PHAEDRA 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



HIPPOLYTUS Son of Theseus and Antiope, an Amazon.

Phaedra Wife of Theseus and stepmother of Hippolytus.

Theseus King of Athens.

Nurse Of Phaedra.


Slaves and attendants.

Chorus Of Athenian citizens.

THE SCENE is laid throughout in the court in front of the royal palace

at Athens; and the action is confined to the space of one day.

*Theseus had wed Antiope, the Amazon, and of their union had been

born Hippolytus. This youth grew up to love the chase, austere and

beautiful, shunning the haunts of men, and scorning the love of women.

Theseus had meanwhile slain Antiope, and married Phaedra, Cretan Minos'


*And now, for four years past, the king has not been seen upon the

earth, for, following the mad adventure of his bosom friend, Pirithoüs,

he has descended into Tartara, and thence, men think, he never will


*Deserted by her lord, the hapless Phaedra has conceived a hopeless

passion for Hippolytus; for Venus, mindful of that ancient shame, which

Phaedra’s ancestor, Apollo, had exposed, has sent this madness on her,

even as Pasiphaë, her mother, had been cursed with a most mad and fatal



Hippolytus [*in hunting costume, assigning duties and places to

his servants and companions of the hunt*]:

Up comrades, and the shadowy groves

With nets encircle; swiftly range

The heights of our Cecropian hills;

Scour well those coverts on the slopes

Of Parnes, or in Thria’s vale 5

Whose chattering streamlet roars along

In rapid course; go climb the hills

Whose peaks are ever white with snows

Of Scythia. Let others go

Where woods with lofty alders stand 10

In dense array; where pastures lie

Whose springing grass is waked to life

By Zephyr’s breath, dew laden. Go,

Where calm Ilissus flows along

The level fields, a sluggish stream, 15

Whose winding course the barren sands

With niggard water laps. Go ye

Along the leftward-leading way,

Where Marathon her forest glades

Reveals, where nightly with their young

The suckling mothers feed. Do you, 20

Where, softened by the warming winds

From southern lands, Acharnae melts

His snows, repair; let others seek

Hymettus' rocky slopes, far famed

For honey; others still the glades

Of small Aphidnae. All too long

That region has unharried lain 25

Where Sunium with its jutting shore

Thrusts out the curving sea.

If any feels the forest’s lure,

Him Phlye calls, where dwells the boar

Now scarred and known by many a wound,

The farmers' fear. 30

Now free the dogs from straining leash,

That hunt in silence; but the hounds

Of keen Molossian breed hold fast

In check; let the savage Cretans strain

With chaffing necks upon their chains;

The Spartans hold in strongest curb, 35

With caution bind, for bold their breed,

And eager for the prey.

The time will come when their baying loud

Through the hollow rocks shall echo; now

Let them snuff the air with nostrils keen,

And with lowered muzzles seek the tracks 40

Of beasts, while yet the dawn is dim,

And while the dewy earth still holds

The marks of treading feet. Let some

On burdened necks the wide nets bear,

And others haste to bring the snares 45

Of smooth-wrought cords. Let feathers, dyed

With crimson, hedge the timid deer

With terrors vain. Do thou use darts

Of Crete, and thou the heavy spear

By both hands wielded. Thou shalt sit 50

In hiding and with clamors loud

Drive out the frightened beasts; and thou,

When all is done, with curving blade

Shalt break the victims.

And thou, be with thy worshiper,

O goddess of the chase, whose rule 55

Extends o’er all the secret haunts

Of earth; whose darts unerring pierce

The flying prey; whose thirst is quenched

By cool Araxes' distant stream,

Or for whose sport the Ister spreads

His frozen waves. Thy hand pursues 60

Gaetulian lions, Cretan deer;

And now the swiftly fleeing does

With lighter stroke are pierced. To thee

The spotted tigers yield, to thee

The bisons, shaggy backed, and the wild,

Broad-hornéd oxen of the woods. 65

Whatever feeds upon the plains

In desert pasture lands; whate’er

The needy Garamantian knows,

Whate’er the Arab rich in woods,

Or wild Sarmatian, wandering free

Across the lonely wilderness; 70

Whate’er the rugged Pyrenees

Or deep Hyrcanian glades conceal:

All fear thy bow, thou huntress queen.

If any worshiper of thine

Takes to the hunt thy favoring will,

His nets hold fast the struggling prey; 75

No birds break from his snares; for him

The groaning wagons homeward come

With booty rich; the hounds come back

With muzzles deeply dyed in blood,

And all the rustic throng returns

In shouting triumph home. 80

But lo, the goddess hears. The hounds

Are baying loud and clear to announce

The start. I’m summoned to the woods.

Here, here I’ll hasten where the road

Most quickly leads away.


Phaedra: O mighty Crete, thou mistress of the deep, 85

Whose ships uncounted sail through every sea

Wherever Nereus shows their beaks the way,

E’en to Assyria’s shores; why dost thou here

Compel me thus in woe and tears to live,

A hostage given to the hated foe, 90

And to a foeman wed? Behold my lord,

Deserting me, his bride, is far away,

And keeps his wonted faith. Through shadows deep

Of that dark pool which may not be recrossed,

This doughty follower of a madcap prince

Has gone, that from the very throne of Dis 95

He might seduce and bear away his queen.

With such mad folly linked he went away,

Restrained by neither fear nor shame. And so,

In deepest Acheron, illicit love

This father of Hippolytus desires.

But other, greater griefs than this oppress

My sorrowing soul; no quiet rest by night, 100

No slumber deep comes to dissolve my cares;

But woe is fed and grows within my heart,

And there burns hot as Aetna’s raging fires.

My loom stands empty and my listless hands

Drop idly from their tasks. No more I care 105

To make my votive offerings to the gods,

Nor, with the Athenian women mingled, dance

Around their sacred shrines, and conscious brands

Toss high in secret rites. I have no heart

With chaste and pious prayers to worship her,

That mighty goddess who was set to guard

This Attic land. My only joy is found 110

In swift pursuit of fleeing beasts of prey,

My soft hands brandishing the heavy spear.

But what will come of this? Why do I love

The forest glades so madly? Ah, I feel

The fatal malady my mother felt;

For both have learned within the forest depths

To sin in love. O mother, now my heart 115

Doth ache for thee; for, swept away by sin

Unspeakable, thou boldly didst conceive

A shameful passion for the savage lord

Of the wild herd. Untamable was he,

That stern and lustful leader of the flock;

And yet he loved. But in my passion’s need 120

What god can help me? Where the Daedalus

Who can my love relieve? Should he return

Who shut our monster in the labyrinth,

He could not by his well-known Attic skill

Avail to save me from this dire mischance.

For Venus, filled with deadly hate of us,

The stock of Phoebus, seeks through me to avenge 125

The chains which fettered her in shame to Mars,

And all our house with direful love she fills.

No princess of our race has ever loved

In modest wise, but always monstrously.

Nurse: O wife of Theseus, glorious child of Jove,

Drive from thy modest breast these shameful thoughts. 130

Put out these flames; and give thyself no hope

Of such dire love as this. Whoe’er at first

Has set himself to fight and conquer love,

A safe and easy victory finds. But he,

Who dallies with its evil sweets, too late

Refuses to endure the galling yoke 135

Which he himself has placed upon his neck.

I know full well how scornful of the truth,

How harsh the swollen pride of princesses,

How it refuses to be bent aright.

Whatever outcome chance allots, I’ll bear;

For dawning freedom makes the agéd brave.

To will to live uprightly nor to fall 140

From virtue’s ways is best; but next to this

Is sense of shame, the knowing when to stop

A sinful course. What, pray, will be the end

For thee, poor mistress? Why dost heap thy house

With further infamy? Wouldst thou outsin

Thy mother? For thy impious love is worse

Than her unnatural and monstrous love.

The first you would impute to character,

The last to fate. If, since thy husband sees 145

No more the realms of earth, thou dost believe

That this thy sin is safe and free from fear,

Thou art in error. Grant that he is held

Imprisoned fast in Lethe’s lowest depths,

And must forever feel the bonds of Styx:

Would he, thy sire, who by his spreading sway

Encroaches on the sea, who gives their laws 150

Unto a hundred peoples, e’er permit

So great a crime as this to lie unknown?

Keen is a parent’s watchful care. And yet,

Suppose that by our craft and guile we hide

This crime from him: what of thy mother’s sire,

Who floods the earth with his illuming rays? 155

And what of him who makes the earth to quake,

The bolts of Aetna flashing in his hand,

The father of the gods? And dost thou think

That it can be that thou couldst hide thy sin

From these thy grandsires, all-beholding ones?

