Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EUMENIDES, by AESCHYLUS



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EUMENIDES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Pythian
Last Line: Around him—kiss that kindest of sires!
Subject(s): Mythology - Classical; Tragedy; Vengeance


DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.

PYTHIAN PRIESTESS.
APOLLO.
ATHENA.
GHOST OF CLYTEMNESTRA.
ORESTES.
HERMES.
CHORUS OF THE ERINNYES,

Athenian Citizens, Women and Girls.

SCENE.—The Outer Court of the Oracle at Delphi. Inner shrine in the
background, with doors leading into it.

Enter Apollo from his inner adytum, attended by Hermes.

Apol.—(To Orestes.) Nay, I'll not fail thee, but as close at hand
Will guard thee to the end, or though far off,
Will not prove yielding to thine adversaries;
And now thou see'st these fierce ones captive ta'en,
These loathly maidens fallen fast in sleep.
Hoary and ancient virgins they, with whom
Nor god, nor man, nor beast, holds intercourse.
They owe their birth to evils; for they dwell
In evil darkness, yea in Tartaros
Beneath the earth, and are the hate and dread
Of all mankind, and of Olympian gods.
Yet fly thou, fly, and be not faint of heart;
For they will chase thee over mainland wide,
As thou dost tread the soil by wanderers tracked,
And o'er the ocean, and by sea-girt towns;
And fail thou not before the time as brooding
O'er this great toil. But go to Pallas' city,
And sit, and clasp her ancient image there;
And there with judges of these things, and words
Strong to appease, will we a means devise
To free thee from these ills for evermore;
For I urged thee to take thy mother's life.

Orest.—Thou know'st, O king Apollo, not to wrong;
And since thou know'st, learn also not to slight:
Thy strength gives full security for act.

Apol.—Remember, let no fear o'ercome thy soul;
And (to Hermes) thou, my brother, of one father born
My Hermes, guard him; true to that thy name,
Be thou his guide, true shepherd of this man,
Who comes to me as suppliant: Zeus himself
Reveres this reverence e'en to outcasts due,
When it to mortals comes with guidance good.
(Exit Orestes led by Hermes. Apollo retires within the adytum. The ghost
of Clytæmnestra rises from the ground.)

Clytæm.—What ho! Sleep on! What need of sleepers now?
And I am put by you to foul disgrace
Among the other dead, nor fails reproach
Among the shades that I a murderess am;
And so in shame I wander, and I tell you
That at their hands I bear worst form of blame.
And much as I have borne from nearest kin,
Yet not one God is stirred to wrath for me,
Though done to death by matricidal hands.
See ye these heart-wounds, whence and how they came?
Yea, when it sleeps, the mind is bright with eyes;
But in the day it is man's lot to lack
All true discernment. Many a gift of mine
Have ye lapped up, libations pure from wine,
And soothing rites that shut out drunken mirth;
And I dread banquets of the night would offer
On altar-hearth, at hour no god might share.
And lo! all this is trampled under foot.
He is escaped, and flees, like fawn away;
And even from the midst of all your toils
Has nimbly slipped, and draws wide mouth at you.
Hear ye; for I have spoken for my life:
Give heed, ye dark, earth-dwelling goddesses,
I, Clytæmnestra's phantom, call on you.
(The Erinnyes moan in their sleep.)
Moan on, the man is gone, and flees far off:
My kindred find protectors; I find none.
(Moan as before.)
Too sleep-oppressed art thou, nor pitiest me:
Orestes, murderer of his mother, 'scapes.
(Noises repeated.)
Dost snort? Dost drowse? Wilt thou not rise and speed?
What have ye ever done but work out ill?
(Noises as before.)
Yea, sleep and toil, supreme conspirators,
Have withered up the dreaded dragon's strength.
Cho.—(Starting up suddenly with a yell.) Seize him, seize, seize, yea
seize: look well to it.
Clytæm.—Thou, phantom-like, dost hunt thy prey, and criest,
Like hound that never rests from care of toil.
What dost thou? (to one Erinnys.) Rise and let not toil o'ercome thee,
Nor lulled to sleep, lose all thy sense of loss.
Let thy soul (to another) feel the pain of just reproach:
The wise of heart find that their goad and spur.
And thou (to a third) breathè on him with thy blood-flecked breath,
And with thy vapor, thy maw's fire, consume him;
Chase him, and wither with a fresh pursuit.
Leader of the Cho.—Wake, wake, I say; wake her, as I wake thee.
Dost slumber? Rise, I say, and shake off sleep.
Let's see if this our prelude be in vain.

STROPH. I.

Pah! pah! Oh me! we suffered, O my friends. ....
Yea, many mine own sufferings undeserved. ....
We suffered a great sorrow, full of woe,
An evil hard to bear.
Out of the nets he's slipped, our prey is gone:
O'ercome by sleep I have my quarry lost.

ANTISTROPH. I.

Ah, son of Zeus, a very robber thou,
Though young, thou didst old goddesses ride down,
Honoring thy suppliant, godless though he be,
One whom his parents loathe:
Thou, though a god, a matricide hast freed:
Of which of these acts can one speak as just?

STROPH. II.

Yea, this reproach that came to me in dreams
Smote me, as charioteer
Smites with a goad he in middle grasps,
Beneath my breast, my heart;
'Tis ours to feel the keen, the o'er keen smart,
As by the public scourger fiercely lashed.

ANTISTROPH. II.

Such are the doings of these younger gods,
Beyond all bounds of right
Stretching their power. .... A clot of blood besmeared
Upon the base, the head, ....
Earth's central shrine itself we now may see
Take to itself pollution terrible.

STROPH. III.

