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Specimens of Greek Tragedy by Goldwin Smith

Part 4 out of 5

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CHORUS.

If age our judgment dims not, thou hast dealt
Rightly with all things which thy speech concerns.

HAEMON.

Father, the favour of the gods bestows
Wisdom, most precious of all precious gifts.
That thou hast not the right upon thy side
I cannot, if I could I would not, show.
Yet may another's argument be fair.
Nature hath set me to keep watch for thee
Over the words, acts, censures of the world.
The common man, awed by thy presence, shrinks
From uttering what he knows will please thee not.
I hear beneath the cloud of secrecy
How the whole city for this maiden mourns.
She, who the least deserves it, dies, they say,
A cruel death for a most noble deed,
The rescue of her brother's mangled corpse
From being left unburied on the field,
A prey to ravening dogs and carrion birds.
Has she not merited a crown of gold?
Such murmurs darkling spread among the crowd.
Father, I hold no treasure half so dear
As thy well-being; greater joy or pride
Is none than sons have in an honoured sire,
Or than a sire has in an honoured son.
Keep not one changeless temper in thy breast,
Nor fancy that thou art infallible.
Whoever dreams that he alone is wise,
Or is in speech or spirit singular,
Will, when unmasked, betray his emptiness.
Wise though a man may be, it is no shame
To have an open mind and flexible.
Thou seest by the winter torrent's side
The trees that bend go with their limbs unscathed,
While those that bend not perish root and branch.
And so the sailor who keeps taut the sheet,
And stiffly battles with the tempest's force,
Is apt thenceforth to float keel uppermost.
Bend, then, and give thy spirit room to change.
If from the lips of a young counsellor
Wisdom can come, I say it were far best
If we could all be born omniscient,
But as omniscience is not given to man,
'Tis well to good advisers to give ear.

CHORUS.

Prince, it beseems ye both, if either says
Aught apt, to listen; both have argued well.

CREON.

And shall our hoary hairs be put to school,
And shall we take instruction from this boy?

HAEMON.

In naught that is not right. Young as I am,
Thou shouldst my reasons weigh, not count my years.

CREON.

Does reason bid thee second anarchy?

HAEMON.

I would not ask e'en justice for the bad.

CREON.

Is not yon maiden sick of that disease?

HAEMON.

Not so avers the common voice of Thebes.

CREON.

Shall I my duty from the commons learn?

HAEMON.

Seest thou how youthful is that sentiment?

CREON.

Am I to govern by another's will?

HAEMON.

That is no state which owns one man for lord.

CREON.

Is not the state the ruler's property?

HAEMON.

Thou wouldst reign well over a desert land.

CREON.

The boy, it seems, will fight for yonder maid.

HAEMON.

If thou'rt the maid; it is for thee I care.

CREON.

Villain, why art thou wrangling with thy sire?

HAEMON.

Because thou errest from the path of right.

CREON.

Err I in claiming reverence for my state?

HAEMON

Reverence upon religion tramples not.

CREON.

O caitiff soul, thrall of a woman's face!

HAEMON

Thou wilt not see me by aught base enthralled.

CREON.

Yet is thy whole discourse a plea for her.

HAEMON.

For thee and me, and for the gods below.

CREON.

This maid shall never be thy living bride.

HAEMON.

Then will she die, and will not die alone.

CREON.

Hast thou the effrontery thus to threaten me?

HAEMON.

To gainsay folly, call'st thou that a threat?

CREON.

Thou'lt rue thy preaching, void thyself of sense.

HAEMON.

I'd say thou dotest, wert thou not my sire.

CREON.

Slave of a woman, do not gird at me!

HAEMON.

Wouldst thou have all the talking to thyself?

CREON.

Indeed! By heaven above, thou shalt repent!
Thus censuring first and then reviling me.
Bring out that hateful thing that she may die
Forthwith, and here before her lover's eyes.

HAEMON.

Never before my eyes, believe it not;
A witness of her death I will not be,
Nor shalt thou look upon my face again.
Rave at the friends who will thy raving brook.

(_Exit_ HAEMON.)

CHORUS.

O Prince, the youth has rushed away in wrath,
And at his years anguish is violent.

CREON.

Let him go vent his overweening pride;
These maidens twain shall not escape from death.

CHORUS.

What? Is it thy resolve that both shall die?

CREON.

Not she that took no part. Thou hast well said.

CHORUS.

What is to be the manner of her death?

CREON.

I will convey her to a lonely place,
And shut her in a rock-hewn prison-house,
With food sufficient, for religion's sake,
Whereby we from pollution save the State.
There unto Hades, her sole deity,
Pattering her prayers, she will drive death away,
Or at the last be taught how vain it is
To spend devotion on the shades below.

* * * * *

_THE POWER OF LOVE._

LINES 781-800.

CHORUS.

Unconquered love, against whose might
Wealth's golden mansion hath no ward,
That in the maiden's dimpled cheek by night
Keepest thy guard;
The ocean wave to bear thy tread is taught;
The rural homestead, gods, and men are brought
Alike thy power to own; who feels it is distraught.
'Tis thou that upright hearts and pure dost lead
From virtue's ways to ways of sin.
'Tis thou whose influence in our Thebes does breed
Strife among kin.
O'er all prevails the charm of beauty's eyes,
Charm that with Law Supreme in empire vies,
For Aphrodite's power all rebel force defies.

* * * * *

_ANTIGONE IS SENT TO HER DEATH._

LINES 882-928.

CREON.

Be sure, of wails and dirges before death,
If leave were given, we ne'er should have an end.
Lead her away and in the rocky vault
Forthwith immure her, as my order was.
There leave her by herself, either to die,
Or linger on in that sepulchral cell.
We of this maiden's blood are clear, and yet
She will no longer dwell with those above.

ANTIGONE.

