters?—how shouldst thou have dared,
  • Leaving the billowy stream whose name thou bearest,
  • Thy rock-roofed halls, and self-built palaces,
  • To visit this Scythian land, stern mother of iron,
  • To know my sorrows, and to grieve with me?
  • Look on this sight—thy friend, the friend of Jove,
  • Who helped him to the sway which now he bears,
  • Crushed by the self-same god himself exalted.
  • I see, Prometheus; and I come to speak
  • A wise word to the wise; receive it wisely.
  • Know what thou art, and make thy manners new;
  • For a new king doth rule the subject gods.
  • Compose thy speech, nor cast such whetted words
  • ’Gainst Jove, who, though he sits apart sublime,
  • Hath ears, and with new pains may smite his victim,
  • To which his present wrath shall seem a toy.
  • Listen to me, slack thy fierce ire, and seek
  • Speedy deliverance from these woes. Trite wisdom
  • Belike I speak, Prometheus; but thou knowest
  • A lofty-sounding tongue with passionate phrase
  • Buys its own ruin. Proud art thou, unyielding,
  • And heap’st new woes tenfold on thine own head.
  • Why should’st thou kick against the pricks? Jove reigns
  • A lord severe, and of his acts need give
  • Edition: current; Page: [192]
  • Account to none. I go to plead for thee,
  • And, what I can, will try to save my kinsman;
  • But be thou calm the while, curb thy rash speech,
  • And let not fame report, that one so wise
  • Fell by the forfeit of a foolish tongue.
  • Count thyself happy, Ocean, being free
  • From blame, who shared and dared with me. Be wise,
  • And what thy meddling aids not, let alone.
  • In vain thou plead’st with him; his ears are deaf.
  • Look to thyself: thy errand is not safe.
  • Wise art thou, passing wise, for others’ weal,
  • For thine own good most foolish. Prithee do not
  • So stretch thy stubborn whim to pull against
  • The friends that pull for thee. ’Tis no vain boast;
  • I know that Jove will hear me.
  • Thou art kind;
  • And for thy kind intent and friendly feeling
  • Have my best thanks. But do not, I beseech thee,
  • Waste labour upon me. If thou wilt labour,
  • Seek a more hopeful subject. Thou wert wiser,
  • Being safe, to keep thee safe. I, when I suffer,
  • Wish not that all my friends should suffer with me.
  • Enough my brother Atlas’ miseries grieve me.25
  • Who in the extreme West stands, stoutly bearing
  • The pillars of Heaven and Earth upon his shoulders,26
  • No lightsome burden. Him too, I bewail,
  • That made his home in dark Cilician caverns.
  • The hostile portent, Earth-born, hundred-headed
  • Impetuous Typhon,27 quelled by force, who stood
  • Alone, against the embattled host of gods,
  • Hissing out murder from his monstrous jaws;
  • And from his eyes there flashed a Gorgon glare,
  • As he would smite the tyranny of great Jove
  • Clean down; but he, with sleepless thunder watching,
  • Hurl’d headlong a flame-breathing bolt, and laid
  • The big-mouthed vaunter low. Struck to the heart
  • With blasted strength, and shrunk to ashes, there
  • A huge and helpless hulk, outstretched he lies,
  • Beside the salt sea’s strait, pressed down beneath
  • The roots of Ætna, on whose peaks Hephaestus
  • Sits hammering the hot metal. Thence, one day,
  • Shall streams of liquid fire, swift passage forcing,
  • With savage jaws the wide-spread plains devour
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  • Of the fair-fruited Sicilly. Such hot shafts,
  • From the flame-breathing ferment of the deep,
  • Shall Typhon cast with sateless wrath, though now
  • All scorched and cindered by the Thunderer’s stroke,
  • Moveless he lies. But why should I teach thee?
  • Thou art a wise man, thine own wisdom use
  • To save thyself. For me, I’ll even endure
  • These pains, till Jove shall please to slack his ire.
  • Know’st thou not this, Prometheus, that mild words
  • Are medicines of fierce wrath?28
  • They are, when spoken
  • In a mild hour; but the high-swelling heart
  • They do but fret the more.
  • But, in the attempt
  • To ward the threatened harm, what evil see’st thou?

Most bootless toil, and folly most inane.

  • Be it so; but yet ’tis sometimes well, believe me,
  • That a wise man should seem to be a fool.

Seem fool, seem wise, I, in the end, am blamed.


Thy reckless words reluctant send me home.


Beware, lest love for me make thyself hated.

  • Of whom? Of him, who, on the all-powerful throne
  • Sits, a new lord?
  • Even him. Beware thou vex not
  • Jove’s jealous heart.

In this, thy fate shall warn me.

  • Away! farewell; and may the prudent thoughts,
  • That sway thy bosom now, direct thee ever.
  • I go, and quickly. My four-footed bird
  • Brushes the broad path of the limpid air
  • With forward wing: right gladly will he bend
  • The wearied knee on his familiar stall.

  • Thy dire disasters, unexampled wrongs,
  • I weep, Prometheus.
  • From its soft founts distilled the flowing tear
  • My cheek bedashes.
  • ’Tis hard, most hard! By self-made laws Jove rules,
  • And ’gainst the host of primal gods he points
  • The lordly spear.
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  • With echoing groans the ambient waste bewails
  • Thy fate, Prometheus;
  • The neighbouring tribes of holy Asia weep
  • For thee, Prometheus;29
  • For thee and thine! names mighty and revered
  • Of yore, now shamed, dishonoured, and cast down,
  • And chained with thee.

  • And Colchis, with her belted daughters, weeps
  • For thee, Prometheus,
  • And Scythian tribes, on Earth’s remotest verge,
  • Where lone Mæotis* spreads her wintry waters,
  • Do weep for thee.

  • The flower of Araby’s wandering warriors weep
  • For thee, Prometheus;30
  • And they who high their airy holds have perched
  • On Caucasus’ ridge, with pointed lances bristling,
  • Do weep for thee.
  • EPODE.

  • One only vexed like thee, and even as thou,
  • In adamant bound,
  • A Titan, and a god scorned by the gods,
  • Atlas I knew.
  • He on his shoulders the surpassing weight
  • Of the celestial pole stoutly upbore,
  • And groaned beneath.
  • Roars billowy Ocean, and the Deep sucks back
  • Its waters when he sobs; from Earth’s dark caves
  • Deep hell resounds,
  • The fountains of the holy-streaming rivers
  • Do moan with him.
  • Deem me not self-willed, nor with pride high-strung,
  • That I am dumb, my heart is gnawed to see
  • Myself thus mocked and jeered. These gods, to whom
  • Owe they their green advancement but to me?
  • But this ye know, and, not to teach the taught,
  • I’ll speak of it no more. Of human kind,
  • My great offence in aiding them, in teaching
  • Edition: current; Page: [195]
  • The babe to speak, and rousing torpid mind
  • To take the grasp of itself—of this I’ll talk;
  • Meaning to mortal men no blame, but only
  • The true recital of mine own deserts.
  • For, soothly, having eyes to see they saw not,31
  • And hearing heard not, but like dreamy phantoms,
  • A random life they led from year to year,
  • All blindly floundering on. No craft they knew
  • With woven brick or jointed beam to pile
  • The sunward porch; but in the dark earth burrowed
  • And housed, like tiny ants in sunless caves.
  • No signs they knew to mark the wintry year.
  • The flower-strewn Spring, and the fruit-laden Summer,
  • Uncalendared, unregistered, returned—
  • Till I the difficult art of the stars revealed,
  • Their risings and their settings Numbers, too,
  • I taught them (a most choice device)32 and how
  • By marshalled signs to fix their shifting thoughts,
  • That Memory, mother of Muses, might achieve
  • Her wondrous works. I first slaved to the yoke
  • Both ox and ass. I, the rein-loving steeds
  • (Of wealth’s gay-flaunting pomp the chiefest pride)
  • Joined to the car; and bade them ease the toils
  • Of labouring men vicarious. I the first
  • Upon the lint-winged car of mariner
  • Was launched, sea-wandering. Such wise arts I found
  • To soothe the ills of man’s ephemeral life;
  • But for myself, plunged in this depth of woe,
  • No prop I find.
  • Sad chance! Thy wit hath slipt
  • From its firm footing then when needed most,
  • Like some unlearned leech who many healed,
  • But being sick himself, from all his store,
  • Cannot cull out one medicinal drug.
  • Hear me yet farther, and in hearing marvel,
  • What arts and curious shifts my wit devised.
  • Chiefest of all, the cure of dire disease
  • Men owe to me. Nor healing food, nor drink,
  • Nor unguent knew they, but did slowly wither
  • And waste away for lack of pharmacy,
  • Till taught by me to mix the soothing drug,
  • And check corruption’s march. I fixed the art
  • Of divination with its various phase
  • Edition: current; Page: [196]
  • Of dim revealings, making dreams speak truth,
  • Stray voices, and encounters by the way
  • Significant; the flight of taloned birds
  • On right and left I marked—these fraught with ban,
  • With blissful augury those; their way of life,
  • Their mutual loves and enmities, their flocks,
  • And friendly gatherings; the entrails’ smoothness,
  • The hue best liked by the gods, the gall, the liver
  • With all its just proportions. I first wrapped
  • In the smooth fat the thighs; first burnt the loins,
  • And from the flickering flame taught men to spell
  • No easy lore, and cleared the fire-faced signs33
  • Obscure before. Yet more: I probed the Earth,
  • To yield its hidden wealth to help man’s weakness—
  • Iron, copper, silver, gold None but a fool,
  • A prating fool, will stint me of this praise.
  • And thus, with one short word to sum the tale,
  • Prometheus taught all arts to mortal men.
  • Do good to men, but do it with discretion.
  • Why shouldst thou harm thyself? Good hope I nurse
  • To see thee soon from these harsh chains unbound,
  • As free, as mighty, as great Jove himself.
  • This may not be; the destined course of things
  • Fate must accomplish; I must bend me yet
  • ’Neath wrongs on wrongs, ere I may ’scape these bonds.
  • Though Art be strong, Necessity is stronger.

And who is lord of strong Necessity?34


The triform Fates, and the sure-memoried Furies.


And mighty Jove himself must yield to them?


No more than others Jove can ’scape his doom.35


What doom?—No doom hath he but endless sway.


’Tis not for thee to know: tempt not the question.

  • There’s some dread mystery in thy chary speech,
  • Close-veiled.
  • Urge this no more: the truth thou’lt know
  • In fitting season; now it lies concealed
  • In deepest darkness! for relenting Jove
  • Himself must woo this secret from my breast.

  • Never, O never may Jove,
  • Who in Olympus reigns omnipotent lord,
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  • Plant his high will against my weak opinion!36
  • Let me approach the gods
  • With blood of oxen and with holy feasts,
  • By father Ocean’s quenchless stream, and pay
  • No backward vows:
  • Nor let my tongue offend; but in my heart
  • Be lowly wisdom graven.

  • For thus old Wisdom speaks:
  • Thy life ’tis sweet to cherish, and while the length
  • Of years is thine, thy heart with cheerful hopes
  • And lightsome joys to feed.
  • But thee—ah me! my blood runs cold to see thee,
  • Pierced to the marrow with a thousand pains.
  • Not fearing Jove,
  • Self-willed thou hast respect to man, Prometheus,
  • Much more than man deserveth.

  • For what is man?* behold!
  • Can he requite thy love—child of a day—
  • Or help thy extreme need? Hast thou not seen
  • The blind and aimless strivings,
  • The barren blank endeavour,
  • The pithless deeds, of the fleeting dreamlike race?
  • Never, O nevermore,
  • May mortal wit Jove’s ordered plan deceive.

  • This lore my heart hath learned
  • From sight of thee, and thy sharp pains, Prometheus.
  • Alas! what diverse strain I sang thee then,
  • Around the bridal chamber,
  • And around the bridal bath,
  • When thou my sister fair, Hesione,
  • Won by rich gifts didst lead37
  • From Ocean’s caves thy spousal bed to share.

Enter Io.38

  • What land is this?—what race of mortals
  • Owns this desert? who art thou,
  • Edition: current; Page: [198]
  • Rock-bound with these wintry fetters,
  • And for what crime tortured thus?
  • Worn and weary with far travel,
  • Tell me where my feet have borne me!
  • O pain! pain! pain! it stings and goads me again,
  • The fateful brize!—save me, O Earth!39—Avaunt
  • Thou horrible shadow of the Earth-born Argus!
  • Could not the grave close up thy hundred eyes,
  • But thou must come,
  • Haunting my path with thy suspicious look,
  • Unhoused from Hades?
  • Avaunt! avaunt!—why wilt thou hound my track,
  • The famished wanderer on the waste sea-shore?

  • Pipe not thy sounding wax-compacted reed
  • With drowsy drone at me! Ah wretched me!
  • Wandering, still wandering o’er wide Earth, and driven
  • Where? where? O tell me where?
  • O Son of Kronos, in what damned sin
  • Being caught hast thou to misery yoked me thus,
  • Pricked me to desperation, and my heart
  • Pierced with thy furious goads?
  • Blast me with lightnings! bury me in Earth! To the gape
  • Of greedy sea-monsters give me! Hear, O hear
  • My prayer, O King!
  • Enough, enough, these errant toils have tried me;
  • And yet no rest I find: nor when, nor where
  • These woes shall cease may know.


Dost hear the plaint of the ox-horned maid?

  • How should I not? the Inachian maid who knows not,
  • Stung by the god-sent brize? the maid who smote
  • Jove’s lustful heart with love: and his harsh spouse
  • Hounds her o’er Earth with chase interminable.


