Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/Andromache
When Troy was taken by the Greeks, Andromachê, wife of that Hector whom Achilles slew ere himself was slain by the arrow which Apollo guided, was given in the dividing of the spoils to Neoptolemus, Achilles' son. So he took her oversea to the land of Thessaly, and loved her, and entreated her kindly, and she bare him a son in her captivity. But after ten years Neoptolemus took to wife a princess of Sparta, Hermionê, daughter of Menelaus and Helen. But to these was no child born, and the soul of Hermionê grew bitter with jealousy against Andromachê. Now Neoptolemus, in his indignation for his father's death, had upbraided Apollo therewith: wherefore he now journeyed to Delphi, vainly hoping by prayer and sacrifice to assuage the wrath of the God. But so soon as he was gone, Hermionê sought to avenge herself on Andromachê; and Menelaus came thither also, and these twain went about to slay the captive and her child. Wherefore Andromachê hid her son, and took sanctuary at the altar of the Goddess Thetis, expecting till Peleus, her lord's grandsire, should come to save her. And herein are set forth her sore peril and deliverance: also it is told how Neoptolemus found death at Delphi, and how he that contrived his death took his wife.
Handmaid, a Trojan captive.
Hermione, daughter of Menelaus, wife of Neoptolemus.
Menelaus, king of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon.
Molossus, son of Neoptolemus and Andromachê.
Peleus, father of Achilles.
Nurse of Hermionê.
Orestes, son of Agamemnon.
Thetis, a Sea-goddess, wife of Peleus.
Chorus of maidens of Phthia in Thessaly.
Attendants of Menelaus, Peleus, and Orestes.
Andromachê sitting on the steps of the altar of Thetis.
Beauty of Asian land, O town of Thebes,
Whence, decked with gold of costly bride-array,
To Priam's royal hearth long since I came
Espoused to Hector for his true-wed wife,—
I, envied in time past, Andromachê, 5
But now above all others most unblest
Of women that have been or shall be ever;
Who saw mine husband by Achilles slain,
Hector; the child I bare unto my lord
Hurled from the towers' height, my Astyanax, 10
That day the Hellenes won the plain of Troy.
Myself a slave, accounted erst the child
Of a free house, none freer, came to Hellas,
Spear-guerdon chosen out for the island-prince,
From Troy's spoil given to Neoptolemus. 15
Here on the marches 'twixt Pharsalia's town
And Phthia's plains I dwell, where that Sea-queen,
Thetis, with Peleus dwelt aloof from men,
Shunning the throng: wherefore Thessalians call it,
By reason of her bridal, "Thetis' Close." 20
Here made Achilles' son his dwelling-place,
And leaveth Peleus still Pharsalia's king,
Loth, while the ancient lives, to take his sceptre.
And I have borne a manchild in these halls
Unto Achilles' son, my body's lord; 25
And, sunk albeit in misery heretofore,
Was aye lured on by hope, in my son's life
To find some help, some shield from all mine ills.
But since my lord hath wed Hermionê
The Spartan, thrusting my thrall's couch aside, 30
With cruel wrongs she persecuteth me,
Saying that I by secret charms make her
A barren stock, and hated of her lord,
Would in her stead be lady of this house,
Casting her out, the lawful wife, by force:— 35
Ah me! with little joy I won that place,
And now have yielded up: great Zeus be witness
That not of mine own will I shared this couch.
Yet will she not believe, but seeks to slay me;
And her sire Menelaus helpeth her. 40
He hath come from Sparta, now is he within
For this same end, and I in fear have fled
To Thetis' shrine anigh unto this house,
And crouch here, so to be redeemed from death.
For Peleus and his seed revere this place, 45
This witness to the bridal of Nereus' child.
But him, mine only son, by stealth I send
To another's home, in dread lest he be slain.
For now his father is not nigh to aid,
Nor helps his son, being gone unto the land 50
Of Delphi, to atone to Loxias
For that mad hour when Pytho-ward he went
And claimed redress of Phœbus for his sire,
If haply prayer for those transgressions past
Might win the God's grace for the days to be. 55
Queen,—for I shun not by this name to call
Thee, which I knew thy right in that old home,
Thine home what time in Troyland we abode,—
I love thee, as I loved thy living lord;
And now with evil tidings come to thee, 60
In dread lest any of our masters hear,
And ruth for thee; for fearful plots are laid
Of Menelaus and his child: beware!
Dear fellow-thrall,—for fellow-thrall thou art
To her that once was queen, is now unblest,— 65
What do they?—what new web of guile weave they
Who fain would slay the utter-wretched, me?
Thy son, O hapless, are they set to slay
Whom forth the halls thou tookest privily.
Woe!—hath she learnt the hiding of my child? 70
How?—O unhappy, how am I undone!
I know not: but themselves I heard say this.
Menelaus on his quest is now gone forth.
Undone!—undone!—O child, these vultures twain
Will clutch thee and will slay! He that is named 75
Thy father, yet in Delphi lingereth.
I ween thou shouldst not fare so evilly
If he were here: but friendless art thou now.
Of Peleus' coming is there not a word?
Too old is he to help thee, were he here. 80
Yet did I send for him not once nor twice.
Ah, dost thou think their messengers heed thee?
How should they?—Wilt thou be my messenger?
But how excuse long absence from the halls?
Thou shalt find many pleas—a woman thou. 85
'Twere peril: keen watch keeps Hermionê.
Lo there!—thy friends in woe dost thou renounce.
No—no! Cast thou no such reproach on me!
Lo, I will go. What matter is the life
Of a bondwoman, though I light on death? 90
Go then: and I to heaven will lengthen out
My lamentations and my moans and tears,
Wherein I am ever whelmed. [Exit Handmaid.
'Tis in the heart
Of woman with a mournful pleasure aye
To bear on lip and tongue her present ills. 95
Not one have I, but many an one to moan—
The city of my fathers, Hector slain,
The ruthless lot whereunto I am yoked,
Who fell on thraldom's day unmerited,
Never may'st thou call any mortal blest, 100
Or ever thou hast seen his dying day,
Seen how he passed therethrough and came on death.
No bride was the Helen with whom unto steep-built Ilium hasted
Paris;—nay, bringing a Curse to his bowers of espousal he passed,
For whose sake, Troy, by the thousand galleys of Hellas wasted, 105
With fire and with sword destroyed by her fierce battle-spirit thou wast;
And Hector my lord by the scion of Thetis the Sea-king's daughter—
O for mine anguish!—was dragged round the ramparts of Ilium dead;
And myself from my bowers was haled to the strand of the exile-water,
Casting the sore-loathed veil of captivity over mine head. 110
Ah but my tears were down-streaming in flood when the galley swift-racing
Bore me afar from my town, from my bowers, from my lord in the tomb.
Woe for mine anguish!—what boots it on light any more to be gazing,
Who am yonder Hermionê's thrall?—ever harried and hunted of whom
Suppliant I cling to the Goddess's feet that mine hands are embracing, 115
Wasting in tears as a spring welling forth from the rock-riven gloom.
Enter Chorus of Phthian Maidens.
Lady, who, suppliant crouched on the pavement of Thetis' shrine,
Clingest long to thy sanctuary,
I daughter of Phthia, yet come unto thee of an Asian line,
If I haply may find for thee 120
Some healing or help for the tangle of desperate trouble
Whose meshes of bitterest feud around thee and Hermionê twine,
For that, O thou afflicted one,
Ye twain are unequally yoked in the bride-bands double
That compass Achilles' son. 125
Look on thy lot, take account of the ills whereinto thou art come.
Thy lady's rival art thou,—
An llian to rival a child of a lordly Laconian home!