O tomb, my bridal bower, O rock-hewn cell,
My home that art to be, whither I go
To meet my kin, of whom Persephone
In her dark mansion holds a multitude.
Last of the train and most unfortunate,
I now must die before my destined hour.
And yet my hope is sure that by my sire,
By thee, beloved mother, and by thee,
Dearest of brothers, welcomed I shall be.
This hand washed every corpse and decked it out
For sepulture; this hand upon each grave
Libations poured; and, Polynices, now
In tending thy remains I meet this doom.
Yet wisdom will approve my honouring thee:
Had I a mother been and lost a child,
Had I been wed and had my husband died,
I would not thus have braved the public ire.
What is my principle, perchance you ask?
My husband lost, I might have wed again,
I might in time have borne a second child;
But, with both sire and mother in the grave,
Hope of a second brother there is none.
Upon this principle I honoured thee,
Dearest of brothers; but to Creon seemed
A sinner and the worst of criminals.
And now he hales me to the place of death.
From marriage and of bridal hymn cut off,
Cut off from joys of love and motherhood,
And reft of friends, poor maiden as I am,
I must go down into a living grave.
And yet what law divine have I transgressed?
How could I look for succour to the gods?
Whither for comfort go, when piety
Is thus requited with the pains of sin?
If this is righteous in the eye of heaven,
I'll own the justice of my chastisement;
But if the sin be on the other side,
May they but bear that which they lay on me.

* * * * *

_THE CATASTROPHE._

Creon, having been brought to repentance by the denunciations
of the prophet Tiresias, sets out to bury the corpse of
Polynices, and release Antigone from the cave of death. The
issue is recounted by a messenger to the Queen Eurydice.

LINES 1155-1243.

MESSENGER.

Ye, that by Cadmus and Amphion's shrine
Do dwell, no mortal's life before its end
Will be by me pronounced blessed or unblessed.
Fortune is ever casting down the high,
Fortune is ever lifting up the low;
And none can prophesy what change may come.
Creon I deemed an enviable man:
He from our enemy had saved our state,
And, vested with a monarch's power supreme,
Ruled happy in the promise of his heir.
Now all is gone, for when a man has lost
The things that make life sweet, he lives in truth
No more, but is an animated corpse.
Have in your house what store of wealth you will,
Dwell in the state of sumptuous royalty,
Where joy is absent, I account the rest
Less than a shadow of a wreath of smoke.

CHORUS.

What evil has befallen our royal house?

MESSENGER.

Dead are some, others guilty of their death.

CHORUS.

Who is the murdered, who the murderer, say.

MESSENGER.

Haemon is dead, unnaturally slain.

CHORUS.

Slain by whose hand, his father's or his own?

MESSENGER.

His own, stung by his sire's cruel deed.

CHORUS.

O seer, thy prophesy has come too true.

MESSENGER.

So stands the case, whereon deliberate.

(_Enter_ EURYDICE.)

CHORUS.

Yonder is the ill-starred Eurydice,
The Queen of Creon; from the house she comes
By chance, or brought by tidings of her son.

EURYDICE.

Citizens all, I overheard your words,
As from our portal I was setting forth
To pay my vows to Pallas at her fane.
Just as I drew the bolts that hold the door,
Sounds of disaster to our family
Smote on my ear. Affrighted, I fell back
In my attendants' arms and swooned away.
Repeat what then ye said; I am well schooled
In misery, and can bear to hear the worst.

MESSENGER.

Good lady, I was witness of the scene,
And nothing will suppress in my report.
Why tell a flattering tale, when soon the lie
Must be exposed? Plain truth is ever best.
I went as an attendant with the King
To yon high level where, a prey to dogs,
The uncared-for corpse of Polynices lay.
The corpse, with prayers put up to Hecate
And Pluto to look kindly on the dead,
We reverently washed, wrapped the remains
In fresh-plucked boughs, and burned them on a pyre.
Then on the dead we heaped his native earth.
Next to the maiden's bridal bower of death,
Within the hollowed rock, we took our way.
One of us hears afar a wailing shrill
Come from the spot where lay the unhallowed cell.
And running, tells to Creon what he heard.
To Creon's ear, as he drew nigh, was borne
A sound confused of weeping, and he cried
In bitterness, "Unhappy that I am,
Will my heart prove a prophet? Have I come
The most disastrous journey of my life?
Sure it is my son's voice that greets my ear.
Attendants, hasten to the cave of death,
Tear up the stones, creep to the chamber's mouth,
Tell me if Haemon's voice indeed I hear,
Or is it some illusion of my sense?"
We as our master in his anguish bade,
Looked in, and in the inmost cell we saw
The maiden hanging from the roof and dead,
A noose of shredded linen round her neck;
The youth, his arms folded around her waist,
Bewailing his lost bride, his marriage hour
Turned to despair, his father's cruelty.
Seeing him, Creon, with a bitter cry,
Moved towards him, and in anguish shrieked to him,
"My son, what hast thou done? what frantic thought
Possessed thy mind, how wast thou thus distraught?
Come forth, I do entreat thee, son, come forth."
Haemon, for answer, with eyes flashing rage,
Looked mute abhorrence, drew his two-edged sword,
And would have struck his father; but the King
Fled and escaped. Then on himself he turned
His wrath, and without more, into his breast
Drove to the hilt his sword, and conscious still,
Clung round the maiden with his failing arms,
While, swiftly welling from his wound, the blood
Spread over her pale cheek its crimson shower.
There lies he dead, with arms around the dead,
His marriage feast held in the world below,
Teaching by sad example that the worst
Of human evils is a mind distraught.

AJAX

Ajax and Ulysses were competitors for the arms of Achilles. The prize
was awarded to Ulysses. Ajax, deeming himself wronged, sallies forth
from his tent one night to take vengeance on those who had wronged
him, especially Ulysses and the two sons of Atreus. Athene, ever
watchful for her favourite Hellenes, smites Ajax with mental
blindness, so that instead of falling on his enemies, he falls on the
flocks and herds of the camp. Restored to his right mind, and finding
how he has dishonoured himself, he falls upon his sword.

* * * * *

_THE HERO'S MADNESS._

Tecmessa, a captive with whom Ajax lives as his wife, tells the Chorus
of Salaminian mariners what has befallen their chieftain.

LINES 284-330.

TECMESSA.

