Ten Tragedies of Seneca (1902)/Medea

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Medea (Seneca).

 

MEDEA.

 

 

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.

Medea. Nurse.
Jason. Chorus of Corinthians.
Creon. Messenger.


ARGUMENT.

After the slaughter of Pelias, Jason lived as an exile at Corinth with his wife and children. But when Creon, the king, chose him for a son-in-law, Medea is required to be divorced from her husband, and ordered by the king to seek another place of exile. Medea, a delay of one day having been obtained, sends to Creusa a cloak and neckerchief, charged with some magic-produced material, which things having been put on by Creusa, the cloak instantly takes fire, and the new bride is cruelly destroyed by the flames; and the father, who ran to the assistance of his daughter, shares the same fate.—Then Medea, (the children she had by Jason being killed in the presence of their father) flies away through the air.


ACT I.

MEDEA.

Medea, when she finds herself deserted invokes the Gods above and the Gods below to visit their vengeance on Jason.

Oh! ye Gods, who preside over things conjugal, and thou, Lucina, the special guardian of the hymeneal bed; and thou, Minerva, who taughtest Tiphys, the successful pilot, how to steer his vessel and combat the waves, and manage aright that novel Argonautic craft; and thou, Neptune, the stern ruler of the vasty deep; and thou, Phœbus, who dividest thy bright day between the two sides of our orb; and thou, the three-formed Hecate, (Hecate, Diana, Phœbe,) who givest forth thy nocturnal rays in full cognizance of what transpires at the secret mystic ceremonies things done secretly by night (and the deeds of the necromancer): and oh! ye Gods, before whom Jason swore his fidelity to me, and ye others, for whose aid it is the more decided right of Medea to ask (those who had been initiated by her in magical secrets, and the mystic infernal ceremonies); and thou, the Chaos of Eternal Night,—ye, the kingdoms that are below those which are immediately above the Earth, and the impious progeny of the Manes, and the ruler of that sad kingdom, (Pluto,) and thou, Proserpine, who wast carried away by Pluto, but with the faithful observance of his conjugal vows, (which has not fallen to my lot,) I pray thee, though with a modified degree of confidence, be present. Oh! ye Eumenides, the avenging goddesses of crimes, with your repulsive locks hanging down with the dangling serpents, be present, holding the dreaded torch in your blood-thirsty hands—stand ye forth, as ye did at my marriage ceremony, terrible to behold, causing death to reach this newly imported spouse! Deal out destruction to the father-in-law, and the entire Corinthian royal race! And grant to me that the calamities shall be worse, which I may invoke to befall my husband! Let him live, let him wander amongst unknown and hostile countries, as a suspected vagrant, as an exile, always in dread of some terrible disaster, hated by everybody, with no fixed home of his own, deserted by his Lares—let him sigh in vain to have me back again! Let him have to seek the threshold of a stranger—he is already a marked man, too well known as a guest! In addition to which, I cannot wish for anything worse for him, than that his children, even born of me, should grow up counterparts of himself in perfidy! and like their mother in their propensities to poison and to perpetrate the most monstrous acts of cruelty! Having borne children, therein lies my revenge—I have now been talking of my complaints, but my mere words of remonstrance are late in the day, and of not much avail, but I have borne the children! Shall I not go into the enemy's camp? Shall I put out the marriage torches with my own hands and leave them all in darkness? Does Phœbus, the progenitor of my race, see all this? And, as he beholds it, will he still pursue his way, seated on his flaming chariot, by the same undeviating track along the spotless skies, regardless of my misery. Why does he not look horrified and hide his face? Why does he not return to his starting-place, the gorgeous east, and let the day be commenced over again (that is, put back the day, as he had done before, when Hercules was born). Grant me this—allow me to be conveyed in the paternal chariot throughout the skies. Oh! my father, hand thou the scorching reins to me, and let me guide the fiery horses of the sun, and Corinth, which is the opposing barrier between the two seas (Ionian and Ægean) being burnt up by the flames, of which I shall have the full command, the two seas will be joined as the result (Corinth being thoroughly destroyed, the two seas would be united). But there is still one thing left for me to carry out, that I myself shall put in an appearance at the marriage with my own hymeneal pine torch and, after the preliminary prayers, can myself slay the sacrificial victims before the sacred altars! Oh! my inward soul! if thou livest, that is if thou art alive to thy sought-for revenge, seek the road to such revenge, by way of their entrails, and if there is any of my ancient self left within me, let me cast aside all womanish fears, and assume the disposition of a fierce and cruel Caucasian; and whatever crimes either the Phasis or Pontus (Euxine) has witnessed, let Corinth see, in very earnest, the cruel unheard of, terrible visitations, to be trembled at both by the Heavens and the Earth (Gods and Men; have been duly and thoroughly thought over in my mind, as well as the wounds and slaughter, and the scattered funeral in waiting for them. (Alluding to the death of Absyrtus, whose body, scattered far and wide, had to be gathered up for the funeral pile.) I remember, however, these trifles, perhaps too vividly—all these things I did when I was a virgin; my present anger rises to a much higher pitch! Now, as a wife and mother, greater crimes suit my condition—better lay myself out with all my pent-up rage for something worthy of it, in the way of destruction! Let my divorce be talked about, as much as ever this marriage will be! (as regards the crime connected therewith). But in what way do I propose to leave my husband? In the same way as that in which I followed him—as a criminal! Now let me put an end to impotent, sluggish dela—the palace which was obtained through the instrumentality of crime must be vacated with crime!


CHORUS.

The Chorus of the Corinthian women chant forth a
marriage song in praise of the nuptials between
Jason and Creusa.

Oh! ye Gods above; thou, Jupiter, who rulest the heavens, and thou, Neptune, who rulest over the vast ocean—be present all of you with your encouraging felicitations, at the marriage of the royal personages, Jason and Creusa, with the populace seconding your favourable acknowledgment, with becoming ceremonial rejoicing and kind words.—Let a prime bull amongst the first, with a snow-white hide, raising proudly its lofty head, be sacrificed at the altars of the deities, Jupiter and Juno, who wield the sceptre in the kingdom, whence the lightnings are sent forth, and let a white heifer—whose neck has never been bent to the yoke,—be offered to gratify the eyes of Lucina; and thou, Concordia, the goddess of peace, who restrainest the sanguinary weapons of Mars, and who, instead, bestowest the blessings of amicable treaties upon warlike peoples, and who art recognized by husbanding in thy horn of plenty the plentiful fruits of the earth,—for thee, let a fitting emblem in the shape of a sheep, be awarded. (This was sacrificed in an especial manner, without blood sprinkled on the altars, as opposed to the free shedding of blood, which characterizes the operations of war.) And thou, Hymenæus, who comest with thy torches suggestive of thy legitimate functions, who drivest away the darkness of night with the torches in thy right hand—come hither, oh! thou debauched-looking God, with thy drunken rollicking gait, wearing on thy head the customary chaplet of roses, and thou Venus, the constellation, the forerunner of day and night (coming at two times), and always returning late for those engaged in their love affairs. (That is, the time always appearing long, which is looked forward to by ardent lovers on the matrimonial list.) The anxious matrons want thee,—the brides want thee—the moment thou sheddest forth those rays of thine. But really, the beauty of our Virgin Creusa surpasses by far that of all the other brides, as well as those whom that city, without the protection of walls on the summit of Taygetum, constantly sees engaged in manly exercises, and those who lave their persons in the Aonian streams, and the sacred Alpheus; but if it is desirable to gauge the standard of excellence by the pretensions of beauty, decidedly the descendant of Æson, Jason, will carry off the palm as the successful competitor, outstripping that offspring of the harsh Thunderer, Bacchus, who yokes the tigers to his chariots, and Apollo even, who, mounted on his tripod, deals forth his oracles, and the brother of that rough-and-ready Virgin Diana (this refers to her as a huntress only), and Pollux too, who seems more at home with his Cœstus, must bate all pretentions (as a rival) as well as his brother Castor!

Thus,—thus, oh! ye Gods above, I vow and maintain, that Creusa carries off the prize amongst the maids, and Jason, by a long way, outshines all the men.—When she stands up with the women of this chorus, the face of that one, Creusa, surpasses all the others in beauty! As when the starry splendors fade away into nothingness when bright Phœbus shows his effulgent face, and as with the thick cluster of the Pleiades when bright Phœbe has approximated her circuitous horns (full moon) and shows herself as a solid orb, although the light is not her own! Thus it is with Creusa, when her snow-white face becomes tinged with the exquisite pink, diffusing itself; and in like manner, as the morning shepherd, wet himself with the dews of night, beholds the bright face of Aurora with a renovated light, as she is fed by the same dews. (The ancients imagined that the Stellar bodies were nourished with moisture, hence the idea—increased brilliancy.) Thou, Jason, having been snatched away (released) from the horrible marriage bed of Phasian memory, accustomed as thou wert to the temper and caprices of a fierce wife, and who trembledst even as thou didst caress her with thy unwilling right hand, take to thyself with rapture the Æolian Virgin, and thou, oh thou Bridegroom, for the first time in thy life rejoice in having a father-in-law ready to receive thee with open arms—and oh! ye young men, give yourselves up to jollity, the privilege of running down your masters being now accorded to you,—and oh! ye, the young of both sexes, chant forth your tuneful lays, the men at one time, the women at another. (This singing separately was adopted that the female voices should not be drowned by those of the males.) The rare liberty is now accorded to you, and acknowledged as your right, to rail against your masters. (This is the custom at the Saturnalia, when masters and slaves change places, and say what they like.)

