HERCULES-FURENS by Seneca the Younger

January 1, 0001


Translated into English Verse, to Which Have Been Appended Comparative Analyses of the Corresponding Greek and Roman Plays, and a Mythological Index



HERCULES Son of Jupiter and Alcmena, but the reputed son of Amphitryon.

Juno Sister and wife of Jupiter, and queen of heaven.

Amphitryon Husband of Alcmena.

Theseus King of Athens and friend of Hercules.

Lycus The usurping king of Thebes, who has, prior to the opening of

the play, slain king Creon in battle.

Megara Wife of Hercules and daughter of Creon.

Chorus Of Thebans.

THE SCENE is in the princely palace of Hercules at Thebes, on the day

of the return of the hero from the lower world.

*The jealous wrath of Juno, working through Eurystheus, has imposed

twelve mighty and destructive tasks on Hercules, her hated stepson.

But these, even to the last and worst, the bringing of Cerberus to the

upper world, he has triumphantly accomplished. Abandoning her plan

of crushing him by toils like these, she will turn his hand against

himself, and so accomplish his destruction. Upon the day of his return

from hell, she brings a madness on him, and so precipitates the tragedy

which forms the action of the play.*


Juno [in soliloquy]: Lo I, the sister of the Thunderer

(For, save this name alone, I’ve nothing more),

Have left my lord, so often false to me,

Have left, in widowhood, the realms of heaven,

And, banished from the sky, have given place

Unto my hated rivals. Now must earth 5

Be my abode, while they in heaven reign.

Behold, the Bear, far in the frozen north,

Is set on high to guide the Argive ships;

Behold, in southern skies, where days grow long

Beneath the warmth of spring, the Bull shines bright,

Who once the Tyrian Europa bore.

There gleam the wandering Atlantides, 10

A fearful band for ships and sea alike;

And yonder fierce Orion with his sword

The very gods affrights; his stars, as well,

The golden Perseus boasts; while Leda’s sons

With shining banners glitter in the sky;

And they, Latona’s children, for whose birth 15

The floating land stood firm. And not alone

Have Bacchus and his mother gained the heavens;

But, that the infamy may be complete,

The skies must needs the Cretan maiden’s crown

Endure. But these are ancient wrongs I tell:

One wild and baneful land alone is full

Of shameless mistresses–the Theban land, 20

Which all too oft has me a stepdame made.

And though Alcmena scale the heights of heaven,

And hold my place, victorious over me;

And though her son his promised star obtain

(Whose hateful getting cost the world a day,

Since Phoebus, bidden to hold his shining car 25

In Ocean hid, with tardy light shone forth

From eastern seas): still ever in my heart

Shall hate relentless dwell. Undying wrath

My outraged soul shall kindle; and my grief,

All hope of truce denying, endless wars

Shall fiercely wage. But what avail my wars? 30

Whatever savage things the hurtful earth,

The sea or air produce, terrific shapes,

Fierce, pestilential, horrible, and dire,

The power of all is broken and subdued.

Alcides towers above and thrives on woe;

My wrath is his delight, and to his praise

He turns my deadly hate. While I, too stern, 35

Impose his dreadful tasks, I do but prove

His origin, and opportunity

For glorious achievement render him.

Where Phoebus with his neighboring torch illumes

The east and western shores of Aethiop’s land,

Alcides' dauntless courage is adored;

While all the world considers him a god.

And now have I no monsters more to send; 40

And less his toil to do the tasks I bid,

Than mine to set them. Joyfully he hears

My several commands. But what dire tasks

The tyrant may conceive can harm that youth

Impetuous? His very arms, forsooth,

Are torn from monsters which he feared–and slew; 45

With spoils of lion and of hydra armed,

He walks abroad. Nor are the lands of earth

Enough for him: behold, the doors of Dis

Are burst, and to the upper world he brings

The booty taken from the vanquished king.

‘Tis not enough that he returns alive:

The law that binds the shades is set at naught.

Myself I saw him, when he had o’ercome 50

The king of hades and escaped the night

Of that deep underworld, display to Jove

The spoils of Dis. But why does he not lead,

Oppressed and overcome, the king himself

Who gained by lot an equal realm with Jove?

Why rules he not in conquered Erebus?

Why bares he not the Styx? His upward way

From deepest hell to earth he has retraced, 55

And all the sacred mysteries of death

Lie open to the world. Not yet content,

And proud that he has burst the bars of night,

He triumphs over me, and, insolent,

He leads through all the cities of the land

That gruesome dog of hell. I saw, myself,

The daylight pale at sight of Cerberus, 60

The sun start in affright. Nay, even I

Was struck with terror; and, as I beheld

That triple-headed beast in bondage led,

I trembled at the thought that ‘twas my will.

But all too trivial ills do I lament;

My fears must be aroused for heaven itself,

Lest he who overcame the lowest depths

Should scale the very skies, and from his sire 65

His scepter snatch away. Nor to the stars

Will he, like Bacchus, by an easy path

Ascend; through ruin would he make his way,

And wish to rule an empty universe.

He is inflamed with pride of tested strength;

But he has learned by bearing up the heavens,

That by his power the heavens can be subdued. 70

Upon his head he bore the universe,

Nor did his shoulders bend beneath the weight

Of that stupendous mass; the vault of heaven

Upon his neck was poised, and steadily

He bore the expanse of sky, the shining stars;

And even me, down pressing, he endured.

He seeks a place among the immortal gods.

Then up, arouse thee to destructive wrath, 75

Destroy him meditating plans so great.

Meet him in single strife; with thine own hands

Asunder rend him. Why thy mighty hate

Dost thou consign to others to appease?

Enough of monsters; let Eurystheus rest,

All weary with imposing thy commands.

Though thou shouldst open wide Sicilia’s vaults,

And free the Titans who essayed to wrench 80

The scepter from the hand of mighty Jove;

Though the Doric isle, which trembles with affright

Whene’er the heaving giant turns himself,

Should ease her weight upon the monster’s head;

Though in the moon another race of beasts

Should be conceived: yet all of these, I know

Alcides conquered and will conquer still.

Seek’st thou his match? There is none save himself. 85

Then set him on to war against himself;

Let furies from the lowest depths of hell

Be roused and come to aid, their flaming locks

Aglow with maddening fire, their savage hands

The horrid snaky scourges brandishing.

Go now, thou proud one, seek the seats of heaven,

And scorn the lot of men. And dost thou think, 90

O hero brave, that thou hast fled the Styx

And gloomy shades? Here will I show thee hell;

Here will I summon up the goddess dire

Of Discord, deep in darkness thick confined

Far down below the abode of guilty souls.

A cavern huge within a mountain’s hold

Is her dark prison. Her will I call forth, 95

And from the deepest realms of Dis bring up

Whate’er thou hast escaped: base Crime shall come;

Impiety that fiercely stains its hands

In kindred blood; the shape of Error, too,

And Fury ever armed against itself.

This, this assistance shall my grief employ.

Come then, ye ever-faithful slaves of Dis, 100

Begin your task. Shake high the blazing torch;

And let Megaera lead her dreadful band

Of sisters viperous. With deadly hand

Let her from off the blazing funeral pyre

A burning brand snatch up. Now to your task;

Thus seek revenge for violated Styx:

Distract his heart with madness; let his soul 105

More fiercely burn than that hot fire which glows

On Aetna’s forge. But first, that Hercules

May be to madness driven, smitten through

With mighty passion, I must be insane.

Why rav’st thou not, O Juno? Me, Oh, me, 110

Ye sisters, first of sanity deprive,

That something worthy of a stepdame’s wrath

I may prepare. Let all my hate be changed

To favor. Now I pray that he may come

To earth again, and see his sons unharmed;

May he return with all his old-time strength.

Now have I found a day when Hercules

May help me with his strength that I deplore. 115

Now let him equally o’ercome himself

And me; and let him, late escaped from death,

Desire to die. Now let it profit me

That he is born of Jove. I’ll stand by him

And nicely poise his hand, that so his darts

May with more deadly aim be hurled. I’ll guide

The madman’s arms. And so at last I help 120

Alcides in his wars. The crime complete,

Then let his father to the heavens admit

Those guilty hands. Now must the attack begin.

The day is breaking, and with saffron light

The rising sun dispels the gloom of night.

Chorus: Now scattered and with paling light 125

The stars gleam in the sinking west;

Now vanquished night collects her fires,

Whose shining band at the day’s return

The star of morning drives away.

High up in the frozen northern sky,

The Arcadian Bears with their seven-fold stars, 130

Their course completed, hail the dawn.

Now borne along by his azure steeds

The sun looks forth from Oeta’s ridge;

With whose light suffused, the clustering grapes

In the vineyards to Theban Bacchus dear

Flush rosy red. The waning moon 135

Fades out of sight, to return again.

Hard Toil awakens, at whose knock

The doors of men are opened wide,

And daily cares resumed.

The shepherd sends his flock afield,

And plucks, himself, the tender grass 140

Still sparkling with the frosty rime.