And thou, a seer, with guilt that stains thy hearth
Hast fouled thy shrine, self-prompted, self-impelled,
Against God's laws a mortal honoring,
And bringing low the Fates
Born in the hoary past.

ANTISTROPH. III.

Me he may vex, but shall not rescue him;
Though 'neath the earth he flee, he is not freed;
For he, blood-stained, shall find upon his head
Another after me,
Destroyer foul and dread.

(Apollo advances from the adytum and confronts them.)

Apol.—Out, out, I bid you, quickly from this temple;
Go forth, and leave this shrine oracular,
Lest, smitten with a serpent winged and bright,
Forth darted from my bow-string golden-wrought,
Thou in sore pain bring up dark foam, and vomit
The clots of blood thou suck'dst from human veins.
This is no house where ye may meetly come,
But there where heads upon the scaffold lie,
And eyes are gouged, and throats of men are cut,
And mutilation mars the bloom of youth,
Where men are maimed and stoned to death, and groan
With bitter wailing, 'neath the spine impaled;
Hear ye what feast ye love, and so become
Loathed of the gods? Yes, all your figure's fashion
Points clearly to it. Such as ye should dwell
In cave of lion battening upon blood,
Nor tarry in these sacred precincts here,
Working defilement. Go, and roam afield
Without a shepherd, for to flock like this
Not one of all the gods is friendly found.
Cho.—O king Apollo, hear us in our turn:
No mere accomplice art thou of these things,
But guilty art in full as principal.
Apol.—How then? Prolong thy speech to tell me this.
Cho.—Thou bad'st this stranger be a matricide.
Apol.—I bade him to avenge his sire. Why not?
Cho.—Then thou didst welcome here the blood just shed.
Apol.—I bade him seek this shrine as suppliant.
Cho.—Yet us who were his escort thou revilest.
Apol.—It is not meet that ye come nigh this house.
Cho.—Yet is this self-same task appointed us.
Apol.—What function's this? Boast'st thou of nobler task?
Cho.—We drive from home the murderers of their mothers.
Apol.—What? Those who kill a wife that slays her spouse?
Cho.—That deed brings not the guilt of blood of kin.
Apol.—Truly thou mak'st dishonored, and as nought,
The marriage-vows of Zeus and Hera great;
And by this reasoning Kypris too is shamed,
From whom men gain the ties of closest love.
For still to man and woman marriage bed,
Assigned by Fate and guided by the Right,
Is more than any oath. If thou then deal
So gently, when the one the other slays,
And dost not even look on them with wrath,
I say thou dost not justly chase Orestes;
For thou, in the one case, I know, dost rage;
I' the other, clearly tak'st it easily:
The goddess Pallas shall our quarrel judge.
Cho.—That man I ne'er will leave for evermore.
Apol.—Chase him then, chase, and gain yet more of toil.
Cho.—Curtail thou not my functions by thy speech.
Apol.—Ne'er by my choice would I thy functions own.
Cho.—True; great thy name among the thrones of Zeus,
But I, his mother's blood constraining me,
Will this man chase, and track him like a hound.
Apol.—And I will help him and my suppliant free;
For dreadful among gods and mortals too
The suppliant's curse, should I abandon him. (Exeunt.)

Scene changes to Athens, in front of the Temple of Athena Polias, on the
Acropolis.
Enter Orestes.

Orest.—(Clasping the statute of the goddess.) O Queen Athena, I at
Loxias' hest
Am come: do thou receive me graciously,
Sin-stained though I have been: no guilt of blood
Is on my soul, nor is my hand unclean,
But now with stain toned down and worn away,
In other homes and journeyings among men,
O'er land and water travelling alike,
Keeping great Loxias' charge oracular,
I come, O goddess, to thy shrine and statue:
Here will I stay and wait the trial's issue.

Enter the Erinnyes in pursuit.

Cho.—Lo! here are clearest traces of the man:
Follow thou up that dumb informer's hints;
For as the hound pursues a wounded fawn,
So by red blood and oozing gore track we.
My lungs are panting with full many a toil,
Wearing man's strength down. Every spot of earth
Have I now searched, and o'er the sea in flight
Wingless I came pursuing, swift as ship;
And now full sure he's crouching somewhere here;
The smell of human blood wafts joy to me.
See, see again, look round ye every way,
Lest he, the murderer, slip away unscathed.
He, it is true, in full security,
Clasping the statue of the deathless goddess,
Would fain now take his trial at our hands.
This may not be; a mother's blood out-poured
(Pah! pah!) can never be raised up again,
The life-blood shed is pourèd out and gone,
But thou must give to us to suck the blood
Red from thy living members; yea, from thee,
May I gain meal of drink undrinkable!
And, having dried thee up, I'll drag thee down
Alive to bear the doom of matricide.
There thou shalt see if any other man
Has sinned in not revering God or guest,
Or parents dear, that each receiveth there
The recompense of sin that Vengeance claims.
For Hades is a mighty arbiter
Of those that dwell below, and with a mind
That writes true record all man's deeds surveys.
Orest.—I, taught by troubles, know full many a form
Of cleansing rites,—to speak, when that is meet,
And when 'tis not, keep silence, and in this
I by wise teacher was enjoined to speak;
For the blood fails and fades from off my hands;
The guilt of matricide is washed away.
For when 'twas fresh, it then was all dispelled,
At Phœbus' shrine, by spells of slaughtered swine.
Long would the story be, if told complete,
Of all I joined in harmless fellowship.
Time waxing old, too, cleanses all alike:
And now with pure lips, I in words devout,
Call Athenæa, whom this land owns queen,
To come and help me: so without a war
Shall she gain me, my land, my Argive people,
Full faithful friends, allies for evermore;
But whether in the climes of Libyan land,
Hard by her birth-stream's foam, Tritonian named,
She stands upright, or sits with feet enwrapt,
Helping her friends, or o'er Phlegræna plains,
Like a bold chieftain, she keeps watchful guard,
Oh, may she come (far off a god can hear)!
And work for me redemption from these ills!
Cho.—Nay, nor Apollo, nor Athena's might
Can save thee from the doom of perishing,
Outcast, not knowing where to look for joy,
The bloodless food of demons, a mere shade.
Wilt thou not answer? Scornest thou my words,
A victim reared and consecrate to me?
Alive thou'lt feed me, not at altar slain;
And thou shalt hear our hymn as spell to bind thee.