Forsake thou the temple now
Wherein sheep to the Sea-queen are burned. What boots it with wailing 130
And tears to consume thy beauty, aghast at oppression's doom
Upon thee by thy lords' hands brought?
The might of the strong overbeareth thee: all unavailing
Is thy struggling—lo, thou art naught.
Nay, leave thou the holy place of the Lady of Nereus' race: 135
Discern how thou needs must abide
In a land of strangers, an alien city
Where thou seest no friend, neither any to pity,
O thou who art whelmed in calamity's tide,
Unhappiest bride! 140
Sore grieved I, O Ilian dame, when thy feet unto these halls came;
But I feared, for my lords be stern,
That I held my peace: but thy lot ill-fated
In silence aye I compassionated,
Lest the child of the daughter of Zeus should discern 145
O'er thy woes how I yearn.
With bravery of gold about mine head,
And on my form this pomp of broidered robes,
Hither I come:—no gifts be these I wear
Or from Achilles' or from Peleus' house; 150
But from the Land Laconian Sparta-crowned
My father Menelaus with rich dower
Gave these, that so my tongue should not be tied.
To you I render answer in these words.
But thou, a woman-thrall, won by the spear, 155
Wouldst cast me out, and have this home thine own;
And through thy spells I am hated by my lord;
My womb is barren, ruined all of thee:
For cunning is the soul of Asia's daughters
For such deeds. Yet therefrom will I stay thee: 160
And this the Nereid's fane shall help thee nought,
Altar nor temple;—thou shalt die, shalt die!
Yea, though one stoop to save thee, man or God,
Yet must thou for thy haughty spirit of old
Crouch low abased, and grovel at my knee, 165
And sweep mine house, and sprinkle water dews
There from the golden ewers with thine hand,
And where thou art, know. Hector is not here,
Nor Priam, nor his gold: a Greek town this.
Yet to such folly hast thou come, O wretch, 170
That with this son of him who slew thy lord
Thou dar'st to lie, and to the slayer bear
Sons! Suchlike is the whole barbaric race:—
Father with daughter, son with mother weds,
Sister with brother: kin the nearest wade 175
Through blood: no whit hereof doth law forbid.
Bring not such things midst us, who count it shame
That o'er two wives one man hold wedlock's reins;
But to one lawful love they turn their eyes,
Content—save such as fain would live in sin. 180
In woman's heart is jealousy inborn,
'Tis bitterest unto wedlock-rivals aye.
Out upon thee!
A curse is youth to mortals, when with youth
A man hath not implanted righteousness! 185
I fear me lest with thee my thraldom bar
Defence, though many a righteous plea I have,
And even my victory turn unto mine hurt.
They that are arrogant brook not to be
In argument o'ermastered by the lowly: 190
Yet will I not abandon mine own cause.
Say, thou rash girl, in what assurance strong
Should I thrust thee from lawful wedlock-rights?
Is Sparta meaner than the Phrygians' burg?
Soareth my fortune?—dost thou see me free? 195
Or by my young and rounded loveliness,
My city's greatness, and my noble friends
Exalted, would I wrest from thee thine home?
Sooth, to bear sons myself instead of thee—
Slave-sons, a wretched drag upon my life! 200
Nay, though thou bear no children, who will brook
That sons of mine be lords of Phthia-land?
O yea, the Greeks love me—for Hector's sake!—
Myself obscure, nor ever a Phrygian queen!
Not of my philtres thy lord hateth thee, 205
But that thy nature is no mate for his.
That is the love-charm: woman, 'tis not beauty
That witcheth bridegrooms, nay, but nobleness.
Let aught vex thee—O then a mighty thing
Is thy Laconian city, Skyros naught! 210
Thy wealth thou flauntest, settest above Achilles
Menelaus: therefore thy lord hateth thee.
A wife, though low-born be her lord, must yet
Content her, without wrangling arrogance.
But if in Thrace with snow-floods overstreamed 215
Thou hadst for lord a prince, where one man shares
His couch's boon in turn with many wives,
Wouldst thou have slain these?—ay, and so be found
Branding all women with the slur of lust—
A shameful thing! Yet herein more than men's 220
Is our affliction; but we bear up bravely.
Ah, dear, dear Hector, I would take to my heart
Even thy leman, if Love tripped thy feet.
Yea, often to thy bastards would I hold
My breast, that I might give thee none offence. 225
So doing, I drew with cords of wifely love
My lord:—but thou for jealous fear forbiddest
Even gloaming's dews to drop upon thy lord!
Seek not to o'erpass in lavishness of love
Thy mother, lady. Daughters in whom dwells 230
Discretion, ought to flee vile mothers' paths.
Mistress, so far as lightly thou may'st do,
Deign to make truce with her from wordy strife.
And speak'st thou loftily, and wranglest thou,
As thou wert continent, I of continence void? 235
Void?—Yea, if thou be judged by this thy claim.
Never in my breast thy discretion dwell!
A young wife thou for such immodest words.
Words?—thine are deeds, to the uttermost of thy power.
Cannot thy hungry jealousy hold its peace? 240
Why? Stands not this right first with women ever?
With whom it is for honour: else, 'tis shame.
We live not under laws barbaric here.
There, even as here, the foul deed brings disgrace.
Keen-witted! keen!—yet shalt thou surely die. 245
Seest thou the eye of Thetis turned on thee?
In hate of thy land for Achilles' blood.
Helen slew him, not I; thy mother—thine!
And wilt thou dare yet deeper prick mine hurt?
Lo, I am silent, and I curb my mouth. 250
Tell me that thing for which I came to thee.
I say thou hast less wit than thou dost need.
Wilt leave this hallowed close of the Sea-goddess?
If I shall not die: else, I leave it never.
'Tis fixed: I wait not till my lord return. 255
Yet will I yield me not ere then to thee.
Fire will I bring: thy plea will I not heed,—
Kindle upon me!—this the Gods shall mark.
And to thy flesh bring anguish of dread wounds.
Hack, crimson her altar: she shall visit for it. 260
Barbarian chattel! Stubborn impudence!
Dost thou brave death!—Soon will I make thee rise
From this thy session, yea, of thine own will;
Such lure have I for thee:—yet will I hide
The word: the deed itself shall soon declare. 265
Ay, sit thou fast!—though clamps of molten lead
Encompassed thee, yet will I make thee rise,
Ere come Achilles' son, in whom thou trustest. [Exit.
I do trust . . . . Strange that God hath given to men
Salves for the venom of all creeping pests, 270
But none hath ever yet devised a balm
For venomous woman, worse than fire or viper:
So dire a mischief unto men are we.
Herald of woes, to the glen deep-hiding
In Ida came Zeus's and Maia's son;
As who reineth a triumph of white steeds, guiding
The Goddesses three, did the God pace on.
With frontlet of beauty, with trappings of doom,
For the strife to the steadings of herds did they come, 280
To the stripling shepherd in solitude biding,
And the hearth of the lodge in the forest lone.
They have passed 'neath the leaves of the glen: from the plashing
Of the mountain-spring radiant in rose-flush they rise.
To the King's Son they wended, while to and fro flashing
The gibes of their lips matched the scorn of their eyes. 290
But 'twas Kypris by promise of guile overcame—
Ah sweet to the ear, but for deathless shame
And confusion to Phrygia, when Troy's towers crashing
Ruinward toppled—her bitter prize!
Oh had she dealt him, that mother which bore him,
A death-blow cleaving his head in twain,
When shrieked Kassandra her prophecy o'er him,—
Ere his eyry on Ida o'erlooked Troy's plain,—
By the sacred bay shrieked "Slay without pity
The curse and the ruin of Priam's city!"
