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The House of Atreus by AEschylus

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Anon, anon!
[_Opens the door._
Speak, from what land art thou, and sent from whom?

ORESTES

Go, tell to them who rule the palace-halls,
Since 'tis to them I come with tidings new--
(Delay not--Night's dark car is speeding on,
And time is now for wayfarers to cast
Anchor in haven, wheresoe'er a house
Doth welcome strangers)--that there now come forth
Some one who holds authority within--
The queen, or, if some man, more seemly were it;
For when man standeth face to face with man,
No stammering modesty confounds their speech,
But each to each doth tell his meaning clear.

[_Enter Clytemnestra_,

CLYTEMNESTRA

Speak on, O strangers; have ye need of aught?
Here is whate'er beseems a house like this--
Warm bath and bed, tired Nature's soft restorer,
And courteous eyes to greet you; and if aught
Of graver import needeth act as well,
That, as man's charge, I to a man will tell.

ORESTES

A Daulian man am I, from Phocis bound,
And as with mine own travel-scrip self-laden
I went toward Argos, parting hitherward
With travelling foot, there did encounter me
One whom I knew not and who knew not me,
But asked my purposed way nor hid his own,
And, as we talked together, told his name--
Strophius of Phocis; then he said, "Good sir,
Since in all case thou art to Argos bound,
Forget not this my message, heed it well,
Tell to his own, _Orestes is no more_.
And--whatsoe'er his kinsfolk shall resolve,
Whether to bear his dust unto his home,
Or lay him here, in death as erst in life
Exiled for aye, a child of banishment--
Bring me their hest, upon thy backward road;
For now in brazen compass of an urn
His ashes lie, their dues of weeping paid."
So much I heard, and so much tell to thee,
Not knowing if I speak unto his kin
Who rule his home; but well, I deem, it were,
Such news should earliest reach a parent's ear.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Ah woe is me! thy word our ruin tells;
From roof-tree unto base are we despoiled.--
O thou whom nevermore we wrestle down,
Thou Fury of this home, how oft and oft
Thou dost descry what far aloof is laid,
Yea, from afar dost bend th' unerring bow
And rendest from my wretchedness its friends;
As now Orestes--who, a brief while since,
Safe from the mire of death stood warily,--
Was the home's hope to cure th' exulting wrong;
Now thou ordainest, _Let the ill abide_.

ORESTES

To host and hostess thus with fortune blest,
Lief had I come with better news to bear
Unto your greeting and acquaintanceship;
For what goodwill lies deeper than the bond
Of guest and host? and wrong abhorred it were,
As well I deem, if I, who pledged my faith
To one, and greetings from the other had,
Bore not aright the tidings 'twixt the twain.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Whate'er thy news, thou shalt not welcome lack,
Meet and deserved, nor scant our grace shall be.
Hadst them thyself not come, such tale to tell
Another, sure, had borne it to our ears.
But lo! the hour is here when travelling guests
Fresh from the daylong labour of the road,
Should win their rightful due. Take him within
[_To the slave._
To the man-chamber's hospitable rest--
Him and these fellow-farers at his side
Give them such guest-right as beseems our halls;
I bid thee do as thou shalt answer for it
And I unto the prince who rules our home
Will tell the tale, and, since we lack not friends,
With them will counsel how this hap to bear

[_Exit Clytemnestra._

CHORUS

So be it done--
Sister-servants, when draws nigh
Time for us aloud to cry
_Orestes and his victory?_

O holy earth and holy tomb
Over the grave-pit heaped on high,
Where low doth Agamemnon lie,
The king of ships, the army's lord!
Now is the hour--give ear and come,
For now doth Craft her aid afford,
And Hermes, guard of shades in hell,
Stands o'er their strife, to sentinel
The dooming of the sword.
I wot the stranger worketh woe within--
For lo! I see come forth, suffused with tears,
Orestes' nurse. What ho, Kilissa--thou
Beyond the doors? Where goest thou? Methinks
Some grief unbidden walketh at thy side.

[_Enter Kilissa, a nurse._

KILISSA

My mistress bids me, with what speed I may,
Call in Aegisthus to the stranger guests,
That he may come, and standing face to face,
A man with men, may thus more clearly learn
This rumour new. Thus speaking, to her slaves
She hid beneath the glance of fictive grief
Laughter for what is wrought--to her desire
Too well; but ill, ill, ill besets the house,
Brought by the tale these guests have told so clear.
And he, God wot, will gladden all his heart
Hearing this rumour. Woe and well-a-day!
The bitter mingled cup of ancient woes,
Hard to be borne, that here in Atreus' house
Befel, was grievous to mine inmost heart,
But never yet did I endure such pain.
All else I bore with set soul patiently;
But now--alack, alack!--Orestes dear,
The day and night-long travail of my soul!
Whom from his mother's womb, a new-born child,
I clasped and cherished! Many a time and oft
Toilsome and profitless my service was,
When his shrill outcry called me from my couch!
For the young child, before the sense is born,
Hath but a dumb thing's life, must needs be nursed
As its own nature bids. The swaddled thing
Hath nought of speech, whate'er discomfort come--
Hunger or thirst or lower weakling need,--
For the babe's stomach works its own relief.
Which knowing well before, yet oft surprised,
'Twas mine to cleanse the swaddling clothes--poor I
Was nurse to tend and fuller to make white;
Two works in one, two handicrafts I took,
When in mine arms the father laid the boy.
And now he's dead--alack and well-a-day!
Yet must I go to him whose wrongful power
Pollutes this house--fair tidings these to him!

CHORUS

Say then, with what array she bids him come?

KILISSA

What say'st thou! Speak more clearly for mine ear.

CHORUS

Bids she bring henchmen, or to come alone?

KlLISSA

She bids him bring a spear-armed body-guard.

CHORUS

Nay, tell not that unto our loathed lord,
But speed to him, put on the mien of joy,
Say, _Come along, fear nought, the news is good:_
A bearer can tell straight a twisted tale.

KILISSA

Does then thy mind in this new tale find joy?

CHORUS

What if Zeus bid our ill wind veer to fair?

KILISSA

And how? the home's hope with Orestes dies.

CHORUS

Not yet-a seer, though feeble, this might see.

KILISSA

What say'st thou? Know'st thou aught, this tale belying?

CHORUS

Go, tell the news to him, perform thine hest,--
What the gods will, themselves can well provide.

KILISSA

Well, I will go, herein obeying thee;
And luck fall fair, with favour sent from heaven.

[_Exit._

CHORUS

Zeus, sire of them who on Olympus dwell,
Hear thou, O hear my prayer!
Grant to my rightful lords to prosper well
Even as their zeal is fair!
For right, for right goes up aloud my cry--
Zeus, aid him, stand anigh!

Into his father's hall he goes
To smite his father's foes.
Bid him prevail! by thee on throne of triumph set,
Twice, yea and thrice with joy shall he acquit the debt.

Bethink thee, the young steed, the orphan foal
Of sire beloved by thee, unto the car
Of doom is harnessed fast.
Guide him aright, plant firm a lasting goal,
Speed thou his pace,--O that no chance may mar
The homeward course, the last!

