Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY; BEING THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION: PART 2, by ROBERT BROWNING



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

Rhyming Dictionary Search
ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY; BEING THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION: PART 2, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Amphitruon. Zeus' couchmate, -- who of mortals knows me not
Last Line: We have lost forevermore!
Subject(s): Greece; Greeks


HERAKLES

Amphitruon. Zeus' Couchmate, -- who of mortals knows not me,
Argive Amphitruon whom Alkaios sired
Of old, as Perseus him, I -- Herakles?
My home, this Thebai where the earth-born spike
Of Sown-ones burgeoned: Ares saved from these
A handful of their seed that stocks to-day
With children's children Thebai, Kadmos built.
Of these had Kreon birth, Menoikeus' child,
King of the country, -- Kreon that became
The father of this woman, Megara,
Whom, when time was, Kadmeians one and all
Pealed praise to, marriage-songs with fluted help,
While to my dwelling that grand Herakles
Bore her, his bride. But, leaving Thebes -- where I
Abode perforce -- this Megara and those
Her kinsmen, the desire possessed my son
Rather to dwell in Argos, that walled work,
Kuklopian city, which I fly, myself,
Because I slew Elektruon. Seeking so
To ease away my hardships and once more
Inhabit his own land, for my return
Heavy the price he pays Eurustheus there --
The letting in of light on this choked world!
Either he promised, vanquished by the goad
Of Here, or because fate willed it thus.
The other labors -- why, he toiled them through;
But for this last one -- down by Tainaros,
Its mouth, to Haides' realm descended he
To drag into the light the three-shaped hound
Of Hell: whence Herakles returns no more.
Now, there's an old-world tale, Kadmeians have,
How Dirke's husband was a Lukos once,
Holding the seven-towered city here in sway
Before they ruled the land, white-steeded pair,
The twins Amphion, Zethos, born to Zeus.
This Lukos' son, -- named like his father too,
No born Kadmeian but Euboia's gift, --
Comes and kills Kreon, lords it o'er the land,
Falling upon our town sedition-sick.
To us, akin to Kreon, just that bond
Becomes the worst of evils, seemingly;
For, since my son in the earth's abysms,
This man of valor, Lukos, lord and king,
Seeks now to slay these sons of Herakles,
And slay his wife as well, -- by murder thus
Thinking to stamp out murder, -- slay too me,
(If me 't is fit you count among men still, --
Useless old age,) and all for fear lest these,
Grown men one day, exact due punishment
Of bloodshed and their mother's father's fate.
I therefore, since he leaves me in these domes,
The children's household guardian, -- left, when earth's
Dark dread he underwent, that son of mine, --
I, with their mother, lest his boys should die,
Sit at this altar of the savior Zeus
Which, glory of triumphant spear, he raised
Conquering -- my nobly-born! -- the Minuai.
Here do we guard our station, destitute
Of all things, drink, food, raiment, on bare ground
Couched side by side: sealed out of house and home
Sit we in a resourcelessness of help.
Our friends -- why, some are no true friends, I see!
The rest, that are true, want the means to aid.
So operates in man adversity:
Whereof may never anybody -- no,
Though half of him should really wish me well, --
Happen to taste! a friend-test faultless, that!
Megara. Old man, who erst did raze the Taphian town,
Illustriously, the army-leader, thou,
Of speared Kadmeians -- how gods play men false!
I, now, missed nowise fortune in my sire,
Who, for his wealth, was boasted mighty once,
Having supreme rule, -- for the love of which
Leap the long lances forth at favored breasts, --
And having children too: and me he gave
Thy son, his house with that of Herakles
Uniting by the far-famed marriage-bed.
And now these things are dead and flown away
While thou and I await our death, old man,
These Herakleian boys too, whom -- my chicks --
I save beneath my wings like brooding bird.
But one or other falls to questioning.
"O mother," cries he, "where in all the world
Is father gone to? What's he doing? when
Will he come back?" At fault through tender years,
They seek their sire. For me, I put them off,
Telling them stories; at each creak of doors,
All wonder "Does he come?" -- and all a-foot
Make for the fall before the parent knee.
Now then, what hope, what method of escape
Facilitatest thou? -- for, thee, old man,
I look to, -- since we may not leave by stealth
The limits of the land, and guards, more strong
Than we, are at the outlets: nor in friends
Remain to us the hopes of safety more.
Therefore, whatever thy decision be,
Impart it for the common good of all!
Lest now should prove the proper time to die,
Though, being weak, we spin it out and live.
Amph. Daughter, it scarce is easy, do one's best,
To blurt out counsel, things at such a pass.
Meg. You want some sorrow more, or so love life?
Amph. I both enjoy life, and love hopes beside.
Meg. And I; but hope against hope -- no, old man!
Amph. In these delayings of an ill lurks cure.
Meg. But bitter is the meantime, and it bites.
Amph. Oh, there may be a run before the wind
From out these present ills, for me and thee,
Daughter, and yet may come my son, thy spouse!
But hush! and from the children take away
Their founts aflow with tears, and talk them calm,
Steal them by stories -- sad theft, all the same!
For, human troubles -- they grow weary too;
Neither the wind-blasts always have their strength,
Nor happy men keep happy to the end:
Since all things change -- their natures part in twain;
And that man's bravest therefore, who hopes on,
Hopes ever: to despair is coward-like.
Choros. These domes that overroof,
This long-used couch, I come to, having made
A staff my prop, that song may put to proof
The swan-like power, age-whitened, -- poet's aid
Of sobbed-forth dirges - words that stand aloof
From action now: such am I -- just a shade
With night for all its face, a mere night-dream --
And words that tremble too: howe'er they seem,
Devoted words, I deem.

O of a father ye unfathered ones,
O thou old man, and thou whose groaning stuns --
Unhappy mother -- only us above,
Nor reaches him below in Haides' realm, thy love!
-- (Faint not too soon, urge forward foot and limb
Way-weary, nor lose courage -- as some horse
Yoked to the car whose weight recoils on him
Just at the rock-ridge that concludes his course!
Take by the hand, the peplos, any one
Whose foothold fails him, printless and fordone!
Aged, assist along me aged too,
Who, -- mate with thee in toils when life was new,
And shields and spears first made acquaintanceship, --
Stood by thyself and proved no bastard-slip
Of fatherland when loftiest glory grew.) --
See now, how like the sire's
Each eyeball fiercely fires!
What though ill - fortune have not left his race?
Neither is gone the grand paternal grace!
Hellas! O what -- what combatants, destroyed
In these, wilt thou one day seek -- seek, and find all void!

