TROADES 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



Agamemnon King of the Greek forces in the war against Troy.

Pyrrhus Son of Achilles, one of the active leaders in the final

events of the war.

Ulysses King of Ithaca, one of the most powerful and crafty of the

Greek chiefs before Troy.

Calchas A priest and prophet among the Greeks.

Talthybius A Greek messenger.

An Old Man Faithful to Andromache.

Astyanax Little son of Hector and Andromache.

Hecuba Widow of Priam, one of the Trojan captives.

Andromache Widow of Hector, a Trojan captive.

Helena Wife of Menelaüs, king of Sparta, and afterward of Paris, a

prince of Troy; the exciting cause of the Trojan war.

Polyxena Daughter of Hecuba and Priam (persona muta).

Chorus Of captive Trojan women.

THE SCENE is laid on the seashore, with the smouldering ruins of Troy

in the background. The time is the day before the embarkation of the

Greeks on their homeward journey.

*The long and toilsome siege of Troy is done. Her stately palaces and

massive walls have been overthrown and lie darkening the sky with their

still smouldering ruins. Her heroic defenders are either slain or

scattered seeking other homes in distant lands. The victorious Greeks

have gathered the rich spoils of Troy upon the shore, among these, the

Trojan women who have suffered the usual fate of women when a city is

sacked. They await the lot which shall assign them to their Grecian

lords and scatter them among the cities of their foes. All things are

ready for the start.*

*But now the ghost of Achilles has risen from the tomb, and demanded

that Polyxena be sacrificed to him before the Greeks shall be allowed

to sail away. And Calchas, also, bids that Astyanax be slain, for only

thus can Greece be safe from any future Trojan war. And thus the Trojan

captives who have so long endured the pains of war, must suffer still

this double tragedy.*


Hecuba: Whoe’er in royal power has put his trust,

And proudly lords it in his princely halls;

Who fears no shifting of the winds of fate,

But fondly gives his soul to present joys:

Let him my lot and thine, O Troy, behold.

For of a truth did fortune never show

In plainer wise the frailty of the prop 5

That doth support a king; since by her hand

Brought low, behold, proud Asia’s capitol,

The work of heavenly hands, lies desolate.

From many lands the warring princes came

To aid her cause: from where the Tanaïs

His frigid waves in seven-fold channel pours;

And that far land which greets the newborn day, 10

Where Tigris mingles with the ruddy sea

His tepid waves; and where the Amazon,

Within the view of wandering Scythia

Arrays her virgin ranks by Pontus' shores.

Yet here, o’erthrown, our ancient city lies,

Herself upon herself in ruins laid;

Her once proud walls in smouldering heaps recline, 15

Mingling their ashes with our fallen homes.

The palace flames on high, while far and near

The stately city of Assaracus

Is wrapped in gloomy smoke. Yet e’en the flames

Keep not the victor’s greedy hands from spoil;

And Troy, though in the grasp of fiery death,

Is pillaged still. The face of heaven is hid

By that dense, wreathing smoke; the shining day,

As if o’erspread by some thick, lowering cloud, 20

Grows black and foul beneath the ashy storm.

The victor stands with still unsated wrath,

Eyeing that stubborn town of Ilium,

And scarce at last forgives those ten long years

Of bloody strife. Anon, as he beholds

That mighty city, though in ruins laid,

He starts with fear; and though he plainly sees

His foe o’ercome, he scarce can comprehend 25

That she could be o’ercome. The Dardan spoil

Is heaped on high, a booty vast, which Greece,

In all her thousand ships, can scarce bestow.

Now witness, ye divinities whose face

Was set against our state, my fatherland

In ashes laid; and thou, proud king of Troy,

Who in thy city’s overthrow hast found

A fitting tomb; thou shade of mighty Hector,

In whose proud strength abiding, Ilium stood; 30

Likewise ye thronging ghosts, my children all,

But lesser shades: whatever ill has come;

Whatever Phoebus' bride with frenzied speech,

Though all discredited, hath prophesied; 35

I, Hecuba, myself foresaw, what time,

With unborn child o’erweighed, I dreamed a dream

That I had borne a flaming brand. And though,

Cassandra-like, I told my fears, my warnings,

Like our Cassandra’s words in after time,

Were all in vain. ‘Tis not the Ithacan,

Nor yet his trusty comrade of the night,

Nor that false traitor, Sinon, who has cast

The flaming brands that wrought our overthrow:

Mine is the fire–‘tis by my brands ye burn. 40

But why dost thou bewail the city’s fall,

With ancient gossip’s prattle? Turn thy mind,

Unhappy one, to nearer woes than these.

Troy’s fall, though sad, is ancient story now.

I saw the horrid slaughter of the king,

Defiling the holy altar with its stain, 45

When bold Aeacides, with savage hand

Entwined in helpless Priam’s hoary locks,

Drew back his sacred head, and thrust the sword

Hilt-buried in his unresisting side.

And when he plucked the deep-driven weapon back,

So weak and bloodless was our agéd king,

The deadly blade came almost stainless forth. 50

Whose thirst for blood had not been satisfied

By that old man just slipping o’er the verge

Of life? Whom would not heavenly witnesses

Restrain from crime? Who would not stay his hand

Before the sacred altar, last resort

Of fallen thrones? Yet he, our noble Priam,

The king, and father of so many kings,

Lies like the merest peasant unentombed; 55

And, though all Troy’s aflame, there’s not a brand

To light his pyre and give him sepulture.

And still the heavenly powers are not appeased.