Thou shalt hear all as one that shares our lot.
It was the dead of night, and now no more
The camp fires shone, when Ajax took his sword,
Uncalled, and was in act to leave the tent,
And I reproved him. "Ajax," I exclaimed,
"What errand is it upon which you go
Unbidden, summoned by no messenger,
No trumpet call; the host is all asleep?"
Brief was his answer in a well-known strain:
"Peace, woman; silence best beseems thy sex."
I said no more. He sallied forth alone.
What may have there befallen I cannot say.
Back to the tent he came, leading along
As captives bulls and herdsmen's dogs and sheep,
Of which a part he strangled, others felled
And cleft in twain; others again he lashed,
Treating those beasts like human prisoners.
Then rushing out, he with some phantom talked,
Launching against the sons of Atreus now,
Now 'gainst Ulysses, ravings void of sense,
Boasting how he had paid their insults home.
Then once more rushing back into the tent,
By slow degrees to his right mind he came.
But when he saw the tent with carnage heaped,
Crying aloud, he smote his head, and then
Flung himself down amid the gory wreck,
And with clenched fingers grasped and tore his hair.
So a long time he sat and spoke no word.
At last, with imprecations terrible
If I refused, he bade me tell him all,
What had befallen and how it came about.
And I, my friends, o'erwhelmed with terror, told
All that I knew of that which he had done.
Thereat he uttered piercing cries of grief,
Such as had never come from him before,
For in loud lamentations to indulge
He ever held a craven weakling's part,
And, stifling outcries, moaned not loud but deep,
Like the deep roaring of a wounded bull.
But in this plight, prostrate and desperate,
Refusing food and drink, my hero lies
Amidst the mangled bodies, motionless.
That he is brooding on some fell design,
His wails and exclamations plainly show.
But, O kind friends, 'twas to this end I came,
Enter the tent and aid me if ye can;
The words of friends are desperate sorrow's cure.

* * * * *

_REMORSE_.

Ajax bewails his own fall. Tecmessa tries to comfort him,
and turn him from violent courses.

LINES 430-595.

CHORUS.

I know not how, in case so desperate,
To bid thee speak, or bid thee to refrain.

AJAX.

Alas! who would have thought my name would prove
[Footnote: There is a play upon the name [Greek: Aias], the first
syllable of which is an ejaculation of sorrow unreproduceable in
English.]
So correspondent to the bearer's state?
Once and again that syllable of woe,
Being with woe o'erwhelmed, I may repeat.
My father once, from this Idaean land,
Crowned with the prize of valour by the host,
And full of glory, to his home returned;
While I, his son, coming to this same land
Of Troy with prowess no whit less than his,
After achievements not less glorious,
Meet from the Argives scorn and contumely.
And yet of this much am I well assured,
That had Achilles living been the judge
To whom his arm and valours prize should go,
Mine, and mine only, would those arms have been.
But now the Atridae to a cunning knave,
My exploits misprized, have surrendered them.
And had not strong delusion warped my sense,
And clouded o'er my vision, never more
Would they have an unrighteous sentence given.
But that stern-eyed, resistless child of Zeus,
Just as I put forth my avenging hand,
Brought madness on me, made me miss my aim,
And dye my sword with blood of slaughtered kine.
They have escaped, and they will mock at me,
Through no default of mine. When deity
Blasts the strong arm, weakness may strength defy.
What now am I to do, since of the gods
I am abhorred, of the Hellenic host
Hated, to Troy and all this land a foe?
Shall I to their own quarrel leave the Kings,
Unmoor, and homeward cross the Aegean wave?
How can I face my father Telamon?
How can he bear to look upon the son
Who comes to him disgraced, without the prize,
When glory's wreath has circled his own brow?
That may not be. Then shall I fling myself
Alone upon the Trojan battlements,
And having done some deed of valour, fall?
That might to the two Kings some joy afford.
That, too, is naught. On something I must think
Whereby I to my agd sire may prove
That from his loins sprung no unworthy son;
For vile it is to crave for longer life,
When longer life brings no release from ill.
How can addition to the sum of days,
When all is but a respite, joy bestow?
I would not give a doit for any man
Who lets his heart be fired with idle hopes.
To live with honour, or with honour die,
Alone becomes the noble. I have done.

CHORUS.

None, Ajax, will pretend that these thy words
Are not thy own, or come not from thy heart;
But now control thyself. Discard these thoughts,
And let the counsels of thy friends prevail.

TECMESSA.

Ajax, my lord and master, man knows not
Aught sadder than a bondsman's helplessness.
I, that a freeman for my father had,
First of the Phrygian race in wealth and power,
Am now a slave. So have the gods decreed,
And thy strong arm determined. Of thy bed
Thus made the partner, I am true to thee,
And do implore thee by our household Zeus,
And by the couch which we together press,
Be not so cruel as to leave thy mate
In thraldom, and a prey to slanderous tongues.
Know, when thou diest, thy protection gone,
The Argives will that self-same day drag off
Me and thy helpless child to slavery.
Then will some slave-master speak bitter words,
Voiding his bile on us: 'Behold the mate
Of Ajax, once the hero of our host,
Fallen from her pride of place to menial toil.'
So will they say. For me, where fate may drive
I drift; but shame will be on thee and thine.
Think of thy father, in his drear old age
Bereft of thee; think of thy mother, too,
With her grey head, who puts up many a prayer
That she may welcome home her son alive.
Have pity on thy child, who will be left
In infancy, uncherished, and the ward
Of unkind guardians; lay to heart the woes
Which loss of thee would bring on him and me.
For I have nothing left to which to look
But thee; thy spear has laid my city low,
While, by another doom, my parents both
Have gone to dwell in the abodes of death.
What country can Tecmessa have but thee?
What staff of life? thou art my all in all.
Be mindful of thy mate; to taste love's joy
Is to owe something to the claim of love.
Affection still should be affection's meed;
When kindness leaves no trace upon the soul,
That soul is void of true nobility.

CHORUS.

Ajax, I would thy heart could beat with mine,
For if it could, her words would win thy praise.

AJAX.

Praise in full measure shall she have from me,
If she has sense to do what I command.

TECMESSA.

Whatever thou commandest, I will do.

AJAX.

Bring me my boy that I may look on him.