The Errinyes, as they sing the ode that follows, move round and round in solemn
and weird measure.

Come, then, let us form our chorus;
Since 'tis now our will to utter
Melody of song most hateful,
Telling how our band assigneth
All the lots that fall to mortals;
And we boast that we are righteous:
Not on one who pure hands lifteth
Falleth from us any anger,
But his life he passeth scatheless;
But to him who sins like this man,
And his blood-stained hands concealeth,
Witnesses of those who perish,
Coming to exact blood-forfeit,
We appear to work completeness.

STROPH. I.

O mother who did'st bear me, mother Night,
A terror of the living and the dead,
Hear me, oh hear!
The son of Leto puts me to disgrace
And robs me of my spoil,
This crouching victim for a mother's blood:
And over him as slain,
We raise this chant of madness, frenzy-working,
The hymn the Erinnyes love,
A spell upon the soul, a lyreless strain
That withers up men's strength.

ANTISTROPH. I.

This lot the all-pervading Destiny
Hath spun to hold its ground for evermore,
That we should still attend
On him on whom there rests the guilt of blood
Of kin shed causelessly,
Till earth lie o'er him; nor shall death set free.
And over him as slain,
We raise this chant of madness, frenzy-working,
The hymn the Erinnyes love,
A spell upon the soul, a lyreless strain
That withers up men's strength.

STROPH. II.

Such lot was then assigned us at our birth:
From us the Undying Ones must hold aloof:
Nor is there one who shares
The banquet-meal with us;
In garments white I have nor part nor lot;
My choice was made for overthrow of homes,
Where home-bred slaughter works a loved one's death:
Ha! hunting after him,
Strong though he be, 'tis ours
To wear the newness of his young blood down.

ANTISTROPH. II.

Since 'tis our work another's task to take,
The gods indeed may bar the force of prayers
Men offer unto me,
But may not clash in strife;
For Zeus doth cast us from his fellowship,
"Blood-dropping, worthy of his utmost hate." ....
For leaping down as from the topmost height,
I on my victim bring
The crushing force of feet,
Limbs that o'erthrow e'en those that swiftly run,
An Atè hard to bear.

STROPH. III.

And fame of men, though very lofty now
Beneath the clear, bright sky,
Below the earth grows dim and fades away
Before the attack of us, the black-robed ones,
And these our dancings wild,
Which all men loathe and hate.

ANTISTROPH. III.

Falling in frenzied guilt, he knows it not;
So thick the blinding cloud
That o'er him floats; and Rumor widely spread
With many a sigh reports the dreary doom,
A mist that o'er the house
In gathering darkness broods.

STROPH. IV.

Fixed is the law, no lack of means find we;
We work out all our will,
We, the dread Powers, the registrars of crime,
Whom mortals fail to soothe,
Fulfilling tasks dishonored, unrevered,
Apart from all the gods,
With torch of sunless gloom,
Driving o'er rough steep road both those that see,
And those whose eyes are dark.

ANTISTROPH. IV.

What mortal man then doth not bow in awe
And fear before all this,
Hearing from me the destined ordinance
Assigned me by the gods?
This task of mine is one of ancient days;
Nor meet I here with scorn,
Though 'neath the earth I dwell,
And live there in the darkness thick and dense,
Where never sunbeam falls.

Enter Athena, appearing in her chariot, and then alights.

