AGAMEMNON by Seneca the Younger
January 1, 0001
From THE TRAGEDIES OF SENECA
Translated into English Verse, to Which Have Been Appended Comparative Analyses of the Corresponding Greek and Roman Plays, and a Mythological Index
by FRANK JUSTUS MILLER
Agamemnon King of Argos, and leader of all the Greeks in their war
Ghost of Thyestes Returned to earth to urge on his son to the
vengeance which he was born to accomplish.
Aegisthus Son of Thyestes by an incestuous union with his daughter;
paramour of Clytemnestra.
Clytemnestra Wife of Agamemnon, who has been plotting with Aegisthus
against her husband, in his absence at Troy.
Chorus Of Argive women.
Eurybates Messenger of Agamemnon.
Cassandra Daughter of Priam, captive of Agamemnon.
Electra Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
Strophius King of Phocis.
Orestes Son of Agamemnon (persona muta).
Pylades Son of Strophius (persona muta).
Band Of captive Trojan women.
THE SCENE is laid partly within and partly without the palace of
Agamemnon at Argos or Mycenae, on the day of the return of the king
from his long absence at Troy, beginning in the period of darkness just
preceding the dawn.
*The blood-feud between Atreus and Thyestes was not ended with the
terrible vengeance which Atreus wreaked upon his brother. It was yet in
fate that Thyestes should live to beget upon his own daughter a son,
Aegisthus, who should slay Atreus and bring ruin and death upon the
great Atrides, Agamemnon.*
*The Trojan war is done. And now the near approach of the victorious
king, bringing his captives and treasure home to Argos, has been
announced. But little does he dream to what a home he is returning.
For Clytemnestra, enraged at Agamemnon because he had sacrificed her
daughter Iphigenia at Aulis to appease the winds, and full of jealousy
because he brings Cassandra as her rival home, estranged also by the
long-continued absence of her lord, but most estranged by her own
guilty union with Aegisthus, is now plotting to slay Agamemnon on his
return, gaining thus at once revenge and safety from his wrath.*
Ghost of Thyestes: Escaped from gloomy Pluto’s murky realm
And leaving Tartara’s deep pit I come,
All doubting which abode I hate the more;
That world I flee, but this I put to flight.
My soul shrinks back, my limbs do quake with fear. 5
I see my father’s house–my brother’s too!
Here is the ancient seat of Pelop’s race;
In this proud hall it is Pelasgians' wont
To crown their kings; here sit those overlords
Whose hands the kingdom’s haughty scepter wield; 10
Here is their council chamber–here they feast!
Let me go hence. Were it not better far
To sit beside the dark, sad pools of Styx,
And see the hell-hound’s black and tossing mane?
Where one, bound fast upon a whirling wheel, 15
Back to himself is borne; where fruitless toil
Is mocked forever by the rolling stone;
Where living vitals glut the vulture’s greed,
Consumed but e’er renewed; and one old man,
By mocking waves surrounded, seeks in vain 20
To sate his burning thirst, dire punishment
For that he strove to trick th' immortal gods.
But, ranked with mine, how slight that old man’s sin!
Take count of all whose impious deeds on earth
Make them to tremble at the bar of hell:
By my dread crimes will I outdo them all;– 25
But not my brother’s crimes. Three sons of mine
Lie buried in me, yea, mine own dear flesh
Have I consumed. Nor this the only blot
With which dire fortune’s hand hath stained my soul;
But, daring greater sin, she bade me seek
(Oh, foul impiety!) my daughter’s arms. 30
Bold for revenge, I dared and did the deed,
And so fearful cycle was complete:
As sons the sire, so sire the daughter filled.
Then were the laws of nature backward turned:
I mingled sire with grandsire, sons with grandsons;
Yea, monstrous! husband and father did I join, 35
And drove the day back to the shades of night.
But fate at last, though doubtful, long deferred,
Hath had regard unto my evil plight,
And brought the day of vengeance near; for lo,
This king of kings, this leader of the Greeks,
This Agamemnon comes, whose royal flag 40
A thousand Grecian vessels following
Once filled the Trojan waters with their sails.
Now ten bright suns have run their course, and Troy
Has been o’erthrown, and he is close at hand–
To place his neck in Clytemnestra’s power.
Now, now, this house shall flow again with blood,
But this of Atreus' stock! Swords, axes, darts 45
I see, and that proud head with murderous stroke
Asunder cleft; now impious crimes are near,
Now treachery, slaughter, blood; the feast is spread.
The cause, Aegisthus, of thy shameful birth,
Is come at last. But why hangs down thy head
In shame? Why hesitates thy faltering hand 50
And sinks inactive? Why dost counsel take
Within thy heart, and turn away, and ask
Whether this deed become thee? Do but think
Upon thy mother; then wilt thou confess
It doth become thee well. But what drags out
In long delay this summer night’s brief span
To winter’s hours of darkness? And what cause
Prevents the stars from sinking in the sky? 55
The sun shrinks from my face. I must away,
That so he may bring back the light of day.
Chorus of Argive women: On fortune’s headlong brink they stand
Who hold the scepter in their hand;
No safe assurance can they know 60
Who on too lofty pathways go:
But care on care pursues them to the last,
Their souls assailed and vexed by every blast.
As seas on Libya’s sandy shore
Their waves in ceaseless billows pour; 65
As Euxine’s swelling waters rise
Beneath the lowering northern skies,
Where bright Boötes wheels his team
High o’er the ocean’s darksome stream: 70
With such assaults, by such wild tempests blown,
Does fortune batter at a kingly throne!
Who would be feared, in fear must live.
No kindly night can refuge give;
Nor sleep, that comforts all the rest, 75
Can bring care-freedom to his breast.
What throne so safe, on such foundation stands,
That may not be destroyed by impious hands?
For justice, shame, the virtues all,
E’en wifely faith, soon flee the hall 80
Where courtiers dwell. Within, there stands
Bellona dire with bloody hands;
Erinys too, the dogging fate,
Of them who hold too high estate,
Which any hour from high to low may bring. 85
Though arms be lacking, wiles be none,
Still is the will of fortune done:
By force of his own greatness falls the king.
‘Tis ever thus: the bellying sail 90
Fears the o’erstrong though favoring gale;
The tower feels rainy Auster’s dread
If to the clouds it rear its head;
Huge oaks most feel the whirlwind’s lash; 95
High mountains most with thunder crash;
And while the common herd in safety feeds,
Their mighty leader, marked for slaughter, bleeds. 100
Fate places us on high, that so
To surer ruin we may go.
The meanest things in longest fortune live.
Then happy he whose modest soul
In safety seeks a nearer goal; 105
Fearing to leave the friendly shore,
He rows with unambitious oar,
Content in low security to thrive.
Clytemnestra: Why, sluggish soul, dost thou safe counsel seek?