And oh! ye fortunate noble progeny of the Thyrsus-bearing Lyæus (Bacchus), now is the time to set fire to the split pines, and to brandish the solemn marriage torches with your fingers, till they are thoroughly fagged out (the pines, being slit up with the grain of the wood, burn freely when wafted to and fro briskly), and the reciters of the bantering Fescennine Verses may freely induce in their licentious jocularities on this festive occasion, and the assembled throng are at liberty to crack their jokes as much as they like! But let Medea pass away into silent obscurity, she who became a fugitive and exile, and married a husband travelling about in foreign lands!!

 

ACT II.

MEDEA—NURSE.

Medea is in a furious rage when she hears of the marriage: the nurse tries her best to pacify her, but in vain.

MEDEA.

I am at my wits' end,—these marriage chants are still ringing in my ears. I can scarcely accredit so gross a piece of villainy—hardly, as yet, at all events! Is Jason capable of doing such things? Snatched away from my father, my native country, my kingdom, and thus to be left alone forsaken,—in a foreign land! Has that ungrateful man learned to despise my meritorious services?—I, who, by my crimes, witnessed his triumph over the flames and the sea (by her sorceries over the flames, the brazen-footed, fire-vomiting bulls, and over the sea by throwing into it the body of her brother Absyrtus)—but he is so credulous as to suppose that I have exhausted my category of the evil arts which I can yet bring to my aid? In my wavering state of mind,—of maddened imagination,—I am goaded on to every kind of invention which an insane brain can conceive, as to the mode in which I shall be best able to execute my revenge. I wish Jason had a brother,—never mind,—he has a wife, and upon her the sword shall be visited;—but is this enough to satisfy my wrongs? If the Pelasgians, or even any Barbarian cities, have become acquainted with any specimen of crime not known already to these practised hands of mine, now is the time to make it known to me—let your crimes induce you to offer some sort of guidance, and let all my own deeds return to my memory—that glorious distinguishing ornament of a proud kingdom, the golden fleece (stolen by Jason, aided by my sorceries), and the young companion of a cruel virgin, cut up with the edge of the sword, and his remains thrust upon the notice of the father (to retard pursuit) and his body thrown into the sea, piece by piece (to appease Neptune). And the body of the aged Pelias boiled in a caldron—how impiously forsooth! And how often have I been reckless in the shedding of blood? But none of these things, mark, have I done when anger was urging me on! Now, my unsuccessful spurned affection will add fury to my operations! But what could Jason do? He has had the sanction and authority of another to aid and abet him in doing what he has done. But ought he not rather to have presented his breast to the sword's point, than to have deserted me? But let me speak more to the purpose, ah, with more moderation. Oh! this angered soul of mine! If it be possible, let Jason remain mine, as he once was; if not—let him still live, and be mindful of my past services, and my now sparing him. (My vengeance is to let him live to know that he owes his very existence to my forbearance.)

The entire blame is with Creon, who, in his irrestrainable power, has dissolved my marrige with Jason, and it is he, who has separated a mother from her children, and ruthlessly disturbed that conjugal fidelity, by which we were both bound by the strictest pledges! No, he alone shall be sought out for this, he shall suffer that punishment which he so richly deserves—I will reduce his palace to a heap of cinders, and the promontory of Malea, which causes from its numerous bends so much obstruction and delay to navigators, shall witness a black whirlwind of smoke rise out of the flames. (Malea, which extended five miles into the sea, became proverbial for its danger.)

NURSE.

Be silent, I beseech thee, consign thy wrongs to the secret recesses of thy own angry bosom; whoever bears in silence, and with a patient unruffled spirit, the grievous stings of fate, can always place them to better account (to give like for like in revenge); anger which is pent-up, and not shown to the world, is always more effective, when brought into play—but grievances which are openly paraded lose many an opportunity for revenge! (e. g. apprizing others of your intentions).

MEDEA.

That grievance is light indeed which can tolerate any advice from others, and hide itself away, as it were; grievances of any magnitude will not be stifled in such a manner—No, it is better to face one's difficulties openly!

NURSE.

Do restrain thy furious impulses, oh! my nursling! or thy reposeful silence, even, will not be a sufficient safeguard!

MEDEA.

Fortune favours the bold, but she tramples on the coward.

NURSE.

Then it remains to be proved whether determination and boldness have the requisite materials to work with.

MEDEA.

There never can be any place assigned to determination: it is the result which decides the matter.

NURSE.

Does no hope hold out any prospect to those in affliction?

MEDEA.

He who cannot hope for anything cannot reasonably despair of anything.

NURSE.

The Colchians are out of the question now; there is no fidelity to be expected from thy husband, and nothing now remains to thee,—even out of thy ample resources.

MEDEA.

Yes, indeed! Medea remains! And thou canst see for thyself the earth and the sea—then come the sword, the flames, the revengeful deities and Jupiter's lightnings!

NURSE.

But the king, surely, is to be feared?

MEDEA.

My father was a king, and I didn't fear him (but opposed him for Jason's sake).

NURSE.

Dost thou not fear the blood-thirsty weapons of the warrior?

MEDEA.

No, not if they sprang forthwith from the earth! (alluding to the giants sprung from the serpent's teeth when thrown into the earth).

NURSE.

Thou mightst die!

MEDEA.

This is what I desire most.

NURSE.

Flee!

MEDEA.

I have had a little experience in fleeing, which I have had reason to repent.—Shall I, a Medea, attempt flight again, that have boldly faced every danger?

NURSE.

Thou art a mother,—thou hast children.

MEDEA.

Think rather of Jason, by whom I have been made that mother.

NURSE.

Why dost thou hesitate to flee?

MEDEA.

I may flee, but I will have my revenge first.

NURSE.

Vengeance will follow thee up, assuredly!

MEDEA.

Perhaps I may discover some opportunity for delay, as I did when my father pursued me. (Slaying Absyrtus funus ingestum patri, line 132.)

NURSE.

Spare thy menacing words, who art already enraged enough; spare further threats. Tone down thy anger,—it is best to adapt thyself to time and opportunity.

MEDEA.

Fortune can rob us of our riches, but not of our mental attributes. But, hark! Who is knocking?—The hinges of the palace-door are creaking,—Here is Creon himself, puffed up with all his pompous pride and power!


CREON—MEDEA.

Creon urges Medea to depart from his Kingdom into exile with all haste: she, with difficulty, obtains the delay of one day.

CREON.

Oh! Medea, the noxious progeny of the Colchian Æetas, hast thou not taken thyself off from out of my dominions? Thou art hatching something, some wicked crime has entered thy head, thy hands have again been employed upon some mischief! Whom or what does that woman spare? Whom will she ever allow to remain in security? Indeed, I have been making up my mind to destroy her forthwith, and to condemn her to suffer the worst punishment to which I could sentence her,—the sword! But my son-in-law, Jason, has won me over by his entreaties not to do so, and thus her life has been spared to her, but she must be caused to free my kingdom of any further fears (arising out of her evil machinations). Let her depart in safety, and let her ferocious nature guide her steps elsewhere! She employs her threatening language, boldly seeks me out and dares to address me personally! Drive her away, attendants,—put her as far from me as possible, from all contact or any means of getting near me. Carry out these orders, and make her keep silence—she must, at last, be made to yield to my regal authority! Go thy way with all possible speed; let me—it is time—remove hence this cruel, horrible monster!

MEDEA.

For what crime, for what fault, may I ask, am I to be punished with exile?

CREON.

What reason is there why I should drive thee away? An innocent woman could only ask me such a question as that!

MEDEA.

If thou art officiating as a judge, let me know; if thou art commanding because thou reignest, on the strength of that power I must obey thee.

CREON.

Thou wilt have to obey the authority of the king, no matter whether thou considerest the command just or unjust!

MEDEA.

True! But the unjust exercise of power does not rest for ever with the dispenser thereof.

CREON.

Go away! Let Colchis be thy destination.

MEDEA.

I will return willingly, but let Jason escort me thither,—he who introduced me here.

CREON.

Thy remark comes too late under any circumstances: my irrevocable decree has gone forth.

MEDEA.

The man, or judge, who issues his decrees so freely without hearing the other side of the question, although he may by chance ordain what is right, is not acting justly.

CREON.

Was the punishment of Pelias awarded after a fair hearing of both sides? But tell me, at once,—an opporunity is now given thee of pleading to that very egregious crime!

MEDEA.

