Ten Tragedies of Seneca (1902)/Thyestes
|Chorus of Old Men of Mycenæ.
Tantalus, and another Son
Atreus and Thyestes, the sons of Pelops by Hippodamia, governed their kingdom, every other year, having agreed to rule by turns. Thyestes, with theof his brother's wife, Aërope, whom he enticed to commit adultery, makes away with the golden ram. The fate of the Kingdom hanging on the possession thereof, and conscious of his guilt, he goes away into exile. Atreus, angry that he should have thus escaped his vengeance, pretends that he will restore him to favor, if he will send his sons as hostages; he persuades him to return and offers him his share of the kingdom again, and he persists in this persuasion. He has the three sons received as hostages sacrificed, and serves them up as a feast, part of them roasted, and part boiled, to the unsuspecting parents, and Atreus hands Thyestes wine mixed with their blood. Towards the end of the feast (from which Phœbus has fled, lest he should witness it) Atreus shows him the heads and hands of his sons, and tells him that they were the feast of which he had partaken, jeering at his brother's disgust, grief and curses.
THE GHOST OF TANTALUS—MEGÆRA.
Tantalus is brought from Hell by the Fury (Megæra), and he is compelled to foster the wicked enmity between his grandsons, Atreus and Thyestes, and the sons of Pelops.
Who has drawn me forth from my miserable abode in Tartarus, where my food was snatched away, as it neared my hungry mouth? which of the Gods has spitefully summoned Tantalus to see the abodes of the living again? Has any new punishment been discovered more horrible than dying with burning thirst? and with water, too, around me, and within my reach, or worse even than insatiable hunger with nothing to appease its pangs. I wonder whether the slippery stone of Sisyphus is intended to be worn on my shoulders, or the wheel of Ixion to whirl my limbs round and round with its rapid motion; or does the punishment of Tityus await me, whose lot it was, to provide food, as he lay exposed m a huge cave, for the horrible birds of prey, which pecked away at his entrails, and only to make up at night what he lost in the day, and he lies there, only waiting to afford a full repast for some fresh arrival, some bird of prey! To what fresh torment am I to be handed over? Oh! Whatever relentless judge thou art, who dispensest the laws of the Manes; why layest thou aside the old punishments already undergone to impose fresh ones? And if thou canst, add to my punishment what the guardian of the most cruel prison would quail to think of, at what tristful Acheron would even tremble, at the fear of whom all we unfortunate Manes are wont to wince again! Seek for some thing! Now, forsooth, there starts up a tribe springing from my race, which makes me to feel like an innocent individual in comparison, and a race that has the audacity to do things that I could never have conceived (in my most vivid imagination). Whatever place presents itself in the regions of the condemned, I will fill up the vacancy. Minos, the judge of Hell, will never be without employment so long as the race of Pelops lasts.
MEG. Come on, thou despicable Ghost, and stir up this criminal abode, with the very rage of the Furies; let them engage in strife, with every venomous determination, and let the sword be perpetually at work with one, or the other; let there be no bounds to their animosity, and the blindest rage inflame their hearts. Let the mad wrath of the parents continue and let it descend for ever to their distant offspring, and lest ancient crimes should lose their stinging remembrances, and become more endurable, let a fresh one crop up, but not one only, but one doubled in its severity! And whilst their crimes are being punished, let matters get worse, and let the kingdom fall from the hands of the proud brothers, only to be reclaimed by them, as exiles and rivals! The doubtful chances of a divided and belligerent dynasty will oscillate between the bewildered kings, and thus a miserable man, may become a man of power, and a man of power reduced to misery, and he who holds the kingdom will be constantly harassed by event following event, as it were in a continuous flow—driven away on account of their crimes, let them return to a land, of crimes, so long as the Gods vouchsafe to them a country to live in, and let them be, if possible, as hateful to themselves as they are to others—let there be nothing which their rage may seek to deem themselves forbidden to do. Let brother intimidate brother—parent, son—and son, parent—and let their children perish a miserable death! Let children be born under worse conditions, incestuous parentage! (Brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, mother and son, father and daughter!) Let an enraged wife be a source of danger to a husband, and that she may, through such a cause, lead on to wars beyond the seas, (Agamemnon and Menelaus, sent to recapture Helen,) and that blood shall be made to irrigate every land! Let triumphant lust be made to triumph over illustrious chiefs, (Chryseis and Cassandra,) who yield to its power. Let adultery be but a very trivial consideration with them in their wicked palace! Let the binding confidence between brothers, every friendship, every trust and all that is holy and sacred amongst kindred be trampled on—defied! And let heaven itself claim no immunity from the effects of thy crimes! Why do the stars shine in the heavens? why does their light continue its task of giving ornament to the world? As a matter of right? No! let night be rendered as black as possible, let no daylight emanate from the heavens! Let us throw the household Gods into disorder; bring about enmities, slaughters, deaths! Let the entire palace be filled with and reveal the presence of Tantalus! Let lofty pillars be embellished, and let the joyous portals be laden and made verdant with the laurel. Let there be a blaze of illuminations, worthy of celebrating the arrival! Let the Thracian tragedy, one victim be acted over again but on a larger scale! (Three victims.) Why should an Uncle claim the privilege of withholding his co-operation? Does not Thyestes bewail his sons yet? Why does he hang back so long? The flames already beneath the caldron, are fetching up the foam! Let the separated limbs break up into pieces! Their blood shall defile the paternal hearth! The feast will now be prepared, nor wilt thou arrive to witness a scene of, crime, to which thou canst be any stranger—thou shalt have a day set apart for thy special enjoyment, and thou shalt thoroughly satisfy thy hungry cravings, with the viands prepared at thy meals—fill then thy empty interior, and blood mixed with wine, shall be quaffed in thy very presence; I have arranged this feast, and pray, why dost thou refuse to partake of it?—Stop, please; whither art thou rushing so hurriedly?
TANT. Back to the stagnant pools, the noisome rivers, the ebbing streams, back to the trees laden with fruit which recedes from my lips, as soon as it is approached; it is surely permissible for me to return to the sombre resting, place of my quondam prison! Then, if I am only, rendered a little less miserable thereby, let the river be transferred to other banks more trying! Oh Phlegethon! let me be thrown into the middle of thy streams, flowing with fiery waves! and thou, whatsoever thou art, who art commanded by the inexorable decrees of Fate to undergo punishment awarded—whoever crouches panic-stricken in a cave rotten with destroying time; dost thou already dread the fall of the mountain which threatens to come down upon thee with a crash; whoever there is that dreads the savage roarings of the lion, and, entangled, shrinks before the scourging whips of the assembled Furies,—whoever, half-burnt, flies from the vengeful torches, as they are dealt forth in rapid succession: listen to the words of Tantalus, who is fast hastening to join thee; believe in me, an experienced sufferer, and learn to appreciate thy punishments, with a thankful spirit. Ah! I wonder when my luck will arrive to escape from these regions above!
MEG. Before we discuss other matters, put the palace into thorough confusion, and bring the heralds of coming war with thee, and the disasters connected with the sword, in which kings do so delight, and perplex their truculent minds with the wildest and most tumultuous passions!
TANT. It is my especial province to suffer punishment, and not promote myself to inflict it upon others. I am summoned then, that a pestilential vapor should issue forth for the opening of the earth, created by my exit, or as a plague to diffuse its deadly contagion amongst mankind! And that I, as a grandfather, shall be the means of urging my grandchildren to perpetrate the most horrible wickedness! Oh! Great parent of the Gods! although, I blush to declare my paternity, is it necessary that my tongue, already visited with a great punishment for my past loquacity be further doomed to silence? I shall not, however, be silent over this matter. I shall conjure my grandsons not to violate the sacred altars, with their hands reeking with slaughter, and not to besprinkle them with the blood of their victims, under the evil instigation of the wicked furies (addressing Megæra); I shall be in attendance and will stop this sanguinary work—why dost thou attempt to frighten me with thy scourging whips and savagely threaten me with thy wriggling serpents? Why dost thou revive the hunger already searching out the very marrow of my bones? Why increase the thirst, which now burns up my inside, and the flames that play about my scorched entrails?— after all I suppose I shall have to comply! I comply then!
MEG. The fury that now possesses thee, spread it over the entire palace, for as thou thirstest for water so let others be brought into a similar craving condition, and so raging with thirst, that they shall crave for each other's blood, out of very hatred! The palace already has been aware of thy approach, and completely shudders at thy wicked proximity! Everything is abundantly provided for, go now to thy infernal cave, and the river thou knowest so well, already the sad Earth is oppressed with thy footsteps! Dost thou not see, how the very streams return to their springs, so that the river-banks are forsaken? and now a fiery wind bears onward the dried-up clouds, every tree grows pale (loses its verdancy) and there stands with its ranches denuded of the fruit, which falls off, and the Isthmus (Corinth) which keeps up a constant roaring here and there with the near waves of the two seas, which it divides with its narrow strip of land, now only listens to the far-off waves, from the waters, that have receded from its banks! Now the sources of the Lerna are dried up, and the streams of Inachus (Phoronides) have quite disappeared. Nor does the sacred Alpheus pour forth its waters any more—And the summits of Cithæron present no white anywhere, the snow having disappeared, and the noble people of Argos fear a return of the drought with which they were afflicted once before; and Titan himself is in doubt whether he shall command the day to follow in due course, or whether he shall keep back die horses of the sun, tightly reined, and not to enter upon another day which he fancies, he will not be able to carry through!