And ye who dwell within the inner chamber
Where shines the stored joy of gold--
Gods of one heart, O hear ye, and remember;
Up and avenge the blood shed forth of old,
With sudden rightful blow;
Then let the old curse die, nor be renewed
With progeny of blood,--
Once more, and not again, be latter guilt laid low!

O thou who dwell'st in Delphi's mighty cave,
Grant us to see this home once more restored
Unto its rightful lord!
Let it look forth, from veils of death, with joyous eye
Unto the dawning light of liberty;
And Hermes, Maia's child, lend hand to save,
Willing the right, and guide
Our state with Fortune's breeze adown the favouring
tide.
Whate'er in darkness hidden lies,

He utters at his will;
He at his will throws darkness on our eye
By night and eke by day inscrutable.

Then, then shall wealth atone
The ills that here were done.
Then, then will we unbind,
Fling free on wafting wind
Of joy, the woman's voice that waileth now
In piercing accents for a chief laid low;
And this our song shall be--
_Hail to the commonwealth restored!
Hail to the freedom won to me!
All hail! for doom hath passed from him, my well--
loved lord!_

And thou, O child, when Time and Chance agree,
Up to the deed that for thy sire is done!
And if she wail unto thee, _Spare, O son_--
Cry, _Aid, O father_--and achieve the deed,
The horror of man's tongue, the gods' great need!
Hold in thy breast such heart as Perseus had,
The bitter woe work forth,
Appease the summons of the dead,
The wrath of friends on earth;
Yea, set within a sign of blood and doom,
And do to utter death him that pollutes thy home.

[_Enter Aegisthus_.

AEGISTHUS

Hither and not unsummoned have I come;
For a new rumour, borne by stranger men
Arriving hither, hath attained mine ears,
Of hap unwished-for, even Orestes' death.
This were new sorrow, a blood-bolter'd load
Laid on the house that doth already bow
Beneath a former wound that festers deep.
Dare I opine these words have truth and life?
Or are they tales, of woman's terror born,
That fly in the void air, and die disproved?
Canst thou tell aught, and prove it to my soul?

CHORUS

What we have heard, we heard; go thou within
Thvself to ask the strangers of their tale.
Strengthless are tidings, thro' another heard;
Question is his, to whom the tale is brought.

AEGISTHUS

I too will meet and test the messenger,
Whether himself stood witness of the death,
Or tells it merely from dim rumour learnt:
None shall cheat me, whose soul hath watchful eyes.

[_Exit._

CHORUS

Zeus, Zeus! what word to me is given?
What cry or prayer, invoking heaven,
Shall first by me be uttered?
What speech of craft? nor all revealing,
Nor all too warily concealing?
Ending my speech, shall aid the deed?
For lo! in readiness is laid
The dark emprise, the rending blade;
Blood-dropping daggers shall achieve
The dateless doom of Atreus' name,
Or? kindling torch and joyful flame
In sign of new-won liberty?
Once more Orestes shall retrieve
His father's wealth, and, throned on high,
Shall hold the city's fealty.
So mighty is the grasp whereby,
Heaven-holpen, he shall trip and throw,
Unseconded, a double foe
Ho for the victory!

[_A loud cry within._

VOICE OF AEGISTHUS

Help, help, alas!

CHORUS

Ho there, ho! how is't within?
Is't done? is't over? Stand we here aloof
While it is wrought, that guiltless we may seem
Of this dark deed; with death is strife fulfilled.

[_Enter a slave_

SLAVE

O woe, O woe, my lord is done to death!
Woe, woe, and woe again, AEgisthus gone!
Hasten, fling wide the doors, unloose the bolts
Of the queen's chamber. O for some young strength
To match the need! but aid availeth nought
To him laid low for ever. Help, help, help!
Sure to deaf ears I shout, and call in vain
To slumber ineffectual. What ho!
The queen! how fareth Clytemnestra's self?
Her neck too, hers, is close upon the steel,
And soon shall sink, hewn thro' as justice wills.

[_Enter Clytemnestra._

CLYTEMNESTRA

What ails thee, raising this ado for us?

SLAVE

I say the dead are come to slay the living.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Alack, I read thy riddles all too clear?
We slew by craft and by like craft shall die.
Swift, bring the axe that slew my lord of old;
I'll know anon or death or victory?
So stands the curse, so I confront it here.

[_Enter Orestes, his sword dropping with blood,_

ORESTES

Thee too I seek: for him what's done will serve.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Woe, woe! Aegisthus, spouse and champion, slain!

ORESTES

What lov'st the man? then in his grave lie down,
Be his in death, desert him nevermore!

CLYTEMNESTSA

Stay, child, and fear to strike. O son, this breast
Pillowed thine head full oft, while, drowsed with sleep,
Thy toothless mouth drew mother's milk from me.

ORESTES

Can I my mother spare? speak, Pylades,

PYLADES

Where then would fall the hest Apollo gave
At Delphi, where the solemn compact sworn?
Choose thou the hate of all men, not of gods.

ORESTES

Thou dost prevail; I hold thy counsel good.

[_To Clytemnestra_.

Follow; I will slay thee at his side.
With him whom in his life thou lovedst more
Than Agamemnon, sleep in death, the meed
For hate where love, and love where hate was due!

CLYTEMNESTRA

I nursed thee young; must I forego mine eld?

ORESTES

Thou slew'st my father; shalt thou dwell with me?

CLYTEMNESTRA

Fate bore a share in these things, O my child!

ORESTES

Fate also doth provide this doom for thee.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Beware, O my child, a parent's dying curse.

ORESTES

A parent who did cast me out to ill!

CLYTEMNESTRA

Not cast thee out, but to a friendly home.

ORESTES

Born free, I was by twofold bargain sold.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Where then the price that I received for thee?

ORESTES

The price of shame; I taunt thee not more plainly.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Nay, but recount thy father's lewdness too.

ORESTES

Home-keeping, chide not him who toils without.

CLYTEMNESTRA

'Tis hard for wives to live as widows, child.

ORESTES

The absent husband toils for them at home.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Thou growest fain to slay thy mother, child

ORESTES

Nay, 'tis thyself wilt slay thyself, not I.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Beware thy mother's vengeful hounds from hell.

ORESTES

How shall I 'scape my father's, sparing thee?

CLYTEMNESTRA

Living, I cry as to a tomb, unheard.

ORESTES

My father's fate ordains this doom for thee.

CLYTEMNESTRA

Ah, me! this snake it was I bore and nursed.

ORESTES

Ay, right prophetic was thy visioned fear.
Shameful thy deed was--die the death of shame!

[_Exit, driving Clytemnestra before him._

CHORUS

Lo, even for these I mourn, a double death:
Yet since Orestes, driven on by doom,
Thus crowns the height of murders manifold,
I say, 'tis well--that not in night and death
Should sink the eye and light of this our home.

There came on Priam's race and name
A vengeance; though it tarried long,
With heavy doom it came.
Came, too, on Agamemnon's hall
A lion-pair, twin swordsmen strong.
And last, the heritage doth fall
To him, to whom from Pythian cave
The god his deepest counsel gave.
Cry out, rejoice! our kingly hall
Hath 'scaped from ruin--ne'er again
Its ancient wealth be wasted all
By two usurpers, sin-defiled--
An evil path of woe and bane!
On him who dealt the dastard blow
Comes Craft, Revenge's scheming child.
And hand in hand with him doth go,
Eager for fight,
The child of Zeus, whom men below
Call Justice, naming her aright.
And on her foes her breath
Is as the blast of death;
For her the god who dwells in deep recess
Beneath Parnassus' brow,
Summons with loud acclaim
To rise, though late and lame,
And come with craft that worketh righteousness.