What a difficult thing it is to divert the mind from anger, when once it is fully roused; the man who has grasped the sceptre with his proud hands thinks that every thing he does is screened by his royal prerogative, and is inclined to persevere in the course which he has set himself to follow. (Medea here wishes to suggest that the now hearkening to the entreaties of a suppliant is a part of Creon's plan.) I gleaned the knowledge of this fact from my observations in my own father's royal palace. Although I may be here at thy feet, ruined, utterly miserable, through my downfall;—driven away as a suppliant,—a deserted wife—and a fair target at every turn for any kind of affliction—I once shone forth myself as a cynosure in my noble father's palace, and I claim my illustrious descent from Phœbus himself, who is my grandfather! Whatsoever lands the Phasis washes with its winding placid streams, of whatever countries the Scythian sea commands the view along its shores, wherever the bitter salt sea is tempered by the numberless marshy streams flowing into it as tributaries, and those plains, where the armed battalions of virgins, with their moon-shape shields, strike terror, whilst they throng the banks of the Thermodon—over all those vast stracts, does my father rule! I, of noble descent, with prospects of the brightest, shone forth, exercising considerable influence with my royal splendor, and then it was that suitors sought my hand in marriage (Jason) who in turn are now being sought for by others as sons-in-law (Creon). But fortune, ever fleeting and capricious, in a precipitate moment snatched me from my kingdom, and handed me over to exile! Put what trust thou likest in kingdoms, when thou ought to know how the most trifling incident may carry here—remove yonder—at any moment those great advantages which kings enjoy! But there is one great and glorious privilege, which kings at all times possess, and which, as long as they are kings, no day can deprive them of, and that is to do good to the wretched and fallen, and to provide safe surroundings (reliable Lares) for a suppliant. Think of the one treasure I brought from the kingdom of Colchis; my chief title to glory is to have brought safely with me that distinguished ornament,—the noble flower of Greece, the very safeguard of the Grecian nation, and the offspring of the Gods (the Argonaut Heroes.) Orpheus, who charms the very rocks and captivates the forest trees, is my gift, and the double present of Castor and Pollux emanated from my exertions, and the Sons of Boreas, and Lynceus, who, when he directs his keen eyes, sees things although they are at the bottom of the sea; and all those Thessalian Minyæ (companions of Jason in the Argonautic expedition)— for I am silent about the chief of all these leaders (Jason), for bringing whom nothing is owing to me! I charge no one but myself for that act! I brought the others back in safety for thee—him (Jason) to please myself!! Now set upon me, and heap up all things upon my shoulders, as crimes: I will confess to what is true, but can this solitary thing be thrown up in my teeth as a crime? Suppose the Argonauts had met with a reverse and it had suited me better, to have upheld the character of a virgin, and my wish had been to please my father;—all the Pelasgian land would have come to ruin, with its noble leaders; first and foremost, thy intended son-in-law would have fallen a prey to the vomited flames of the ferocious bull! Fortune may deal even harshly with my case, if she likes, but I do not myself repent of having been the means of preserving the lives, the honor, the glory of so many noble heroes, the sons of kings! Whatever price I shall have to pay as the reward for all my crimes, this is a matter entirely in thy hands: therefore, if it pleases thee, condemn me as a criminal, but give me back my crime in full (Jason). I plead guilty, Creon, I confess; thou knewest what I was when I genuflexed to thee and craved as a suppliant for that justice which is only expected in the fulfilment of a solemn pledge, and I now ask, in my hour of tribulation, only for a small corner and resting-place in this country,—any low hovel or hiding-place, but if it pleases thee only to expel me from the city, pray let some remote spot be accorded me, so long as it is in thy kingdom!

CREON.

I am far from being the man who wishes to wield his power with violent measures, nor am I one that can tread with a disdainful foot upon the misfortunes of any one; indeed, I have that reputation, not wanting either in being borne out by one very clear proof, which is not making my son-in-law an exile, afflicted as he is, and always in dread of some grave disaster; for Acastus is on the look out for thee to be punished for the murder of his father Pelias, trembling and feeble from advancing years and borne down by old age, and then at the body of the murdered old man being cut up in such a truculent manner, when the affectionate sisters, deceived by thy malignant arts, ventured to proceed with their impious task! (The daughters cut their father to pieces, having drawn off all the blood from the veins, on the assurance that Medea would replenish them by her incantations.) Could Jason defend his cause if thou art left out of the question?—he has never yet contaminated his hands with innocent blood, his hand, has never used the sword in this way, for whilst all this was being done, he has always stood aloof—and at a distance from thy companionship—(from the midst of thy personal achievements)! No; thou! thou art the sole machinatrix of all these terrible crimes, thou whose wickedness as a woman is supplemented with that masculine strength which has endowed thee with the audacity to perpetrate such deeds—in fact, thou dost not seem to have any consciousness of thy infamy! Go forth! Clear thyself from out of my kingdom, and take with thee all thy poisoned herbs—Free my subjects from any further alarms, and in some other country settle down, and tire out the Gods with thy enchantments,—thy imprecations,—thy sorceries, if thou art anxious to do so!

MEDEA.

Thou orderest me to flee: restore my Argonautic craft, or give me up my partner (Jason). Why dost thou order me to go away alone? If thou fearest to suffer from all the calamities of war, send us both out of the kingdom! Why dost thou make this unfair distinction between two criminals? Pelias was not killed for Jason only, but for both of us conjointly! Don't forget the flight, and add to that the robbery of the fleece! The desertion of a father and the dismemberment of a brother, and whatever a husband instructs his newly-married wife to do, is not certainly her affair only! I have often and often been made to be a criminal, but never for myself alone!

CREON.

Now it is right thou shouldst go: why sow delays by further talk?

MEDEA.

One last thing as a suppliant I crave, before I go: do not let the crimes of a mother be visited upon her innocent children!

CREON.

Go! I will cherish them, even as a father, in my own paternal bosom.

MEDEA.

I entreat thee by the auspicious marriage-bed involved in this royal marriage, by all the future hopes in which thou mayst indulge, arising therefrom—by the stability of thy throne which uncertain fortune often invades with her varying capricious "ups" and "downs", give me a short time to delay my departure while I as a mother may imprint my last kisses upon my children's cheeks, before I go, perhaps to die!

CREON.

Thou art seeking to gain time, for some wicked purpose!

MEDEA.

What mischief can be feared from me, in so short a time?

CREON.

No time is too short to work out mischief for those that are evilly disposed.

MEDEA.

Thou wilt not, sturdy, deny a miserable creature some little time for mourning her lot!

CREON.

Although my mind had been made up thoroughly to resist thy entreaties, one entire day shall be spared to thee to prepare for thy departure.

MEDEA.

That is really more than I require or expect; thou mayst make it a shorter time if thou likest, and I will make all haste.

CREON.

Thou wilt be punished with death, unless thou quittest Corinth before bright Phœbus shines forth to commence another day.—Come!—I am in a hurry, the marriage ceremonies demand my presence—a joyful occasion, like this, involves the suitable prayers, vows and sacrifices to the God Hymenæus!


CHORUS.

The Chorus inveighs against the boldness of navigators, and sings to the effect that the principal navigators (the Golden Fleece expedition) have reaped the reward they so richly deserved for their daringness: singling out Medea.

Oh! thou too daring one, who first braved the dangers of the treacherous waves, in a vessel so frail, and whilst still retaining in sight the land thou hadst left behind thee, and entrusted thy life even to light winds, and ploughing the sea, steering a doubtful course—how could any man rely on a thin plank, with so insignificant a margin between the journeys of life and death! Not as yet had any man learned anything about the stars, he had never made any scientific use of the constellations with which the firmament is so thickly adorned, not as yet had his vessels been able to escape the stormy Hyades, (noted for the rains and tempests they give rise to at their rising and setting), nor was that constellation, the Olenian she-goat, understood (named from the town of Olenum in Achaia, at which place Jupiter was fed on goats' milk by Amalthea, who was subsequently made a constellation, Capella), nor was that slow-paced old waggoner Boötes known—the constellation that follows and guides the Arctic (Polar) Chariots—not as yet was Boreas or Zephyrus even known by any distinguishing name; at last Tiphys ventured to spread his sails over the vast ocean, and to lay down laws, and to point out in what way the winds would be available for the navigator—at one time to know when to put all his ropes on the stretch (hauled taut) with the sails amply spread out (full sail), at another time when to avail himself of the south wind, blowing athwart ships, by drawing his wide-spread sail down to the lowest point, where it is fastened to the ship's side (the lower part stretched aft, so as to expose as much spread of canvas as possible, to the wind, as it was blowing amidships, but regulating all this with the rudder, hard to port or starboard, as the case might be, that is whether he was steering east or west), at another time, when to haul down the yards half-mast (under snug canvas), then again, running the yards up to the highest point, when even then the too eager sailor wishes to avail himself, to the utmost, of the wind, he would cause the red streamers to quiver again, as they floated in the breeze, above the lofty sails! (These streamers no doubt answered the purpose of our topsails, or at least top-gallant sails, and were not merely ornamental.)—Our forefathers lived in more unsophisticated times, avaricious fraud being the last thing thought of. Every man, then, relying on ease and peace (as his summum bonum) kept close to his own shores, and did so, till he became old, confining himself to his fields and plains, rich with the little he possessed: he knew not, therefore sighed not for, any more wealth than what his own native soil afforded him! The Argonauts in the Thessalian Pine (The Argo) attempted the task of uniting what the far-seeingness of creation had wisely kept apart, and ordered the oars to be plied with vigorous strokes upon the surface of the ocean, and the sea was then selected to be made the fruitful factor of dread and forebodings, and the ship, Argo, brought upon us grievous sufferings, already having conducted its voyage through so many sources of alarm.—When the two mountains, one here, the other there, closing in the Euxine sea, driven together by a sudden collision, sound like a clap of thunder (from the sudden displacement of the air) and scatter the sea, which is forced upwards, into very clouds, towards the sides (by the same sudden displacement)—the bold Tiphys grew pale, and let go the helm from his feeble hands—Orpheus became silent and his lute was dumb—and Argo, herself lost her voice (from dread). (The Argo was said to have been prophetic, communicative and oracular, like the Dodonean Oak, in which were two hen doves, which gave responses. Some of the beams of the Argo were constructed of this oak, from which wood was derived her oracular power of warning those on board of her against approaching calamities.) What is this? They are all wondering, when the virgin of the Sicilian Pelorus presents herself! (Scylla the daughter of Phorcus,) surrounded by her girdle of rabid dogs, and she causes them all to bark at one time! Who would not have trembled all over his body, at such a phenomenon? What next to relate? When the dreadful pests, the Sirens, were charming the Ausonian Sea with their melodious strains, the Thracian Orpheus gave forth the sweet sounds from his Pierian Harp (given to him by his mother Calliope), and he almost compelled the bewitched Sirens to follow the Argo—those very Sirens who had always been accustomed to attract other navigators with their music, and detain their ships! And what was to be the crowning reward of all this?—the golden fleece, and Medea, a greater calamity than the sea itself, certainly a reward, worthy of the first ship that had ever rashly put to sea! Now the sea is brought under control, and obeys all the recognized rules of seamanship! No illustrious Argo built by the hands of a Minerva is now required with kings to man (handle) the oars! Any vessel can now sail about on the sea! Old landmarks have disappeared, and cities inclose themselves with walls, upon fresh, newly-discovered lands! The world, universally traversable, has left nothing in that place, in which it was originally found! The swarthy Indian sips the cooling streams of the Alaxis; the Persians quench their thirst with the waters of the Elbe and Rhine! The times will arrive later on, as the years roll onwards, in which the ocean will remove the impediments which now retard human affairs, and a new earth will be opened up to mankind, and the votaries of Tiphys (followers of the sea) will discover fresh worlds, and the present Thule (that island in the Northern Ocean) will not be the Ultima Thule in future worlds!