Unto prince, unto elder, she came, to implore him 300
To slay it, the infant foredoomed their bane.
Then had he never been made an occasion
Of thraldom to Ilium's daughters: O queen,
Thy suppliant seat were the throne of a nation;
Nor the ten years' agony then had ye seen,
With the war-cries of Hellas aye rolling their thunder
Round Troy, with spear-lightnings aye flashing thereunder;
Nor the couch of the bride were a desolation,
Nor bereft of their sons had the grey sires been.
Enter Menelaus, with attendants, bringing Molossus.
I have caught thy son, whom thou didst hide, unmarked
Of this my daughter, in a neighbour house. 310
So thee this Goddess' image, was to save,
Him, they that hid him!—but thou hast been found,
Woman, less keen of wit than Menelaus.
Now if thou leave not and avoid this floor,
He shall be slaughtered, he, in thy life's stead. 315
Weigh this then, whether thou consent to die,
Or that for thy transgression he be slain,
Even thy sin against me and my child.
Ah reputation!—many a man ere this
Of none account hast thou set up on high. 320
Such as have fair fame based upon true worth
Happy I count: but for these living lies
I grant no claim to wisdom save chance show.
Thou, captaining the chosen men of Greece,
Didst thou, weak dastard, wrest from Priam Troy, 325
Who at thy daughter's bidding, she a child,
Dost breathe such fury, enterest the lists
With a woman, a poor captive? I count Troy
Shamed by thy touch, thee by her fall unraised!
Goodly in outward show be they which seem 330
Wise, but within they are as other men,
Save in wealth haply; this is their great strength.
Menelaus, come now, reason we together:—
Grant that thy child have slain me, grant me dead:
Ne'er shall she flee my blood's pollution-curse; 335
And in men's eyes shalt thou too share this guilt:
Thy part in this her deed shall weigh thee down.
But if I 'scape your hands, that I die not,
Then will ye slay my son? And the child's death—
Think ye his sire shall hold it a little thing? 340
So void of manhood Troy proclaims him not.
Nay, he shall follow duty's call, be proved,
By deeds, of Peleus worthy and Achilles.
He shall thrust forth thy child. What plea wilt find
For a new spouse?—This lie—"the saintly soul 345
Of this pure thing shrank from her wicked lord?"
Who shall wed such? Wilt keep her in thine halls
Spouseless, a grey-haired widow? O thou wretch,
Seest not the floods of evil bursting o'er thee?
How many a wedlock-wrong wouldst thou be fain 350
Thy child knew rather than the ills I name!
We ought not for slight cause court grievous harm;
Nor, if we women be a baleful curse,
Ought men to make their nature woman-like.
For, if I practise on thy child by philtres, 355
And seal her womb, according to her tale,
Willingly, nothing loth, nor low at altars
Crouching, myself will face the penalty
At her lord's hands, to whom I am guilty of wrong
No less, in blasting him with childlessness. 360
Hereon I stand:—but one thing in thy nature
I fear—'twas in a woman's quarrel too
Thou didst destroy the hapless Phrygians' town.
Thou hast said too much, as woman against man:
Yea, and thy soul's discretion hath shot wide. 365
Woman, these are but trifles, all unworthy
Of my state royal,—thou say'st it,—and of Greece.
Yet know, when one hath set his heart on aught,
More than to take a Troy is this to him.
I stand my daughter's champion, for I count 370
No trifle robbery of marriage-right.
Nought else a wife may suffer matcheth this.
Losing her husband, she doth lose her life.
Over my thralls her lord hath claim to rule,
And over his like right have I and mine: 375
For nought that friends have, if true friends they be,
Is private: held in common is all wealth.
Waiting the absent, if I order not
Mine own things well, weak am I, and not wise.
But I will make thee leave the Goddess' shrine. 380
For, if thou die, this boy escapeth doom;
But, if thou wilt not die, him will I slay.
One of you twain must needs bid life farewell.
Woe! Dire lot-drawing, bitter choice of life,
Thou giv'st me! If I draw, I am wretched made; 385
And if I draw not, all unblest I am.
O thou for paltry cause that dost great wrong,
Hearken: why slay me?—for what crime?—what town
Have I betrayed?—have slain what child of thine?—
Have fired what home? Beside my lord I couched 390
Perforce—and lo, thou wilt slay me, not him,
The culprit; but thou passest by the cause,
And to the after issue hurriest.
Woe for these ills! O hapless fatherland,
What wrongs I bear! Why must I be a mother, 395
And add a double burden to my load?
Why wail the past, and o'er the present woes
Shed not a tear, nor take account thereof?
I saw dead Hector trailed behind the car,
Saw Ilium piteously enwrapped in flame. 400
I passed aboard the Argive ships, a slave
Haled by mine hair, and when to Phthia-land
I came, to Hector's murderers was I wed.
What joy hath life for me?—what thing to look to?
Unto my present fortune, or the past? 405
This one child had I left, light of my life:
Him will these slay who count this righteousness.
No, never!—if my wretched life can save!
For him, for him, hope lives, if he be saved;
And mine were shame to die not for my child. 410
Lo, I forsake the altar—yours I am
To hack, bind, murder, strangle with the cord! [Rises.
O child, thy mother, that thou may'st not die,
Passeth to Hades. If thou 'scape the doom,
Think on thy mother—how I suffered—died! 415
And to thy sire with kisses and with tears
Streaming, and little arms about his neck,
Tell how I fared! To all mankind, I wot,
Children are life. Who scoffs at joys unproved,
Though less his grief, a void is in his bliss. 420
Pitying I hear: for pitiful is woe
To all men, alien though the afflicted be.
Thou shouldest, Menelaus, reconcile
Her and thy child, that she may rest from pain.
[Andromachê leaves the altar.
Seize me this woman!—round her coil your arms, 425
My thralls! No words of friendship shall she hear.
I, that thou mightest leave the holy altar,
Held forth the lure of thy child's death, and drew thee
To slip into mine hands for slaughtering.
And, for thy fate, know thou that this is so: 430
But for thy son, my child shall be his judge,
Whether her pleasure be to slay or spare.
Hence to the house, that thou, slave as thou art,
May'st learn no more to rail against the free.
Woe's me! By guile thou hast stoln on me!—betrayed! 435
Publish it to the world! Not I deny it.
Count ye this wisdom, dwellers by Eurotas?
Yea, and in Troy—that wronged ones should revenge.
Is there no God, think'st thou, nor reckoning-day?
I'll meet it when it comes. Thee will I kill. 440
And this my birdie, torn from 'neath my wings?
O nay—I yield him to my daughter's mercy.
Woe! Why not wail for thee straightway, my child?
Good sooth, but sorry hope remains for him.
O ye in all folk's eyes most loathed of men, 445
Dwellers in Sparta, senates of treachery,
Princes of lies, weavers of webs of guile,
Thoughts crooked, wholesome never, devious all,—
A crime is your supremacy in Greece!
What vileness lives not with you?—swarming murders? 450
Covetousness?—O ye convict of saying
This with the tongue, while still your hearts mean that!
Now ruin seize ye! Yet to me is death
Not grievous as thou think'st. That was my death
When Phrygia's hapless city was destroyed, 455
And my renowned lord, whose spear full oft
Made thee a seaman, dastard, from a landsman.
Thou meet'st a woman, soul-appalling hero,
Now,—and wouldst kill. Slay on!—my tongue shall fawn
In flattery never on thy child or thee. 460
What if thou be in Sparta some great one?
Even so in Troy was I. Am I brought low?