The young bull sports among the fields

At liberty; the dams refill

Their empty udders; sportive kids

Leap lightly o’er the tender grass 145

In aimless course. On the topmost branch

The Thracian Philomela sings

Her strident song, and near her nest

Of chattering young she spreads her wings

To the morning sun; while all around 150

The throng of birds with united songs

Announce the day.

The daring sailor spreads his sails

To the freshening wind, as the breezes fill

Their flapping folds. From wave-worn rocks

The fisher leans and baits anew

His cunning hook; he feels his line 155

A-tremble with the struggling fish,

Or weighs his prize with practiced hand

And eager eye.

Such are the joys of him who lives 160

In tranquil and unworried peace;

Whose pleasure is a humble house,

His own, though small; whose simple hopes

Are in the open fields.[17]

But worried hopes in cities dwell,

And trembling fears. There some would haunt

The rich man’s haughty vestibules,

Wait at their proud, unfeeling doors, 165

Forego their sleep. Some heap up wealth,

Though blest with boundless wealth, and gaze

In admiration at their heaps;

And yet, with all their gold, are poor.

Some strain for the applause of men,

The vulgar throng, whose fickle will

Is shifting as the sea, and swell 170

With empty pride. The noisy mart

Still others claim, who meanly deal

In quarrelsome suits, and profit make

Of wrath and empty words.

Few know untroubled peace, the men

Who, heeding time’s swift flight, hold fast 175

The years that never will return.

While fate permits, live happily;

For life runs on with rapid pace,

And with headlong speed the year’s swift wheel 180

With winged hours is turned.

The cruel sisters urge their task,

Nor backward turn the threads of life.

But the race of men is hurried on

To meet the quick approaching fates,

Uncertain of their own.

Of our own will we haste to cross 185

The Stygian waves. Thou, Hercules,

With heart too brave, before thy time

Didst see the grieving shades. The fates

In pre-established order come;

And none may stay when they command,

None may put off the appointed day. 190

The swiftly whirling urn of fate

Contains all mortal men.

Let glory then to many lands

Proclaim some names, and chattering fame

Through every city sing their praise,

And raise them to the stars. Sublime 195

In triumph let another ride.

Me let my native land conceal

Within a safe and humble home.

‘Tis unambitious souls who come

To hoary-headed age at last.

If humble, still the lot is sure

Of lowly homes. Souls lifted high, 200

For this to greater depths must fall.

But see, sad Megara comes with flowing hair,

Her little children closely pressing round;

And with her, with the tardy step of age,

The sire of Hercules, Amphitryon.


[17] Reading, et in agris.


Megara: O mighty ruler of Olympus’ heights, 205

Thou judge of all the world, now set at length

A limit to my cares, and make an end

Of my disasters. No untroubled day

Doth dawn for me; but one misfortune’s end

Marks but the starting-point of future woes.

Fresh foes are ready for my Hercules

Straightway on his return; ere he can reach 210

His happy home, another warfare bids

That he set forth again. No time for rest

Is given, save while he waits a fresh command.

‘Twas ever thus: from earliest infancy

Unfriendly Juno follows on his track.

Was e’en his cradle free from her assaults?

He conquered monsters ere he learned to know 215

What monsters were. Two crested serpents huge

Against him reared their heads; the dauntless child

Crawled forth to meet them, and, with placid gaze

Intently fixed upon their fiery eyes,

With fearless look he raised their close-coiled folds, 220

And crushed their swollen necks with tender hand.

And thus he practiced for the hydra’s death.

He caught the nimble stag of Maenalus,

Its beauteous head adorned with horns of gold.

The lion, terror of Nemean woods,

Groaned out his life beneath the mighty arms 225

Of Hercules. Why should I call to mind

The stables dire of that Bistonian herd,

And the king as food to his own horses given?

The rough Maenalian boar, which, from his lair

On Erymanthus’ thickly wooded heights,

Filled all the groves of Arcady with dread?

Or that fell Cretan bull whose terror filled 230

A hundred towns? Among his herds remote,

The three-formed shepherd by Tartessus’ shore

Was slain, and from the farthest west his herds

Were driven as booty. Now Cithaeron feeds

The cattle once to Ocean known. Again,

When bidden to penetrate the sultry zone 235

Of summer’s burning sun, those scorchéd realms

Which midday parches with its piercing rays,

He clove the ponderous mountain barriers,

And made a pathway for the rushing sea.

He next assailed the rich Hesperides,

And bore therefrom the watchful dragon’s spoil 240

Of golden fruit. Then Lerna’s savage beast,

An evil creature constantly renewed,

Did he not overcome by fire at last,

And teach it how to die? Did he not seek

Within the clouds the dire Stymphalian birds,

Whose spreading wings were wont to obscure the day?

He was not conquered by the maiden queen 245

Who ruled the Amazons and ever kept

Her couch in virgin state. Nor did his hands,

Courageous to attempt all glorious deeds,

Disdain to cleanse the vile Augean stalls.

But what avail these toils? For he alone

Cannot enjoy the world he saved. And now

The world perceives the giver of its peace 250

Is absent from its sight. Now prosperous crime

Is called by virtue’s name; good men obey

The guilty, might is counted right, and fear

O’ershadows law. Before my eyes I saw

The sons who dared defend their father’s throne

Fall dead beneath the tyrant’s murderous hand; 255

I saw King Creon’s self by death o’ercome,

The latest son of Cadmus’ noble line;

And with his head the royal diadem

Was reft away. Who now could weep enough

For Thebes? Proud land and mother of the gods,

What master fears she now, she, from whose fields 260

And fertile bosom sprang that band of youth

With swords all ready drawn; whose mighty walls

Amphion, son of Jove, once built, its stones

Compelling by the magic of his lyre;

Down to whose citadel not once alone

The father of the gods from heaven came?

This royal city which the immortals oft

Has entertained, which has divinities 265

Produced, and (heaven forgive the boastful word)

Perchance will yet produce, is now oppressed

Beneath a shameful yoke. O royal race

Of Cadmus, noble state Amphion ruled,

Low hast thou fallen indeed! Dost thou obey

A low-born exile, driven from his land 270

And yet oppressing ours? And now, alas,

He, who on land and sea doth punish crime,

Who breaks all cruel rule with righteous hand,

Far off obeys another, and himself

Endures those ills from which he others saved;

And Lycus rules the Thebes of Hercules!

But not for long; he soon will come again, 275

And punish all the wrongs; he suddenly

Will to the upper world emerge; a way

He’ll find–or make. Oh, come unharmed, I pray;

As victor come at last unto thy home

Which now in ruins lies. O husband, come,

With thy strong hand break through the shades of hell. 280

And if no way is open, if the road

Is closely barred, then rend the earth and come;

And all that lies in keep of dismal night

Bring forth with thee. As once, through riven hills

A passage seeking for a headlong stream,

Thou stood’st, and, with thy strength gigantic cleft, 285

The vale of Tempe opened wide; as then,

Impelled by might of thy resistless breast,

The mountains fell away from either side,

And through the broken masses poured the stream

Of Thessaly along a channel new:

So now to parents, children, native land,

A passage burst. And bring away with thee 290

The shapes of death, and all that greedy time

Through countless rounds of years has hidden away;

Those nations who have drunk forgetfulness,

Drive out before thee, fearful of the light.

The spoils are all unworthy of thy fame,

If thou shouldst bring from hades only that 295

Which was commanded. But too bold my words,

And thoughtless of my present lot I speak.

Oh, when will come at last that day for me

When I shall clasp my husband once again,

And weep no more his long-delayed return,

His long forgetfulness of me? To thee,

O ruler of the gods, a hundred bulls

Shall bleed; to thee, thou goddess of the fruits, 300

Thy secret rites I’ll pay: for thee shall blaze

Upon Eleusin’s shrine the sacred torch

In celebration of thy mysteries.

Then shall I think my brothers' lives restored,

My father once again upon his throne. 305

But if some power more potent than thine own

Holds thee in durance, we shall come to thee.

Return in safety and protect us all,

Or drag us down with thee. This wilt thou do;

No god will e’er our broken fortunes mend.

Amphitr.: O ally of my house, with wifely faith

Preserving for the great-souled Hercules 310

His couch and children, be of better mind.

Take heart again, for surely he will come,

Increased in fame by this, as is his wont

By other tasks.

Megara: What wretched men desire

They readily believe.

Amphitryon: Nay, what they fear

They think can never be escaped or borne. 315

For fear is prone to see the darker side.

Megara: Submerged, deep buried, crushed beneath the world,

What chance has he to reach the upper realms?

Amphitr.: The same he had, when, through the arid plain,

And sands that billowed like the stormy sea, 320

Those twice receding, twice returning gulfs,

He made his way; when on the dangerous shoals

Of Syrtes he was wrecked, he left his ship

A helpless hulk and crossed the sea on foot.

Megara: Unjust is fortune, rarely does she spare 325

The bravest souls. No one with safety long

Can brave so frequent perils; he who oft

Has shunned misfortune meets at last his fate.

But see, with threatening looks fierce Lycus comes,

His hateful soul in hateful bearing shown, 330

And bears the stolen scepter in his hand.

[Enter Lycus.]