For even o'er Powers divine this law is strong--
_Thou shalt not serve the wrong_.
To that which ruleth heaven beseems it that we bow.
Lo, freedom's light hath come!
Lo, now is rent away
The grim and curbing bit that held us dumb.
Up to the light, ye halls! this many a day
Too low on earth ye lay.
And Time, the great Accomplisher,
Shall cross the threshold, whensoe'er
He choose with purging hand to cleanse
The palace, driving all pollution thence.
And fair the cast of Fortune's die
Before our state's new lords shall lie,
Not as of old, but bringing fairer doom
Lo, freedom's light hath come!

[_The scene opens, disclosing Orestes standing over the corpses of
Aegisthus and Clytemnestra; in one hand he holds his sword, in the
other the robe in which Agamemnon was entangled and slain_.

ORESTES

There lies our country's twofold tyranny,
My father's slayers, spoilers of my home.
Erst were they royal, sitting on the throne,
And loving are they yet,--their common fate
Tells the tale truly, shows their trothplight firm.
They swore to work mine ill-starred father's death,
They swore to die together; 'tis fulfilled.
O ye who stand, this great doom's witnesses,
Behold this too, the dark device which bound
My sire unhappy to his death,--behold
The mesh which trapped his hands, enwound his feet!
Stand round, unfold it--'tis the trammel-net
That wrapped a chieftain; holds it that he see,
The father--not my sire, but he whose eye
Is judge of all things, the all-seeing Sun!
Let him behold my mother's damned deed,
Then let him stand, when need shall be to me,
Witness that justly I have sought and slain
My mother; blameless was Aegisthus' doom--
He died the death law bids adulterers die.
But she who plotted this accursed thing
To slay her lord, by whom she bare beneath
Her girdle once the burden of her babes,
Beloved erewhile, now turned to hateful foes--
What deem ye of her? or what venomed thing,
Sea-snake or adder, had more power than she
To poison with a touch the flesh unscarred?
So great her daring, such her impious will.
How name her, if I may not speak a curse?
A lion-springe! a laver's swathing cloth,
Wrapping a dead man, twining round his feet--
A net, a trammel, an entangling robe?
Such were the weapon of some strangling thief,
The terror of the road, a cut-purse hound--
With such device full many might he kill,
Full oft exult in heat of villainy.
Ne'er have my house so cursed an indweller--
Heaven send me, rather, childless to be slain!

CHORUS

Woe for each desperate deed!
Woe for the queen, with shame of life bereft!
And ah, for him who still is left,
Madness, dark blossom of a bloody seed!

ORESTES

Did she the deed or not? this robe gives proof,
Imbrued with blood that bathed Aegisthus' sword;
Look, how the spurted stain combines with time
To blur the many dyes that once adorned
Its pattern manifold! I now stand here,
Made glad, made sad with blood, exulting, wailing--
Hear, O thou woven web that slew my sire!
I grieve for deed and death and all my home--
Victor, pollution's damned stain for prize.

CHORUS

Alas, that none of mortal men
Can pass his life untouched by pain!
Behold, one woe is here--
Another loometh near.

ORESTES

Hark ye and learn--for what the end shall be
For me I know not: breaking from the curb
My spirit whirls me off, a conquered prey,
Borne as a charioteer by steeds distraught
Far from the course, and madness in my breast
Burneth to chant its song, and leap, and rave--
Hark ye and learn, friends, ere my reason goes!
I say that rightfully I slew my mother,
A thing God-scorned, that foully slew my sire
And chiefest wizard of the spell that bound me
Unto this deed I name the Pythian seer
Apollo, who foretold that if I slew,
The guilt of murder done should pass from me;
But if I spared, the fate that should be mine
I dare not blazon forth--the bow of speech
Can reach not to the mark, that doom to tell.
And now behold me, how with branch and crown
I pass, a suppliant made meet to go
Unto Earth's midmost shrine, the holy ground
Of Loxias, and that renowned light
Of ever-burning fire, to 'scape the doom
Of kindred murder: to no other shrine
(So Loxias bade) may I for refuge turn.
Bear witness, Argives, in the after time,
How came on me this dread fatality.
Living, I pass a banished wanderer hence,
To leave in death the memory of this cry.

CHORUS

Nay, but the deed is well; link not thy lips
To speech ill-starred, nor vent ill-boding words--
Who hast to Argos her full freedom given,
Lopping two serpents' heads with timely blow.

ORESTES

Look, look, alas!
Handmaidens, see--what Gorgon shapes throng up;
Dusky their robes and all their hair enwound--
Snakes coiled with snakes--off, off, I must away!

CHORUS

Most loyal of all sons unto thy sire,
What visions thus distract thee? Hold, abide;
Great was thy victory, and shalt thou fear?

ORESTES

These are no dreams, void shapes of haunting ill,
But clear to sight my mother's hell-hounds come!

CHORUS

Nay, the fresh bloodshed still imbrues thine hands,
And thence distraction sinks into thy soul.

ORESTES

O king Apollo--see, they swarm and throng--
Black blood of hatred dripping from their eyes!

CHORUS

One remedy thou hast; go, touch the shrine
Of Loxias, and rid thee of these woes.

ORESTES

Ye can behold them not, but I behold them.
Up and away! I dare abide no more.

[_Exit_

CHORUS

Farewell then as thou mayst,--the god thy friend
Guard thee and aid with chances favouring.

Behold, the storm of woe divine
That the raves and beats on Atreus' line
Its great third blast hath blown.
First was Thyestes' loathly woe--
The rueful feast of long ago,
On children's flesh, unknown.
And next the kingly chief's despite,
When he who led the Greeks to fight
Was in the bath hewn down.
And now the offspring of the race
Stands in the third, the saviour's place,
To save--or to consume?
O whither, ere it be fulfilled,
Ere its fierce blast be hushed and stilled,
Shall blow the wind of doom?

[_Exeunt_.

* * * * *

THE HOUSE OF ATREUS

BEING

THE AGAMEMNON, THE LIBATION-BEARERS,
AND THE FURIES OF AESCHYLUS

THE FURIES

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

THE PYTHIAN PRIESTESS
APOLLO
ORESTES
THE GHOST OF CLYTEMNESTRA
CHORUS OF FURIES
ATHENA
ATTENDANTS OF ATHENA
TWELVE ATHENIAN CITIZENS

_The Scene of the Drama is the Temple of Apollo, at Delphi:
afterwards the Temple of Athena, on the Acropolis of Athens, and the
adjoining Areopagus._

_The Temple at Delphi_

_The Pythian Priestess_

First, in this prayer, of all the gods I name
The prophet mother Earth; and Themis next,
Second who sat--for so with truth is said--
On this her mother's shrine oracular.
Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed,
There sat thereon another child of Earth--
Titanian Phoebe. She, in after time,
Gave o'er the throne, as birthgift to a god,
Phoebus, who in his own bears Phoebe's name.
He from the lake and ridge of Delos' isle
Steered to the port of Pallas' Attic shores,
The home of ships; and thence he passed and came
Unto this land and to Parnassus' shrine.
And at his side, with awe revering him,
There went the children of Hephaestus' seed,
The hewers of the sacred way, who tame
The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness.
And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain-king
Of this their land, with honour gave him home;
And in his breast Zeus set a prophet's soul,
And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits,
Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight,
Gives voice to that which Zeus his sire decrees.