Boast not herein:—thine hour shall haply come.
Never rival brides blessed marriage-estate,
Neither sons not born of one mother:
They were strife to the home, they were anguish of hate.
For the couch of the husband suffice one mate:
Be it shared of none other. 470
Never land but hath borne a twofold yoke
Of kings with wearier straining:
There is burden on burden, and feud mid her folk:
And 'twixt rival lyres ever discord broke
By the Muses' ordaining.
When the blasts hurl onward the staggering sail,
Shall the galley by helmsmen twain be guided? 480
Shall the wisdom of many in counsel avail
As the purpose untrammelled, the strength undivided?
Even this in the home, in the city, is power
Unto such as have wit to discern the hour.
The child of the chieftain of Sparta's array
Hath proved it. As fire is her jealousy burning:
Troy's hapless daughter she lusteth to slay,
And her son, in her hatred's vengeance-yearning. 490
Godless and lawless and heartless it is!—
Queen, thou shalt yet be requited for this.
Lo, these I behold, twain yoked as one
In love, in sorrow, afront of the hall:
For the vote is cast and the doom forth gone.
O woeful mother, O hapless son,
Who must die since her master hath humbled his thrall,
Though nought death-worthy hast thou, child, done, 500
That in condemnation of kings thou shouldst fall!
Lo, blood my wrists red-staining
From cruel bonds hard-straining,
Lo, feet the grave's brink gaining!
O mother, 'neath thy wing
I crouch where death-shades gather.
Death!—Phthians, name it rather
O my father,
Help to thy loved ones bring!
There, darling, shalt thou rest 510
Pillowed upon my breast,
Where corpse to corpse shall cling.
Ah me, the torture looming
O'er me, o'er thee!—the coming,
Mother, of what dread thing?
Down, down to the grave!—from our foemen's towers
Ye came: and for several cause unto slaughter
Ye twain be constrainèd. The sentence is ours
That condemneth thee, woman: this boy my daughter
Hermionê dooms. Utter folly it were 520
For our foemen's avenging their offspring to spare,
When into our hands they be given to slay,
That fear from our house may be banished for aye.
Oh for that hand I cry on!
Ah husband, to rely on
Thy spear, O Priam's scion!
Ah woe is me! What spell
Find I for doom's undoing?
Pray, at thy lord's knees suing,
Molossus (kneeling to Menelaus).
Friend, in mercy ruing 530
My death, of pardon tell!
My streaming eyelids weep,
As from a sheer crag's steep
The sunless waters well.
Woe's me! O might revealing
But come of help, of healing,
Our darkness to dispel!
What dost thou to fall at my feet, making moan
To a rock of the sea, to a wave doom-crested?
True helper am I, good sooth, to mine own:
No love-spell from thee on my spirit hath rested. 540
Too deeply it drained my life-blood away
To win yon Troy and thy dam for a prey.
Herein be thy joy and be this thy crown
When thou passest to Hades' earth-dens down!
Lo, lo, I see yon Peleus drawing nigh! 545
In haste his aged foot strides hitherward.
Enter Peleus, attended.
Ho ye! ho thou, the overseer of slaughter!
What meaneth this?—how is the house, and why,
In evil case? What lawless plots weave ye?
Menelaus, hold! Press not where justice bars. 550
[To attendant] Lead the way faster! 'Tis a strait, methinks,
Brooks no delay; but now, if ever, fain
Would I renew the vigour of my youth.
But first, like breeze that fills the sails, will I
Breathe life through her:—say, by what right have these 555
Pinioned thine hands in bonds, and with thy son
Hale—for like ewe with lamb thou goest to death—
Whilst I and thy true lord be far away?
These, ancient, deathward hale me with my child,
As thou dost see. Why should I tell it thee? 560
Seeing not once I sent thee instant summons,
But by the mouth of messengers untold.
Thou know'st, hast heard, I trow, the household-strife
Of yon man's daughter, that means death to me.
And now from Thetis' altars,—hers who bare 565
Thy noble son, hers whom thou reverencest,—
They tear, they hale me, with no form of trial
Condemning, for the absent waiting not,
My lord, but knowing my defencelessness,
And this poor child's, the utter-innocent, 570
Whom they would slay along with hapless me.
But I beseech thee, ancient, falling low
Before thy knees—I cannot stretch my hand
Unto thy beard, O dear, O kindly face!—
In God's name save, else I shall surely die, 575
To your shame, ancient, and my misery.
Loose, I command, her bonds, ere some one rue,
And set ye free this captive's pinioned hands.
This I forbid, who am no less than thou,
And have more right of lordship over her. 580
How?—hither wilt thou come to rule mine house?
Sufficeth not thy sway of Sparta's folk?
'Twas I that took her captive out of Troy.
Ay, but my son's son gained her, prize of war.
All mine are his, his mine—is this not so? 585
For good, not evil dealing, nor for murder.
Her shalt thou rescue never from mine hand.
This staff shall make thine head to stream with blood.
Touch me, and thou shalt see!—ay, draw but near!
Thou, thou a man?—Coward, of cowards bred! 590
What part or lot hast thou amongst true men?
Thou, by a Phrygian from thy wife divorced,
Who leftest hearth and home unbarred, unwarded,
As who kept in his halls a virtuous wife,—
And she the vilest! Though one should essay, 595
Virtuous could daughter of Sparta never be.
They gad abroad with young men from their homes,
And with bare thighs and loose disgirdled vesture
Race, wrestle with them,—things intolerable
To me! And is it wonder-worthy then 600
That ye train not your women to be chaste?
This well might Helen have asked thee, who forsook
Thy love, and from thine halls went revelling forth
With a young gallant to an alien land.
Yet for her sake thou gatheredst that huge host 605
Of Greeks, and leddest them to Ilium.
Thou shouldst have spued her forth, have stirred no spear,
Who hadst found her vile, but let her there abide,
Yea, paid a price to take her never back.
But nowise thus the wind of thine heart blew. 610
Nay, many a gallant life hast thou destroyed,
And childless made grey mothers in their halls,
And white-haired sires hast robbed of noble sons;—
My wretched self am one, who see in thee,
Like some foul fiend, Achilles' murderer;— 615
Thou who alone unwounded cam'st from Troy,
And daintiest arms in dainty sheaths unstained,
Borne thither, hither back didst bring again!
I warned my bridegroom-grandson not to make
Affinity with thee, nor to receive 620
In his halls a wanton's child: such bear abroad
Their mothers' shame. Give heed to this my rede,
Wooers,—a virtuous mother's daughter choose.
Nay more—how didst thou outrage thine own brother,
Bidding him sacrifice his child—poor fool! 625
Such was thy dread to lose thy worthless wife.
And, when Troy fell,—ay, thither too I trace thee,—
Thy wife thou slew'st not when thou hadst her trapped.
Thou saw'st her bosom, didst let fall the sword,
Didst kiss her, that bold traitress, fondhng her, 630
By Kypris overborne, O recreant wretch!
And to my son's house com'st thou, he afar,
And ravagest, wouldst slay a hapless woman
Unjustly, and her boy?—this boy shall make
Thee, and that daughter in thine halls, yet rue, 635
Though he were thrice a bastard. Oft the yield
Of barren ground o'erpasseth deep rich soil;
And better are bastards oft than sons true-born.
Take hence thy daughter! Better 'tis to have
The poor and upright, or for marriage-kin, 640
Or friend, than the vile rich:—thou, thou art naught!
From small beginnings bitter feuds the tongue
Brings forth: for this cause wise men take good heed
That with their friends they bring not strife to pass.
Now wherefore should ye call the greybeards wise, 645
And them which Greece accounted prudent once?