The Chorus, consisting of the old men of Mycenæ and Argos, (for the poets often confounded Argos with Mycenæ) invokes the presiding deities of the cities in Peloponnesus, that they will prevent and avert the wickedness and crimes, that are hatching in the Palace of Pelops, and which are now imminent, and chants of the impious crimes of Tantalus.
If any tutelar deity, amongst the gods above, who cherishes any affectionate regard for Achæan Argos, or if the noble race of Pisa, who celebrate the Olympian Games with their emulating chariots; if there be any, who look with favor on the Corinthian Isthmus, with its double harbours, and the two seas which it separates; if any admiring tutelar god, who sees from afar, the magnificent snows mantling the summits of Taygetus, which the Scythian Boreas has furnished during the winter season, and which the ensuing summer's sun melts, and renders the path easy for navigators with their sailing ships, as the Etesian winds spring up. (These periodical north-east winds were always continuous, like our trade winds.) Is there a Deity whom the bright Alpheus with its cooling streams claims as a friendly protector, the place, too, so noted for its race-course and Olympian Games! look down, oh! that kind deity, and interpose, lest such crimes, as have already been committed aforetime, should be repeated!—let not a grandson succeed to the throne possibly worse than his grandfather, nor that greater crimes may suit the inclinations of the younger successors!—At length, may the impious progeny of thirsting Tantalus, wearied out, abandon their ferocious violence; enough crime has already been committed—the law, hitherto of no avail, has been trampled on, and all the ordinary offences of mankind have been wickedly surpassed! And Myrtilus, the treacherous betrayer of his master, fell betrayed like that master, and was carried off with the same treacherous intentions, which he had manifested towards Œnomaus, and being thrown into the sea by Pelops, rendered that sea famous, its name being changed from its former one. (Pelops having thrown him into the sea, instead of carrying out his promise, that he should be a sharer in the favors of Hippodamia.) No legend is better known to the Ionian mariners, than this. Thy own little offspring, Pelops, fell by thy impious sword, oh! thou, Tantalus! just as he was merrily tripping along to receive a father's caress, that tender victim died at the altar, and was carved up by thy own hand, that thou might (with his flesh) supply the feast, which thou servedst up for the Gods, whom thou invitedst as thy guests! (To test the divinity of the Gods, but they all abstained, except Ceres!) Eternal hunger awaited thee, after this meal and eternal thirst, as the part price of this repast! Nor could a more worthy punishment have been decreed in token of such a diabolical feast! Tantalus continues to be baffled in his vain efforts, to satisfy his empty throat! Many a tempting prize hangs over his sickly head, more fugitive than the Phinæan vultures! Here and there a tree droops downwards, with its heavily laden boughs, bending again with the weight of its fruit, and swaying to and fro, plays the part of tempter with its patulous openings—Although hungry and impatient of delay, he fails to reach them, being disappointed as often as he makes the attempt—he averts his eyes, and closes his mouth, trying to stifle his hunger, by closing his teeth, by shutting it in, as it were! But then every grove lowers its rich and luscious fruit (wealth), nearer and nearer, and the ripe apples leap about friskily above his head surrounded by the leaves languidly yielding to their capers, and they excite his hunger more and more and this urges him to make futile efforts to seize them with his hands, that when he has held these forth in vain, he seems reconciled to such frequent disappointments, and the entire autumn during which this fruitless task is exacted, passes away, and with it, disappears the gracefulness of the groves; and now comes a thirst, not lighter to be borne than the hunger already endured, thirst which when the blood grows hotter, burns him up, as it were with an inward fire; he stands then miserably invoking the streams to approach his parched up mouth, but which the receding river diverts, leaving nothing but its empty bed, whenever he attempts to get near it, and he swallows merely the sand, which lies at the bottom of the rapid stream!
ATREUS — THE GUARD.
Atreus consults with his guard, having determined to wreak his revenge on his brother, as to the best mode of carrying out his vengeance, to whom, however, he will not listen, as the guard advises him only to do what is right, and at length he decides on an impious and horrible plan of executing such revenge.
OH, sluggish, aimless, pusillanimous soul of mine (and what I suppose to be most contemptible in a king, the consummation of every other shortcoming), unrevenged, after so much wickedness, after the treachery of a brother, and every law human and divine trampled upon! why dost thou, Atreus, exercise thy angry spirit with vain and meaningless complaints? But the whole of Argos ought at this moment to be resounding with the din of thy arms, and every warship muster and be afloat in the two seas; by this time, it might be expected, too, that the fields and cities were blazing with the conflagrations thou hast set up, and the drawn sword flashing on all sides; all the Argolic land should be sounding again with the stamping hoofs of thy cavalry. Let not the forests afford a retreat for the enemy, or fortifications constructed on the lofty summits of mountains—leaving Mycenæ behind, let all my subjects sound the trumpet of war. Whosoever has protected or countenanced this hateful brother of mine, the powerful following of the illustrious dynasty of Pelops, shall slay with merciful slaughter! Let every living man rush upon me, even provided he serves my brother in a similar manner! Come, soul of mine! Do what no posterity would hail as proper! but what in sooth, they may never forget—Some atrocious bloody deed must be done, which my brother would rather be done by himself against me, but it is impossible thoroughly to revenge wickedness unless thou surpassest it in degree! but lo! what savage deed, in fact, can be done which could daunt that man's atrocity? I wonder whether he is a man that will die away quietly, whether he is the sort of man to bear prosperity in a reasonable frame of mind, or whether he can show calmness in adversity? I have always detected in him, a certain indomitableness of character; he is a man not to be bent! he must be broken! therefore, before he has time to gather up his strength or prepare for opposition, he must be sought out at once, lest indeed he should seek to find me in a state of unpreparedness—Either he will kill me or he will perish by my hand, the crime is so finely balanced between us, that he will win, who is the foremost in its perpetration!
GU. Surely no murmurings—no false rumours amongst thy subjects is disturbing thy peace of mind.
ATR. The chief charm of a kingdom amounts to this, that the subjects of the master are compelled rather to do the bidding of their ruler than to be called upon, necessarily to applaud their deeds!
GU. The fear which compels others to praise thee only makes such fear more hostile (in its character), but he who seeks the glory arising out of genuine applause, must be willing to be lauded in spirit, rather than in vocal demonstrativeness.
ATR. Genuine praise often falls to the lot of a humble man; false flattery is a tribute paid only to the powerful. The law with kings is, the people must be willing to do what they do not regard with satisfaction.
GU. When a king wishes for nothing but what is just, no one desires anything more.
ATR. Wherever honesty is the only thing looked for in a king, such a king's sceptre is in a very precarious state.
GU. Where there is no moderation, no regard for the laws' probity, no religion, and no confidence, such a kingdom rests on a most unstable foundation.
ATR. Religion, probity, good faith are the attributes of their private possessors—kings say, do and command just as they think proper.
GU. It is not right to injure anybody, nor right even to dream of such a thing, where a brother is concerned.
ATR. Whatsoever has been unlawful in my brother towards me, is only justice on my part to recrimmate. What has he left to be done, but what is already stamped with the seal of crime? or when has he spared crime? He has robbed me of my wife by his adultery, and stolen my kingdom (into the bargain). He has fraudulently possessed himself of the traditional emblem of our dynasty, and he has brought about endless disaster upon our royal house! There is in the royal mews of Pelops, a noble wool-bearing animal, a mysterious Ram, the bellwether of an illustrious flock, whose dense fleece hangs down over its entire body, and profusely loaded with gold, and from whose back the wool is taken, which adorns the golden sceptre, which every newly-appointed king of the house of Tantalus dons, when he ascends the throne. The possessor of this valuable heir-loom is the man who rules the kingdom; the destinies of the house, therefore, are indissolubly connected with it. This sacred animal, therefore, in a spot set apart for that object, is allowed to browse without molestation in a soft meadow, which a stone wall shuts in, protecting with its stony defence, the feeding ground of this golden ram, which directs the fate of the kingdom. My brother has been so daring, in his unparalleled wickedness, that he has perfidiously carried it away, my wife being accessory to this deed, as well as being a partner in ms guilt, that of fouling my marriage bed! Hence, every misfortune which has befallen me has been intermingled with the results of this terrible blow. Throughout my own kingdom, I have tramped as a trembling outcast! Not a single part of that kingdom, claims exemption from the traces of her insidious treatment! With a dishonored wife, the strength of my authority crushed, my lineage impaired, my very offspring of doubtful paternity: is there—can there be anything of which I can now be certain, except that it is the hostility of Thyestes? Why, then, Atreus, why shouldst thou hesitate as to what thou shouldst do? Begin at once, inoculate thy mind with some of the temper of Tantalus, and seek out Pelops as a fitting model for thy operations, they are properly requisitioned (in thy case). But say, Atreus, how wilt thou immolate that dreadful monster?