Such gods I name in my preluding prayer,
And after them, I call with honour due
On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs
Who dwell around the rock Corycian,
Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds' haunt,
Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there,
Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells,
Since he in godship led his Maenad host,
Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent
Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last,
I call on Pleistus' springs, Poseidon's might,
And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher.
Then as a seeress to the sacred chair
I pass and sit; and may the powers divine
Make this mine entrance fruitful in response
Beyond each former advent, triply blest.
And if there stand without, from Hellas bound,
Men seeking oracles, let each pass in
In order of the lot, as use allows;
For the god guides whate'er my tongue proclaims.

[_She goes into the interior of the temple; after a short interval,
she returns in great fear_.

Things fell to speak of, fell for eyes to see,
Have sped me forth again from Loxias' shrine,
With strength unstrung, moving erect no more,
But aiding with my hands my failing feet,
Unnerved by fear. A beldame's force is naught--
Is as a child's, when age and fear combine.
For as I pace towards the inmost fane
Bay-filleted by many a suppliant's hand,
Lo, at the central altar I descry
One crouching as for refuge--yea, a man
Abhorredd of heaven; and from his hands, wherein
A sword new-drawn he holds, blood reeked and fell:
A wand he bears, the olive's topmost bough,
Twined as of purpose with a deep close tuft
Of whitest wool. This, that I plainly saw,
Plainly I tell. But lo, in front of him,
Crouched on the altar-steps, a grisly band
Of women slumbers--not like women they,
But Gorgons rather; nay, that word is weak,
Nor may I match the Gorgons' shape with theirs!
Such have I seen in painted semblance erst--
Winged Harpies, snatching food from Phineus' board,--
But these are wingless, black, and all their shape
The eye's abomination to behold.
Fell is the breath--let none draw nigh to it--
Wherewith they snort in slumber; from their eyes
Exude the damned drops of poisonous ire:
And such their garb as none should dare to bring
To statues of the gods or homes of men.
I wot not of the tribe wherefrom can come
So fell a legion, nor in what land Earth
Could rear, unharmed, such creatures, nor avow
That she had travailed and brought forth death.
But, for the rest, be all these things a care
Unto the mighty Loxias, the lord
Of this our shrine: healer and prophet he,
Discerner he of portents, and the cleanser
Of other homes--behold, his own to cleanse!

[_Exit_.

[_The scene opens, disclosing the interior of the temple: Orestes
clings to the central altar; the Furies lie slumbering at a little
distance; Apollo and Hermes appear from the innermost shrine_.

APOLLO

Lo, I desert thee never: to the end,
Hard at thy side as now, or sundered far,
I am thy guard, and to thine enemies
Implacably oppose me: look on them,
These greedy fiends, beneath my craft subdued!
See, they are fallen on sleep, these beldames oid,
Unto whose grim and wizened maidenhood
Nor god nor man nor beast can e'er draw near.
Yea, evil were they born, for evil's doom,
Evil the dark abyss of Tartarus
Wherein they dwell, and they themselves the hate
Of men on earth, and of Olympian gods.
But thou, flee far and with unfaltering speed;
For they shall hunt thee through the mainland wide
Where'er throughout the tract of travelled earth
Thy foot may roam, and o'er and o'er the seas
And island homes of men. Faint not nor fail,
Too soon and timidly within thy breast
Shepherding thoughts forlorn of this thy toil;
But unto Pallas' city go, and there
Crouch at her shrine, and in thine arms enfold
Her ancient image: there we well shall find
Meet judges for this cause and suasive pleas,
Skilled to contrive for thee deliverance
From all this woe. Be such my pledge to thee,
For by my hest thou didst thy mother slay.

ORESTES

O king Apollo, since right well thou know'st
What justice bids, have heed, fulfil the same,--
Thy strength is all-sufficient to achieve.

APOLLO

Have thou too heed, nor let thy fear prevail
Above thy will. And do thou guard him, Hermes,
Whose blood is brother unto mine, whose sire
The same high God. Men call thee guide and guard,
Guide therefore thou and guard my suppliant;
For Zeus himself reveres the outlaw's right,
Boon of fair escort, upon man conferred.

[_Exeunt Apollo, Hermes, and Orestes The Ghost of Clytemnestra near_

GHOST OF CLYTEMNESTRA

Sleep on! awake! what skills your sleep to me--
Me, among all the dead by you dishonoured--
Me from whom never, in the world of death,
Dieth this curse, _'Tis she who smote and slew_,
And shamed and scorned I roam? Awake, and hear
My plaint of dead men's hate intolerable.
Me, sternly slain by them that should have loved,
Me doth no god arouse him to avenge,
Hewn down in blood by matricidal hands.
Mark ye these wounds from which the heart's blood ran,
And by whose hand, bethink ye! for the sense
When shut in sleep hath then the spirit-sight,
But in the day the inward eye is blind.
List, ye who drank so oft with lapping tongue
The wineless draught by me outpoured to soothe
Your vengeful ire! how oft on kindled shrine
I laid the feast of darkness, at the hour
Abhorred of every god but you alone!
Lo, all my service trampled down and scorned!
And he hath baulked your chase, as stag the hounds;
Yea, lightly bounding from the circling toils,
Hath wried his face in scorn, and flieth far.
Awake and hear--for mine own soul I cry--
Awake, ye powers of hell! the wandering ghost
That once was Clytemnestra calls--Arise!

[_The Furies mutter grimly, as in a dream_.
Mutter and murmur! He hath flown afar--
My kin have gods to guard them, I have none!

[_The Furies mutter as before_.
O drowsed in sleep too deep to heed my pain!
Orestes flies, who me, his mother, slew.

[_The Furies give a confused cry_.
Yelping, and drowsed again? Up and be doing
That which alone is yours, the deed of hell!

[_The Furies give another cry_.
Lo, sleep and toil, the sworn confederates,
Have quelled your dragon-anger, once so fell!

THE FURIES (_muttering more fiercely and loudly_)

Seize, seize, seize, seize--mark, yonder!

GHOST

In dreams ye chase a prey, and like some hound,
That even in sleep doth ply his woodland toil,
Ye bell and bay. What do ye, sleeping here?
Be not o'ercome with toil, nor sleep-subdued,
Be heedless of my wrong. Up! thrill your heart
With the just chidings of my tongue,--such words
Are as a spur to purpose firmly held.
Blow forth on him the breath of wrath and blood,
Scorch him with reek of fire that burns in you,
Waste him with new pursuit--swift, hound him down!

[_Ghost sinks._

FIRST FURY (_awaking_)

Up! rouse another as I rouse thee; up!
Sleep'st thou? Rise up, and spurning sleep away,
See we if false to us this prelude rang.