When thou, thou Peleus, son of sire renowned,
Speakest, my marriage-kinsman, thine own shame,
Rail'st on me for a foreign woman's sake,
Whom thou shouldst chase beyond the streams of Nile, 650
And beyond Phasis, yea, and cheer me on,—
This dame of Asia's mainland, wherein fell
Unnumbered sons of Hellas slain with spears,—
This woman who had part in thy son's blood;
For Paris, he that slew thy son Achilles, 655
Was Hector's brother, and she Hector's wife.
And wouldst thou pass beneath one roof with her,
And stoop to break bread with her at thy board,
In thine house let her bear our bitterest foes,
Whom I, of forethought for thyself and me, 660
Would slay?—and lo, from mine hands is she torn!
Come, reason we together—no shame this:—
If my child bear no sons, this woman's brood
Grow up, wilt thou establish these as lords
Of Phthia-land?—shall they, barbarians born, 665
Rule Greeks? And I, forsooth, am all unwise,
Who hate the wrong, but wisdom dwells with thee!
Consider this, too—hadst thou given thy daughter
To a citizen, and she were thus misused,
Hadst thou sat still? I trow not. Yet thou railest 670
Thus for an alien's sake on friends, on kin!
"Yet husband's cause"—say'st thou—"and wife's alike
Are strong, if she be wronged of him, or he
Find her committing folly in his halls."
Yea, but in his hands is o'ermastering strength, 675
But upon friends and parents leans her cause.
Do I not justly then to aid mine own?
Dotard—thou dotard!—thou wouldst help me more
By praise than slurring of my leadership!
Not of her will, but Heaven's, came Helen's trouble; 680
And a great boon bestowed she thus on Greece;
For they which were unschooled to arms and fight
Turned them to brave deeds: fellowship in arms
Is the great teacher of all things to men.
And if I, soon as I beheld my wife, 685
Forebore to slay her, wise was I herein.
'Twere well had Phokus ne'er been slain by thee.
Thus have I met thee in goodwill, not wrath.
If thou wax passionate, thou shalt but win
An aching tongue : my gain in forethought lies. 690
Refrain, refrain you—better far were this—
From idle words, lest both together err.
Ah me, what evil customs hold in Greece!
When hosts rear trophies over vanquished foes,
Men count not this the battle-toiler's work; 695
Nay, but their captain filcheth the renown:
Amidst ten thousand one, he raised a spear,
Wrought one man's work—no more; yet hath more praise.
In proud authority's pomp men sit, and scorn
The city's common folk, though they be naught. 700
Yet are those others wiser a thousandfold,—
Had wisdom but audacity for ally.
Even so thou and thy brother sit enthroned,
For Troy puffed up, and that your generalship,
By others' toils and pains exalted high. 705
But I will teach thee nevermore to count
Paris of Ida foe more stern than Peleus,
Except thou vanish from this roof with speed,
Thou and thy childless daughter, whom my son
By the hair shall grasp and hale her through these halls,— 710
The barren heifer, who will not endure
The fruitful, seeing herself hath children none!
What, if her womb from bearing is shut up,
Childless of issue must mine house abide?
Hence from her, thralls!—E'en let me see the man 715
Will let me from unmanacling her hands!
Uplift thee, that the trembling hands of eld
May now unravel these thongs' twisted knots.
Thus, O thou dastard, hast thou galled her wrists?
Didst think to enmesh a bull or lion here? 720
Didst fear lest she should snatch a sword, and chase
Thee hence? Steal hither 'neath mine arms, my bairn:
Help loose thy mother's bonds. I'll rear thee yet
In Phthia, their grim foe. If spear-renown
And battle-fame be ta'en from Sparta's sons, 725
In all else are ye meanest of mankind.
This race of old men may no man restrain,
Nor guard him 'gainst their sudden-fiery mood.
O'erhastily thou rushest into railing.
I came to Phthia not for violent deeds, 730
And will do nought unkingly, nor endure.
Now, seeing that my leisure serveth not,
Home will I go; for not from Sparta far
Some certain town there is, our friend, time was,
But now our foe: against her will I march, 735
Leading mine host, and bow her 'neath my sway.
Soon as things there be ordered to my mind,
I will return, will meet my marriage-kin
Openly, speak my mind, and hear reply.
And, if he punish her, and be henceforth 740
Temperate, he shall find me temperate too,
But, if he rage, shall meet his match in rage,
Yea, shall find deeds of mine to match his own.
But, for thy words, nothing I reck of them;
Thou art like a creeping shadow, voice thine all, 745
Impotent to do anything save talk.
Pass on, my child, sheltered beneath mine arms,
And, hapless, thou. Caught in a raging storm,
Thou hast come into a windless haven's calm.
The Gods reward thee, ancient, thee and thine, 750
Who hast saved my son and me the evil-starred!
Yet see to it, lest, where loneliest is the way,
These fall on us, and hale me thence by force,
Marking how thou art old, how I am weak,
This boy a babe: give thou heed unto this, 755
Lest, though we 'scape now, we be taken yet.
Out on thy words—a woman's faint-heart speech!
Pass on: whose hand shall stay you?—He shall rue
Who toucheth. By heaven's grace o'er hosts of horsemen
And countless men-at-arms I rule in Phthia. 760
I am yet unbowed, not old as thou dost think.
Yea, if I flash but a glance on such an one,
Shall I put him to rout, old though I be.
Stronger a stout-heart greybeard is than youths
Many: what boots a coward's burly bulk? 765
[Exeunt Peleus, Andromachê, Molossus
Thou wert better unborn, save of noble fathers
Descended, in halls of the rich thou abide.
If the high-born have wrong, for his championing gathers 770
A host that shall strike on his side.
There is honour for them that be published the scions
Of princely houses: the tide
Of time never drowneth the story
Of fathers heroic: it flasheth defiance
To death from its deathless glory.
But a victory stained—ah, best forego it,
If thy triumph must wrest to thy shame the right: 780
Yea, 'tis sweet at the first unto mortals, I know it;
But barren in time's long flight
Doth it wax: 'tis as infamy's cloud o'er thy towers.
Nay, this be my song, the delight
Of my days, and the prize worth winning,—
That I wield no dominion, in home's bride-bowers,
Nor o'er men, that I may not unsinning.
O ancient of Aiakus' line, 790
Now know I, when Lapithans dashing on Centaurs charged victorious,
There did thy world-famed war-spear shine,—
That, on Argo riding the havenless brine,
Thou didst burst through the gates of the Clashing Rocks on the sea-quest glorious;
And when great Zeus' son in the days overpast
Round Ilium the meshes of slaughter had cast,
As ye sped unto Europe returning, there too was thy fame's star burning, 800
For the half of the glory was thine.
O dear my friends, how evil in the steps
Of evil on this day still followeth!
For now my lady Hermionê within,
Deserted by her father, conscience-stricken 805
For that her plotted crime of slaughtering
Andromachê and her son, is fain to die,
Dreading her husband, lest for these her deeds
He drive her from yon halls with infamy,
Or lest she die, who would have slain the guiltless. 810
And scarce, when she essayed to hang herself,
Her watching servants stayed her, from her hand
Catching the sword and wresting it away;
With such fierce anguish seeth she her sins
Already wrought. O friends, my strength is spent 815
Dragging my mistress from the noose of death!
Oh, enter ye yon halls, deliver her
From death: for oft new-comers more prevail
In such an hour than one's familiar friends.
Lo, in the palace hear we servants' cries 820
Touching that thing whereof thou hast made report.