  • My father’s name thou know’st, and my descent!
  • Who art thou? god or mortal? Speak! what charm
  • Gives wretch like thee, the certain clue to know
  • My lamentable fate?
  • Aye, and the god-sent plague thou know’st; the sting
  • That spurs me o’er the far-stretched Earth; the goad
  • That mads me sheer, wastes, withers, and consumes,
  • A worn and famished maid,
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  • Whipt by the scourge of jealous Hera’s wrath!
  • Ah me! ah me! Misery has many shapes,
  • But none like mine.
  • O thou, who named my Argive home, declare
  • What ills await me yet; what end, what hope?
  • If hope there be for Io

I pray thee speak to the weary way-worn maid.

  • I’ll tell thee all thy wish, not in enigmas
  • Tangled and dark, but in plain phrase, as friend
  • Should speak to friend Thou see’st Prometheus, who
  • To mortal men gifted immortal fire.
  • O thou, to man a common blessing given,
  • What crime hath bound thee to this wintry rock?

I have but ceased rehearsing all my wrongs.


And dost thou then refuse the boon I ask?


What boon? ask what thou wilt, and I will answer.


Say, then, who bound thee to this ragged cliff?


Stern Jove’s decree, and harsh Hephaestus’ hand.


And for what crime?


Let what I’ve said suffice.

  • This, too, I ask—what bound hath fate appointed
  • To my far-wandering toils?
  • This not to know
  • Were better than to learn
  • Nay, do not hide
  • This thing from me!
  • If ’tis a boon, believe me,
  • I grudge it not.

Then why so slow to answer?


I would not crush thee with the cruel truth.


Fear not; I choose to hear it.


Listen then.

  • Nay, hear me rather. With her own mouth this maid
  • Shall first her bygone woes rehearse; next thou
  • What yet remains shalt tell.
  • Even so. [To Io.] Speak thou;
  • They are the sisters of thy father, Io;41
  • And to wail out our griefs, when they who listen
  • Our troubles with a willing tear requite,
  • Is not without its use.
  • I will obey,
  • And in plain speech my chanceful story tell;
  • Though much it grieves me to retrace the source,
  • Edition: current; Page: [200]
  • Whence sprung this god-sent pest, and of my shape
  • Disfigurement abhorred. Night after night
  • Strange dreams around my maiden pillow hovering
  • Whispered soft temptings. “O thrice-blessed maid,
  • Why pin’st thou thus in virgin loneliness,
  • When highest wedlock courts thee? Struck by the shaft
  • Of fond desire for thee Jove burns, and pants
  • To twine his loves with thine. Spurn not, O maid,
  • The proffered bed of Jove, but hie thee straight
  • To Lerne’s bosomed mead,42 where are the sheep-folds
  • And ox-stalls of thy sire, that so the eye
  • Of Jove, being filled with thee, may cease from craving.
  • Such nightly dreams my restless couch possessed
  • Till I, all tears, did force me to unfold
  • The portent to my father. He to Pytho*
  • Sent frequent messengers, and to Dodona,
  • Searching the pleasure of the gods, but they
  • With various-woven phrase came back, and answers
  • More doubtful than the quest. At length, a clear
  • And unambiguous voice came to my father,
  • Enjoining, with most strict command, to send me
  • Far from my home, and from my country far,
  • To the extreme bounds of Earth an outcast wanderer,
  • Else that the fire-faced bolt of Jove should smite
  • Our universal race. By such responses,
  • Moved of oracular Loxias, my father
  • Reluctant me reluctant drove from home,
  • And shut the door against me. What he did
  • He did perforce; Jove’s bit was in his mouth.
  • Forthwith my wit was frenzied, and my form
  • Assumed the brute. With maniac bound I rushed,
  • Horned as thou see’st, and with the sharp-mouthed sting
  • Of gad-fly pricked infuriate to the cliff
  • Of Lerne, and Cenchréa’s limpid wave;
  • While Argus, Earth-born cow-herd, hundred-eyed,
  • Followed the winding traces of my path
  • With sharp observance. Him swift-swooping Fate
  • Snatched unexpected from his sleepless guard;
  • But I from land to land still wander on,
  • Scourged by the wrath of Heaven’s relentless Queen.
  • Thou hast my tale; the sequel, if thou know’st it,
  • Is thine to tell; but do not seek, I pray thee,
  • Edition: current; Page: [201]
  • In pity for me, to drop soft lies, for nothing
  • Is worse than the smooth craft of practised phrase.
  • Enough, enough! Woe’s me that ever
  • Such voices of strange grief should rend my ear!
  • That such a tale of woe,
  • Insults, and wrongs, and horrors, should freeze me through,
  • As with a two-edged sword!
  • O destiny! destiny! woes most hard to see,
  • More hard to bear! Alas! poor maid for thee!
  • Thy wails anticipate her woes; restrain
  • Thy trembling tears till thou hast heard the whole.
  • Proceed: to know the worst some solace brings
  • To the vexed heart.
  • Your first request I granted,
  • And lightly; from her own mouth, ye have heard
  • The spring of harm, the stream expect from me,
  • How Hera shall draw out her slow revenge.
  • Meanwhile, thou seed of Inachus, lend an ear
  • And learn thy future travel. First to the east43
  • Turn thee, and traverse the unploughed Scythian fields,
  • Whose wandering tribes their wattled homes transport
  • Aloft on well-wheeled wains, themselves well slung
  • With the far-darting bow. These pass, and, holding
  • Thy course by the salt sea’s sounding surge, pass through
  • The land; next, on thy left, thou’lt reach the Chalybs,
  • Workers in iron. These too avoid—for they
  • Are savage, and harsh to strangers. Thence proceeding,
  • Thou to a stream shalt come, not falsely named
  • Hubristes: but the fierce ill-forded wave
  • Pass not till Caucasus, hugest hill, receives thee,
  • There where the flood its gushing strength foams forth
  • Fresh from the rocky brow. Cross then the peaks
  • That neighbour with the stars, and thence direct
  • Southward thy path to where the Amazons
  • Dwell, husband-hated, who shall one day people
  • Thermódon’s bank, and Themiscyre, and where
  • Harsh Salmydessus whets his ravening jaws,
  • The sailor’s foe, stepmother to the ships.
  • These maids shall give thee escort. Next thou’lt reach
  • The narrow Cimmerian isthmus, skirting bleak
  • The waters of Mæotis. Here delay not,
  • But with bold breast cross thou the strait Thy passage
  • Linked with the storied name of Bosphorus
  • Edition: current; Page: [202]
  • Shall live through endless time. Here, leaving Europe,
  • The Asian soil receives thee. Now, answer me,
  • Daughters of Ocean, doth not Jove in all things
  • Prove his despotic will?—In lawless love
  • Longing to mingle with this mortal maid,
  • He heaps her with these woes A bitter suitor,
  • Poor maid, was thine, and I have told thee scarce
  • The prelude of thy griefs

Ah! wretched me!

  • Alas, thy cries and groans!—What wilt thou do,
  • When the full measure of thy woes is told thee?

What! more? her cup of woes not full?

  • ’Twill flow
  • And overflow, a sea of whelming woes.
  • Why do I live? Why not embrace the gain
  • That, with one cast, this toppling cliff secures,
  • And dash me headlong on the ground, to end
  • Life and life’s sorrows? Once to die is better
  • Than thus to drag sick life.
  • Thou’rt happy, Io,
  • That death from all thy living wrongs may free thee;
  • But I, whom Fate hath made immortal, see
  • No end to my long-lingering pains appointed,
  • Till Jove from his usurping sway be hurled.

Jove from his tyranny hurled—can such thing be?


Doubtless ’twould feast thine eyes to see’t?

  • Ay, truly,
  • Wronged as I am by him.
  • Then, learn from me
  • That ne is doomed to fall.
  • What hand shall wrest
  • Jove’s sceptre?

Jove’s own empty wit.


How so?


From evil marriage reaping evil fruit.


Marriage! of mortal lineage or divine?


Ask me no further. This I may not answer.


Shall his spouse thrust him from his ancient throne?


The son that she brings forth shall wound his father.


And hath he no redemption from this doom?


None, till he loose me from these hated bonds.


But who, in Jove’s despite, shall loose thee?

  • One
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  • From thine own womb descended.
  • How? My Son?
  • One born of me shall be thy Saviour!—When?

When generations ten have passed, the third.44


Thou speak’st ambiguous oracles.

  • I have spoken
  • Enough for thee. Pry not into the Fates.

Wilt thou hold forth a hope to cheat my grasp?


I give thee choice of two things: choose thou one.


What things? Speak, and I’ll choose

  • Thou hast the choice
  • To hear thy toils to the end, or learn his name
  • Who comes to save me.
  • Nay, divide the choice;
  • One half to her concede, to me the other,
  • Thus doubly gracious: to the maid her toils,
  • To me thy destined Saviour tell.
  • So be it!
  • Being thus whetted in desire, I would not
  • Oppose your wills. First Io, what remains
  • Of thy far-sweeping wanderings hear, and grave
  • My words on the sure tablets of thy mind.
  • When thou hast crossed the narrow stream that parts45
  • The continents, to the far flame-faced East
  • Thou shalt proceed, the highway of the Sun;
  • Then cross the sounding Ocean, till thou reach
  • Cisthené and the Gorgon plains, where dwell
  • Phorcys’ three daughters, maids with frosty eld
  • Hoar as the swan, with one eye and one tooth
  • Shared by the three; them Phœbus beamy-bright
  • Beholds not, nor the nightly Moon. Near them
  • Their winged sisters dwell, the Gorgons dire,
  • Man-hating monsters, snaky-locked, whom eye
  • Of mortal ne’er might look upon and live
  • This for thy warning. One more sight remains,
  • That fills the eye with horror: mark me well;
  • The sharp-beaked Griffins, hounds of Jove, avoid.
  • Fell dogs that bark not; and the one-eyed host
  • Of Arimaspian horsemen with swift hoofs
  • Beating the banks of golden-rolling Pluto.
  • A distant land, a swarthy people next
  • Receives thee: near the fountains of the Sun
  • They dwell by Aethiops’ wave. This river trace
  • Edition: current; Page: [204]
  • Until thy weary feet shall reach the pass
  • Whence from the Bybline heights the sacred Nile
  • Pours his salubrious flood46 The winding wave
  • Thence to triangled Egypt guides thee, where
  • A distant home awaits thee, fated mother
  • Of no unstoried race And now, if aught
  • That I have spoken doubtful seem or dark,
  • Repeat the question, and in plainer speech
  • Expect reply. I feel no lack of leisure.
  • If thou hast more to speak to her, speak on;
  • Or aught omitted to supply, supply it;
  • But if her tale is finished, as thou say’st,
  • Remember our request
  • Her tale is told,
  • But for the more assurance of my words
  • The path of toils through which her feet had struggled
  • Before she reached this coast I will declare,
  • Lightly, and with no cumbrous comment, touching
  • Thy latest travel only, wandering Io.
  • When thou hadst trod the Molossian plains, and reached
  • Steep-ridged Dodona, where Thesprotian Jove
  • In council sits, and from the articulate oaks
  • (Strange wonder!) speaks prophetic, there thine ears
  • This salutation with no doubtful phrase
  • Received: “All hail, great spouse of mighty Jove
  • That shall be!”—say, was it a pleasing sound?
  • Thence by the sting of jealous Hera goaded,
  • Along the coast of Rhea’s bosomed sea*
  • Thy steps were driven thence with mazy course
  • Tossed hither;47 gaining, if a gain, this solace,
  • That future times, by famous Io’s name,
  • Shall know that sea These things may be a sign
  • That I, beyond the outward show, can pierce
  • To the heart of truth What yet remains, I tell
  • To thee and them in common, tracing back
  • My speech to whence it came There is a city
  • In extreme Egypt, where with outspread loam
  • Nile breasts the sea, its name Canopus. There
  • Jove to thy sober sense shall bring thee back,
  • Soft with no fearful touch, and thou shalt bear
  • A son, dark Epaphus, whose name shall tell
  • The wonder of his birth,48 he shall possess
  • Edition: current; Page: [205]
  • What fruitful fields fat Nile broad-streaming laves.
  • Four generations then shall pass; the fifth
  • In fifty daughters* glorying shall return
  • To ancient Argos, fatal wedlock shunning
  • With fathers’ brothers’ sons; these, their wild hearts
  • Fooled with blind lust, as hawks the gentle doves,
  • Shall track the fugitive virgins; but a god
  • Shall disappoint their chase, and the fair prey
  • Save from their lawless touch, the Apian soil
  • Shall welcome them to death, and woman’s hands
  • Shall dare the deed amid the nuptial watches.
  • Each bride shall rob her lord of life, and dip
  • The sharp steel in his throat. Such nuptial bliss
  • May all my enemies know! Only one maid
  • Of all the fifty, with a blunted will,
  • Shall own the charm of love, and spare her mate,
  • And of two adverse reputations choose
  • The coward, not the murderess. She shall be
  • The mother of a royal race in Argos.
  • To tell what follows, with minute remark,
  • Were irksome; but from this same root shall spring
  • A hero, strong in the archer’s craft, whose hand
  • Shall free me from these bonds. Such oracle spake
  • Titanian Themis, my time-honoured mother,
  • But how and why were a long tale to tell,
  • Nor being told would boot thine ear to hear it.
  • Ah me! pain! pain! ah me!
  • Again the fevered spasm hath seized me,
  • And the stroke of madness smites!
  • Again that fiery sting torments me,
  • And my heart doth knock my ribs!
  • My aching eyes in dizziness roll,
  • And my helmless feet are driven
  • Whither gusty frenzy blows!
  • And my tongue with thick words struggling
  • Like a sinking swimmer plashes
  • ’Gainst the whelming waves of woe!