TECMESSA.

The truth to tell, I sent him hence in fear.

AJAX.

In fear of what? Of all this wretchedness?

TECMESSA.

Fear that if thou shouldst meet him, he might die.

AJAX.

That would have well beseemed my destiny.

TECMESSA.

My care prevented that calamity.

AJAX.

I do commend thy foresight heartily.

TECMESSA.

What can I do herein to serve thee more?

AJAX.

Let me behold the boy and speak to him.

TECMESSA.

He is at hand in the attendant's care.

AJAX.

Let him come hither, then, without delay.

TECMESSA.

My child, thy father calls. Whoe'er thou art
His infant steps that guidest, bring him here.

AJAX.

Is the child out of hearing or at hand?

TECMESSA.

Behold, the servant leading him is near.

(_Enter Attendant with_ EURYSACES.)

AJAX.

Give me the boy; he will not be afraid
To look upon this bloody slaughter-house,
If verily he is his father's son.
At once we must in his sire's rugged ways
Train the young colt and mould him like to me.
Boy, mayst thou be more lucky than thy sire,
Else his true son, and thou'lt be not amiss.
Already have I cause to envy thee,
In that thou knowest nothing of these woes;
For blessed are the days of ignorance,
When joy and grief are both untasted still.
But when the time is come, see that thou show
My enemies what blood is in thy veins.
Till then, sweet airs breathe on thine infancy.
Be happy, boy, and cheer thy mother's heart.
I ween the Achaean lives not that on thee
Will dare to trample, e'en when I am gone,
So good a warden shall I leave for thee
In Teucer, who shall tend thee well, though now
He is far off, upon the foeman's trail.
And now, my warriors, that have sailed with me,
I crave one service at your loving hands,
And pray ye will of Teucer crave the same:
Bear to my home the boy, that Telamon
And Eriboea may their grandson see,
And he may be the prop of their old age.
My arms, no judges, nor my honour's foe
Shall ere set up as prizes for the host.
My shield, Eurysaces, my son, take thou,
[Footnote: Signifying "him of the broad shield."]
Thy namesake, by its well-knit handles wield
The impenetrable orb of seven-fold hide.
My other arms shall share their master's grave.
And now, Tecmessa, take the boy again;
Shut up the tent, and let us have no wails
Here at the door; women are made of tears.
Shut up the tent, I say; never wise leech
Did patter spells when steel was the sole cure.

CHORUS.

I tremble as I hear thy heated words,
The sharpness of thy speech disquiets me.

TECMESSA.

Ajax, my lord, what dost thou meditate?

AJAX.

Question me not. 'Tis good to be discreet.

TECMESSA.

Fear overwhelms my soul. Oh, by the gods,
And by thy child, I pray desert us not.

AJAX.

Thou art importunate. Dost thou not know
That I no more am debtor to the gods?

TECMESSA.

Hush! Be not impious.

AJAX.

Speak not to the deaf.

TECMESSA.

Wilt thou not yield?

AJAX.

Thou pratest overmuch.

TECMESSA.

My lord, I quake.

AJAX.

Shut up the tent at once.

TECMESSA.
I do conjure thee.

AJAX.

Small must be thy sense,
If thou dost think to put this heart to school.

* * * * *

_THE RESOLVE_.

Ajax pretends to be softened, and to be going forth only for the
harmless purpose of purification in a running stream, though he is
really going to his death.

LINES 646-692.

AJAX.

Time in its long, immeasurable course,
Turns ever dark to light, and light to dark,
And nothing is past hope; the solemn oath
Is broken, and the stubborn heart gives way.
I, that was hard as tempered steel erewhile,
Am softened now by yonder woman's plaint.
I cannot bear to leave her desolate,
Or my boy fatherless among his foes.
I'll go to the fresh baths which lie beside
Yon cliff, that, having washed pollution off,
I may the goddess' heavy wrath avert.
I'll seek me out a solitary spot,
And there I'll hide this sword, this hateful sword,
Burying it where it shall be seen no more;
Let night and Hades be its armoury,
For ever since I took it as a gift
From Hector, our most mortal enemy,
Our Argive hearts have ne'er been kind to me.
True is the word, the gifts of enemies
Are no gifts, and they bring more loss than gain.
So for the future we shall learn to bow
To heaven's good will, and reverence the Kings;
Theirs is the power, submission is our part.
Whatever is most dread and masterful
Yields to authority: the winter's snow
In time makes way for summer crowned with fruits;
In time the weary round of night gives place
To the white steeds that bring returning day;
In time the blustering tempest leaves at rest
The roaring sea; in time profoundest sleep
Loosens its bond, and lets the sleeper wake;
Why should not time bring wisdom to us too?
By all means shall it. I have lately learned
That we should hate our enemy as one
Who yet may be a friend, and so far serve
Our friend as one that may to-morrow be
A friend no more, since, to the general,
Friendship is but a doubtful anchorage.
But for these matters all is ordered well.
Go in, Tecmessa, duly offer up
Thy prayers that my desire may be fulfilled.
And you, my comrades, honour equally
My wishes, and bid Teucer, when he comes,
Be a good friend to you and think of me.
Now go I forth upon my destined way.
Do ye my bidding, and ye soon may hear
That I have shuffled off this coil of ills.

* * * * *

_THE LAST SPEECH OF AJAX_.

LINES 815-865.

AJAX.