Lycus: The rich domain of this proud town of Thebes,

With all the fertile soil which Phocis bounds

Within its winding borders, all the land

Ismenus waters; all Cithaeron sees 335

From his high top; the narrow Isthmus, too,

Two seas asunder cleaving: all I own,

Not by prerogative of long descent,

A worthless heir. No noble ancestors,

Nor family adorned with lofty names

Have I; but splendid valor. He who boasts 340

His noble ancestry exalts a thing

Which is not his to boast. But power usurped

Is held with anxious hands; the sword alone

Can guard it. All thou hold’st against the will

Of citizens the sword must hold for thee.

No kingdom built upon a foreign soil 345

Is safe for long. One thing alone I see

Which can our power establish–Megara,

By ties of royal marriage bound to me.

From her illustrious line my humble blood

Shall a richer hue derive. Nor do I think

That she will scorn me and refuse my suit.

But should she with a blind and stubborn soul 350

Refuse my proffered hand, my mind is fixed

To give to utter ruin all the house

Of Hercules. Will such a deed arouse

A storm of scandal and the people’s hate?

The art of ruling chiefly lies in this:

The power to bear the people’s hate unmoved.

Let me make trial then. Occasion smiles,

For she herself, in mourning vestments clad, 355

Stands by the altars of her guardian gods,

While near at hand Alcides' father waits.

Megara [seeing Lycus, aside]: What new outrage does yonder

wretch prepare,

The pestilent destroyer of our race?

Lycus: O thou, who bear’st a name illustrious 360

From royal stock, with patient ear awhile

Receive my words. If everlasting hate

The hearts of men should feel, if fury dire,

Once in the heart conceived, should never cease;

If prosperous men must ever fight to rule,

And those who fail obey because they must:

Then never-ending wars would nothing leave, 365

And all the fields would be a barren waste;

Homes would be burned, and ‘neath their ashes deep

All nations of the earth would be o’erwhelmed.

The victor’s profit is in peace restored,

But for the vanquished ‘tis their direful need.

Come, share my throne; let us unite our wills. 370

And, as my pledge of faith, receive my hand.

But why dost thou in scornful silence wait?

Megara: And dost thou think that I would touch the hand

That is besprinkled with my father’s gore,

And my two brothers’ blood? Oh, sooner far

Shall day’s last beams go out in eastern skies,

And dawn break in the west; sooner shall peace 375

Be made ‘twixt snow and flame, and Scylla join

Sicilia’s shores with those of Italy;

And sooner shall Euripus’ rushing waves

Lap peacefully upon Euboea’s shores.

My father and my brothers hast thou slain,

My kingdom ruined, home and native land.

What still is left? One thing remains to me, 380

That’s dearer than my father, brother, home,

And kingdom: ‘tis my deadly hate of thee.

That I must share this with the land at large

Is grief to me. For in their cause for hate

How small a share have I? Thou, swollen with pride,

Rule on, and let thy soul exalt itself;

But know that evermore the avenging god

Pursues the proud of heart. Well do I know 385

The history of Thebes. Why need I tell

Of matrons who have dared and suffered wrong?

Why name the double crime, the mingled names

Of husband, father, son, the opposing camps

Of brothers? Why describe the funeral pyres?

The haughty mother, child of Tantalus, 390

Still sits in stony grief; the mourning rock

On Phrygian Sipylus still drips with tears.

Nay, Cadmus’ self, in form of serpent, still

Flees through Illyria’s realm with crested head,

And leaves behind his dragging body’s trail.

Such fates admonish thee. Rule as thou wilt: 395

But may the accustomed doom of Thebes be thine.

Lycus: Come then, have done with this wild talk of thine,

And learn from Hercules to obey the will

Of kings. Although by right of victory

I wield this scepter, though I reign supreme 400

Without the fear of laws which arms annul,

Still will I briefly speak in my defense.

And did thy father fall in bloody war?

Thy brothers too? But arms no limit know,

Cannot be checked with ease, nor can the sword,

Once drawn, restrain its wrath. War will have blood. 405

But (you will say), he fought to save his state,

While I was prompted by the lust of power.

Still we should look, not at the cause of war,

But at its outcome. Now let memory

Of all the former wrongs pass from thy heart.

When the victor lays aside his arms, ‘tis meet

The vanquished should abandon hatred too. 410

I ask thee not upon thy bended knees

To acknowledge me as king; for it is well

That thou shouldst meet thy ruin dauntlessly.

Lo, thou art worthy of a royal mate:

Be then my wife and not my enemy.

Megara: Cold horror creeps throughout my lifeless limbs.

What shameful proposition do I hear? 415

I did not shrink when loud alarms of war

Rang round our city’s walls; and all my woes

I’ve bravely borne. But marriage–and with him!

Now do I think myself indeed a slave.

Load down my tender frame with heavy chains;

Be lingering death by long starvation sought; 420

Still shall no power o’ercome my wifely faith.

I shall be thine, Alcides, to the death.

Lycus: Such spirits does a buried husband give?

Megara: He went below that he might reach the heavens.

Lycus: The boundless weight of earth oppresses him.

Megara: No weight of earth can overwhelm the man 425

Who bore the heavens up.

Lycus: Thou shalt be forced.

Megara: He can be forced who knows not how to die.

Lycus: Tell me what gift I could bestow more rich

Than royal wedlock?

Megara: Grant thy death, or mine.

Lycus: Then die, thou fool.

Megara: ‘Tis thus I’ll meet my lord.

Lycus: Is that slave more to thee, than I, a king? 430

Megara: How many kings has that slave given to death!

Lycus: Why does he serve a king, and bear the yoke?

Megara: Remove hard tasks, and where would valor be?

Lycus: To conquer monsters call’st thou valor then?

Megara: ‘Tis valor to subdue what all men fear. 435

Lycus: The shades of hades hold that boaster fast.

Megara: No easy way leads from the earth to heaven.

Lycus: Who is his father, that he hopes for heaven?

Amphitr.: Unhappy wife of mighty Hercules,

Be silent now, for ‘tis my part to tell 440

Alcides’ parentage. After his deeds,

So many and so great; after the world,

From rising unto setting of the sun,

Has been subdued, so many monsters tamed;

After the giants’ impious blood was spilled

In Phlegra’s vale, and gods were reinforced, 445

What need we yet to prove his parentage?

Do we make false pretense of Jupiter?

Then Juno’s hate believe.

Lycus: Why blaspheme Jove?

The race of mortals cannot mate with gods.

Amphitr.: Such is the origin of many gods.

Lycus: But were they slaves before their heaven was gained? 450

Amphitr.: The Delian at Pherae kept the flocks.

Lycus: But he did not in exile roam the world.

Amphitr.: His mother bore him in a roaming land,

Herself a fugitive.

Lycus: Did Phoebus fear

Wild beasts and monsters?

Amphitr.: Yes, in dragon’s blood 455

His earliest shafts were stained.

Lycus: Thou knowest not

What heavy ills the young Alcides bore.

Amphitr.: But Bacchus by a thunderbolt was ripped

From out his mother’s womb; and yet he stood

In after time beside the Thunderer,

His sire. Nay, Jove himself, who rules the stars

And drives the clouds, did he not lie concealed, 460

In helpless infancy in Ida’s cave?

A heavy price must so high lineage pay,

And suffering is the birthright of a god.

Lycus: Whoe’er is wretched, thou wouldst mortal know.

Amphitr.: Whoe’er is brave, thou wouldst not wretched call.

Lycus: But is he brave, from whose broad shoulders fell 465

The lion’s skin and club, that they might be

A maiden’s plaything? Who himself shone bright

In Tyrian vestments? Should we call him brave,

Whose bristling locks were wet with fragrant nard,

Whose famous hands in woman’s wise essayed

To play the tambour; on whose frowning brow 470

The Phrygian turban shamelessly was worn?

Amphitr.: But youthful Bacchus did not blush to wear

His locks in flowing ringlets, in his hand

The thyrsus light to brandish, as he walked

With steps unsteady, clad in trailing robes

Bright with barbaric gold. ‘Tis virtue’s right 475

In foolishness to ease the strain of toil.

Lycus: ‘Twas for this cause the house of Eurytus

Was overthrown, and troops of maidens slain

Like helpless sheep! No Juno ordered this,

Nor yet Eurystheus: these his works alone. 480

Amphitr.: Thou know’st not all his deeds: it was his work

That Eryx fell, by his own gauntlets slain;

That in his death Antaeus, too, was joined;

That those foul altars, dripping with the blood

Of hapless strangers, drank the blood at last

Of murderous Busiris. ‘Twas his work

That Cycnus, proof against the sword, was slain, 485

Though still unwounded; by his hand alone

The threefold Geryon fell. And thou shalt be

As one of these, though they ne’er basely sinned

Against the rites of marriage.

Lycus: What to Jove

Is lawful, is my kingly right as well.

A wife thou gav’st to him; so for thy king

Shalt thou a mate provide. Now Megara 490

From thine example shall the lesson learn,

Not new, that wives may yield to better men,

When husbands give consent. But if, self-willed,

She still refuse to take me for her lord,

I’ll force her will to bear me noble seed.