GU. I suppose, thou meanest, that his death by the sword will be the only means of effectually rooting out finally and for ever his hostile spirit towards thyself.
ATR. Thou wishest to speak of the mode of his punishment—death. I wish to discuss the punishment itself, which I shall carry out. It is only a meek sort of king, who merely kills in my kingdom, simple death is a luxury sought after!
GU. Does no piety rule thy heart?
ATR. Get away with thee! Religion indeed! If thou hast never been in our house, thou shalt enter now! The dreadful troop of Furies—harsh Erinnys will be there, and Megæra, shaking in her hand torches, doubled on my account. My breast does not sufficiently burn with the great rage within me, it would please me to be filled with greater monstrosities!
GU. What new idea does thy infuriated mind present to thy thoughts?
ATR. Nothing, which takes the shape of ordinary hatred, I will leave no crime out of my calculations, and not one appears sufficient for me.
GU. There's the sword, thou knowest, the fashionable weapon!
ATR. That is a miserable contrivance.
GU. What instrument of destruction, therefore, will thy anger allow thee to employ?
ATR. Thyestes! Himself!
GU. But that crime, would even be greater than any mere outburst of fury.
ATR. I confess thus much: but the most unaccountable tumults convulse my soul, and reverse the very spirit within me—I am carried away, I know not whither, but I am led on irresistibly! The very earth seems to groan from its lowest depths, and although the day is serene enough, yet thunder is heard in the skies, and my very abode cracks and creaks, as if its roof were broken down, and about to tumble upon me, and my very household gods in an excited state, turn away their looks from me; but let my determination be carried out—let it, if it be a crime, be duly executed! What! Oh ye gods above! Are ye scared at my resolves?
GU. What then art thou ready to do, after all?
ATR. I know not exactly, what impels my mind with surging thoughts so much and so much more than ordinarily, beyond the bounds of all human ideas, but here I am, with my hands slow to move! I know not, how it will succeed, but so far as I have dwelt upon it, it appears to me a magnificent conception. Come, I shall think it over studiously, the crime of Thyestes is really deserving of it, and it does credit to the mind of Atreus. Thus each of us will perform a part. The palace of the Thracian King has been the scene of serving up, aforetime, a most repulsive repast! I acknowledge frankly—it is a most rascally deed, but it has been done before by others! But, nevertheless, my resentment must discover something yet more severe. Let me be inspired with resolution, as an emulous imitator of that Daulian prototype Progne (of Tereus memory), and may that sister Philomela assist me and encourage my project, as our cause is very similar. (Atreus is seeking to imitate and to look up to Daulis, as a child would to a parent, and personifies "Daulis" as a parent!) A hungry father shall with a smiling face cut up into dainty morsels, his own children, and partake of them at his repast! This is well! This is a brilliant conception! For the present, then, this mode of punishing Thyestes, suits me exactly! But where am I? But why does Atreus hesitate in his mind without promptly carrying out his designs? The entire picture of this contemplated carnage already flits across my vision! I can see in my mind's eye, the very children of whom he has been deprived, being devoured by their own father! O! for this resolution of mine. Why do I shrink back again from my task, and actually hang fire before the matter is taken in hand? Let me take courage then, the thing must be set about! And Thyestes himself will carry out, what will be the most abominable part of this criminal drama (eating his own offspring). What a parade of wholesale childlessness to exhibit before the eyes of a bereaved parent!
GU. But by what devices is he to be entrapped? How will he be brought to wend his approach into our toils? He will view everything with distrust!
ATR. 'Tis true, he cannot be allured, unless he is willing to be allured to serve his own purpose; but now, thou knowest, he hopes to gain my kingdom from me, and he is buoyed up with this desire. He would face the threatening lightning of Jove himself, urged on by such a hope,—he would brave the perils of the Libyan Syrtes, or still further, what he would regard otherwise as the direst of all earthly misfortunes, he would actually face me, his brother!
GU. Who will convey to him the flag of truce? Whom will he trust, who promises such unlikely things?
ATR. Wicked hope is generally credulous: however, we will send a message, by my sons, which they shall convey to their uncle, to inquire whether he would not change his present condition of an outcast, wandering from his own kingdom, and from the miseries of his deserted home, and reign as ruler in part over Argos. If Thyestes himself obdurately spurns their entreaties, these representations will encourage his clownish sons, worn out by their grievous sufferings, and they will be more easy to be cajoled! Whereupon, his insane desire to rule again will prevail over everything, for there must be, where he is, sad privation and hence great distress, although these latter alone would suffice to tame down an ordinary mind unhardened by so much wickedness!
GU. Time surely has enabled him to bear his troubles with some sort of resignation!
ATR. Thou art mistaken, he feels his sufferings increasing daily; it is easy, I admit, to bear misery, but to have to look forward to nothing. else, is much worse!
GU. Do select other instruments for this woeful project, than thy own sons: young people give too ready an ear to worse counsels probably: they may act as regards thee, their father, just in the same way as thou art instructing them to act towards an uncle, so often is it that one's evil deeds recoil upon the authors thereof!
ATR. When any one is unable to understand the 'ins' and 'outs' of frauds and crimes, he that rules can very soon enlighten him. Dost thou feel alarmed lest men should be made wicked? Nonsense! It is born in them! I know what thou thinkest of me—that I am cruel, harsh, and desirous that everything should savor of severity, and this done, sometimes, with too little reverence for the gods; but the chances are that at this very moment Thyestes is getting up some plot against me!
GU. Will not thy sons soon detect that thy plan is nothing but a fraud; besides thou canst not expect, at their tender age, that any secret will be undivulged; perhaps they might pretend that they were not being deceived. To learn the full value of silence is only learned, sometimes, after fighting with evils and misfortunes arising out of the too free use of the tongue! and canst thou really suppose that thou canst hoodwink those whom thou simply employest to deceive others? Whether they do not often act quite opposite to thy views, as regards being wilful accomplices in thy crimes, and thy guilt!
ATR. Why is it even necessary to mix up my children with this wickedness? Cannot my hatred work out its ends through my own agency? Thou art playing me false, soul of mine, thou art flinching—if thou sparest thy children, thou art sparing thyself! And Agamemnon shall know of, and be an instrument in, my scheme, and Menelaus too, shall be at his father's commands and be made acquainted with my project! Out of all this proposed combination of wickedness too, any notion of mine respecting the uncertainty of their birth (as to legitimacy) will be cleared up: if they refuse to advocate war, and are willing to endorse and carry out my hatred; if they speak of me as "Uncle"; then Thyestes is their father! Let us go on, but a troubled countenance is apt to betray the secrets of the mind, and will lay bare any unwillingness, they may entertain to join in the execution of projects of such importance! Let them therefore be in ignorance of the nature of the enterprise, in which they will be co-operators, and let me conceal my real intentions!
GU. This advice is superfluous to me, as thou must be aware. Thou knowest that thou possessest my fidelity and my only apprehensions are entirely as regards thy interests! But my fidelity, above all, will suffice to bury thy secrets in my innermost bosom!
An opportunity is taken advantage of, and is drawn from the feud, between the brothers, who keep down their anger for a time; when the Chorus reproves the ambition of rulers, and points out what a true king should be, and lastly sings in praise of the amenities of a retired life.
At length the noble house of Inachus, that ancient lineage, has seen the rancorous feud of the brothers calmed down; what fury agitates thy breasts, that thou shouldst have carried on such mutual carnage, merely to gain a sceptre, wading to it in crime! Thou art ignorant. Thou who art greedy of attaining power, of what does a kingdom really consist? Riches do not constitute a king, nor gaudy vestments dyed with Tyrian hues, nor the blazing crown on a royal head, nor gorgeous ceilings (of a palace) shining with their rich gilding. That man, though, is a king, who assuages all those fears (and suspicions) so common with rulers, and drives forth from his mind all his own evil passions, whom weak ambition fails to inflate, and whom the unreliable applause of the unthinking herd does not affect—he who covets not what is due out of the mines of the Hesperian West, or what the golden waters of the Tagus yield from its auriferous sands, and who covets not all the abundant grain of the Libyan harvests, threshed out on the heated floors (made warm by the continued trampling of the oxen used for that purpose). That man, whom a passing flash of lightning, seen at a distance, would not drive out of his wits, nor the sea disturbed by easterly gales, nor the swelling waves which suddenly break form in the dangerous straits of the stormy Adriatic. Whom the lance of the furious soldier, nor the drawn sword has not held in pusillanimous subjection; who, placed on a secure throne, watches everything beneath him with serenity and willingly bows to his lot, nor needs not to desire death! (as a relief to his earthly troubles.) Let kings join themselves in vain against such a man! Those who lead the wandering Daci, those who hold in subjection, the borders of the Red Sea, and the sea in many places looking red, as it were with bright gems; nor those upon the Caspian mountain ridges, at the approach of the brave Sarmatians, and may they contend against him, who with intrepid steps advance upon the glassy Danube (frozen) and wherever the Seres are found, renowned for their particular thread (silk) they bring from that far-off country—A king, with a proper mind and disposition holds his kingdom securely—there is no need of armed horsemen—no need of the sword, and the darts, which the Parthian shoots forth at a distance, whilst he is pretending flight. No need! of battering rams to lay cities in ruins, nor for machines being employed in rolling onwards enormous rocks! He is a king, who fears nothing—he is a king who desires nothing unjustly; and this is the sort of royalty, which he bestows upon himself! Any man, who likes, can reign, powerful often, with a tottering roof to his palace! May sweet tranquillity satisfy us, and pitched in some obscure nook let us enjoy thoroughly our luxurious ease! Let our lives glide along silently, our very existence not known to the Quirites (Citizens), so that when our days have passed away, undisturbed by the carking cares of life, we shall die, like any other old individuals, ignored and uncared for! Death lies heavily on the man, who dies unknown by himself, but too much known by the rest of mankind!
|TANTALUS, (the younger), and the
Thyestes being recalled by his brother Atreus, through his sons, returns to his country, not, however, without distrust, and a mind foreshadowing disaster—his sons are tendered as hostages, that he will so return.