  • Wise was the man, most wise,
  • Who in deep-thoughted mood conceived, and first
  • Edition: current; Page: [206]
  • In pictured speech and pregnant phrase declared
  • That marriage, if the Fates shall bless the bond,
  • Must be of like with like;
  • And that the daughters of an humble house
  • Shun tempting union with the pomp of wealth
  • And with the pride of birth.

  • Never, O! never may Fate,
  • All-powerful Fate which rules both gods and men,
  • See me approaching the dread Thunderer’s bed,
  • And sharing marriage with the Olympian king,
  • An humble Ocean-maid!
  • May wretched Io, chased by Hera’s wrath,
  • Unhusbanded, unfriended, fill my sense
  • With profitable fear.
  • EPODE.

  • Me may an equal bond
  • Bind with my equal: never may the eye
  • Of a celestial suitor fix the gaze
  • Of forceful love on me.
  • This were against all odds of war to war,
  • And in such strife entangled I were lost;
  • For how should humble maid resist the embrace,
  • Against great Jove’s decree?
  • Nay, but this Jove, though insolent now, shall soon
  • Be humbled low. Such wedlock even now
  • He blindly broods, as shall uptear his kingdom,
  • And leave no trace behind; then shall the curse,
  • Which Kronos heaped upon his ingrate son,
  • When hurled unjustly from his hoary throne,
  • Be all fulfilled. What remedy remains
  • For that dread ruin I alone can tell;
  • I only know. Then let him sit aloft,
  • Rolling his thunder, his fire-breathing bolt
  • Far-brandishing; his arts are vain; his fall,
  • Unless my aid prevent, his shameful fall,
  • Is doomed. Against himself to life he brings
  • A champion fierce, a portent of grim war,
  • Who shall invent a fiercer flame than lightning,
  • And peals to outpeal the thunder, who shall shiver
  • The trident mace that stirs the sea, and shakes
  • The solid Earth, the spear of strong Poseidon.
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  • Thus shall the tyrant learn how much to serve
  • Is different from to sway.
  • Thou dost but make
  • Thy wishes father to thy slanderous phrase.

I both speak truth and wish the truth to be.


But who can think that Jove shall find a master?


He shall be mastered! Ay, and worse endure.


Dost thou not blench to cast such words about thee?


How should I fear, being a god and deathless?


But he can scourge with something worse than death.


Even let him scourge! I’m armed for all conclusions.


Yet they are wise who worship Adrastéa49

  • Worship, and pray, fawn on the powers that be;
  • But Jove to me is less than very nothing.
  • Let him command, and rule his little hour
  • To please himself; long time he cannot sway.
  • But lo! where comes the courier of this Jove,
  • The obsequious minion of this upstart King,
  • Doubtless the bearer of some weighty news.

Enter Hermes.

  • Thee, cunning sophist, dealing bitter words
  • Most bitterly against the gods, the friend
  • Of ephemeral man, the thief of sacred fire,
  • Thee, Father Jove commands to curb thy boasts,
  • And say what marriage threats his stable throne.
  • Answer this question in plain phrase, no dark
  • Tangled enigmas; do not add, Prometheus,
  • A second journey to my first: and, mark me!
  • Thy obduracy cannot soften Jove
  • This solemn mouthing, this proud pomp of phrase
  • Beseems the lackey of the gods. New gods
  • Ye are, and, being new, ye ween to hold
  • Unshaken citadels. Have I not seen
  • Two Monarchs ousted from that throne? the third
  • I yet shall see precipitate hurled from Heaven
  • With baser, speedier, ruin. Do I seem
  • To quail before this new-forged dynasty?
  • Fear is my farthest thought. I pray thee go
  • Turn up the dust again upon the road
  • Thou cam’st. Reply from me thou shalt have none.
  • This haughty tone hath been thy sin before:
  • Thy pride will strand thee on a worser woe.
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  • And were my woe tenfold what now it is,
  • I would not barter it for thy sweet chains;
  • For liefer would I lackey this bare rock
  • Than trip the messages of Father Jove.
  • The insolent thus with insolence I repay.

Thou dost delight in miseries; thou art wanton.

  • Wanton! delighted! would my worst enemies
  • Might wanton in these bonds, thyself the first!

Must I, too, share the blame of thy distress?

  • In one round sentence, every god I hate
  • That injures me who never injured him.

Thou’rt mad, clean mad, thy wit’s diseased, Prometheus.


Most mad! if madness ’tis to hate our foes.

  • Prosperity’s too good for thee: thy temper
  • Could not endure’t.

Alas! this piercing pang!


“Alas!”—this word Jove does not understand.


As Time grows old he teaches many things.


Yet Time that teaches all leaves thee untaught.


Untaught in sooth, thus parleying with a slave!


It seems thou wilt not grant great Jove’s demand.

  • Such love as his to me should be repaid
  • With like!

Dost beard me like a boy? Beware.

  • Art not a boy, and something yet more witless,
  • If thou expectest answer from my mouth?
  • Nor insult harsh, nor cunning craft of Jove
  • Shall force this tale from me, till he unloose
  • These bonds. Yea! let him dart his levin bolts,
  • With white-winged snows and subterranean thunders
  • Mix and confound the elements of things!
  • No threat, no fear, shall move me to reveal
  • The hand that hurls him from his tyrant’s throne.

Bethink thee well: thy vaunts can help thee nothing.


I speak not rashly: what I said I said.

  • If thou art not the bought and sold of folly,
  • Dare to learn wisdom from thy present ills.
  • Speak to the waves: thou speak’st to me as vainly!
  • Deem not that I, to win a smile from Jove,
  • Will spread a maiden smoothness o’er my soul,
  • And importune the foe whom most I hate
  • With womanish upliftings of the hands.
  • Thou’lt see the deathless die first!
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  • I have said
  • Much, but that much is vain: thy rigid nature
  • To thaw with prayer is hopeless. A young colt
  • That frets the bit, and fights against the reins,
  • Art thou, fierce-champing with most impotent rage;
  • For wilful strength that hath no wisdom in it
  • Is less than nothing.50 But bethink thee well;
  • If thou despise my words of timely warning,
  • What wintry storm, what threefold surge of woes
  • Whelms thee inevitable. Jove shall split
  • These craggy cliffs with his cloud-bosomed bolt,
  • And sink thee deep: the cold rock shall embrace thee;
  • There thou shalt lie, till he shall please to bring thee
  • Back to the day, to find new pains prepared:
  • For he will send his Eagle-messenger,
  • His winged hound,* in crimson food delighting,
  • To tear thy rags of flesh with bloody beak,
  • And daily come an uninvited guest
  • To banquet on thy gory liver. This,
  • And worse expect, unless some god endure
  • Vicarious thy tortures,51 and exchange
  • His sunny ether for the rayless homes
  • Of gloomy Hades, and deep Tartarus.
  • Consider well. No empty boast I speak,
  • But weighty words well weighed: the mouth of Jove
  • Hath never known a lie, and speech with him
  • Is prophet of its deed. Ponder and weigh,
  • Close not thy stubborn ears to good advice.
  • If we may speak, what Hermes says is wise,
  • And fitting the occasion. He advises
  • That stubborn will should yield to prudent counsel.
  • Obey: thy wisdom should not league with folly.
  • Nothing new this preacher preaches:
  • Seems it strange that foe should suffer
  • From the vengeance of his foe?
  • I am ready. Let him wreathe
  • Curls of scorching flame around me;
  • Let him fret the air with thunder,
  • And the savage-blustering winds!
  • Let the deep abysmal tempest
  • Wrench the firm roots of the Earth!
  • Let the sea upheave her billows,
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  • Mingling the fierce rush of waters
  • With the pathway of the stars!
  • Let the harsh-winged hurricane sweep me
  • In its whirls, and fling me down
  • To black Tartarus: there to lie
  • Bound in the iron folds of Fate.
  • I will bear . but cannot die.
  • Whom the nymphs have struck with madness
  • Raves as this loud blusterer raves;
  • Seems he not a willing madman,
  • Let him reap the fruits he sowed!52
  • But ye maids, who share his sorrows,
  • Not his crimes, with quick removal
  • Hie from this devoted spot,
  • Lest with idiocy the thunder
  • Harshly blast your maundering wits.
  • Wouldst thou with thy words persuade us,
  • Use a more persuasive speech;
  • Urge no reasons to convince me
  • That an honest heart must hate.
  • With his sorrows I will sorrow:
  • I will hate a traitor’s name,
  • Earth has plagues, but none more noisome
  • Than a faithless friend in need.
  • Ponder well my prudent counsel,
  • Nor, when evil hunts thee out,
  • Blame great Jove that he doth smite thee
  • With an unexpected stroke.
  • Not the gods; thy proper folly
  • Is the parent of thy woes.*
  • Jove hath laid no trap to snare thee,
  • But the scapeless net of ruin
  • Thou hast woven for thyself.
  • Now his threats walk forth in action,
  • And the firm Earth quakes indeed.
  • Deep and loud the ambient Thunder
  • Bellows, and the flaring Lightning
  • Wreathes his fiery curls around me,
  • And the Whirlwind rolls his dust;
  • And the Winds from rival regions
  • Rush in elemental strife,
  • And the Ocean’s storm-vexed billows
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  • Mingle with the startled stars!
  • Doubtless now the tyrant gathers
  • All his hoarded wrath to whelm me.
  • Mighty Mother, worshipped Themis,
  • Circling Ether that diffusest
  • Light, a common joy to all,
  • Thou beholdest these my wrongs!


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  • Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby
  • Some have entertained angels unawares.
  • St. Paul.
  • πρὸς γὰρ Διός ἐισιν ἅπαντες
  • Ξεɩ̂νοί τε πτωχόι τε.
  • Homer.
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Chorus of Danaides.


Pelasgus, King of Argos, and Attendants.


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Danaus, according to the received Greek story, was an Egyptian, who founded a colony in Argos, at some date between the age of the oldest Argive king Inachus, and the Trojan war. In the reality of this sea-faring adventurer, modern historians, following the faith of the ancient Greeks, have generally acquiesced, till, latterly, the Germans, with that instinctive hostility to external tradition which characterises them, have boldly ventured to explain both the Egyptian and his colony away into a symbol, or an inanity. Of our most recent writers, however, Thirlwall, after considering all the German speculations on the subject, is not ashamed to say a word in favour of the possibility or probability of an Egyptian colony in Argos;* while Clinton (Introd pp. 6, 7), boldly announces the principle that “we may acknowledge as real persons all those whom there is no reason for rejecting. The presumption is in favour of the early tradition. . . . Cadmus and Danaus appear to be real persons; for it is conformable to the state of mankind, and perfectly credible that Phœnician and Egyptian adventurers, in the ages to which these persons are ascribed, should have found their way to the coasts of Greece.” Grote, however, seems to have acted most wisely in refusing to decide whether any particular legend of the earliest times is mythical or historical, on the ground that, though many of the legends doubtless contain truth, they contain it only “in a sort of chemical combination with fiction, which we have no means of decomposing”—(II. p. 50). This play of Æschylus, therefore, cannot boast of any accessory historical superadded to the principal poetic interest.

Danaus, the legend tells, though an Egyptian born, was not of Egyptian descent. The original mother of his race was Io, daughter of Inachus, king of Argos, and priestess of Hera in that place. How this much-persecuted maid found her way from the banks of the “Erasinus old” to the shores of the nurturing Nile, we have seen in the previous piece. Danaus had a brother called Ægyptus, the father of fifty sons, as himself was of fifty daughters. These fifty sons Ægyptus sought to unite in wedlock to the equal-numbered progeny of his brother; but the chaste maidens, whether because they actually thought it unholy (as it certainly is, in the general case, unadvisable) for first cousins to marry first cousins, or Edition: current; Page: [216] because the suit was pressed in a manner not the most respectful, or from a combination of both motives, refused to enter into the bond; and, to escape the importunities of their stronger male suitors, fled, under the guidance of their father, over the seas to Greece As kind chance, or, rather, Divine Providence, would have it, they were wafted to that very part of Greece whence their famous ancestress Io had originally proceeded, when the god-sent gadfly drove her, in a career of tempestuous wanderings, through great part of Europe and Asia, to Egypt. With their landing on this coast the present opera commences; and the action which it represents is the very simple one of the reception of the Libyan fugitives, by the Argive monarch Pelasgus (otherwise called Gelanor), and their participation in the rights and privileges of Argive citizenship. The transference of their affections from Nile to Erasinus is solemnly sung in the concluding chaunt. The Danaides are now Argives.

Considered by itself, the action of this piece is the most meagre that can be conceived, and, as the poet has handled it, contains little that can stir the deeper feelings of the heart, or strike the imagination strongly That the king of the Argives should feel serious doubts as to the propriety of receiving such a band of foreigners into his kingdom, formidable not in their own strength, indeed, but in respect of the pursuing party, by whom they were claimed, was most natural; equally natural, however, and, in a poetic point of view, necessary, that his political fears should finally be outweighed by his benevolent regard for the rights of unprotected virgins, and his pious fear of the wrath of Jove, the protector of suppliants The alternation of mind between these contending feelings, till a final resolve is taken on the side of the right, affords no field for the higher faculty of the dramatist to display itself As we have it, accordingly, the Suppliants is, perhaps, the weakest performance of Æschylus. But the fact is, there is the best reason to believe that the great father of tragedy never meant this piece to stand alone, but wrote it merely to usher in the main action, which followed in the other pieces of a trilogy; the names of which pieces—Ἀιγύπτιοι, and Δαναίδες—are preserved in the list of the author’s pieces still extant. Of this, the whole conclusion of the present piece, and especially the latter half of the last choral chaunt, furnishes the most conclusive evidence.