But even should the favor of the gods,

Complaisant, hide thy shame from all the world; 160

Though to thy lust alone should fall that grace

Denied to other crimes: still must thou fear.

What of that ever-present punishment,

The terror of the soul that knows its guilt,

Is stained with crime and fearful of itself?

Some women have with safety sinned, but none

With peace of soul. Then quench these flames, I pray, 165

Of impious love, and shun this monstrous crime

Which no barbaric land has ever done,

No Getan wandering on his lonely plains,

No savage Taurian, no Scythian.

Expel from thy chaste soul this hideous thing,

And, mindful of thy mother’s sin, avoid 170

Such monstrous unions. Wouldst in marriage give

Thyself to son and father? Wouldst thou take

In thine incestuous womb a progeny

So basely mixed? Then go the length of sin:

O’erthrow all nature with thy shameful fires.

Why should the monsters cease? Why empty stands

Thy brother’s labyrinth? Shall all the world 175

Be shocked with prodigies, shall nature’s laws

Be scorned, whene’er a Cretan woman loves?

Phaedra: I know that what thou say’st is true, dear nurse;

But raging passion forces me to take

The path of sin. Full consciously my soul

Goes headlong on its downward way, ofttimes

With backward glance, sane counsel seeking still,

Without avail. So, when the mariner 180

Would sail his ship against the boisterous waves,

His toil is all in vain, and, vanquished quite,

The ship drifts onward with the hurrying tide.

For what can reason do when passion rules,

When love, almighty, dominates the soul? 185

The wingéd god is lord through all the earth,

And with his flames unquenchable the heart

Of Jove himself is burned. The god of war

Has felt his fire; and Vulcan too, that god

Who forges Jove’s three-forkéd thunderbolts;

Yea, he, who in the hold of Aetna huge 190

Is lord of ever-blazing furnaces,

By this small spark is burned. Apollo, too,

Who sends his arrows with unerring aim,

Was pierced by Cupid’s still more certain darts.

For equally in heaven and earth the god

Is powerful.

Nurse: The god! ‘Tis vicious lust 195

That hath his godhead framed; and, that its ends

More fully may be gained, it has assigned

To its unbridled love the specious name,

Divinity! ‘Tis Venus’ son, in sooth,

Sent wandering through all the earth! He flies

Through empty air and in his boyish hands 200

His deadly weapon bears! Though least of gods,

He holds the widest sway! Such vain conceits

The love-mad soul adopts, love’s goddess feigns,

And Cupid’s bow. Whoe’er too much enjoys

The smiles of fortune and in ease is lapped,

Is ever seeking unaccustomed joys. 205

Then that dire comrade of a high estate,

Inordinate desire, comes in. The feast

Of yesterday no longer pleases; now

A home of sane and simple living, food[19]

Of humble sort, are odious. Oh, why

Does this destructive pest so rarely come

To lowly homes, but chooses rather homes 210

Of luxury? And why does modest love

Beneath the humble roof abide, and bless

With wholesome intercourse the common throng?

Why do the poor restrain their appetites,

Whereas the rich, on empire propped, desire

More than is right. Who wields too much of power 215

Desires to gain what is beyond his power.

What is befitting to thy high estate

Thou knowest well. Then fitting reverence show

To thy returning husband’s sovereignty.

Phaedra: The sovereignty of love is over me,

The highest rule of all. My lord’s return,

I fear it not; for never more has he,

Who once within the silent depths of night 220

Has plunged, beheld again the light of day.

Nurse: Trust not the power of Dis; for though his realm

He closely bar, and though the Stygian dog

Keep watch and ward upon the baleful doors,

Theseus can always walk forbidden ways.

Phaedra: Perchance he’ll give indulgence to my love. 225

Nurse: But he was harsh e’en to a modest wife;

His heavy hand Antiope has known.

But grant that thou canst bend thy angry lord:

Canst bend as well the stubborn soul of him,

Hippolytus, who hates the very name 230

Of womankind? Inexorable his resolve

To spend his life unwedded. He so shuns

The sacred rites of marriage, thou wouldst know

That he of Amazonian stock was born.

Phaedra: Though on the tops of snowy hills he hide,

Or swiftly course along the ragged cliffs,

Through forests deep, o’er mountains, ‘tis my will 235

To follow him.

Nurse: And will he turn again,

And yield himself unto thy sweet caress?

Or will he lay aside his modesty

At thy vile love’s behest? Will he give o’er

His hate of womankind for thee alone,

On whose account, perchance, he hates them all?

Phaedra: Can he not be by any prayers o’ercome?

Nurse: He’s wild. 240

Phaedra: Yes, but the beasts are tamed by love.

Nurse: He’ll flee.

Phaedra: Through Ocean’s self I’ll follow him.

Nurse: Thy sire remember.

Phaedra: And my mother too.

Nurse: Women he hates.

Phaedra: Then I’ll no rival fear.

Nurse: Thy husband comes.

Phaedra: With him Pirithoüs!

Nurse: Thy sire! 245

Phaedra: To Ariadne he was kind.

Nurse: O child, by these white locks of age, I pray,

This care-filled heart, these breasts that suckled thee,

Put off this rage; to thine own rescue come.

The greater part of life is will to live.

Phaedra: Shame has not wholly fled my noble soul. 250

I yield: let love, which will not be controlled,

Be conquered. Nor shalt thou, fair fame, be stained.

This way alone is left, sole hope of woe:

Theseus I’ll follow, and by death shun sin.

Nurse: Oh, check, my child, this wild, impetuous thought; 255

Be calm. For now I think thee worthy life,

Because thou hast condemned thyself to death.

Phaedra: I am resolved to die, and only seek

The mode of death. Shall I my spirit free

By twisted rope, or fall upon the sword,

Or shall I leap from yonder citadel? 260

Nurse: Shall my old age permit thee thus to die

Self-slain? Thy deadly, raging purpose stay.

No one may easily come back to life.

Phaedra: No argument can stay the will of one 265

Who has resolved to die, and ought to die.

Quick, let me arm myself in honor’s cause.

Nurse: Sole comfort of my weary age, my child,

If such unruly passion sways thy heart,

Away with reputation! ‘Tis a thing

Which rarely with reality agrees;

It smiles upon the ill-deserving man, 270

And from the good withholds his meed of praise.

Let us make trial of that stubborn soul.

Mine be the task to approach the savage youth,

And bend his will relentless to our own.

Chorus: Thou goddess, child of the foaming sea,

Thou mother of love, how fierce are the flames, 275

And how sharp are the darts of thy petulant boy;

How deadly of aim his bow.

Deep to the heart the poison sinks

When the veins are imbued with his hidden flame; 280

No gaping wound upon the breast

Does his arrow leave; but far within

It burns with consuming fire.

No peace or rest does he give; world wide

Are his flying weapons sown abroad:

The shores that see the rising sun, 285

And the land that lies at the goal of the west;

The south where raging Cancer glows,

And the land of the cold Arcadian Bear

With its ever-wandering tribes–all know

And have felt the fires of love. 290

The hot blood of youth he rouses to madness,

The smouldering embers of age he rekindles,

And even the innocent breasts of maids

Are stirred by passion unknown.

He bids the immortals desert the skies

And dwell on the earth in forms assumed. 295

For love, Apollo kept the herds

Of Thessaly’s king, and, his lyre unused,

He called to his bulls on the gentle pipe.

How oft has Jove himself put on

The lower forms of life, who rules

The sky and the clouds. Now a bird he seems, 300

With white wings hovering, with voice

More sweet than the song of the dying swan;

Now with lowering front, as a wanton bull,

He offers his back to the sport of maids;

And soon through his brother’s waves he floats, 305

With his hoofs like sturdy oars, and his breast

Stoutly opposing the waves, in fear

For the captured maid he bears. For love,

The shining goddess of the night

Her dim skies left, and her glittering car 310

To her brother allotted to guide. Untrained

In managing the dusky steeds,

Within a shorter circuit now

He learns to direct his course. Meanwhile

The nights no more their accustomed space

Retained, and the dawn came slowly back, 315

Since ‘neath a heavier burden now

The axle trembled. Love compelled

Alcmena’s son to lay aside

His quiver and the threat’ning spoil

Of that great lion’s skin he bore,

And have his fingers set with gems,

His shaggy locks in order dressed. 320

His limbs were wrapped in cloth of gold,

His feet with yellow sandals bound;

And with that hand which bore but now

The mighty club, he wound the thread

Which from his mistress’ spindle fell.