Oh! welcome habitations of my native land, and oh! wealthy Argos! at last, I see you again, and what is the greatest and most deeply felt boon to a miserable exile, I feel the contact of my natal soil, and the Gods of my Fathers, (if any are gods at the present time) the sacred towers of the Cyclopes—glorious structures, which never could have been built by ordinary human agency. The race-course so celebrated when I was young, on which I have more than once honorably earned the palm of victory in the paternal chariot! All Argos will be out to meet me, and the crowding populace will rush to see me, but Atreus will be with them! Ah! let me seek the woods again, which serve at least as a retreat, or the dense forests of the wild beasts! It is not this dazzling splendour of a kingdom, that can entirely blink my vision as to the falseness of its brightness, when I look around, at what is given to me, and when I behold the donor! I have usually had a courageous heart, and I have felt joyful to a great degree, even when mixed up with many things, that every one else would regard as rough in the extreme. Now, quite the contrary, my mind is m a whirl of dread, and my very soul recoils, and I wish to take myself back again! I even move along with an unwilling step!
PLIS. What is this, father mine, thou art faltering with thy gait feeble, withal! Thou shiftest thy face about perplexedly, and seemest quite distrustful of thyself!
THY. Oh! My soul! Why am I wavering? Why should I torture myself so long, about a matter which is simple? But yet, can I place any confidence in matters teeming with uncertainties, my brother and the kingdom? Do I still fear evils, which are already overcome, am I already tamed down? And shall I fly from troubles, which have been removed. Does it not suit my inclination to be miserable now? Let me turn back my steps, whilst I can snatch myself away!
PLIS. What reason, father mine, compels thee to turn back from thy country only just visited again? Why dost thou withdraw thy heart aside? thou art returning as a brother, and receiving a part of the kingdom and to set in order the distracting elements of the dynasty, and thy brother gives thee to thyself again, so to speak!
THY. Thou askest me the cause of my dread, which I myself cannot explain. I see nothing to fear, but yet I have my apprehensions, at all events, I should like to go—My whole body seems to give way with my tottering knees, and I am literally being dragged away, to another place, from that, which I am striving to reach, just in fact, as the adverse tide drives back the craft urged on by the rower and the sails, and resists the combined efforts of both.
PLIS. Overcome whatever troubles thy mind or hinders thy resolution, thou readily seest, what ample reward will crown thy expectations, now that thou hast come back. Oh! Father! thou canst well afford to reign.
THY. Yes! When I am on the death-roll!
PLIS. Thy power, as a king, will.be omnipotent.
THY. None at all to one, to whom it is a matter of indifference.
PLIS. Thou canst transmit it to thy sons.
THY. A throne only requires one occupant.
PLIS. He who thinks he cannot be happy, would prefer to be wretched then, dost thou mean?
THY. Rely on me, grand things only tickle the imagination under the assumed proportions of imposingness; poverty, after all, is not so distressing as it is represented; when I sat on the throne, I was in a perpetual state of dread, and feared that a sword was continually about to enter my side, Oh! what a desirable thing it is, to be able to take things as they come—for a man to enjoy his food in security, even when lying on the ground! Great crimes do not usually abound in the humble cot, and one's food is appreciated, and although served on a small table, there is security with it. Poison is drunk out of the golden goblet! I speak from experience, it is a more acceptable choice, to prefer an indifferent lot—before a favorable one uncertain in its duration. The humble low-lying hamlet, exists in much greater serenity than the denizens of a mansion, with all Its majesty erected on the summit of some lofty mountain! Neither does the chaste ivory shine on the lofty ceilings for me, nor does a watchful sentry mount guard, to protect me during my slumber! I do not use entire fleets, for the purpose of catching fish, nor do I endeavour to keep the sea back, by constructing piers, or driving enormous piles. I do not fill my voracious stomach at the expense of the people. No land is at my disposal beyond what the Getæ and Parthians make use of. I am not worshipped with incense, nor are my altars adorned, and Jupiter disregarded! No forest trees are planted on my elevated terraces, waving to and fro; nor many dried up lakes, set on fire with great labor by the hand of man! I do not give up my entire day to sleep, nor are my nights spent in protracted Bacchanalian carousals! But I am, nevertheless, free from inquietude, my house is safe without defensive weapons, and quiet of the most desirable kind extends to all the smaller details of my life! To be able to bear life contentedly without a kingdom, represents to my mind a kingdom vast indeed!
PLIS. But we should not decline to accept it, if a deity bestows it on us.
THY. Nor does it become us, to hanker after it.
PLIS. Thy brother invites thee to reign.
THY. But why does he so ask? that is the very reason I fear, some snare is mixed up with this!
PLIS. Fraternal love often returns when it has only disappeared for a time, and an affection of this natural character soon makes up for former defection.
THY. Will Atreus ever love Thyestes again? I think it is more likely that the Polar stars will swoop down from the heavens and hide themselves in the broad ocean-depths, or that the impetuous waters of the Sicilian straits should calm down suddenly, or the growing corn to ripen, submerged in the Ionian seas. One would rather expect to see sombre Nox, lighting up the Earth, instead of Phœbus, or to see water mixing kindly with fire. Life itself fraternizing, amicably, cheek by jowl, with bitter Mors, or for the winds to enter into some anomalous arrangement, and treaty of peace, with the ocean waves!
PLIS. What fraud, then, dost thou fear?
THY. Every fear, in fact; what bounds can I set on my fear? As great as is his power, so is his hatred of me!
PLIS. What can he do to thee?
THY. For myself I entertain no fears; thou art the object of my fears as regards Atreus!
PLIS. Dost thou fear being taken prisoner? It is somewhat slow work, to begin to fear mischief only when danger is far advanced.
THY. Let things take their course, let us go! At least, my son, I pledge my confidence in this idea, by saying, I follow thee, but I am not leading thee to this business!
PLIS. May the Gods bless thee for having decided so considerately. Come on, father mine, and advance with the step of confidence.
Like some wild beast, Thyestes is at last in my power, entangled by the toils that have been laid for his capture; and as I behold him, side by side, with, his hateful offspring, I detect the look of the parent clearly reproduced in the physiognomies of the sons. Now my revenge must be planned in a safe manner; at last, Thyestes has fallen into my hands, and not only does he appear, but his sons too, a regular family party! I can scarcely preserve my equanimity, and it is with great difficulty, that I can keep my anger in subjugation! Just as when the blood-hound is on the track, and is then being held in by a leather strap, at the same time that he is following up that track, with his nose pressing the ground, and is obedient, whilst he is detecting the boar's whereabout with a feeble scent at a distance only, and wanders here, wanders there silently; but when his quarry draws nearer, he strains away at the collar, and sets up a loud bark, as if he would remind his master of his being kept back, and forthwith breaks away from the hand that held him! So when an angry man has made up his mind to spill the blood of an enemy, he knows not how to dissemble his intentions, but, however, in my particular case, they must be effectually concealed! (Aside.) Behold Thyestes! how his locks covered with dirt, hide up that woeful countenance of his—how hideous too, his beard appears! (Approaching.) Let our mutual oaths, Thyestes, be respected. It delights me to see thee, brother mine. Come, give me the long desired embrace; whatsoever ill-feeling has existed between us, henceforth let bye-gones be bye-gones! From this day forth, let the love of kindred and bonds of fraternal friendship be for ever cultivated by both of us. Let any lingering ill-will be dismissed from our minds, as too odious to be countenanced.
THY. I could explain away everything satisfactorily, even if thou didst not meet me in the kind spirit thou art now showing. But I do confess, Atreus, I must confess the truth of everything thou hast given me credit for. This day's noble conduct on thy part, has only aggravated my offences in my own eyes—That man would be hopelessly bad, who could feel anything but amicably, towards a brother who has evinced towards me so much consideration—I really cannot refrain from shedding tears! First thou must regard me as thy suppliant, and with these hands I now embrace thee on bended knees, knees that have never genuflexed to mortal man before—Let all traces of animosity be rooted out—let all uprisings of anger be kindled for ever; here, Atreus, receive these sons of mine as hostages of my good faith and sincerity!