Megara: Ye shades of Creon, and ye household gods 495

Of Labdacus, ye impious nuptial fires

Of Oedipus, your wonted fortune give

To this our union! O ye savage wives

Of king Aegyptus’ sons, be present now,

With blood-stained hands. Your count is incomplete.

I gladly will that impious number fill. 500

Lycus: Since thou dost stubbornly refuse my suit,

And striv’st to fright the king, now shalt thou feel

The strength of royal power. Cling as thou mayst

To altar horns: no god shall save thee now

From me; not though the earth itself be rent,

And Hercules victorious come again

Unto the upper world. 505

[To slaves.]

Heap high the logs,

And let the sacred temple blazing fall

Upon its suppliants. Now let the wife

And all her brood upon the funeral pyre

Be burned to ashes in the kindling flames.

Amphitr.: This boon Alcides’ father asks of thee,

Which fits me well, that I be first to die. 510

Lycus: Who bids all men meet punishment with death

Knows not the ruler’s art. Seek varied pains;

Forbid the wretch to die, the happy slay.

Now, while the pyre is growing for the flames,

I’ll pay my vows unto the ocean’s god. 515


Amphitr.: O god of gods, O ruler of the skies,

Whose hurtling bolts make mortals quake with fear,

Check thou the impious hand of this dire king.

Why do I vainly importune the gods?

Where’er thou art, hear thou and answer, son. 520

But why this sudden rocking of the shrine?

Why groans the earth? Far in her lowest hold

A crashing deep resounds. Our prayer is heard!

It is, it is the step of Hercules!

Chorus: O Fortune, envious of the brave,

Unjustly are thy prizes given! 525

Behold Eurystheus reigns at ease,

While our Alcmena’s noble son,

With hands which could the heavens uplift,

Must endless wars with monsters wage;

Must sever the hydra’s teeming necks,

And from the cheated sisters bear 530

The apples, when the dragon huge,

The guardian of the golden fruit,

Had given to sleep his watchful eyes.

To the wandering homes of Scythia,

Where tribes in their ancestral seats

As strangers dwell, he made his way.

He trod the frozen ocean’s crust, 535

A still sea hemmed by silent shores;

There no waves beat on the rigid plains,

And where but now full swelling sails

Had sped their barks, a path is worn

By the long-haired Sarmatae.

There the waters change with the changing year, 540

Now ships, now horses bearing up.

From the queen who rules o’er virgin tribes,

With golden girdles on their loins,

He took her body’s noble spoil,

Her shield and her snowy bosom’s guard. 545

On bended knee she acknowledged him victor.

With what hope, driven to the depths of hell,

Bold to tread irretraceable ways,

Didst thou behold the dusky realms

Of Proserpine of Sicily?

There Notus and Favonius lash 550

No seas to rage with swelling floods;

There do no frightened vessels find

Help from the twin Tyndaridae.

Those waters lie in stagnant pools

And black; and when, with greedy teeth, 555

Pale Death bears off uncounted tribes

Unto the shades, one oarsman grim

Bears all across their gloomy depths.

Oh, that the laws of cruel Styx

Thou mightst annul, and the distaff break,

Relentless, of the fates. And lo, 560

Thou canst avail, for he who rules

O’er many nations once with thee

His deadly hands in battle joined,

When thou didst wage ‘gainst Nestor’s land

A mighty war. A three-pronged spear

He bore; but soon, by but a wound

O’ercome, he fled. He feared to die, 565

Though lord of death. Burst with thy hands

The bonds of fate. To those sad souls

In hell let in the light of day,

And to the upper world reveal

An easy path. Once, by his songs

And suppliant prayers, did Orpheus bend

The stubborn lords of hell, when he 570

His lost Eurydice would seek.

That art which drew the forest trees,

Which held the birds and rocks enthralled,

Which stopped the river’s headlong race,

And tamed the hearts of savage beasts,

Soothed with its strains ne’er heard before 575

Those darksome realms, and clear and fine

Resounded through that silent land.

Eurydice the Thracian dames

Bewailed; Eurydice, the gods,

Who ne’er had wept before; and they

Who with forbidding, awful brows,

In judgment sit and hear the crimes 580

Long since committed, unconfessed,

They sat and wept Eurydice,

Until the lord of death exclaimed:

“We grant thy prayer. Away to earth;

But on this sole condition go:

Do thou behind thy husband fare;

And look thou not upon thy wife, 585

Until the light of day thou see,

And Spartan Taenarus appear.”

Love hates delay, nor suffers it:

He hasted to behold his wife–

And she again was lost to him.

So, then, the fortress that could yield to song, 590

Be sure that fortress shall to strength belong.


[Enter Hercules, just returned from the lower world, accompanied by


Hercules: O kindly lord of light, heaven’s ornament,

Who circlest all the spaces of the sky

With thy flame-bearing car, and thy bright head

Dost lift to glad a new-awakened earth:

Thy pardon, O Apollo, do I crave, 595

If aught unlawful thou dost see in me;

For by another’s will have I revealed

The hidden things of earth. Thou lord of heaven,

And sire, behind thy flaming thunderbolt

Conceal thy face; and thou who rul’st the seas

By second lot, seek thou their lowest depths. 600

Whoever from on high beholds the earth,

And would not by strange sights be vision-stained,

To heaven look and so these portents shun.

Two only may behold this horrid sight:

The one who brought and she who ordered it.

To work my punishment and fated toils 605

The earth was not enough. Through Juno’s hate

Have I seen regions unapproachable,

Unknown to Phoebus’ rays; yea, I have seen

Those gloomy spaces which the nether pole

Has yielded to the dusky Jove’s domain.

And had the regions of the final lot

Been pleasing, there could I myself have reigned. 610

That seething chaos of eternal night,

And, what is worse than night, the gloomy gods,

And fates I conquered; and in scorn of death

I have come back again. What else remains?

I’ve seen and shown the lower world to men.

If aught beyond is left to do, command.

Why dost thou for so long allow these hands,

O Juno, to remain in idleness? 615

What conquest still dost thou command? But why

Do soldiers hold the temple walls in siege,

And fear of arms beset their sacred doors?

[Enter Amphitryon.]

Amphitr.: Now do my fervent hopes deceive my sight,

Or is this he, the tamer of the world,

The pride of Greece, from that sad, silent land 620

Returned? Is this my son? My agéd limbs

Give way through utter joy. O son, of Thebes

The sure though long-delayed preserver thou!

And do I hold thee sent to earth again,

Or does some empty shadow mock my joy?

And art thou he indeed? I recognize

Thy arms and shoulders and the mighty club

Within thy hands renowned. 625

Hercules: O father, whence

These marks of grief, and why do I behold

My wife in dusky mourning garments clad,

My children garbed in these vile signs of woe?

What fell disaster hath o’erwhelmed my house?

Amphitr.: Thy father-in-law is slain, his kingdom gone,

For Lycus hath usurped it; now he seeks

Thy children, father, wife, to bring to death. 630

Hercules: Ungrateful land! did no one come to aid

The home of Hercules? Did all the world,

Defended by my arm, look on this deed

And suffer it? But why waste time in grief?

My enemy must die.

Theseus [seeking to detain him]: O Hercules,

Let not thy mighty courage bear this stain,

And such a foe as Lycus be thy last. 635

I go myself to drink his hateful blood.

Hercules: My Theseus, stay thou here, lest violence

From some new source arise. This war is mine.

Let thy embraces wait awhile, my sire,

And thine, my wife. Let Lycus first announce

To Dis that I have safe returned to earth. 640


Theseus: Now let thy face give o’er its grief, my queen;

And thou, O father, check thy falling tears,

Since this thy son is safe returned to thee.

If I know Hercules, for Creon’s death

This Lycus soon shall pay the penalty.

“Shall pay” is slow; he pays; nay more, has paid.

Amphitr.: Now may some favoring god our prayers fulfil, 645

And help us in our need. O trusty friend

Of our great son, his deeds in order tell:

How long the way that leads to the sorrowing shades;

How bore the dog of hell his heavy chains.

Theseus: Thou bid’st me call to memory such deeds 650

As e’en in safety make me tremble still.

For I can scarce believe that even yet

I breathe the vital air. My eye’s clear sight

Is blinded, and, by that thick darkness dimmed,

Can scarce endure the unaccustomed light.

Amphitr.: But conquer thou the fear that still remains

Deep in thy heart; and do not rob thyself 665

Of the best fruit of toil. For what was hard

To bear becomes most sweet in memory.

Go on, and tell us all thy sufferings.

Theseus: O god of heaven, and thou who holdest sway

In that deep, all-embracing realm of death,

And thou whose mother sought thee (but in vain)

Through all the world: your powers I supplicate

That I may speak with boldness of the things 660

Concealed and buried in the hold of earth.

The Spartan land lifts high a famous cliff

Where Taenarus juts out upon the sea,

Dense wooded. Here the realm of hated Dis

Opes wide its mouth; the high cliff spreads apart, 665

And in a mighty cavern yawns a pit

With jaws portentous, huge, precipitous;

And for all nations ample passage gives.