ACT III.

NURSE—MEDEA.

Medea rushes headlong towards the execution of her revenge, the nurse dissuading her from her projects, but in vain.

NURSE.

Oh! Nurseling, why pacest thou about the house so excitedly? Do not give way thus, but control thy passion and curb thy impetuousness! As when the Mænad (Bacchanal) becomes furious, from the influence she receives from the God, on the summits of snowy Pindus, or mountain-tops of Nysa, and just as she might have followed up wildly her inspired movement, so hither and thither Medea runs to and fro in a similarly wild manner, and revealing in her expression the look of maddened fury; her flushed face shows that she is drawing her breath hard, (from the lowest parts of her lungs)—she cries, and her eyes are overflowing with the tears arising out of her temper! She then brightens up on a sudden—laughs—in fact every passing mental mood takes its turn, as it is uppermost, (at one time pleased with the hope of carrying out her revenge, at another, anger at her past thwarted aspirations). She seems, one minute to hesitate as to what she should do, then she begins to threaten, shaking her head,—then storms furiously,—wails and groans! To what end will this weight of mental pressure lead? Upon whom will she wreak her threatening anger? When will that tempestuous wave of passion exhaust itself? Her anger is now at an overflowing height! I am certain she is not meditating within her mind any ordinary or moderate scheme of revenge! She will surpass herself! I am well acquainted with some of her past and gone bursts of anger, but something, I am positive, is now brewing that is dreadful, something on a large scale—something truly impious! I see fury marked on her countenance! May the Gods above only undeceive me as to my apprehensions, that is all!

MEDEA (to herself).

If thou wishest, oh my miserable self, to decide what limits thou shouldst impose upon thy justly-evoked hatred, take as a guide the inordinate amount of love thou hast wasted, and follow that! Shall I for one moment endure unrevenged the sight of this royal marriage rivalling my own legitimate pretensions? Shall this "one" day then be spent to an idle purpose?—sought for with so much importunity, granted by Creon with such great reluctance! Whilst this earth of ours continues to be poised in the heavens, and whilst the world of shining constellations continues to show themselves at certain recurring seasons, and as long as the sands on the sea-shore continue as they are,—numberless—and as long as the bright day appears as soon as Phœbus peeps above the horizon, and as long as the stars continue to show themselves with the advent of night, and so long as the polar heavens regulate the movement of the Northern Bear, and preserve it, in its siccity (the Bears are called "siccæ", or dry, as they never set), and so long as the tidal rivers find their way back to the sea, never will my thirsty rage cease to urge me on to inflict the punishment I am now contemplating, and, what is more, it will only increase in its intensity! What savage ferocity of the wild beasts,—what Scylla—what Charybdis, swallowing in their irresistible gulfs the Ausonian and Sicilian seas,—what Ætna, which pressed down with its weight the panting Titan (Enceladus), ever burns so vividly or so much as my flaming anger? Not the rapidly flowing river—not the tempestuous ocean, nor the sea raging from the violence of the East wind, nor the heat of the flames fanned into intensity by the wind playing upon them, could possibly restrain the force of my anger! I will scatter and overthrow every thing in my path! Am I silly enough to believe that Jason goes in any fear of Creon, or the threatened warlike invasion of Acastus, the Thessalian King? No!—True love can never be made to fear any one! But let us suppose that he may have yielded under compulsion and surrendered his authority in the matter, he might have come to me, that is certain, and spoken a few last parting words to his wife! But, does he, although fierce enough on other occasions, fear to do even this? It was quite within the power of a son-in-law to relax the cord and give me a little more time for my flight! One entire day is set apart to bid my children good-bye! I do not complain of the shortness of the time, but much lies before me, for my accomplishment—this day shall do it, and may it be done thoroughly! Considering that no one can be depended on for silence, I will appeal direct to the Gods, but I will put every thing in motion, as low down as Acheron, if needs be!

NURSE.

Oh my mistress, rid thyself of a mind so disturbed by evil passions, do calm thy temper.

MEDEA.

There can be only one rest for me, to see everything that is opposed to me fall utterly in one common ruin, together with myself—it is pleasing to know, when one perishes oneself, that one is dragging others into destruction at the same time.

NURSE.

Consider how many contingencies are to be dreaded, if thou wilt persist; no one can attack the will and power of a king with impunity.

 

JASON—MEDEA.

Medea attacks Jason with violent reproaches for deserting her and excusing himself, and then at his entreaties, pretends to be conciliated.

JASON.

Oh! ye Fates always severe, oh the bitter condition of my own lot, equally so in its results, whether it is accorded as an angry visitation, or whether it is intended to be an act of clemency! How often does the Deity devise remedies for us, which are more disastrous in their effects than the evils they are intended to ameliorate! (For example.) If I wish to manifest my fidelity towards the reasonable claims of a wife, my life would be demanded as the sacrifice! If I should not feel disposed to die in this manner, I should be taunted with not holding to my unfortunate vows (in another quarter), and it would not be that this arose from any lack of manly spirit, but simply the anxious affectionate love I entertain for my children; for the offspring would be sure to have to undergo the fate of the parent! Oh holy Astræa! (Goddess of Justice) if thou art still to be found in the heavens, I invoke thee and call to my aid thy divine assistance! The love for my children has compelled me to elect to live, and I suppose that Medea herself, although she is of a naturally ferocious disposition, would rather consult the interests and welfare of her children, than trouble her head any more about this marriage business! At all events, I have made up my mind to approach her with my intercessions, however angry I may find her!

(This as she is coming here.) Ah! Behold! Here she comes, and directly she catches sight of me, she jumps about, and becomes frantic! She is really exceeding herself in her hatred, and anger shows up in every lineament of her visage!

MEDEA.

Jason, I am sent into exile,—I shall flee,—such a thing as changing my habitat is no new thing to me, but the reason for my doing so now is rather a novel one. Formerly I exiled myself, for thy sake, and to avoid an angry father, and again to get out of the way of Acastus.—I am leaving this country and I go as an exile: how is it that thou compellest me to fly from thy tutelar Penates? To whom art thou consigning me? Shall I have to seek Phasis or Colchis—and my father's kingdom, and the country where my brother's blood was spilled? What land dost thou command me to seek? What seas canst thou point out? The straits of the Euxine, through which I once conducted back, in safety, the noble troop of kings (the Argonauts). I followed the adulterous Jason across the Symplegadæ, or shall it be the unpretentious Iolchus, or shall I seek out the Thessalian Tempe? Now all these places, which I have brought to thy notice are closed to me I (I have made my owu country and Thessaly hostile to me)—where dost thou mean to send me? Thou orderest me to be exiled, but thou dost not provide me with a place of exile! Let it be so then! The Royal son-in-law has only to command, and it is I, who cannot refuse to obey—heap on me the most cruel punishments, if thou likest—I deserve it all,—let Creon's royal anger, too, oppress me with the most merciless penalties, just as if I were some common concubine—let him load my hands with chains, and shut me out from the world, hidden away in some Scythian cave, surrounded by perpetual darkness—I shall suffer less than I deserve, thou mayst think, oh! thou ungrateful man (alluding to her acts towards her father, mother and Pelias). Does thy memory take thee back, Jason, to the flames, breathed forth by the Bull? and, when exposed to the savage terrors of that indomitable race, the ferocious troop, which sprang up already armed in the plains of Æeta, and when the darts of that suddenly arriving enemy were threatening thee, and how, at my command, those earth-born soldiers fell one after the other, fighting amongst themselves! Add to this, that much coveted prize, the Golden Fleece of the Phrixean ram! and how I caused, by my enchantment, that draconian monster, which had never before known what sleep was, to be brought under the influence of my Lethæan soporific! How, too, my brother was handed over to death, and each crime committed by me, but not simultaneously, is now to be quoted as one crime, my crime! And when the daughters of Pelias, cajoled by my deceitful machinations, were ordered to cut up the body of their ancient father who was never to live again, as I had promised he should; all this was when I was seeking another kingdom, (for thee) and deserting my own! I conjure thee, Jason, by the hopes thou mayst entertain regarding any children born to thee, by Creusa,—by the security of thy domestic surroundings,—by the monster I have conquered for thy benefit, by these very hands of mine, which have never spared themselves where thou wert concerned, and by the past dangers from which I have rescued thee,—by the heavens above—by the waters below, the witnesses of my marriage, have some mercy on me, and thou, in thy prosperity, do me, a suppliant, a good turn in my adversity! Out of all the wealth, which the remote Scythians seek out for plunder, as far even as the countries inhabited by the parched-up swarthy Indian, and which our palace, so overloaded is it, will scarcely contain, that we positively ornamented our trees with gold (the Golden Fleece used to hang from the branches of an oak)—as an exile, I brought none of these things, nothing but the limbs of a murdered brother. I lay these entirely to thy account—My country was given up for thee—my father—my brother—my maidenly shame! I married thee having these as my dowry, return them to me, as I am about to enter upon my exile!