Why hesitate? Closed is the better way.
Once thou couldst chastely guard thy widowed couch, 110
And keep thy husband’s realm with wifely faith;
But now, long since has faith thy palace fled,
The homely virtues, honor, piety,
And chastity, which goes, but ne’er returns.
Loose be thy reins, swift speed thy wanton course;
The safest way through crime is by the path 115
Of greater crime. Consider in thy heart
All woman’s wiles, what faithless wives have done,
Bereft of reason, blind and passion-driven;
What bloody deeds stepmother’s hands have dared;
Or what she dared, ablaze with impious love,
Who left her father’s realm for Thessaly: 120
Dare sword, dare poison; else in stealthy flight
Must thou go hence with him who shares thy guilt.
But who would talk of stealth, of exile, flight?
Such were thy sister’s deeds: some greater crime,
Some mightier deed of evil suits thy hand.
Nurse: O Grecian queen, illustrious Leda’s child, 125
What say’st thou there in whispered mutterings?
Or what unbridled deeds within thy breast,
By reckless passion tossed, dost meditate?
Though thou be silent, yet thy face declares
Thy hidden pain in speech more eloquent.
Whate’er thy grief, take time and room for thought.
Time often cures what reason cannot heal. 130
Clytemnestra: Too dire my grief to wait time’s healing hand.
My very soul is scorched with flaming pains:
I feel the goads of fear and jealous rage,
The throbbing pulse of hate, the pangs of love,
Base love that presses hard his heavy yoke 135
Upon my heart, and holds me vanquished quite.
And always, ‘mid those flames that vex my soul,
Though faint indeed, and downcast, all undone,
Shame struggles on. By shifting seas I’m tossed:
As when here wind, there tide impels the deep,
The waves stand halting ‘twixt the warring powers. 140
And so I’ll strive no more to guide my bark.
Where wrath, where grief, where hope shall bear me on,
There will I speed my course; my helmless ship
I’ve giv’n to be the sport of winds and floods.
Where reason fails ‘tis best to follow chance.
Nurse: Oh, rash and blind, who follows doubtful chance. 145
Clytemnestra: Who fears a doubtful chance, if ‘tis his last?
Nurse: Thy fault may find safe hiding if thou wilt.
Clytemnestra: Nay, faults of royal homes proclaim themselves.
Nurse: Dost thou repent the old, yet plan the new?
Clytemnestra: To stop midway in sin is foolishness. 150
Nurse: His fears increase, who covers crime with crime.
Clytemnestra: But iron and fire oft aid the healer’s art.
Nurse: Yet desperate measures no one first attempts.
Clytemnestra: The path of sin is headlong from the first.
Nurse: Still let thy wifely duty hold thee back. 155
Clytemnestra: What long-deserted wife regards her lord?
Nurse: Your common children–hast no thought of them?
Clytemnestra: I do think on my daughter’s wedding rites,
High-born Achilles, and my husband’s lies.
Nurse: She freed our Grecian fleet from long delay, 160
And waked from their dull calm the sluggish seas.
Clytemnestra: Oh, shameful thought! that I, the heaven-born child
Of Tyndarus, should give my daughter up
To save the Grecian fleet! I see once more
In memory my daughter’s wedding day,
Which he made worthy of base Pelops’ house, 165
When, with his pious face, this father stood
Before the altar fires–Oh, monstrous rites!
E’en Calchas shuddered at his own dread words
And backward-shrinking fires. O bloody house,
That ever wades through crime to other crime!
With blood we soothe the winds, with blood we war. 170
Nurse: Yet by that blood a thousand vessels sailed.
Clytemnestra: But not with favoring omens did they sail;
The port of Aulis fairly drave them forth.
So launched in war, he still no better fared.
Smit with a captive’s love, unmoved by prayer, 175
He held as spoil the child of Phoebus’ priest,
E’en then, as now, a sacred maiden’s thrall.
Nor could the stern Achilles bend his will,
Nor he whose eye alone can read the fates
(A faithful seer to us, to captives mild), 180
Nor his pest-smitten camp and gleaming pyres.
When baffled Greece stood tottering to her fall,
This man with passion pined, had time for love,
Thought ever on amours; and, lest his couch
Should be of any Phrygian maid bereft, 185
He lusted for Achilles’ beauteous bride,
Nor blushed to tear her from her lover’s arms.
Fit foe for Paris! Now new wounds he feels,
And burns, inflamed by mad Cassandra’s love.
And, now that Troy is conquered, home he comes, 190
A captive’s husband, Priam’s son-in-law!
Arise, my soul; no easy task essay;
Be swift to act. What dost thou, sluggish, wait
Till Phrygian rivals wrest thy power away?
Or do thy virgin daughters stay thy hand, 195
Or yet Orestes, image of his sire?
Nay, ‘tis for these thy children thou must act,
Lest greater ills befall them; for, behold,
A mad stepmother soon shall call them hers.
Through thine own heart, if so thou must, prepare
To drive the sword, and so slay two in one. 200
Let thy blood flow with his; in slaying, die.
For death is sweet if with a foeman shared.
Nurse: My queen, restrain thyself, check thy wild wrath,
And think how great thy task. Atrides comes
Wild Asia’s conqueror and Europe’s lord; 205
He leads Troy captive, Phrygia subdued.
‘Gainst him wouldst thou with sly assault prevail,
Whom great Achilles slew not with his sword,
Though he with angry hand the weapon drew;
Nor Telamonian Ajax, crazed with rage; 210
Nor Hector, Troy’s sole prop and war’s delay;
Nor Paris’ deadly darts; nor Memnon black;
Nor Xanthus, choked with corpses and with arms;
Nor Simois’ waves, empurpled with the slain;
Nor Cycnus, snowy offspring of the sea; 215
Nor warlike Rhesus with his Thracian band;
Nor that fierce maid who led the Amazons,
Armed with the deadly battle-axe and shield?
This hero, home returned, dost thou prepare
To slay, and stain thy hearth with impious blood?
Would Greece, all hot from conquest, suffer this? 220
Bethink thee of the countless steeds and arms,
The sea a-bristle with a thousand ships,
The plains of Ilium soaked with streams of blood,
Troy taken and in utter ruin laid:
Remember this, I say, and check thy wrath,
And bid thy thoughts in safer channels run. 225
Aegisthus: The fatal day which I was born to see,
Toward which I’ve ever looked with dread, is here.
Why dost thou fear, my soul, to face thy fate,
And turn away from action scarce begun?
Be sure that not thy hand is ordering
These dire events, but the relentless gods. 230
Then put thy shame-bought life in pawn to fate
And let thy heart drain suffering to the dregs.
To one of shameful birth death is a boon.