Pause! for I see the ruler of this land,
Lukos, now passing through the palace-gate.
Lukos. The Herakleian couple -- father, wife --
If needs I must, I question: "must" forsooth?
Being your master -- all I please, I ask.
To what time do you seek to spin out life?
What hope, what help see, so as not to die?
Is it you trust the sire of those, that's sunk
In Haides, will return? How past the pitch,
Suppose you have to die, you pile the woe --
Thou, casting, Hellas through, thy empty vaunts
As though Zeus helped thee to a god for son;
And thou, that thou wast styled our best man's wife!
Where was the awful in his work wound up,
If he did quell and quench the marshy snake
Or the Nemeian monster whom he snared
And -- says, by throttlings of his arm, he slew?
With these do you outwrestle me? Such feats
Shall save from death the sons of Herakles
Who got praise, being naught, for bravery
In wild-beast-battle, otherwise a blank?
No man to throw on left arm buckler's weight,
Not he, nor get in spear's reach! bow he bore --
True coward's-weapon: shoot first and then fly!
No bow-and-arrow proves a man is brave,
But who keeps rank, -- stands, one unwinking stare
As, ploughing up, the darts come, -- brave is he.
My action has no impudence, old man!
Providence, rather: for I own I slew
Kreon, this woman's sire, and have his seat.
Nowise I wish, then, to leave, these grown up,
Avengers on me, payment for my deeds.
Amph. As to the part of Zeus in his own child,
Let Zeus defend that! As to mine, 't is me
The care concerns to show by argument
The folly of this fellow, -- Herakles,
Whom I stand up for! since to hear thee styled --
Cowardly -- that is unendurable.
First then, the infamous (for I account
Amongst the words denied to human speech,
Timidity ascribed thee, Herakles!)
This I must put from thee, with gods in proof.
Zeus' thunder I appeal to, those four steeds
Whereof he also was the charioteer
When, having shut down the earth's Giant-growth --
(Never shaft flew but found and fitted flank) --
Triumph he sang in common with the gods.
The Kentaur-race, four-footed insolence --
Go ask at Pholoe, vilest thou of kings,
Whom they would pick out and pronounce best man,
If not my son, "the seeming-brave," say'st thou!
But Dirphus, thy Abantid mother-town,
Question her, and she would not praise, I think!
For there's no spot, where having done some good,
Thy country thou might'st call to witness worth.
Now, that allwise invention, archer's-gear,
Thou blamest: hear my teaching and grow sage!
A man in armor is his armor's slave,
And, mixed with rank and file that want to run,
He dies because his neighbors have lost heart.
Then, should he break his spear, no way remains
Of warding death off, -- gone that body-guard,
His one and only; while, whatever folk
Have the true bow-hand, -- here's the one main good, --
Though he have sent ten thousand shafts abroad,
Others remain wherewith the archer saves
His limbs and life, too, -- stands afar and wards
Away from flesh the foe that vainly stares
Hurt by the viewless arrow, while himself
Offers no full front to those opposite,
But keeps in thorough cover: there's the point
That's capital in combat -- damage foe,
Yet keep a safe skin -- foe not out of reach
As you are! Thus my words contrast with thine,
And such, in judging facts, our difference.
These children, now, why dost thou seek to slay?
What have they done thee? In a single point
I count thee wise -- if, being base thyself,
Thou dread'st the progeny of nobleness.
Yet this bears hard upon us, all the same,
If we must die -- because of fear in thee --
A death 't were fit thou suffer at our hands,
Thy betters, did Zeus rightly judge us all.
If therefore thou art bent on sceptre-sway,
Thyself, here -- suffer us to leave the land,
Fugitives! nothing do by violence,
Or violence thyself shalt undergo
When the gods' gale may chance to change for thee!
Alas, O land of Kadmos, -- for 't is thee
I mean to close with, dealing out the due
Revilement, -- in such sort dost thou defend
Herakles and his children? Herakles
Who, coming, one to all the world, against
The Minuai, fought them and left Thebes an eye
Unblinded henceforth to front freedom with!
Neither do I praise Hellas, nor shall brook
Ever to keep in silence that I count
Towards my son, craven of cravens -- her
Whom it behooved go bring the young ones here
Fire, spears, arms -- in exchange for seas made safe,
And cleansings of the land, his labor's price.
But fire, spears, arms, -- O children, neither Thebes
Nor Hellas has them for you! 'T is myself,
A feeble friend, ye look to; nothing now
But a tongue's murmur, for the strength is gone
We had once, and with age are limbs a-shake
And force a-flicker! Were I only young,
Still with the mastery o'er bone and thew,
Grasping first spear that came, the yellow locks
Of this insulter would I bloody so --
Should send him skipping o'er the Atlantic bounds
Out of my arm's reach through poltroonery!
Cho. Have not the really good folk starting-points
For speech to purpose, -- though rare talkers they?
Luk. Say thou against us words thou towerest with!
I, for thy words, will deal thee blows, their due.
Go, some to Helikon, to Parnasos
Some, and the clefts there! Bid the woodmen fell
Oak-trunks, and, when the same are brought inside
The city, pile the altar round with logs,
Then fire it, burn the bodies of them all,
That they may learn thereby, no dead man rules
The land here, but 't is I, by acts like these!
As for you, old sirs, who are set against
My judgments, you shall groan for -- not alone
The Herakleian children, but the fate
Of your own house beside, when faring ill
By any chance: and you shall recollect
Slaves are you of a tyranny that's mine!
Cho. O progeny of earth, -- whom Ares sowed
When he laid waste the dragon's greedy jaw --
Will ye not lift the staves, right-hand supports,
And bloody this man's irreligious head?
Who, being no Kadmeian, rules, -- the wretch, --
Out easy youth: an interloper too!
But not of me, at least, shalt thou enjoy
Thy lordship ever; nor my labor's fruit --
Hand worked so hard for -- have! A curse with thee,
Whence thou didst come, there go and tyrannize!
For never while I live shalt thou destroy
The Herakleian children: not so deep
Hides he below ground, leaving thee their lord!
But we bear both of you in mind, -- that thou,
The land's destroyer, dost possess the land,
While he who saved it, loses every right.
I play the busybody -- for I serve
My dead friends when they need friends' service most?
O right-hand, how thou yearnest to snatch spear
And serve indeed! in weakness dies the wish,
Or I had stayed thee calling me a slave,
And nobly drawn my breath at home in Thebes
Where thou exultest! -- city that's insane,
Sick through sedition and bad government,
Else never had she gained for master -- thee!
Meg. Old friends, I praise you: since a righteous wrath
For friend's sake well becomes a friend. But no!
On our account in anger with your lord,
Suffer no injury! Hear my advice,
Amphitruon, if I seem to speak aright.
Oh, yes, I love my children! how not love
What I brought forth, what toiled for? and to die --
Sad I esteem too; still, the fated way
Who stiffens him against, that man I count
Poor creature; us, who are of other mood,
Since we must die, behooves us meet our death
Not burnt to cinders, giving foes the laugh --
To me, worse ill than dying, that! we owe
Our houses many a brave deed, now to pay.
Thee, indeed, gloriously men estimate
For spear-work, so that unendurable
Were it that thou shouldst die a death of shame.
And for my glorious husband, where wants he
A witness that he would not save his boys
If touched in their good fame thereby? since birth
Bears ill with baseness done for children's sake,
My husband needs must be my pattern here.
See now thy hope -- how much I count thereon!
Thou thinkest that thy son will come to light:
And, of the dead, who came from Haides back?
But we with talk this man might mollify:
Never! Of all foes, fly the foolish one!
Wise, well-bred people, make concession to!
Sooner you meet respect by speaking soft.
Already it was in my mind -- perchance
We might beg off these children's banishment;
But even that is sad, involving them
In safety, ay -- and piteous poverty!
Since the host's visage for the flying friend
Has, only one day, the sweet look, 't is said.
Dare with us death, which waits thee, dared or no!
We call on thine ancestral worth, old man!
For who out-labors what the gods appoint
Shows energy, but energy gone mad.
Since what must -- none e'er makes what must not be!
Cho. Had any one, while yet my arms were strong,
Been scorning thee, he easily had ceased.
But we are naught, now; thine henceforth to see --
Amphitruon, how to push aside these fates!
Amph. Nor cowardice nor a desire of life
Stops me from dying: but I seek to save
My son his children. Vain! I set my heart,
It seems, upon impossibility.
See, it is ready for the sword, this throat
To pierce, divide, dash down from precipice!
But one grace grant us, king, we supplicate!
Slay me and this unhappy one before
The children, lest we see them -- impious sight! --
Gasping the soul forth, calling all the while
On mother and on father's father! Else,
Do as thy heart inclines thee! No resource
Have we from death, and we resign ourselves.
Meg. And I too supplicate: add grace to grace,
And, though but one man, doubly serve us both!
Let me bestow adornment of the dead
Upon these children! Throw the palace wide!
For now we are shut out. Thence these shall share
At least so much of wealth was once their sire's!
Luk. These things shall be. Withdraw the bolts, I bid
My servants! Enter and adorn yourselves!
I grudge no peploi; but when these ye wind
About your bodies, -- that adornment done, --
Then I shall come and give you to the grave.
Meg. O children, follow this unhappy foot,
Your mother's, into your ancestral home,
Where others have the power, are lords in truth,
Although the empty name is left us yet!
Amph. O Zeus, in vain I had thee marriage-mate,
In vain I called thee father of my child!
Thou wast less friendly far than thou didst seem.
I, the mere man, o'ermatch in virtue thee
The mighty god: for I have not betrayed
The Herakleian children, -- whereas thou
Hadst wit enough to come clandestinely
Into the chamber, take what no man gave,
Another's place; and when it comes to help
Thy loved ones, there thou lackest wit indeed!
Thou art some stupid god or born unjust.
Cho. Even a dirge, can Phoibos suit
In song to music jubilant
For all its sorrow: making shoot
His golden plectron o'er the lute,
Melodious ministrant.
And I, too, am of mind to raise,
Despite the imminence of doom,
A song of joy, outpour my praise
To him -- what is it rumor says? --
Whether -- now buried in the ghostly gloom
Below ground -- he was child of Zeus indeed,
Or mere Amphitruon's mortal seed --
To him I weave the wreath of song, his labor's meed.
For, is my hero perished in the feat?
The virtues of brave toils, in death complete,
These save the dead in song, -- their glory-garland meet!