Hapless!—she is like to prove how bitterly
She mourns her crimes: for, fleeing forth the house
Eager to die, she hath 'scaped her servants' hands.
Hermionê rushes on to the stage.
Woe's me! with shriek on shriek
I will make of mine hair a rending, will tear with ruining fingers my red-furrowed cheek!
Daughter, what wilt thou do?—wilt mar thy form?
Alas, and well-a-day!
Hence from mine head, thou gossamer-thread of my wimple!—float on the wind away! 830
Child, veil thy bosom, gird thy vesture-folds!
What have I to do, with my vesture to veil
My bosom, when bared are the crimes I have dared against my lord, bared naked to light?
Griev'st thou to have contrived thy rival's death?
O yea, for my murderous daring I wail,
For my fury-burst, O woman accurst!—O woman accurst in all men's sight!
Thy lord shall yet forgive thee this thy sin. 840
O why didst thou wrest that sword from mine hand?
Give it back, give it back, dear friend; be the brand
Thrust home!—mine hanging why didst thou withstand?
What, should I leave thee thus distraught to die?
Woe's me for my destiny!
O for the fire!—I would hail it my friend!
O to the height of a scaur to ascend—
To crash through the trees of the mountain, to plunge mid the sea,
To die, that the nethergloom shadows may welcome me! 850
Why fret thyself for this? Heaven's visitation
Sooner or later cometh on all men.
Thou hast left me, my father, hast left, as a bark by the tide
Left stranded and stripped of the last sea-plashing oar!
He shall slay me, shall slay! 'Neath the roof that knew me a bride
Shall I dwell never more!
To the feet of what statue of Gods shall the suppliant fly?
Or crouched at a bondwoman's knees like a slave shall I lie? 860
O that from Phthia, a bird dark-winged, I were soaring,
Or were such as the pine-wrought galley, that flew
The first of the ships of earth her swift course oaring
Through the Crags dark-blue! 865
My child, thy frenzy of rage I praised not then
When thou against the Trojan dame didst sin,
Nor praise the frenzy of dread that shakes thee now.
Not thus thy lord will thrust his wife away
By weak words of barbarian woman swayed. 870
In thee he wed no captive torn from Troy,
Nay, but a prince's child, and gat with thee
Rich dowry from a city of golden weal.
Nor will thy father, as thou fearest, child,
Forsake and let thee from these halls be driven. 875
Nay, pass within; make not thyself a show
Before this house, lest thou shouldst get thee shame,
Before this palace seen of men, my child.
But lo, an outland stranger, alien-seeming,
With hasty steps to usward journeyeth. 880
Dames of a foreign land, be these the halls
And royal palace of Achilles' son?
Thou sayest: but who art thou that askest this?
Agamemnon's son and Klytemnestra's I,
My name Orestes: to Zeus' oracle 885
Bound, at Dodona. Seeing I am come
To Phthia, good it seems that I enquire
Of my kinswoman, if she lives and thrives,
Hermionê of Sparta. Though she dwell
In a far land from us, she is all as dear. 890
O haven in a storm by shipmen seen,
Agamemnon's son, by these thy knees I pray,
Pity me of whose lot thou questionest,
Afflicted me! With arms, as suppliant wreaths
Strong to constrain, I clasp thy very knees. 895
What ails thee? Have I erred, or see I clear
Menelaus' daughter here, this household's queen?
Yea, the one daughter Helen Tyndareus' child
Bare in his halls unto my sire: doubt not.
O Healer Phœbus, grant from woes release! 900
What ails thee? Art thou wronged of Gods or men?
Of myself partly, partly of my lord,
In part of some God: ruin is everywhere!
Now what affliction to a childless wife
Could hap, except as touching wedlock-right? 905
That mine affliction is: thou promptest well.
What leman in thy stead doth thy lord love?
The captive woman that was Hector's wife.
An ill tale, that a man should have two wives!
Even so it was, and I against it fought. 910
Didst thou for her devise a woman's vengeance?
Ay, death for her and for her base-born child.
And slewest them?—or some mischance hath foiled thee?
Old Peleus, championing the baser cause.
Did none in this blood-shedding take thy part? 915
My father came from Sparta even for this;—
How?—and o'ermastered by the old man's hand?
Nay, but by reverence;—and forsakes me now.
I see it: for thy deeds thou fear'st thy lord.
Death is within his right. What can I plead? 920
But I beseech thee by our Kin-god Zeus,
Help me from this land far as I may flee,
Or to my father's home. These very halls
Seem now to have a voice to hoot me forth:
The land of Phthia hates me. If my lord 925
Come home from Phœbus' oracle ere my flight,
On shamefullest charge I die, or shall be thrall
Unto his paramour, till now my slave.
"How then," shall one ask, "cam'st thou so to err?"
'Twas pestilent women sought to me, and ruined, 930
Which spake and puffed me up with words like these:
"Thou, wilt thou suffer yon base captive thrall
Within thine halls to share thy bridal couch?
By Heaven's Queen, wer't in mine halls, she should not
See light and reap the harvest of my bed!" 935
And I gave ear unto these sirens' words,
These crafty, knavish, subtle gossip-mongers,
And swelled with wind of folly. Why behoved
To spy upon my lord? I had all my need,—
Great riches; in his palace was I queen; 940
The children I might bear should be true-born;
But hers, the bastards, half-thrall unto mine.
But never, never—yea, twice o'er I say it,—
Ought men of wisdom, such as have a wife,
Suffer that women visit in their halls 945
The wife: they are teachers of iniquity.
One, for her own ends, beckons on to sin;
One, that hath fallen, craves fellowship in shame;
And of sheer wantonness many tempt. And so
Men's homes are poisoned. Therefore guard ye well 950
With bolts and bars the portals of your halls;
For nothing wholesome comes when enter in
Strange women, nay, but mischief manifold.
Thou hast loosed a reinless tongue against thy sisters.
In thee might one forgive it; yet behoves 955
Woman with woman's frailty gently deal.
Wise was the rede of him who taught that men
Should hear the reasonings of the other side.
I, knowing what confusion vexed this house,
And of the feud 'twixt thee and Hector's wife, 960
Kept watch and waited, whether thou wouldst stay
Here, or, dismayed with dread of that spear-thrall,
Out of these halls wert minded to avoid.
I came, not by thy message drawn so much,
As from this house to help thee, shouldst thou grant me 965
Speech of thee, as thou dost. Mine wast thou once,
But liv'st with this man through thy father's baseness,
Who, ere he marched unto the coasts of Troy,
Betrothed thee mine, thereafter promised thee
To him that hath thee now, if he smote Troy. 970
Soon as to Greece returned Achilles' son,
Thy father I forgave: thy lord I prayed
To set thee free. I pleaded mine hard lot,—
The fate that haunted me,—that I might wed
From friends indeed, but scarce of stranger folk, 975
Banished as 1 am banished from mine home.
Then he with insolent scorn cast in my teeth
My mother's blood, the gory-visaged fiends.
And I—my pride fell with mine house's fortunes—
Was heart-wrung, heart-wrung, yet endured my lot, 980
And loth departed, of thy love bereft.
But, now thy fortune's dice have fallen awry,
And in affliction plunged dost thou despair,
Hence will I lead and give thee to thy sire;
For mighty is kinship, and in evil days 985
There is naught better than the bond of blood.
My marriage—'tis my father shall take thought
Thereof: herein decision is not mine.
But help thou me with all speed forth this house,
Lest my lord coming home prevent me yet, 990
Or Peleus learn my flight from his son's halls,
And follow in our track with chasing steeds.