Thou comrade of my perils, Leda’s child,
Be with me still in this; and thy false lord, 235
This valiant sire, shall pay thee blood for blood.
But why does pallor blanch thy trembling cheeks?
What bodes this softened face, this listless gaze?
Clytemnestra: My husband’s love has met and conquered me.
Let us retrace our steps, while still there’s room, 240
To that estate whence we should ne’er have come;
Let even now fair fame be sought again;
For never is it over late to mend.
Who grieves for sin is counted innocent.
Aegisthus: What madness this? Dost thou believe or hope
That Agamemnon will be true to thee? 245
Though no grave fears, of conscious guilt begot,
Annoyed thy soul with thoughts of punishment;
Still would his swelling, o’er-inflated pride,
Create in him a dour and headstrong mood.
Harsh was he to his friends while Troy still stood;
How, think’st thou, has the fall of Troy pricked on 250
His soul, by nature harsh, to greater harshness?
Mycenae’s king he went; he will return
Her tyrant. So doth fortune foster pride.
With how great pomp this throng of rivals comes!
But one of these, surpassing all the rest,
Apollo’s priestess, holds the king in thrall. 255
And wilt thou meekly share thy lord with her?
But she will not. A wife’s last infamy–
To see her rival ruling in her stead.
No throne nor bed can brook a rival mate.
Clytemnestra: Aegisthus, why dost drive me headlong on, 260
And fan to flames again my dying wrath?
For if the victor has his right employed,
To work his will upon a captive maid,
His wife should not complain or reck of this.
The law that binds the man fits not the king.
And why should I, myself in conscious guilt, 265
Make bold to sit in judgment on my lord?
Let her forgive who most forgiveness needs.
Aegisthus: In very truth there’s room for mutual grace.
But thou know’st naught of royal privilege.
Thee will the king judge harshly, to himself 270
A milder law in gentler mood apply.
And this they deem the highest pledge of power,
If, what to common mortals is denied,
Is given by general will to them alone.
Clytemnestra: He pardoned Helen; home is she returned,
To Menelaüs joined, though East and West
Have been engulfed for her in common woe.
Aegisthus: But Menelaüs nursed no secret love, 275
Which closed his heart unto his lawful wife.
Thy lord seeks charge against thee, cause of strife.
Suppose thy heart and life were free from guilt:
What boots an honest life, a stainless heart,
When hate condemns the suppliant unheard? 280
Wilt thou seek Sparta’s shelter, and return
Unto thy father’s house? No shelter waits
The scorned of kings; that hope were false indeed.
Clytemnestra: None knows my sin save one most faithful friend.
Aegisthus: In vain: no faith is found in royal courts. 285
Clytemnestra: But surely gifts will buy fidelity.
Aegisthus: Faith bought by gifts is sold for other gifts.
Clytemnestra: My strength and purity of soul revive.
Why wouldst thou thwart me? Why, with cozening words,
Wouldst thou persuade me to thy evil course? 290
Dost think that I would leave a king of kings
And stoop to wed an outcast wretch like thee?
Aegisthus: What? seem I less than Atreus’ son to thee,
Who am Thyestes’ son?
Clytemnestra: Why, so thou art,
And grandson too.
Aegisthus: My getting shames me not;
For Phoebus' self is voucher for my birth.
Clytemnestra: Name Phoebus not with thine incestuous stock, 295
Who checked his flying steeds and fled the sky,
Withdrawn in sudden night, lest he behold
Thy father’s feast. Wouldst thou besmirch the gods,
Thou, trained to revel in unlawful love?
Then get thee gone in haste, and rid mine eyes 300
Of that which doth disgrace this noble house;
This home is waiting for its king and lord.
Aegisthus: Exile is naught to me, for I am used
To woe. At thy command I’ll farther flee
Than from this house: I but await thy word
To plunge my dagger in this woeful breast. 305
Clytemnestra [aside]: Shall I in cruel scorn desert him now?
Who sin in company should suffer so.
Nay, come with me; we will together wait
The issue of our dark and dangerous fate.
[Exeunt into the palace.]
Chorus: Sing Phoebus' praise, O race renowned; 310
With festal laurel wreathe your heads;
And let your virgin locks flow free,
Ye Argive maids.
And ye who drink of the cold Erasinus,
Who dwell by Eurotas, 315
Who know the green banks of the silent Ismenus
Come join in our singing;
And do ye swell our chorus, ye far Theban daughters,
Whom the child of Tiresias, Manto the seer,
Once taught to bow down to the Delian gods. 320
Now peace has come:
Unbend thy victorious bow, O Apollo,
Lay down from thy shoulder thy quiver of arrows,
And let thy tuneful lyre resound
To the touch of thy swift-flying fingers. 325
No lofty strain be thine today,
But such as on thy milder lyre
Thou art wont to sound when the learnéd muse
Surveys thy sports.
And yet, an' thou wilt, strike a heavier strain, 330
As when thou didst sing of the Titans o’ercome
By Jupiter’s hurtling bolts;
When mountain on lofty mountain piled,
Pelion, Ossa, and pine-clad Olympus,
Built high to the sky for the impious monsters 335
Their ladder’s rocky rounds.
Thou too be with us, Juno, queen,
Who sharest the throne of heaven’s lord. 340
Mycenae’s altars blaze for thee.
Thou alone dost protect us,
Anxious and suppliant;
Thou art the goddess of peace,
And the issues of war are thine; 345
And thine are the laurels of victory twined
On the brow of our king Agamemnon.
To thee the boxwood flute resounds
In solemn festival;
To thee the maidens strike the harp 350
In sweetest song;
To thee the votive torch is tossed;
The gleaming heifer, all unmarred
By the plow’s rough touch
Falls at thy shrine. 355
And thou, child of the Thunderer,
Pallas illustrious, hear;
Before whose might the Dardanian walls
Have trembled and fallen to dust.
Thee maidens and matrons in chorus united 360
Exalt and adore; at thy approach
Thy temple doors swing open wide,
While the welcoming throng, with garlands bedecked,
Rejoice at thy coming;
And feeble, tottering elders come
To pay their vows of thanks and praise, 365
And pour their offerings of wine
With trembling hands.
And to thee with mindful lips we pray,
Bright Trivia, Lucina called.
Thy native Delos didst thou bid
Stand fast upon the sea, and float 370
No more, the wandering mock of winds.
And now, with firmly fixéd root,
It stands secure, defies the gale,
And, wont of old to follow ships,
Now gives them anchorage.
Proud Niobe thy vengeance felt 375
Who thy divinity defied.
Now, high on lonely Sipylus,
She sits and weeps in stony grief;
Though to insensate marble turned,
Her tears flow fresh forevermore.
And now both men and women join 380
In praise to the twin divinities.
But thee, above all gods, we praise;
Our father and our ruler thou,
Lord of the hurtling thunderbolt,
At whose dread nod the farthest poles
Do quake and tremble.