The way begins, not dark with heavy shades.

A watery gleam of daylight follows in,

And doubtful light, as of the sun eclipsed, 670

Falls there and mocks the eye. Such light the day,

While mingled still with night, at early dawn

Or in its waning hour, is wont to give.

The way then broadens into spaces vast

And empty, where the human race entire

Might plunge and perish. ‘Tis no labor here 675

To travel, for the road itself draws down.

As often whirlpools suck unwilling ships,

So does the air, down streaming, urge us on,

And hungry chaos. Here the clutching shades

Permit no backward step. Deep in the abyss,

With peaceful shallows gentle Lethe glides, 680

And by its draughts removes all mortal care

And, that no backward way may be allowed,

With many folds it wraps the stream of death;

Just as the wandering Maeander sports

With waves uncertain, now upon itself

Retreats, now halts in hesitation slow, 685

Whether it shall its fountain seek again,

Or journey to the sea. Here lies the marsh

Of sluggish, vile Cocytus; here, behold,

The vulture, there the doleful owl laments,

And through the air the fearsome screech-owl sends

Its sad, foreboding cry. There stands the yew,

Its black leaves shuddering on the gloomy boughs; 690

And ‘neath its shelter hover sluggish Sleep,

And mournful Famine with her wasting jaws,

And Shame, at last her guilty face concealed.

Here quaking Fear, and Murder, desperate Grief,

Black Mourning, tottering Disease, and War

With weapons girded on, lie hid; and last 695

Comes feeble Age upon his staff upheld.

Amphitr.: Are there no fruitful fields of corn or wine?

Theseus: Not so: no joyful fields with verdure shine,

No ripening grain waves gently in the breeze,

No stately trees bear apple-laden boughs; 700

But sterile wastes defile those lonely depths,

And in eternal sloth the foul earth lies.

Here lie the lonesome remnants of the world.

The air hangs motionless; and thick night broods

Upon a sluggish, horror-stricken land. 705

The place of death is worse than death itself.

Amphitr.: And what of him who rules those dusky realms?

Where sits he as he rules his shadowy folk?

Theseus: There is a place in an obscure recess

Of Tartarus, which, with its heavy shades, 710

Dense vapor shrouds. Hence, from a single source,

Two different rivers flow: with silent stream

One bears along the sacred Stygian waves

On which the gods take oath; with mighty roar

The other fiercely rolls the rocks along

Within its flood, the raging Acheron, 715

Which may not be recrossed. Set opposite,

By these two streams encircled, stands the hall

Of royal Dis; and by a shading grove

The mighty house is hid. A spacious cave

Of overhanging rock the threshold forms.

This is the path of souls; here is the door 720

Of Pluto’s realm; and, round about, there spreads

The plain wherein the frowning monarch sits

And new-come souls reviews. Of lowering brow

And awful majesty the god appears;

Yet in his face his brother’s likeness bears,

And proves his noble birth. Jove’s face is his,

But thundering Jove’s. And of that savage realm 725

The master’s self makes up the largest part,

For every fearful thing holds him in fear.

Amphitr.: And is the story true that down below

Stern justice is at last administered,

And guilty souls, who have their crimes forgot,

At last atone for sin? Who is he, then, 730

Who searches out the truth, and justice gives?

Theseus: There is not one inquisitor alone

Who sits in judgment on the lofty seat,

And tries the trembling culprits: in that hall

Sit Cretan Minos, Rhadamanthus too,

And Aeacus. Each for his sins of earth 735

Must suffer here; the crime returns to him

Who did it, and the guilty soul is crushed

By its own precedents. There, deep immured

In prison, bloody leaders have I seen,

And bleeding backs of heartless tyrants, scourged

By base plebeian hands. Who mildly reigns,

And, though the lord of life, restrains his hands; 740

Who mercifully rules a bloodless realm,

And spares the lives of men: he shall enjoy

Long years of happy life, and, at the end,

Attain to heaven, or to those regions blest

Of the Elysian fields, himself a judge.

Refrain from human blood, all ye who rule: 745

Your sins with heavier judgment shall be judged.

Amphitr.: Does any certain place inclose the lost,

And do, as rumor says, the impious

Sharp punishments in endless chains endure?

Theseus: On swiftly flying wheel Ixion turns; 750

And on the neck of Sisyphus a stone

Weighs heavily. There stands in middle stream,

With throat thirst-parched, the poor old man, and seeks

To catch the cooling waves which wash his chin.

He, oft deceived, hopes now at last to drink;

As often fails the water at his lips. 755

So also do the fruits his hunger fail.

There Tityos eternal banquets gives

Unto the greedy vulture; and in vain

Do Danaüs’ daughters bear their brimming urns.

There wander, raging still, the Cadmeids;

And greedy birds still fright old Phineus.

Amphitr.: Now tell the noble struggle of my son. 760

Does he bring back his uncle’s willing gift,

Or does he lead the dog as spoil of war?

Theseus: A gloomy cliff o’erhangs the sluggish shoals,

Whose waves are dead, and waters motionless.

This stream is guarded by a grim old man,

Of squalid garb and aspect hideous,

Who carries o’er the pool the quaking shades. 765

His long beard hangs unkempt; his shapeless robe

Is knotted into place; his fierce eyes gleam

From sunken cheeks; and he, as ferryman,

With his long pole propels his bark across.

He now his empty boat unto the shore

Was turning to receive the waiting souls, 770

When Hercules requested to be borne

Across the stream. The throng of shades give way;

But fiercely Charon cries: “Whither so bold

Dost thou haste on? Stay there thy hurrying steps.”

Alcmena’s son would no delay endure,

But with the pole itself the boatman tamed,

And climbed aboard the boat. The roomy craft, 775

For nations ample, groaned beneath his weight;

And as he sat, the heavy-weighted skiff

With rocking sides drank in the Lethe stream.

Then quaked the conquered monsters at the sight:

The Centaurs, fierce and wild, the Lapithae,

Inflamed to strife by copious draughts of wine;

And, seeking out the farthest pools of Styx, 780

The beast of Lerna hid his fertile heads.

Soon there appeared the home of greedy Dis,

Where the fierce Stygian dog affrights the shades,

Who, tossing back and forth his triple heads,

With mighty bayings watches o’er the realm.

Around his head with damp corruption foul, 785

Writhe deadly serpents, and his shaggy mane

With vipers bristles; while a twisting snake

Forms his long, hissing tail. His wrath and form

Are both alike terrific. When he heard

The sound of coming feet, straightway he raised

His hackles, bristling with their darting snakes,

And with erected ears caught at the sound 790

(For even noiseless spirits can he hear).

When Jove’s son nearer came, within his cave

The dog stood hesitant, and nameless fear

Each of the other felt. Then suddenly

The silence shudders with his bayings deep,

And threatening snakes along his shoulders hiss.

The clamor of his dreadful voice, sent forth 795

Three-throated, even happy shades dismayed.

Then did the hero from his left arm loose

The lion’s skin with head and grinning jaws,

And ‘neath this mighty shield opposed the dog.

Then in his right all conquering, he raised 800

His mighty club, and with a rain of blows,

Now here, now there, he drove the frightened beast.

The conquered dog at last gave o’er his threats,

And, spent with fighting, lowered all his heads,

And left the entrance free. Then did the king

And queen of hell sit trembling on their thrones, 805

And bade the dog be led away. Me, too,

Did Dis at Hercules’ request release,

A royal gift. Then with his soothing hand

Alcides stroked the monster’s massive necks,

And bound him with an adamantine chain.

The watchful guardian of the dusky world

Forgot his wonted fierceness, and his ears

Drooped timidly. He let himself be led, 810

Confessed his master, and, with muzzle low,

Submissively he went, his snaky tail

Beating his sides the while. But when he came

To Taenarus, and in his eyes there smote

The gleam of unknown light, though strongly bound, 815

His courage he regained and madly shook

His mighty chains. Even his conqueror

Was backward borne and forced to yield his stand.

Then even my aid did the hero seek;

And with united strength we dragged the dog,

Still mad with rage, attempting fruitless war, 820

Into the upper world. But when he saw

The gleaming spaces of the shining sky,

The light of day, thick darkness blinded him;

He turned his gaze to earth, and closed his eyes,

Expelled the hated light, looked backward, sought 825

With all his necks the sheltering earth; and last,

He hid his head within Alcides’ shade.

But see, a mighty throng with shouts of joy

Comes yonder, wearing laurel on their brows,

Who chant the well-earned praise of Hercules.

Chorus: Eurystheus, brought untimely forth, 830

Had bidden Hercules to pierce

The depths of earth. This task alone

Of all his labors yet remained–

To rob the dusky king of hell.

He dared to enter that dark way

Which to the distant manes leads, 835

Dismal, with gloomy forests set,

Yet crowded with the thronging souls.

As when the eager people haste

Throughout the city to behold

The play in some new theater;

As when they crowd the Pisan fields 840

When the fifth summer brings again

The Elean Thunderer’s sacred games;

As, when the lengthening nights return,

And the balanced Scales the sun’s bright car

Detain, to gentle sleep inclined,

The people throng the mysteries 845

Of Ceres, while the Attic priests

Lead through the fields with hurried steps

The worshipers: such thronging hordes

Are driven through those silent plains.