JASON.

When Creon wished for thy death, prevailed on by my tears, he conceded the alternative of exile.

MEDEA.

I thought exile was intended as a punishment, now I am to regard it in the light of a valuable gift!

JASON.

Take my advice, whilst thou art able to get away, but take flight, and get thyself hence—The anger of kings is always a difficult thing to deal with.

MEDEA.

Dost thou really persuade me to do this—Thou preferest thy beloved Creusa, and want to have me moved away as an objectionable rival or some cast-off mistress!

JASON.

Does Medea object so much then to my amours?

MEDEA.

Yes, and thy murders and deceitful perfidious deeds as well!

JASON.

What is the crime, after all, with which thou wishest to charge me?

MEDEA.

With whatever I have been induced to commit!

JASON.

Furthermore, this one thing remains, in which thou still persistest that I am to be viewed as a criminal, on account of thy crimes!

MEDEA.

They are thine—they are all thine, certainly; he virtually commits a crime, who is an accessory before the fact, and who gladly partakes of the proceeds of a crime! Suppose then, that every one points to thy wife and brands her with infamy, thou art the only champion who is bound to defend her, and the only one bound to call her innocent! Whoever is acting in thy interests, in a criminal capacity, deserves, at least some claim for innocence at thy hands!

JASON.

Life is very distasteful, when one has cause to blush for it.

MEDEA.

Then life needs no longer to be retained, when the blushing fit supervenes!

JASON.

But, really, is it not rather desirable for thee to restrain the anger raging in thy heart, and to quiet thyself for the sake of the children?

MEDEA.

I renounce them—I resign them,—I utterly repudiate them! Will not Creusa furnish brothers for my children?

JASON.

A powerful queen will be the protectress of the children of an exile.

MEDEA.

Never shall such a miserable day as that arrive for me, when my illustrious progeny, the grandsons of a Phœbus, shall be huddled together with the ignoble descendants of a Sisyphus!

JASON.

Why, miserable woman, dost thou wish to drag me into exile with thyself? Go away, I beseech thee.

MEDEA.

Even Creon listened to me as a suppliant!

JASON.

What can I do? Explain thyself fully.

MEDEA.

For me! Everything! Any crime even!

JASON.

Two kings are against us—Creon here—and Acastus yonder!

MEDEA.

If the truth be known, Medea is a greater source of dread to them, than they are to her! Let me enter the lists, single-handed, for our joint benefit! I can fight,—let me do so,—and Jason shall be the reward of my victory!

JASON.

I acknowledge myself dead-beaten,—with troubles,—thoroughly worn out, and thou, thyself, hadst better go in dread of repeating some of thy old experiments.

MEDEA.

Fortune, hitherto, has always been at my feet!

JASON.

Acastus is on the march, and the other enemy, Creon, is nearer!

MEDEA.

Let us fly together; I am unwilling to arm my hands against any father-in-law, nor does Medea urge, by any means, that Jason should soil his hands with the blood of his kinsman. Fly then, with me, and thou wilt be innocent of such deeds!

JASON.

And who could resist such a force, if a double war be entered upon, as it were, if Creon and Acastus were to join their armies!

MEDEA.

Now think of the Colchian battalions—now think of the generalissimo of Æeta with his army, and then add to them the Scythian and Grecian contingents,—why, I would drive the enemy into the sea with these.

JASON.

I really fear the terrible power appertaining to the sceptre!

MEDEA.

Rather consider whether it is thou art hankering after it thyself!

JASON.

Lest we may excite suspicion by this long interview, let me suggest that our conversation should come to a close.

MEDEA.

Now, oh I mighty Jupiter, thunder forth throughout the entire heavens—Stretch forth thy right hand, prepare thy avenging lightnings, and shake up the whole universe, as they dispel the clouds with their violence, nor let thy lightnings be delicately balanced for any defined aim! It does not matter, let them strike either myself or Jason, whichever of the two might happen to fall, a culprit will be sure to perish therefrom, so that thy lightnings can make no mistake, as to the one upon whom they should strike!

JASON.

Now do begin to meditate reasonable things, and speak of more pleasant topics, and, if anything can be done to lighten the blow of having to quit the palace of the father-in-law,—seek my aid.

MEDEA.

My disposition, as thou full well knowest, is accustomed, and can afford, to despise royal assistance—only let me have my children as companions in my exile, upon whose bosoms I can occasionally shed my maternal tears. Fresh children will remain for thee, the gifts of Creusa!

JASON.

I freely confess, that I should be willing to comply with thy wishes in that respect, but my own affection for my children would forbid such a thing! And not even a King or a father-in-law would compel me to do what I could not under any circumstances permit myself to do! My children are now the chief object of my life, the only solace to a heart burnt up with carking care! I could give up the very breath I draw with greater willingness—my own miserable body would rather deny itself the very light of heaven.

MEDEA.

So I see! He dearly loves his children! I have him there at all events. I know, now, where to strike my blow! (this said to herself). Surely, I might be allowed to say a few parting words to my children, before I go, and be permitted to give them a last embrace, that indeed would be a great consolation, and I ask for that favor most earnestly, and if any undue or unintentional anger has been manifested on my part, let what I have said in my excited state of mind be regarded as empty words, in fact, unsaid, and let thy memory hark back to kinder things, as regards myself, let what could be imputed to anger be entirely forgotten.

JASON.

I have banished all these things from my mind, and I entreat thee henceforward to control thy hasty temper, and deal with things in a calm spirit—Rest is a marvellous sedative to the troubled mind.

MEDEA.

He has gone! And is this the way he goes? Thou, Jason, go away! And I am simply to pass out of thy memory as well as the many dreadful deeds I have done in thy behalf! I am forgotten by thee, eh! But I will never be forgotten by thee, nevertheless! Now, set to work, Medea; call to thy aid all thy resources, and magical arts,—thus, this is the climax of all the crimes that I have committed for thee, to have arrived at this conclusion,—that nothing I can do now can be viewed in the light of a crime!

But there is scarcely any opportunity now for any of my experimental jugglery. I am suspected,—I am watched,—let my plan of attack be devised in such a mode that no one can possibly suspect anything. Let me proceed, at once, let me dare any deed, and let me now begin!

Thou, my faithful nurse, companion in my miseries, and sharer in my various aspects of fortune, assist me in carrying out my wretched projects! Thou knowest, there is a cloak of mine, the gift to our celestial family, and the proud heirloom of our dynasty, a token given to Æeta by Phœbus, to commemorate his lofty descent; there is also a neck-ornament, interwoven with gold embroidery, and another article, a chaplet which I used to wear round my head, and in which the brilliant gems show off the gold to great advantage! The sons shall bear these presents from me to the bride, as my especial wedding gifts, but let these presents be dipped and impregnated beforehand with my destructive preparations, and got ready for their fatal purpose: then Hecate must be invoked! Let me prepare the funeral sacrifices—let the altars be got ready, and may the palace resound with the alacrity of the flames, as they play before the altar.


CHORUS.

The Chorus sings of the inordinate anger entertained by a cast-off wife at her thwarted love, and what a furious woman is capable of to make it felt, and whilst the rest of the Argonauts have suffered punishment for having infringed the sanctity of the sea, Jason is fervently prayed for.