O Jove, thou founder of our race, 385
Accept our gifts, and have regard
Unto thy faithful progeny.
But lo, a warrior hither comes in haste,
With wonted signs of victory displayed;
For on his spear a laurel wreath he bears– 390
Eurybates, our king’s own messenger.
 The line arrangement of Schroeder has been followed in this Chorus.
[Enter Eurybates with laurel-wreathed spear.]
Eurybates: Ye shrines and altars of the heavenly gods,
Ye Lares of my fathers, after long
And weary wanderings, scarce trusting yet
My longing eyes, I give ye grateful thanks.
Pay now your vows which you have vowed to heaven,
Ye Argive people; for behold, your king, 395
The pride and glory of this land of Greece,
Back to his father’s house as victor comes.
[Enter Clytemnestra *in time to hear the concluding words of the
Clytemnestra: Oh, joyful tidings that I long to hear!
But where delays my lord, whom I with grief
For ten long years have waited? Doth the sea
Still stay his course, or hath he gained the land?
Eurybates: Unharmed, by glory crowned, increased in praise, 400
He hath set foot upon the long-sought shore.
Clytemnestra: Then hail this day with joy, and thank the gods
Who, though their favoring aid was late bestowed,
At last have smiled propitious on our cause.
But tell me thou, does yet my brother live?
Say, too, how fares my sister Helena? 405
Eurybates: If prayer and hope prevail, they yet survive;
No surer tidings is it given to speak
Of those who wander on the stormy sea.
Scarce had the swollen highways of the deep
Received our fleet, when ship from kindred ship
Was driven, and lost amid the gathering gloom.
E’en Agamemnon’s self in doubt and fear 410
Went wandering upon the trackless waste,
And suffered more from Neptune’s buffetings
Than he had e’er endured in bloody war.
And now, a humble victor, home he comes,
With but a shattered remnant of his fleet.
Clytemnestra: But say what fate has swallowed up my ships,
And scattered our great chieftains o’er the sea? 415
Eurybates: A sorry tale ‘twould be: thou bid’st me mix
The bitter message with the sweet. But I,
Alas, am sick at heart, and cannot tell
For very horror our most woeful tale.
Clytemnestra: But tell it even so; for he who shrinks
From knowledge of his woe has greater fear.
And ills half seen are worse than certainty. 420
Eurybates: When Troy lies smouldering ‘neath our Grecian fires
We quickly lot the spoil, and seek the sea
In eager haste. And now our weary sides
Are easéd of the falchion’s wonted load;
Our shields along the vessels’ lofty sterns
Unheeded hang, and once again our hands,
Long used to swords, are fitted to the oar; 425
And all impatiently we wait the word.
Then flashed from Agamemnon’s ship the sign
That bade us homeward speed, and clear and loud
The trumpet pealed upon our joyful ears;
The flagship’s gilded prow gleamed on ahead,
The course directing for a thousand ships. 430
A kindly breeze first stole into our sails
And urged us softly on; the tranquil waves
Scarce rippled with the Zephyr’s gentle breath;
The sea was all a-glitter with the fleet
Which lit e’en while it hid the watery way.
‘Tis sweet to see the empty shores of Troy, 435
The broad plains left in lonely solitude.
The eager sailors ply the bending oars,
Hands aiding sails, and move their sturdy arms
With rhythmic swing. The furrowed waters gleam,
And sing along the sides, while rushing prows 440
Besprinkle all the sea with hoary spray.
When fresher breezes fill our swelling sails,
We cease from toil, and, stretched along the thwarts,
We watch the far-off shores of Ilium,
Fast fleeing as our vessels seaward fare; 445
Or tell old tales of war: brave Hector’s threats,
His corpse dishonored, and again restored
To purchased honors of the funeral pyre;
And Priam sprinkling with his royal blood
The sacred altar of Hercean Jove.
Then to and fro amid the briny sea
The dolphins sport, and leap the heaving waves 450
With arching backs; now race in circles wide,
Now swim beside us in a friendly band,
Now dash ahead or follow in our wake;
Anon in wanton sport they smite our prows,
And so our thousand rushing barks surround. 455
Now sinks the shore from view, the spreading plains;
And far-off Ida seems a misty cloud.
And now, what but the sharpest eye can see,
Troy’s rising smoke blurs dim the distant sky.
The sun was bringing weary mortals rest, 460
And waning day was giving place to night;
When clouds began to fill the western sky,
And dim the luster of the sinking sun–
The grim prognostic of a rising gale.
Young night had spangled all the sky with stars, 465
And empty sails hung languid on the masts;
When low, foreboding sighings of the wind
Spring from our landward side; the hidden shore
Resounds afar with warning mutterings;
The rising waves anticipate the storm; 470
The moon is blotted out, the stars are hid,
The sea leaps skyward, and the sky is gone.
Gloom broods o’er all, but not of night alone;
For blinding mists add blackness to the night,
And murky waves with murky sky contend.
Then in concerted rush from every hand
The winds fall roughly on the ravished sea,
And heave its boiling billows from the depths; 475
While east with west wind struggles, south with north.
Each wields his wonted arms to lash the sea:
The fierce Strymonian blast with rattling hail
Roars on, and Libyan Auster heaps the waves
Upon the seething sands. Nor those alone 480
Provoke the strife: for raving Notus first
Grows big with bursting clouds and swells the waves;
And boisterous Eurus shakes the Orient,
The far Arabian realms and morning seas.
What dire disaster did fierce Corus work,
His dark face gleaming forth upon the deep?
We thought the very heavens would be rent, 485
The gods fall down from out the riven sky,
And all revert to chaos as of old.
The waves opposed the winds, the winds in turn
Hurled back the warring waves. Nor was the sea
Within itself contained; but, lifted high,
It mingled with the streaming floods of heaven. 490
Nor were we solaced in our dreadful plight
By open view and knowledge of our ills;
For darkness like the murky night of Styx
Hedged in our view. Yet was this darkness rent,
When flashing lightnings cleft the inky clouds 495
With crashing bolts. Yet e’en this fearful gleam
Was welcome to our eyes: so sweet it is
To those in evil plight to see their ills.
The fleet assists its own destruction, too,
Prow dashing hard on prow, and side on side;
Now sinks it headlong in the yawning flood,
And now, belched forth, it sees the air again. 500
One plunges down, of its own weight compelled;
Another, through its gaping side, invites
Destruction from the raging floods; a third
Is smothered by the tenth and mightiest wave.
Here idly floats a mangled, shattered thing,
Of all its boastful decoration shorn;
And there a ship sans sails and oars and all.
No lofty mast with hanging spars remains, 505
But, helpless hulks, the shattered vessels drift
Upon the boundless sea. Amid such ills,
Of what avail the hardy sailor’s art?