ATR. Brother mine, remove thy hands from my knees, seek rather the brotherly embrace; and you, so many youths (addressing the sons) as the natural guardians of our advancing years, hang down with your arms round my neck! Remove thy squalid apparel, Thyestes, and spare me the pain of beholding them any more, and put on these, they are identical with those I am wearing myself, and take likewise as a joyful pleasure to me, half of the kingdom with them! The preponderance of glory in this matter is certainly in my favor, the honor, indeed, of restoring a kingdom to a brother who has returned to me in safety, from cruel exile. To hold a kingdom is a matter of chance, but to give one, an act of virtue!
THY. Oh may the Gods reward thee with similar benefits, oh! my brother! to those which thou art now so lavishly showering down upon me, but do let my present squalor decline to exchange itself for that diadem, with which thou art now proposing to dignify my head, and permit these unlucky hands of mine to be excused the task of carrying the sceptre! Let me rather go and hide myself away, amongst the busy crowd of mankind!
ATR. The kingdom is large enough for two.
THY. What brother! am I to be made to believe that to be mine which I know so well to be thine?
ATR. Why dost thou refuse the gifts of Fortune as they come to thee?
THY. Whoever has had any experiences in such matters, must know how easily they may be lost to one!
ATR. Dost thou stand in my way then, brother mine, of gaining for myself great glory?
THY. Thy glory has already been acquired, it is mine that is waiting to be arrived at; but my own resolution is made up—namely, to refuse the crown!
ATR. I will give mine up altogether, unless thou wilt accept a share.
THY. I agree, I will bear the title of king, which thou hast granted me, but thou shalt have authority over my subjects, my armies and myself.
ATR. Place on thy venerable head the diadem which awaits to be placed there—I will offer to the Gods the victims, which I have promised them!
The Chorus is entering into the spirit of the preceding act, praises the fraternal affection of Atreus, which has put aside the hatred and differences between the brothers, in much such a way as the calm which follows the storm, serves to illustrate.
Who would credit it? Here is Atreus, that fierce, cruel, relentless man, actually loses his presence of mind, and appears perfectly dazed at the sight of his brother! Nothing, after all, is stronger than the affection arising out of blood-relationship—whilst feuds carried on by those who are aliens in blood, only grow more inveterate by time! When anger brought about by grievous events, caused the rupture between these brothers, the cry of war was heard! When the skirmishing light horsemen were on the move, amidst much champing of bits; here, there, everywhere, the naked sword flashed as it was flourished about, by ardent warriors, whom fierce Mars urges on, as with repeated onslaught, the rival combatants seek out for fresh slaughter. At length fraternal affection puts aside the sword of revenge, and draws them together with their hands clasped in friendship, once hostile!—Now reconciled! What propitious Deity has brought about such tranquillity out of so much disquiet? Only quite lately the sound of arms was rife throughout Mycenæ, in the beat of civil war—Pale, distracted mothers pressed their babes to their bosoms—wives went in fear for the fate of their husbands, armed for the fray, whilst the sword was held by a regretful hand, (and which before being taken up) had become rusty from long disuse in the preceding times of peace! Now, the whilom warrior, on one side, seeks to repair the ruined city; now the warrior of the opposite faction is busy in rehabilitating the shattered towers, and who quite lately, endeavoured to fortify his portals with iron bars, and in a state of trepidation, behind the niched battlements, as the sentinel watched during the anxious hours of night! Thus the fear of war is sometimes more terrifying than the actual battle. Now the terrors of the sword have passed away, and the sound of the shrill war trumpet is silenced, and profound peace is restored to the rejoicing city of Mycenæ! So where the North-West wind blows violently over the sea of Apulia, the waves swell up from the lowest depths, and Scylla emits a roaring response, as they beat in upon the caverns, and the seafarers dread the seas in their very ports, which the angry Charybdis receives and ejects again with terrible force—and the fierce Cyclops who inhabits the mountains of Ætna, dreads his parent's approach (Neptune) lest his forges, the fire with its noisy wrath, in those everlasting flames should be extinguished by the seas pouring down upon them; and Laërtes, of mean resources, every moment thinks that his little kingdom, will be swallowed by the watery element; whilst Ithaca trembles, too, lest the violence of the sea should overcome its powers of resistance, whilst the waters surrounding it rest as quiet as a mill-pond at ordinary times; in the main seas, whose waves the vessel fears to cut through, with its sails set, the smaller boats sail about playfully, when the sea has calmed down, and it is possible to count the very fish swimming about here, where not long ago, the Cyclades tremblingly feared the sea, when a terrific storm, a storm of unusual violence, raged around them! No condition of matter rests long in the same state; even pain and pleasure visit us by turns, inconstant. Fortune changes the venue from the most lofty situation and substitutes one very much lower. He that graces his head with the diadem, and before whom, the peoples tremble on bended knees, at whose nod the Mede lays down his arms, and the Indian, a nearer neighbour of Phœbus, (more easterly) and the Daci terrified at the Parthian horsemen, with anxious fear that the king holds the sceptre, and he foreshadows all things, and learns to dread the shifting and capricious tides of precarious Fortune and the uncertainty with which they arrive. Thou, therefore, to whom the ruler of the sea and earth has given the power of deciding life or death, hide away thy proud and inflated air; whatever an inferior fears at thy hands, thy superior, acting as thy master, threatens thee. Every kingdom must yield to one of greater power, and the man thou seest proud and tyrannical at the early part of the day, may be seen at night subdued and laid low. Let no man crow too much in his prosperity, let no one give way too much in his adversity, let him. take things as they occur, thankfully. Clotho forbids by virtue of her calling, anything to stand still; she is constantly rotating the fate of every mortal. No one has ever yet found the Gods so propitious that he can with certainty promise himself anything as for to-morrow. The God that rules all things, from his rapidly rotating wheel, rolls forth our destinies exactly as they are pre-ordered!
A Messenger who was present, reports the cruel deed of Atreus, and how his own children were served up to Thyestes at the wicked feast, and eloquently describes those matters, which were very properly concealed from the eyes of spectators within the house.
What whirlwind will transport me headlong into the air and envelop me in some sombre cloud, that my vision may be spared to witness such revolting crimes? Oh! The Dynasty! at which Pelops and Tantalus even would be abashed!
CHOR. What news dost thou bring?
MESS. In what region of the Earth am I? Is it Argos, or is it Sparta, the country of these two affectionate brothers? Or is It Corinth, whose straits are between two seas? Or is it on the borders of the Danube, which favors the savage Alani? Or the land of Hyrcania, with its eternal snows? Or am I amongst the wandering Scythians? Or what place can it be, that is the scene of wickedness too horrible to be mentioned?
CHOR. Speak out, man, and tell us what the wickedness is, whatever it may be.
MESS. I will, when I can collect my mental faculties, my mind is in a sort of standstill, and when my stiffened limbs congealed with horror, begin to thaw! The sight of the dreadful deed is still before my eyes! Oh! Wild hurricanes transport me far, far from such a scene of horror! Let me be conveyed somewhere, unvisited by the light of day!
CHOR. Thou art keeping our minds, in considerable uncertainty which is very trying. What can it be? at what art thou in such a state of fright? Speak out, and tell us the cause—tell us the author of the crime! We do not ask thee simply, who did it, but which of the two brothers was it. Speak, man, speak quickly!
MESS. There is on the highest fortress of the palace of Pelops a frontage, having a southern aspect, whose extreme side rises to a mountainous height, almost, and overlooks the city, and from its menacing appearance, not only holds the recalcitrant rabble in awe of their kings, but enables them also to deal more effectual blows upon revolters below! In this palace is a huge saloon capable of holding large crowds of people (who flock thither for various purposes), where noble porphyry columns support the gilded roof; behind these, and quite open to the public who may assemble there, the sumptuous palace is divided off into numerous departments, but there is another hall, the Sanctuary of the Palace which is visible only at the farthest end, a mysterious retreat, a time-honored grove in a deep valley, concealing it from the vulgar gaze, this is the royal sanctum, where no trees afford their cheerful umbrage, and where the pruning-knife finds no employment!—but the yew, the cypress, and the obscure foliage, rendered more so by the sombre ilex, wave listlessly at the undulations of the circumambient air, upon all of which a lofty oak looks down from on high, and rules the grove with its majestic imposingness. Here the descendants of Tantalus repair to consult about their respective destinies—here to invoke aid, when their affairs are in doubt or danger—Numerous spoils hang about, sonorous trumpets, broken chariots, spoils and amongst them (an especial curio) the relics of that one fished out from the sea of Myrtilus, and the disabled wheels are suspended from their treacherous axles—in fact, traces of every phase of human wickedness. In one place, is seen the Phrygian Tiara of Pelops himself; in another, the accumulated rapine taken from sundry conquered enemies—an embroidered cloak represented some triumph or other over some barbarian foe! A lugubrious fountain is observed under the shadow of this wood, and the water remains steeped in a black marsh, just such a marsh in appearance, as the terror-striking Styx, which renders inviolable the oaths sworn to by the Gods. It is reported here, that the funereal deities set up their groans in the dead of the obscure night, and the entire grove becomes convulsed with the clanking of chains, and when the Manes commence their howlings! Whatever it is it is terrifying to hear, but when it is brought into actual view, a crowd of aged spectres emerging from their ancient tombs begin to wander about, and monsters of greater magnitude than any conception could picture, leap about with mocking laughter! But suddenly, the entire wood seems to burst into flames, and the lofty trees look as if ignited, but none of the consuming results of positive ignition following that phenomenon—Oftentimes, the grove resounds with loud barking, as if coming from three throats simultaneously (Cerberus-like), and very often the palace is haunted with enormous and terrifying ghosts! Nor does the light of day, when it arrives, allay one's fright—for night is the peculiar feature of this grove, and superstitious alarms take a firm hold of the imagination, even in broad daylight! Here responses are given to earnest supplicants upon which they can depend, for from a wide entrance, with a loud sound the decrees are pronounced, and the cavern groans again, whilst the judicial Deity is delivering his sentence! Into this place we see furious Atreus enter, dragging with him the children of Thyestes, and 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, and he felt a sort of pleasure in doing such an alarming deed with some regard to arrangement!