No violence of the angry flames, no tempestuous winds—no arrow that was ever shot from the bow—are to be dreaded so much as a wife bereaved of her nuptial rights and who (at the same time) is obstinately clinging to her love, and is nursing her pent-up wrath, when it is unacknowledged. Not less, indeed, than when the south wind, charged with its cumulous nebulosities, bursts upon us with its winter rains,—nor when the swollen Danube rushes on in torrents, and breaks down the bridges built across it, and overflows its very banks! Nor when the angry Rhone is forcing back the waves, nor when Mount Hæmus denuded of its snowy mantle sends down in torrents towards the rivers the snows which have been melted by the fierce solar heat—following that of mid-spring.—The blind unreasoning passion is excited more and more by the rage engendered through its being thwarted, it does not care to be influenced by reason and will suffer no restraint—it does not even fear death, and is willing to face the point of the sword itself! Be merciful, oh! ye gods, we implore your pardon, that Jason who subdued the sea shall live in security, and although the Deity of the Ocean depths (Neptune) is angry that his, the second Kingdom, should have been triumphed over, as it was, by the Argonauts,—that youth Phaeton, who did not pay attention to his father's track, dared to drive the eternal chariots of the sun recklessly through space, and he only met with a fiery end! (struck down by Jupiter's lightnings.) The well-known beaten track is attended with danger to no man: let us go then, where people before us have trodden with safety, do not let us attempt to break through the time-sanctified institutions of the Universe by any violent measures of our own! Whoever handled the illustrious oars of that audacious Argo, and actually despoiled for their construction the sacred forests of Pelion of their luxuriant umbrageous adornments; whoever dared to brave the dangerous rocks scattered about the sea, which they might have encountered (to their destruction) and having crossed such a sea after much difficulty, at last, fastened their cable (let go their cable) upon a barbarous coast, to return, as the captors of the golden fleece, by a terrible end, they have all expiated their rash invasion of the dignity of the ocean depths, for those ocean depths, when provoked, deal out their penalties with severity! Tiphys, among the first, that subduer of the waves, left his code of navigating instructions to inexperienced pilots, and dying far away from the land of his fathers on a foreign shore was buried in some mean grave, and is now smouldering in the dust, amongst the remains of other ordinary but unknown mortals! Aulis, mindful of the missing King, retained the ships in the harbours, with a dead calm, whilst the mariners complained loudly at their detention! Orpheus, who was born of the vocal muse Calliope, the sound of whose lyre, struck by his music-evoking plectrum, actually stayed the force of the very torrents, and silenced the winds themselves, at whose harmonies the birds ceased their canorous warblings, and the entire forest responded in company with them to his bewitching melodies, Orpheus' remains lie scattered over the Thracian plains, and his head floated down the waters of the sorrowing Hebrus. (Orpheus was torn to pieces by the Ciconian women.) He has reached his final home, the Styx, and the realms of Tartarus, never more to return! Alcides slew the sons of Boreas (Zetes and Calais)—he also slew the grandson of Neptune (Periclymenus) who was accustomed to assume a variety of shapes, and after peace ensued between the sea, and after the terrible Kingdom of Pluto had been laid open to his view, Alcides himself, whilst still alive, lay across the burning Oëta, and surrendered his body to the cruel flames, having been previously exhausted by the lethal effects of a double poison, the virus of the serpent of Lerna, and the poisoned robe, prepared from the hoof of the Centaur Nessus, and given as a present to Alcides, by his wife, (to recover his waning affection)—Ancæus perished by the fangs of the ferocious wild boar—Oh! Meleager, thou sacrificedst the brothers of thy mother, and will die by the hands of that angry mother! Thus they have all richly deserved their fate! But, what, offence has that tender little boy Hylas, who was never found by the mighty Hercules, expiated by his death? Alas! He was supposed to have been conveyed over very tranquil waters! Depart on your hardy enterprises, oh ye mariners, and you, that could aforetime dread a simple fountain, may now wander at will over the seas. Idmon, although he arrogated to himself a prescience of coming events, was buried away at last in the throat of the serpent on the sands of Libya (and of course met his end). Mopsus too, the infallible oracle with everybody, played false to himself only at last, and died far away from Thebes! If Mopsus had only predicted the future with accuracy, the husband of Thetis, Peleus, was to wander as an exile in foreign lands, and Nauplius, who was bent upon injuring the Greeks by his misleading fires, threw himself headlong into the sea.—Oileus (Ajax) will expiate the crimes of his father, and will die by the lightnings of Jupiter and find a resting-place in the sea! Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, to avert the fate of her Pheræan husband (Admetus) will give up as a compensation her own life to save his! And Pelias himself, who ordered the booty and stolen fleece to be carried back in the first vessel returning to Colchis, had his remains thoroughly consumed in the heated caldron, his dismembered parts tossing about angrily, as they were being boiled in a scanty supply of water! Now, we have sung enough, oh! ye gods! You have fully vindicated the honor of the God of the Sea (Neptune), but please in mercy spare Jason, who, after all, was a mere instrument in the hands of others! He only did as he was ordered.


ACT IV.

NURSE.

The Nurse reports what Medea is doing, and what she is preparing to carry out.

My mind grows alarmed, is terrified,—some disaster is imminent—how Medea's terrible anger is waxing still greater, and she seems to be consuming herself inwardly with its intensity; she appears to be resuming all her ancient power over her magical accessories! I have noticed her raging and often assuming a threatening attitude, as she was addressing the gods, and invoking with her incantations, the very heavens to assist her in her operations (the Moon and the Stars). Medea is now concocting something monstrous grander in its scope than anything she has ever done before, for she slips away, and at a furious pace, and at length arrives at her terror-striking secluded sanctum. She displays all her magical paraphernalia and is getting ready with something, which for a long time she has not had the courage to tackle; she then brings into view a whole host of instruments of mischief, secret preparations, mysterious objects and things utterly unknown to any one but herself, and with her left hand raised (the left hand was always used before the gods that dealt in the black art) she utters a solemn, doleful prayer, and invokes all the pests and plagues, the elements of death and destruction, to come to her aid!—Whatever are produced in the scorching sands of Libya,—or whatever glacial Taurus, with its arctic, rigorous cold, has kept back beneath its perpetual snows, and every conceivable monster from both quarters,—thereupon a scaly multitude present themselves, drawn from their hiding-places by her magical incantations! In one place a slowly-moving serpent drags its huge body along, and protrudes its three-forked tongue, as if seeking upon what it should dart forth its death-dealing stings—it seemed stupefied by the incantations it had just listened to, and it folds its swollen body in a spiral fashion, its knots presenting the appearance of a huge knob. And she then turns her thoughts to this orb, and remarks tha the mischief to be expected out of this does not amount to much, and it is a sorry engine for my purpose, which this lower earth can bring forth at its best. No, no, I must look to the heavens above for what I want, and now it is full time to put into motion and to exert myself for something more worthy of my skill than an ordinary, everyday piece of wickedness! Let that serpent which lies along the heavens, like some huge river, come down hither at my bidding, of whose immense nodes (this refers to an anatomical peculiarity of the serpent tribe) the two Bears, the major and the minor, feel the influence, the major serving the ends of the Grecian navigators, and the minor being more favorable to the Tyrian mariners: let this enormous serpent-containing constellation Ophiucus release itself from any surroundings that are restrictions to its capabilities (literally, release its hampered hands) and let it pour forth a very volume of virus, which I may be able to utilise—(Medea here breathes the suggestion that, being such an extensive group, they might hamper each other). Then let the Python that once had the audacity to attack the twins, Apollo and Diana, answer to my incantations, and the Hydra, and every part of that serpent, return, which was cut off by the hands of Hercules, and which multiplied after each part was destroyed, come to my aid, and oh, thou dragon always on the watch, leaving Colchis behind, that I first lulled to sleep for the first time in thy existence by the potency of my incantation, also come to me! After Medea had evoked every kind of serpent, she collects together in one mass all the poisonous products of the vegetable world—whatever the inaccessible Eryx generates in its disintegrated rocks—whatever the Caucasus sprinkled with the blood of Prometheus, can afford me from beneath those summits covered with perpetual snow, and whatever poisons the rich Arabs rub over the points of their arrows, and the warlike Mede, with his deadly quivers, or the swift Parthian horsemen, and whatever poisonous juices the intrepid Suevi in their frigid climate, can gather from the Hercynian forests, and whatever poison is produced during the nest-building spring, or when the rigorous winter ruthlessly destroys the beauty of the gladsome grove, and hardens every thing with its nipping winter frosts,—whatever grass that grows, aspiring to produce, even one poisonous floret! and whatever dangerous juices, giving rise to injurious properties from their roots having been carefully manipulated—Medea holds all these in her hands! (Medea then begins their enumeration.) Ah! Thessalian Athos has contributed these poisonous specimens, lofty Pindus this! And this one is from the summits of Pangæus, and I see it has drooped its tender head, at the approach of the blood-stained pruning-knife! Well! The banks of the Tigris with its deep rapids, has reared this gem of a poison! This one comes from the Danube—this from the banks of the gem-yielding Hydaspes, which, in its course, waters with its tepid streams the arid plains around, and the banks of the Bætis which gives its name to the adjacent lands, and coursing onwards in languid streams, throws itself into the Hesperian Sea—This specimen, (taking up another,) I see, has been cut with a knife, before Phœbus entered upon his diurnal track (before day-light), this shrub evidently was cut in the dead hour of the night, but this one (handling it very carefully) is the golden harvest (god-send) of the entire collection, for it has been nicked with the nail of some one versed in magical incantations! She then gathers together the poisonous grasses, and squeezes out all the virus from the serpents! Then she devotes some time to the poisons yielded by the foul birds of prey,—she selects the heart of the mournful-voiced, common owl, and the entrails cut out of the inside of the screech-owl—whilst alive—these venomous articles of destruction this architect of crimes, this scientific poisoner arranges in order! She then adds to these the rapacious power of the most active flames, as an important item, and whatever resides in the icy frost arising from the most rigorous degree of cold, she adds as another element. Having then examined all the poisons, seriatim, she ejaculates some menacing, mystic words, which, from their tone, do not sound less terrible than all the poisons put together! Hark! Here she comes along at a maddened pace, sings forth some magic strains, and as she is commencing her solemn chants, the very earth seems to tremble at her first utterances.


MEDEA.

The Manes being invoked, and the incantations having been duly carried out, Medea sends through her sons to Creusa a cloak impregnated with a destructive agent, together with a neck-band, and a golden head ornament, as wedding presents.