Cold horror holds our limbs. The sailors stand
In dumb amaze, and all their tasks forget;
While all, in abject terror, drop their oars,
And turn their wretched souls to heaven for aid. 510
Now (marvel of the fates!) with common vows
The Greeks and Trojans supplicate the skies.
Now Pyrrhus envies great Achilles’ fate;
Ulysses, Ajax’; Menelaüs, Hector’s;
And Priam seems to Agamemnon blest:
Yea all who perished on the plains of Troy,
Whose lot it was to die by human hand,
Are counted blest of heaven, secure in fame, 515
For they rest safely in the land they won.
“Shall winds and waves engulf in common fate
The faint of heart who nothing noble dare,
And those brave souls who quit themselves like men?
Must we for naught resign ourselves to death?
O thou of gods who art not even yet
With these our evil fortunes satisfied, 520
At last have pity on our woeful plight,
Which Ilium itself would weep to see.
If still thine anger holds, and ‘tis decreed
That we of Greece must perish utterly,
Why doom these Trojans, for whose sake we die,
To share our fate? Allay the raging sea: 525
For this our fleet bears Greeks and Trojans too.”
So prayed we, but in vain; our suppliant words
Were swallowed by the raging storm. And lo,
Another shape of death! For Pallas, armed
With those swift bolts her angry father wields,
Essays what ruin dire her threatening spear,
Her aegis set with stony Gorgon’s head, 530
And these her father’s thunderbolts, can work.
Unconquered by his ills, with daring soul,
Bold Ajax struggles on. Him, shortening sail
With halyards strained, a falling thunderbolt
Smote full; again the goddess poised her bolt 535
With hand far backward drawn, like Jove himself,
And hurled it true with shock impetuous.
Straight fell the bolt, and, piercing man and ship,
It strewed them both in ruin on the sea.
Still undismayed, he overtops the waves,
All charred and blasted like some rugged cliff, 540
And bravely breasts the wildly raging sea.
Still gleaming with the lightning’s lurid glare,
He shines amid the blackness like a torch
Which sheds its beams afar upon the deep.
At length a jutting rock he gains, and shouts
In madness: “Now have I o’ercome the sea, 545
The flames; ‘tis sweet to conquer sky, and waves,
The thunderbolts, and her who brandished them.
I’ve braved the terrors of the god of war;
With my sole arm I fronted Hector, huge,
Nor did the darts of Phoebus frighten me.
Those gods, together with their Phrygians, 550
I set at naught; and shall I quake at thee?
Thou hurl’st with weakling’s hand another’s bolts:
But what if Jove himself–”
When madly thus he dared blaspheme the gods,
Great Neptune with his trident smote the rock,
And whelmed its tottering bulk beneath the sea. 555
So, falling with its fall, the madman lies
By earth and fire and billows overcome.
But us, poor shipwrecked, hopeless mariners,
A worse destruction waits. There is a reef,
Low lying, treacherous with ragged shoals,
Where false Caphereus hides his rocky foot
Beneath the whirling waters of the sea. 560
Above this reef the billows heave and dash,
And madly seethe with each recurring wave.
High o’er this spot a frowning crag projects,
Which views on either side the spreading sea.
There distant lie thine own Pelopian shores,
And there the curving Isthmus, deep withdrawn,
Shielding the broad Aegean from the west. 565
There blood-stained Lemnos looms; here Chalcis lies;
And yonder wind-locked Aulis’ peaceful port.
This lofty cliff old Nauplius occupied,
With hate inspired for Palamedes’ sake.
There his accurséd hand a beacon raised
And lured us onward to the fatal spot. 570
Now hang our barks by jagged rocks transfixed,
Or founder, wrecked and wrecking in the shoals;
And where but now our vessels sought to land,
They flee the land and choose the angry waves. 575
With dawn the sea’s destructive rage was spent,
And full atonement had been made to Troy.
Then came the sun again; and brightening day
Revealed the awful havoc of the night.
Clytemnestra: I know not which were better, grief or joy.
I do rejoice to see my lord again, 580
And yet my kingdom’s losses counsel tears.
O father Jove, at whose august command
The sounding heavens quake, regard our race,
And bid the angry gods be merciful.
Let every head be decked with festal wreath,
The flute resound, and at the stately shrine
Let snowy victims fall in sacrifice. 585
But lo, a grieving throng, with locks unkempt,
The Trojan women come; and at their head,
With step majestic, queenly, heaven inspired,
Apollo’s bride, with his own laurel tired.
[Enter band of Trojan women, led by Cassandra.]
Band of Trojan women: Alas, how bitter, yet how sweet a thing,
This love of life we mortals cherish so!
What madness, when the door stands open wide 590
That frees us from our ills, and death calls loud
And welcomes us to everlasting rest!
Who finds that refuge, fears no more
These nameless terrors, these assaults,
These insolent assaults of fate,
And sidelong-glancing bolts of Jove. 595
Deep peace of death!
No frenzied burgher-throng to fear,
No victor’s threatening madness here;
No wild seas ruffled by the blast;
No hosts in serried battle massed,
Where whirling clouds of dust disclose 600
The savage riders to their foes;
No nation falling with its city’s fall,
‘Mid smouldering battlement and crumbling wall;
No wasting fires,
No burning pyres,
And all the horrors impious war inspires.
They from the servile bonds of fate 605
This human life emancipate,
Who fickle fortune dare to brave,
And face the terrors of the grave;
Who joyful view the joyless Styx,
And dare their mortal span to fix.
How like a king, how like a god on high
Is he who faces death nor fears to die! 610
In one dark night we saw our city doomed,
When Doric fires the Dardan homes consumed;
But not in battle, not by warlike arts,
As once it fell beneath Alcides’ darts.
No son of Thetis dealt the blow 615
Which wrought our final overthrow,
Nor his loved friend, Patroclus hight,
When once, in borrowed armor dight,
He put our Trojan chiefs to flight;
Nor when Pelides' self gave o’er 620
The fierce resentment that he bore,
And sped him forth on vengeance bent–
Not even in such evils pent,
Did Troy to cruel fortune bend,
But struggled bravely to the end.
Her bitter fate–for ten long years to stand,
And fall at last by one vile trickster’s hand. 625
In memory still we see the monstrous bulk
Of that pretended and most fatal gift,
The Grecian horse, which we, too credulous,
With our own hands into our city led.
The noisy-footed monster stumbled oft 630
Upon the threshold of the city gate,
While in its roomy hold crouched kings and war.
And we might well have turned their crafty arts
To work their own destruction. But alas,
We neither saw nor heeded. Oftentimes
The sound of clashing shields smote on our ears,
And low and angry mutterings within 635
Where Pyrrhus ‘gainst the shrewd Ulysses strove.