Athena.—I heard far off the cry of thine entreaty
E'en from Scamandros, claiming there mine own,
The land which all Achaia's foremost leaders,
As portion chief from out the spoils of war,
Gave to me, trees and all, for evermore,
A special gift for Theseus' progeny.
Thence came I plying foot that never tires,
Flapping my ægis-folds, no need of wings,
My chariot drawn by young and vigorous steeds:
And seeing this new presence in the land,
I have no fear, though wonder fills mine eyes;
Who, pray, are ye? To all of you I speak,
And to this stranger at my statue suppliant.
And as for you, like none of Nature's births,
Nor seen by gods among the goddess-forms,
Nor yet in likeness of a mortal shape. ...
But to speak ill of neighbors blameless found
Is far from just, and Right holds back from it.
Cho.—Daughter of Zeus, thou shalt learn all in brief;
Children are we of everlasting Night
(At home, beneath the earth, they call us Curses).
Athena.—Your race I know, and whence ye take your name.
Cho.—Thou shalt soon know then what mine office is.
Athena.—Then could I know, if ye clear speech would speak.
Cho.—We from their home drive forth all murderers.
Athena.—Where doth the slayer find the goal of flight?
Cho.—Where to find joy in naught is still his wont.
Athena.—And whirrest thou such flight on this man here?
Cho.—Yea, for he thought it meet to slay his mother.
Athena.—Was there no other power whose wrath he feared?
Cho.—What impulse, then, should prick to matricide?
Athena.—Two sides are here, and I but half have heard.
Cho.—But he nor takes nor tenders us an oath.
Athena.—Thou lov'st the show of Justice more than act.
Cho.—How so? Inform me. Skill thou dost not lack!
Athena.—'Tis not by oaths a cause unjust shall win.
Cho.—Search out the cause, then, and right judgment judge.
Athena.—And would ye trust to me to end the cause?
Cho.—How else? Thy worth, and worthy stock we honor.
Athena.—What dost thou wish, O stranger, to reply?
Tell thou thy land, thy race, thy life's strange chance,
And then ward off this censure aimed at thee,
Since thou sitt'st trusting in thy right, and hold'st
This mine own image, near mine altar hearth,
A suppliant, like Ixion, honorable.
Answer all this in speech intelligible.
Orest.—O Queen Athena, from thy last words starting,
I first will free thee from a weighty care:
I am not now defiled: no curse abides
Upon the hand that on thy statue rests;
And I will give thee proof full strong of this.
The law is fixed the murderer shall be dumb,
Till at the hand of one who frees from blood,
The purple stream from yeanling swine run o'er him;
Long since at other houses these dread rites
We have gone through, slain victims, flowing streams:
This care, then, I can speak of now as gone.
And how my lineage stands thou soon shalt know:
An Argive I, my sire well known to thee,
Chief ruler of the seamen, Agamemnon,
With whom thou madest Troïa, Ilion's city,
To be no city. He, when he came home,
Died without honor; and my dark-souled mother
Enwrapt and slew him with her broidered toils,
Which bore their witness of the murder wrought
There in the bath; and I, on my return
(Till then an exile), did my mother kill
(That deed I'll not deny), in forfeit due
Of blood for blood of father best beloved;
And Loxias, too, is found accomplice here,
Foretelling woes that pricked my heart to act,
If I did naught to those accomplices
In that same crime. But thou, judge thou my cause,
If what I did were right or wrong, and I,
Whate'er the issue, will be well content.
Athena.—Too great this matter, if a mortal man
Think to decide it. Nor is't meet for me
To judge a cause of murder stirred by wrath;
And all the more since thou with contrite soul
Hast come to this my house a suppliant,
Harmless and pure. I now, in spite of all,
Take thee as one my city need not blame;
But these hold office that forbids dismissal,
And should they fail of victory in this cause,
Hereafter from their passionate mood will poison
Fall on the land, disease intolerable,
And lasting for all time. E'en thus it stands;
And both alike, their staying or dismissal,
Are unto me perplexing and disastrous.
But since the matter thus hath come on me,
I will appoint as judges of this murder
Men bound by oath, a law for evermore;
And ye, call ye your proofs and witnesses,
Sworn pledges given to help the cause of right.
And I, selecting of my citizens
Those who are best, will come again that they
May judge this matter truly, taking oaths
To utter nought against the law of right. (Exit.)

STROPH. I.

Cho.—Now will there be an outbreak of new laws:
If victory shall rest
Upon the wrong right of this matricide,
This deed will prompt forthwith
All mortal men to callous recklessness.
And many deaths, I trow,
At children's hands their parents now await
Through all the time to come.

ANTISTROPH. I.

For since no wrath on evil deeds will creep
Henceforth from those who watch
With wild, fierce souls the evil deeds of men,
I will let loose all crime;
And each from each shall seek in eager quest,
Speaking of neighbors' ills,
For pause and lull of woes; yet wretched man,
He speaks of cures that fail.

STROPH. II.

Henceforth let none call us,
When smitten by mischance,
Uttering this cry of prayer,
"O Justice, and O ye, Erinnyes' thrones!"
Such wail, perchance, a father then shall utter,
Or mother newly slain,
Since, faller low, the shrine of Justice now
Lies prostrate in the dust.

ANTISTROPH. II.

There are with whom 'tis well
That awe should still abide,
As watchman o'er their souls.
Calm wisdom gained by sorrow profits much:
For who that in the gladness of his heart,
Or man or commonwealth,
Has naught of this, would bow before the Right
Humbly as heretofore?

STROPH. III.

Praise not the lawless life,
Nor that which owns a despot's sovereignty;
To the true mean in all God gives success,
And with far other mood,
On other course looks on;
And I will say, with this in harmony,
That Pride is truly child of Godlessness;
While from the soul's true health
Comes the fair fortune, loved of all mankind,
And aim of many a prayer.

ANTISTROPH. III.

And now, I say in sum,
Revere the altar reared to Justice high,
Nor, thine eye set on gain, with godless foot
Treat it contemptuously:
For wrath shall surely come;
The appointed end abideth still for all.
Therefore let each be found full honor giving
To parents, and to those,
The honored guests that gather in his house,
Let him due reverence show.

STROPH. IV.

And one who of his own free will is just,
Not by enforced constraint,
He shall not be unblest,
Nor can he e'er be utterly o'erthrown;
But he that dareth, and transgresseth all,
In wild, confusèd deeds,
Where Justice is not seen,
I say that he perforce, as time wears on,
Will have to take in sail,
When trouble makes him hers, and each yard-arm
Is shivered by the blast.

ANTISTROPH. IV.

And then he calls on those who hear him not,
And struggles all in vain,
In the fierce waves' mid-whirl;
And God still mocks the man of fevered mood,
When he sees him who bragged it ne'er would come,
With woes inextricable
Worn out, and failing still
To weather round the perilous promontory;
And for all time to come,
Wrecking on reefs of Vengeance bliss once high,
He dies unwept, unseen.

The scene changes to the Areopagos. Enter Athena, followed by Herald and twelve
Athenian citizens.