I conjure that silent multitude,-the Manes, and oh! ye deities that preside over the affairs of those departed spirits, Pluto and Proserpine, and darkest chaos, and the sombre palace of the God of the infernal regions, and the dark caverns of loathsome Mors, hemmed in by the banks of the Tartarus, and let the guilty souls released from their punishment, for the nonce, hasten to the forthcoming novel marriage! (Medea calls it novel, because she considers herself the wife.) Let the wheel, which is turning round the body of Ixion, stop its rotations, and suffer him to reach the ground once more! Let Tantalus, unbalked in his efforts, freely quench his thirst in the waters of the Pirenean fountain. Let a much heavier punishment than his fall to the lot of the father-in-law of my husband (Creon). Let the slippery rock cease to roll back from the mountain upon Sisyphus!

Oh! ye Danaides, assemble ye likewise, cease to expend your vain labor of filling the perforated urn—this is the day which will require useful exertions at your hands (acting up to thy previous example, of. slaying thy husbands on the first night of thy marriage.) And now! Oh! thou Star of the Night (the Moon), invoked by my sacred appeals, come forth, assume thy most angry looks, but be thou not threatening in one of thy aspects only! but in all three of them. (Diana, Hecate, Phœbe.) It is for thee, releasing my tresses from their fastenings, after the fashion of nocturnal magicians, that I have wandered through the solitary groves with my naked feet, and have drawn down, by my incantations, copious showers from a cloudless sky, and have caused the sea to sink down to its lowest depths, whilst the ocean, with its impetuous tides subdued by my powers, has retired with its ponderous waters quite below its accustomed bed, and in like manner the entire laws of the firmament have been controverted and placed in abeyance, and the wonder-struck world has been known to be gazing at the sun, and the stars at one and the same moment of time, and the Arctic Bears, which are expressly forbidden to fall below the horizon, have been made by me to dip themselves in the sea! I have changed the very order of the seasons, the Earth has flourished with all the golden tints of summer, and Ceres has been coerced into yielding a plenteous harvest in the very depths of winter—The turbulent waves of the Phasis I have transformed into whimpering streams! And the Danube, which is divided into so many estuaries, has been caused by me to draw in its threatening waters, and has only modestly approached its various banks! The waves have sounded, one moment, like thunder, and the sea has swelled with very rage, when the winds were absolutely quiescent; at my word of command the entire area of some ancient forest has been suddenly denuded of its foliage—Phœbus has stopped at my bidding his fiery chariot in the middle of the day, and the Hyades, moved by my incantations, have absolutely trembled! Oh Phœbe, come thou to the sacrifice which I have prepared in honor of thee, this chaplet intertwined with nine serpents thereon has been woven for thee by my very own blood-stained hands, which are herewith at thy disposal are the very portions (the serpents) of the body although out of character once possessed by the recalcitrant Typhœus, (some of the giants had those appendages to their feet) when he shook from its very foundations the mighty Kingdom of Jupiter! Here is some of the blood of that treacherous abductor, Nessus, which he gave me himself, when he was dying! These cinders are just imported from the funeral pile at Oëta, which swallowed up the poison, that destroyed Hercules! Here, you see the veritable torch of the revengeful mother, the impious Althæa, but at the same time affectionate sister—(Althæa killed her own son, because he slew her brothers).

Here are the identical feathers which the Harpy left behind it, in the cave so difficult of access, when it flew away from Zetes! To these let me add the feathers of one of the Stymphalides, which was wounded (brought down) by an arrow charged with the poison of the Lernæan Hydra! Hark! Hark! The altars are giving out a sound of some sort, I fancy my tripod is in motion, the goddess then is favorable! I behold the graceful chariot of the tri-une goddess (on account of her three capacities), and not wearing that full serene face with which she usually shines all the night through, but with that sad expression on her pale countenance which she presented when, harassed by the threatening importunities of the Thessalian magicians, when she drew rein as she described her downward journey in quitting the skies! And in like manner let me diffuse through the air a doleful irradiation, with my torch feebly burning, let me astonish the people with this newly-devised scare of mine, and oh! Dictynna (another name for Phœbe), the tinkling brazen cymbals of Corinth, held in such high estimation, shall come to thy aid! It is to thee I will offer up a solemn sacrifice on the blood-strewn leafy grass—for thee, that the torch from the accommodating tomb has kept up its nocturnal blaze—it is for thee I was uttering my supplications, when I turned round and moved my head excitedly (corybantically), it was for thee that that my head-dress surmounted my disordered locks, after the fashion adopted at funerals! It is for thee, that my hand is waving this mournful branch, which was washed up by the Stygian streams—it is for thee that with my breast laid bare as a Mænad, I will pierce my arms with the sacred knife, that my own blood may flow at thy altars! Let me accustom myself to the drawing of the sword, and let me be able to spare the loss of blood, which now is all the more precious to me. (She means she will require all her physical vigor to carry out the slaughter of her children.) I have wounded (struck) myself, and have supplied the sacrificial fluids. But, if thou shouldst complain that I call upon thee too much, I entreat thee pardon my importunate demands! Oh! Perseis, (another name for Hecate) they are always for one and the same object, that I implore thy valuable assistance, always, Jason! And now let me impregnate this cloak for Creusa, which as soon as she puts it on, the creeping flames will consume the body down to the innermost marrow, and the very bones containing it!

The fiery element inclosed in this gold is in a latent state at present, and therefore not detectable—this is what Prometheus gave me himself, who paid the penalty for this theft from heaven, with his re-producing entrails (a vulture fed on them, each day, when they would re-appear) and who, at the same time, told me the best way of utilising its potency—and Vulcan gave me some of his fire from Ætna, covered over with thin layers of sulphur, and I have also some of the identical lightning from the thunderbolt, with which Jupiter killed Phaëthon, a kinsman of my own! I have likewise a contribution from that monster, Chimæra, which will be useful; I have some of the veritable flames, which were breathed from the fiery mouth of the bull of Colchis, which I have taken care to preserve, as an especial destructive agent, defying all detection, mixing them with some of Medusa's gall! Oh! Hecate! Give energy to my various poisons, preserve under thy careful surveillance these quintessences with my other offerings—let them defy all detection by the human eye, and let them bear handling, without suspicion—when brought into operation, let the intense heat, given out, penetrate the chest, and run through every vein! Let it traverse through every limb in the body, and let the very bones send up their fumes (thoroughly carbonizing them). Let this new bride far outshine with her own burning locks (effects of the flames), her nuptial torch! My vows are held in favor! Hecate, who has dared all this for me, has just given me the watch-cry, three significant shouts! And she has brought her own sacred fire, in her luminous torch every power is now brought to bear! Call the sons hither, nurse, to whom thou must intrust these precious gifts for the bride-elect! Now, go, oh my sons, offspring of an ill-starred repudiated mother, commend yourselves to the favourable consideration, in presenting these gifts with many benedictions to your future mistress, and step-mother! Now go, and hasten your return to the palace, that I may still have time for a last embrace!


CHORUS.

The Chorus dreads the fury of Medea, and execrates
her malicious deeds.

By what cruel passion, is this blood-thirsty Mænad being carried away headlong? What terrible crime is Medea now concocting in her ungovernable madness? Her countenance, inflamed with anger, has quite a set expression and the proud woman is shaking her head wildly, and judging from her gestures, she is threatening the King, with something quite beyond our conception! Who would believe that Medea was a condemned exile? Her reddened cheeks are burning at one moment, and the next, a deadly pallor takes the place of that redness! She does not retain either color for any length of time on her changeable face! Hither and thither she paces wildly, even as a tigress, robbed of her cubs, searches with instinctive anxiety the forests of the Ganges, raging furiously as it follows up the track, and thus Medea is unable to resist the force of her anger, and the strength of her repudiated passion! Now when anger and baulked love join in hostile array, what may not the consequences be? When will this wicked woman from Colchis take her departure from our Pelasgian country? Or will she keep the kingdom, and at the same time the kings themselves in a perpetual state of alarm? Now, Phoebus, send on thy chariots quickly, let no tightening of the reins release the speed (this, in allusion to the day granted to Medea) and let merciful darkness obscure the light! Let the herald of the coming night, Hesperus, obliterate with its advent this fearful Day!


ACT V.

MESSENGER-CHORUS—NURSE—MEDEA—JASON

The messenger reports that Creusa, her father and the entire palace have been consumed by the flames arising from the present sent by Medea.

MESSENGER.

All things have perished! The stabihty of the Kingdom has collapsed, father and daughter are laid low in death—their ashes are intermingled!

CHORUS.

By what wicked treachery were they thus deprived of life?

MESSENGER.

By gifts, as Kings usually are deluded! (In the same manner, that fishes are accustomed to be taken in by the hook!)

CHORUS.

But what treachery can there be in their case?

MESSENGER.

And I wonder myself, what it can be, I can scarcely believe, even now, that it occurred as the work of an incendiary!

CHORUS.

But how was this terrible destruction first brought about? (Does there appear any limit to it?)

MESSENGER.

A most destructive fire is raging at this present moment throughout every part of the palace; it looks more now as if it were the work of some incendiary, and now that the whole palace has fallen a prey to the flames, serious fears are entertained, lest it might spread all over the city!

CHORUS.

Does not the water keep down the flames?

MESSENGER.

No! The curious feature presenting itself in this calamitous business is, that the water only seems to feed the flames, instead of extinguishing them, and the greater the efforts made to restrain them, the more fiercely the fire rages, it seems only to strengthen itself by what is done to keep it down!

NURSE.

Oh! Medea, hasten thy steps from this land of Pelops, seek out, whatever country thou likest!

MEDEA.

Why should I go away? If I had gone away some time ago, I should return now (most certainly) for I take a great interest in this novel marriage! Oh my soul, why should I cease my task? Let me follow up this happy turn of events; otherwise, to what does my part in this act of revenge end, in which I have so much reason to rejoice!