Now free from fear our Trojan youth
Crowd round to touch the sacred cords
With joyous hands. Astyanax
Here leads his youthful playmates on,
While ‘midst the maidens gaily comes
The maid Polyxena, foredoomed
To bleed upon Achilles’ tomb. 640
Mothers in festal garments bring
Their votive offerings to the gods,
And sires press gaily round the shrines. 645
Throughout the town all faces tell
One tale of joy; e’en Hecuba,
Who, since her Hector’s fatal pyre,
Had never ceased her tears, was glad.
But now, unhappy grief, what first,
What last, dost thou prepare to weep? 650
Our city walls in ruin laid,
Though built by heavenly hands? our shrines
Upon their very gods consumed?
Nay, nay; long since our weary eyes
Have dried their tears for these. But now
We weep, O father, king, for thee. 655
We saw, with our own eyes we saw,
The old man slain by Pyrrhus’ impious hand,
Whose scanty blood scarce stained the gleaming brand.
Cassandra: Restrain your tears which lingering time awaits,
Ye Trojan dames; weep not for me and mine. 660
Let each bewail her several woes; but I
For my own heavy grief have tears enough.
Band: Yet ‘tis a balm of grief to know
That our own tears with others’ flow;
More sharply gnaws the hidden care 665
Which we with others may not share:
And thou, though strong of soul, inured to grief,
Canst not in thine own weeping find relief.
Though Philomel for Itys sing 670
Her sad, sweet notes in wakening spring;
Though Procne, with insistent din,
Bewail her husband’s hidden sin; 675
Not these, with all their passionate lament,
Can voice the sorrows in thy bosom pent.
Let Cycnus raise his dying song,
And its soft, plaintive strains prolong;
Let Halcyon mourn her Ceyx brave, 680
A-flutter o’er the tossing wave;
Let priests of tower-crowned Cybele 685
Their tears for Attis share with thee:
Still would our tears in no such measure flow, 690
For sufferings like these no limits know.
[Cassandra lays aside her fillets.]
But why dost lay aside the sacred wool?
Most by the wretched should the gods be feared.
Cassandra: But ills like mine o’erleap the bounds of fear. 695
I’ll supplicate the heavenly gods no more,
For now am I beyond their power to harm,
And I have drained to dregs the cup of fate.
No country have I left, no sister, sire;
For tombs and altars have my blood consumed. 700
Where is that happy throng of brothers now?
Departed all! And only weak old men
Remain within the lonely palace walls
To serve the wretched king; and these, alas,
Throughout those stately chambered halls behold,
Save Spartan Helen, none but widowed wives.
And Hecuba, proud mother of a race 705
Of kings, herself the queen of Phrygia,
Fecund for funeral pyres, became the mock
Of fickle fate; and now in bestial form,
Barks madly round the ruins of her home,
Surviving Troy, son, husband, and herself.
Band: Why falls this sudden silence on her? See 710
Her cheeks are pale, and fits of trembling fear
Possess her frame; her locks in horror rise,
And we can hear, though pent within her breast,
The loud pulsations of her fluttering heart.
Her glance uncertain wanders; and anon
Her eyes seem backward turned into herself, 715
Then fix again and harshly stare abroad.
Now higher than her wont she lifts her head
And walks with stately step; and now she strives
To open her reluctant lips. At last,
Though struggling still against th' inspiring god,
The maddened priestess speaks with muttered words.
Cassandra: Why prick me on with fury’s goads anew, 720
Ye sacred slopes of high Parnassus? Why
Must I, insensate, prophesy afresh?
Away, thou prophet god! I am not thine.
Subdue the fires that smoulder in my breast.
Whose doom yet waits my frenzied prophecy?
Now Troy is fallen–must I still rave on, 725
And speak unheeded words? Oh, where am I?
The kindly light has fled, and deepest night
Enshrouds my face, and all the heavens lie wrapped
In deepest gloom. But see, with double sun,
The day shines forth again; and doubled homes
In doubled Argos seem to stand. Again
I see Mount Ida’s groves. The shepherd sits 730
Amid those awful goddesses to judge
(Oh, fatal judgment!) twixt their rival charms.
Ye mighty kings, I warn ye, fear the fruit
Of stolen love; that rustic foundling soon
Shall overthrow your house.
Beware the queen!
Why does she madly in her woman’s hand
Those naked weapons bear? Whom does she seek 735
With brandished battle-ax, though Spartan bred,
Like some fierce warrior of the Amazons?
What horrid vision next affronts mine eyes?
A mighty Afric lion, king of beasts,
Lies low, death-smitten by his cruel mate;
While at his mangled neck a low-born beast 740
Why do ye summon me,
Saved only of my house, ye kindred shades?
I’ll follow thee, my father, buried deep
Beneath the stones of Troy; and thee, O prop
Of Phrygia, the terror of the Greeks,
I see, though not in brave and fair array,
As once thou cam’st, still flushing with the glow 745
Of burning ships; but with thy members torn
And foully mangled by the dragging thongs.
And thee, O Troïlus, I follow too,
Alas, too quickly met with Peleus' son!
I see thy face, my poor Deïphobus,
Past recognition scarred. Is this the gift
Of thy new wife? 750
Ah me, ‘tis sweet to go
Along the borders of the Stygian pool;
To see the savage hound of Tartarus,
The realms of greedy Dis, and Charon old,
Whose dusky skiff shall bear two royal souls
Across the murky Phlegethon today,
The vanquished and the vanquisher. Ye shades,
And thee, dread stream, by which the gods of heaven 755
Do swear their straightest oaths, I pray ye both:
Withdraw the curtain of your hidden realm,
That so yon shadowy throng of Phrygians
May look upon Mycenae’s woes. Behold,
Poor souls; the wheel of fortune backward turns.
See, see! the squalid sisters come, 760
Their bloody lashes brandishing,
And smoking torches half consumed.
A sickly pallor overspreads
Their bloated cheeks; and dusky robes
Of death begird their hollow loins.
The gloomy night with fearsome cries 765
Resounds, and to my startled eyes
Dread sights appear: there lie the bones
Of that huge giant, far outstretched,
Upon a slimy marsh’s brink
All white and rotting. Now I see
That old man, wan with suffering,
Forget awhile the mocking waves, 770
Forget his burning thirst, to grieve
For this disaster hovering
About his house;
But Dardanus exults to see
His foeman’s baleful destiny.
Band: Now has her rage prophetic spent itself, 775
And fall’n away; like some devoted bull,
Which sinks with tottering knees before the shrine
Beneath the sacrificial axe’s stroke.
Let us support her ere she faint and fall.
But see, our Agamemnon comes at last
To greet his gods, with bay of victory crowned;
And, all in festal garb, with glad accord, 780
His consort welcomes her returning lord.