First, then, he made the wood
Of Zeus a solitude,
Slaying its lion-tenant; and he spread
The tawniness behind -- his yellow head
Enmuffled by the brute's, backed by that grin of dread.
The mountain-roving savage Kentaur-race
He strewed with deadly bow about their place,
Slaying with winged shafts: Peneios knew,
Beauteously-eddying, and the long tracts too
Of pasture trampled fruitless, and as well
Those desolated haunts Mount Pelion under,
And, grassy up to Homole, each dell
Whence, having filled their hands with pine-tree plunder,
Horse-like was wont to prance from, and subdue
The land of Thessaly, that bestial crew.
The golden-headed spot-back'd stag he slew,
That robber of the rustics: glorified
Therewith the goddess who in hunter's pride
Slaughters the game along Oinoe's side.
And, yoked abreast, he brought the chariot-breed
To pace submissive to the bit, each steed
That in the bloody cribs of Diomede
Champed and, unbridled, hurried down that gore
For grain, exultant the dread feast before --
Of man's flesh: hideous feeders they of yore!
All as he crossed the Hebros' silver-flow
Accomplished he such labor, toiling so
For Mukenaian tyrant; ay, and more --
He crossed the Melian shore
And, by the sources of Amauros, shot
To death that strangers'-pest
Kuknos, who dwelt in Amphanaia: not
Of fame for good to guest!

And next, to the melodious maids he came,
Inside the Hesperian court-yard: hand must aim
At plucking gold fruit from the appled leaves,
Now he had killed the dragon, backed like flame,
Who guards the unapproachable he weaves
Himself all round, one spire about the same.
And into those sea-troughs of ocean dived
The hero, and for mortals calm contrived,
Whatever oars should follow in his wake.
And under heaven's mid-seat his hands thrust he,
At home with Atlas: and, for valor's sake,
Held the gods up their star-faced mansionry.
Also, the rider-host of Amazons
About Maiotis many-streamed, he went
To conquer through the billowy Euxin once,
Having collected what an armament
Of friends from Hellas, all on conquest bent
Of that gold-garnished cloak, dread girdle-chase!
So Hellas gained the girl's barbarian grace
And at Mukenai saves the trophy still --
Go wonder there, who will!

And the ten-thousand-headed hound
Of many a murder, the Lernaian snake
He burned out, head by head, and cast around
His darts a poison thence, -- darts soon to slake
Their rage in that three-bodied herdsman's gore
Of Erutheia. Many a running more
He made for triumph and felicity,
And, last of toils, to Haides, never dry
Of tears, he sailed: and there he, luckless, ends
His life completely, nor returns again.
The house and home are desolate of friends,
And where the children's life-path leads them, plain
I see, -- no step retraceable, no god
Availing, and no law to help the lost!
The oar of Charon marks their period,
Waits to end all. Thy hands, these roofs accost! --
To thee, though absent, look their uttermost!

But if in youth and strength I flourished still,
Still shook the spear in fight, did power match will
In these Kadmeian co-mates of my age,
They would, -- and I, -- when warfare was to wage,
Stand by these children; but I am bereft
Of youth now, lone of that good genius left!