The sight all Persia saw, and they 325

Who dwell in Lydia’s fertile realm–

The savage lion’s skin laid by,

And on those shoulders, once the prop

For heaven’s vast dome, a gauzy cloak

Of Tyrian manufacture spread.

Accursed is love, its victims know, 330

And all too strong. In every land,

In the all-encircling briny deep,

In the airy heavens where the bright stars course,

There pitiless love holds sway.

The sea-green band of the Nereids 335

Have felt his darts in their deepest waves,

And the waters of ocean cannot quench

Their flames. The birds know the passion of love,

And mighty bulls, with its fire inflamed,

Wage furious battle, while the herd 340

Look on in wonder. Even stags,

Though timorous of heart, will fight

If for their mates they fear, while loud

Resound the snortings of their wrath.

When with love the striped tigers burn,

The swarthy Indian cowers in fear. 345

For love the boar whets his deadly tusks

And his huge mouth is white with foam.

The African lions toss their manes

When love inflames their hearts, and the woods

Resound with their savage roars. 350

The monsters of the raging deep,

And those great beasts, the elephants,

Feel the sway of love; since nature’s power

Claims everything, and nothing spares.

Hate perishes when love commands,

And ancient feuds yield to his touch. 355

Why need I more his sway approve,

When even stepdames yield to love?


[19] Reading, cibus.


[Enter Nurse from the palace.]

Chorus: Speak, nurse, the news thou bring’st. How fares the queen?

Do her fierce fires of love know any end?

Nurse: I have no hope that such a malady 360

Can be relieved; her maddened passion’s flames

Will endless burn. A hidden, silent fire

Consumes her, and her raging love, though shut

Within her heart, is by her face betrayed.

Her eyes dart fire; anon, her sunken gaze

Avoids the light of day. Her restless soul 365

Can find no pleasure long in anything.

Her aimless love allows her limbs no rest.

Now, as with dying, tottering steps, she goes,

And scarce can hold her nodding head erect;

And now lies down to sleep. But, sleepless quite,

She spends the night in tears. Now does she bid

Me lift her up, and straight to lay her down; 370

To loose her locks, and bind them up again.

In restless mood she constantly demands

Fresh robes. She has no care for food or health.

With failing strength she walks, with aimless feet. 375

Her old-time strength is gone; no longer shines

The ruddy glow of health upon her face.

Care feeds upon her limbs; her trembling steps

Betray her weakness, and the tender grace

Of her once blooming beauty is no more.

Her eyes, which once with Phoebus’ brilliance shone,

No longer gleam with their ancestral fires. 380

Her tears flow ever, and her cheeks are wet

With constant rain; as when, on Taurus’ top,

The snows are melted by a warming shower.

But look, the palace doors are opening,

And she, reclining on her couch of gold, 385

And sick of soul, refuses one by one

The customary garments of her state.

Phaedra: Remove, ye slaves, those bright and gold-wrought robes;

Away with Tyrian purple, and the webs

Of silk whose threads the far-off eastern tribes

From leaves of trees collect. Gird high my robes; 390

I’ll wear no necklace, nor shall snowy pearls,

The gift of Indian seas, weigh down my ears.

No nard from far Assyria shall scent

My locks; thus loosely tossing let them fall

Around my neck and shoulders; let them stream

Upon the wind, by my swift running stirred. 395

Upon my left I’ll wear a quiver girt,

And in my right hand will I brandish free

A hunting-spear of Thessaly; for thus

The mother of Hippolytus was clad.

So did she lead her hosts from the frozen shores

Of Pontus, when to Attica she came, 400

From distant Tanaïs or Maeotis’ banks,

Her comely locks down flowing from a knot,

Her side protected by a crescent shield.

Like her would I betake me to the woods.

Chorus: Cease thy laments, for grief will not avail

The wretched. Rather seek to appease the will 405

Of that wild virgin goddess of the woods.

Nurse [to Diana]: O queen of forests, thou who dwell’st alone

On mountain tops, and thou who only art

Within their desert haunts adored, convert,

We pray, to better issue these sad fears.

O mighty goddess of the woods and groves,

Bright star of heaven, thou glory of the night, 410

Whose torch, alternate with the sun, illumes

The sky, thou three-formed Hecate–Oh, smile,

We pray, on these our hopes; the unbending soul

Of stern Hippolytus subdue for us.

Teach him to love; our passion’s mutual flame

May he endure. May he give ready ear

To our request. His hard and stubborn heart 415

Do thou make soft to us. Enthral his mind.

Though stern of soul, averse to love, and fierce,

May he yet yield himself to Venus' laws.

Bend all thy powers to this. So may thy face

Be ever clear, and through the rifted clouds

Mayst thou sail on with crescent shining bright;

So, when thou driv’st thy chariot through the sky, 420

May no Thessalian mummeries prevail

To draw thee from thy nightly journey down;

And may no shepherd boast himself of thee.

Lo, thou art here in answer to our prayer;

[Hippolytus is seen approaching.]

I see Hippolytus himself, alone,

Approaching to perform the yearly rites

To Dian due. 425

[To herself.]

Why dost thou hesitate?

Both time and place are given by fortune’s lot.

Use all thy arts. Why do I quake with fear?

It is no easy task to do the deed

Enjoined on me. Yet she, who serves a queen,

Must banish from her heart all thought of right;

For sense of shame ill serves a royal will. 430

[Enter Hippolytus.]

Hippolytus: Why dost thou hither turn thine agéd feet,

O faithful nurse? Why is thy face so sad,

Thy brow so troubled? Truly is my sire

In safety, Phaedra safe, and their two sons.

Nurse: Thou need’st not fear for them; the kingdom stands 435

In prosperous estate, and all thy house

Rejoices in the blessings of the gods.

But Oh, do thou with greater kindness look

Upon thy fortune. For my heart is vexed

And anxious for thy sake; for thou thyself

With grievous sufferings dost bruise thy soul.

If fate compels it, one may be forgiven 440

For wretchedness; but if, of his own will,

A man prefers to live in misery,

Brings tortures on himself, then he deserves

To lose those gifts he knows not how to use.

Be mindful of thy youth; relax thy mind.

Lift high the blazing torch on festal nights;

Let Bacchus free thee from thy weighty cares; 445

Enjoy this time which speeds so swiftly by.

Now is the time when love comes easily,

And smiles on youth. Come, let thy soul rejoice.

Why dost thou lie upon a lonely couch?

Dissolve in pleasures that grim mood of thine,

And snatch the passing joys;[20] let loose the reins. 450

Forbid that these, the best days of thy life,

Should vanish unenjoyed. Its proper hue

Has God allotted to each time of life,

And leads from step to step the age of man.

So joy becomes the young, a face severe

The agéd. Why dost thou restrain thyself,

And strangle at their birth the joys of life?

That crop rewards the farmer’s labor most 455

Which in the young and tender sprouting-time

Runs riot in the fields. With lofty top

That tree will overspread the neighboring grove,

Which no begrudging hand cuts back or prunes.

So do our inborn powers a richer fruit

Of praise and glory bear, if liberty,

Unchecked and boundless, feed the noble soul. 460

Thou, harsh, uncouth, and ignorant of life,

Dost spend thy youth to joy and love unknown.

Think’st thou that this is man’s allotted task,

To suffer hardships, curb the rushing steeds,

And fight like savage beasts in bloody war? 465

When he beheld the boundless greed of death,

The mighty father of the world ordained

A means by which the race might be renewed.

Suppose the power of Venus over men

Should cease, who doth supply and still renew 470

The stream of life, then would this lovely world

Become a foul, unsightly thing indeed:

The sea would bear no fish within its waves,

The woods no beasts of prey, the air no birds;

But through its empty space the winds alone

Would rove. How various the forms of death 475

That seize and feed upon our mortal race:

The wrecking sea, the sword, and treachery!

But say that these are lacking: still we fall

Of our own gravity to gloomy Styx.

Suppose our youth should choose a mateless life,

And live in childless state: then all this world

Of teeming life which thou dost see, would live

This generation only, and would fall 480

In ruins on itself. Then spend thy life

As nature doth direct; frequent the town,

And live in friendly union with thy kind.

Hippolytus: There is no life so free, so innocent,

Which better cherishes the ancient rites,

Than that which spurns the crowded ways of men

And seeks the silent places of the woods. 485

His soul no maddening greed of gain inflames

Who on the lofty levels of the hills

His blameless pleasures finds. No fickle breath

Of passing favor frets him here, no sting

Of base ingratitude, no poisonous hate.