 Reading, hinc et Chalcida.
 Reading, vexatus.
 Reading, totâ Troiâ sepulte.
[Enter Agamemnon. *He is met and greeted by his wife, who returns
into the palace.*]
Agamemnon: At last in safety am I home returned.
Oh, hail, belovéd land! I bring thee spoil
From many barbarous tribes; and Troy at length,
So long the mistress of the haughty east, 785
Submits herself as suppliant to thee.
But see, Cassandra faints, and trembling falls
With nerveless form. Ye slaves with speed uplift her;
Revive her drooping spirits with the chill
Of water on her face. Her languid eyes
Again behold the light of day. Arise,
Cassandra, and recall thy sluggish sense.
That shelter from our woes, so long desired, 790
Is here at last. This is a festal day.
Cassandra: Remember Ilium’s festal day.
Agamemnon: But come,
We’ll kneel before the shrine.
Cassandra: Before the shrine
My father fell.
Agamemnon: We will together pray
In thankfulness to Jove.
Cassandra: Hercean Jove?
Agamemnon: Thou think’st of Ilium?
Cassandra: And Priam too.
Agamemnon: This is not Troy. 795
Cassandra: Where a Helen is, is Troy.
Agamemnon: Fear not thy mistress, though in captive’s bonds.
Cassandra: But freedom is at hand.
Agamemnon: Live on secure.
Cassandra: I think that death is my security.
Agamemnon: For thee there’s naught to fear.
Cassandra: But much for thee.
Agamemnon: What can a victor fear?
Cassandra: What least he fears.
Agamemnon: Keep her, ye faithful slaves, in careful guard, 800
Till she shall throw this mood of madness off,
Lest in unbridled rage she harm herself.
To thee, O father, who the blinding bolt
Dost hurl, at whose command the clouds disperse,
Who rul’st the starry heavens and the lands,
To whom triumphant victors bring their spoils;
And thee, O sister of thy mighty lord, 805
Argolic Juno, here I offer now
All fitting gifts–and so fulfil my vow.
[Exit into the palace.]
Chorus of Argive women: O Argos, famed for thy worthy sons,
And dear to the jealous Juno’s heart,
How mighty the children who feed at thy breast! 810
Thou hast added a god to the ranks of immortals;
For Alcides has won by his labors heroic
The right to be named with the lords of the sky.
Alcides the great! at his birth were the laws
Of the universe broken; for Jove bade the night
To double the dew-laden hours of the darkness. 815
At his command did the god of the sun
To a sluggish pace restrain his car;
And slow of foot around their course,
O pale, white moon, thy horses paced.
He also checked his feet, the star,
Which hails the dawn, but glows as oft 820
In the evening sky; and he marveled that he
Should be called Hesperus. ‘Tis said that Aurora
Roused to her wonted task, but again
Sank back to her sleep on the breast of Tithonus:
For long must the night be, and tardy the morning,
That waits for the birth of a hero divine. 825
The swift-whirling vault of the sky stood still
To greet thee, O youth to the heavens appointed.
Thy labors how many and mighty! Thy hand
Has the terrible lion of Nemea felt, 830
The fleet-footed hind, and the ravaging boar
That Arcadia feared. Loud bellowed the bull
When torn from the fields of Crete;
Thou didst conquer the Hydra, which fed on destruction, 835
And severed the last of its multiplied heads.
The dread giant, Geryon, three monsters in one,
Fell slain with one blow of thy crashing club;
But his oxen, the famous Hesperian herds,
Were driven away as the spoils of the east. 840
The terrible steeds of the Thracian king,
Which their master fed not on the grass of the Strymon,
Or the green banks of Hebrus (but, cruel and bloody,
With flesh of the hapless wayfarer he fed them), 845
These steeds did our Hercules take, and in vengeance,
As their last gory feast gave the flesh of their master.
The spoil of her girdle Hippolyte saw
A-gleam on her conqueror’s breast.
The Stymphalian bird fell down from the clouds 850
By his arrows death-smitten,
And the tree which bears the fruit of gold
Feared his approach, but, despoiled of its treasures,
Lifted high in the air its burdenless branches.
Forth from the ravished grove he strode 855
With its golden fruit full laden; in vain
Did the deadly, sleepless dragon guard
Hear the sound of the musical metal.
By triple chains to the upper world
The hound of hell was meekly dragged; 860
His three great mouths in silence gaped,
Amazed by the light of day.
And, greatest of toils, beneath his might,
The lying house of Dardanus
Was overthrown, and felt the force
Of that dread bow which it was doomed
In far-off time to feel again.
Ten days sufficed for Troy’s first overthrow; 865
As many years her second ruins know.
Cassandra [*alone upon the stage, standing where she can see the
interior of the palace, describes what is going on there;
or else she sees it by clairvoyant power*]:
Great deeds are done within, the cruel match
For ten long years of suffering at Troy.
Alas, what do they there? Arise, my soul,
And take reward for thy mad prophecies.
The conquered Phrygians are victors now.
‘Tis well! O Troy, thou risest from the dust, 870
For thou hast now to equal ruin brought
Mycenae too. Low lies thy conqueror.
Oh, ne’er before has my prophetic soul
So clearly seen the things of which it raved.
I see, and no false image cheats my sight,
I see it plainly, there, within the hall, 875
A royal feast is spread, and thronged with guests,
Like that last fatal feast of ours at Troy.
The couches gleam with Trojan tapestries;
Their wine they quaff from rare old cups of gold
That once cheered great Assaracus; and see,
The king himself, in ‘broidered vestment clad,
Sits high in triumph at the table’s head, 880
With Priam’s noble spoils upon his breast.
Now comes his queen and bids him put away
The garment which his enemy has worn,
And don instead the robe which she has made
With loving thoughts of him.
Oh, horrid deed!
I shudder at the sight. Shall that base man,
That exile, smite a king? the paramour
The husband slay? The fatal hour has come. 885
The second course shall flow with royal blood,
And gory streams shall mingle with the wine.
And now the king has donned the deadly robe,
Which gives him bound and helpless to his fate.
His hands no outlet find; the clinging gown
Enwraps his head in dark and smothering folds.
With trembling hand the coward paramour 890
Now smites the king, but not with deadly wound;
For in mid stroke his nerveless hand is stayed.
But, as some shaggy boar in forest wilds,
Within the net’s strong meshes caught, still strives
And strains to burst his bonds, yet all in vain:
So Agamemnon seeks to throw aside 895
The floating, blinding folds. In vain; and yet,
Though blind and bound, he seeks his enemy.
Now frenzied Clytemnestra snatches up
A two-edged battle-ax; and, as the priest,
Before he smites the sacrificial bull,
Marks well the spot and meditates his aim:
So she her impious weapon balances. 900
He has the blow. ‘Tis done. The severed head
Hangs loosely down, and floods the trunk with gore.