The sword is set where it may best strike home,
If leisure were to dally with such thoughts,
The sword that Hector gave, the bitterest foe
And worst that I did ever treat withal;
And it is planted in the soil of Troy,
That hostile soil, fresh whetted for its work.
Carefully have I fixed it where it stands,
That quickly I may die, and painlessly.
So far all's well; in what comes now, O Zeus,
On thee for aid, and with good right, I call.
'Tis no great favour that I crave of thee:
Let some one bear to Teucer the ill news,
That he may be the first to lift my corpse
From off the sword, fresh streaming with my blood.
Let me not, by some foeman first espied,
Be cast a prey to carrion fowl and dogs.
This, Zeus, I ask of thee, and I invoke
Hermes, who leads the dead, that at one bound
Pierced through, and with no lingering agony
I may be laid in my eternal sleep.
Last on the dread Erinnyes I call,
That ever-virgin sisterhood, who see
All that is done among mankind, to mark
How the Atridae have my ruin wrought.
Come, ye swift powers of retribution, come,
And flesh you on the whole Achaean host.
Thou sun, whose chariot traverses the sky,
When on my native land thou lookest down,
Draw for a while thy glittering rein, and tell
The story of my madness and my doom
To my grey-headed father, and to her
That bare me, and that when she hears this news
Will make the city echo with her wail.
But to no purpose are these weak laments;
The thing must now be done, and done with speed.
O death, O death, come and thy office do;
Long, where I go, our fellowship will be.
O thou glad daylight, which I now behold,
O sun, that ridest in the firmament,
I greet you, and shall greet you never more.
O light, O sacred soil of my own land,
O my ancestral home, my Salamis,
Famed Athens and my old Athenian mates,
Rivers and springs and plains of Troy, farewell;
Farewell all things in which I lived my life;
'Tis the last word of Ajax to you all,
When next I speak 'twill be to those below.

ELECTRA.

The subject of the "Electra" of Sophocles is the same as that of the
"Chophoroe" (the Libation-bearers) of Aeschylus. It is the return of
Orestes from exile to take vengeance on Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra,
for their murder of his father, Agamemnon. Electra plays the same part
which she plays in the "Chophoroe," while her sister, Chrysothemis,
plays that of gentleness and comparative weakness. Orestes, in this
play, returns with a fictitious story of his death which throws
Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra off their guard.

* * * * *

_THE SNARE_.

The Paedagogos (tutor or governor) of Orestes, to circumvent
Clytaemnestra, tells her a fictitious story of her son's death by a
fall in a chariot-race. Electra is on the scene.

LINES 660-822.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Good ladies, tell a stranger in your land,
Does King Aegisthus in this mansion dwell?

CHORUS.

He does, my friend; thou hast conjectured right.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Shall I conjecture right if I take this
To be his Queen? She has a queenly look.

CHORUS.

Thou'rt right again; the Queen indeed she is.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Hail, royal lady. From a friend I bring
News good for thee and for Aegisthus too.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Thy words are pleasing to mine ear; but first
I must inquire of thee, who sent thee here?

PAEDAGOGOS.

The Phocian Phanoteus, on errand grave.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Say what it is; for as the name is dear
Of him that sent thee, glad will be thy news.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Orestes is no more: that is the sum.

ELECTRA.

Alas! alas! I am undone this day.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

What? what? repeat it; listen not to her.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Again, I say, Orestes is no more.

ELECTRA.

It is my death-blow; I am lost, am lost.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Look to thyself, girl. Stranger, tell me true,
In what way was it that he met his doom?

PAEDAGOGOS.

To this end was I sent; thou shalt hear all.
To those great games, the pride of Hellas, came
Orestes, fain to win the Delphic prize.
There, when he heard the herald with loud voice
Proclaim the race, which is the first event,
He entered, dazzling, and admired of all;
And shooting swift from starting-post to goal,
Bore off the prize of glorious victory.
Briefly to speak, exploits so marvellous,
Such proofs of prowess, never did I see.
Know that in every foot-race that as wont
The presidents proclaimed, he, midst the cheers
Of gratulating crowds, bore off the prize;
While heralds loud proclaimed the victor's name,
Argive Orestes, Agamemnon's son,
Heir to the glory of that conqueror.
So far he prospered; but when heaven decrees
That man shall fall, man's might is vain to save.
Another day, when in the early morn,
The chariot race was held upon the course,
Orestes came with many a charioteer.
One an Achaean, one a Spartan, was;
Two with their cars from distant Lybia came;
Orestes with his steeds of Thessaly
The fifth, the sixth was an Aetolian,
With bright bay steeds; then a Magnesian,
Then with white steeds an Aeneanian came;
Athens, the god-built city, sent the ninth;
In the tenth chariot a Boeotian rode.
Taking their stand, each where his lot was drawn,
And as the masters of the games ordained,
At trumpet's sound they started, and at once,
All shouting to their steeds, they shook the reins
To urge them onwards, while the course was filled
With din of rattling chariots; rose the dust
In clouds, the racers, mingled in a throng,
Plied, each of them, the goad unsparingly,
To clear the press of cars and snorting steeds,
So close, they felt the horses' breath behind,
And all the whirling wheels were flecked with foam.
Orestes showed his skill once and again,
Grazing the pillar at the course's end,
The near horse well in hand, his mate let go.
So far had all the chariots safely run;
But now the hard-mouthed Aeneanian steeds
O'erpowered their driver, and in wheeling round,
Just as, the sixth stretch past, the seventh began,
Dashed front to front on the Barcaean car.
Disaster on disaster came: now one
And now another car was overturned
And shattered; Crisa's plain was filled with wreck.
The skilful charioteer whom Athens sent
Then drew aside, slackened his pace and gave
The surge of wild confusion room to pass.
Last of the train Orestes drove, his steeds
Holding in hand, and trusting to the end;
But seeing only the Athenian left,
With piercing shouts, urging his team to speed,
He made for him, and side by side the pair
Drove onward, yoke even with yoke, now one
And now the other leading by a head.
Through all the courses but the last that youth
Ill-starred stood safely in an upright car.
But at the last, slackening his left-hand rein,
As his horse turned the goal, he unawares
The pillar struck and broke his axle-tree.
Out of the car he rolled, still in the reins
Entangled, while his horses, as he fell,
Rushed wildly through the middle of the course.
The whole assembly, when they saw him fall,
Raised a loud cry of horror at the fate
Of him that was the hero of the games,
Seeing him dragged along the ground, his feet
Anon flung skyward; till some charioteers,
With much ado, stopping the headlong steeds,
Released him, but so mangled that no friend
The gory and disfigured corpse would know.
They laid him on the funeral pyre, and now
Have Phocian envoys in a narrow urn
Brought the poor ashes of that mighty frame
For sepulture in his ancestral tomb.
Such is my story. Sad enough for those
Who hear; for those who saw most piteous
Of all the sights that e'er these eyes beheld.

