Page:Ten Tragedies of Seneca (1902).djvu/145

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Lines 681—715]

the altar is duly spread out with the sacrificial paraphernalia. Oh! how can what I saw be adequately described? He then proceeds to bind the noble hands of the young princes behind their backs, and he winds round their unfortunate heads a purple bandage (blindfolding them). And frankincense is not wanting, nor the sacred liquor of Bacchus (wine). Nor is the sacrificial meal forgotten, as the knife is applied to the victims—every formality is rigidly observed, lest the enormity of the crime should be robbed of any of its ceremonial importance.

CHOR. Who applied the fatal sword, what hand?

MESS. The presiding priest, Atreus himself was there; he chants forth some funereal hymn from his horrible larynx, at the same time that he accompanies it with impious prayers. He himself stands in front of the altar, he alone manipulates upon those that are doomed for sacrifice, arranges their position and applies the sword! He is in full presence and no minutiae of the wicked ceremony are omitted; the grove trembles, the palace totters with the shock that disturbs the earth, and appears as if it were uncertain where it should deposit itself, if condemned to fall. On the left side of the heavens, a star is seen shooting forth, tracing its passage with a black streak—and the wine which is used so freely in the sacrifice, mixes with the blood of the victims! and thus Bacchus is made to assume a new character! The regal bauble on the head of Atreus (the diadem) fell off two or three times, the very ivory in the temples shed tears. This monstrous deed moved the entire world convulsively, but Atreus, collected in his mind, is alone true to himself, and what is more, actually terrifies the angry gods (with his audacity) and then, without any delay, he leaps upon the altar, looking savage, with his eyes rolling from side to side, and as the famished tiger of the jungle on the borders of the Ganges, hesitates upon which of the two bulls he shall fasten, whilst he longs only to seize them both at once, but pauses, as to which he shall insert his deadly fangs, hither he bends his greedy jaws—thither he draws them back, and actually holds aloof his voracity in this doubting mood! So dreadful Atreus, speculates as to the victims which he has sacrificed to his impious wrath—He cannot make up his mind, within himself, as to which he shall immolate the first, then he wonders, whether he shall sacrifice the one intended for slaughter "number one" and substitute in its place that which he had marked as "number two"—not that it was a matter which concerned him much, but only that he had doubted,