He fears no kingdom’s laws; nor, in the quest 490

Of power, does he pursue the phantom shapes

Of fame and wealth. From hope and fear alike

Is he removed. No black and biting spite

With base, malicious tooth preys on him here.

He never hears of those base, shameful things

That spawn amid the city’s teeming throngs.

It is not his with guilty heart to quake

At every sound; he need not hide his thoughts 495

With guileful words; in pride of sinful wealth

He seeks to own no lordly palace propped

Upon a thousand pillars, with its beams

In flaunting arrogance incased with gold.

No streams of blood his pious altars drench;

No hecatombs of snowy bullocks stand 500

Foredoomed to death, their foreheads sprinkled o’er

With sacred meal; but in the spacious fields,

Beneath the sky, in fearless innocence,

He wanders lord of all. His only guile,

To set the cunning snare for beasts of pray;

And, when o’erspent with labors of the chase,

He soothes his body in the shining stream

Of cool Ilissus. Now swift Alpheus' banks 505

He skirts, and now the lofty forest’s deep,

Dense places treads, where Lerna, clear and cool,

Pours forth her glimmering streams.

Here twittering birds make all the woods resound,

And through the branches of the ancient beech

The leaves are all a-flutter in the breeze. 510

How sweet upon some vagrant river’s bank,

Or on the verdant turf, to lie at length,

And quaff one’s fill of deep, delicious sleep,

Whether in hurrying floods some copious stream

Pours down its waves, or through the vernal flowers

Some murmuring brook sings sweetly as it flows.

The windfall apples of the wood appease 515

His hunger, while the ripening berries plucked

From wayside thickets grant an easy meal.

He gladly shuns the luxuries of kings.

Let mighty lords from anxious cups of gold

Their nectar quaff; for him how sweet to catch

With naked hand the water of the spring! 520

More certain slumber soothes him, though his couch

Be hard, if free from care he lay him down.

With guilty soul he seeks no shameful deeds

In nooks remote upon some hidden couch,

Nor timorous hides in labyrinthine cell;

He courts the open air and light of day,

And lives before the conscious eye of heaven. 525

Such was the life, I think, the ancients lived,

Those primal men who mingled with the gods.

They were not blinded by the love of gold;

No sacred stone divided off the fields

And lotted each his own in judgment there.

Nor yet did vessels rashly plow the seas; 530

But each his native waters knew alone.

Then cities were not girt with massive walls,

With frequent towers set; no soldier there

To savage arms his hands applied, nor burst

The close-barred gates with huge and heavy stones

From ponderous engines hurled. As yet the earth 535

Endured no master’s rule, nor felt the sway

Of laboring oxen yoked in common toil;

But all the fields, self-fruitful, fed mankind,

Who took and asked no more. The woods gave wealth,

And shady grottoes natural homes supplied.

Unholy greed first broke these peaceful bonds, 540

And headlong wrath, and lust which sets aflame

The hearts of men. Then came the cruel thirst

For empire; and the weak became the prey

Of strong, and might was counted right. At first

Men fought with naked fists, but soon they turned 545

Rough clubs and stones to use of arms. Not yet

Were cornel spears with slender points of iron,

And long, sharp-pointed swords, and crested helms.

Such weapons wrath invented. Warlike Mars

Produced new arts of strife, and forms of death 550

In countless numbers made. Thence streams of gore

Stained every land, and reddened every sea.

Then crime, o’erleaping every bound, ran wild;

Invaded every home. No hideous deed

Was left undone: but brothers by the hand 555

Of brothers fell, parents by children’s hands,

Husbands by wives', and impious mothers killed

Their helpless babes. Stepmothers need no words;

The very beasts are kind compared with them.

Of all these evils woman was the cause,

The leader she. She with her wicked arts

Besets the minds of men; and all for her 560

And her vile, lustful ways, unnumbered towns

Lie low in smoking heaps; whole nations rush

To arms; and kingdoms, utterly o’erthrown,

Drag down their ruined peoples in their fall.

Though I should name no other, Aegeus' wife

Would prove all womankind a curséd race.

Nurse: Why blame all women for the crimes of few? 565

Hippolytus: I hate them all. I dread and shun and curse

Them all. Whether from reason, instinct, blind

And causeless madness, this I know–I hate.

And sooner shall you fire and water wed;

Sooner shall dangerous quicksands friendly turn

And give safe anchorage; and sooner far 570

Shall Tethys from her utmost western bounds

Bring forth the shining day, and savage wolves

Smile kindly on the timid does, than I,

O’ercome, feel ought but hate to womankind.

Nurse: But oft doth love put reins on stubborn souls,

And all their hatred to affection turns. 575

Behold thy mother’s realm of warlike dames;

Yet even they the sway of passion know.

Of this thy birth itself is proof enough.

Hippolytus: My comfort for my mother’s loss is this,

That now I’m free to hate all womankind.

Nurse: As some hard crag, on every side unmoved, 580

Resists the waves, and dashes backward far

The opposing floods, so he doth spurn my words.

But hither Phaedra comes with hasty step,

Impatient of delay. What fate is hers?

Or to what action doth her madness tend?

[Phaedra enters and falls fainting to the earth.]

But see, in sudden fainting fit she falls, 585

And deathlike pallor overspreads her face.

[Hippolytus hastens to raise her up in his arms.]

Lift up thy face, speak out, my daughter, see,

Thine own Hippolytus embraces thee.

Phaedra [recovering from her faint]: Who gives me back to griefs,

and floods again

My soul with heavy care? How well for me

Had I sunk down to death! 590

Hippolytus: But why, poor soul,

Dost thou lament the gift of life restored?

Phaedra [aside]: Come dare, attempt, fulfil thine own command.

Speak out, and fearlessly. Who asks in fear

Suggests a prompt refusal. Even now

The greater part of my offense is done.

Too late my present modesty. My love, 595

I know, is base; but if I persevere,

Perchance the marriage torch will hide my sin.

Success makes certain sins respectable.

Come now, begin.

[To Hippolytus].

Bend lower down thine ear,

I pray; if any comrade be at hand,

Let him depart, that we may speak alone. 600

Hippolytus: Behold, the place is free from witnesses.

Phaedra: My lips refuse to speak my waiting words;

A mighty force compels my utterance,

A mightier holds it back. Ye heavenly powers,

I call ye all to witness, what I wish– 605

Hippolytus: Thy heart desires and cannot tell its wish?

Phaedra: Light cares speak out, the weighty have no words.

Hippolytus: Into my ears, my mother, tell thy cares.

Phaedra: The name of mother is too proud and high;

My heart dictates some humbler name than that. 610

Pray call me sister–slave, Hippolytus.

Yes, slave I’d be. I’ll bear all servitude;

And shouldst thou bid me tread the driven snows,

To walk along high Pindus' frozen peaks,

I’d not refuse; no, not if thou shouldst bid

Me go through fire, and serried ranks of foes, 615

I would not hesitate to bare my breast

Unto the naked swords. Take thou the power

Which was consigned to me. Make me thy slave.

Rule thou the state, and let me subject be.

It is no woman’s task to guard this realm

Of many towns. Do thou, who in the flower 620

Of youth rejoicest, rule the citizens

With strong paternal sway. But me receive

Into thy arms, and there protect thy slave

And suppliant. My widowhood relieve.

Hippolytus: May God on high this omen dark avert!

My father will in safety soon return.

Phaedra: Not so: the king of that fast-holding realm 625

And silent Styx has never opened back

The doors of earth to those who once have left

The realms above. Think’st thou that he will loose

The ravisher of his couch? Unless, indeed,

Grim Pluto has at last grown mild to love.

Hippolytus: The righteous gods of heaven will bring him back.

But while the gods still hold our prayers in doubt, 630

My brothers will I make my pious care,

And thee as well. Think not thou art bereft;

For I will fill for thee my father’s place.

Phaedra [aside]: Oh, hope of lovers, easily beguiled!

Deceitful love! Has he[21] not said enough? 635

I’ll ply him now with prayers.

[To Hippolytus.]

Oh, pity me.

Hear thou the prayers which I must only think.

I long to utter them, but am ashamed.

Hippolytus: What is thy trouble then?

Phaedra: A trouble mine,

Which thou wouldst scarce believe could vex the soul

Of any stepdame.

Hippolytus: Speak more openly;

In doubtful words thy meaning thou dost wrap.