CHORUS.

Alas, alas! it seems the noble stock
Of our old Kings is wholly rooted out.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

What shall I call this, Zeus? Is it good luck,
Or gain with sorrow blended? Sad it is
That I should owe my safety to my dole.

PAEDAGOGOS.

Why art thou downcast, lady, at my words?

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Strong is a mother's love; no injury
Can make her hate the offspring of her womb.

PAEDAGOGOS.

My errand then is bootless, as it seems.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Bootless it is not, and it could not be,
If thou hast brought me certain evidence
That he is dead, who, owing life to me,
Rebelled against the breast that suckled him;
Who, when self-banished, he had left the land
Looked on my face no more; who, charging me
With his sire's murder, threatened vengeance dire,
So that sweet sleep neither by night nor day
Could fold my weary sense, but every hour
Passed in the shadow of impending death.
Now--since this day doth end my fears from him,
And from this maid, whose presence in my home,
Draining the very life-blood of my heart,
Was to me yet more baneful--now at last
Rid of their menaces, we dwell in peace.

ELECTRA.

Alas, alas! well may we wail for thee,
Orestes, when thy mother can exult
Over her child's poor ashes. Is this well?

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Not well for thee, with him 'tis well enough.

ELECTRA.

Hear, Nemesis, the prayer of him that's gone.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

The right prayer she had heard and ratified.

ELECTRA.

Thy tongue is free, fortune is on thy side.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Thou and Orestes soon will put us down.

ELECTRA.

We put thee down? We are put down ourselves.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Stranger, thy mission would be blessed indeed
If thou could silence yonder termagant.

PAEDAGOGOS.

If I am no more needed, let me go.

CLYTAEMNESTRA.

Nay, it would shame my hospitality
And his that sent thee, thus to let thee go.
Come in with me, and leave this damsel here,
To mourn her friend's disasters and her own.

(_Exeunt_ PAEDAGOGOS _and_ CLYTAEMNESTRA.)

ELECTRA.

How say ye? Does yon wretched woman seem
Deeply to mourn and bitterly bewail
The son that has so miserably died?
She goes off mocking us. Woe worth the day!
Dearest Orestes, I have died in thee.
For thou hast carried with thee to the grave
The only hope that in my heart yet lived,
The hope that thou wouldst some day come to venge
Thy sire and me. Now whither can I turn?
I am left desolate, deprived of thee,
As of my father. Once more I become
The slave of those whom I do hate like death,
My father's murderers. What a lot is mine!
But with those murderers I will dwell no more
Under one roof; an outcast at this gate
I'll fling me down, and pine away my life.
Let those within, then, if my grief offends,
Kill me at once. Welcome would be the blow;
Life is a burden, death would be a boon.

* * * * *

_THE SISTERS_.

Electra's sister, Chrysothemis, having found the offering of Orestes
on his father's tomb, brings what she deems glad tidings to Electra,
who meets her with the announcement that the Pedagogos has just
brought certain news of their brother's death. Electra, now reduced to
despair, proposes to Chrysothemis that they should themselves attempt
to slay Aegisthus.

LINES 871-1057.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Joy, dearest sister, has impelled my steps
To haste with no regard for dignity,
[Footnote: Composure in gait and manner was the rule for Hellenic
women.]
I bring to thee glad tidings and relief
From all the miseries thou hast undergone.

ELECTRA.

Whence canst thou any aid or comfort draw
For my misfortunes which are past all cure?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Orestes has come home. Doubt not my word.
As sure as now thou seest me, he is here.

ELECTRA.

Hast thou gone mad, unhappy one, that thus
Thou mockest at my miseries and thy own?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

By our ancestral hearth I swear to thee
I say not this in mockery; he is here.

ELECTRA.

O misery, from what mortal hast thou heard
This story that has gained thy fond belief?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

It is no hearsay: mine own eyes have seen
The certain proofs of that which I believe.

ELECTRA.

What is the token? What has met thy gaze
To fire thy silly heart with fevered hope?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Only give ear to what I have to tell,
Then call me mad, or not mad, as thou wilt.

ELECTRA.

Speak on, if thou hast pleasure in the tale.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

All that I saw, I will recount to thee.
When to our old ancestral tomb I came,
I saw a stream of milk fresh running down,
From the mound's summit, and our father's grave
Crowned with a wreath of all the flowers that grow.
The sight amazed me and I looked around,
Fearing lest some intruder might be near.
But when I saw that all around was still,
I drew near to the tomb, and on its edge
I found a lock of hair, freshly cut off.
When I beheld that lock, into my soul
Rushed a familiar image, and meseemed
Orestes must have laid that token there.
I took it up, I opened not my lips,
But in my eyes the tears of joy o'erflowed.
That from one hand alone this gift could come
Is now, as then it was, my sure belief.
Who else could lay it there save you or me?
That 'twas not I, is certain, and no less
That 'twas not you, when scarcely you have leave
To go forth to the temples of the gods;
While, for our mother, she has little mind
To do such things, nor could she go unseen.
It is Orestes that his homage pays.
Be of good cheer, my sister; destiny
Unkind to-day, to-morrow may be kind.
So far it has been adverse, but this hour,
Perchance, may prove the dawn of happiness.

ELECTRA.

I pity as I hear thy foolish talk.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Why? Is not what I say sweet to thine ear?

ELECTRA.

Thou know'st not what thou dost or where thou art.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Not know the thing which my own eyes beheld?

ELECTRA.

He's dead, poor foolish heart. These proofs of thine
Are good for nothing. Look for him no more.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Unhappy me; who was it told thee this?

ELECTRA.

One that was present when he met his end.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Amazement fills my soul! Where is this man?

ELECTRA.

Within there, and our mother's welcome guest.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Thy words o'erwhelm me. Who, then, could have laid
Affection's offerings on our father's grave?

ELECTRA.

That some one brought them as memorials
Of dead Orestes, likeliest seems to me.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Unhappy that I am! And full of joy
I hastened with these tidings, ignorant
Of our dark fate. I left the cup of grief
Full, and I come to see it overflow.

ELECTRA.