A part goes slow with steps of age,

Sadly, and sated with the years; 850

Some, in the earlier flush of life,

Advance with the sprightly step of youth,

Young maids not yet in wedlock joined,

And boys with flowing ringlets, babes,

Who have not yet learned to repeat

Their mother’s name. To these alone 855

‘Tis given to dispel the night

With torches, and their fears relieve.

The rest in utter darkness fare,

And sadness. So our spirits mourn,

When each one, grieving o’er his fate,

Feels crushed in darkness ‘neath the weight 860

Of all the world. There chaos reigns,

Repulsive glooms, the hateful dark

Of night, the empty veil of clouds,

The weary inactivity

Of that still, empty universe.

Oh, may the time far distant be

When old age bears us to that land.

None come too late, and ne’er can he, 865

Who once has come, return again.

What need to hasten cruel fate?

For all the wandering tribes of earth

Shall surely seek the land of shades,

And on the still Cocytus spread

Their sails; all things the sun beholds, 870

In rising and in setting, grow

But to decay. Then spare, O death,

Those who are doomed to come to thee.

Life is but practicing for death;

Though thou be slow in coming, still

We hasten of ourselves. The hour

Which gave us life begins our death.

The joyful day of Thebes is here; 875

Now at the altars sacrifice,

And let the choicest victims fall.

Ye maids and men, in mingled bands

Begin the stately choral dance;

And let the cattle of the fields 880

Put off their yokes and be glad today;

For by the hand of Hercules

Has peace from east to west been won,

And in that land where the sun rides high

In middle heaven, and the shadows fail. 885

Whatever region Tethys laves

In her long reach has been o’ercome

By great Alcides’ toils. Borne now

Across the shoals of Tartarus,

With hell subdued, he comes again. 890

No room is left for fear; for what

Beyond the world of death remains?

And now ye priests, adorn your bristling hair

With poplar which Alcides loves to wear.


[Enter Hercules, fresh from the slaying of Lycus, *intending to

offer sacrifices to the gods*.]

Hercules: By my avenging hand lies Lycus slain; 895

And all, who in his life the tyrant claimed

As comrades, now by death are comrades still

In punishment. Now will I offerings pay

Unto my father and the gods of heaven

For victory, and heap the altars high

With bleeding victims to their kindness due. 900

Thee, thee, O friend and helper in my toils,

O warlike Pallas, unto thee I pray,

Upon whose left the petrifying shield

Makes direful threats. And be thou here I pray,

Thou tamer of Lycurgus, who didst cross

The ruddy sea, who in thy hand dost bear

The thyrsus, ivy-wreathed; and ye twin gods,

Apollo and Diana, hear my prayer. 905

(Her hand the bow adorns, but his, the lyre.)

Ye, too, I worship, all ye brothers mine,

Who dwell in heaven; but not my stepdame’s sons.

[To his attendants.]

And do ye hither drive my richest flocks;

Whatever fragrant spices India bears 910

And far Arabia, to the altars bring,

And let the savory smoke of sacrifice

To heaven ascend. Now let us crown our locks

With wreaths of poplar; but the olive leaves,

Thy nation’s symbol, should adorn thy head,

O Theseus. Now in prayer we lift our hands

To Jove the Thunderer: do thou protect 915

The founders of our state, the wooded caves

Of savage Zethus, Dirce’s famous fount,

And the Tyrian lares of our pilgrim king.

[To the attendants.]

Now throw the fragrant incense on the flames.

Amphitr.: O son, thy hands, all dripping with the blood

Of thy slain foe, thou first shouldst purify.

Hercules: Would that his hateful blood I might pour out 920

Unto the gods; for no libation poured

Could stain the altars more acceptably.

No ampler, richer victim could be paid

To mighty Jove, than this unrighteous king.

Amphitr.: Beseech thy father that he end thy tasks;

Pray that at last he give surcease of toil, 925

And to the wearied rest.

Hercules: I shall myself

Frame prayers more worthy Jupiter and me:

May heaven, earth, and air their order keep,

And the everlasting stars wheel on their way,

Unchanged; may peace profound brood o’er the world;

May iron be used for harmless toil alone, 930

And deadly weapons vanish from the earth;

May no unbridled tempest lash the sea;

May angry Jove send forth no lightning bolts;

And may no river, fed by winter’s snows,

O’erflow the troubled fields; may venom fail;

And may no noxious herb its fruitage bear; 935

May fierce and cruel tyrants rule no more.

If the pregnant earth still foster any crime,

Let her make haste to bring it to the light;

And if she still another monster bear,

Let it be mine to meet.

[The madness planned by Juno begins to come upon him.]

But what is this?

The day’s bright noon is by dark shadows dimmed, 940

And, though the sky be cloudless, Phoebus fares

With face obscured. Who puts the day to flight,

And drives it back to seek the dawn again?

Whence rears unheard-of night its gloomy head?

Why do so many stars the heavens fill

In daylight hours? See where the Lion fierce,

My earliest labor, glitters in the sky, 945

Inflamed with wrath, and threatens with his fangs.

Now, surely, will he some bright star devour.

With gaping jaws and menacing he stands;

He breathes out fire, and on his flaming neck

His mane he tosses. Soon will he o’erleap

With one huge bound the fruitful autumn’s stars,

And those which frozen winter brings to view, 950

And slay with savage lunge the vernal Bull.

Amphitr.: What sudden ill is this? Why dost thou turn

Now here now there thy burning eyes? And why

Dost thou so falsely see the heavens?

Hercules: Now is the whole round earth at last subdued; 955

The swollen seas give place, and e’en the realms

Infernal have our toils heroic known.

The heavens alone remain untried, a task

Well worth the struggles of a Hercules.

Now shall I soar aloft to those far heights,

And seek the heavenly spaces; for a star

Has Jupiter, my father, promised me.

What if he should refuse? Nay, but the earth 960

No longer can Alcides hold, and now

Returns him to the heavens whence he came.

Behold, the whole assembly of the gods

Invite me to their midst, and open wide

The doors of heaven–with one dissenting voice.

[To Juno, in apostrophe.]

And wilt thou not receive me into heaven?

Wilt not unbar the gates? Wouldst have me rend

The portals of the stubborn sky away?

And dost doubt thou my power? Nay, Saturn’s chains 965

Will I unbind, and loose my grandsire’s might

Against his impious son’s unbridled sway.

I’ll stir the Titans up to war again,

And lead them on; great rocks and trees I’ll bring,

And with my strong right hand I’ll snatch and hurl

The ridges where the Centaurs have their home. 970

Two mountains, one on other, will I pile

And so construct a highway to the skies.

Then shall old Chiron see Mount Ossa placed

Upon his Pelion; and if to heaven

Olympus reach not, third in order set,

I’ll hurl it there.

Amphitryon: Such thought be far from thee!

Check this mad impulse of a heart insane, 975

Though great.

Hercules: But what is this? With dire intent

The giants are in arms. Great Tityus

Has fled the shades, and, towering aloft

With torn and empty breast, has almost gained

The heavens. Cithaeron totters to his base,

Pallene trembles, Tempe faints in fear. 980

One has Mount Pindus snatched away, and one

Mount Oeta. Mimas rages horribly.

Now comes Erinnys with her flaming torch,

And shakes her hissing scourge; my face she seeks

Nearer and nearer with ill-omened brands

On funeral pyres enkindled. There I see

Tisiphone with snake-encircled head; 985

With brandished torch she guards the gate of hell,

Now that their watch-dog has been stolen away.

[He catches sight of his children.]

But see where lurk the children of the king,

The impious spawn of Lycus whom I hate.

To your detested sire I’ll send you now.

Let darting arrows from my bowstring fly; 990

Such errands fit my noble weapons well.

[He aims an arrow at one of the children.]

Amphitr.: What will he do in his blind passion’s rage?

Now he has bent his mighty bow, and now

His quiver loosed. The hissing dart is sped.

Straight through the neck it flies, and leaves the wound.

Hercules: The rest will I hunt out, yea, all that lurk 995

Within this city’s walls, without delay.

A greater war against Mycenae waits,

That by my hands those Cyclopean walls

May be o’erthrown; and that the royal hall,

Its high walls shattered, noble roof in-fall’n,

Doors burst, may be to utter ruin brought, 1000

And all its royal secrets be revealed.

[He sees his second son hiding.]

Ah, here I see another hiding son

Of that most wicked sire.

[He seizes the child and drags him from the scene.]

Amphitryon [*standing where he can see what is being done behind the

scenes*]: Behold the child,

His coaxing hands stretched out to clasp the knees

Of his mad father, begs with piteous tones.

Oh, crime unspeakable, pathetic, grim:

For by his pleading hand the child is caught, 1005

And, madly whirled again and yet again,

Sent headlong through the air. A sickening sound–

And with his scattered brains the roof is wet.

But wretched Megara, her little son

Protecting in her arms, flees madly forth.