Phaedra: My maddened heart with burning love is scorched; 640

My inmost marrow is devoured with love;

And through my veins and vitals steals the fire,

As when the flames through roomy holds of ships

Run darting. 645

Hippolytus: Surely with a modest love

For Theseus thou dost burn.

Phaedra: Hippolytus,

‘Tis thus with me: I love those former looks

Of Theseus, which in early manhood once

He wore, when first a beard began to show

Upon his modest cheeks, what time he saw

The Cretan monster’s hidden lurking-place,

And by a thread his labyrinthine way 650

Retraced. Oh, what a glorious sight he was!

Soft fillets held in check his flowing locks,

And modesty upon his tender face

Glowed blushing red. His soft-appearing arms

But half concealed his muscles’ manly strength.

His face was like thy heavenly Phoebe’s face,

Or my Apollo’s, or ‘twas like thine own. 655

Like thee, like thee he was when first he pleased

His enemy. Just so he proudly held

His head erect; still more in thee shines out

That beauty unadorned; in thee I find

Thy father all. And yet thy mother’s stern

And lofty beauty has some share in thee;

Her Scythian firmness tempers Grecian grace. 660

If with thy father thou hadst sailed to Crete,

My sister would have spun the thread for thee

And not for him. O sister, wheresoe’er

In heaven’s starry vault thou shinest, thee,

Oh, thee I call to aid my hapless cause,

So like thine own. One house has overthrown 665

Two sisters, thee the father, me the son.

[To Hippolytus.]

Behold, as suppliant, fallen to thy knees,

A royal princess kneels. Without a spot

Of sin, unstained and innocent, was I;

And thou alone hast wrought the change in me.

See at thy feet I kneel and pray, resolved

This day shall end my misery or life. 670

Oh, pity her who loves thee–

Hippolytus: God in heaven,

Great ruler of all gods, dost thou this sin

So calmly hear, so calmly see? If now

Thou hurlest not thy bolt with deadly hand,

What shameful cause will ever send it forth?

Let all the sky in shattered ruins fall,

And hide the light of day in murky clouds. 675

Let stars turn back, and trace again their course

Athwart their proper ways. And thou, great star

Of stars, thou radiant Sun, let not thine eyes

Behold the impious shame of this thy stock;

But hide thy face, and to the darkness flee

Why is thy hand, O king of gods and men, 680

Inactive? Why by forkéd lightning’s brands

Is not the world in flames? Direct thy bolts

At me; pierce me. Let that fierce darting flame

Consume me quite, for mine is all the blame.

I ought to die, for I have favor found

In my stepmother’s eyes.

[To Phaedra.]

Did I seem one

To thee to do this vile and shameful thing?

Did I seem easy fuel to thy fire, 685

I only? Has my virtuous life deserved

Such estimate? Thou, worse than all thy kind!

Thou woman, who hast in thy heart conceived

A deed more shameful than thy mother’s sin,

Whose womb gave monstrous birth; thou worse than she!

She stained herself with vilest lust, and long 690

Concealed the deed. But all in vain: at last,

Her two-formed child revealed his mother’s crime,

And by his fierce bull-visage proved her guilt.

Of such a womb and mother art thou born.

Oh, thrice and four times blesséd is their lot

Whom hate and treachery give o’er and doom 695

To death. O father, how I envy thee!

Thy stepdame was the Colchian; but this,

This woman is a greater curse than she.

Phaedra: I clearly see the destiny of my house:

We follow ever what we should avoid.

But I have given over self-control;

I’ll follow thee through fire, through raging sea, 700

O’er ragged cliffs, through roaring torrents wild–

Wherever thou dost go, in mad pursuit

I shall be borne. Again, O haughty one,

I fall in suppliance and embrace thy knees.

Hippolytus: Away from my chaste body with thy touch

Impure! What more? She falls upon my breast! 705

I’ll draw my sword and smite as she deserves.

See, by her twisted locks, I backward bend

Her shameless head. No blood more worthily

Was ever spilled, O goddess of the bow,

Upon thy altars.

Phaedra: Now, Hippolytus, 710

Thou dost fulfil the fondest wish of mine;

Thou sav’st me from my madness; greater far

Than all my hopes, that by the hands I love,

By thine own hands, I perish ere I sin.

Hippolytus: Then live, be gone! Thou shalt gain naught from me.

And this my sword, defiled by thy base touch,

No more shall hang upon my modest side.

[He throws his sword from him.]

What Tanaïs will make me clean again? 715

Or what Maeotis rushing to the sea,

With its barbaric waves? Not Neptune’s self,

With all his ocean’s waters could avail

To cleanse so foul a stain. O woods! O beasts!

[He rushes off into the depths of the forest.]

Nurse [in soliloquy, while Phaedra *seems to have fallen in a

fainting fit*]:

Now is her fault discovered. Soul of mine,

Why dost thou stand in dumb amaze? This crime

We must throw back upon the man himself, 720

And charge him with a guilty love, ourselves.

Sin must be hid by sin. The safest way

Is to go straight forward on the course you fear.

Who is to know, since no one saw the deed,

Whether we dared, ourselves, or suffered ill?

[Raising her voice in a loud cry.]

Help! Help! ye dames of Athens! Faithful band 725

Of slaves, bring aid! Behold Hippolytus,

With vile adultery, attacks the queen!

He has her in his power! He threatens death!

At point of sword he storms her chastity!

There, he has gone in haste, and left behind

His sword in trembling, panic-stricken flight.

This proof of guilt we’ll keep. But first restore 730

The stricken queen to life. Let all remain

Just as they are, her locks disheveled, torn,

To show how great a wrong she has endured.

Back to the city bear her now. Revive,

My mistress. Why dost seek to harm thyself

And shun thy comrades’ eyes. For be thou sure

Not circumstance but will can make impure. 735


Chorus: He fled away like the storm-blast wild,

More swift than cloud-compelling winds;

And swifter than the comet’s torch,

When, driven before the wind, it speeds

With long-drawn, trailing fires. 740

Let fame, that boasts of her olden times,

Compare with thine all ancient charms:

Beyond compare does thy beauty shine,

Clear and bright as the full-orbed moon,

When, with waxing hours in splendor joined, 745

Night long she speeds her shining car,

And her ruddy face so brightly gleams,

That the fires of the lesser stars are dimmed.

He is fair as the messenger of night,

When he leads the evening shadows in,

Himself new bathed in the ocean’s foam; 750

Or when, the darkness put to flight,

He heralds the dawn–bright Lucifer.

And thou of the thyrsus, Indian Bacchus,

With the flowing locks of endless youth,

With thine ivy-clad spear the tigers driving, 755

And thy turban set on thy hornéd head:

Not thus will thy glorious locks outshine

The unadorned hair of Hippolytus.

And admire not thy beauty over much,

For fame has spread the story far,

How Phaedra’s sister preferred to thee, 760

O Bromius, a mortal man.

Ah beauty, a doubtful boon art thou,

The gift of a fleeting hour! How swift

On flying feet thou glidest away!

So flowery meadows of the spring

The summer’s burning heat devours, 765

When midday’s raging sun rides high,

And night’s brief round is hurried through.

As the lilies languish on their stems,

So pleasing tresses fail the head;

And swiftly is the radiance dimmed 770

Which gleams from the tender cheeks of youth!

Each day hath its spoil from the lovely form;

For beauty flees and soon is gone.

Who then would trust a gift so frail?

Nay, use its joys, while still thou mayst;

For silent time will soon destroy thee, 775

And hours to baser hours steal on.

Why seek the desert wilds? Thy form

Is no more safe in pathless ways.

If in the forest’s depths thou hide,

When Titan brings the noonday heat,

The saucy Naïds will surround thee, 780

Who are wont in their clear springs to snare

The lovely youth; and ‘gainst thy sleep

The wanton goddesses of groves,

The Dryads, who the roving Pans

Drive in pursuit, will mischief plot.

Or else that glowing star, whose birth 785

The old Arcadians beheld,

Will see thee from the spangled sky,

And straight forget to drive her car.

Of late she blushed a fiery red,

And yet no staining cloud obscured

Her shining disk. But we, in fear

For her troubled face, clashed cymbals loud, 790

Deeming her harried by the charms

Of Thessaly. But for thee alone

Was all her toil; thou wast the cause

Of her long delay; for, seeing thee,

The night’s fair goddess checked her course.

If only winter’s blasts would beat 795

Less fiercely on that face of thine;

If less it felt the sun’s hot rays,

More bright than Parian marble’s gleam

Would it appear. How beautiful

The manly sternness in thy face,

Thy brow’s dark frowning majesty!