CHORUS OF FURIES

Alack, alack, O sisters, we have toiled,
O much and vainly have we toiled and borne!
Vainly! and all we wrought the gods have foiled,
And turned us to scorn!
He hath slipped from the net, whom we chased: he
hath 'scaped us who should be our prey--
O'ermastered by slumber we sank, and our quarry hath stolen away!
Thou, child of the high God Zeus, Apollo, hast robbed us and wronged;
Thou, a youth, hast down-trodden the right that is godship more
ancient belonged;
Thou hast cherished thy suppliant man; the slayer the God-forsaken,
The bane of a parent, by craft from out of our grasp thou hast taken:
A god, thou hast stolen from us the avengers a matricide son--
And who shall consider thy deed and say, _It is rightfully_ done?
The sound of chiding scorn
Came from the land of dream;
Deep to mine inmost heart I felt it thrill and burn,
Thrust as a strong-grasped goad, to urge
Onward the chariot's team.
Thrilled, chilled with bitter inward pain
I stand as one beneath the doomsman's scourge.
Shame on the younger gods who tread down right,
Sitting on thrones of might!
Woe on the altar of earth's central fane!
Clotted on step and shrine,
Behold, the guilt of blood, the ghastly stain!
Woe upon thee, Apollo! uncontrolled,
Unbidden, hast thou, prophet-god, imbrued
The pure prophetic shrine with wrongful blood!
For thou too heinous a respect didst hold
Of man, too little heed of powers divine!
And us the Fates, the ancients of the earth,
Didst deem as nothing worth.
Scornful to me thou art, yet shalt not fend
My wrath from him; though unto hell he flee,
There too are we!
And he the blood defiled, should feel and rue,
Though I were not, fiend-wrath that shall not end,
Descending on his head who foully slew.

[_Re-enter Apollo from the inner shrine._

APOLLO

Out! I command you. Out from this my home--
Haste, tarry not! Out from the mystic shrine,
Lest thy lot be to take into thy breast
The winged bright dart that from my golden string
Speeds hissing as a snake,--lest, pierced and thrilled
With agony, thou shouldst spew forth again
Black frothy heart's-blood, drawn from mortal men,
Belching the gory clots sucked forth from wounds.
These be no halls where such as you can prowl--
Go where men lay on men the doom of blood,
Heads lopped from necks, eyes from their Sphere plucked out,
Hacked flesh, the flower of youthful seed crushed or
Feet hewn away, and hands, and death beneath
The smiting stone, low moans and piteous
Of men impaled--Hark, hear ye for what feast
Ye hanker ever, and the loathing gods
Do spit upon your craving? Lo, your shape
Is all too fitted to your greed; the cave
Where lurks some lion, lapping gore, were home
More meet for you. Avaunt from sacred shrines,
Nor bring pollution by your touch on all
That nears you. Hence! and roam unshepherded--
No god there is to tend such herd as you.

CHORUS

O king Apollo, in our turn hear us'
Thou hast'not only part in these ill things,
But art chief cause and doer of the same.

APOLLO

How? stretch thy speech to tell this, and have done.

CHORUS

Thine oracle bade this man slay his mother.

APOLLO

I bade him quit his sire's death,--wherefore not?

CHORUS

Then didst thou aid and guard red-handed crime.

APOLLO

Yea, and I bade him to this temple flee.

CHORUS

And yet forsooth dost chide us following him!

APOLLO

Ay--not for you it is, to near this fane.

CHORUS

Yet is such office ours, imposed by fate.

APOLLO

What office? vaunt the thing ye deem so fair.

CHORUS

From home to home we chase the matricide.

APOLLO

What? to avenge a wife who slays her lord?

CHORUS

That is not blood outpoured by kindred hands.

APOLLO

How darkly ye dishonour and annul
The troth to which the high accomplishers,
Hera and Zeus, do honour. Yea, and thus
Is Aphrodite to dishonour cast,
The queen of rapture unto mortal men.
Know, that above the marriage-bed ordained
For man and woman standeth Right as guard,
Enhancing sanctity of troth-plight sworn;
Therefore, if thou art placable to those
Who have their consort slain, nor will'st to turn
On them the eye of wrath, unjust art thou
In hounding to his doom the man who slew
His mother. Lo, I know thee full of wrath
Against one deed, but all too placable
Unto the other, minishing the crime.
But in this cause shall Pallas guard the right.

CHORUS

Deem not my quest shall ever quit that man.

APOLLO

Follow then, make thee double toil in vain!

CHORUS

Think not by speech mine office to curtail.

APOLLO

None hast thou, that I would accept of thee!

CHORUS

Yea, high thine honour by the throne of Zeus:
But I, drawn on by scent of mother's blood,
Seek vengeance on this man and hound him down.

APOLLO

But I will stand beside him; 'tis for me
To guard my suppliant: gods and men alike
Do dread the curse of such an one betrayed,
And in me Fear and Will say _Leave him not_.

[_Exeunt omnes_

_The scene changes to Athens. In the foreground, the Temple of
Athena on the Acropolis; her statue stands in the centre; Orestes is
seen dinging to it._

ORESTES

Look on me, queen Athena; lo, I come
By Loxias' behest; thou of thy grace
Receive me, driven of avenging powers--
Not now a red-hand slayer unannealed,
But with guilt fading, half-effaced, outworn
On many homes and paths of mortal men.
For to the limit of each land, each sea,
I roamed, obedient to Apollo's hest,
And come at last, O Goddess, to thy fane,
And clinging to thine image, bide my doom.

[_Enter the Chorus of Furies, questing like hounds_

CHORUS

Ho! clear is here the trace of him we seek:
Follow the track of blood, the silent sign!
Like to some hound that hunts a wounded fawn,
We snuff along the scent of dripping gore,
And inwardly we pant, for many a day
Toiling in chase that shall fordo the man;
For o'er and o'er the wide land have I ranged,
And o'er the wide sea, flying without wings,
Swift as a sail I pressed upon his track,
Who now hard by is crouching, well I wot,
For scent of mortal blood allures me here.
Follow, seek him--round and round
Scent and snuff and scan the ground,
Lest unharmed he slip away,
He who did his mother slay!
Hist--he is there! See him his arms entwine
Around the image of the maid divine--
Thus aided, for the deed he wrought
Unto the judgment wills he to be brought.

It may not be! a mother's blood, poured forth
Upon the stained earth,
None gathers up: it lies--bear witness, Hell!--
For aye indelible!
And thou who sheddest it shalt give thine own
That shedding to atone!
Yea, from thy living limbs I suck it out,
Red, clotted, gout by gout,--
A draught abhorred of men and gods; but I
Will drain it, suck thee dry;
Yea, I will waste thee living, nerve and vein;
Yea, for thy mother slain,
Will drag thee downward, there where thou shalt dree
The weird of agony!
And thou and whatsoe'er of men hath sinned--
Hath wronged or God, or friend,
Or parent,--learn ye how to all and each
The arm of doom can reach!
Sternly requiteth, in the world beneath,
The judgment-seat of Death;
Yea, Death, beholding every man's endeavour
Recordeth it for ever.