But hist, desist! for here come these, --
Draped as the dead go, under and over, --
Children long since -- now hard to discover --
Of the once so potent Herakles!
And the loved wife dragging, in one tether
About her feet, the boys together;
And the hero's aged sire comes last!
Unhappy that I am! Of tears which rise, --
How am I all unable to hold fast,
Longer, the aged fountains of these eyes!
Meg. Be it so! Who is priest, who butcher here
Of these ill-fated ones, or stops the breath
Of me, the miserable? Ready, see,
The sacrifice -- to lead where Haides lives!
O children, we are led -- no lovely team
Of corpses -- age, youth, motherhood, all mixed!
O sad fate of myself and these my sons
Whom with these eyes I look at, this last time!
I, indeed, bore you: but for enemies
I brought you up to be a laughing-stock,
Matter for merriment, destruction-stuff!
Woe's me!
Strangely indeed my hopes have struck me down
From what I used to hope about you once --
The expectation from your father's talk!
For thee, now, thy dead sire dealt Argos to:
Thou wast to have Eurustheus' house one day,
And rule Pelasgia where the fine fruits grow;
And, for a stole of state, he wrapped about
Thy head with that the lion-monster bore,
That which himself went wearing armor-wise.
And thou wast King of Thebes -- such chariots there!
Those plains I had for portion -- all for thee,
As thou hadst coaxed them out of who gave birth
To thee, his boy: and into thy right hand
He thrust the guardian-club of Daidalos, --
Poor guardian proves the gift that plays thee false!
And upon thee he promised to bestow
Oichalia -- what, with those far-shooting shafts,
He ravaged once; and so, since three you were,
With threefold kingdoms did he build you up
To very towers, your father, -- proud enough,
Prognosticating, from your manliness
In boyhood, what the manhood's self would be.
For my part, I was picking out for you
Brides, suiting each with his alliance -- this
From Athens, this from Sparte, this from Thebes --
Whence, suited -- as stern-cables steady ship --
You might have hold on life gods bless. All gone!
Fortune turns round and gives us -- you, the Fates
Instead of brides -- me, tears for nuptial baths,
Unhappy in my hoping! And the sire
Of your sire -- he prepares the marriage-feast
Befitting Haides who plays father now --
Bitter relationship! Oh me! which first --
Which last of you shall I to bosom fold?
To whom shall I fit close, his mouth to mine?
Of whom shall I lay hold and ne'er let go?
How would I gather, like the brown-winged bee,
The groans from all, and, gathered into one,
Give them you back again, a crowded tear!
Dearest, if any voice be heard of men
Dungeoned in Haides, thee -- to thee I speak!
Here is thy father dying, and thy boys!
And I too perish, famed as fortunate
By mortals once, through thee! Assist them!
Come!
But come! though just a shade, appear to me!
For, coming, thy ghost-grandeur would suffice,
Such cowards are they in thy presence, these
Who kill thy children now thy back is turned!
Amph. Ay, daughter, bid the powers below assist!
But I will rather, raising hand to heaven,
Call thee to help, O Zeus, if thy intent
Be, to these children, helpful any way,
Since soon thou wilt be valueless enough!
And yet thou hast been called and called; in vain
I labor: for we needs must die, it seems.
Well, aged brothers -- life's a little thing!
Such as it is, then, pass life pleasantly
From day to night, nor once grieve all the while!
Since Time concerns him not about our hopes, --
To save them, -- but his own work done, flies off.
Witness myself, looked up to among men,
Doing noteworthy deeds: when here comes fate
Lifts me away, like feather skyward borne,
In one day! Riches then and glory, -- whom
These are found constant to, I know not.
Friends,
Farewell! the man who loved you all so much,
Now, this last time, my mates, ye look upon!
Meg. Ha!
O father, do I see my dearest? Speak!
Amph. No more than thou canst, daughter -- dumb like thee!
Meg. Is this he whom we heard was under ground?
Amph. Unless at least some dream in day we see!
Meg. What do I say? what dreams insanely view?
This is no other than thy son, old sire!
Here, children! hang to these paternal robes,
Quick, haste, hold hard on him, since here's your true
Zeus that can save -- and every whit as well!
Herakles. Oh, hail, my palace, my hearth's propula, --
How glad I see thee as I come to light!
Ha, what means this? My children I behold
Before the house in garments of the grave,
Chapleted, and, amid a crowd of men,
My very wife -- my father weeping too,
Whatever the misfortune! Come, best take
My station nearer these and learn it all!
Wife, what new sorrow has approached our home?
Meg. O dearest! light flashed on thy father now!
Art thou come? art thou saved and dost thou fall
On friends in their supreme extremity?
Her. How say'st thou? Father! what's the trouble here?
Meg. Undone are we! -- but thou, old man, forgive
If first I snatch what thou shouldst say to him!
For somehow womanhood wakes pity more.
Here are my children killed and I undone!
Her. Apollon, with what preludes speech be gins!
Meg. Dead are my brothers and old father too
Her. How say'st thou? -- doing what? -- by spear-stroke whence?
Meg. Lukos destroyed them -- the land's noble king!
Her. Met them in arms? or through the land's disease?
Meg. Sedition: and he sways seven-gated Thebes.
Her. Why then came fear on the old man and thee?
Meg. He meant to kill thy father, me, our boys.
Her. How say'st thou? Fearing what from orphanage?
Meg. Lest they should some day pay back Kreon's death.
Her. And why trick out the boys corpse-fashion thus?
Meg. These wraps of death we have already donned.
Her. And you had died through violence?
Woe's me!
Meg. Left bare of friends: and thou wast dead, we heard.
Her. And whence came on you this faint heartedness?
Meg. The heralds of Eurustheus brought the news.
Her. And why was it you left my house and hearth?
Meg. Forced thence: thy father -- from his very couch!
Her. And no shame at insulting the old man?
Meg. Shame, truly! no near neighbors he and Shame!
Her. And so much, in my absence, lacked I friends?
Meg. Friends, -- are there any to a luckless man?
Her. The Minuai-war I waged, -- they spat forth these?
Meg. Friendless -- again I tell thee -- is ill-luck.
Her. Will not you cast these hell-wraps from your hair
And look on light again, and with your eyes
Taste the sweet change from nether dark to day?
While I -- for now there needs my handiwork --
First I shall go, demolish the abodes
Of these new lordships; next hew off the head
Accurst and toss it for the dogs to trail.
Then, such of the Kadmeians as I find
Were craven though they owed me gratitude, --
Some I intend to handle with this club
Renowned for conquest; and with winged shafts
Scatter the others, fill Ismenos full
With bloody corpses, -- Dirke's flow so white
Shall be incarnadined. For, whom, I pray,
Behooves me rather help than wife and child
And aged father? Farewell, "Labors" mine!
Vainly I wrought them: my true work lay here!
My business is to die defending these, --
If for their father's sake they meant to die.
Or how shall we call brave the battling it
With snake and lion, as Eurustheus bade,
If yet I must not labor death away
From my own children? "Conquerig Herakles"
Folk will not call me as they used, I think!
The right thing is for parents to assist
Children, old age, the partner of the couch.
Amph. True, son! thy duty is -- be friend to friends
And foe to foes: yet -- no more haste than needs!
Her. Why, father, what is over-hasty here?
Amph. Many a pauper -- seeming to be rich,
As the word goes -- the king calls partisan.
Such made a riot, ruined Thebes to rob
Their neighbor: for, what good they had at home
Was spent and gone, -- flew off through idleness.
You came to trouble Thebes, they saw: since seen,
Beware lest, raising foes, a multitude,
You stumble where you apprehend no harm.
Her. If all Thebes saw me, not a whit care I.
But seeing as I did a certain bird
Not in the lucky seats, I knew some woe
Was fallen upon the house: so, purposely,
By stealth I made my way into the land.
Amph. And now, advancing, hail the hearth with praise
And give the ancestral home thine eye to see!
For he himself will come, thy wife and sons
The drag-forth -- slaughter -- slay me too, -- this king!
But, here remaining, all succeeds with thee --
Gain lost by no false step. So, this thy town
Disturb not, son, ere thou right matters here!
Her. Thus will I do, for thou say'st well; my home
Let me first enter! Since at the due time
Returning from the unsunned depths where dwells
Haides' wife Kore, let me not affront
Those gods beneath my roof, I first should hail!
Amph. For didst thou really visit Haides, son?
Her. Ay -- dragged to light, too, his three-headed beast.
Amph. By fight didst conquer -- or through Kore's gift?
Her. Fight: well for me, I saw the Orgies first!
Amph. And is he in Eurustheus' house, the brute?
Her. Chthonia's grove, Hermion's city, holds him now.
Amph. Does not Eurustheus know thee back on earth?
Her. No: I would come first and see matters here.
Amph. But how wast thou below ground such a time?
Her. I stopped, from Haides, bringing Theseus up.
Amph. And where is he? -- bound o'er the plain for home?
Her. Gone glad to Athens -- Haides' fugitive!
But, up, boys! follow father into house!
There's a far better going-in for you
Truly, than going-out was! Nay, take heart,
And let the eyes no longer run and run!
And thou, O wife, my own, collect thy soul
Nor tremble now! Leave grasping, all of you
My garments! I'm not winged, nor fly from friends!
Ah, --
No letting go for these, who all the more
Hang to my garments! Did you foot indeed
The razor's edge? Why, then I'll carry them --
Take with my hands these small craft up, and tow
Just as a ship would. There! don't fear I shirk
My children's service! this way, men are men,
No difference! best and worst, they love their boys
After one fashion: wealth they differ in --
Some have it, others not; but each and all
Combine to form the children-loving race.
Cho. Youth is a pleasant burden to me;
But age on my head, more heavily
Than the crags of Aitna, weighs and weighs,
And darkening cloaks the lids and intercepts the rays.
Never be mine the preference
Of an Asian empire's wealth, nor yet
Of a house all gold, to youth, to youth
That's beauty, whatever the gods dispense!
Whether in wealth we joy, or fret
Paupers, -- of all God's gifts most beautiful, in truth!

But miserable murderous age I hate!
Let it go to wreck, the waves adown,
Nor ever by rights plague tower or town
Where mortals bide, but still elate
With wings, on ether, precipitate,
Wander them round -- nor wait!

But if the gods, to man's degree,
Had wit and wisdom, they would bring
Mankind a twofold youth, to be
Their virtue's sign-mark, all should see,
In those with whom life's winter thus grew spring.
For when they died, into the sun once more
Would they have traversed twice life's racecourse o'er;
While ignobility had simply run
Existence through, nor second life begun,
And so might we discern both bad and good
As surely as the starry multitude
Is numbered by the sailors, one and one.
But now the gods by no apparent line
Limit the worthy and the base define;
Only, a certain period rounds, and so
Brings man more wealth, -- but youthful vigor, no!

Well! I am not to pause
Mingling together -- wine and wine in cup --
The Graces with the Muses up --
Most dulcet marriage: loosed from music's laws,
No life for me!
But where the wreaths abound, there ever may I be!
And still, an aged bard, I shout Mnemosune --
Still chant of Herakles the triumph-chant,
Companioned by the seven-stringed tortoiseshell
And Libuan flute, and Bromios' self as well,
God of the grape, with man participant!
Not yet will we arrest their glad advance --
The Muses who so long have led me forth to dance!
A paian -- hymn the Delian girls indeed,
Weaving a beauteous measure in and out
His temple-gates, Latona's goodly seed;
And paians -- I too, these thy domes about,
From these gray cheeks, my king, will swanlike shout --
Old songster! Ay, in song it starts off brave --
"Zeus' son is he!" and yet, such grace of birth
Surpassing far, to man his labors gave
Existence, one calm flow without a wave,
Having destroyed the beasts, the terrors of the earth,
Luk. From out the house Amphitruon comes -- in time!
For 't is a long while now since ye bedecked
Your bodies with the dead-folks' finery.
But quick! the boys and wife of Herakles --
Bid them appear outside this house, keep pact
To die, and need no bidding but your own!
Amph. King! you press hard on me sorepressed enough,
And give me scorn -- beside my dead ones here.
Meet in such matters were it, though you reign,
To temper zeal with moderation. Since
You do impose on us the need to die --
Needs must we love our lot, obey your will.
Luk. Where's Megara, then? Alkmene's grandsons, where?
Amph. She, I think, -- as one figures from outside, --
Luk. Well, this same thinking, -- what affords its ground?
Amph. -- Sits suppliant on the holy altar-steps, --
Luk. Idly indeed a suppliant to save life!
Amph. -- And calls on her dead husband, vainly too!
Luk. For he's not come, nor ever will arrive.
Amph. Never -- at least, if no god raise him up.
Luk. Go to her, and conduct her from the house!
Amph. I should partake the murder, doing that.
Luk. We, -- since thou hast a scruple in the case, --
Outside of fears, we shall march forth these lads,
Mother and all. Here, follow me, my folk --
And gladly so remove what stops our toils!
Amph. Thou -- go then! March where needs must! What remains --
Perhaps concerns another. Doing ill,
Expect some ill be done thee!
Ha, old friends!
On he strides beautifully! in the toils
O' the net, where swords spring forth, will he be fast --
Minded to kill his neighbors -- the arch-knave!
I go, too -- I must see the falling corpse!
For he has sweets to give -- a dying man,
Your foe, that pays the price of deeds he did.
Cho. Troubles are over! He the great king once,
Turns the point, tends for Haides, goal of life!
O justice, and the gods' back-flowing fate!
Amph. Thou art come, late indeed, where death pays crime --
These insults heaped on better than thyself!
Cho. Joy gives this outburst to my tears!
Again
Come round those deeds, his doing, which of old
He never dreamed himself was to endure --
King of the country! But enough, old man!
Indoors, now, let us see how matters stand --
If somebody be faring as I wish!
Luk. Ah me -- me!
Cho. This strikes the keynote -- music to my mind.
Merry i' the household! Death takes up the tune!
The king gives voice, groans murder's prelude well!
Luk. O all the land of Kadmos! slain by guile!
Cho. Ay, for who slew first? Paying back thy due,
Resign thee! make, for deeds done, mere amends!
Who was it grazed the gods through lawlessness --
Mortal himself, threw up his fools'-conceit
Against the blessed heavenly ones -- as though
Gods had no power? Old friends, the impious man
Exists not any more! The house is mute.
Turn we to song and dance! For, those I love,
Those I wish well to, well fare they, to wish!