So stands it now, but do what I advise,
And thou mayest lighten yet this load of woe.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

How? Can I bring the dead to life again?

ELECTRA.

I meant not that, nor was so void of sense.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

What wouldst thou have, that is within my power?

ELECTRA.

I'd have thee bravely do what I enjoin.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

So it be helpful, I will not refuse.

ELECTRA.

Look, without effort nothing will go well.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

'Tis true, and I will aid with all my might.

ELECTRA.

Hear now my resolution. Thou dost know
That we are friendless now; the friend we had
Hades has ta'en and left us desolate.
While I still heard that our Orestes lived,
And all was well with him, the hope remained
That he would come, and venge our murdered sire.
But now that he is gone I look to thee
To lend thy sister aid in taking off
Aegisthus; frankly such is my intent.
Where will thy sufferance end? what hope is left
For thee to look to? woe on woe is thine.
Of thy sire's wealth thou'rt disinherited,
And to this hour hast been condemned to pine
In cold companionless virginity.
Nor deem that thou shalt ever be a bride;
Aegisthus is not so devoid of sense
As to permit a shoot from thee or me
To spring which to his certain bane would grow.
But if thy soul can rise to my resolve,
First to thy sire and brother there below
Thou wilt discharge the debt of piety;
Next a free woman thou wilt be once more,
As thou wast born, and find a worthy mate,
For lover's eyes look to the good and brave.
Then seest thou not what glory thou wilt win
For both of us, embracing my design?
What citizen or foreigner will fail
Whene'er we pass, to pay his meed of praise?
"Look at yon pair of sisters; these are they
That from its fall redeemed their father's house,
That setting their own lives upon the die,
Their enemies, in power uplifted, slew.
To these we all should loving homage pay,
These ever honour at our festivals
And our assemblies for their bravery."
Such things the public voice will say of us,
In life or death our fame will never end.
Consent, dear sister; for thy father strike,
Strike for thy brother, rescue me from woe,
Redeem thyself. Those who are nobly born
Honour forbids to live the butt of scorn.

CHORUS.

Foresight in matters such as these is good,
For those who give and those who take advice.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Before she spoke, ladies, had not her mind
Been quite perverted, she would have held fast
The caution which she utterly lets go.
What puts it in thy heart, this desperate deed
Thyself to dare, and call on me to aid?
Dost thou not know that thou a woman art?
And that our enemies are mightier far?
While their good fortune waxes day by day,
Ours wanes as fast and leaves us destitute.
Who then that strikes at one so powerful
Can fail to pluck down ruin on himself?
Beware, lest to our ills we add more ill,
If these thy resolutions get abroad.
Little would all that glory profit us,
If we should die an ignominious death.
And death is not the worst that may befall;
It is worse still to long for death in vain.
I do conjure thee, ere thou ruin us
Beyond redemption, and cut off our race,
To moderate thy wrath; what thou hast said
I will regard as unsaid, null and void.
Do thou at last get thee some sober sense,
And yield to power as thou art powerless.

CHORUS.

Take her advice; there is not among men
A better thing than foresight and good sense.

ELECTRA.

All thou hast said I did anticipate;
What I proposed I knew thou wouldst reject.
Alone, with my own hand, I'll do the deed;
My resolution shall not come to naught.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

What now thou art, would thou hadst been the day
Thy father died: thou wouldst have ruled the hour.

ELECTRA.

In heart I was the same, but not in sense.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Strive still to keep the sense that then thou hadst.

ELECTRA.

Thy preaching shows I shall not have thy aid,

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

No, for the enterprise is desperate.

ELECTRA.

Thy sense I envy, but thy spirit scorn.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Thy blame or praise to me is all the same.

ELECTRA.

Praise from these lips thou needest never fear.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

That will be seen hereafter: time is long.

ELECTRA.

Get thee away, in thee there is no help.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Help is in me, knowledge in thee is not.

ELECTRA.

Go, if thou wilt, and tell our mother all.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Hate if I must, not so far goes my hate.

ELECTRA.

It goes so far as to dishonour me.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Not to dishonour but to care for thee.

ELECTRA.

And is my justice to be led by thine?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Learn to be wise, and thou shalt lead us both.

ELECTRA.

'Tis pity when good talkers go astray.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Thou hast exactly hit thy own disease.

ELECTRA.

What! have I not, then, justice on my side?

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Justice itself may sometimes lead us wrong.

ELECTRA.

Let me not live where justice may be wrong.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Do it and thou wilt see that I was right.

ELECTRA.

Do it I will, and reckless of thy frown.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

Thou wilt: and is no room for counsel left?

ELECTRA.

Base counsel is a thing my soul abhors.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

It seems that we shall never be agreed.

ELECTRA.

Of that I was convinced a while ago.

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

I will begone: thy spirit will not brook
My counsel, nor can I thy ways approve.

ELECTRA.

Go then, but never shall I follow thee,
Entreat me as thou mayst, of that be sure:
Fools only look for that which none can find.
[Footnote: As no help or sympathy can be found in Chrysothemis.]

CHRYSOTHEMIS.

If thou dost seem unto thyself so wise
Hug thine own wisdom, soon in danger's hour
Thou wilt confess that I have counselled right.

(_Exit_ CHRYSOTHEMIS.)

* * * * *

_THE RECOGNITION_.

Orestes enters with the urn which, it is pretended, contains his
ashes. His recognition ensues.

LINES 1097-1231.

ORESTES.

Say, ladies, have we been informed aright,
And has our journey led us to our mark?

CHORUS.

What is thy journey's mark? Whom dost thou seek?

ORESTES.

I fain would learn where King Aegisthus dwells.

CHORUS.

Thou hast not been misled, this is the place.
ORESTES.

Would one of you announce to those within.
In courteous wise that strangers twain are here?

CHORUS.

That will this maid if kinship gives a claim.

ORESTES.

Go, lady, then, and tell them in the house
That Phocian envoys for Aegisthus look.

ELECTRA.

Alas! ye bear I ween the certain proofs
Of that which has already reached our ears.

ORESTES.

I know not what that is; old Strophius
Has charged me of Orestes news to bring.

ELECTRA.