The remainder of the story, which formed the main action of the trilogy, is well known. Immediately after the reception of the fugitives, by the Argives, their pursuers arrive, and land on the coast This arrival is announced in the last scene of the present piece. On Edition: current; Page: [217] this, Danaus, unwilling to lead his kind host into a war, pretends to yield to the suit still as eagerly pressed, and the marriage is agreed on. But a terrible revenge had been devised. At the very moment that he hands over his unwilling but obedient daughters to the subjection of their hated cousins, he gives them secret instructions to furnish themselves each with a dagger, and, during the watches of the nuptial night, to dip the steel in the throats of their unsuspecting lords. The bloody deed was completed. Only one of all the fifty daughters, preferring the fame of true womanhood to the claims of filial homage, spared her mate Hypermnestra saved her husband Lynceus. This conduct, of course, brought the daughter into collision with her father and her father’s family; and one of those strifes of our mysterious moral nature was educed, which, as we have seen in the trilogy of the Orestiad, it was one great purpose of the Æschylean drama to reconcile. If the murder occupied the second piece, as the progress of the story naturally brings with it, a third piece, according to the analogy of the Eumenides, would be necessary to bring about the reconciliation, and effect that purifying of the passions which Aristotle points out as the great moral result of tragic composition That Aphrodite was the great celestial agent employed in the finale of the Suppliants, as Pallas Athena is in the Furies, has been well divined; a beautiful fragment in celebration of love, and in favour of Hypermnestra remains; but to attempt a reconstruction of these lost pieces at the present day, though an amusement of which the learned Germans are fond, is foreign to the habits of the British mind. Those who feel inclined to see what ingenuity may achieve in this region, are referred to Welcker’s Trilogie, and Gruppe’s Ariadne.

The moral tone and character of this piece is in the highest degree pleasing and satisfactory. The Supreme Jove, whose prominent attribute is power, here receives a glorification as the protector of the persecuted, and the refuge of the distressed On the duty of hospitality, under the sanction of Ζεύς ξἑνιος and ἱκεσιος, as practised among the ancient Greeks, I refer the reader with pleasure to Grote’s History of Greece, Vol. II., p. 114

“The scene,” says Potter, “is near the shore, in an open grove, close to the altar and images of the gods presiding over the sacred games, with a view of the sea and ships of Egyptus on one side, and of the town of Argos on the other, with hills, and woods, and vales, a river flowing between them: all, together with the persons of the drama, forming a picture that would have well employed the united pencils of Poussin and Claude.”

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Chorus, entering the stage in procession. March time.

  • Jove, the suppliant’s high protector,1
  • Look from Heaven, benignly favouring
  • Us the suppliant band, swift-oared
  • Hither sailing, from the seven mouths
  • Of the fat fine-sanded Nile!2
  • From the land that fringes Syria,
  • Land divine, in flight we came,
  • Not by public vote forth-driven,
  • Not by taint of blood divorced
  • From our native state,* but chastely
  • Our abhorrent foot withdrawing
  • From impure ungodly wedlock
  • With Ægyptus’ sons, too nearly
  • Cousined with ourselves. For wisely,
  • This our threatened harm well-weighing,
  • Danaus, our sire, prime counsellor,
  • And leader of our sistered band,
  • Timely chose this least of sorrows
  • O’er the salt-sea wave to flee;
  • And here on Argive soil to plant us,
  • Whence our race its vaunted spring
  • Drew divinely, when great Jove
  • Gently thrilled the brize-stung heifer3
  • With his procreant touch, and breathed
  • Godlike virtue on her womb.
  • Where on Earth should we hope refuge
  • On more friendly ground than this,
  • In our hands these green boughs bearing
  • Wreathed with precatory wool?
  • Ye blissful gods supremely swaying4
  • Land and city, and lucid streams;
  • And ye in sepulchres dark, severely
  • Edition: current; Page: [220]
  • Worshipped ’neath the sunless ground;
  • And thou, the third, great Jove the Saviour,
  • Guardian of all holy homes,
  • With your spirit gracious-wafted,
  • Breathe fair welcome on this band
  • Of suppliant maids But in the depth
  • Of whirling waves engulph the swarm
  • Of insolent youths, Ægyptus’ sons,
  • Them, and their sea-cars swiftly oared,
  • Ere this slimy shore receive
  • Their hated footprint. Let them labour,
  • With wrath-spitting seas confronted.
  • By the wild storm wintry-beating,
  • Thunder-crashing, lightning flashing,
  • By the tyrannous blast shower-laden
  • Let them perish, ere they mount
  • Marriage beds which right refuses,5
  • Us, their father’s brother’s daughters
  • To their lawless yoke enthralling!

The Chorus assemble in a band round the centre of the Orchestra, and sing the Choral Hymn.


  • Give ear to our prayer, we implore thee,
  • Thou son, and the mother that bore thee—
  • The calf and the heifer divine!*
  • From afar be thine offspring’s avenger,
  • Even thou, once a beautiful ranger
  • O’er these meads with the grass-cropping kine!
  • And thou, whom she bore to her honor,
  • When the breath of the Highest was on her,
  • And the touch of the finger divine;
  • Thine ear, mighty god, we implore thee
  • To the prayer of thine offspring incline!

  • O Thou who with blessing anointed,
  • Wert born when by Fate ’twas appointed,
  • With thy name to all ages a sign!
  • In this land of the mother that bore thee,
  • Her toils we remember before thee,
  • Where she cropped the green mead with the kine.
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  • O strange were her fortunes, and stranger
  • The fate that hath chased me from danger
  • To the home of the heifer divine.
  • O son, with the mother that bore thee,
  • Stamp my tale with thy truth for a sign!

  • While we cry, should there haply be near us
  • An Argive, an augur,* to hear us,
  • When our shrill-piercing wail
  • His ear shall assail,
  • ’Tis the cry he will deem, and none other,
  • Of Procne, the woe-wedded mother,
  • The hawk-hunted nightingale;
  • Sad bird, when its known streams it leaveth,
  • And with fresh-bleeding grief lonely grieveth,
  • And telleth the tale,
  • With a shrill-voiced wail,
  • How the son that she loved, and none other,
  • Was slain by his fell-purposed mother,
  • The woe-wedded nightingale!

  • Even so from the Nile summer-tinted,
  • With Ionian wailings unstinted,6
  • My cheek with the keen nail I tear;
  • And I pluck, where it bloweth,
  • Grief’s blossom that groweth
  • In this heart first acquainted with care;
  • And I fear the fierce band,
  • From the far misty land,7
  • Whom the swift ships to Argos may bear.

  • Ye gods of my race, seeing clearly
  • The right which ye cherish so dearly,
  • To the haughty your hatred declare!
  • ’Gainst the right ye will never
  • Chaste virgins deliver,
  • The bed of the lawless to share;
  • From the god-fenced altar
  • Each awe-struck assaulter
  • Back shrinks. Our sure bulwark is there.
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  • O would that Jove might show to men
  • His counsel as he planned it,
  • But ah! he darky weaves the scheme,
  • No mortal eye hath scanned it.
  • It burns through darkness brightly clear
  • To whom the god shall show it;
  • But mortal man, through cloudy fear,
  • Shall search in vain to know it.

  • Firm to the goal his purpose treads,
  • His will knows no frustration;
  • When with his brow the mighty god
  • Hath nodded consummation
  • But strangely, strangely weave their maze
  • His counsels, dusky wending,
  • Concealed in densely-tangled ways
  • From human comprehending.

  • From their high-towering hopes the proud
  • In wretched rout he casteth.
  • No force he wields; his simple will,
  • His quiet sentence blasteth.
  • All godlike power is calm;8 and high
  • On thrones of glory seated,
  • Jove looks from Heaven with tranquil eye,
  • And sees his will completed.

  • Look down, O mighty god, and see
  • How this harsh wedlock planning,
  • That dry old tree in saplings green,
  • The insolent lust is fanning!
  • Madly he hugs the frenzied plan
  • With perverse heart unbending,
  • Hot-spurred, till Ruin seize the man,
  • Too late to think of mending.

  • Ah! well-a-day! ah! well-a-day!9
  • Thus sadly I hymn the sorrowful lay,
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  • With a shrill-voiced cry,
  • With a sorrow-streaming eye,
  • Well-a-day, woe’s me!
  • Thus I grace my own tomb with the wail pouring free,
  • Thus I sing my own dirge, ah me!*
  • Ye Apian hills, be kind to me,
  • And throw not back the stranger’s note,
  • But know the Libyan wail.
  • Behold how, rent to sorrow’s note,
  • My linen robes all loosely float,
  • And my Sidonian veil.

  • Ah! well-a-day! ah! well-a-day!
  • My plighted vows I’ll duly pay,
  • Ye gods, if ye will save
  • From the foe, and from the grave
  • My trembling life set free!
  • Surges high, surges high, sorrow’s many-billowed sea,
  • And woe towers on woe. Ah me!
  • Ye Apian hills,10 be kind to me,
  • And throw not back the stranger’s note
  • But know the Libyan wail!
  • Behold how, rent to sorrow’s note,
  • My linen robes all loosely float,
  • And my Sidonian veil!

  • And yet, in that slight timbered house, well-armed
  • With frequent-plashing oar,
  • Stiff sail and cordage straining, all unharmed
  • By winter’s stormy roar,
  • We reached this Argive shore.
  • Safely so far. May Jove, the all-seeing, send
  • As the beginning, so the prosperous end.
  • And may he grant, indeed,
  • That we, a gracious mother’s gracious seed,
  • By no harsh kindred wooed,
  • May live on Apian ground unyoked and unsubdued!
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  • May she, the virgin daughter of high Jove,*
  • Our virgin litany hear,
  • Our loving homage answering with more love!
  • She that, with face severe,
  • Repelled, in awful fear,
  • Each rude aggressor, in firm virtue cased,
  • Nor knew the lustful touch divinely chaste.
  • And may she grant, indeed,
  • That we, a gracious mother’s gracious seed,
  • By no harsh kindred wooed,
  • May live on Apian ground unyoked and unsubdued.

  • But if no aid to us may be,
  • Libya’s swart sun-beaten daughters,
  • The rope shall end our toils; and we,
  • Beneath the ground, shall fare to thee,
  • Thou many-guested Jove,
  • To thee our suppliant boughs we’ll spread,
  • Thou Saviour of the weary Dead,
  • Far from the shining thrones of blissful gods above.
  • Ah, Jove too well we know
  • What wrath divine scourged ancient Io, wailing
  • Beneath thy consort’s anger heaven-scaling;
  • And even so,
  • On Io’s seed may blow
  • A buffeting blast from her of black despairful woe.

  • O Jove, how then wilt thou be free
  • From just reproach of Libya’s daughters,
  • If thou in us dishonoured see
  • Him whom the heifer bore to thee
  • Whom thou didst chiefly love.
  • If thou from us shalt turn thy face,
  • What suppliant then shall seek thy grace?
  • O hear my prayer enthroned in loftiest state above!
  • For well, too well, we know
  • What wrath divine scourged ancient Io, wailing
  • Beneath thy consort’s anger heaven-scaling;
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  • And even so,
  • On Io’s seed may blow
  • A buffeting blast from her of black despairful woe

Enter Danaus.

  • Be wise, my daughters. In no rash flight with me,
  • A hoary father, and a faithful pilot,
  • Ye crossed the seas; nor less is wisdom needful
  • Ashore; be wise, and on your heart’s true tablet
  • Engrave my words. For lo! where mounts the dust,
  • A voiceless herald of their coming; hear
  • Their distant-rumbling wheels! A host I see
  • Of bright shield-bearing and spear-shaking men,
  • Swift steeds, and rounded cars.11 Of our here landing,
  • Timely apprised, the chiefs that rule this country
  • Come with their eyes to read us. But be their coming
  • Harmless, or harsh with fell displeasure, here
  • On this high-seat of the Agonian gods12
  • Is safety for my daughters; for an altar
  • Is a sure tower of strength, a shield that bears
  • The rattling terror dintless. Go ye, therefore,
  • Embrace these altars, in your sistered hands13
  • These white-wreathed precatory boughs presenting,
  • Which awful Jove reveres; and with choice phrase
  • Wisely your pity-moving tale-commend
  • When they shall ask you; as becomes the stranger,
  • The bloodless motive of your flight declaring
  • With clear recital The bold tongue eschewing,
  • With sober-fronted face and quiet eye
  • Your tale unfold. The garrulous prate, the length
  • Of slow-drawn speech beware. Such fault offends
  • This people sorely. Chiefly know to yield:
  • Thou art the weaker—a poor helpless stranger—
  • The bold-mouthed phrase suits ill with thy condition.
  • Father, thou speakest wisely: nor unwisely
  • Thy words would we receive, in memory’s ward
  • Storing thy hests; ancestral Jove be witness!

Even so; and with benignant eye look down!14


* * * *


Delay not. In performance show thy strength.


Even there where thou dost sit, I’d sit beside thee!


O Jove show pity ere pity come too late!


Jove willing, all is well.

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  • Him, therefore, pray,
  • There where his bird the altar decorates:15 pray
  • Apollo, too, the pure, the exiled once16
  • From bright Olympus.
  • The sun’s restoring rays
  • We pray: the god what fate he knew will pity.

May he with pity and with aid be near!


Whom next shall I invoke?

  • Thou see’st this trident
  • And know’st of whom the symbol?
  • May the same
  • That sent us hither kindly now receive us!

Here’s Hermes likewise, as Greece knows the god.17


Be he my herald, heralding the free!