Fear not the greybeard's hand: yea, nowise fear
Achilles' son: his insolence-cup is full;
Such toils of doom by this hand woven for him 995
With murder-meshes round him steadfast-staked
Are drawn: thereof I speak not ere the time;
But, when I strike, the Delphian rock shall know.
This mother-murderer—if the oaths be kept
Of spear-confederates in the Delphian land— 1000
Shall prove none else shall wed thee, mine of right.
To his sorrow shall he ask redress of Phœbus
For a sire's blood! Nor shall repentance now
Avail him, who would make the God amends.
But by his wrath, and slanders sown of me, 1005
Die shall he foully, and shall know mine hate:
For the God turns the fortune of his foes
To overthrow, nor suffereth their high thoughts.
[Exeunt Orestes and Hermionê.
O Phœbus, who gavest to Ilium a glory
Of diadem-towers on her heights,—and O Master 1010
Of Sea-depths, whose grey-gleaming steeds o'er the hoary
Surf-ridges speed,—to the War-god, the Waster
With spears, for what cause for a spoil did ye cast her,
Whom your own hands had fashioned, dishonoured to lie
In wretchedness, wretchedness—her that was Troy?
And by Simoïs ye yoked to the chariots fleet horses
Unnumbered, in races of blood which contended,
Whose lords for no wreaths ran their terrible courses, 1020
Where the princes of Ilium to Hades descended,
Where upstreameth no more with the altar-flames blended
The odour of incense to dream through the sky
Round the feet of Immortals—from her that was Troy!
And Atreides hath passed; for on him lighted slaughter
At the hands of a wife: and with murder she bought her
Death, at the hands of her child to receive it:
For a God's, O a God's hest levin-wise glared 1030
Bodings of death on her, doomings declared
In the hour Agamemnon's son forth fared
To his temple from Argos; then thundered it o'er him;
And he slew her, he murdered the mother that bore him!
God, Phœbus!—ah must I, ah must I believe it?
And wherever the Hellenes were gathered was mourning
Of wives for their lost ones, the sons unreturning,
And of brides from their bowers of espousal departing 1040
To another lord's couch:—O, not only on thee
Down swooping fell anguish of misery,
Nor alone on thy loved ones; but Hellas must be
Bowed 'neath the plague, 'neath the plague; and on-sweeping
Like a cloud whence the death-rain of Hades was dripping,
Passed the scourge, o'er the Phrygians' fair harvest-fields darting.
Enter Peleus, attended.
Women of Phthia, unto that I ask
Make answer, for a rumour have I heard
That Menelaus' child hath left these halls
And fled away. In haste I come to learn 1050
If this be sooth; for we which bide at home
Should bear the burdens of our absent friends.
Peleus, truth hast thou heard: 'twere for my shame
To hide the ills wherein my lot is cast.
O yea, the queen is gone—fled from these halls. 1055
With what fear stricken? Tell me all the tale.
Dreading her lord, lest forth the home he cast her.
For that her murder-plot against his son?
Yea: of the captive dame adread withal.
Forth with her father went she, or with whom? 1060
Agamemnon's son hath led her from the land.
Yea?—furthering what hope?—would he wed her?
Yea: and for thy son's son he plotteth death.
Lying in wait, or face to face in fight?
With Delphians, in Loxias' holy place. 1065
Ah me! grim peril this! Away with speed
Let one depart unto the Pythian hearth,
And to our friends there tell the deeds here done,
Or ever Achilles' son be slain of foes.
Woe's me, woe's me!
Bearing what tidings of mischance to thee, 1070
Ancient, and all that love my lord, I come!
O my prophetic soul, what ill it bodes!
Thy son's son, ancient Peleus, is no more,
Such dagger-thrusts hath he received of men
Of Delphi, and that stranger of Mycenæ. 1075
Ah, what wilt do, O ancient?—fall not thou!
I am naught: it is my death.
Faileth my voice, my limbs beneath me fail.
Hearken, if thou wouldst also avenge thy friends.
Upraise thy body, hear what deed was done. 1080
O Fate, how hast thou compassed me about,
The hapless, upon eld's extremest verge!
How perished he, my one son's only son?
Tell: though it blast mine ears, fain would I hear.
When unto Phœbus' world-famed land we came, 1085
Three radiant courses of the sun we gave
To gazing, and with beauty filled our eyes.
This bred mistrust: the folk in the God's close
That dwelt, drew into knots and muttering rings,
While Agamemnon's son passed through the town, 1090
And whispered deadly hints in each man's ear:—
"See ye yon man who prowls the God's shrines through,
Shrines full of gold, the nations' treasuries,
Who on the selfsame mission comes again
As erst he came, to rifle Phœbus' shrine?" 1095
Therefrom ill rumour surged the city through:
Their magistrates the halls of council thronged;
And the God's treasure-warders, of their part,
Set guards along the temple colonnades.
But we, yet knowing nought of this, took sheep, 1100
The nurslings of the glades Parnassian,
And went and stood beside the holy hearths
With public-hosts and Pythian oracle-seers.
And one spake thus: "Prince, what request for thee
Shall we make to the God? For what com'st thou?"
"To Phœbus," said he, "would I make amends
For my past sin: for I required of him
Once satisfaction for my father's blood."
Then was Orestes' slander proved of might
In the hoarse murmur from the throng, "He lies!  1110
He hath come for felony!" On he passed, within
The temple-fence, before the oracle
To pray, and was in act to sacrifice:—
Then rose with swords from ambush screened by bays
A troop against him: Klytemnestra's son 1115
Was of them, weaver of this treason-web.
Full in view standing, still to the God he prayed,—
When lo, with swords keen-whetted unawares
They stab Achilles' son, a man unarmed.
Back drew he, stricken, yet not mortally, 1120
Draweth his sword, and, snatching helm and shield
Upon a column's nails uphung, he stood
On the altar-steps, a warrior grim to see;
And cried to Delphi's sons, and this he asked:
"Why would ye slay me, who on holy mission 1125
Have come?—on what charge am I doomed to die?"
But of the multitude that surged around
None answered word, but ever their hands hurled stones.
Then, by that hail-storm battered from all sides,
With shield outstretched he warded him therefrom, 1130
To this, to that side turning still the targe;
But nought availed, for in one storm the darts,
The arrows, javelins, twy-point spits outlaunched,
And slaughter-knives, came hurtling to his feet.
Dread war-dance hadst thou seen of thy son's son 1135
From darts swift-swerving! Now they hemmed him round
On all sides, giving him no breathing space.
Then from the altar's hearth of sacrifice
Leaping with that leap which the Trojans knew,
He dashed upon them. They, like doves that spy 1140
The hawk high-wheeling, turned their backs in flight.
Many in mingled turmoil fell, by wounds,
Or trampled of others in strait corridors.
Unhallowed clamour broke the temple-hush,
And far cliffs echoed. As in a calm mid storm, 1145
My lord stood flashing in his gleaming arms,
Till from the inmost shrine there pealed a voice
Awful and thrilling, kindling that array
And battleward turning. Then Achilles' son
Fell, stabbed with a brand keen-whetted through the side 1150
By a man of Delphi, one that laid him low
With helpers many: but, when he was down,
Who did not thrust the steel, or cast the stone,
Hurling and battering? All his form was marred,
So goodly-moulded, by their wild-beast wounds. 1155
Then him, beside the altar lying dead,
They cast forth from the incense-breathing shrine.
But with all speed our hands uplifted him,
And to thee bear him, to lament with wail
And weeping, ancient, and to ensepulchre. 1160
Thus he that giveth oracles to the world,
He that is judge to all men of the right,
Hath wreaked revenge upon Achilles' son,—
Yea, hath remembered, like some evil man,
An old, old feud! How then shall he be wise? 1165
Enter bearers with corpse of Neoptolemus.