ORESTES

I, schooled in many miseries, have learnt
How many refuges of cleansing shrines
There be; I know when law alloweth speech
And when imposeth silence. Lo, I stand
Fixed now to speak, for he whose word is wise
Commands the same. Look, how the stain of blood
Is dull upon mine hand and wastes away,
And laved and lost therewith is the deep curse
Of matricide; for while the guilt was new,
'Twas banished from me at Apollo's hearth,
Atoned and purified by death of swine.
Long were my word if I should sum the tale,
How oft since then among my fellow-men
I stood and brought no curse. Time cleanses all--
Time, the coeval of all things that are.
Now from pure lips, in words of omen fair,
I call Athena, lady of this land,
To come, my champion: so, in aftertime,
She shall not fail of love and service deal,
Not won by war, from me and from my land
And all the folk of Argos, vowed to her.

Now, be she far away in Libyan land
Where flows from Triton's lake her natal wave,--
Stand she with planted feet, or in some hour
Of rest conceal them, champion of her friends
Where'er she be,--or whether o'er the plain
Phlegraean she look forth, as warrior bold--
I cry to her to come, where'er she be,
(And she, as goddess, from afar can hear,)
And aid and free me, set among my foes.

CHORUS

Thee not Apollo nor Athena's strength
Can save from perishing, a castaway
Amid the Lost, where no delight shall meet
Thy soul--a bloodless prey of nether powers,
A shadow among shadows. Answerest thou
Nothing? dost cast away my words with scorn,
Thou, prey prepared and dedicate to me?
Not as a victim slain upon the shrine,
But living shalt thou see thy flesh my food.
Hear now the binding chant that makes thee mine.

Weave the weird dance,--behold the hour
To utter forth the chant of hell,
Our sway among mankind to tell,
The guidance of our power.
Of Justice are we ministers,
And whosoe'er of men may stand
Lifting a pure unsullied hand,
That man no doom of ours incurs,
And walks thro' all his mortal path
Untouched by woe, unharmed by wrath.
But if, as yonder man, he hath
Blood on the hands he strives to hide,
We stand avengers at his side,
Decreeing, _Thou hast wronged the dead:
We are doom's witnesses to thee_.
The price of blood, his hands have shed,
We wring from him; in life, in death,
Hard at his side are we!

Night, Mother Night, who brought me forth, a torment
To living men and dead,
Hear me, O hear! by Leto's stripling son
I am dishonoured:
He hath ta'en from me him who cowers in refuge,
To me made consecrate,--
A rightful victim, him who slew his mother.
Given o'er to me and fate.

Hear the hymn of hell,
O'er the victim sounding,--
Chant of frenzy, chant of ill,
Sense and will confounding!
Round the soul entwining
Without lute or lyre--
Soul in madness pining,
Wasting as with fire!

Fate, all-pervading Fate, this service spun, commanding
That I should bide therein:
Whosoe'er of mortals, made perverse and lawless,
Is stained with blood of kin,
By his side are we, and hunt him ever onward,
Till to the Silent Land,
The realm of death, he cometh; neither yonder
In freedom shall he stand.

Hear the hymn of hell,
O'er the victim sounding,--
Chant of frenzy, chant of ill,
Sense and will confounding!
Round the soul entwining
Without lute or lyre--
Soul in madness pining,
Wasting as with fire!

When from womb of Night we sprang, on us this labour
Was laid and shall abide.
Gods immortal are ye, yet beware ye touch not
That which is our pride!
None may come beside us gathered round the blood feast--
For us no garments white
Gleam on a festal day; for us a darker fate is,
Another darker rite.
That is mine hour when falls an ancient line--
When in the household's heart
The god of blood doth slay by kindred hands,--
Then do we bear our part:
On him who slays we sweep with chasing cry:
Though he be triply strong,
We wear and waste him; blood atones for blood,
New pain for ancient wrong.

I hold this task--'tis mine, and not another's.
The very gods on high,
Though they can silence and annul the prayers
Of those who on us cry,
They may not strive with us who stand apart,
A race by Zeus abhorred,
Blood-boltered, held unworthy of the council
And converse of Heaven's lord.
Therefore the more I leap upon my prey;
Upon their head I bound;
My foot is hard; as one that trips a runner
I cast them to the ground;
Yea, to the depth of doom intolerable;
And they who erst were great,
And upon earth held high their pride and glory,
Are brought to low estate.
In underworld they waste and are diminished,
The while around them fleet
Dark wavings of my robes, and, subtly woven,
The paces of my feet.

Who falls infatuate, he sees not, neither knows he
That we are at his side;
So closely round about him, darkly flitting,
The cloud of guilt doth glide.
Heavily 'tis uttered, how around his hearthstone
The mirk of hell doth rise.
Stern and fixed the law is; we have hands t'achieve it,
Cunning to devise.
Queens are we and mindful of our solemn vengeance.
Not by tear or prayer
Shall a man avert it. In unhonoured darkness,
Far from gods, we fare,
Lit unto our task with torch of sunless regions,
And o'er a deadly way--
Deadly to the living as to those who see not
Life and light of day--
Hunt we and press onward. Who of mortals hearing
Doth not quake for awe,
Hearing all that Fate thro' hand of God hath given us
For ordinance and law?
Yea, this right to us, in dark abysm and backward
Of ages it befel:
None shall wrong mine office, tho' in nether regions
And sunless dark I dwell.
[_Enter Athena from above_

ATHENA

Far off I heard the clamour of your cry,
As by Scamander's side I set my foot
Asserting right upon the land given o'er
To me by those who o'er Achaia's host
Held sway and leadership: no scanty part
Of all they won by spear and sword, to me
They gave it, land and all that grew theron,
As chosen heirloom for my Theseus' clan.
Thence summoned, sped I with a tireless foot,--
Hummed on the wind, instead of wings, the fold
Of this mine aegis, by my feet propelled,
As, linked to mettled horses, speeds a car.
And now, beholding here Earth's nether brood,
I fear it nought, yet are mine eyes amazed
With wonder. Who are ye? of all I ask,
And of this stranger to my statue clinging.
But ye--your shape is like no human form,
Like to no goddess whom the gods behold,
Like to no shape which mortal women wear.
Yet to stand by and chide a monstrous form
Is all unjust--from such words Right revolts.

CHORUS

O child of Zeus, one word shall tell thee all.
We are the children of eternal Night,
And Furies in the underworld are called.

ATHENA

I know your lineage now and eke your name.

CHORUS

Yea, and eftsoons indeed my rights shalt know.

ATHENA

Fain would I learn them; speak them clearly forth.

CHORUS

We chase from home the murderers of men.

ATHENA

And where at last can he that slew make pause?

CHORUS

Where this is law--_All joy abandon here._

ATHENA

Say, do ye bay this man to such a flight?

CHORUS

Yea, for of choice he did his mother slay.

ATHENA

Urged by no fear of other wrath and doom?

CHORUS

What spur can rightly goad to matricide?

ATHENA

Two stand to plead--one only have I heard.

CHORUS

He will not swear nor challenge us to oath.

ATHENA

The form of justice, not its deed, thou willest.

CHORUS

Prove thou that word; thou art not scant of skill.

ATHENA

I say that oaths shall not enforce the wrong.

CHORUS

Then test the cause, judge and award the right.

ATHENA

Will ye to me then this decision trust?

CHORUS

Yea, reverencing true child of worthy sire.