  • This common altar of these mighty gods
  • Adore: within these holy precincts lodged,
  • Pure doves from hawks of kindred plumage fleeing,
  • Foes of your blood, polluters of your race.
  • Can bird eat bird and be an holy thing?18
  • Can man be pure, from an unwilling father
  • Robbing unwilling brides? Who does these deeds
  • Will find no refuge from lewd guilt in Hades;
  • For there, as we have heard, another Jove
  • Holds final judgment on the guilty shades.
  • But now be ready. Here await their coming;
  • May the gods grant a victory to our prayers!

Enter King.

  • Whom speak we here? Whence come? Certes no Greeks.
  • Your tire rich-flaunting with barbaric pride
  • Bespeaks you strangers. Argos knows you not,
  • Nor any part of Greece. Strange surely ’tis
  • That all unheralded, unattended all,
  • And of no host the acknowledged guest, unfearing
  • Ye tread this land.19 If these boughs, woolly-wreathed,
  • That grace the altars of the Agonian gods
  • Speak what to Greeks they should speak, ye are suppliants.
  • Thus much I see: what more remains to guess
  • I spare; yourselves have tongues to speak the truth.
  • That we are strangers is most true; but whom
  • See we in thee? a citizen? a priest?
  • A temple warder with his sacred wand?
  • The ruler of the state?
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  • Speak with a fearless tongue, and plainly. I
  • Of old earth-born Palæcthon am the son,20
  • My name Pelasgus, ruler of this land;
  • And fathered with my name the men who reap
  • Earth’s fruits beneath my sway are called Pelasgi;
  • And all the land where Algos flows, and Strymon,21
  • Toward the westering sun my sceptre holds.
  • My kingdom the Perrhæbians bound, and those
  • Beyond high Pindus, by Pæonia, and
  • The Dodonéan heights; the briny wave
  • Completes the circling line; within these bounds
  • I rule; but here, where now thy foot is planted,
  • The land is Apia, from a wise physician
  • Of hoary date so called. He, from Naupactus,
  • Apollo’s son, by double right, physician
  • And prophet both,22 crossed to this coast, and freed it
  • By holy purifyings, from the plague
  • Of man-destroying monsters, which the ground
  • With ancient taint of blood polluted bore.
  • This plague his virtue medicinal healed,
  • That we no more unfriendly fellowship
  • Hold with the dragon-brood. Such worthy service
  • With thankful heart the Argive land received,
  • And Apis lives remembered in her prayers.
  • Of this from me assured, now let me hear
  • Your whence, and what your purpose. Briefly speak;
  • This people hates much phrase.
  • Our tale is short.
  • We by descent are Argives, from the seed
  • Of the heifer sprung, whose womb was blest in bearing;
  • And this in every word we can confirm
  • By manifest proofs.
  • That ye are Argives, this
  • My ear receives not; an unlikely tale!
  • Like Libyan women rather; not a line
  • I trace in you that marks our native race.
  • Nile might produce such daughters; ye do bear
  • A Cyprian character in your female features,
  • The impressed likeness of some plastic male.*
  • Of wandering Indians I have heard, that harness
  • Camels for mules, huge-striding, dwelling near
  • The swarthy Æthiop land; ye may be such;
  • Or, had ye war’s accoutrement, the bow,
  • Edition: current; Page: [228]
  • Ye might be Amazons, stern, husband-hating,
  • Flesh-eating maids. But speak, that I may know
  • The truth. How vouch ye your descent from Argos?
  • They say that Io, on this Argive ground,
  • Erst bore the keys to Hera,23 then ’tis said,
  • So runs the general rumour—24
  • I have heard.
  • Was it not so, Jove with the mortal maid
  • Mingled in love?
  • Even so; in love they mingled,
  • Deceiving Hera’s bed.
  • And how then ended
  • The Olympian strife?
  • Enraged, the Argive goddess
  • To a heifer changed the maid.
  • And the god came
  • To the fair horned heifer?
  • Like a leaping bull,
  • Transformed he came,25 so the hoar legend tells.

And what did then the potent spouse of Jove?


She sent a watchman ringed with eyes to watch.


This all-beholding herdsman, who was he?


Argus the son of Earth, by Hermes slain.


How further fared the ill-fated heifer, say?


A persecuting brize was sent to sting her.


And o’er the wide earth goaded her the brize?


Just so, thy tale with mine accordant chimes.


Then to Canopus, and to Memphis came she?


There, touched by Jove’s boon hand, she bore a son.


The heifer’s boasted offspring, who was he?

  • Epaphus, who plainly with his name declares
  • His mother’s safety wrought by touch of Jove.

* * * *26


Libya, dowered with a fair land’s goodly name.


And from this root divine what other shoots?


Belus, my father’s father, and my uncle’s.


Who is thy honoured father?

  • Danaus;
  • And fifty sons his brother hath, my uncle.

This brother who? Spare not to tell the whole.

  • Ægyptus. Now, O king, our ancient race
  • Thou knowest. Us from our prostration raising,
  • Thou raisest Argos
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  • Argives in sooth ye seem,
  • By old descent participant of the soil;
  • But by what stroke of sore mischance harsh-smitten,
  • Dared ye to wander from your native seats?
  • Pelasgian prince, a motley-threaded web
  • Is human woe; a wing of dappled plumes.
  • Past hope and faith it was that we, whose blood
  • From Argive Io flows, to Io’s city,
  • In startled flight, should measure back our way,
  • To escape from hated marriage.
  • How say’st thou?
  • To escape from marriage thou art here, displaying
  • These fresh-cropt branches, snowy-wreathed, before
  • The Agonian gods?
  • Ay! Never, never may we
  • Be thralled to Ægyptus’ sons!
  • Speak’st thou of hate
  • To them, or of a bond your laws forbid?
  • Both this and that.27 Who should be friends were foes,
  • And blood with blood near-mingled basely flows

But branch on branch well grafted goodlier grows

  • Urge not this point; but rather think one word
  • From thee the wretched rescues.
  • How then shall I
  • My friendly disposition show?
  • We ask
  • But this—from our pursuers save us.
  • What!
  • Shall I for unknown exiles breed a war?

Justice will fight for him who fights for us.

  • Doubtless; if Justice from the first hath stamped
  • Your cause for hers.
Chorus [pointing to the altar].

The state’s high poop here crowned Revere.

  • This green environment of shade,
  • Mantling the seats of the gods I see, and shudder.

The wrath of suppliant Jove28 is hard to bear.


  • O hear my cry, benignly hear!
  • Thou son of Palæcthon, hear me!
  • The fugitive wandering suppliant hear!
  • Thou king of Pelasgians, hear me!
  • Edition: current; Page: [230]
  • Like a heifer young by the wolf pursued29
  • O’er the rocks so cliffy and lonely,
  • And loudly it lows to the herdsman good,
  • Whose strength can save it only.
  • My eyes are tasked; there, ’neath the shielding shade
  • Of fresh-lopt branches I behold you clinging
  • To these Agonian gods; but what I do
  • Must spare the state from harm. I must provide
  • That no unlooked-for unprepared event
  • Beget new strife; of this we have enough.


  • Great Jove that allotteth their lot to all,
  • By his sentence of right shall clear thee,
  • Dread Themis that heareth the suppliants’ call,
  • No harm shall allow to come near thee.
  • Though I speak to the old with the voice of the young,
  • Do the will of the gods, and surely
  • Their favour to thee justly weighed shall belong,
  • When thy gifts thou offerest purely.
  • Not at my hearth with precatory boughs
  • Ye lie. The state, if guilty taint from you
  • Affect the general weal, will for the state
  • Take counsel. I nor pledge nor promise give,
  • Till all the citizens hear what thou shalt say.


  • Thou art the state, and the people art thou,30
  • The deed that thou doest who judges?
  • The hearth and the altar before thee bow,
  • The grace that thou grantest who grudges?
  • Thou noddest, the will that thou willest is thine,
  • Thy vote with no voter thou sharest;
  • The throne is all thine, and the sceptre divine,
  • And thy guilt, when thou sinnest, thou bearest.
  • Guilt lie on those that hate me! but your prayers
  • Harmless I may not hear; and to reject them
  • Were harsh. To do, and not to do alike
  • Perplex me; on the edge of choice I tremble.


  • Him worship who sitteth a watchman in Heaven,
  • And looks on this life of our labour;
  • Edition: current; Page: [231]
  • Nor looketh in vain, when the wretched is driven
  • From the gate of his pitiless neighbour.
  • On our knees when we fall, and for mercy we call,
  • If his right thou deny to the stranger,
  • Jove shall look on thy home, from his thunder dome,
  • Sternly wrathful, the suppliants’ avenger.
  • But if Ægyptus’ sons shall claim you, pleading
  • Their country’s laws, and their near kinship, who
  • Shall dare to stand respondent? You must plead
  • Your native laws, so the laws plead for you,
  • And speak you free from who would force your love.


  • Ah ne’er to the rough-handed youth let me yield,
  • But rather alone, ’neath the wide starry field,
  • Let me wander, an outcast, a stranger!
  • The ill-sorted yoke I abhor: and do thou,
  • With Justice to second thee, judge for me now,
  • And fear Him above, the Avenger!
  • Not I shall judge: it is no easy judgment.
  • What I have said, I said. Without the people
  • I cannot do this thing;31 being absolute king,
  • I would not. Justly, if mischance shall follow,
  • The popular tongue will blame the ruler, who,
  • To save the stranger, ruined his own flock.


  • Where kindred with kindred contendeth in war,
  • Jove looks on the strife, and decides from afar,
  • Where he holdeth the scales even-handed,*
  • O why wilt thou doubt to declare for the right?
  • He blesseth the good, but in anger will smite,
  • Where the sons of the wicked are banded.
  • To advise for you in such confounding depths,
  • My soul should be a diver, to plunge down
  • Far in the pool profound with seeing eye,
  • And feel no dizziness. ’Tis no light matter
  • Here to unite your safety and the state’s.
  • If that your kindred claim you as their right,
  • And we withstand, a bloody strife ensues.
  • If from these altars of the gods we tear you,
  • Your chosen refuge, we shall surely bring
  • Edition: current; Page: [232]
  • The all-destroying god, the stern Alastor,*
  • To house with us, whom not the dead in Hades
  • Can flee. Is here no cause to ponder well?


  • Ponder well,
  • With thee to dwell,
  • A righteous-minded host receive us!
  • Weary-worn,
  • Exiles lorn,
  • From the godless men that grieve us
  • Save to-day;
  • Nor cast-a-way
  • Homeless, houseless, hopeless leave us!

  • Shall rash assaulters
  • From these altars
  • Rudely drag the friendless stranger?
  • Thou art king,
  • ’Neath thy wing
  • Cowers in vain the weak from danger?
  • Thy terror show
  • To our fierce foe,
  • Fear, O fear our High Avenger!

  • Where they see
  • The gods and thee,
  • Shall their lawless will not falter?
  • Shall they tear
  • My floating hair,
  • As a horse dragged by the halter?
  • Wilt thou bear
  • Him to tear
  • My frontlets fair,
  • My linen robes—the bold assaulter?

  • One the danger,
  • If the stranger
  • Thou reject, or welcome wisely;
  • For thee and thine
  • To Mars a fine
  • Edition: current; Page: [233]
  • Thou shalt pay the same precisely:
  • From Egypt far
  • Fearing war,
  • Thou shalt mar
  • Thy peace with mighty Jove, not wisely.
  • Both ways I’m marred. Even here my wits are stranded.
  • With these or those harsh war to make, strong Force
  • Compels my will. Nailed am I like a vessel
  • Screwed to the dock, beneath the shipwright’s tool.
  • Which way I turn is woe. A plundered house
  • By grace of possessory Jove32 may freight
  • New ships with bales that far outweigh the loss;
  • And a rash tongue that overshoots the mark
  • With barbéd phrase that harshly frets the heart,
  • With one smooth word, may charm the offence away.
  • But ere the sluice of kindred blood be opened,
  • With vows and victims we must pray the gods
  • Importunate, if perchance such fateful harm
  • They may avert. Myself were little wise
  • To mingle in this strife: of such a war
  • Most ignorant is most blest: but may the gods
  • Deceive my fears, and crown your hopes with blessing!

Now hear the end of my respectful prayers.


I hear. Speak on. Thy words shall not escape me.


Thou see’st this sash, this zone my stole begirding.


Fit garniture of women. Yes; I see it.


This zone well-used may serve us well.


How so?


If thou refuse to pledge our safety, then—


Thy zone shall pledge it how?

  • Thou shalt behold
  • These ancient altars with new tablets hung.

Thou speak’st in riddles. Explain.

  • These gods shall see me
  • Here hanging from their shrines.
  • Hush, maiden! Hush!
  • Thy words pierce through my marrow!
  • Thou hast heard
  • No blind enigma now. I gave it eyes.
  • Alas! with vast environment of ills
  • I’m hedged all round. Misfortune, like a sea,
  • Comes rushing in: the deep unfathomed flood
  • I fear to cross, and find no harbour nigh.
  • Edition: current; Page: [234]
  • Thy prayer if I refuse, black horror rises
  • Before me, that no highest-pointed aim
  • May overshoot. If posted fore these walls
  • I give thy kindred battle, I shall be
  • Amerced with bitter loss, who reckless dared
  • For woman’s sake to incarnadine the plain
  • With brave men’s blood. Yet I perforce must fear
  • The wrath of suppliant Jove, than which no terror
  • Awes human hearts more strongly. Take these branches,
  • Thou aged father of these maids, and place them
  • On other altars of the native gods,
  • Where they may speak, true heralds of thy mission,
  • To all the citizens: and, mark me, keep
  • My words within thy breast: for still the people
  • To spy a fault in whoso bears authority
  • Have a most subtle sight. Trust your good cause.
  • Thy pitiful tale may move their righteous ire
  • Against your haughty-hearted persecutors,
  • And ’neath their wings they’ll shield you. The afflicted
  • Plead for themselves: their natural due is kindness.
  • Your worth we know to prize, and at their weight
  • Our high protector’s friendly words we value.
  • But send, we pray, attendant guides to show us
  • The pillar-compassed seats divine,33 the altars
  • That stand before their temples, who protect
  • This city and this land, and to insure
  • Our safety mid the people: for our coming
  • (Being strangers from the distant Nile, and not
  • Like you that drink the stream of Inachus
  • In features or in bearing) might seem strange.
  • Too bold an air might rouse suspicion; men
  • Oft-times have slain their best friends unawares.
King [to the Attendants].
  • See him escorted well! conduct him
  • hence
  • To the altars of the city, to the shrines
  • Of the protecting gods, wasting no speech
  • On whom you meet. Attend the suppliant stranger!