CHOR. Which of the sons found occupation for the sword first?
MESS. The first place was dedicated to the Grandfather, Tantalus. (Thou dost not suppose that he was entirely wanting in family reverence.) Tantalus was his first victim (because his name was Tantalus).
CHOR. What was the demeanour of the youth? with what courage did he meet his death?
MESS. He stood with great firmness, and confidence in himself, as if he were not willing that any entreaties he might make should pass unheeded, but Atreus, remorseless with pent-up rage, seized with his hand the neck of his victim, and holding it tightly he stabbed him with the sword, which he thrust into me wound as far as the hilt, and when the weapon was withdrawn, the body stood upright for several seconds, as it were, doubting for a long time, whether it should fall here or there; it then fell upon the Uncle. Then with unabated wrath he drags Plisthenes towards the altar and places him by the side of his brother, he severs his head from his body with a well-directed blow—his headless trunk falls to the earth, and the head gives forth something like a mumbling, undefinable whispering!
CHOR. What did he do after he had finished with this double slaughter? did he not spare one of the boys? Oh! What crime upon crime, he has heaped up!
MESS. As the maned lion of the Armenian forest contemplates with satisfaction his triumphs over the herds and flocks, after much slaughter, his jaws still dripping with their blood, although his hunger is fully appeased, does not lay aside his savage nature! From all sides he terrifies the bulls, whilst he is chasing the calves, although his teeth are tired out, with their recent dental labors! Not unlike this, Atreus maintains his rage at its maximum, and fairly swells with his wrath, and still holding his sword, sprinkled with the blood of his nephews, not knowing whither he was rushing—He evidently was thirsting with his cruel hand, for another victim, and darting upon the third son, he forthwith stabbed him in the chest, and the sword, passing through his body, emerged at the back—He falls, and his blood extinguished the fire at the altar—he thus dies from his double wound! (wound at point of entry and that made by its exit.)
CHOR. Oh! What horrible wickedness!
MESS. Why art thou so horrified? if the crime rested at this point, the piety of Atreus would have been an established fact?
CHOR. Can human nature, dost thou tell us, devise anything more cruel or more atrocious (than what thou hast told us)?
MESS. Now, dost thou suppose, that what I have related is the finale of my story? it is only a link in the chain.
CHOR. What more could he do, we ask, perhaps it is, that he has handed over the bodies to be devoured by the wild beasts, and has deprived them of the ceremonial flames of the funeral pile (that is dishonoring their remains).
MESS. Oh! I wish that he had thus interposed his veto and had ordered that the earth should cover their remains and that fire should not destroy them! then it would have been possible that they would have been feasted on by the birds of prey, or have attracted the wild animals to the tristful repast! But the point desired to be arrived at in all this, was that what was always considered a great punishment, should now be allowed to transpire! (What pleasure to Atreus) that the father should gaze on the unburied remains of his sons! Oh! Atrocity not yet accredited, of any time, past or present, so bad indeed, that posterity will never believe it to have been done! The entrails quiver, they are torn out of the bodies, only just dead, and the muscular coat of the veins (arteries) still acts (with the blood oozing) and the hearts as yet only having been quivering (as the result of the first impression of fear) now give a gudden leap! But Atreus carefully turns the entrails about, and seeking to invoke the Fates, he examines critically for some clue, as to what their divination might reveal; he observes, that those viscera are still retaining some amount of animal heat, and soon after, he satisfies his judgment, that the sacrifices offered up were pleasing to the Deities, and persuaded himself, that the augury boded success, and that the brother's feast was now only anxiously, waiting for the human remains to perform their part of the business! He then cut up the body into pieces, amputated the prominent parts from the shoulder, and the fleshy portions from the arms, from the ligamentous attachments, which connected them with the body, with unshaken nerves! He strips off the flesh from the various limbs, and chops up the different bones,—he keeps back the heads, however, and those very hands, which had once signalized their confidence in him (the hand-shake)! The viscera with some other portions hang on the spit, and what escapes during the roasting drips slowly down from the stove—the remainder, received into the hissing caldron, (which seemed to utter tones of remonstrance at the monstrosity of the deed) is soon tossed about by the impetuosity of the boiling water—the fire, in jerking flames leaped in disgust about the terrible feast, which was placed above it, and threw itself two or three times upon the trembling altars (but was kept down, by the weight of the caldron) and being thus constrained temporarily by some inscrutable impulse, to submit to such an interruption, begins to burn again, but in a very surly mood! (The Poet here personifies the Element "Fire" [Prosopopœia] and suggests Its unwillingness, as an universal purifier, to lend its assistance, to such an overt act of contamination.) The liver, however, of the victims transfixed on the spit, crackled with a sound ominous and weirdish! and to speak the real truth, I cannot tell thee, the sound which groaned the more, the bodies or the flames! The fire, becoming as black as pitch, passes off in dense fumes, and the mournful smoke, as a heavy cloud, does not ascend, but hovers around the altar, and oppresses the Penates themselves, with its abnormal blackness and density, O! patient Phœbus, it would have been merciful, if thou hadst expunged this day out of the calendar of time, and immured it, unseen in the middle of the Heavens! Thou hast disappeared below the Horizon, only too late! The father, Thyestes, carves up his own sons, served up on the platter and chews with a relish, in his unfortunate mouth, his own offspring. His appearance is smart, with his locks extravagantly anointed with perfumed grease, but he feels rather oppressed (qualmish) with the wine, with which he has washed down his own flesh and blood! Frequently during the meal, his throat seems to rebel and refuse a passage to the wicked viands, but there was one redeeming feature, one favorable point, connected with all this wickedness, oh! Thyestes! and it was this, thy ignorance of what was being done! But even this remaining consolation will soon disappear. It was possible, that Phœbus himself could have reversed his chariot, and changed his course to an opposite direction, and thus have buried this cruel crime in darkness, such has never been known, before—the darkness of a night, issuing from the Palace of the glorious Orient, at an opposite hour, would be awful: however, we shall all see, all these crimes will one day be known to thee.
The Chorus observing the going down of the Sun, become alarmed, fearing lest the whole fabric of the universe, dissolved into fragments, should lapse into eternal chaos.