Athena.—Cry out, O herald; the great host hold back;
Then let Tyrrhenian trumpet, piercing heaven,
Filled with man's breath, to all that host send forth
The full-toned notes, for while this council-hall
Is filling, it is meet men hold their peace.
(Herald blows his trumpet.)
And let the city for all time to come
Learn these my laws, and this accursed one too,
That so the trial may be rightly judged.
(As Athena speaks, Apollo enters.)
Cho.—O King Apollo, rule thou o'er thine own;
But what hast thou to do with this our cause?
Apol.—I am come both as witness,—for this man
Is here as suppliant, that on my hearth sat,
And I his cleanser am from guilt of blood,—
And to plead for him as his advocate:
I bear the blame of that his mother's death.
But thou, whoe'er dost act as president,
Open the suit in way well known to thee.
Athena.—(To the Erynnes.) 'Tis yours to speak; I thus the pleadings
open,
For so the accuser, speaking first, shall have,
Of right, the task to state the case to us.
Cho.—Many are we, but briefly will we speak;
And answer thou (to Orestes), in thy turn, word for word;
First tell us this, did'st thou thy mother slay?
Orest.—I slew her: of that fact is no denial.
Cho.—Here, then, is one of our three bouts decided.
Orest.—Thou boastest this o'er one not yet thrown down.
Cho.—This thou at least must tell, how thou did'st slay her.
Orest.—E'en so; her throat I cut with hand sword-armed.
Cho.—By whom persuaded, and with whose advice?
Orest.—(Pointing to Apollo.) By his divine command:
He bears me witness.
Cho.—The prophet-god prompt thee to matricide!
Orest.—Yea, and till now I do not blame my lot.
Cho.—Nay, when found guilty, soon thou'lt change thy tone.
Orest.—I trust my sire will send help from the tomb.
Cho.—Trust in the dead, thou murderer of thy mother!
Orest.—Yes; for in her two great pollutions met.
Cho.—How so, I pray? Inform the court of this.
Orest.—She both her husband and my father slew.
Cho.—Nay, then, thou liv'st, and she gets quit by death.
Orest.—Why, while she lived, did'st thou to chase her fail?
Cho.—The man she slew was not of one blood with her.
Orest.—And does my mother's blood then flow in me?
Cho.—E'en so; how else, O murderer, reared she thee
Within her womb? Disown'st thou mother's blood?
Orest.—(Turning to Apollo.) Now bear thou witness, and declare to me,
Apollo, if I slew her righteously;
For I the deed, as fact, will not deny.
But whether right or wrong this deed of blood
Seem in thine eyes, judge thou that these may hear.
Apol.—I will to you, Athena's solemn council,
Speak truly, and as prophet will not lie.
Ne'er have I spoken on prophetic throne,
Of man, or woman, or of commonwealth,
But as great Zeus, Olympian Father, bade;
And that ye learn how much this plea avails,
I bid you (Turning to the court of jurymen) follow out my Father's will;
No oath can be of greater might than Zeus.
Cho.—Zeus, then, thou say'st, did prompt the oracle
That this Orestes here, his father's blood
Avenging, should his mother's rights o'erthrow?
Apol.—'Tis a quite other thing for hero-chief,
Bearing the honor of Zeus-given sceptre,
To die, and at a woman's hands, not e'en
By swift, strong dart, from Amazonian bow,
But as thou, Pallas, now shalt hear, and those
Who sit to give their judgment in this cause;
For when he came successful from the trade
Of war with largest gains, receiving him
With kindly words of praise, she spread a robe
Over the bath, yes, even o'er its edge,
As he was bathing, and entangling him
In endless folds of cloak of cunning work,
She strikes her lord down. Thus the tale is told
Of her lord's murder, chief whom all did honor,
The ships' great captain. So I tell it out,
E'en as it was, to thrill the people's hearts,
Who now are set to give their verdict here.
Cho.—Zeus then a father's death, as thou dost say,
Of highest moment holds, yet he himself
Bound fast in chains his aged father, Cronos;
Are not thy words at variance with the facts?
I call on you (To the court) to witness what he says.
Apol.—O hateful creatures, loathèd of the gods,
Those chains may be undone, that wrong be cured,
And many a means of rescue may be found:
But when the dust has drunk the blood of men,
No resurrection comes for one that's dead:
No charm for these things hath my sire devised;
But all things else he turneth up or down,
And orders without toil or weariness.
Cho.—Take heed how thou help this man to escape;
Shall he who stained earth with his mother's blood
Then dwell in Argos in his father's house?
What public altars can he visit now?
What lustral rite of clan or tribe admit him?
Apol.—This too I'll say; judge thou if I speak right:
The mother is not parent of the child
That is called hers, but nurse of embryo sown.
He that begets is parent; she, as stranger,
For stranger rears the scion, if God mar not;
And of this fact I'll give thee proof full sure.
A father there may be without a mother:
Here nigh at hand, as witness, is the child
Of high Olympian Zeus, for she not e'en
Was nurtured in the darkness of the womb,
Yet such a scion may no god beget.
I, both in all else, Pallas, as I know,
Will make thy city and thy people great,
And now this man have sent as suppliant
Upon thy hearth, that he may faithful prove
Now and for ever, and that thou, O goddess,
May'st gain him as ally, and all his race,
And that it last as law for evermore,
That these men's progeny our treaties own.
Athena.—(To jurors.) I bid you give, according to your conscience,
A verdict just; enough has now been said.
Cho.—We have shot forth our every weapon now:
I wish to hear what way the strife is judged.
Athena.—(To Chorus.) How shall I order this, unblamed by you?
Cho.—(To jurors.) Ye heard what things ye heard, and in your hearts
Reverence your oaths, and give your votes, O friends.
Athena.—Hear ye my order, O ye Attic people,
In act to judge your first great murder-cause.
And henceforth shall the host of Ægeus' race
For ever own this council-hall of judges:
And for this Ares' hill, the Amazons' seat
And camp when they, enraged with Theseus, came
In hostile march, and built as counterwork
This citadel high-reared, a city new,
And sacrificed to Ares, whence 'tis named
As Ares' hill and fortress: in this, I say,
The reverent awe its citizens shall own,
And fear, awe's kindred, shall restrain from wrong
By day, nor less by night, so long as they,
The burghers, alter not themselves their laws:
But if with drain of filth and tainted soil
Clear river thou Pollute, no drink thou'lt find.
I give my counsel to you, citizens,
To reverence and guard well that form of state
Which is nor lawless, nor tyrannical,
And not to cast all fear from out the city;
For what man lives devoid of fear and just?
But rightly shrinking, owning awe like this,
Ye then would have a bulwark of your land,
A safeguard for your city, such as none
Boast or in Skythia's or in Pelops' clime.
This council I establish pure from bribe,
Reverend, and keen to act, for those that sleep
An ever-watchful sentry of the land.
This charge of mine I thus have lengthened out
For you, my people, for all time to come.
And now 'tis meet ye rise, and take your ballots,
And so decide the cause, maintaining still
Your reverence for your oath. My speech is said.
Cho.—And I advise you not to treat with scorn
A troop that can sit heavy on your land.
Apol.—And I do bid you dread my oracles,
And those of Zeus, nor rob them of their fruit.
Cho.—Uncalled thou com'st to take a murderer's part;
No longer pure the oracles thou'lt speak.
Apol.—And did my father then in purpose err,
When the first murderer he received, Ixion?
Cho.—Thou talk'st, but should I fail in this my cause,
I will again dwell here and vex this land.
Apol.—Alike among the new gods and the old
Art thou dishonored: I shall win the day.
Cho.—This did'st thou also in the house of Pheres,
Winning the Fates to make a man immortal.
Apol.—Was it not just a worshipper to bless
In any case,—then most, when he's in want?
Cho.—Thou did'st o'erthrow, yea, thou, laws hoar with age,
And drug with wine the ancient goddesses.
Apol.—Nay, thou, non-suited in this cause of thine,
Shalt venom spit that nothing hurts thy foes.
Cho.—Since thou, though young, dost ride me down, though old,
I wait to hear the issue of the cause,
Still wavering in my wrath against this city.
Athena.—'Tis now my task to close proceedings here;
And this my vote I to Orestes add;
For I no mother own that brought me forth,
And saving that I wed not, I prefer
The male with all my heart, and make mine own
The father's cause, nor will above it place
A woman's death, who slew her own true lord,
The guardian of her house. Orestes wins,
E'en though the votes be equal. Cast ye forth
With all your speed the lots from out the urns,
Ye jurors unto whom that office falls.
Orest.—Phœbus Apollo! what will be the judgment?
Cho.—Dark Night, my mother! dost thou look on this?
Orest.—My goal is now the noose, or full, clear day.
Cho.—Ours too to come to naught, or work on still.
(A pause. The jurors take out the voting tablets from the two urns, one
of bronze, the other of wood, for acquittal or condemnation.)
Apol.—Now count ye up the votes thrown out, O friends,
And be ye honest, as ye reckon them;
One sentence lacking, sorrow great may come,
And one vote given hath ofttimes saved a house.
(A pause, during which the urns are emptied and the votes are counted.)
Athena.—The accused is found "not guilty" of the murder:
For lo! the numbers of the votes are equal.
Orest.—O Pallas, thou who hast redeemed my house,
Thou, thou hast brought me back when I had been
Bereaved of fatherland, and Hellenes now
Will say, "The man's an Argive once again,
And dwells upon his father's heritage,
Because of Pallas and of Loxias,
And Zeus, the true third Savior, all o'erruling,
Who, touched with pity for my father's fate,
Saves me, beholding these my mother's pleaders,"
And I will now wend homeward, giving pledge
To this thy country and its valiant host,
To stand as firm for henceforth and for ever,
That no man henceforth, chief of Argive land,
Shall bring against it spearmen well equipped:
For we ourselves, though in our sepulchres,
On those who shall transgress these oaths of ours,
Will with inextricable evils work,
Making their paths disheartening, and their ways
Ill-omened, that they may their toil repent.
But if these oaths be kept, to those who honor
This city of great Pallas, our ally,
Then we to them are more propitious yet.
Farewell then, Thou, and these who guard thy city.
Mayst thou so wrestle that thy foes escape not,
And so win victory and deliverance!