Dances, dances and banqueting
To Thebes, the sacred city through,
Are a care! for, change and change
Of tears to laughter, old to new,
Our lays, glad birth, they bring, they bring!
He is gone and past, the mighty king!
And the old one reigns, returned -- Oh, strange!
From the Acherontian harbor too!
Advent of hope, beyond thought's widest range!
To the gods, the gods, are crimes a care,
And they watch our virtue, well aware
That gold and that prosperity drive man
Out of his mind -- those charioteers who hale
Might-without-right behind them: face who can
Fortune's reverse which time prepares, nor quail?
-- He who evades law and in lawlessness
Delights him, -- he has broken down his trust --
The chariot, riches haled -- now blackening in the dust!

Ismenos, go thou garlanded!
Break into dance, ye ways, the polished bed
O' the seven-gated city! Dirke, thou
Fair-flowing, with the Asopiad sisters all,
Leave your sire's stream, attend the festival
Of Herakles, one choir of nymphs, sing triumph now!
O woody rock of Puthios and each home
O the Helikonian Muses, ye shall come
With joyous shouting to my walls, my town
Where saw the light that Spartan race, those "Sown,"
Brazen-shield-bearing chiefs, whereof the band
With children's children renovates our land,
To Thebes a sacred light!
O combination of the marriage rite --
Bed of the mortal-born and Zeus, who couched
Beside the nymph of Perseus' progeny!
For credible, past hope, becomes to me
That nuptial story long ago avouched,
O Zeus! and time has turned the dark to bright,
And made one blaze of truth the Herakleidan might --
His, who emerged from earth's pavilion, left
Plouton's abode, the nether palace-cleft.
Thou wast the lord that nature gave me -- not
That baseness born and bred -- my king, by lot!
-- Baseness made plain to all, who now regard
The match of sword with sword in fight, --
If to the gods the Just and Right
Still pleasing be, still claim the palm's award.

Horror!
Are we come to the selfsame passion of fear,
Old friends? -- such a phantasm fronts me here
Visible over the palace-roof!
In flight, in flight, the laggard limb
Bestir! and haste aloof
From that on the roof there -- grand and grim!
O Paian, king!
Be thou my safeguard from the woeful thing!
Iris. Courage, old men! beholding here -- Night's birth --
Madness, and me the handmaid of the gods,
Iris: since to your town we come, no plague --
Wage war against the house of but one man
From Zeus and from Alkmene sprung, they say.
Now, till he made an end of bitter toils,
Fate kept him safe, nor did his father Zeus
Let us once hurt him, Here nor myself.
But, since he has toiled through Eurustheus task,
Here desires to fix fresh blood on him --
Slaying his children: I desire it too.

Up then, collecting the unsoftened heart,
Unwedded virgin of black Night! Drive, drag
Frenzy upon the man here -- whirls of brain
Big with child-murder, while his feet leap gay!
Let go the bloody cable its whole length!
So that, -- when o'er the Acherousian ford
He has sent floating, by self-homicide,
His beautiful boy-garland, -- he may know
First, Here's anger, what it is to him,
And then learn mine. The gods are vile indeed
And mortal matters vast, if he 'scape free!
Madness. Certes, from well-born sire and mother too
Had I my birth, whose blood is Night's and Heaven's;
But here's my glory, -- not to grudge the good!
Nor love I raids against the friends of man.
I wish, then, to persuade, -- before I see
You stumbling, you and Here! trust my words!
This man, the house of whom ye hound me to,
Is not unfamed on earth nor gods among;
Since, having quelled waste land and savage sea,
He alone raised again the falling rights
Of gods -- gone ruinous through impious men.
Desire no mighty mischief, I advise!
Iris. Give thou no thought to Here's faulty schemes!
Mad. Changing her step from faulty to fault-free!
Iris. Not to be wise, did Zeus' wife send thee here!
Mad. Sun, thee I cite to witness -- doing what I loathe to do!
But since indeed to Here and thyself I must subserve.
And follow you quick, with a whiz, as the hounds a-hunt
with the huntsman,
-- Go I will! and neither the sea, as it groans with its
waves so furiously,
Nor earthquake, no, nor the bolt of thunder gasping out
heaven's labor-throe,
Shall cover the ground as I, at a bound, rush into the
bosom of Herakles!
And home I scatter, and house I batter,
Having first of all made the children fall, --
And he who felled them is never to know
He gave birth to each child that received the blow,
Till the Madness, I am, have let him go!

Ha, behold, already he rocks his head -- he is off from the
starting-place!
Not a word, as he rolls his frightful orbs, from their
sockets wrenched in the ghastly race!
And the breathings of him he tempers and times no more than
a bull in act to toss,
And hideously he bellows invoking the Keres, daughters of Tartaros.
Ay, and I soon will dance thee madder, and pipe thee quite
out of thy mind with fear!
So, up with the famous foot, thou Iris, march to Olumpos,
leave me here!
Me and mine, who now combine, in the dreadful shape no mortal sees,
And now are about to pass, from without, inside of the home
of Herakles!
Cho. Otototoi, -- groan! Away is mown
Thy flower, Zeus' offspring, City!
Unhappy Hellas, who dost cast (the pity!)
Who worked thee all the good,
Away from thee, -- destroyest in a mood
Of madness him, to death whom pipings dance!
There goes she, in her chariot -- groans, her brood --
And gives her team the goad, as though adrift
For doom, Night's Gorgon, Madness, she whose glance
Turns man to marble! with what hissings lift
Their hundred heads the snakes, her head's inheritance!
Quick has the god changed fortune: through their sire
Quick will the children, that he saved, expire!
O miserable me! O Zeus! thy child --
Childless himself -- soon vengeance, hunger-wild,
Craving for punishment, will lay how low --
Loaded with many a woe!

O palace-roofs! your courts about,
A measure begins all unrejoiced
By the tympanies and the thyrsos hoist
Of the Bromian revel-rout!
O ye domes! and the measure proceeds
For blood, not such as the cluster bleeds
Of the Dionusian pouring-out!

Break forth, fly, children! fatal this --
Fatal the lay that is piped, I wis!
Ay, for he hunts a children-chase --
Never shall Madness lead her revel
And leave no trace in the dwelling-place!
Ai ai, because of the evil!
Ai ai, the old man -- how I groan
For the father, and not the father alone!
She who was nurse of his children, -- small
Her gain that they ever were born at all!