Oh, where, oh thou parent of the Earth and chief of the Gods above, at whose rising, all the luminous accessories of opaque night disappear, where dost thou direct thy way. Why hidest thou a day in the middle of Olympus? Why, oh Phœbus! dost thou avert thy face? Not as yet does Vesperus, the herald of approaching night summon the stars to thy dark celestial vaults! Not as yet surely does thy declining course on the Hesperian track (the far West) induce thee to unyoke the steeds of thy chariot, which have finished their diurnal duties efficiently! Not as yet has the third trumpet sounded the signal of day verging onwards towards night (third part of the day). The ploughman with his oxen not yet tired out, is wonder-struck at his supper-time arriving with such unlooked-for suddenness! What has driven thee away, from thy æthereal path? What has diverted the horses of Phœbus from their regular rounds? We wonder whether the giants, their prisons in the realms of Pluto being burst open, are warring against the Gods again? Or if Tityus with his inside worn out by the rapacious vultures is impotently renewing any of his ancient animosities? Whether Typhœus has released himself from the mountain which has been pressing him down? Or is there a road being built up high for Phlegræan Giants to renew their attempts on the Gods? Or is it Thracian Ossa being pressed down on Thessalian Pelion? The harmonious system of the universe seems upside down! There never will be again the regular rising and setting of Phœbus. Aurora, the harbinger of dewy morn, is at her wits' end with this disturbed system of illumination of her kingdom, accustomed as she is to hand over the horses of the Sun to Phœbus himself, for she knows not how to dip the already weary steeds, nor how to immerge their manes foaming with sweat, in the refreshing sea. Sol himself about to set, unexpectedly finds Aurora installed in an unaccustomed quarter (his) and he commands the darkness to appear; Nox, not as yet, prepared to obey, no stars show themselves, nor does the sky afford a glimpse of anything approximating light, nor does Phœbe dissipate any of this awful gloom! Whatever can all this mean? Would that real night might show itself!—They tremble, and their minds are struck down with intense fear, lest every conceivable thing should be involved, and lapse shattered in one fatal ruin and that again, inexplicable chaos should overwhelm both the Gods, and mankind, and again render undistinguishable, the Earth, the Seas, and the fiery element, and nature hide the wandering planets, and the stars of the painted heavens.—Nor will the ruler of the stars, Sol, when he rises, directing the seasons with his eternal torches ever afford us again any clearly defined Summer and Winter! Nor will Phoebe, who reflects the light of Phœbus, ever remove the fears inspired by night (darkness) and following a shorter course from her curved tracks, will disregard the government of her brother, as she is traversing the oblique paths of the Zodiac, (that is, her revolution being shorter, she cannot keep a regular pace with the Sun, and the accumulated crowds of Gods [constellations] will merge into one gulf). This Zodiac, formed of constellations, which courses amongst the sacred stars divides the Zones in its oblique transit, varying the length of the years, detaching itself from the celestial group will witness the fate of the rest of the fallen stars. This Aries, who at the return of Spring, not as yet gives navigators the blessings of the genial Zephyrs to employ their sails—will fall precipitately into the waters, that ocean over which aforetime he transported the timid Helle! This Taurus, who supports the Hyades on his golden horns, will drag down with him the Gemini and Cancer with his curved claws. The Nemæan Leo, burnt up with the flammigerous heat will fall again from his celestial habitat. Virgo will fall upon the lands, she formerly left behind, disgusted with the wickedness of mankind—and the Libræ (the balance), those punctilious arrangers of day and night, will drag down with them the venomous Scorpion, and aged Chiron, who drives the winged arrows from his Thessalian bow, shall see that bow broken and his arrows dispersed. Cold Capricorn (who frightened the very Giants with his ugliness) shall tumble, bringing back his tedious winter, and whoever thou art, Aquarius, Deucalion, Cecrops, Hylas or Ganymede, will break thy urn with thee, and the Pisces disappear, the last constellation of the Zodiac! and those monsters, which have never been in contact with the sea, shall be swallowed up by the Great Gulf, the sea which hides all things, and the Serpent slippery and as large as a river, which divides the two Bears, and the Cynosure, bitterly cold with its severe frost, and small comparatively, is joined with the great dragon, and Arctophylax (Boötes), the slow driver of his waggon, already not very firm in his position shall fall also from the heavens. And we, miserable mortals out of all the numerous peoples of the world, are thought to be deserving of such a fate, that fate will overwhelm us all—the very hinges of the universe being broken (the seasons being scattered). We have arrived at our last stage of time, oh, miserable! that we should have ever been created for such a hard lot, whether we have lost the Sun without our own faults, or whether we have driven away that Sun by our own crimes! But away with useless wailings, away with fruitless fears,—we are fond of life, but who would not wish to die, if the world would only perish with him!
Wicked Atreus crowingly congratulates himself on his cruel revenge towards his brother, and deliberates on the dreadful feast, which had been prepared, and the serving up of the blood of the sons of Thyestes.
I walk abroad now, on an equality with the deified stars, and am attaining with my proud head, the highest pinnacles, a place in the lofty heavens, as it were, looking down upon all the mortal world below me at my feet! I am in possession of the regalia of power, and the throne of my father—I must now dismiss from my mind the Gods above. I have reached the summit of my desires, thus so far is good and appears even ample, already it looks enough for me, but what shall I say it will be later on? I shall persevere with my revenge, and I will cause the father to partake to repletion of his own offspring, and lest by any means misgivings should prevail, fortunately the day-time has passed away—push on, I say, whilst the heavens are void of light! I wish, indeed, that I could prevent the Gods from retiring, and keep them, here, even against their will, that they might all witness this revengeful entertainment! What would be enough now, however, for the present, is denied me. That I must see the father face to face, even if day-light be denied me,, at all events, I will banish the mental darkness from him and under which his miseries are now concealed from himself. Thyestes, thou art posing for much too long a time, as a guest with a contented and merry countenance, thou hast taken by this time enough of the solid viands and drunk quite enough wine; it is necessary that Thyestes should be in his sober senses to feel his misery properly! Come, all ye servants, open every door of the palace, I wish the place to put on a festive look, I wonder what sort of a visage he will have, whether it will be pale or red with surprise! What words will convey his first cries of grief, or whether his breath will be taken away with astonishment, or his body become rigid with the shock, when he beholds the heads of his three sons! This is the reward of my labor. I do not enjoy so much seeing him miserable, but the pleasure to me is to watch him whilst it is being brought about. The open porches are lighted up with a profusion of lamps, and Thyestes lies down effeminately on the purple couches ornamented with gold, and supporting his head now growing heavy (with the repast) with his left hand, and amidst frequent hiccuping and eructations, he exclaims! "I think, oh! I think myself nobler than any of the folks in heaven, I feel a very king of kings. I have transcended my wildest, desires!" He has made a heavy repast, and he drinks his wine out of a silver goblet! Don't be sparing with the wine, as yet there remains plenty of the blood yielded by the three victims, the color of the old wine will soon disguise it. This repast will be suitably wound up with the contents of this jug—the father shall drink the blood of his children mixed with it. He would have drunk mine (with gusto). Listen, he is now indulging in little snatches of songs, and utters merry remarks, nor does he seem to me to have full command over his senses!
The song of Thyestes at the feast, where he gives himself up to merriment, although his inner mind foresees some mischief looming in the future, which is not quite in keeping with such jollity.
Oh! soul of mine! recently soured by chronic misfortunes, now lay aside anxious care, let grief vanish, and fear leave me for ever, let sad privation, the twin sister of trembling exile, and disgrace heavy with troubles forsake me; it concerns a man more from what height he may fall, than the place he may reach, as the result of such a fall, but it is a great point when a man of importance falls from a lofty eminence to be able at the very least, to place his feet firmly on the ground; it is a great thing, too, for a man to bear up with a head not bowed down, and the weight and cares of a kingdom, broken up and divided and himself overwhelmed with the direst disasters, quite as much as it is, for a man faint-hearted and subdued by misfortunes, to bear with some amount of equanimity, the fresh reverses which have befallen him. But let me banish the dark shadow of my former cruel fate, and dismiss the memory of the miserable portion of my life, and let a joyful countenance reflect itself on my present lucky position. Let Thyestes, as he is now, cease to be Thyestes of the past! This peculiar fault always characterizes the miserable, that they lose all faith in the possibilities of prosperity, let fortune return to me whilst in a happy mood, although it would distress, me to ignore the sufferings of the afflicted. Dame Fortune, why dost thou recall me, or why shouldst thou object to my celebrating this auspicious day? Why, shouldst thou bid me to weep when grief springs out of nothing within my knowledge? What, should prevent me from encircling my locks with flowers of recent date? There is a reason why! This much is against it, the roses of spring once fell from my crown, (alluding to his coronation roses). My hair, although besmeared with perfumed grease (an unguent scented with the amomum), is still prone to stand on end amidst sudden terrors, and the tears trickle down my unwilling face, (not willing to betray the weakness which gives rise to them,) irrepressible sighs interrupt my utterance, grief delights in tears to which it is no stranger (as a relief to pent-up sorrow). Over the miserable the desire to weep assumes an imperious sway—surely, I am at liberty to indulge in my tristful lamentations—surely, again, I can liberate myself from my present gorgeous apparel. Thrice dyed with the Tyrian purple—surely, if I think fit, I may be allowed to fill the air with my groans! My mind inspires me with a warning of coming grief, foretelling some calamity, some sad presentiment! A violent storm often overhangs the mariner, even whilst the deadest of calms prevail over the surface of the ocean, with no appearance of wind! Ah! but what grief am I insanely picturing to my mind, or what racking thoughts are taking possession of me? Shall I let my trustful heart go forth to my brother? But whatever is it? Either only the fabric of my own imagination, or that it appears, late in the day, to begin to cultivate fear! I am, however, unwilling to make myself miserable, but still, a vague alarm hovers within my breast, my eyes pour forth tears on a sudden, nor does the cause of such tears show itself in any definite form! Is it then merely sorrow, or is it my fear? Which is it? But is not excessive joy sometimes accompanied with tears?
Atreus feigning hilarity, invites his brother to partake of the wine, and in order that he might rejoice more fully of seeing his children; on asking for them, Atreus shows him their heads and hands, and tells him all that had been done, hence arises an outburst of grief, anger, reproaches, and curses!
Oh my brother, let us with mutual cordiality, celebrate this auspicious day! This is the day, that shall strengthen the security of my sceptre, and establish a solid guarantee between us of inviolable peace!
THY. Thou hast feasted me to satiety, nor hast thou been niggardly with the wine. This overflowing hospitality will afford me still greater pleasure, if it be permitted me, already happy, to share that felicity with my children.
ATR. Hearken to me, believe me for a certainty that thy sons are practically at this moment in the arms of their father—there they are and will remain! No portion of thy offspring shall be withheld from thee! I will duly present to thee the faces of thy children! I shall fully account for every one of them, to a father so solicitous too, about his progeny! Thou shalt be satisfied, do not fear: at this minute, in the presence of my own children, they are contributing to the delightful ceremonies of the juvenile feast! But they shall be sent for; in the mean time, take up this goblet, the goblet of our ancestors! drink copiously of the wine it contains!