Compare with Phoebus’ that fair neck. 800

His hair o’er his shoulders flowing free,

Unbound by fillet, ornaments

And shelters him. A shaggy brow

Becomes thee best; thee, shorter locks,

In tossing disarray. ‘Tis thine

The rough and warlike gods to meet 805

In strife, and by thy mighty strength

To overcome them. Even now,

The muscles of a Hercules

Thy youthful arms can match. Thy breast

Is broader than the breast of Mars.

If on a horny-footed steed

Thou’rt pleased to mount, not Castor’s self 810

More easily could hold in check

The Spartan Cyllarus.

Take thong in hand; with all thy strength

Discharge the javelin: not so far,

Though they be trained to hurl the dart,

Will Cretans send the slender reed. 815

Or if it please thee into air,

In Parthian style, to shoot thy darts,

None will descend without its bird,

Fixed deep within the throbbing breast;

From out the very clouds thy prey

Thou wilt regain.

By few has beauty been possessed

(The voice of history proclaims) 820

Without some loss or suffering.

But thee, unharmed, may God pass by

More merciful, and may thy form,

Now famous for its beauty, show

At last the marks of ugly age.

What crime would woman’s fury leave undared?

She plans against this harmless youth some fraud. 825

Behold her scheme! For by her tumbled hair,

All torn, she seeks sure credence for her tale.

She wets her cheeks with tears; and every art

That woman’s shrewdness knows, does she employ.

[A man is seen approaching, who proves to be Theseus.]

But who is that who comes with grace of kings

Displayed upon his face, his lofty head 830

Held high in kingly pride? In countenance,

How like the young Pirithoüs he seems,

Were not his cheeks too deadly pale and wan,

And if his hair fell not in locks unkempt.

Behold, ‘tis Theseus’ self returned to earth.


[20] Reading, luxus.

[21] Reading, dixit.


Theseus: At last have I escaped from endless night, 835

That shadowy realm which close confines the dead.

And now my eyes can scarce endure the light

Which I have long desired. Eleusin now

Has four times reaped her ripened grain, the gift

Triptolemus bestowed; thrice and again

Has Libra measured equal day and night,

Since dubious battling with an unknown fate

Has held me in the toils of life and death. 840

To me, though dead to all things else, one part

Of life remained, the consciousness of ill.

Alcides was the end. When he came down

To bring the dog by force from Tartarus,

He brought me also to the upper world. 845

But ah, my wearied frame has lost the strength

It had of old; I walk with faltering steps.

Alas! how great a task it was to reach

The world of light from lower Phlegethon,

To flee from death and follow Hercules!

But why this sound of wailing in my ears? 850

Let someone tell; for agonies of woe

And grief and lamentations sad I meet

Upon the very threshold of my home–

A fitting welcome to a guest from hell.

Nurse: The queen is obstinately bent on death,

And scorns the strong remonstrance of our tears. 855

Theseus: Why should she die, her husband safe returned?

Nurse: That very cause compels her speedy death.

Theseus: Thy words are dark and hide some weighty truth.

Speak out and tell what grief weighs down her soul.

Nurse: She tells her grief to none. Some secret woe 860

She hides within her heart, and is resolved

To take her secret with her to the grave.

But speed thee to her; there is need of haste.

Theseus: Unbar the close-shut portals of my house.

[The doors are opened and Theseus encounters his wife just within.]

Theseus [to Phaedra]: My queen, is’t thus thou dost receive thy


And welcome back thy husband long desired? 865

Nay, put away the sword from thy right hand,

And give me heart again. Reveal to me

The cause that forces thee to flee from life.

Phaedra: Alas, great Theseus, by thy kingly power,

And by thy children’s souls, by thy return, 870

And by my ashes, suffer me to die.

Theseus: What cause compels thy death?

Phaedra: The fruit of death

Would perish if I let its cause be known.

Theseus: None else shall hear it save myself alone.

Phaedra: A chaste wife fears her husband most of all.

Theseus: Speak out; I’ll hide thy secret in my heart. 875

Phaedra: The secret thou wouldst have another guard,

First guard thyself.

Theseus: No chance of death thou’lt find.

Phaedra: Death cannot fail the heart that’s bent on death.

Theseus: Confess what sin must be atoned by death.

Phaedra: My life.

Theseus: Will not my tears avail with thee? 880

Phaedra: That death is best which one’s own friends lament.

Theseus: She still persists in silence. By the lash

And chains shall her old nurse be forced to tell

What she will not declare. Put her in chains.

Now let the lash lay bare her hidden thoughts.

Phaedra: Hold, stay thy hand, for I myself will speak. 885

Theseus: Why dost thou turn thy grieving face away,

And hide the quickly rising shower of tears

Behind thy robe?

Phaedra: Thee, thee do I invoke,

O father of the gods, and thee, O Sun,

Thou shining glory of the heavenly dome,

On whom as founder doth our house depend, 890

I call ye both to witness that I strove

Against his prayers, though sorely tried. To threats

Of death my spirit did not yield; but force

O’ercame my body. This the shameful stain

Upon my honor which my blood must cleanse.

Theseus: Come, tell, who hath defiled our honor so?

Phaedra: Whom thou wouldst least expect. 895

Theseus: But who is he?

I wait to hear his name.

Phaedra: This sword shall tell,

Which in his terror at our loud laments,

The adulterer left, fearing the citizens.

Theseus: Ah me! What villainy do I behold?

What monstrous deed is this? The royal sword,

Its ivory hilt with tiny signs engraved,

Shines out, the glory of the Athenian race. 900

But he–where has he gone?

Phaedra: These slaves have seen

How, borne on speeding feet, he fled away.

Theseus: Oh, holy piety! O thou who reign’st

In heaven, and thou who rulest in the seas,

Whence came this base infection of our race? 905

Was he of Grecian birth, or did he spring

From Scythian Taurus or some Colchian stream?

The type reverts to its ancestral stock,

And blood ignoble but repeats its source.

This is the madness of that savage race,

To scorn all lawful love, and prostitute 910

At last the long-chaste body to the crowd.

Oh, loathsome race, restrained by no good laws

Which milder climes revere! The very beasts

Shun love incestuous, and keep the laws

Of nature with instinctive chastity.

Where is that face, that feigned austerity, 915

That rough and careless garb that sought to ape

The ancient customs? Where that aspect stern,

That sour severity which age assumes?

O life, two-faced! How thou dost hide thy thoughts!

For fairest faces cover foulest hearts;

The chaste demeanor hides inchastity; 920

The gentle, boldness; seeming goodness, sin.

False men approve the truth; the faint of heart

Affect a blustering mood. O thou, of woods

Enamored, savage, rough and virgin pure,

Didst thou reserve thyself for me alone?

On my couch first and with so fell a crime 925

Wast thou inclined to try thy manly powers?

Now, now I thank the kindly gods of heaven

That long ago I slew Antiope;

That, when I went below to Stygian caves,

I did not leave thy mother for thy lust.

Go, get thee far away to unknown lands;

And there, though to her utmost bounds removed, 930

The earth should hem thee off by ocean’s wastes;

Though thou shouldst dwell at the Antipodes;

Though to the frigid northern realms thou go,

And deep within her farthest caverns hide;

Or, though beyond the reach of winter placed, 935

And drifting snows, thou leave the boisterous threats

Of frosty Boreas in mad pursuit:

Thou still shalt meet thy fitting punishment.

Persistent shall I chase thee in thy flight

Through all thy hiding-places. Ways remote,

Hemmed in, secluded, hard and trackless ways,

I’ll traverse in pursuit. No obstacle 940

Shall block my way. Thou know’st whence I return.

And whither spears cannot be hurled at thee

I’ll hurl my prayers. My father of the sea

Once promised me that thrice I might prevail

With him in prayer, and ratified the boon

By oath upon the inviolable Styx.

[To Neptune.]

Thou ruler of the sea, the boon bestow, 945

And grant my prayer: let not Hippolytus

Live to behold another sun’s bright rays,

But may he go to meet those shades of hell

Enraged at my escape. O father, now

I pray that aid which still I deprecate.

This last of thy three boons I would not use, 950

If I were not beset by grievous ills.

Amidst the depths of hell and dreadful Dis,

Amidst the infernal king’s pursuing threats,

I did not call on thee. But now I claim

Thy promise, father. Why delay thine aid?

Why are thy waves inactive? Let the winds 955

That drive the blackening clouds bring darkness on;

Snatch stars and sky from sight; pour forth the sea;

Arouse thy watery monsters, and let loose

On him from ocean’s depths thy swelling waves.