Oh! Medea, in thy maddened condition, is it that thou still lovest Jason? If thou considerest the present calamities sufficient for that now celibate Jason!

No! Let me seek for some uncommon kind of punishment! And such being the case, let me get myself ready for any thing! Let every known law yield to my will, and let all absurd tears, once shaken off, be for ever absent from my mind! That revenge is confessedly slow work, in which hitherto unstained hands have been engaged. (By this is meant a justification for the slaughter of Creon and Creusa, therefore pure unstained, Creon being an enemy, and Creusa an interloping mistress.) Let me hark back to all my pristine wrath, and let me shake myself out of any languorous yearnings, and let me draw forth from the lowest recesses of my soul some of the old forces, which are still within me! But let them, if anything, be more violent than ever! So that what has heretofore been accomplished by me, may appear in the light of comparative innocence! Now let me set to work, I would that they should be made fully to understand how trivial, how commonplace, the crimes which I have already perpetrated have really been! My anger has merely been passing through its premonitory stages, (a mere prologue to the tragedy). What raw novice would dare to attempt anything on a really grand scale! What, for example, did my girlish anger (achievements) amount to? Now I am Medea (if you please) and my abilities have improved during my long career of crime! Things gave me satisfaction at the time. I was pleased when ! took away my brothers life; I was pleased also, when I handed the weapons of destruction to the daughters of Pelias, to deal the finishing blow to that poor old man! Let my present anger, however, seek out for adequate materials upon which to finish my crowning revenge! I shall not, at all events, be employing hands inexperienced in crime for any thing I may decide upon! But where, into what channel, may I ask myself, am I now steering? Or, again, what are the exact weapons that I should level against that perfidious enemy, Jason? I really do not know, at present, what my angry mind has determined upon within itself! Probably I have as yet been in rather too much foolish haste! But I wish this much, that my enemy had had some.children by that concubine Creusa; whatever there are, are mine, as far as Jason has made them, so!

I must suppose that Creusa gave birth to them, tutor my mind to that belief! This kind of punishment has pleased me, and deservedly pleased me, and I acknowledge that it is a veritable consummation of my desires I Oh my soul, let preparations be made! Oh! ye children, once suffer punishment for your father's wickedness! A feeling of horror vexes my soul, my limbs are stiffened with the chill which comes over me, and my heart is in a flutter! My anger has quitted its post and the "Mother" only becomes the ascendant force, and prevails over the other, the "repudiated wife"! And can I really bring myself to shed the blood of my children, my own very offspring!

Better perhaps! Alas I my mad rage, that ever such a crime should have been thought of, and would that such cruel wickedness had kept itself out of my mind I What crime have those children committed, that they should suffer punishment? Yes! Jason is the crime! Jason is their father, and the greater crime is Medea—they must perish, if they are not mine! Let them be sacrificed, if they are mine, they are free both of crime and blame, I confess, and so was my brother! What! Oh, my soul, art thou hesitating again? Why do the tears course down my cheeks? And why does my anger lead me on vacillatingly, hither one minute, and love (repudiated love) draw me thither the next? A wavering impetuous tide controls me, as when the tempestuous winds proclaim a cruel war, and the contending waves, swelling here, surging there, at every turn exert their dominion over the sea, and the perplexed ocean, as it were, boils up in anger! Alas! Oh! my anger, let me now yield to affection— Bring yourselves, hither, oh! my darling offspring, the only consolation left to me from my afflicted home, and embrace me with your arms thrown around me! May your father afford you his safe protection, and although your mother would protect you in like manner, exile,—flight,—are driving me from you! And now they may soon be torn, weeping and mourning, from my bosom! Let them be dead to the kisses of a father if they are to be dead to those of another! My anger is getting the upper hand again, and my mind will still nurse its hatred! Erinnys, as of old, urging me on to a fresh crime, repeats her odious assistance! Oh! my anger! wherever thou leadest me, I must follow!

I only wish then, that a whole army of proud Tantalides had emerged from my womb, and that I had been the parent of fourteen sons! I have been restricted in my punishments! (Medea wishes for fourteen children, in order to punish Jason all the more arithmetically.) I have only brought forth two, which must be enough, one for my slaughtered brother, and the other for the outraged father! I wonder, though, what that redoutable group of Furies are bent upon? Whom are they seeking? Or for whom are they preparing, with their burning blows? Or whom, that the tribe from the infernal regions are threatening, with their cruel torches? There, a huge serpent, curled up, is hissing as it shakes out its whips! For whom is Megæra looking now, with that horrible flaming beam of fire? (a huge torch.) Whose shade is this, which is now approaching with its dismembered body—it is not very clear to my mind?

Ah! yes! I see now, it is that of my brother, he is seeking for some one's punishment. I will give it to him, and therefore hurl all thy torches at my eyes, if thou wilt, tear me in pieces,—consume me entirely with thy fire! Look! My breast is open to the Furies, for then: attack! Oh I my brother, let those representatives of the avenging Goddesses depart from my sight, in security to the Manes below! Leave me to myself, oh, my brother, and I, who unsheathed this sword, let it be employed by the hand which now holds it! I will appease the Manes, with this victim! (Here Medea strikes down the first child.)—What sudden sound is that, which reaches my ears? A clanking of weapons indicates some slaughtering preparations, and they are evidently seeking me for destruction! My killing operations having already commenced, I will mount up to the lofty chambers of the palace, and come thou, nurseling, with me, as a companion! I will carry thy body with me from this place. (This said to the slaughtered child.)

(Medea carries the dead body of one son, and leads the other by the hand to the rooms above.)

Now, oh my soul, once set to work, my presence of mind must not, forsake me at this juncture, let me show my power to these people— the advanced guard.

JASON.

Now then, whatever faithful followers amongst you, who grieve for the slaughter of your king, assemble! So that we may seize upon the real perpetratrix of all these horrible crimes. Come hither—hither advance, thou band of brave warriors, get ready your weapons, and destroy this house from its lowest foundations!

MEDEA.

Already, Jason, already I have got possession of the sceptre, my brother,—my father, and they represent to me the recovery of the treasure stolen from Colchis—the golden fleece.—My-kingdom-has_verily returned to me and my virginity of which thou, deprivedst me, appears to be restored to me! At last, I can exclaim. Oh! ye benignant Deities! 0h! the joyful day come at last! Oh! what nuptial delight| Let me go, my crimes have been literally crowned—not as yet, however, has my revenge been got rid of, let me exert myself, whilst my hands are in training, for the task before me. Why do I now slacken my resolutions. Oh my soul, why hesitate at all? Thou hast all the strength and power about thee—my anger sometimes subsides—I repent, I repent of the deed I have committed—What have I done, oh, miserable, it is allowable to be in a penitent mood, after I have done the deed; nevertheless, a great inward satisfaction takes possession of me, in spite of my temporary unwillingness, and, what is more, it increases with me—only one thing was wanting to make things perfect, and that was Jason himself as an eye-witness! I am inclined for that reason to think nothing of what has been done, whatever crime I have committed without him as a witness, seems to count for nothing!

JASON (to his soldiers).

Behold, there she is, leaning over a precipitous projection of the roof; let one of you bring some fire hither, that she may fall a victim to the same flames she has used against others.

MEDEA.

Jason, rather heap up the materials for a funeral pile for thine own sons, and prepare a tomb for them. A wife and father-in-law have had the justice done to them which is due to the dead (the fire), they were duly buried by me, (pointing to the first son killed) that son has met his fate already, and this one, in thy very own sight, shall receive a similar end.

JASON.

By every known deity—by the exile which we have shared in common—and by our marriage-bed, and of which, I can truly say, I have never violated the nuptial confidence, of my own free will;—do spare me one son at all events! If there be any criminal it is I, myself—hand me over to death—sacrifice my criminal life.

MEDEA.

I shall use the sword where thou dost not wish it to be visited, and which thou wilt most grieve for—Go now! Proud adulterer, seek for thy marriage-bed amongst the virgins, and quit the presence of her, whom thou hast made a mother!

JASON.

One child surely is enough punishment for thee to exact!

MEDEA.

No! If I could possibly have been satisfied with one slaughter, I should not have sought for any—so that I shall have to slay two, and a small number too, in proportion to the extent of my wrath; and what is more, if there were the most latent germ of motherhood left within my body, I would search out my womb with this sword and extract it forthwith.

JASON.

Now finish completely the wickedness thou hast so successfully commenced with, and grant me as short a time as possible before thou beginnest to visit me with punishment!

MEDEA.

No! Enjoy at thy leisure the results of thy one crime; do not be in any hurry—oh! my angered spirit!—this day is mine—let me use profitably the time agreed upon!

JASON.

Oh! cruel woman, let me perish myself!

MEDEA.

Thou askest me to pity thee! (Here she strikes down the second son.) I am satisfied my task is now fully accomplished—I have nothing more, if I could, to sacrifice to my anger!—Ungrateful Jason!

Raise towards me thy swollen orbs! Dost thou now acknowledge that thou hast a wife? This is my mode of taking up my exile! My usual style of flight! The way to the heavens is open to me, two dragons (green griffins) submit their scaly necks to the yoke of my chariot, and Jason, thou parent, take great care of thy sons, whilst I am borne along to the aerial regions in my swift chariot!

JASON.

Through those lofty spaces of the sublime sky along which thou mayst be conveyed, there surely must be no gods, who will bear witness to thy flight—with impunity!