THY. I accept the bestowal of this fraternal feast, but let the wine be first offered to our paternal gods, then I will drink what is left (lifting it to his mouth). But what is this? My hand refuses to obey my will, the weight of it seems to increase, and completely tires out my right hand, and the wine strives to recede from my lips and flows away from my disappointed mouth and disperses itself around my jaws! Behold! the table too, is losing its steadiness on the trembling floor! The lamps are scarcely yielding any light! And more than that, the oppressed sky itself is growing dazed, deserted as it is, by the sun, moon and stars, during the interregnum between day and night—But what is this? The heavens shaken more and more, appear to totter, the darkness unites with darkness still blacker, and the night hides itself away in a night more intense in its blackness! Every star has vanished! Whatever is it, I pray, spare my brother and my children. O ye Gods! let the whole brunt of the tempest fall upon my head only! Now, Atreus, restore to me my sons!
ATR. I will restore them to thee, and no great length of time shall elapse before I do so.
THY. What is this disturbance, which is agitating my inside? How I do tremble internally! I feel a load, which I cannot bear—my chest is moaning, with a moaning that surely cannot be my own. Come to me, my sons, thy unhappy father calls thee—Oh! Come! this uneasy feeling will vanish, when I behold thee! Whence come their voices?
ATR. Get ready to embrace them, (Here Atreus returns and shows Thyestes the children's heads) father thou! They have come, thou seest! Whether or not, dost thou not, at this moment, recognize, that they are thy sons, whose moaning thou art now hearing!
THY. I recognize thee! my brother, as always impious and cruel! Oh! Earth! how canst thou permit thyself to bear such abominable wickedness? Why dost thou not plunge thyself and us into the infernal Styx? Why! that great gulf being opened, dost thou not snatch away the kingdom and the king along with it, and consign us to the gloom of empty Chaos? Why dost thou not turn the entire city Mycenæ upside down, tearing up every living abode, from its lowest foundations. We, die pair of us, ought to be domiciled in the very presence of Tantalus and our worthy grandsires, and if there be a place below the domains of Tartarus (where our grandfather is in his captivity), precipitate us hence into this valley of thine, with its immense gulf, the very points of contact at every part being rent asunder and in this place immure us, hidden away in the dungeons subjacent to the entire bed of the Acheron. Let the guilty shades (Manes) wander over our heads, and the fiery Phlegethon, driving the sands about in every direction with its burning headlong streams, flow violently above us! in this place of our eternal exile. Oh! motionless Earth! Why dost thou rest as an idle mass? After all this, the Gods even have fled! (Phœbus Phœbe and the Stars.)
ATR. But it is better that thou shouldst accept, thankfully, thy long-desired sons; thou shalt have the full enjoyment of them, no obstacle lies in thy way on the part of thy brother, kiss them, divide thy caresses between the three!
THY. Oh I this horrible wickedness! Is this thy reconciliation? Is this a brother's sincerity? Is this the way thou markest thy hatred (revenge)? I do not ask, that as a father, I should naturally expect to receive my children safe and sound, or that it is now possible for them to be given up to me, free from this complicated villainy (crime and revenge), but as a brother, asking another brother, that he may be permitted the privilege of burying his own children, or what remains of them! Give then the remains to me, and thou shalt be an eye-witness that they are burnt, and as their father I crave, thou perceivest, not that I should have them to preserve, but, that I should have them to destroy (burn).
ATR. Whatsoever is left of thy children, thou shalt have, but whatever does not remain, thou possessest already.
THY. Whether are they lying as food for the terrible birds of prey? Are they preserved for the benefit of the fishes? Or to serve as a repast for the wild beasts?
ATR. Thou, thyself, hast feasted on them, at thy impious banquet.
THY. Really! this must put the very Gods to the blush! This is the crime then that has made the light remain in the east and kept back the day! (Phœbus refused to yoke his steeds.) Oh! what cries shall I vent in my misery? What wailing shall I display? What words are sufficient to record my feelings? I perceive, now, that their heads have been cut off, and their hands wrenched from their sockets, and the remains torn away from their broken legs. This is what a father, however hungry, could never sacrifice to his voracity—My very entrails are working round and round within me, and without any means of exit, my misery is struggling in my inside, and is seeking some way out of its imprisonment! Give me thy sword, brother, it has plenty of my blood on it already. I shall effect a way out for my children! Shall the sword be denied to me? My breast shall then resound, with self-inflicted blows! (In the midst of the blows) Oh! miserable man, that I am, stay my hand, let me spare the Manes of my sons! Whoever saw such abominable wickedness? What any of the Heniochi dwelling in the rough wilderness of the inhospitable Caucasus? What Procrustes, the terror of that Cecropian country (Attica)? Here, I, a father, am squeezing my own children in my interior! And they are tearing away at my internal organs! Is there no limit to human wickedness?
ATR. A limit is certainly due to crime, when thou art merely committing crime as a crime, but not when thou art associating that crime with vengeance—and this vengeance appears small to my mind. I ought to pour out from their wounds before thy very eyes that thou mightest drink their reeking blood, whilst life still remained within them! I am simply trifling with my anger, whilst I hurry matters on with idle words—I inflicted the wounds with the thrusts of my sword—I slew them before the altar—I pacified the Lares, with the slaughter, which I vowed, should be offered, and cutting up the limbs of their dead bodies, I divided them myself, into small portions, and plunged some of them into the hissing caldron, other portions I decided should be roasted, the fluidities therefrom dripping down before a slow fire: I cut the limbs away from the bodies, before life was quite extinct; I watched the entrails as they crackled, whilst transfixed on a delicate spit (skewer), and I kept the fire up with my own hands, their own father could not have managed the business with greater culinary skill! My anger, after all, fell short of the mark, for in ignorance, the father munched his sons' flesh in his impious mouth, but the pity is, that they were incognizant of what that father was doing with them!
THY. Hear, O ye seas, shut in by winding shores! hear, also, ye Gods, whithersoever ye have fled, of this dreadful list of crimes—listen, O! ye regions below, listen, all corners of the earth! O! thou night, oppressed with black Tartarus-like clouds, give ear to my voice! I am destined for thee, thou longest to see me miserable, although thou art not deprived of the stars I will not offer up any unbecoming prayers for myself, nor in fact will I solicit anything for myself, or ask whether anything is possible to be done for me, let my prayers be regarded as for thee! Oh ! thou ruler of lofty heaven, thou sovereign of the ethereal palaces, surround the entire universe with frightful tempests, on all sides let there be war amongst the winds themselves and let the whole world in every part, resound with thy terrific thunder, and with the force, not such as thou selectest to destroy simple houses and undeserving homesteads, the milder form of thy thunders, but that sort, which broke up the threefold mass of mountains, Pelion, Ossa, and Olympus, and dispersed the giants which equalled those mountains in height! Hasten with thy armaments! Let me behold the lightnings, which thou canst hurl, and make up for the missing day! Shoot forth thy flames, and superadd to thy lightnings, all the light which can be drawn away from the heavens, so as to intensify them! The culpability of each of us is great, do not hesitate for long, if there be any difference in our guilt, let it be mine, which shall be adjudged the greater! Select me, send through my breast, the flaming fires of thy three-forked lightning if as a father I only wish to bury my sons and deliver them over to "fire" at last? I myself must be burnt, if nothing moves the Gods, and no deity is willing to search out the wicked for punishment with his lightnings, let eternal night remain to us, and hide these tremendous crimes with its prolonged darkness! O! Titan! I shall complain of nothing then, if thou wilt only persevere in lying hidden away.
ATR. Now I congratulate myself upon my operations, now a real victory is achieved. I should have been deprived of the chief advantages of my crime, unless thou grievest as thou hast been doing—I believe, that those children were destined to be born for me (for my designs) and thus it is, that I have dealt out justice to such chaste nuptials!
THY. What had the children done, to have deserved all this?
ATR. Simply that they were thine!
THY. That children should suffer, for their parent's misdeeds?
ATR. I acknowledge this, and what gives me equal pleasure, the unmistakability of their origin!
THY. I call to witness the Gods, who preside over the innocent, the Conjugal Gods!
ATR. Dost thou mean Hymenæus?
THY. What dost thou argue, that crime should be punished by crime of greater intensity?
ATR. I know what thou wouldst have endeavoured to carry out—thou art regretting that thou wert forestalled in thy wickedness. Nor does it so much affect thee, that thou hast actually partaken of the feast, dreadful as it is (confessedly), but that it was not thy hand that was concerned in its preparation—it was in thy mind to get up a similar entertainment for thy unsuspecting brother! and, aided by the mother, to have made an onslaught on my children, and lay them low with a fate of like character, but there was only one thing that deterred thee—Thou thoughtest, they might be thy own!
THY. Ah! the revengeful gods will appear on the scene, my desire is to deliver thee over to be punished by them!
ATR. I consign thee to be punished, through the fate of thy children!