[Exit Theseus.]

Chorus: Great nature, mother of the gods,

And thou, fire-girt Olympus’ lord, 960

Who speedest through the flying skies

The scattered stars, the wandering ways

Of constellations, and the heavens

Upon their whirling axes turn’st:

Why is thy care so great to keep

The annual highways of the air, 965

That now the hoary frosts may strip

The woods of leaves, and now the trees

May spread once more their pleasant shade;

That now the summer’s fervent heat

May ripen Ceres' gift, and soon 970

Her strength the Autumn may subdue?

But why, though thou dost rule so wide,

Though in thy hand the ponderous worlds

Are poised, and calmly wheel along

Their appointed ways, why dost thou shun

The affairs of men and have no care

For them? Art not solicitous 975

That good should prosper, and that sin

Receive its just deserts? But no:

Blind Fortune rules the affairs of men,

Dispensing with unthinking hand

Her gifts, oft favoring the worst. 980

And so the violent oppress

The innocent; and fraud holds sway

In highest places. To the hands

Of brutish men the rabble most

Rejoice to trust their government;

The same they honor and they hate,

With fickle will. Sad virtue finds

Her recompense for righteousness

All gone away; and poverty, 985

Relentless, follows innocence;

While, deep intrenched in wickedness,

The adulterer sits secure, and reigns.

O modesty–an empty name!

And worth–a glorious cheat!

But what would yonder messenger announce,

Who comes in haste, with woeful countenance? 990


[Enter Messenger.]

Messenger: O slavery, thou hard and bitter lot,

Why must I voice these woes unspeakable?

Theseus: Fear not, but boldly tell the worst mischance;

For mine a heart not unprepared for grief. Messenger: My tongue can find no words to voice its woe. 955

Theseus: But speak, what evil fortune still besets

My shattered house?

Messenger: Hippolytus is dead!

Theseus: The father knew long since his son had died;

But now the adulterer has met his end.

Tell me, I pray, the manner of his death.

Messenger: When, fleeing forth, he left the city’s walls, 1000

With maddened speed he hurried on his way,

And quickly yoked his chargers to his car,

And curbed them to his will with close-drawn reins.

And then, with much wild speech, and cursing loud

His native land, oft calling on his sire, 1005

He fiercely shook the reins above his steeds;

When suddenly, far out the vast sea roared,

And heaved itself to heaven. No wind was there

To stir the sea, no quarter of the sky

Broke in upon its peace; the rising waves

Were by their own peculiar tempest raised. 1010

No blast so great had ever stirred the straits

Of Sicily, nor had the deep e’er swelled

With such wild rage before the north wind’s breath,

When high cliffs trembled with the shock of waves,

And hoary foam smote high Leucate’s top.

The sea then rose into a mighty heap, 1015

And, big with monstrous birth, was landward borne.

For no ship’s wrecking was this swelling pest

Intended; landward was its aim. The flood

Rolled shoreward heavily, something unknown

Within its laden bosom carrying.

What land, new born, will lift its head aloft? 1020

Is some new island of the Cyclades

Arising? Now the rocky heights are hid,

Held sacred to the Epidaurian god,

And those high crags well known for Sciron’s crime;

No longer can be seen that land whose shores

Are washed by double seas. While in amaze 1025

We look in fear and wonder, suddenly

The whole sea bellows, and on every side

The towering cliffs re-echo with the roar;

While all their tops the leaping spray bedews.

The deep spouts forth and vomits up its waves

In alternating streams, like some huge whale 1030

Which roves the ocean, spouting up the floods.

Then did that mound of waters strongly heave

And break itself, and threw upon the shore

A thing more terrible than all our fears.

The sea itself rushed landward, following

That monstrous thing. I shudder at the thought.

What form and bearing had the monster huge! 1035

A bull it was in form, with dark-green neck

Uplifted high, its lofty front adorned

With verdant mane. Its ears with shaggy hair

Were rough; its horns with changing color flashed,

Such as the lord of some fierce herd would have,

Both earth and ocean-born. He vomits flames; 1040

With flames his fierce eyes gleam. His glossy neck

Great couch-like muscles shows, and as he breathes,

His spreading nostrils quiver with the blast

Of his deep panting. Breast and dewlap hang

All green with clinging moss; and on his sides

Red lichens cling. His hinder parts appear 1045

In monstrous shape, and like some scaly fish

His vast and shapeless members drag along;

As are those monsters of the distant seas

Which swallow ships, and spout[22] them forth again.

The country-side was panic stricken; herds 1050

In frenzied terror scattered through the fields;

Nor did the herdsmen think to follow them.

The wild beasts in the forest pastures fled

In all directions, and the hunters shook

With deadly fear. Hippolytus alone

Was not afraid, but curbed his frantic steeds 1055

With close-drawn reins, and with his well-known voice

He cheered them on. The road to Argos[23] runs

Precipitous along the broken hills,

On one side bordered by the roaring sea.

Here does that massive monster whet himself

And kindle hot his wrath; then, when he felt

His courage strong within his breast, and when

His power to attempt the strife he had rehearsed, 1060

He charged Hippolytus with headlong course,

The ground scarce touching with his bounding feet;

And, fearful, stopped before the trembling steeds.

But this thy son, with savage countenance,

Stood steadfast, threatening, before the foe.

His features changed not, while he thundered loud: 1065

“This empty terror cannot daunt my soul,

For ‘twas my father’s task to vanquish bulls.”

But straightway, disobedient to the reins,

The horses hurried off the car. And now,

The highway leaving, maddened by their fear,

They plunged along where’er their terror led, 1070

And took their way among the rocky fields.

But he, their driver, as some captain strong

Holds straight his bark upon the boisterous sea,

Lest she oppose her side against the waves,

And by his art escapes the yawning floods;

Not otherwise he guides the whirling car. 1075

For now with tight-drawn reins he curbs his steeds,

And now upon their backs he plies the lash.

But doggedly that monster kept along,

Now running by their side, now leaping straight

Upon them as they came, from every hand

Great fear inspiring. Soon all further flight 1080

Was checked; for that dread, hornéd, ocean beast

With lowering front charged full against their course.

Then, truly, did the horses, wild with fear,

Break loose from all control; and from the yoke

They madly struggled to withdraw their necks,

Their master hurling to their stamping feet.

Headlong among the lossened reins he fell, 1085

His form all tangled in their clinging strands.

The more he struggled to release himself

The tighter those relentless fetters bound.

The steeds perceived what they had done, and now,

With empty car, and no one mastering them,

They ran where terror bade. Just so, of old,

Not recognizing their accustomed load, 1090

And hot with anger that the car of day

Had been entrusted to a spurious sun,

The steeds of Phoebus hurled young Phaëthon

Far through the airs of heaven in wandering course.

Now far and wide he stains the fields with blood,

His head rebounding from the smitten rocks.

The bramble thickets pluck away his hair, 1095

And that fair face is bruised upon the stones.

His fatal beauty which had been his bane,

Is ruined now by many a wound. His limbs

Are dragged along upon the flying wheels.

At last, his bleeding trunk upon a charred

And pointed stake is caught, pierced through the groin;

And for a little, by its master held, 1100

The car stood still. The horses by that wound

Were held awhile, but soon they break delay–

And break their master too. While on they rush,

The whipping branches cut his dying form,

The rough and thorny brambles tear his flesh,

And every bush retains its part of him.

Now bands of servants scour those woeful fields, 1105

Those places where Hippolytus was dragged,

And where his bloody trail directs the way;

And sorrowing dogs trace out their master’s limbs.

But not as yet has all this careful toil

Of grieving friends sufficed to gather all. 1110

And has it come to this, that glorious form?

But now the partner of his father’s realm,

And his acknowledged heir, illustrious youth,

Who shone refulgent like the stars–behold

His scattered fragments for the funeral pile

They gather up and heap them on the bier!

Theseus: O mother Nature, all too potent thou!

How firmly dost thou hold me by the ties 1115

Of blood! How thou dost force me to obey

Thy will! I wished to slay my guilty son,

While yet he lived; but now I mourn his loss.

Messenger: One may not rightly mourn what he has willed.[24]

Theseus: This is indeed the crowning woe, I think,

When chance fulfils the prayers we should not make. 1120

Messenger: If still you hate your son, why weep for him?

Theseus: Because I slew, not lost my son, I weep.

Chorus: How on the wheel of circumstance

We mortals whirl! ‘Gainst humble folk

Does fate more gently rage, and God

More lightly smites the lightly blest. 1125

A life in dim retirement spent

Insures a peaceful soul; and he

Who in a lowly cottage dwells

May live to tranquil age at last.