ATHENA (_to Orestes_)

O man unknown, make thou thy plea in turn
Speak forth thy land, thy lineage, and thy woes;
Then, if thou canst, avert this bitter blame--
If, as I deem, in confidence of right
Thou sittest hard beside my holy place,
Clasping this statue, as Ixion sat,
A sacred suppliant for Zeus to cleanse,--
To all this answer me in words made plain.

ORESTES

O queen Athena, first from thy last words
Will I a great solicitude remove.
Not one blood-guilty am I; no foul stain
Clings to thine image from my clinging hand;
Whereof one potent proof I have to tell.
Lo, the law stands--_The slayer shall not plead,
Till by the hand of him who cleanses blood
A suckling creature's blood besprinkle him_.
Long since have I this expiation done--
In many a home, slain beasts and running streams
Have cleansed me. Thus I speak away that fear.
Next, of my lineage quickly thou shalt learn:
An Argive am I, and right well thou know'st
My sire, that Agamemnon who arrayed
The fleet and them that went therein to war--
That chief with whom thy hand combined to crush
To an uncitied heap what once was Troy;
That Agamemnon, when he homeward came,
Was brought unto no honourable death,
Slain by the dark-souled wife who brought me forth
To him,--enwound and slain in wily nets,
Blazoned with blood that in the laver ran.
And I, returning from an exiled youth,
Slew her, my mother--lo, it stands avowed!
With blood for blood avenging my loved sire;
And in this deed doth Loxias bear part,
Decreeing agonies, to goad my will,
Unless by me the guilty found their doom.
Do thou decide if right or wrong were done--
Thy dooming, whatsoe'er it be, contents me.

ATHENA

Too mighty is this matter, whatsoe'er
Of mortals claims to judge hereof aright.
Yea, me, even me, eternal Right forbids
To judge the issues of blood-guilt, and wrath
That follows swift behind. This too gives pause,
That thou as one with all due rites performed
Dost come, unsinning, pure, unto my shrine.
Whate'er thou art, in this my city's name,
As uncondemned, I take thee to my side,--
Yet have these foes of thine such dues by fate,
I may not banish them: and if they fail,
O'erthrown in judgment of the cause, forthwith
Their anger's poison shall infect the land--
A dropping plague-spot of eternal ill.
Thus stand we with a woe on either hand:
Stay they, or go at my commandment forth,
Perplexity or pain must needs befall.
Yet, as on me Fate hath imposed the cause,
I choose unto me judges that shall be
An ordinance for ever, set to rule
The dues of blood-guilt, upon oath declared.
But ye, call forth your witness and your proof,
Words strong for justice, fortified by oath;
And I, whoe'er are truest in my town,
Them will I chose and bring, and straitly charge,
_Look on this cause, discriminating well,
And pledge your oath to utter nought of wrong.

[Exit Athena._

CHORUS

Now are they all undone, the ancient laws,
If here the slayer's cause
Prevail; new wrong for ancient right shall be
If matricide go free.
Henceforth a deed like his by all shall stand,
Too ready to the hand:
Too oft shall parents in the aftertime
Rue and lament this crime,--
Taught, not in false imagining, to feel
Their children's thrusting steel:
No more the wrath, that erst on murder fell

From us, the queens of Hell.
Shall fall, no more our watching gaze impend--
Death shall smite unrestrained.

Henceforth shall one unto another cry
_Lo, they are stricken, lo, they fall and die
Around me!_ and that other answers him,
_O thou that lookest that thy woes should cease,
Behold, with dark increase
They throng and press upon thee; yea, and dim
Is all the cure, and every comfort vain!_

Let none henceforth cry out, when falls the blow
Of sudden-smiting woe,
Cry out in sad reiterated strain
_O Justice, aid! aid, O ye thrones of Hell!_
So though a father or a mother wail
New-smitten by a son, it shall no more avail,
Since, overthrown by wrong, the fane of Justice fell!

Know, that a throne there is that may not pass away,
And one that sitteth on it--even Fear,
Searching with steadfast eyes man's inner soul:
Wisdom is child of pain, and born with many a tear;
But who henceforth,
What man of mortal men, what nation upon earth,
That holdeth nought in awe nor in the light
Of inner reverence, shall worship Right
As in the older day?

Praise not, O man, the life beyond control,
Nor that which bows unto a tyrant's sway.
Know that the middle way
Is dearest unto God, and they thereon who wend,
They shall achieve the end;
But they who wander or to left or right
Are sinners in his sight.
Take to thy heart this one, this soothfast word--
Of wantonness impiety is sire;
Only from calm control and sanity unstirred
Cometh true weal, the goal of every man's desire.

Yea, whatsoe'er befall, hold thou this word of mine:
_Bow down at Justice' shrine,
Turn thou thine eyes away from earthly lure,
Nor with a godless foot that altar spurn._
For as thou dost shall Fate do in return,
And the great doom is sure.
Therefore let each adore a parent's trust,
And each with loyalty revere the guest
That in his halls doth rest.
For whoso uncompelled doth follow what is just,
He ne'er shall be unblest;
Yea, never to the gulf of doom
That man shall come.
But he whose will is set against the gods,
Who treads beyond the law with foot impure,

Till o'er the wreck of Right confusion broods--
Know that for him, though now he sail secure,
The day of storm shall be; then shall he strive and fail,
Down from the shivered yard to furl the sail,
And call on Powers, that heed him nought, to save
And vainly wrestle with the whirling wave,
Hot was his heart with pride--
_I shall not fall_, he cried.
But him with watching scorn
The god beholds, forlorn,
Tangled in toils of Fate beyond escape,
Hopeless of haven safe beyond the cape--
Till all his wealth and bliss of bygone day
Upon the reef of Rightful Doom is hurled,
And he is rapt away
Unwept, for ever, to the dead forgotten world.

[_Re-enter Athena, with twelve Athenian citizens_.

ATHENA

O herald, make proclaim, bid all men come.
Then let the shrill blast of the Tyrrhene trump,
Fulfilled with mortal breath, thro' the wide air
Peal a loud summons, bidding all men heed.
For, till my judges fill this judgment-seat,
Silence behoves,--that this whole city learn,
What for all time mine ordinance commands,
And these men, that the cause be judged aright.

[_Apollo approaches._

CHORUS

O king Apollo, rule what is thine own,
But in this thing what share pertains to thee?

APOLLO

First, as a witness come I, for this man
Is suppliant of mine by sacred right,
Guest of my holy hearth and cleansed by me
Of blood-guilt: then, to set me at his side
And in his cause bear part, as part I bore
Erst in his deed, whereby his mother fell.
Let whoso knoweth now announce the cause.

ATHENA (_to the Chorus_)

'Tis I announce the cause--first speech be yours;
For rightfully shall they whose plaint is tried
Tell the tale first and set the matter clear.

CHORUS

Though we be many, brief shall be our tale.
(_To Orestes_) Answer thou, setting word to match with
word;
And first avow--hast thou thy mother slain?

ORESTES

I slew her. I deny no word hereof.

CHORUS

Three falls decide the wrestle--this is one.

ORESTES

Thou vauntest thee--but o'er no final fall.

CHORUS

Yet must thou tell the manner of thy deed.

ORESTES

Drawn sword in hand, I gashed her neck. Tis told.