[Exeunt Attendants with Danaus.

  • These words to him: and, with his sails well trimmed,
  • Fair be his voyage! But I, what shall I do,
  • My anchor where?
  • Here leave these boughs that prove
  • Thy sorrows.
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  • Here at thy rever’d command
  • I leave them.

This ample wood shall shade thee; wait thou here!


No sacred grove is this how should it shield me?


We will not yield thee to the vultures’ claws.


But worse than vultures, worse than dragons threat us.


Gently. To fair words give a fair reply.


I’m terror-struck. Small marvel that I fret.


Fear should be far, when I the king am near.*


With kind words cheer me, and kind actions too.

  • Thy father will return anon, meanwhile
  • I go to call the assembly of the people,34
  • And in thy favour move them, if I can.
  • Thy father, too, I’ll aptly train, how he
  • Should woo their favour. Wait ye here, and pray
  • The native gods to crown your heart’s desire
  • I go to speed the business; may Persuasion
  • And Chance, with happy issue pregnant, guide me!

  • King of all kings, high-blest above
  • Each blest celestial nature,
  • Strength of the strong, all-glorious Jove,
  • All crowning Consummator!35
  • Hear thou our prayer: the proud confound;
  • With hate pursue the hateful,
  • And plunge in purpling pools profound
  • The black-bench’d bark, the fateful!

  • Our ancient line from thee we trace
  • Our root divinely planted;
  • Look on these sisters with the grace
  • To that loved maid once granted,
  • Our mother Io; and renew
  • Sweet memory in the daughters
  • Of her thy gentle touch who knew
  • By Nile’s deep-rolling waters.

  • Here, even here, where ’mid the browsing kine,
  • My Argive mother fed her eye divine,
  • With rich mead’s flowery store,
  • Edition: current; Page: [236]
  • My Libyan foot I’ve planted; hence by the brize36
  • Divinely fretted with fitful oar she hies37
  • From various shore to shore,
  • God-madded wanderer. Twice the billowy wave
  • She crossed; and twice her fated name she gave
  • To the wide sea’s straitened roar.

  • Spurred through the Asian land with swiftest speed
  • She fled, where Phrygian flocks far-pasturing feed
  • Then restless travelled o’er
  • Mysia, where Teuthras holds his fortress high,
  • Cilician and Pamphylian heights, and nigh
  • Where roaring waters pour
  • From fountains ever fresh their torrent floods,
  • And Aphrodite’s land whose loamy roods
  • Swell with the wheaten store.*

  • Thence by her wingéd keeper stung, she speeds
  • To the land divine, the many-nurturing meads,
  • And to the snow-fed stream,
  • Which like impetuous Typhon, vasty pours
  • Its purest waves, that the salubrious shores
  • From pestilent taint redeem.
  • Here from harsh Hera’s madly-goading pest,
  • From hattering chase of undeserved unrest,
  • At length by the holy stream

  • She rests. Pale terror smote their hearts who saw
  • The unwonted sight beheld with startled awe
  • The thronging sons of Nile;
  • Nor dared to approach this thing of human face,38
  • Portentous-mingled with the lowing race,
  • Treading the Libyan soil.
  • Who then was he, the brize-stung Io’s friend,
  • With charms of soothing virtue strong to end
  • Her weary-wandering toil?

  • Jove, mighty Jove, Heaven’s everlasting king,
  • He soft-inspiring came,
  • Edition: current; Page: [237]
  • And with fond force innocuous heals her ills;
  • She from her eyes in lucent drops distils
  • The stream of sorrowful shame,
  • And in her womb from Jove a burden bore,
  • A son of blameless fame,
  • Who with his prosperous life long blessed the Libyan shore

  • Far-pealed the land with jubilant shout—from Jove,
  • From Jove it surely came,
  • This living root of a far-branching line!
  • For who but Jove prevailed, with power divine,
  • Harsh Hera’s wrath to tame?
  • Such the great work of Jove; and we are such,
  • O Jove, our race who claim
  • From him whose name declares the virtue of thy touch.

  • For whom more justly shall my hymn be chaunted
  • Than thee, above all gods that be, high-vaunted,
  • Root of my race, great Jove;
  • Prime moulder from whose plastic-touching hand
  • Life leaps: thine ancient-minded counsels stand,
  • Thou all-devising Jove.

  • High-throned above the highest as the lowest,
  • Beyond thee none, and mightier none thou knowest,
  • The unfearing, all-feared one.
  • When his deep thought takes counsel to fulfil,
  • No dull delays clog Jove’s decided will,39
  • He speaks, and it is done.

Enter Danaus.

  • Be of good cheer, my daughters! All is well,
  • The popular voice hath perfected our prayers.
  • Hail father, bearer of good news: but say,
  • How was the matter stablished? and how far
  • Prevailed the people’s uplifted hands to save us?
  • Not doubtingly, but with a bold decision,
  • That made my old heart young again to see’t.
  • With one acclaim, a forest of right hands
  • Rose through the hurtled air. These Libyan exiles—
  • So ran the popular will—shall find a home
  • Edition: current; Page: [238]
  • In Argos, free, and from each robber hand
  • Inviolate, the native or the stranger,
  • And, whoso holding Argive land refuses
  • To shield these virgins from the threatened force,
  • Disgrace shall brand him, and the popular vote
  • Oust him from Argos. Such response the king
  • Persuasive forced, with wise admonishment;
  • Urging the wrath of Jove, which else provoked
  • Would fatten on our woes, and the twin wrong
  • To you the stranger, and to them the city,
  • Pollution at their gate, a fuel to feed
  • Ills without end. These words the Argive people
  • Answered with suffragating hands, nor waited
  • The herald’s call to register their votes:
  • Just eloquence ruled their willing ear, and Jove
  • Crowned their fair purpose with the perfect deed.


  • Come then, sisters, pour we freely
  • Grateful prayers for Argive kindness;
  • Jove, the stranger’s friend, befriend us,
  • While from stranger’s mouth sincerest
  • Here we voice the hymn,
  • To a blameless issue, surely,
  • Jove will guide the fate.

  • Jove-born gods, benignly bending,
  • Look, we pray, with eyes befriending,
  • On these Argive halls!
  • Ne’er may Mars, the wanton daring,
  • With his shrill trump, joyless-blaring,
  • Wrap, in wild flames, fiercely flaring,
  • These Pelasgian walls!
  • Go! thy gory harvest reaping
  • Far from us: thy bloody weeping
  • Distant tribes may know.
  • Bless, O Jove, this Argive nation!
  • They have heard the supplication
  • Of thy suppliants low;
  • Where the swooping Fate abased us,
  • They with Mercy’s vote upraised us
  • From the prostrate woe!
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  • Not with the male, the stronger, erring,
  • But, woman’s weaker cause preferring,
  • Stood their virtue proof:
  • Wisely Jove, the Avenger, fearing,
  • To the chastened eye appearing,
  • High his front of wrath up-rearing
  • ’Gainst the guilty roof.
  • For heavily, heavily weighs the Alastor,
  • Scapeless, and, with sore disaster,
  • Sinks the sinner low.
  • Bless, O Jove, this Argive nation,
  • That knew their kindred’s supplication,
  • And saved them from the foe:
  • And when their vows they pay, then surely
  • Gifts from clean hands offered purely
  • Thou in grace shalt know.

  • High these suppliant branches raising,
  • Sisters, ancient Argos praising,
  • Pour the grateful strain!
  • Far from thy Pelasgian portals
  • Dwell black Plague, from drooping mortals
  • Ebbing life to drain!
  • May’st thou see the crimson river
  • From fierce home-bred slaughter, never
  • Flowing o’er thy plain!
  • Far from thee the youth-consuming
  • Blossom-plucking strife!
  • The harsh spouse of Aphrodite,
  • Furious Mars in murder mighty,
  • Where he sees thy beauty blooming,
  • Spare his blood-smeared knife!

  • May a reverend priesthood hoary
  • Belt thy shrines, their chiefest glory,
  • With an holy band!
  • By the bountiful libation,
  • By the blazing pile, this nation
  • Shall securely stand.
  • Jove, the great All-ruler, fearing,
  • Edition: current; Page: [240]
  • Jove, the stranger’s stay, revering,
  • Ye shall save the land;
  • Jove, sure-throned above all cavil,
  • Rules by ancient right,
  • May just rulers never fail thee!
  • Holy Hecate’s aid avail thee,40
  • To thy mothers when in travail
  • Sending labours light!

  • May no wasting march of ruin
  • Work, O Argos, thine undoing!
  • Never may’st thou hear
  • Cries of Mars, the shrill, the lyreless!
  • Ne’er may tearful moans, and quireless,
  • Wake the sleeper’s ear!
  • Far from thee the shapes black-trooping
  • Of disease, delightless-drooping!
  • May the blazing death-winged arrow
  • Of the Sun-god spare the marrow
  • Of thy children dear!

  • Mighty Jove, the gracious giver,
  • With his full-sheaved bounty ever
  • Crown the fruited year!
  • Flocks that graze before thy dwelling
  • With rich increase yearly swelling
  • The prosperous ploughman cheer!
  • May the gods no grace deny thee,
  • And the tuneful Muses nigh thee,
  • With exuberant raptures brimming,
  • From virgin throats thy praises hymning
  • Hold the charmèd ear!

  • O’er the general weal presiding,
  • They that rule with far-providing
  • Wisdom sway, and stably-guiding,
  • Changeful counsels mar!
  • Timely with each foreign nation
  • Leagues of wise conciliation
  • Let them join, fierce wars avoiding,
  • From sharp losses far!
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  • The native gods, strong to deliver,
  • With blood of oxen free-poured ever,
  • With laurel-branches failing never,
  • Piously adore!
  • Honour thy parents: spurn not lightly
  • This prime statute sanctioned rightly,
  • Cling to this, a holy liver,
  • Steadfast evermore!

Re-enter Danaus.

  • Well hymned, my daughters! I commend your prayers;
  • But brace your hearts, nor fear, though I, your father,
  • Approach the bearer of unlooked-for news.
  • For from this consecrated hold of gods
  • I spy the ship; too gallantly it peers
  • To cheat mine eye. The sinuous sail I see,
  • The bulging fence-work on each side,41 the prow
  • Fronted with eyes to track its watery way,42
  • True to the steerman’s hint that sits behind,
  • And with no friendly bearing On the deck
  • Appear the crew, their swarthy limbs more swart
  • By snow-white vests revealed: a goodly line
  • Of succour in the rear: but in the van
  • The admiral ship, with low-furled sail makes way
  • By the swift strokes of measured-beating oars.
  • Wait calmly ye, and with well-counselled awe
  • Cling to the gods; the while ye watch their coming,
  • Myself will hence, and straight return with aid
  • To champion our need.43 For I must look for
  • Some herald or ambassador claiming you,
  • Their rightful prey, forthwith; but fear ye not,
  • Their harsh will may not be. This warning take
  • Should we with help be slow, remain you here
  • Nor leave these gods, your strength. Faint not: for surely
  • Comes the appointed hour, and will not stay,
  • When godless men to Jove just fine shall pay.


  • Father, I tremble, lest the fleet-winged ships,
  • Ere thou return, shall land—soon—very soon!
  • O father, I tremble to stay, and not flee,
  • When the bands of the ruthless are near!
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  • My flight to foreclose from the chase of my foes!
  • O father, I faint for fear!
  • Fear not, my children. The accomplished vote
  • Of Argos saves you. They are champions sworn.


  • They come—destruction’s minions mad with hate,
  • Of fight insatiate: well thou know’st the men.
  • With their host many-counted, their ships dark-fronted,44
  • They are near, O father, how near!
  • Their ships stoutly-timbered, their crews swarthy-membered,
  • Triumphant in wrath I fear!
  • Even let them come. They’ll find their match in Argos;
  • A strong-limbed race with noon-day sweats well hardened.45


  • Only not leave me! Pray thee, father, stay!
  • Weak is a lonely woman. No Mars is in her.46
  • Dark-counselled, false, cunning-hearted are they,
  • Unholy, as obscene crows
  • On the feast of the altar that filthily prey;
  • They fear not the gods, my foes!
  • ’Twill make our cause the stronger, daughters, if
  • Their crime be sacrilege, and their foes the gods.