Hercules [behind the scenes, to Megara also behind the scenes]:

Though thou shouldst hide thee in the Thunderer’s arms, 1010

This hand of mine will seek and snatch thee forth.

Amphitryon [standing throughout this scene as above]: Oh, whither,

wretched woman dost thou flee?

What flight, what hiding-places dost thou seek?

No place is safe from angry Hercules.

Embrace his knees the rather, and with prayer

Attempt to soothe his wrath. 1015

The voice of Megara: O husband, spare;

Thy Megara behold and recognize;

This son of thine thy face and manner bears.

See how he stretches out his hands to thee.

The voice of Hercules: At last I have thee, stepdame, in my power.

Come thou with me, and pay full penalty

For all my wrongs; free thy poor, troubled lord

From his base yoke. But ere the mother dies, 1020

This little monster must be put to death.

The voice of Megara: What wouldst thou, madman? Shed thine

infant’s blood?

Amphitr.: The child, in terror of his father’s face,

Died ere he felt the blow. ‘Twas fear that snatched

His spirit forth. Now ‘gainst his trembling wife,

His mighty club is raised–her bones are crushed,

Her head is stricken from the mangled trunk 1025

And may no more be seen.

[To himself.]

O stubborn age,

Too long enduring, canst thou bide this sight?

But if thy grief is irksome, death is near.

[To Hercules.]

Impale me on thy darts; that club of thine,

With blood of monsters smeared, raise to my death.

Come, slay me who am falsely called thy sire, 1030

And so remove this blot upon thy name,

That I no longer may thy fame obscure.

Theseus: Why shouldst thou wantonly provoke thy death,

Old man? Why this mad haste to die? Away,

And hide. From this one crime spare Hercules.

[Enter Hercules.]

Hercules: ‘Tis well; the household of the shameless king 1035

Is utterly destroyed. To thee, O wife

Of mighty Jove, this promised sacrifice

Have I performed; my vows I’ve gladly paid;

And other victims shall thine Argos give.

Amphitr.: Thou hast not yet enough atonement made,

O son. Complete the sacrifice. Behold, 1040

A victim at the altar stands, and waits,

With willing neck, thy hand. I offer here

My life, and eagerly; I seek to die.

Slay me.

[Hercules appears to be fainting.]

But what is this? His eye’s keen glance

Cannot maintain its gaze; grief dims his sight;

And do I see the hands of Hercules

A-tremble? Now his eyelids fall in sleep,

His head sinks down upon his weary breast, 1045

His knees give way, and down upon the earth

His whole great body falls; as when some ash

Is felled in forest glades, or when some cliff

Falls down and makes a harbor in the sea.

[To Hercules.]

Dost thou yet live? Or has thy furious rage,

Which sent thy friends to death, slain thee as well?

[He examines the prostrate body.]

He slumbers; this his measured breathing proves. 1050

Let him have time for rest, that heavy sleep

May break his madness’ force, and so relieve

His troubled heart.

[To attendants.]

Ye slaves, his arms remove,

Lest, waking, he again his madness prove.

Chorus: Let heaven and heaven’s creator mourn,

The fertile earth, the wandering wave 1055

Upon the restless sea. And thou,

Who over lands and ocean’s plains

Dost shed thy light, whose beauteous face

Drives night away, O glowing Sun,

Grieve more than all. For equally 1060

Thy risings had Alcides seen,

And eke thy settings; both thy homes

Were known to him. His spirit loose

From monstrous madness; loose him, ye

Who rule above. His mind restore

To sanity again. And thou, 1065

O Sleep, subduer of our ills,

The spirit’s rest, thou better part

Of human life, swift-wingéd one,

Astraea’s child, of cruel Death

The sluggish brother, mixing false 1070

With true, prescient of future things,

But oftenest of misery;

O sire of all things, gate of life,

Day’s respite and the comrade true

Of night, who com’st impartially

To king and slaves, with gentle hand

The wearied spirit comforting; 1075

Thou who dost force the race of men

Who quail at mortal doom, to gain

A foretaste of the sleep of death:

Subdue and overwhelm him quite

With heavy stupor; let his limbs,

Unconquered hitherto, be held

Fast bound in chains of deepest sleep;

Take not the spell from his fierce heart, 1080

Until his former mind return

To its accustomed course.

But see, prone on the ground he lies,

His savage dreams in his fierce heart

Still hold their sway. Not yet, alas,

Is his dire madness overcome.

Accustomed to recline his head 1085

Upon his heavy club, see now,

He feels about with empty hand

To find the ponderous trunk, his arms

With fruitless motion tossed. Not yet

Has all the fever from his veins

Been driven out, but rages on;

As waves, by mighty tempests vexed, 1090

Toss wildly on and swell with rage,

Although the winds have ceased to blow.

Oh, calm this tempest in his soul;

Let piety and manly strength

Return; or, rather, let his mind 1095

Be still by mad impulses stirred,

And his blind error go the way

It has begun. For madness now

Alone can make him innocent.

To have the hands unstained by guilt

Is best, but next to this is sin

Done in unconsciousness.

Now let thy breast resound with blows, 1100

And let those arms which once have borne

The heavens up be smitten now

By thy victorious hands; thy cries

Be heard throughout the realms of air,

By her who rules the world of night, 1105

And Cerberus crouching in his cave,

His neck still burdened with thy chains.

Let Chaos with the dolorous sound

Re-echo, and the widespread waves

Of ocean, and the air above 1110

Which had thy darts in better use

Beheld. Thy breast, with ills beset

So mighty, must with no light blow

Be smitten. With one great sound of grief

Let heaven, sea, and hell be filled.

And thou, brave shaft, above his neck 1115

So long suspended, armament

And weapon too, thou quiver huge,

Smite heavily his savage back.

Thou sturdy club of oak, come beat

His mighty shoulders, and oppress 1120

His breast with thy hard-knotted stock.

Let all his weapons worthily

Of so great grief lament with him.

[To the dead children.]

But you, who in your father’s praise

Can never share, who ne’er from kings

Have taken deadly recompense,

Who never in the Argive games

Have learned to bend your youthful limbs,

In wrestling and in boxing strong 1125

To strive; who have but dared as yet

To poise the slender Scythian dart

With steady hand, and pierce the stag

Who safety seeks in flight, but not

The lion fierce with tawny mane: 1130

Go to your Stygian refuge, go,

Ye guiltless shades, who on life’s verge

Have by your father’s mad assault

Been overwhelmed. Poor children, born

Of an ill-omened, luckless race, 1135

Fare on along your father’s toilsome path,

To where the gloomy monarchs sit in wrath!


Hercules [waking up in his right mind]: What place is this? What

quarter of the world?

Where am I? ‘Neath the rising sun, or where

The frozen Bear wheels slowly overhead?

Or in that farthest land whose shores are washed 1140

By the Hesperian sea? What air is this

I breathe? What soil supports my weary frame?

For surely have I come again to earth.

[His eyes fall on his murdered children.]

Whence came those bloody corpses in my house?

Do I behold them, or not even yet

Have those infernal visions left my mind? 1145

Even on earth the ghostly shapes of death

Still flit before mine eyes. I speak with shame:

I am afraid. Some great calamity,

Some hidden ill my prescient soul forebodes.

Where is my father? Where my faithful wife,

Proud of that troop of children at her side? 1150

Why does my left side miss the lion’s skin,

My shield in danger and my couch in sleep?

Where is my bow, my darts? Who, while I live

Has dared remove my arms? Who so great spoils

Has gained? Who then so bold as not to fear 1155

The very slumber of a Hercules?

‘Twould please me well to see my victor–well.

Arise, thou victor, whom my sire begot,

A later wonder, leaving heaven behind;

At whose begetting, longer than at mine,

The night stood waiting.

[He recognizes his dead wife and children.]

Oh, what sight is this?

My sons lie murdered, weltering in their blood; 1160

My wife is slain. What Lycus rules the land?

Who could have dared to do such things in Thebes,

And Hercules returned? Whoever dwells

Along Ismenus’ stream, in Attic plains,

Or in the land Dardanian Pelops rules, 1165

By two seas lapped, come to my aid, and tell

The name of him who has this murder done.

If not, my wrath will turn against you all;

For he’s my foe who shows me not my foe.

Why dost thou hide, Alcides’ vanquisher?

I care not whether thou dost vengeance seek

For those wild horses of the Thracian king, 1170

Or Geryon’s flock, or Libya’s vanquished lords;

I do not shun the fight; see, here I stand,

Defenseless, even though with my own arms

Thou com’st against me, armorless. But why

Do Theseus and my father shun my glance?

Why do they turn away? Postpone your tears, 1175

And tell me who has given my loved ones all

To death. What, father, art thou silent still?

Then do thou tell me, Theseus, faithful friend.

Each turns away in silence, and his face,

As if in shame, conceals; while down his cheeks

The tears flow stealthily. In so great ills

What cause for shame can be? Is this the work 1180

Of him who ruthlessly at Argos rules?

Has dying Lycus’ hostile soldiery

With such disaster overwhelmed our house?

O father, by the praises of my deeds,

By thine own name which ever was to me

Propitious, tell, I pray thee, who it is

Who hath o’erthrown my house. Whose prey am I? 1185

Amphitr.: Let ills like these in silence pass away.