STROPHE.

Cho.—Ah! ah! ye younger gods!
Ye have ridden down the laws of ancient days,
And robbed me of my prey.
But I, dishonored, wretched, full of wrath,
Upon this land, ha! ha!
Will venom, venom from my heart let fall,
In vengeance for my grief,
A dropping which shall smite
The earth with barrenness!
And thence shall come (O Vengeance!), on the plain
Down-swooping, blight of leaves and murrain dire
That o'er the land flings taint of pestilence.
Shall I then wail and groan?
Or what else shall I do?
Shall I become a woe intolerable
Unto these men for wrongs I have endured?
Great, very great are they,
Ye virgin daughters of dim Night, ill-doomed,
Born both to shame and woe!
Athena.—Nay, list to me, and be not over-grieved;
Ye have not been defeated, but the cause
Came fairly to a tie, no shame to thee.
But the clear evidence of Zeus was given,
And he who spake it bare his witness too
That, doing this, Orestes should not suffer.
Hurl ye not then fierce rage on this my land;
Nor be ye wroth, nor work ye barrenness,
By letting fall the drops of evil Powers,
The baleful influence that consumes all seed.
For lo! I promise, promise faithfully,
That, seated on your hearths with shining thrones,
Ye shall find cavern homes in righteous land,
Honored and worshipped by these citizens.

ANTISTROPHE.