See! See!
A whirlwind shakes hither and thither
The house -- the roof falls in together!
Ha, ha! what dost thou, son of Zeus?
A trouble of Tartaros broke loose,
Such as once Pallas on the Titan thundered,
Thou sendest on thy domes, roof-shattered and wall-sundered!
Messenger. O bodies white with age! --
Cho. What cry, to me --
What, dost thou call with?
Mes. There's a curse indoors!
Cho. I shall not bring a prophet: you suffice!
Mes. Dead are the children!
Cho. Ai ai!
Mes. Groan! for, groans
Suit well the subject! Dire the children's death,
Dire too the parent's hands that dealt the fate.
No one could tell worse woe than we have borne!
Cho. How dost thou that same curse -- curse, cause for groan
The father's on the children, make appear?
Tell in what matter they were hurled from heaven
Against the house -- these evils; and recount
The children's hapless fate, O Messenger!
Mes. The victims were before the hearth of Zeus
A household-expiation: since the king
O' the country, Herakles had killed and cast
From out the dwelling; and a beauteous choir
Of boys stood by his sire, too, and his wife.
And now the basket had been carried round
The altar in a circle, and we used
The consecrated speech. Alkmene's son --
Just as he was about, in his right hand,
To bear the torch, that he might dip into
The cleansing-water -- came to a stand-still;
And, as their father yet delayed, his boys
Had their eyes on him. But he was himself
No longer: lost in rollings of the eyes;
Out-thrusting eyes -- their very roots -- like blood!
Froth he dropped down his bushy-bearded cheek,
And said -- together with a madman's laugh --
"Father! why sacrifice, before I slay
Eurustheus? why have twice the lustral fire,
And double pains, when 't is permitted me
To end, with one good hand-sweep, matters here?
Then, -- when I hither bring Eurustheus' head, --
Then for these just slain, wash hands once for all!
Now, -- cast drink-offerings forth, throw baskets down!
Who gives me bow and arrows, who my club
I go to that Mukenai! One must match
Crowbars and mattocks, so that -- those sunk stones
The Kuklops squared with picks and plumb-line red --
I, with my bent steel, may o'ertumble town!"
Which said, he goes and -- with no car to have --
Affirms he has one! mounts the chariot-board,
And strikes, as having really goad in hand!
And two ways laughed the servants -- laugh with awe;
And one said, as each met the other's stare,
"Playing us boys' tricks? or is master mad?"
But up he climbs, and down along the roof,
And, dropping into the men's place, maintains
He's come to Nisos city, when he's come
Only inside his own house! then reclines
On floor, for couch, and, as arrived indeed,
Makes himself supper; goes through some brief stay,
Then says he's traversing the forest-flats
Of Isthmos; thereupon lays body bare
Of bucklings, and begins a contest with
-- No one! and is proclaimed the conqueror --
He by himself -- having called out to hear
-- Nobody! Then, if you will take his word,
Blaring against Eurustheus horribly,
He's at Mukenai. But his father laid
Hold of the strong hand and addressed him thus:
"O son, what ails thee? Of what sort is this
Extravagance? Has not some murder-craze,
Bred of those corpses thou didst just dispatch,
Danced thee drunk?" But he, -- taking him to crouch,
Eurustheus' sire, that apprehensive touched
His hand, a suppliant, -- pushes him aside,
Gets ready quiver, and bends low against
His children -- thinking them Eurustheus' boys
He means to slay. They, horrified with fear,
Rushed here and there, -- this child, into the robes
O' the wretched mother, -- this, beneath the shade
O' the column, -- and this other, like a bird,
Cowered at the altar-foot. The mother shrieks,
"Parent -- what dost thou? -- kill thy children?" So
Shriek the old sire and crowd of servitors.
But he, outwinding him, as round about
The column ran the boy, -- a horrid whirl
O' the lathe his foot described! -- stands opposite,
Strikes through the liver! and supine the boy
Bedews the stone shafts, breathing out his life.
But "Victory" he shouted! boasted thus:
"Well, this one nestling of Eurustheus -- dead --
Falls by me, pays back the paternal hate!"
Then bends bow on another who was crouched
At base of altar -- overlooked, he thought --
And now prevents him, falls at father's knee,
Throwing up hand to beard and cheek above.
"O dearest!" cries he, "father, kill me not!
Yours, I am -- your boy: not Eurustheus' boy
You kill now!" But he, rolling the wild eye
Of Gorgon, -- as the boy stood all too close
For deadly bowshot, -- mimicry of smith
Who batters red-hot iron, -- hand o'er head
Heaving his club, on the boy's yellow hair
Hurls it and breaks the bone. This second caught, --
He goes, would slay the third, one sacrifice
He and the couple; but, beforehand here,
The miserable mother catches up,
Carries him inside house and bars the gate.
Then he, as he were at those Kuklops' work,
Digs at, heaves doors up, wrenches doorposts out,
Lays wife and child low with the selfsame shaft.
And this done, at the old man's death he drives;
But there came, as it seemed to us who saw,
A statue -- Pallas with the crested head,
Swinging her spear -- and threw a stone which smote
Herakles' breast and stayed his slaughter-rage,
And sent him safe to sleep. He falls to ground --
Striking against the column with his back --
Column which, with the falling of the roof,
Broken in two, lay by the altar-base.
And we, foot-free now from our several flights,
Along with the old man, we fastened bonds
Of rope-noose to the column, so that he,
Ceasing from sleep, might not go adding deeds
To deeds done. And he sleeps a sleep, poor wretch,
No gift of any god! since he has slain
Children and wife. For me, I do not know
What mortal has more misery to bear.
Cho. A murder there was which Argolis
Holds in remembrance, Hellas through,
As, at that time, best and famousest:
Of those, the daughters of Danaos slew.
A murder indeed was that! but this
Outstrips it, straight to the goal has pressed.
I am able to speak of a murder done
To the hapless Zeus-born offspring, too --
Prokne's son, who had but one --
Or a sacrifice to the Muses, say
Rather, who Itus sing alway,
Her single child! But thou, the sire
Of children three -- O thou consuming fire! --
In one outrageous fate hast made them all expire!
And this outrageous fate --
What groan, or wail, or deadmen's dirge,
Or choric dance of Haides shall I urge
The Muse to celebrate?

Woe! woe! behold!
The portalled palace lies unrolled,
This way and that way, each prodigious fold!
Alas for me! these children, see,
Stretched, hapless group, before their father -- he
The all-unhappy, who lies sleeping out
The murder of his sons, a dreadful sleep!
And bonds, see, all about, --
Rope-tangle, ties and tether, -- these
Tightenings around the body of Herakles
To the stone columns of the house made fast!