The mountain tops that pierce the skies,

Feel all the stormy winds that blow,

Fierce Eurus, Notus, and the threats

Of Boreas, and Corus too, 1130

Storm bringer.

The vale low lying seldom feels

The thunder’s stroke; but Caucasus,

The huge, and the lofty Phrygian groves

Of mother Cybele have felt

The bolts of Jove the Thunderer. 1135

For Jupiter in jealousy

Attacks the heights too near his skies;

But never is the humble roof

Uptorn by jealous heaven’s assaults.

Round mighty kings and homes of kings 1140

He thunders.

The passing hour on doubtful wings

Flits ever; nor may any claim

Swift Fortune’s pledge. Behold our king,

Who sees at last the glowing stars

And light of day, the gloom of hell

Behind him left, a sad return 1145

Laments; for this his welcome home

He finds more sorrowful by far

Than dismal, dark Avernus’ self.

O Pallas, by the Athenian race

In reverence held, that once again

Thy Theseus sees the light of day, 1150

And has escaped the pools of Styx,

Thou owest naught to greedy Dis;

For still the number of the shades

Within the infernal tyrant’s power

Remains the same.

But why the sounds of wailing that we hear?

And what would Phaedra with her naked sword? 1155


[22] Reading, reddit.

[23] Reading, Argos.

[24] Reading, haud quisquam honeste flere, quod voluit, potest.


[Enter Phaedra with a drawn sword in her hand.]

Theseus [to Phaedra]: What madness pricks thee on, all wild

with grief?

What means that sword? or why these loud laments?

Why weepest thou above the hated corpse?

Phaedra: Me, me, O savage ruler of the deep,

Attack; against me send the monstrous shapes 1160

That breed within the caverns of the sea,

Whatever Tethys in her heart conceals,

And ocean hides within his wandering waves.

O Theseus, always ill of omen thou!

Oh, never to thy loved ones safe returned,

Since son and father by their death have paid 1165

For thy home-coming. Thou of thine own house

Art the destroyer; ever baneful thou,

Whether in love or hatred of thy wives.

[Turning to the mangled corpse.]

Hippolytus, is this thy face I see?

Have I brought thee to this? What Sinis wild,

What pitiless Procrustes mangled thee? 1170

What Cretan bull-man, filling all the cave

Of Daedalus with his vast bellowings,

Has rent thee thus upon his savage horns?

Ah me! where now is fled thy beauty bright,

Thy eyes, my stars? Dost thou all lifeless lie?

Come back a little while and hear my words. 1175

‘Tis nothing base I speak. With my own hand

I’ll make thee full atonement, and will plunge

The avenging sword within my sinful breast,

And so be free from life and guilt at once.

Thee will I follow through Tartarean pools.

Across the Styx, through streams of liquid fire. 1180

Let me appease the spirit of the dead.

Accept the spoils I offer, take this lock

Torn from my bleeding forehead. ‘Twas not right

To join our souls in life; but surely now

We may by death unite our fates.

[To herself.]

Now die,

If thou art undefiled, to appease thy lord;

But if defiled, die for thy lover’s sake. 1185

Is’t meet that I should live and seek again

My husband’s couch, by such foul incest stained?

This wrong was lacking still, that, as if pure,

Thou shouldst enjoy that union, justified.

O death, thou only cure for evil love,

For injured chastity the last resort:

I fly to thee; spread wide thy soothing arms. 1190

Hear me, O Athens; thou, O father, hear,

Thou worse than stepdame: I have falsely sworn.

The crime, which I myself within my heart,

With passion mad, conceived, I basely charged

To him. An empty vengeance hast thou wrought

Upon thy son; for he in chastity, 1195

Through fault of the unchaste, lies there, unstained

And innocent.

[To Hippolytus.]

Regain thine honor now;

Behold my impious breast awaits the stroke

Of justice, and my blood makes sacrifice

Unto the spirit of a guiltless man.

[To Theseus.]

How thou mayst recompense thy murdered son,

Learn now from me–and seek the Acheron. 1200

[She falls upon her sword and dies.]

Theseus: Ye jaws of wan Avernus, and ye caves

Of Taenara, ye floods of Lethe’s stream,

A soothing balm to hearts o’ercome with grief,

Ye sluggish pools: take ye my impious soul

And plunge me deep in your eternal woes.

Now come, ye savage monsters of the deep,

Whatever Proteus hides within his caves, 1205

And drown me in your pools, me who rejoice

In crime so hideous. O father, thou

Who ever dost too readily assent

Unto my wrathful prayers, I merit not

An easy death, who on my son have brought

A death so strange, and scattered through the fields

His mangled limbs; who, while, as austere judge,

I sought to punish evil falsely charged, 1210

Have fallen myself into the pit of crime.

For heaven, hell, and seas have by my sins

Been peopled; now no further lot remains;

Three kingdoms know me now. Was it for this

That I returned? Was heaven’s light restored

To me that I might see two funerals,

A double death? That I, bereft of wife 1215

And son, should with one torch upon the pyre

Consume them both? Thou giver of the light

Which has so baleful proved, O, Hercules,

Take back thy boon, and give me up again

To Dis; restore me to the curséd shades

Whom I escaped. Oh, impious, in vain

I call upon that death I left behind. 1220

Thou bloody man, well skilled in deadly arts,

Who hast contrived unwonted ways of death

And terrible, now deal unto thyself

The fitting punishment. Let some great pine

Be bent to earth and hurl thee high in air;

Or let me headlong leap from Sciron’s cliff. 1225

More dreadful punishments have I beheld,

Which Phlegethon upon the guilty souls

Encircled by his fiery stream inflicts.

What suffering awaits me, and what place,

Full well I know. Make room, ye guilty shades;

On me, me only, let that rock be placed,

The everlasting toil of Sisyphus, 1230

And let these wearied hands upbear its weight;

Let cooling waters lap and mock my lips;

Let that fell vulture fly from Tityos,

And let my vitals ever living be

For punishment. And thou, Ixion, sire 1235

Of my Pirithoüs, take rest awhile,

And let the wheel that never stops its flight

Bear these my limbs upon its whirling rim.

Now yawn, O earth, and chaos dire, receive,

I pray, receive me to your depths; for thus

‘Tis fitting that I journey to the shades.

I go to meet my son. And fear thou not, 1240

Thou king of dead men’s souls; I come in peace

To that eternal home, whence ne’er again

Shall I come forth.

My prayers move not the gods.

But if some impious plea I made to them,

How ready would they be to grant my prayer!

Chorus: Theseus, thou hast unending time to mourn.

Now pay the funeral honors due thy son, 1245

And bury these poor torn and scattered limbs.

Theseus: Then hither bring the pitiful remains

Of that dear corpse, and heap together here

That shapeless mass of flesh, those mangled limbs.

Is this Hippolytus? I realize

My depth of crime, for I have murdered thee. 1250

And lest but once and I alone should sin,

A parent, bent to do an impious thing,

My father did I summon to my aid.

Behold, my father’s boon do I enjoy.

O childlessness, a bitter loss art thou

For broken age! But come, embrace his limbs,

Whatever of thy hapless son is left,

And clasp them, wretched father, to thy breast. 1255

Arrange in order those dismembered parts,

And to their proper place restore them. Here

His brave right hand should be. Place here the left,

Well trained to curb his horses with the reins.

The marks of his left side I recognize; 1260

And yet how large a part is lacking still

Unto our tears. Be firm, ye trembling hands,

To do the last sad offices of grief;

Be dry, my cheeks, and stay your flowing tears,

While I count o’er the members of my son,

And lay his body out for burial. 1265

What is this shapeless piece, on all sides torn

With many a wound? I know not what it is,

Save that ‘tis part of thee. Here lay it down.

Not in its own, but in an empty place.

That face, that once with starry splendor gleamed,

That softened by its grace e’en foemen’s eyes, 1270

Has that bright beauty come to this? O fate,

How bitter! Deadly favor of the gods!

And is it thus my son comes back to me

In answer to my prayers? These final rites

Thy father pays, receive, O thou my son,

Who often to thy funeral must be borne.

And now let fires consume these dear remains.

Throw open wide my palace, dark with death, 1275

And let all Athens ring with loud laments.

Do some of you prepare the royal pyre,

And others seek yet farther in the fields

His scattered parts.

[Pointing to Phaedra’s corpse.]

Let earth on her be spread,

And may it heavy rest upon her head. 1280



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