  • The trident and the sacred blazonry
  • Will not repel their violent hands, O father!
  • They are proud, haughty-hearted, a high-blown race;
  • They are hot, they are mad for the fray!
  • With the hound in their heart, and the dog in their face,
  • They will tear from the altar their prey.
  • Dogs let them be, the world has wolves to master them!
  • And good Greek corn is better than papyrus.47
  • Being reasonless as brutes, unholy monsters,
  • And spurred with wrath we must beware their fury.
  • ’Tis no light work to land a fleet. To find
  • Safe roads, sure anchorage, and to make fast
  • The cables, this not with mere thought is done.
  • The shepherds of the ships48 are slow to feel
  • Full confidence, the more that on this coast
  • Harbours are few.49 Besides, thou see’st the sun
  • Edition: current; Page: [243]
  • Slants to the night; and still a prudent pilot
  • Fears in the dark. No man will disembark,
  • Trust me, till all are firmly anchored. Thou
  • Through all thy terrors still cling to the gods,
  • Thy most sure stay. Thy safety’s pledged. For me
  • I’m old, but with the tongue of fluent youth
  • I’ll speak for thee, a pleader without blame.



  • O hilly land, high-honoured land,
  • What wait we now, poor fugitive band?
  • Some dark, dark cave
  • Show me, within thy winding strand,
  • To hide and save!
  • Would I might vanish in smoke, ascending
  • To Heaven, with Jove’s light clouds dim-blending
  • In misty air,
  • Like wingless, viewless dust, and ending
  • In nothing there!

  • ’Tis more than heart may bear. Quick Fear
  • My quaking life with dusky drear
  • Alarm surroundeth!
  • My father spied my ruin: sheer
  • Despair confoundeth.
  • Sooner, high-swung from fatal rope,
  • Here may I end both life and hope,
  • And strong Death bind me,
  • Than hated hearts shall reach their scope,
  • And shame shall find me!

  • Would I were throned in ether high,
  • Where snows are born, and through the sky
  • The white rack skurries! Would that I
  • Might sit sublime
  • On a hanging cliff where lone winds sigh,50
  • Where human finger never showed
  • The far-perched vultures’ drear abode,
  • Nor goat may climb!
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  • Thence sheer to leap, and end for ever
  • My life and name,
  • Ere forceful hands this heart deliver
  • To married shame!

  • There, where no friendly foot may stray,
  • There let me lie, my limbs a prey
  • To dogs and birds: I not gainsay:
  • ’Twas wisely said,
  • Free from much woe who dies to-day
  • Shall be to-morrow. Rather than wedded
  • To whom I hate, let me be bedded
  • Now with the dead!
  • Or if there be, my life to free,
  • A way, declare it,
  • Ye gods!—a surgeon’s cut for me,
  • My heart shall bear it!

  • Voice ye your sorrow! with the cry
  • Of doleful litany pierce the sky!
  • For freedom, for quick rescue cry
  • To him above!
  • Ruler of Earth, look from thy throne,
  • With eyes of love!
  • These deeds of violence wilt thou own,
  • Nor know thy prostrate suppliant’s groan,
  • Almighty Jove?

  • Ægyptus’ sons, a haughty race,
  • Follow my flight with sleepless chase,
  • With whoop and bay they scent my trace
  • To force my love
  • Thy beam is true; both good and ill
  • Thy sure scales prove,
  • Thou even-handed! Mortals still
  • Reap fair fulfilment from thy will,
  • All-crowning Jove.

Chorus, in separate voices, and short hurried exclamations:51

Voice 1.
  • Ah me! he lands! he leaps ashore!
  • He strides with ruffian hands to hale us!
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Voice 2.
  • Cry, sisters, cry! swift help implore!
  • If here to cry may aught avail us!
Voice 3.
  • Ah me! ’tis but the muffled roar
  • Of forceful storms soon to assail us!
Voice 1.

Flee to the gods! to the altars cling!

Voice 2.
  • By sea, by land, the ruthless foe
  • Grimly wantons in our woe!
Voice 3.

Beneath thy wing shield us, O king!

Enter Herald.

  • Hence to the ships! to the good ships fare ye!52
  • Swiftly as your feet may bear ye!
  • Tear us! tear us!
  • Rend us rather,
  • Torture and tear us!
  • From this body
  • Cut the head!
  • Gorily gather
  • Us to the dead!
  • Hence to the ships, away! away!
  • A curse on you, and your delay!
  • O’er the briny billowy way
  • Thou shalt go to-day, to-day!
  • Wilt thou stand, a mulish striver,
  • I can spur, a forceful driver;
  • Deftly, deftly, thou shalt trip
  • To the stoutly-timbered ship!
  • If to yield thou wilt not know,
  • Gorily, gorily thou shalt go!
  • An’ thou be not madded wholly,
  • Know thy state, and quit thy folly!

Help, ho! help, ho! help!

  • To the ships! to the ships away with me!
  • These gods of Argos what reck we?
  • Never, O never
  • The nurturing river,
  • Of life the giver,
  • The healthful flood
  • That quickens the blood
  • Let me behold!
  • An Argive am I,*
  • From Inachus old,
  • These gods deny
  • Thy claim. Withhold!
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  • To the ships, to the ships, with march not slow,
  • Will ye, nill ye, ye must go!
  • Quickly, quickly, hence away!
  • Know thy master and obey!
  • Ere a worse thing thou shalt know—
  • Blows and beating—gently go!


  • Worse than worsest
  • May’st thou know!
  • As thou cursest,
  • Curst be so!
  • The briny billow
  • O’er thee flow!
  • On sandy pillow
  • Bedded low,
  • ’Neath Sarpedon’s breezy brow,*
  • With the shifting sands shift thou!
  • Scream—rend your robes in rags!—call on the gods!
  • The Egyptian bark thou shalt not overleap.
  • Pour ye the bitter bootless wail at will!


  • With fierce heart swelling
  • To work my woe,
  • With keen hate yelling
  • Barks the foe.
  • Broad Nile welling
  • O’er thee flow!
  • Find thy dwelling
  • Bedded low,
  • ’Neath the towering Libyan waters,
  • Towering thou ’gainst Libya’s daughters!
  • To the ships! to the ships! the swift ships even-oared!
  • Quickly! no laggard shifts! the hand that drags thee
  • Will lord it o’er thy locks, not gently handled!


  • O father, oh!
  • From the altar
  • The assaulter
  • Drags me to my woe!
  • Step by step, a torturing guider,
  • Like the slowly-dragging spider,
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  • Cruel-minded so
  • Like a dream,
  • A dusky dream,
  • My hope away doth go!
  • O Earth, O Earth,
  • From death redeem!
  • O Earth, O Jove deliver!
  • Your Argive gods I know not; they nor nursed
  • My infant life, nor reared my riper age.


  • O father, oh!
  • From the altar
  • The assaulter
  • Drags me to my woe!
  • A snake two-footed fiercely fretted
  • Swells beside me! from his whetted
  • Fangs, black death doth flow!
  • Like a dream,
  • A dusky dream,
  • My hope is vanished so!
  • O Earth, O Earth,
  • From death redeem!
  • O Earth, O Jove deliver!
  • To the ships! to the ships! Obey! I say, obey!
  • Pity thy robes, if not thy flesh—away!


  • Ye chiefs of the city,
  • By force they subdue me!
  • Well! I must drag thee by the hair! come! come!
  • Point thy dull ears, and hear me!—come! come! come!


  • I’m lost! I’m ruined!
  • O king, they undo me!
  • Thou shalt see kings enough anon, believe me,
  • Ægyptus’ sons—kingless thou shalt not die.

Enter King with Attendants.

  • Fellow, what wouldst thou? With what purpose here
  • Dost flout this land of brave Pelasgian men?
  • Deem’st thou us women? A barbarian truly
  • Art thou, if o’er the Greek to sport it thus
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  • The fancy tempts thee. Nay, but thou art wrong
  • Both root and branch in this

How wrong? Speak plainly.

  • Thou art a stranger here, and dost not know
  • As a stranger how to bear thee.
  • This I know,
  • I lost my own, and what I lost I found.

Thy patrons* who, on this Pelasgian ground?

  • To find stray goods the world all over, Hermes
  • Is prince of patrons53
  • Hermes is a god,
  • Thou, therefore, fear the gods
  • And I do fear
  • The gods of the Nile.

We too have gods in Argos.

  • So be it: but, in Argos or in Africk,
  • My own’s my own
  • Who touches these reaps harm,
  • And that right soon
  • No friendly word thou speak’st,
  • To welcome strangers.
  • Strangers are welcome here;
  • But not to spoil the gods.
  • These words of thine
  • To Ægyptus’ sons be spoken, not to me

I take no counsel, or from them, or thee.

  • Thou—who art thou? for I must plainly make
  • Rehearsal to my masters—this my office
  • Enforces—both by whom, and why, unjustly
  • I of this kindred company of women
  • Am robbed. A serious strife it is; no bandying
  • Of words from witnesses, no silver passed
  • From hand to hand will lay such ugly strife;
  • But man for man must fall, and noblest souls
  • Must dash their lives away.
  • For what I am,
  • You, and your shipmates, soon enough shall know me
  • These maids, if with the softly suasive word
  • Thou canst prevail, are thine; to force we never
  • Will yield the suppliant sisters; thus the people
  • With one acclaim have voted; ’tis nailed down
  • Thus to the letter. So it must remain.
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  • Thou hast my answer, not in tablets graven,
  • Or in the volumed scroll, all stamped and sealed,
  • But from a free Greek mouth. Dost understand me?
  • Hence quickly from my sight!
  • Of this be sure,
  • A war thou stirrest, in which, when once begun,
  • The males will be the stronger.
  • We, too, have males
  • In Argos, lusty-blooded men, who drink
  • Good wine, not brewed from barley.* As for you,
  • Ye virgins, fearless follow where these guides
  • Shall lead. Our city strongly girt with wall,
  • And high-reared tower receives you. We can boast
  • Full many a stately mansion; stateliest piled
  • My palace stands, work of no feeble hands.
  • Right pleasant ’tis in populous floors to lodge
  • With many a fellow-tenant: some will find
  • A greater good in closely severed homes,
  • That have no common gates: of these thou hast
  • The ample choice: take what shall like thee most
  • Know me thy patron, and in all things know
  • My citizens thy shield, whose vote hath pledged
  • Thy safety; surer guarantee what wouldst thou?
  • Blessing for thy blessing given,
  • Flow to thee, divine Pelasgian!
  • But for our advisal forthwith
  • Send, we pray thee, for our father;
  • He the firm, the far foreseeing,
  • How to live, and where to lodge us,
  • Duly shall direct. For ever
  • Quick to note the faults of strangers
  • Sways the general tongue; though we
  • Hope all that’s good and best from thee.
King [to the attendant maids]:
  • Likewise you, ye maids attendant
  • For his daughters’ service, wisely
  • Portioned by the father, here
  • Be your home secure,
  • Far from idle-bruited babblings,
  • ’Neath my wing to dwell!
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Enter Danaus, attended by an Argive guard.

  • Daughters! if so the Olympian gods deserve
  • Your sacrifices, your libations, surely
  • Argos no less may claim them! Argos truly
  • Your Saviour in worst need! With eager ears
  • They drank my tale, indignant the foul deeds
  • Of our fell-purposed cousinship they heard,
  • And for my guard this goodly band they set me
  • Of strong spear-bearing men, lest being slain
  • By the lurking lance of some insidious foe
  • My death bring shame to Argos. Such high honor,
  • From hearts where kindness moves the friendly deed,
  • They heaped the sire withal, that you, the daughters,
  • In father’s stead should own them. For the rest,
  • To the chaste precepts graven on your heart
  • That oft I gave, one timely warning add,
  • That time, which proveth all, approve your lives
  • Before this people; for ’gainst the stranger, calumny
  • Flows deftly from the tongue, and cheap traducement
  • Costs not a thought. I charge ye, therefore, daughters,
  • Your age being such that turns the eyes of men
  • To ready gaze, in all ye do consult
  • Your father’s honor: such ripe bloom as yours
  • No careless watch demands: so fair a flower
  • Wild beasts and men, monsters of all degrees,
  • Winged and four-footed, wantonly will tear.
  • Her luscious-dropping fruits the Cyprian* hangs
  • In the general view, and publishes their praise;54
  • That whoso passes, and beholds the pomp
  • Of shapeliest beauty, feels the charmed dart
  • That shoots from eye to eye, and vanquished falls
  • By strong desire. Give, therefore, jealous heed
  • That our long toils, and ploughing the deep sea
  • Not fruitless fall; but be your portment such
  • As breeds no shame to us, nor to our enemies
  • Laughter. A double lodgment for our use,
  • One from the state, the other from the king,
  • Rentless we hold. All things look bright. This only,
  • Your father’s word, remember. More than life
  • Hold a chaste heart in honor.
  • The high Olympians
  • Grant all thy wish! For us and our young bloom,
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  • Fear nothing, father: for unless the gods
  • Have forged new counsels, we ev’n to the end
  • Will tread the trodden path, and will not bend.


Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Lift ye the solemn hymn!
  • High let your pæans brim!
  • Praise in your strain
  • Gods that in glory reign
  • High o’er the Argive plain,
  • High o’er each castled hold,
  • Where Erasinus old*
  • Winds to the main!
Semi-Chorus 2 [to the attendant maids]:
  • Sing, happy maids, with me!
  • Loud with responsive glee
  • Voice ye the strain!
  • Praise ye the Argive shore,
  • Praise holy Nile no more,
  • Wide where his waters roar,
  • Mixed with the main!


Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Lift ye the solemn hymn!
  • High let your pæans brim!
  • Praise in your strain
  • Torrents that bravely swell
  • Fresh through each Argive dell,
  • Broad streams that lazily
  • Wander, and mazily
  • Fatten the plain.
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • Sing, sisters, sing with me
  • Artemis chaste! may she
  • List to the strain!
  • Never, O never may
  • Marriage with fearful sway
  • Bind me; nor I obey
  • Hatefullest chain!


Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Yet, mighty praise be thine56
  • Cyprian queen divine!
  • Hera, with thee I join,
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  • Nearest to Jove.
  • Subtly conceiving all,
  • Wiseliest weaving all,
  • Thy will achieving all
  • Nobly by love!
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • With thee Desire doth go;
  • Peitho,* with suasive flow
  • Bending the willing foe,
  • Marches with thee.
  • Lovely Harmonia57
  • Knows thee, and, smote with awc,
  • Strong kings obey the law
  • Whispered by thee.


Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Yet must I fear the chase,58
  • Sail spread in evil race,
  • War with a bloody pace
  • Spurred after me.
  • Why to this Argive shore
  • Came they with plashing oar,
  • If not with sorrow’s store
  • Treasured for me?
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • Comes fated good or ill,
  • Wait we in patience still!
  • No power may thwart his will
  • Jove, mighty Jove.
  • Laden with sorrow’s store
  • Virgins in days of yore
  • Praised, when their grief was o’er,
  • Jove, mighty Jove.
Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Jove, mighty Jove, may he
  • From wedded force for me
  • Rescue prepare!
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • Fair fall our maiden lot!
  • But mighty Jove may not
  • Yield to thy prayer.
Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Know’st thou what woes may be
  • Stored yet by Fate for me?
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • Jove and his hidden plan
  • Sight of the sharpest man
  • Searcheth in vain;
  • Thou in thy narrow span
  • Wisely remain!
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Semi-Chorus 1.
  • Wisely my thought may fare
  • Tell me, O tell me where?
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • ’Gainst what the gods ordain
  • Fret not thy heart in vain


Semi-Chorus 1
  • Save me, thou chief of gods, great Jove,
  • From violent bonds of hated love,
  • Even as the Inachian maid of yore
  • Thy hand set free from labour sore,
  • What time thou soothed with touch divine
  • Her weary frame,
  • And with a friendly force benign
  • Thy healing came.


Semi-Chorus 2.
  • May the woman’s cause prevail!
  • And, when two certain ills assail,
  • Be ours the less: and Justice fair
  • For the just shall still declare.
  • Ye mighty gods o’er human fates
  • Supremely swaying,
  • On you my prayer, my fortune waits,
  • Your will obeying.


Edition: current; Page: [254] Edition: current; Page: [255]


  • I cannot think but curses climb the sky,
  • And there awake God’s gentle-sleeping peace.
  • Shakespere.
  • Alle Schuld rächt sich auf Erden.
  • Goethe.
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Eteocles, Son of Oedipus.


Chorus of Theban Virgins.

Ismene, } Sisters of Eteocles.

Antigone, } Sisters of Eteocles.


SceneThe Acropolis of Thebes.

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One of the most indisputable laws of the moral world, and, when seriously considered, perhaps the most awful one, is that principle of hereditary dependence, which connects the sins of one generation, and often of one individual, by an indissoluble bond, with the fortunes of another. In the closely compacted machinery of the moral world no man can be ignorant, or foolish, or vicious to himself. The most isolated individual by the very act of his existence, as he necessarily inhales, so he likewise exhales, a social atmosphere, either healthy so far, or so far unhealthy, for the race. Nothing in the world is independent either of what co-exists with it, or of what precedes it. The present, in particular, is everywhere at once the child of the past, and the parent of the future. It is no doubt true that a foolish father does not always beget a foolish son. There are counteracting influences constantly at work to prevent the fatal tendency to degeneration, of which Horace speaks so feelingly—

  • Aetas parentum pejor avis tulit
  • Nos nequiores, mox daturos
  • Progeniem vitiosiorem,

but the “Delicta majorum immeritus lues” of the same poet remains a fearful reality in the daily administration of the world, which no serious-thinking man can afford to disregard. In the ancient law of Moses, as in the most famous systems of Christian theology, this principle plays a prominent part; and awful as its operation is, often sweeping whole generations into ruin, and smiting whole nations with a chronic leprosy, for the folly or extravagance of an ephemeral individual, we shall not be surprised to find it equally conspicuous in the literature of so subtle a people as the Greeks. The Hellenic mind, no doubt, was too sunny and too healthy to allow itself to be encased and imprisoned with this idea, as with an iron mail; but as a mysterious dark background of moral existence it was recognised in its highest power, and nowhere so distinctly, and with such terrible iteration, as in those lyrical exhibitions of solemn, religious, and legendary faith, which we call tragedy.

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Among the other serious ethico-religious legends with which the scanty remains of the rich Greek tragedy have made us more familiar, the dark fates of two famous families—the Pelopidae and the Labdacidae—force themselves upon our attention with a marked distinctness. How the evil genius (ἀλάστωρ) of inherited guilt revealed itself in the blood-stained track of the descendants of Tantalus we have seen on the large scale of a complete trilogy in the first volume; the play to which we now introduce the reader is an exhibition of the same stern law of moral concatenation, in one of the scenes of the dark story of the Theban family of the Labdacidae. Labdacus, the father of this unfortunate race, is traced back in the legendary genealogy to the famous Phœnician settler, Cadmus, being removed from him by only one generation.* This head of the family appears tainted with no moral guilt of an extraordinary kind; but his son Laius figures in the legend, not like Pelops in the Pelopidan story, as a murderer, but as a licentious and a lustful character. Yielding to the violent impulses of unnatural passion, he is said to have carried off from Elis, Chrysippus, the son of Pelops; whereupon the injured father pronounced against the unholy ravisher the appropriate curse that he should die childless, or, if he did beget children, that himself should lose his life by the hands of those to whom he had been the means of giving it. We see here exemplified that grand principle of retaliation (lex talionis), “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” which stands out so prominently in the laws of Moses, and is so agreeable to the moral instincts of the human heart. Laius was to perish by his own progeny, because, in the irregular gratification of the procreative instinct, he had sinned against Nature The curse spoken against him by Pelops was the wrathful expression of one of Nature’s greatest laws; in whatever way we seek violently to obtain happiness contrary to the sober course of the divine arrangements, in that way we are sure with our own hands to work our own destruction. This is inevitable. Accordingly, that the direct sanction of the gods might be added to the utterance of an aggrieved human heart, the legend represents the lustful offender as consulting the oracle of Delphi, whether he might not with safety disregard the imprecation of Pelops, and beget children by his wife Iocaste (called Epicaste in Homer, Od. XI. 271); and receiving the ominous answer—

  • Sow not the seed of children, in despite
  • Of the gods: for if thou shalt beget a son,
  • Edition: current; Page: [259]
  • Him who begat shall the begotten slay,
  • And all thy house in bloody ruin perish.*

But the divine oracle, as was to have been expected from the character of the questioner, was given in vain. Laius had consulted the oracle not that he might know and obey the divine will, but that he might, if possible, escape from the terrible consequences of the curse of Pelops, and yet gratify his natural desire of having offspring. The result was natural In a moment of forgetfulness, induced by the free use of that mother of many evils, wine, he neglected the divine warning; and, from his fatal embrace, a child was born, destined in the course of the accomplishment of the ancient curse, both to suffer many monstrous misfortunes in his own person, and to transmit guilt and misery to another generation. This child was Oedipus, so named from the piercing of his feet by nails, and subsequent exposure on Mount Cithaeron, a device contrived by his father, in order to escape the fulfilment of the divine oracle But it is not possible, as Homer frequently inculcates, to deceive the mind of the gods. The helpless infant, the child of destiny, is found (like Romulus), by some shepherds, and by them taken to Polybus king of Corinth. Here the foundling is brought up as the son of that monarch; but, on one occasion, being taunted by some of his youthful comrades with the reproach that he is not really the son of Polybus, but a fatherless foundling, he goes forth to the oracle of Delphi, and to the wide world, to clear up what had been more wisely left in the dark; and here his god-sent misfortunes overtake him, and the evil genius of his father drives the innocent son blindfold into inevitable woe. The Pythoness, according to her wont, returned an answer more doubtful than the question. Oedipus was told not who his father was, but that a dark destiny hung over him, to kill his father, and to commit incest with his mother. Knowing no parents but those whom he had left at Corinth, he proceeded on his wanderings, in a direction the opposite of that by which he had come; and, on the road between Delphi and Daulis, met a person of consequence, with a charioteer and an attendant, in a car. The charioteer immediately ordered the foot traveller, somewhat insolently, after the manner of aristocratic satellites, to get out of the way; which rudeness the hot youth resenting, a scuffle ensued, in which the charioteer Edition: current; Page: [260] and his master were slain, while the attendant fled. The murdered prince was Laius; and Oedipus, unwittingly, nay, doing everything he could to elude the fate, had slain his own father. But the ancient Fury, for a season, concealed her vengeance, and allowed a brief glory to be shed round her victim, that he might thereafter be plunged in more terrible darkness. The Sphynx, a monstrous creature, of Egyptian birth, half virgin, half lion, had been sent by wrathful Mars, to desolate the Theban country, devouring, with her bloody jaws, whosoever could not solve her famous riddle. When depopulation proceeded at a fearful rate from this cause, the Thebans promised locaste, the widow of Laius, and queen of the country, in marriage, to him who should succeed in explaining the enigma Oedipus was successful; and, becoming king of Thebes, was married, in ignorance, to his own mother. Thus the net of destiny was drawn closer and closer round its victim; but the hour of doom was not yet come. Joined in this unnatural wedlock, the unfortunate son of Laius became the father of two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and of two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Circumstances (which Sophocles narrates in his Oedipus Tyrannus) afterwards bringing the story of Oedipus’ life and the nature of his connection with locaste to light, the unfortunate old king looking upon himself as an object of hatred to the gods, and unworthy to look upon the day, tore out his eyes, and was confined by his sons—whether from cruelty or superstition—in a separate house, and treated otherwise in a manner that appeared to him disrespectful and unkind.* Enraged at this treatment, he pronounced an imprecation against them, that they should one day divide their inherited land by steel; whereupon they, to render any hostile collision impossible, made an agreement to exercise kingly authority over the whole Theban territory, each for a year at a time, while the other should leave the country. Eteocles, as the elder, reigned first; but when the appointed term came round, like other holders of power, he showed himself loath to quit; and Polynices, fleeing to Argos, sought assistance from Adrastus, king of that country. This prince, along with the Ætolian Tydeus, the father of Diomede, and other chiefs, marched against Thebes with a great armament, in order to force Eteocles to yield the yearly tenure of the throne to his brother, according to agreement. The appearance of this armament before the gates of the Cadmean city, and its sad issue, in the death, by their own Edition: current; Page: [261] hands, of the two hostile brothers, form the subject of the present play.

From this rapid sketch, the reader will see plainly that the dismal story of Laius and Oedipus, and his children, affords materials for a whole series of tragedies; and that, in fact, “The Seven against Thebes” is only one of the last acts of a great consecutive legendary history, of which each part is necessary to explain the other. This close connection of the subjects naturally suggests the question, whether our play, as we now have it, stood alone in dramatic representation, or whether it was not—like other pieces in this volume—only a subordinate part of a large dramatic whole. We know for certain that Æschylus wrote at least four plays, besides the present, of which the materials were taken from the cycle of this Theban legend—namely, Laius, Oedipus, The Sphynx, and the Eleusinians;* and it has been not unplausibly conjectured that some of his other plays, of which the names are preserved, belong to the same series In what precise connection, however, the existing play stood to any of the rest in actual representation, there were, till very recently, no satisfactory means of judging; and accordingly no scanty wealth of erudite speculation (after the German fashion), made to look like science, was spent upon the subject. Now, at length it has been announced, that the διδασκαλία, containing the actual order of representation of four of these plays, has been discovered; and, if the document be genuine, we are enabled to assert that, in the 78th Olympiad, Æschylus gained the tragic prize with the tetralogy, of Laius, Oedipus, The Seven Against Thebes, and the Sphynx, a satiric drama.

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, Edition: current; Page: [262] 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.

Edition: current; Page: [263]


  • 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.
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Enter Messenger.

  • Eteocles,
  • 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.


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The Chorus5 enter 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.


The Chorus become more and more agitated. They speak one to another in short hurried exclamations, and in great confusion.

Chorus 1.
  • To which of the gods and the goddesses now
  • Shall I pay my vow?
Chorus 2.
  • 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!
Chorus 1.
  • 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!
Chorus 2.
  • 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?
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The Chorus crown 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.

Chorus 1.

I hear the dread roll of the chariots of war!


O holy Hera!

Edition: current; Page: [267]
Chorus 2.

And the axles harsh-creaking with dissonant jar!


O Artemis dear!

Chorus 1.

And the vext air is madded with quick-branished spears.

Semi-Chorus 1.

To Thebes, our loved city, what hope now appears?

Semi-Chorus 2.

And when shall the gods bring an end of our fears?

Chorus 1.

Hark! hark! stony hail the near rampart is lashing!


O blest Apollo!

Chorus 2.

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.


The Chorus unite 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!

Re-enter Eteocles.

  • Answer me this, insufferable brood!
  • Is this your wisdom, this your safety-note
  • Edition: current; Page: [268]
  • 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
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  • 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.
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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.


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  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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,
  • Edition: current; Page: [272]
  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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,
  • Edition: current; Page: [273]
  • 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!
Semi-Chorus 1.
  • 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.
Semi-Chorus 2.
  • 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.

Enter Messenger and Eteocles from 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?
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  • 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?
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  • 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
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  • 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.
  • Onca
  • 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
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  • 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,
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  • 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
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  • 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!
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  • 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
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  • 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!

[Exit Messenger.

  • 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.
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  • 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.



  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,
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  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • When the enigma of the baleful Sphynx
  • By Oedipus was read,
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  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

Re-enter Messenger.

  • 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.

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  • 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!

  • 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.
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  • 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 of Eteocles and Polynices are brought on the stage.

  • EPODE.

    • 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,