But -- like a bird that grieves
For callow nestlings some rude hand bereaves --
See, here, a bitter journey overpast,
The old man -- all too late -- is here at last!
Amph. Silently, silently, aged Kadmeians!
Will ye not suffer my son, diffused
Yonder, to slide from his sorrows in sleep?
Cho. And thee, old man, do I, groaning, weep,
And the children too, and the head there -- used
Of old to the wreaths and paians!
Amph. Farther away! Nor beat the breast,
Nor wail aloud, nor rouse from rest
The slumberer -- asleep, so best!
Cho. Ah me -- what a slaughter!
Amph. Refrain -- refrain!
Ye will prove my perdition!
Cho. Unlike water,
Bloodshed rises from earth again!
Amph. Do I bid you bate your breath, in vain --
Ye elders? Lament in a softer strain!
Lest he rouse himself, burst every chain,
And bury the city in ravage -- bray
Father and house to dust away!
Cho. I cannot forbear -- I cannot forbear!
Amph. Hush! I will learn his breathings:
there!
I will lay my ears close.
Cho. What, he sleeps?
Amph. Ay, -- sleeps! A horror of slumber keeps
The man who has piled
On wife and child
Death and death, as he shot them down
With clang o' the bow.
Cho. Wail --
Amph. Even so!
Cho. -- The fate of the children --
Amph. Triple woe!
Cho. -- Old man, the fate of thy son!
Amph. Hush, hush! Have done!
He is turning about!
He is breaking out!
Away! I steal
And my body conceal,
Before he arouse,
In the depths of the house!
Cho. Courage! The Night
Maintains her right
On the lids of thy son there, sealed from sight!
Amph. See, see! To leave the light
And, wretch that I am, bear one last ill,
I do not avoid; but if he kill
Me, his own father, and devise
Beyond the present miseries
A misery more ghastly still --
And to haunt him, over and above
Those here who, as they used to love,
Now hate him, what if he have with these
My murder, the worst of Erinues?
Cho. Then was the time to die, for thee,
When ready to wreak in the full degree
Vengeance on those
Thy consort's foes
Who murdered her brothers! glad, life's close,
With the Taphioi down,
And sacked their town
Clustered about with a wash of sea!
Amph. To flight -- to flight!
Away from the house, troop off, old men!
Save yourselves out of the maniac's sight!
He is rousing himself right up: and then,
Murder on murder heaping anew,
He will revel in blood your city through!
Cho. O Zeus, why hast, with such unmeas ured hate,
Hated thy son, whelmed in this sea of woes?
Her. Ha, --
In breath indeed I am -- see things I ought --
AEther, and earth, and these the sunbeam-shafts!
But then -- some billow and strange whirl of sense
I have fallen into! and breathings hot I breathe --
Smoked upwards, not the steady work from lungs.
See now! Why, bound -- at moorings like a ship, --
About my young breast and young arm, to this
Stone piece of carved work broke in half, do I
Sit, have my rest in corpses' neighborhood?
Strewn on the ground are winged darts, and bow
Which played my brother-shieldman, held in hand, --
Guarded my side, and got my guardianship!
I cannot have gone back to Haides -- twice
Begun Eurustheus' race I ended thence?
But I nor see the Sisupheian stone,
Nor Plouton, nor Demeter's sceptred maid!
I am struck witless sure! Where can I be?
Ho there! what friend of mine is near or far --
Some one to cure me of bewilderment?
For naught familiar do I recognize.
Amph. Old friends, shall I go close to these my woes?
Cho. Ay, and let me too, -- nor desert your ills!
Her. Father, why weepest thou, and buriest up
Thine eyes, aloof so from thy much-loved son?
Amph. O child! -- for, faring badly, mine thou art!
Her. Do I fare somehow ill, that tears should flow?
Amph. Ill, -- would cause any god who bore to groan!
Her. That's boasting, truly! still, you state no hap.
Amph. For, thyself seest -- if in thy wits again.
Her. Heyday! How riddlingly that hint returns!
Amph. Well, I am trying -- art thou sane and sound!
Her. Say if thou lay'st aught strange to my life's charge!
Amph. If thou no more art Haides-drunk, -- I tell!
Her. I bring to mind no drunkenness of soul.
Amph. Shall I unbind my son, old men, or what?
Her. And who was binder, tell! -- not that, my deed!
Amph. Mind that much of misfortune -- pass the rest!
Her. Enough! from silence, I nor learn nor wish.
Amph. O Zeus, dost witness here throned Here's work?
Her. But have I had to bear aught hostile thence?
Amph. Let be the goddess -- bury thine own guilt!
Her. Undone! What is the sorrow thou wilt say?
Amph. Look! See the ruins of thy children here!
Her. Ah me! What sight do wretched I behold?
Amph. Unfair fight, son, this fight thou fastenedst
On thine own children!
Her. What fight? Who slew these?
Amph. Thou and thy bow, and who of gods was cause.
Her. How say'st? What did I? Ill-announcing sire!
Amph. -- Go mad! Thou askest a sad clearing up!
Her. And am I also murderer of my wife?
Amph. All the work here was just one hand's work -- thine!
Her. Ai ai -- for groans encompass me -- a cloud!
Amph. For these deeds' sake do I begroan thy fate!
Her. Did I break up my house or dance it down?
Amph. I know just one thing -- all's a woe with thee!
Her. But where did the craze catch me, where destroy?
Amph. When thou didst cleanse hands at the altar-flame.
Her. Ah me! why is it then I save my life --
Proved murderer of my dearest ones, my boys?
Shall not I rush to the rock-level's leap,
Or, darting sword through breast and all, become
My children's blood-avenger? or, this flesh
Burning away with fire, so thrust away
The infamy, which waits me there, from life?
Ah, but, -- a hindrance to my purposed death,
Theseus arrives, my friend and kinsman, here!
Eyes will be on me! my child-murder-plague
In evidence before friends loved so much!
O me, what shall I do? Where, taking wing
Or gliding underground, shall I seek out
A solitariness from misery?
I will pull night upon my muffled head!
Let this wretch here content him with his curse
Of blood: I would pollute no innocents!
Theseus. I come, -- with others who await beside
Asopos' stream, the armed Athenian youth, --
Bring thy son, old man, spear's fight-fellowship!
For a bruit reached the Erechtheidai's town
That, having seized the sceptre of this realm,
Lukos prepares you battle-violence.
So, paying good back, -- Herakles began,
Saving me down there, -- I have come, old man,
If aught, of my hand or my friends', you want.
What's here? Why all these corpses on the ground?
Am I perhaps behindhand -- come too late
For newer ill? Who killed these children now?
Whose wife was she, this woman I behold?
Boys, at least, take no stand in reach of spear!
Some other woe than war, I chance upon!
Amph. O thou, who sway'st the olive-bearing height! --
Thes. Why hail'st thou me with woeful prelude thus?
Amph. Dire sufferings have we suffered from the gods.
Thes. These boys, -- who are they, thou art weeping o'er?
Amph. He gave them birth, indeed, my hapless son!
Begot, but killed them -- dared their bloody death.
Thes. Speak no such horror!
Amph. Would I might obey!
Thes. O teller of dread tidings!
Amph. Lost are we --
Lost -- flown away from life!
Thes. What sayest thou?
What did he?
Amph. Erring through a frenzy-fit,
He did all, with the arrows dipt in dye
Of hundred-headed Hudra.
Thes. Here's strife!
But who is this among the dead, old man?
Amph. Mine, mine, this progeny -- the labor-plagued,
Who went with gods once to Phlegruia's plain,
And in the giant-slaying war bore shield!
Thes. Woe -- woe! What man was born mischanceful thus!
Amph. Thou couldst not know another mortal man
Toil-weary, more outworn by wanderings.
Thes. And why i' the peploi hides he his sad head?
Amph. Not daring meet thine eye, thy friend-liness
And kinship, -- nor that children's - blood about!
Thes. But I come to who shared my woe with me!
Uncover him!
Amph. O child, put from thine eyes
The peplos, throw it off, show face to sun!
Woe's weight well matched contends with tears in thee.
I supplicate thee, falling at thy cheek
And knee and hand, and shedding this old tear!
O son, remit the savage lion's mood,
Since to a bloody, an unholy race
Art thou led forth, if thou be resolute
To go on adding ill to ill, my child!
Thes. Let me speak! Thee, who sittest -- seated woe --
I call upon to show thy friends thine eye!
For there's no darkness has a cloud so black
May hide thy misery thus absolute.
Why, waving hand, dost sign me -- murder's done?
Lest a pollution strike me, from thy speech?
Naught care I to -- with thee, at least -- fare ill:
For I had joy once! Then, -- soul rises to, --
When thou didst save me from the dead to light!
Friends' gratitude that tastes old age, I loathe,
And him who likes to share when things look fine,
But, sail along with friends in trouble -- no!
Arise, uncover thine unhappy head!
Look on us! Every man of the right race
Bears what, at least, the gods inflict, nor shrinks.
Her. Theseus, hast seen this match -- my boys with me?
Thes. I heard of, now I see the ills thou sign'st.
Her. Why then hast thou displayed my head to sun?
Thes. Why? mortals bring no plague on aught divine!
Her. Fly, O unhappy, this my impious plague!
Thes. No plague of vengeance flits to friends from friends.
Her. I praise thee! But I helped thee, -- that is truth.
Thes. And I, advantaged then, now pity thee.
Her. -- The pitiable, -- my children's murderer!
Thes. I mourn for thy sake, in this altered lot.
Her. Hast thou found others in still greater woe?
Thes. Thou, from earth, touchest heaven, one huge distress!
Her. Accordingly, I am prepared to die.
Thes. Think'st thou thy threats at all import the gods?