Nor do they even yet their weapons stay:
The base-born wretch hacks at the lifeless corpse,
While she, his mate, pursues her bloody task. 905
So each responds to each in infamy.
Thyestes’ son in very truth is he,
While she to Helen proves her sisterhood.
The sun stands doubtful on the edge of day;
Shall he go on or backward bend his way?
[Remains beside the altar.]
[Enter Electra, leading her little brother, Orestes.]
Electra: Flee, sole avenger of my father’s death, 910
Oh, flee, and shun these impious butchers’ hands.
Our royal house is utterly o’erthrown,
Our kingdom gone.
But see, a stranger comes,
His horses driven to their utmost speed;
Come, brother, hide thyself beneath my robe.
But, O my foolish heart, whom dost thou fear? 915
A stranger? Nay, thy foes are here at home.
Put off thy fears, for close at hand I see
The timely shelter of a faithful friend.
[Enter Strophius in a chariot, accompanied by his son Pylades.]
Strophius: I, Strophius, had left my Phocian realm,
And now, illustrious with th’ Olympic palm,
I home return. My hither course is bent
To ‘gratulate my friend, by whose assault 920
Has Ilium fallen after years of war.
[Noticing Electra’s distress.]
But why these flowing tears and looks of woe?
And why these marks of fear? I recognize
In thee the royal house. Electra! Why,
When all is joyful here, dost thou lament?
Electra: My father lies within the palace, slain 925
By Clytemnestra’s hand. His son is doomed
To share his father’s death. Aegisthus holds
The throne which he through guilty love has gained.
Strophius: Oh, happiness that never long endures!
Electra: By all thy kindly memories of my sire,
By his proud scepter, known to all the earth, 930
And by the fickle gods, I pray thee take
My brother hence, and hide him from his foes.
Strophius: Although dead Agamemnon bids me fear,
I’ll brave the danger and thy brother save.
Good fortune asks for faith; adversity
Compels us to be true.
[Takes Orestes into the chariot.]
My lad, attend:
Wear this wild-olive wreath upon thy brow, 935
The noble prize I won on Pisa’s plain;
And hold above thy head this leafy branch,
The palm of victory, that it may be
A shield and omen of success to thee.
And do thou too, O Pylades, my son, 940
Who dost as comrade guide thy father’s car,
From my example faith in friendship learn.
Do you, swift steeds, before the eyes of Greece
Speed on in flight, and leave this faithless land.
[Exeunt at great speed.]
Electra [looking after them]: So is he gone. His car at reckless
Fast vanishes from sight. And now my foes, 945
With heart released from care, will I await,
And willingly submit my head to death.
Here comes the bloody conqueror of her lord,
And bears upon her robes the stains of blood.
Her hands still reek with gore, and in her face
She bears the witness of her impious crime. 950
I’ll hie me to the shrine; and, kneeling here,
I’ll join Cassandra in our common fear.
[Enter Clytemnestra, fresh from the murder of her husband.]
Clytemnestra [to Electra]: Thou base, unfilial, and froward girl,
Thy mother’s foe, by what authority
Dost thou, a virgin, seek the public gaze?
Electra: Because I am a virgin have I left 955
The tainted home of vile adulterers.
Clytemnestra: Who would believe thee chaste?
Electra: I am thy child.
Clytemnestra: Thou shouldst thy mother speak with gentler tongue.
Electra: Shall I learn filial piety of thee?
Clytemnestra: Thou hast a mannish soul, too puffed with pride;
But tamed by suffering thou soon shalt learn
To play a woman’s part.
Electra: A woman’s part!
Yea, truly, ‘tis to wield the battle-ax. 960
Clytemnestra: Thou fool, dost think thyself a match for us?
Electra: “For us?” Hast thou another husband then?
Speak thou as widow, for thy lord is dead.
Clytemnestra: As queen I soon shall curb thy saucy tongue,
And break thy pride. But meanwhile quickly tell, 965
Where is my son, where is thy brother hid?
Electra: Far from Mycenae fled.
Clytemnestra: Then bring him back.
Electra: Bring back my father too.
Clytemnestra: Where lurks the boy?
Electra: In safety, where he fears no rival’s power.
This will content a loving mother.
But not an angry one. Thou diest today. 970
Electra: Oh, let me perish by thy practiced hand!
Behold, I leave the altar’s sheltering side;
Wilt plunge the knife into my tender throat?
I yield me to thy will. Or dost prefer
At one fell stroke to smite away my head?
My neck awaits thy deadly aim. Let crime 975
By other crime be purged. Thy hands are stained
And reeking with thy murdered husband’s blood:
Come, cleanse them in the fresher stream of mine.
Clytemnestra: Thou partner of my perils and my throne,
Aegisthus, come; this most unnatural child
Assails her mother and her brother hides. 980
Aegisthus: Thou mad and foolish girl, restrain thy tongue,
For such wild words offend thy mother’s ears.
Electra: Thou arch contriver of most impious crime,
Wilt thou admonish me? Thou base-born wretch,
Thou sister’s son, and grandson of thy sire! 985
Clytemnestra: Aegisthus, how canst thou restrain thy hand
From smiting off her head? But hear my word:
Let her give up her brother or her life.
Aegisthus: Nay, rather, in some dark and stony cell
Let her be straight confined; and there, perchance,
By cruel tortures racked, will she give up 990
Whom now she hides. Resourceless, starving there,
In dank and loathsome solitude immured,
Widowed, ere wedded, exiled, scorned of all–
Then will she, though too late, to fortune yield.
Electra: Oh, grant me death.
Aegisthus: If thou shouldst plead for life,
I’d grant thee death. A foolish ruler he, 995
Who balances by death the score of sin.
Electra: Can any punishment be worse than death?
Aegisthus: Yes! Life for those who wish to die. Away,
Ye slaves, seek out some dark and lonely cave,
Far from Mycenae’s bounds; and there in chains,
Confine this bold, unmanageable maid,
If haply prison walls may curb her will. 1000
[Electra is led away.]
Clytemnestra [indicating Cassandra]:
But she shall die, that rival of my couch,
That captive bride. Go, drag her hence at once,
That she may follow him she stole from me.
Cassandra: Nay, drag me not; for I with joy will go,
Outstripping your desire. How eagerly
I hasten to my Phrygians, to tell 1005
The news: the ocean covered with the wrecks
Of Argive ships; Mycenae overthrown;
The leader of a thousand leaders slain
(And thus atoning for the woes of Troy)
By woman’s gift of wantonness and guile.
Make haste! I falter not, but thank the gods, 1010
That I have lived to see my land avenged.
Clytemnestra: O maddened wretch, thy death I wait to see.
Cassandra: A fateful madness waits as well for thee.
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