Lo, lo, where the prince, high borne on the bier,
From the Delphian land to his home draweth near!
Alas for the strong death-quelled! Alas for thee, stricken with eld!
Not as thou wouldest, Achilles' scion 1170
To his home dost thou welcome, the whelp of the lion.
In oneness of weird, in affliction drear,
Art thou linked with the dead lying here.
Woe for the sight breaking on me,
That mine hands usher in at my door!
Ah me, 'tis my death! ah me,
O city of Thessaly,
No child have I,—this hath undone me,—
Neither seed in mine halls any more.
Woe for me!—whitherward turning
Shall mine eyes see the gladness of yore? 1180
O lips, cheek, and hands of my yearning!
O had a God but o'erthrown thee
'Neath Ilium on Simoïs' shore!
Yea, he had fallen with honour, had he died
Thus, ancient, and thy lot were happier so. 1185
Woe's me for the deadly alliance
That hath blasted my city, mine home!
Ah my son, that the curse-haunted line
Of thy bride,—unto me, unto mine
Evil-boding,—had trapped not my scion's 1190
Dear limbs in the toils of the tomb,
In the net of Hermionê's flinging!
O that lightning had first dealt her doom!
And alas that the arrow, death-bringing
To thy sire, stirred a man, for defiance
Of a God, against Phœbus to come!
With a wail ringing up to the sky
In the measures of Hades' abiders will I
Uplift for my lord stricken low lamentation's outcry.
With a wail to the heavens upborne 1200
I take up the strain, ah me, and I mourn
And I weep, the unblest, the ill-fated, the eld-forlorn.
'Tis God's doom: thine affliction God hath wrought.
O my belovèd one, lone in his halls hast thou left
An old, old man of his children bereft.
Before thy sons shouldst thou have died, have died!
And shall I not rend mine hair?
And shall I from smiting spare 1210
Mine head, from the ruining hand? O city, see
How Phœbus of children twain hath despoilèd me!
Ill-starred, who hast seen and suffered evil's stress,
What life through the rest of thy days shalt thou have?
Childless, forlorn, my woes are limitless:
I shall drain sorrow's dregs till I sink to the grave.
Gods crowned with joy thy spousals all for nought.
Fleeted and vanished and fallen my glories are,
Far from my boasts high-soaring, O far! 1220
Lone in the lonely halls must thou abide.
No city is mine—none now!
Down, sceptre, in dust lie thou!
Thou, Daughter of Nereus, from twilight of thy sea-hall
Shalt behold me, in ruin and wrack to the earth as I fall.
What ho! what ho!
What stir in the air, what fragrance divine?
Look yonder!—O mark it, companions mine!
Some God through the stainless sky doth speed;
And the car swings low
To the plains of Phthia the nurse of the steed. 1230
Thetis descends to the stage.
Peleus, for mine espousals' sake of old
To thee, I Thetis come from Nereus' halls.
And, first, I counsel thee, repine not thou
Overmuch for the woes that compass thee.
I too, who ought to have borne no child of sorrow, 1235
Lost him I bare to thee, my fleetfoot son,
Achilles, who in Hellas had no peer.
Now hearken while I tell my coming's cause:
Thou to the Pythian temple journey; there
Bury thou this thy dead, Achilles' seed, 1240
Delphi's reproach, that his tomb may proclaim
His death, his murder, by Orestes' hand.
And that war-captive dame, Andromachê,
In the Molossian land must find a home
In lawful wedlock joined to Helenus, 1245
With that child, who alone is left alive
Of Aiakus' line. And kings Molossian
From him, one after other long shall reign
In bliss: for, ancient, nowise thus thy line
And mine is destined to be brought to nought: 1250
No, neither Troy; the Gods yet hold her dear,
Albeit by Pallas' eager hate she fell.
Thee too—so learn what grace comes of my couch;
A Goddess I, whose father was a God—
Will I deliver from all mortal ills, 1255
And set thee above decay and death, a God.
Henceforth in Nereus' palace thou with me,
As God with Goddess, shalt for ever dwell.
Thence rising dry-shod from the sea, shalt thou
Behold Achilles, thy beloved son 1260
And mine, abiding in his island home
On the White Strand, within the Euxine Sea.
Now fare thou to the Delphians' God-built burg
Bearing this corpse, and hide it in the ground.
Then seek the deep cave 'neath the ancient rock 1265
Sepias; abide there: tarry till I rise
With fifty chanting Nereids from the sea,
To lead thee thence; for all the doom of fate
Must thou accomplish: Zeus's will is this.
Refrain thou then from grieving for the dead; 1270
For unto all men is this lot ordained
Of heaven: from all the debt of death is due.
O couch-mate mine, O high-born Majesty,
Offspring of Nereus, hail thou! Worthy thee,
Worthy thy children, are the things thou dost. 1275
Goddess, at thy command my grief shall cease.
Him will I bury, and go to Pelion's glens,
Where in mine arms I clasped thy loveliest form.
Now, shall not whoso is prudent choose his wife,
And for his children mates, of noble strain? 1280
And nurse no longing for an evil bride,
Not though she bring his house a regal dower?
So should men ne'er receive ill of the Gods.
O the works of the Gods—in manifold forms they reveal them:
Manifold things unhoped-for the Gods to accomplishment bring. 1285
And the things that we looked for, the Gods deign not to fulfil them;
And the paths undiscerned of our eyes, the Gods unseal them.
So fell this marvellous thing.
- See Odyssey, iv, 3–9.
- Neoptolemus was born in Skyros, an island in the Aegean sea.
- The courier-slaves of Neoptolemus, who in his absence are not likely to offend their mistress by doing Andromachê a service.
- Hermionê, daughter of Helen.
- That, feeling herself independent of her husband, she might speak as freely as she pleased.
- The Chorus, who had said nothing to her, but whose sympathies had been indicated in their choral-chant.
- ἀμαθία, used of a woman, had the same sense as "folly" in the
- i.e. Confess the sorceries by which you have stolen my husband's love. Andromachê's reply may express both contempt for her ignorant credulity, and a reference to Il. 205—212.
- Hermes, who brought Hera, Athena, and Aphroditê to the judgment of Paris.
- Cf. "I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots." (Song of Songs, i, 9).
- To explain away, when you wish to find her a new husband, the stigma of her previous divorce.
- i.e., Drove thee to seek refuge in the galleys that lay along the shore. See Iliad, bk. xv.
- Or (Paley), "Would from thine hands pluck with intent to slay!"
- Half-brother of Peleus and Telamon, murdered because he surpassed them in heroic exercises.
- "There thou might'st behold
The great image of authority:
A dog's obeyed in office." King Lear, iv, 6.
- "Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
And not a fenceless man."
(Aytoun: Execution of Montrose.)
- Al. in mine own despite.
- The following lines refer to Peleus' share in (1) the victory of the Lapithæ over the Centaurs, (2) the Argonauts' quest of the Golden Fleece, (3) the expedition of Herakles against Troy.
- The Furies, who haunted him after her murder.
- i.e. The speaker; a reference to the taunt in l. 978.
- Adopting Paley's explanation of the scene.
- Taking ἐμὸν γένος in apposition to παῖ and τέκνον, (the repetition enhancing the pathos,) and understanding τὸ δυσώνυμον σῶν λεχέων as the ill-omened nature of the alliance with the daughter of Helen and the niece of Klytemnestra, the latter of whom had literally "flung around her lord the net of Hades."
- See ll. 52, 53. The arrow of Paris, which slew Achilles, was guided by Apollo.