Her. Gods please themselves: to gods I give their like.
Thes. Shut thy mouth, lest big words bring bigger woe!
Her. I am full fraught with ills -- no stowing more!
Thes. Thou wilt do -- what, then? Whither moody borne?
Her. Dying, I go below earth whence I came.
Thes. Thou hast used words of -- what man turns up first!
Her. While thou, being outside sorrow, schoolest me.
Thes. The much-enduring Herakles talks thus? --
Her. Not the so much-enduring: measure's past!
Thes. -- Mainstay to mortals, and their mighty friend?
Her. They nowise profit me: but Here rules.
Thes. Hellas forbids thou shouldst ineptly die.
Her. But hear, then, how I strive by arguments
Against thy teachings! I will ope thee out
My life -- past, present -- as unlivable.
First, I was born of this man, who had slain
His mother's aged sire, and sullied so,
Married Alkmene, she who gave me birth.
Now, when the basis of a family
Is not laid right, what follows needs must fall;
And Zeus, whoever Zeus is, formed me foe
To Here (take not thou offence, old man!
Since father, in Zeus' stead, account I thee)
And, while I was at suck yet, frightful snakes
She introduced among my swaddling-clothes, --
That bedfellow of Zeus! -- to end me so.
But when I gained the youthful garb of flesh,
The labors I endured -- what need to tell?
What lions ever, or three-bodied brutes,
Tuphons or giants, or the four-legg'd swarms
Of Kentaur-battle, did not I end out?
And that hound, headed all about with heads
Which cropped up twice, the Hudra, having slain --
I both went through a myriad other toils
In full drove, and arrived among the dead
To convoy, as Eurustheus bade, to light
Haides' three-headed dog and doorkeeper.
But then I, -- wretch, -- dared this last labor -- see!
Slew my sons, keystone-coped my house with ills.
To such a strait I come! nor my dear Thebes
Dare I inhabit, -- and, suppose I stay?
Into what fane or festival of friends
Am I to go? My curse scarce courts accost!
Shall I seek Argos? How, if fled from home?
But say, -- I hurry to some other town!
And there they eye me, as notorious now, --
Kept by sharp tongue-taunts under lock and key --
"Is not this he, Zeus' son, who murdered once
Children and wife? Let him go rot elsewhere!"
To any man renowned as happy once,
Reverses are a grave thing; but to whom
Evil is old acquaintance, there's no hurt
To speak of, he and misery are twins.
To this degree of woe I think to come:
For earth will utter voice forbidding me
To touch the ground, and sea -- to pierce the wave,
The river-springs -- to drink, and I shall play
Ixion's part quite out, the chained and wheeled!
And best of all will be, if so I 'scape
Sight from one man of those Hellenes, -- once
I lived among, felicitous and rich!
Why ought I then to live? What gain accrues
From good-for-nothing, wicked life I lead?
In fine, let Zeus' brave consort dance and sing,
Stamp foot, the Olumpian Zeus' own sandal-trick!
What she has willed, that brings her will to pass --
The foremost man of Hellas pedestalled,
Up, over, and down whirling! Who would pray
To such a goddess? -- that, begrudging Zeus
Because he loved a woman, ruins me --
Lover of Hellas, faultless of the wrong!
Thes. This strife is from no other of the gods
Than Zeus' wife; rightly apprehend, as well,
Why, to no death -- thou meditatest now --
I would persuade thee, but to bear thy woes!
None, none of mortals boasts a fate unmixed,
Nor gods -- if poets' teaching be not false.
Have not they joined in wedlock against law
With one another? not, for sake of rule,
Branded their sires in bondage? Yet they house,
All the same, in Olumpos, carry heads
High there, notorious sinners though they be!
What wilt thou say, then, if thou,mortal-born,
Bearest outrageously fate gods endure?
Leave Thebes, now, pay obedience to the law,
And follow me to Pallas' citadel!
There, when thy hands are purified from stain,
House will I give thee, and goods shared alike.
What gifts I hold too from the citizens
For saving twice seven children, when I slew
The Knosian bull, these also give I thee.
And everywhere about the land are plots
Apportioned me: these, named by thine own name,
Shall be henceforward styled by all men -- thine,
Thy life-long; but at death, when Haides-bound,
All Athens shall uphold the honored one
With sacrifices, and huge marble heaps:
For that's a fair crown our Hellenes grant
Their people -- glory, should they help the brave!
And I repay thee back this grace for thine
That saved me, now that thou art lorn of friends --
Since, when the gods give honor, friends may flit:
For, a god's help suffices, if he please.
Her. Ah me, these words are foreign to my woes!
I neither fancy gods love lawless beds,
Nor, that with chains they bind each other's hands,
Have I judged worthy faith, at any time;
Nor shall I be persuaded -- one is born
His fellows' master! since God stands in need --
If he is really God -- of naught at all.
These are the poets' pitiful conceits!
But this it was I pondered, though woe-whelmed --
"Take heed lest thou be taxed with cowardice
Somehow in leaving thus the light of day!"
For whoso cannot make a stand against
These same misfortunes, neither could withstand
A mere man's dart, oppose death, strength to strength.
Therefore unto thy city I will go
And have the grace of thy ten thousand gifts.
There! I have tasted of ten thousand toils
As truly -- never waived a single one,
Nor let these runnings drop from out my eyes!
Nor ever thought it would have come to this --
That I from out my eyes do drop tears! Well!
At present, as it seems, one bows to fate.
So be it! Old man, thou seest my exile --
Seest, too, me -- my children's murderer!
These give thou to the tomb, and deck the dead,
Doing them honor with thy tears -- since me
Law does not sanction! Propping on her breast,
And giving them into their mother's arms,
-- Reinstitute the sad community
Which I, unhappy, brought to nothingness --
Not by my will! And, when earth hides the dead,
Live in this city! -- sad, but, all the same,
Force thy soul to bear woe along with me!
O children, who begat and gave you birth --
Your father -- has destroyed you! naught you gain
By those fair deeds of mine I laid you up,
As by main-force I labored glory out
To give you, -- that fine gift of fatherhood!
And thee, too, O my poor one, I destroyed.
Not rendering like for like, as when thou kept'st
My marriage-bed inviolate, -- those long
Household-seclusions draining to the dregs
Inside my house! O me, my wife, my boys --
And -- O myself, how, miserably moved.
Am I disyoked now from both boys and wife!
Oh, bitter those delights of kisses now --
And bitter these my weapons' fellowship!
For I am doubtful whether shall I keep
Or cast away these arrows which will clang
Ever such words out, as they knock my side --
"Us -- thou didst murder wife and children with!
Us -- child - destroyers -- still thou keepest thine!"
Ha, shall I bear them in my arms, then? What
Say for excuse? Yet, naked of my darts
Wherewith I did my bravest, Hellas through,
Throwing myself beneath foot to my foes,
Shall I die basely? No! relinquishment
Of these must never be, -- companions once,
We sorrowfully must observe the pact!
In just one thing, co-operate with me
Thy sad friend, Theseus! Go along with him
To Argos, and in concert get arranged
The price my due for bringing there the Hound!
O land of Kadmos, Theban people all,
Shear off your locks, lament one wide lament,
Go to my children's grave and, in one strain,
Lament the whole of us -- my dead and me --
Since all together are foredone and lost,
Smitten by Here's single stroke of fate!
Thes. Rise up now from thy dead ones!
Tears enough,
Poor friend!
Her. I cannot: for my limbs are fixed.
Thes. Ay: even these strong men fate overthrows!
Her. Woe!
Here might I grow a stone, nor mind woes more!
Thes. Cease! Give thy hand to friendly helpmate now!
Her. Nay, but I wipe off blood upon thy robes!
Thes. Squeeze out and spare no drop! I take it all!
Her. Of sons bereaved, I have thee like my son!
Thes. Give to my neck thy hand! 't is I will lead.
Her. Yoke - fellows friendly -- one heart-broken, though!
O father! such a man we need for friend!
Amph. Certes, the land that bred him boasts good sons!
Her. Turn me round, Theseus -- to behold my boys!
Thes. What? will the having such a love-charm soothe?
Her. I want it; and to press my father's breast.
Amph. See here, O son! for, what I love thou seek'st!
Thes. Strange! Of thy labors no more memory?
Her. All those were less than these, those ills I bore!
Thes. Who sees thee grow a woman, -- will not praise!
Her. I live low to thee? Not so once, I think!
Thes. Too low by far! "Famed Herakles" -- where's he?
Her. Down amid evils, of what kind wast thou?
Thes. As far as courage -- least of all mankind!
Her. How say'st, then, I in evils shrink to naught?
Thes. Forward!
Her. Farewell, old father!
Amph. Thou too, son!
Her. Bury the boys as I enjoined!
Amph. And me --
Who will be found to bury now, my child?
Her. Myself!
Amph. When, coming?
Her. When thy task is done.
Amph. How?
Her. I will have thee carried forth from Thebes
To Athens. But bear in the children, earth
Is burdened by! Myself, -- who with these shames
Have cast away my house, -- a ruined hulk,
I follow -- trailed by Theseus -- on my way;
And whoso rather would have wealth and strength
Than good friends, reasons foolishly therein!
Cho. And we depart, with sorrow at heart,
Sobs that increase with tears that start;
The greatest of all our friends of yore
We have lost forevermore!





Other Poems of Interest...



Home: PoetryExplorer.net