Stranger, what is it? fear comes over me.

ORESTES.

He is no more, and here behold we bear
His poor remains, gathered in this small urn.

ELECTRA.

Alas! for me all doubt is over now;
Here is the sorrow present to my touch.

ORESTES.

If for Orestes thou hast cause to mourn
Know that whate'er is left of him is here.

ELECTRA.

Friend, if that urn indeed Orestes holds,
Give it, I do conjure thee, to my hands,
That I may weep my own calamities,
And those of our whole race, with this dear dust.

ORESTES.

Whoever she may be, give her the urn;
Her wish approves her not an enemy
But a good friend, perchance one near in blood.

ELECTRA.

Dearest of all memorials to my heart,
Relic of my Orestes, what a change
From those fond hopes with which I sent thee forth!
Full of bright promise wast thou then, and now
I see thee here reduced to nothingness.
Would I myself had died before the hour
When from the murderous hands that sought thy life
I snatched and sent thee to a foreign shore,
So hadst thou met thy end at once and slept
In thy forefather's tomb. Instead whereof
Thou hast died miserably far from home,
An exile, with no sister at thy side.
I was not there with loving hand to wash
Thy corpse, to lay thee out, or gather up,
As nature bade, the relics of the pyre.
Strange hands those rites performed; and thou art here,
A little dust clipt in a narrow urn.
Unhappy me! how bootless were the pains
Which many a day I spent in nursing thee,
A labour that I loved, for thou wert not
Thy mother's darling more than thou wert mine.
No menial hands tended thy infancy,
But I thy sister, joying in that name.
Now all has vanished in a single day,
And thou art gone, and like a storm hast swept
All off with thee. My father is no more,
Thy sister dies in thee, thyself art dust.
Our enemies exult, and, mad with joy,
Is that unnatural mother, whom to smite
With thine own hand thou oft didst promise me,
By secret messages which destiny,
Unkind to both of us, now brings to naught,
Sending me here, instead of that loved form,
Cold ashes and an ineffectual shade.

Ah me! ah me!
Poor form.
Alas! alas!
Sent to the saddest bourne.
Ah me! ah me!
Dearest of brothers, thou hast ruined me,
Ruined thy sister, brother of my love.

Receive me now in that abode of thine,
That, dust to dust, I may abide with thee
Forever there below. When thou wast here,
All things were common to us; now I crave
To be thy mate in death and share thy tomb,
For there I see they do not sorrow more.

CHORUS.

Electra, think; a mortal was thy sire.
Orestes was a mortal; calm thy grief
For loss is common to mortality.

ORESTES.

What can I say? words to my bursting heart
Are wanting. I can check my tongue no more.

ELECTRA.

What is it troubles thee? What means thy speech?

ORESTES.

Can what I see be fair Electra's face?

ELECTRA.

Her face it is, and in most piteous plight.

ORESTES.
My heart is wrung by looking on such woe.

ELECTRA.

Can one unknown to thee thy pity move?

ORESTES.

O beauteous wreck, by heaven and man disowned!

ELECTRA.

The picture limned in those sad words is mine.

ORESTES.

Woe for thy cheerless and unwedded life.

ELECTRA.

Why dost thou gaze on me thus mournfully?

ORESTES.

It seems that of my woes I knew but half.

ELECTRA.

What have I said to breathe this thought in thee?

ORESTES.

'Tis bred by sight of sorrow's effigy.
ELECTRA.

What thou dost see is of my griefs the least.

ORESTES.

What can be worse than what I now behold?

ELECTRA.

What can be worse? Life with the murderers.

ORESTES.

Murderers of whom? Thy tale of crime unfold.

ELECTRA.

My father's murderers, and their slave am I.

ORESTES.

What tyrant has imposed on thee this yoke?

ELECTRA.

My mother, little worthy of that name.

ORESTES.

And how? By persecution or by force?

ELECTRA.

By persecution, force, and all that's vile.

ORESTES.

And hast thou none to save thee from her hands?

ELECTRA.

One such I had, and thou hast brought his dust.

ORESTES.

Unhappy maid, my soul does pity thee.

ELECTRA.

Only in thee have I such pity found.

ORESTES.

I also am a partner of thy woe.

ELECTRA.

Art thou some kinsman come I know not whence?

ORESTES.

That thou shalt hear, provided these are friends.

ELECTRA.

And friends they are, thou mayest confide in them.

ORESTES.

Give back that urn, and I will tell thee all.

ELECTRA.

Nay, I conjure thee; let me keep it still.

ORESTES.

Do as I say and thou wilt not repent.

ELECTRA.

O grant my prayer, and rob not this poor heart.

ORESTES.

I must not leave it with thee.

ELECTRA.

Woe is me,
Orestes, if I may not tend thy dust.

ORESTES.

Peace, maiden, peace! thou hast no cause to mourn.

ELECTRA.

No cause to mourn, who have a brother lost?

ORESTES.

To speak of brothers lost is not for thee.

ELECTRA.
Have I not then the mourner's privilege?

ORESTES.

Naught hast thou lost, and hast no part in this.

ELECTRA.

I have, if this contains my brother's dust.

ORESTES.

It does not, save in name and in pretence.

ELECTRA.

Where, then, does my ill-starred Orestes lie?

ORESTES.

Nowhere; for he who lives can have no grave.

ELECTRA.

What dost thou say, young man?

ORESTES.

I tell thee truth.

ELECTRA.

How! does he live?

ORESTES.

Sure as I live he lives.

ELECTRA.

And art thou he?

ORESTES.

Look on this signet ring,
Our father's once, and tell me if I lie.

ELECTRA.

Light of my life, most dear.

ORESTES.

Most dear indeed.

ELECTRA.

Is it that voice I hear?

ORESTES.

It is that voice.

ELECTRA.

And do these arms enfold thee?

ORESTES.

Ay, forever.

ELECTRA.

(_To the_ CHORUS.)

My countrywomen and companions dear,
Behold Orestes that erewhile was dead.
Dead by device now by device alive.

CHORUS.

Maiden, we do behold him; at the sight,
The tears of joy are gathering in our eyes.

THE TRACHINIAE.

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