Cho.—Ah! ah! ye younger gods!
Ye have ridden down the laws of ancient days,
And robbed me of my prey.
And I, dishonored, wretched, full of wrath,
Upon this land, ha! ha!
Will venom, venom from my heart let fall,
In vengeance for my grief,
A dropping which shall smite
The earth with barrenness!
And thence shall come (O Vengeance!), on the plain
Down-swooping, blight of leaves and murrain dire
That o'er the land flings taint of pestilence.
Shall I then wail and groan?
Or what else shall I do?
Shall I become a woe intolerable
Unto these men for wrongs I have endured?
Great, very great are they,
Ye virgin daughters of dim Night, ill-doomed,
Born both to shame and woe!
Athena.—Ye are not left unhonored; be not hot
In wrath, ye goddesses, to mar man's land,
I too, yes I, trust Zeus. Need I say more?
I only of the high gods know the keys
Of chambers where the sealed-up thunder lies;
But that I have no need of. List to me,
Nor cast upon the earth thy rash tongue's fruit,
That brings to all things failure and distress;
Lull thou the bitter storm of that dark surge,
As dwelling with me, honored and revered;
And thou with first-fruits of this wide champaign,
Offerings for children's birth and wedlock-rites,
Shalt praise these words of mine for evermore.
Cho.—That I should suffer this, fie on it! fie!
That I, with thoughts of hoar antiquity,
Should now in this land dwell,
Dishonored, deemed a plague!
I breathe out rage, and every form of wrath.
Oh, Earth! fie on it! fie!
What pang is this that thrills through all my breast?
Hear thou, O mother Night,
Hear thou my vehement wrath!
For lo! deceits that none can wrestle with
Have thrust me out from honors old of gods,
And made a thing of nought.
Athena.—Thy wrath I'll bear, for thou the elder art
(And wiser too in that respect than I),
Yet to me too Zeus gave no wisdom poor;
And ye, if ye an alien country seek,
Shall yearn in love for this land. This I tell you;
For to this people Time, as it runs on,
Shall come with fuller honors, and if thou
Hast honored seat hard by Erechtheus' home,
Thou shalt from men and women reap such gifts
As thou would'st never gain from other mortals;
But in these fields of mine be slow to cast
Whetstones of murder's knife, to young hearts bale,
Frenzied with maddened passion, not of wine;
Nor, as transplanting hearts of fighting-cocks,
Make Ares inmate with my citizens,
In evil discord, and intestine broils;
Let them have war without, not scantily,
For him who feels the passionate thirst of fame:
Battle of home-bred birds .. I name it not;
This it is thine to choose as gift from me;
Well-doing, well-entreated, and well-honored,
To share the land best loved of all the gods.
Cho.—That I should suffer this, fie on it! fie!
That I, with thoughts of hoar antiquity,
Should now in this land dwell,
Dishonored, deemed a plague,
I breathe out rage, and every form of wrath;
Ah, Earth! fie on it! fie!
What pang is this that thrills through all my breast?
Hear thou, O mother Night,
Hear thou my vehement wrath!
For lo! deceits that none can wrestle with
Have thrust me out from honors old of gods,
And made a thing of nought.
Athena.—I will not weary, telling thee of good,
That thou may'st never say that thou, being old,
Wert at the hands of me, a younger goddess,
And those of men who in my city dwell,
Driven in dishonor, exiled from this plain.
But if the might of Suasion thou count holy,
And my tongue's blandishments have power to soothe,
Then thou wilt stay; but if thou wilt not stay,
Not justly would'st thou bring upon this city,
Or wrath, or grudge, or mischief for its host.
It rests with thee, as dweller in this spot,
To meet with all due honor evermore.
Cho.—Athena, Queen, what seat assign'st thou me?
Athena.—One void of touch of evil; take thou it.
Cho.—Say I accept. What honor then is mine?
Athena.—That no one house apart from thee shall prosper.
Cho.—And wilt thou work that I such might may have?
Athena.—His lot who worships thee we'll guide aright.
Cho.—And wilt thou give thy warrant for all time?
Athena.—What I work not I might refrain from speaking.
Cho.—It seems thou sooth'st me: I relax my wrath.
Athena.—In this land dwelling thou new friends shalt gain.
Cho.—What hymn then for this land dost bid me raise?
Athena.—Such as is meet for no ill-victory.

And pray that blessings upon men be sent,
And that, too, both from earth, and ocean's spray,
And out of heaven; and that the breezy winds,
In sunshine blowing, sweep upon the land,
And that o'erflowing fruit of field and flock
May never fail my citizens to bless,
Nor safe deliverance for the seed of men.
But for the godless, rather root them out:
For I, like gardener shepherding his plants,
This race of just men freed from sorrow love.
So much for thee: and I will never fail
To give this city honor among men,
Victorious in the noble games of war.

STROPH. I.

Cho.—I will accept this offered home with Pallas,
Nor will the city scorn,
Which e'en all-ruling Zeus
And Ares give as fortress of the gods,
The altar-guarding pride of gods of Hellas;
And I upon her call,
With kindly auguries,
That so the glorious splendor of the sun
May cause life's fairest portion in thick growth
To burgeon from the earth.
Athena.—Yea, I work with kindliest feeling
For these my townsmen, having settled
Powers great, and hard to soothe among them:
Unto them the lot is given,
All things human still to order;
He who hath not felt their pressure
Knows not whence life's scourges smite him:
For the sin of generations
Past and gone;—a dumb destroyer,—
Leads him on into their presence,
And with mood of foe low bringeth
Him whose lips are speaking proudly.

ANTISTROPH. I.