CHORUS

But by whose word, whose craft, wert thou impelled?

ORESTES

By oracles of him who here attests me.

CHORUS

The prophet-god bade thee thy mother slay?

ORESTES

Yea, and thro' him less ill I fared, till now.

CHORUS

If the vote grip thee, thou shalt change that word.

ORESTES

Strong is my hope; my buried sire shall aid.

CHORUS

Go to now, trust the dead, a matricide!

ORESTES

Yea, for in her combined two stains of sin.

CHORUS

How? speak this clearly to the judges' mind.

ORESTES

Slaying her husband, she did slay my sire.

CHORUS

Therefore thou livest; death assoils her deed.

ORESTES

Then while she lived why didst thou hunt her not?

CHORUS

She was not kin by blood to him she slew.

ORESTES

And I, am I by blood my mother's kin?

CHORUS

O cursed with murder's guilt, how else wert thou
The burden of her womb? Dost thou forswear
Thy mother's kinship, closest bond of love?

ORESTES

It is thine hour, Apollo--speak the law,
Averring if this deed were justly done;
For done it is, and clear and undenied.
But if to thee this murder's cause seem right
Or wrongful, speak--that I to these may tell.

APOLLO

To you, Athena's mighty council-court,
Justly for justice will I plead, even I,
The prophet-god, nor cheat you by one word.
For never spake I from my prophet-seat
One word, of man, of woman, or of state,
Save what the Father of Olympian gods
Commanded unto me. I rede you then,
Bethink you of my plea, how strong it stands,
And follow the decree of Zeus our sire,--
For oaths prevail not over Zeus' command.

CHORUS

Go to; thou sayest that from Zeus befel
The oracle that this Orestes bade
With vengeance quit the slaying of his sire,
And hold as nought his mother's right of kin!

APOLLO

Yea, for it stands not with a common death,
That he should die, a chieftain and a king
Decked with the sceptre which high heaven confers--
Die, and by female hands, not smitten down
By a far-shooting bow, held stalwartly
By some strong Amazon. Another doom
Was his: O Pallas, hear, and ye who sit
In judgment, to discern this thing aright!--
She with a specious voice of welcome true
Hailed him, returning from the mighty mart
Where war for life gives fame, triumphant home;
Then o'er the laver, as he bathed himself,
She spread from head to foot a covering net,
And in the endless mesh of cunning robes
Enwound and trapped her lord, and smote him down.
Lo, ye have heard what doom this chieftain met,
The majesty of Greece, the fleet's high lord:
Such as I tell it, let it gall your ears,
Who stand as judges to decide this cause.

CHORUS

Zeus, as thou sayest, holds a father's death
As first of crimes,--yet he of his own act
Cast into chains his father, Cronos old:
How suits that deed with that which now ye tell?
O ye who judge, I bid ye mark my words!

APOLLO

O monsters loathed of all, O scorn of gods,
He that hath bound may loose: a cure there is,
Yea, many a plan that can unbind the chain.
But when the thirsty dust sucks up man's blood
Once shed in death, he shall arise no more.
No chant nor charm for this my Sire hath wrought.
All else there is, he moulds and shifts at will,
Not scant of strength nor breath, whate'er he do.

CHORUS

Think yet, for what acquittal thou dost plead:
He who hath shed a mother's kindred blood,
Shall he in Argos dwell, where dwelt his sire?
How shall he stand before the city's shrines,
How share the clansmen's holy lustral bowl?

APOLLO

This too I answer; mark a soothfast word,
Not the true parent is the woman's womb
That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed
New-sown: the male is parent; she for him,
As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ
Of life; unless the god its promise blight.
And proof hereof before you will I set.
Birth may from fathers, without mothers, be:
See at your side a witness of the same,
Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,
Never within the darkness of the womb
Fostered nor fashioned, but a bud more bright
Than any goddess in her breast might bear.
And I, O Pallas, howsoe'er I may,
Henceforth will glorify thy town, thy clan,
And for this end have sent my suppliant here
Unto thy shrine; that he from this time forth
Be loyal unto thee for evermore,
O goddess-queen, and thou unto thy side
Mayst win and hold him faithful, and his line,
And that for aye this pledge and troth remain
To children's children of Athenian seed.

ATHENA

Enough is said; I bid the judges now
With pure intent deliver just award.

CHORUS

We too have shot our every shaft of speech,
And now abide to hear the doom of law.

ATHENA (_to Apollo and Orestes_)

Say, how ordaining shall I 'scape your blame?

APOLLO

I spake, ye heard; enough. O stranger men,
Heed well your oath as ye decide the cause.

ATHENA

O men of Athens, ye who first do judge
The law of bloodshed, hear me now ordain.
Here to all time for Aegeus' Attic host
Shall stand this council-court of judges sworn,
Here the tribunal, set on Ares' Hill
Where camped of old the tented Amazons,
What time in hate of Theseus they assailed
Athens, and set against her citadel
A counterwork of new sky-pointing towers,
And there to Ares held their sacrifice,
Where now the rock hath name, even Ares' Hill.
And hence shall Reverence and her kinsman Fear
Pass to each free man's heart, by day and night
Enjoining, _Thou shalt do no unjust thing_,
So long as law stands as it stood of old
Unmarred by civic change. Look you, the spring
Is pure; but foul it once with influx vile

And muddy clay, and none can drink thereof.
Therefore, O citizens, I bid ye bow
In awe to this command, _Let no man live
Uncurbed by law nor curbed by tyranny;_
Nor banish ye the monarchy of Awe
Beyond the walls; untouched by fear divine,
No man doth justice in the world of men.
Therefore in purity and holy dread
Stand and revere; so shall ye have and hold
A saving bulwark of the state and land,
Such as no man hath ever elsewhere known,
Nor in far Scythia, nor in Pelops' realm.
Thus I ordain it now, a council-court
Pure and unsullied by the lust of gain,
Sacred and swift to vengeance, wakeful ever
To champion men who sleep, the country's guard.
Thus have I spoken, thus to mine own clan
Commended it for ever. Ye who judge,
Arise, take each his vote, mete out the right,
Your oath revering. Lo, my word is said.

[_The twelve judges come forward, one by one, to the urns of
decision; the first votes; as each of the others follows, the Chorus
and Apollo speak alternately._

CHORUS

I rede ye well, beware! nor put to shame,
In aught, this grievous company of hell.

APOLLO

I too would warn you, fear mine oracles--
From Zeus they are,--nor make them void of fruit.

CHORUS

Presumptuous is thy claim, blood-guilt to judge,
And false henceforth thine oracles shall be.

APOLLO

Failed then the counsels of my sire, when turned
Ixion, first of slayers, to his side?

CHORUS

These are but words; but I, if justice fail me,
Will haunt this land in grim and deadly deed.

APOLLO

Scorn of the younger and the elder gods
Art thou: 'tis I that shall prevail anon.

CHORUS

Thus didst thou too of old in Pheres' halls,
O'errcaching Fate to make a mortal deathless.

APOLLO

Was it not well, my worshipper to aid,
Then most of all when hardest was the need?

CHORUS

I say thou didst annul the lots of life,
Cheating with wine the deities of eld.

APOLLO

I say thou shalt anon, thy pleadings foiled,
Spit venom vainly on thine enemies.

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