Hercules: And I be unavenged?

Amphitryon: But vengeance hurts.

Hercules: Who has, inactive, ever borne such wrongs?

Amphitr.: He who feared greater wrongs.

Hercules: Than these my wrongs

Can any greater, heavier be feared? 1190

Amphitr.: The part thou knowest of thy woes is least.

Hercules: Have pity. See, I stretch my suppliant hands.

But what is this? He will not touch my hands.

In these must be the sin.

But whence this blood?

Why is that shaft, once dipped in Hydra’s gall, 1195

Now wet with infant gore? They are my own,

These arrows that I see; the guilty hand

I need no longer seek; for who but me

Could bend that mighty bow, or whose right hand

Could draw the string that scarcely yields to me?

[To Amphitryon and Theseus.]

To you I turn again. O father, tell:

Is this my deed? 1200

[Both men hesitate in silence.]

They hesitate–‘tis mine.

Amphitr.: Thine is the grief; thy stepdame’s is the crime.

From fault of thine this sad mischance is free.

Hercules: Now hurl thy wrathful bolts from all the heavens,

O sire, who hast forgotten me, thy son;

Avenge at least, though with a tardy hand,

Thy grandsons. Let the star-set heavens resound,

And darting lightnings leap from pole to pole. 1205

Let me be bound upon the Caspian rocks,

And let the birds of prey devour my flesh.

Why lacks Prometheus’ cliff a prisoner?

Prepare for me the bare, steep mountain side

Of Caucasus, that, on his towering peak,

The birds and beasts of prey may feed on me.

Or let the blue Symplegades, which hedge 1210

The Scythian deep, stretch out my fettered hands

This way and that; and, when with rhythmic change

The rocks together clash, which fling to heaven

The sea that lies between the rushing cliffs,

May I lie there, the mountains’ restless check. 1215

Or why not heap a mighty pyre of wood,

And burn my body stained with impious blood?

Thus, thus it must be done; so Hercules

Shall to the lower world return again.

Amphitr.: Not yet has madness ceased to vex his heart.

But now his wrath has changed, and, fury’s sign, 1220

He rages ‘gainst himself.

Hercules: Ye dire abodes

Of fiends, ye prison-house of damnéd shades,

Ye regions set apart for guilty throngs,

If any place of exile lie beyond

Deep Erebus, unknown to Cerberus

And me, there hide ye me. I’ll go and dwell 1225

Upon the farthest bound of Tartarus.

O heart, too hard! Who worthily will weep

For you, my children, scattered through my house?

This face, woe-hardened, knows not how to weep.

Bring me my sword, and give me here my darts, 1230

My mighty club.

[He addresses the four corpses in order.]

For thee, poor murdered boy,

I’ll break my shafts; for thee my mighty bow

Shall be asunder riven; to thy shades

My heavy club shall burn; and on thy pyre

My quiver, full of venomed darts, shall lie.

My arms shall pay their penalty for sin. 1235

You, too, my guilty hands, with these shall burn,

Too prompt to work a cruel stepdame’s will.

Theseus: Who ever called an act of madness crime?

Hercules: Unbridled madness often ends in crime.

Amphitr.: Now is there need of Hercules to bear

This greatest weight of woe.

Hercules: Not yet is shame 1240

So utterly extinguished in my heart,

That I can bear to see all people flee

My impious presence. Arms, my Theseus, arms!

I pray you give them quickly back to me.

If I am sane, trust weapons to my hands;

If madness still remains, O father, fly;

For I shall quickly find the road to death. 1245

Amphitr.: By holy ties of birth, and by the name

That makes us one, be it of father true,

Or foster-father; by these hoary locks

Which pious souls revere: I pray thee spare

My lonely age and my enfeebled years.

Spare thou thyself to me, the only prop 1250

Of this my falling house, the only light

That’s left to cheer my woeful heart. No fruit

Of all thy toils have I as yet enjoyed;

But ever either stormy seas I’ve feared,

Or monsters. Every savage king who raves

In all the world, for impious altars famed, 1255

Is cause of dread to me. Thy father longs

For joy of thee, to feel and see thee near.

Hercules: Why I should longer keep my soul in life,

And linger on the earth, there is no cause;

For I have lost my all: my balanced mind, 1260

My arms, my reputation, children, wife,

The glory of my strength–my madness too.

There is no remedy for tainted souls;

But death alone can cure me of my sin.

Amphitr.: And wilt thou slay thy father?

Hercules: Lest I do,

I’ll kill myself.

Amphitryon: Before thy father’s face?

Hercules: Such impious sights I’ve taught him to behold.

Amphitr.: Nay, rather think upon thy worthy deeds, 1265

And grant thyself remission of one sin.

Hercules: Shall he give absolution to himself,

Who granted none to other men? My deeds

Which have deserved the praise of men, I did

Because another bade. This is my own.

Then help me, father, whether piety

Or my sad fortune move thee to my aid, 1270

Or the glory of my manhood, now profaned.

Give me my arms again, that my right hand

May vanquish fate.

Theseus: Thy father’s prayers, indeed,

Are strong enough; but by my pleadings, too,

Be moved. Rise up, and meet adversity

With thine accustomed force. Thy strength of mind 1275

Recall, which no misfortune ever yet

Has daunted. Now must thou with all thy might

Contend, and curb the wrath of Hercules.

Hercules: If yet I live, I have committed wrong;

But if I die, then have I suffered it.

I haste to purge the earth of such as I.

Now long enough has there been hovering

Before my eyes that monstrous shape of sin, 1280

So impious, savage, merciless, and wild.

Then come, my hand, attempt this mighty task,

Far greater than the last. Dost hesitate

Through cowardice? Or art thou brave alone

‘Gainst boys and trembling mothers?

Give my arms,

Or else I shall from Thracian Pindus strip 1285

The woods, the groves of Bacchus, and shall burn

Cithaeron’s ridgy heights along with me.

The homes of Thebes together with their lords,

The temples with their gods, will I o’erthrow,

And ‘neath a ruined city will I lie. 1290

And if this weight of walls should prove too light

For these strong shoulders, and the seven gates

Be not enough to crush me to the earth,

The mighty mass of earth which separates

The upper from the nether skies I’ll take,

And hurl its crushing weight upon my head.

Amphitr.: Lo, I return thine arms. 1295

Hercules: Now are thy words

More worthy of the sire of Hercules.

See, by this arrow pierced, my child was slain.

Amphitr.: ‘Tis true, but Juno shot it by thy hand.

Hercules: Then I myself shall use it now.

Amphitryon: Behold,

How throbs his heart within his anxious breast.

Hercules: The shaft is ready. 1300

Amphitryon: Ah now wilt thou sin,

Of thine own will and with full consciousness.

Have then thy will; we make no further prayer.

For now my grief has gained a safe retreat.

Thou only canst preserve my son to me;

Thou canst not take him from me. For my fear

I’ve sounded to the depths and feel no more.

Thou canst no longer give me any pain, 1305

Though happy thou canst make me even yet.

Decide then as thou wilt decide: but know

That here thy cause and reputation stand

In doubtful balance. Either thou dost live,

Or thou dost kill thy sire. This fleeting soul,

Now worn with age and shattered by its grief,

Is trembling on my lips in act to go. 1310

Art thou so slow to grant thy father life?

I can no longer brook delay, nor wait

To thrust the fatal sword into my breast.

And this shall be a sane Alcides’ crime.

Hercules: Now stay, my father, stay; withhold thy hand.

Yield thee, my manhood; do a father’s will. 1315

Add this task also to thy former toils–

And live! Lift up my father’s fainting form,

O Theseus, friend; for these my guilty hands

That pious duty shun.

Amphitryon: But I with joy

Will clasp this hand, with its support I’ll walk, 1320

And to my aching heart I’ll clasp it close,

And banish all my woes.

Hercules: Where shall I flee?

Where hide myself? What land shall bury me

From human sight? What Tanaïs or Nile,

What Tigris, with the waves of Persia mad,

What warlike Rhine, or Tagus, flowing full 1325

And turgid with Iberia’s golden sands,

Can ever cleanse this right hand of its stains?

Though chill Maeotis pour its icy floods

Upon me; though the boundless sea should pour

Its waters o’er my hands; still would they be

Deep dyed with crime. Where wilt thou take thyself,

Thou murderer? Wilt flee to east, or west? 1330

Known everywhere, I have no place of flight.

The whole world shrinks from sight of me; the stars

Avert their courses from me, and the sun

Saw even Cerberus with milder face.

O Theseus, faithful friend, seek out a place, 1335

Far off from here, where I may hide myself.

Since thou a lenient judge of others’ sins

Hast ever been, grant mercy now to me.

Restore me to the infernal shades, I beg,

And load me with the chains thou once didst wear. 1340

That place will hide me–but it knows me too!

Theseus: My land awaits thy coming; there will[18] Mars

Wash clean thy hands, and give thee back thy arms.

That land, O Hercules, now calls to thee,

Which even gods from sin is wont to free.


[18] Reading, restituet.



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