Cho.—Let no tree-blighting canker breathe on them
(I tell of boon I give),
Nor blaze of scorching heat,
That mars the budding eyes of nursling plants,
And checks their spreading o'er their narrow bounds;
And may no dark, drear plague
Smite it with barrenness.
But may Earth feed fair flock in season due,
Blest with twin births, and earth's rich produce pay
To the high heavenly Powers,
Its gift for treasure found.
Athena.—Hear ye then, ye city's guardians,
What she offers? Dread and mighty
With the undying is Erinnys;
And with those beneath the earth too,
And full clearly and completely
Work they all things out for mortals,
Giving these the songs of gladness,
Those a life bedimmed with weeping.

STROPH. II.

Cho.—Avaunt, all evil chance
That brings men low in death before their time!
And for the maidens lovely and beloved,
Give, ye whose work it is,
Life with a husband true,
And ye, O Powers of self-same mother born,
Ye Fates who rule aright,
Partners in every house,
Awe-striking through all time,
With presence full of righteousness and truth,
Through all the universe
Most honored of the gods!
Athena.—Much I joy that thus ye promise
These boons to my land in kindness;
And I love the glance of Suasion,
That she guides my speech and accent
Unto these who gainsaid stoutly.
But the victory is won by
Zeus, the agora's protector;
And our rivalry in blessings
Is the conqueror evermore.

ANTISTROPH. II.

Cho.—For this too I will pray,
That Discord, never satiate with ill,
May never ravine in this commonwealth,
Nor dust that drinks dark blood
From veins of citizens,
Through eager thirst for vengeance, from the State
Snatch woes as penalty
For deeds of murderous guilt.
But may they give instead
With friendly purpose acts of kind intent,
And if need be, may hate
With minds of one accord;
For this is healing found to mortal men
Of many a grievous woe.
Athena.—Are they not then waxing wiser,
And at last the path discerning
Of a speech more good and gentle?
Now from these strange forms and fearful,
See I to my townsmen coming,
E'en to these, great meed of profit;
For if ye, with kindly welcome,
Honor these as kind protectors,
Then shall ye be famed as keeping,
Just and upright in all dealings,
Land and city evermore.

STROPH. III.

Cho.—Rejoice, rejoice ye in abounding wealth,
Rejoice, ye citizens,
Dwelling near Zeus himself,
Loved of the virgin goddess whom ye loved,
In due time wise of heart,
You, 'neath the wings of Pallas ever staying,
The Father honoreth.
Athena.—Rejoice ye also, but before you
I must march to show your chambers,
By your escorts' torches holy;
Go, and with these dread oblations
Passing to the crypt cavernous,
Keep all harm from this our country,
Send all gain upon our city,
Cause it o'er its foes to triumph.
Lead ye on, ye sons of Cranaos,
Lead, ye dwellers in the city,
Those who come to sojourn with you,
And may good gifts work good purpose
In my townsmen evermore!

ANTISTROPH. III.

Cho.—Rejoice, rejoice once more, ye inhabitants!
I say it yet again,
Ye gods and mortals too,
Who dwell in Pallas' city. Should ye treat
With reverence us who dwell
As sojourners among you, ye shall find
No cause to blame your lot.
Athena.—I praise these words of yours, the prayers ye offer,
And with the light of torches flashing fire,
Will I escort you to your dark abode,
Low down beneath the earth, with my attendants,
Who with due honor guard my statue here,
For now shall issue forth the goodly eye
Of all the land of Theseus; fair-famed troop
Of girls and women, band of matrons too,
In upper vestments purple-dyed arrayed:
Now then advance ye; and the blaze of fire,
Let it go forth, that so this company
Stand forth propitious, henceforth and for aye,
In rearing race of noblest citizens.

Enter an array of women, young and old, in procession, leading the
Erinnyes—now, as propitiated, the Eumenides or Gentle Ones—to their
shrines.

Chorus of Athenian women.

STROPH. I.

Go to your home, ye great and jealous ones,
Children of Night, yourselves all childless left;
With escort of good-will,
Shout, shout, ye townsmen, shout.

ANTISTROPH. I.

There in the dark and gloomy caves of earth,
With worthy gifts and many a sacrifice
Consumèd in the fire—
Shout, shout ye, one and all.

STROPH. II.

Come, come, with thought benign,
Propitious to our land,
Ye dreaded ones, yea, come,
While on your progress onward ye rejoice,
In the bright light of fire-devourèd torch;
Shout, shout ye to our songs.

ANTISTROPH. II.

Let the drink-offerings come,
In order meet behind,
While torches fiing their light;
Zeus the all-seeing thus hath joined in league
With Destiny for Pallas' citizens;
Shout, shout ye to our songs.
(The procession winds its way, Athena at its head, then the Eumenides,
then the women, round the Areopagos toward the ravine in which the dread
goddesses were to find their sanctuary.)

In connection with the Oresteian trilogy may here be inserted a short
passage from Robert Browning's fine translation of the Agamemnon of
Æschylus.

Chorus.—Woe, earth, earth—would thou hadst taken me
Ere I saw the man I see,
On the pallet-bed
Of the silver-sided bath-vase, dead!
Who is it shall bury him, who
Sing his dirge? Can it be true
That thou wilt dare this same to do—
Having slain thy husband, thine own,
To make his funeral moan:
And for the soul of him, in place
Of his mighty deeds, a graceless grace
To wickedly institute? By whom
Shall the tale of praise o'er the tomb
At the god-like man be sent—
From the truth of his mind as he toils intent?

Clytemnestra.—It belongs not to thee to declare
This object of care!
By us did he fall—down there!
Did he die—down there! and down, no less,
We will bury him there, and not beneath
The wails of the household over his death:
But Iphigenia,—with kindliness,—
His daughter,—as the case requires,
Facing him full, at the rapid-flowing
Passage of Groans shall—both hands throwing
Around him—kiss that kindest of sires!





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