Behold the urn; and, subject to its lot,

The maids and matrons of our princely line,

Who wait their future lords. To whom shall I,

An agéd and unprized allotment, fall?

One Grecian lord has fixed his longing eyes

On Hector’s queen; another prays the lot

To grant to him the bride of Helenus; 60

Antenor’s spouse is object of desire,

And e’en thy hand, Cassandra, hath its suitor:

My lot alone they deprecate and fear.

And can ye cease your plaints? O captive throng,

Come beat upon your breasts, and let the sound

Of your loud lamentations rise anew,

The while we celebrate in fitting wise

Troy’s funeral; let fatal Ida, seat 65

Of that ill-omened judgment, straight resound

With echoes of our pitiful refrain.

Chorus: Not an untrained band, to tears unknown,

Thou callest to grief, for our tears have rained

In streams unending through the years,

Since the time when the Phrygian guest arrived

At the friendly court of Tyndarus, 70

Sailing the sea in his vessel framed

From the sacred pines of Cybele.

Ten winters have whitened Ida’s slopes,

So often stripped for our funeral pyres;

Ten years have ripened the waving grain

Which the trembling reaper has garnered in

From wide Sigean harvest-fields: 75

But never a day was without its grief,

Never a night but renewed our woe.

Then on with the wailing and on with the blows;

And thou, poor fate-smitten queen, be our guide, 80

Our mistress in mourning; we’ll obey thy commands,

Well trained in the wild liturgy of despair.

Hecuba: Then, trusty comrades of our fate,

Unbind your tresses and let them flow

Over your shoulders bent with grief,

The while with Troy’s slow-cooling dust 85

Ye sprinkle them. Lay bare your arms,

Strip from your breasts their covering;

Why veil your beauty? Shame itself 90

Is held in captive bonds. And now

Let your hands wave free to the quickening blows

That resound to your wailings. So, now are ye ready,

And thus it is well. I behold once more

My old-time Trojan band. Now stoop

And fill your hands; ‘tis right to take

Her dust at least from fallen Troy.

Now let the long-pent grief leap forth, 95

And surpass your accustomed bounds of woe. Oh, weep for Hector, wail and weep.

Chorus: Our hair, in many a funeral torn, 100

We loose; and o’er our streaming locks

Troy’s glowing ashes lie bestrewn.

From our shoulders the veiling garments fall, 105

And our breasts invite the smiting hands.

Now, now, O grief, put forth thy strength.

Let the distant shores resound with our mournings;

And let Echo who dwells in the slopes of the mountains

Repeat all our wailings, not, after her wont, 110

With curt iteration returning the end.

Let earth hear and heed; let the sea and the sky

Record all our grief. Then smite, O ye hands,

With the strength of frenzy batter and bruise.

With crying and blows and the pain of the smiting– 115 Oh, weep for Hector, wail and weep.

Hecuba: Our hero, for thee the blows are descending,

On arms and shoulders that stream with our blood;

For thee our brows endure rough strokes,

And our breasts are mangled with pitiless hands. 120

Now flow the old wounds, reopened anew,

That bled at thy death, the chief cause of our sorrow.

O prop of our country, delayer of fate,

Our Ilium’s bulwark, our mighty defender, 125

Our strong tower wast thou; secure on thy shoulders,

Our city stood leaning through ten weary years.

By thy power supported, with thee has she fallen,

Our country and Hector united in doom.

Now turn to another the tide of your mourning; 130

Let Priam receive his due meed of your tears.

Chorus: Receive our lamentings, O Phrygia’s ruler;

We weep for thy death, who wast twice overcome.

Naught once did Troy suffer while thou didst rule o’er her:

Twice fell her proud walls from the blows of the Grecians, 135

And twice was she pierced by great Hercules’ darts.

Now all of our Hecuba’s offspring have perished,

And the proud band of kings who came to our aid;

Thy death is the last–our father, our ruler–

Struck down as a victim to Jove the Almighty, 140

All helpless and lone, a mute corpse on the ground.

Hecuba: Nay, give to another your tears and your mourning,

And weep not the death of Priam our king.

But call ye him blessed the rather; for free,

To the deep world of shadows he travels, and never 145

Upon his bowed neck the base yoke shall he bear.

No proud sons of Atreus shall call him their captive,

No crafty Ulysses his eyes shall behold;

As boast of their triumphs he shall not bear onward 150

In humble submission their prizes of war.

Those free, royal hands to the scepter accustomed,

Shall never be bound at his back like a slave,

As he follows the car of the triumphing chieftain,

A king led in fetters, the gaze of the town. 155

Chorus: Hail! Priam the blessed we all do proclaim him;

For himself and his kingdom he rules yet below;

Now through the still depths of Elysium’s shadows

‘Midst calm, happy spirits he seeks the great Hector. 160

Then hail, happy Priam! Hail all who in battle

Have lost life and country, but liberty gained.


Talthybius: Alas, ‘tis thus the Greeks are ever doomed

To lie impatient of the winds’ delay,

Whether on war or homeward journey bent. 165

Chorus: Tell thou the cause of this the Greeks’ delay.

What god obstructs the homeward-leading paths?

Talthybius: My soul doth quake, and all my limbs with fear

Do tremble. Scarce is credence given to tales

That do transcend the truth. And yet I swear,

With my own eyes I saw what I relate.

Now with his level rays the morning sun 170

Just grazed the summits of the hills, and day

Had vanquished night; when suddenly the earth,

‘Mid rumblings hidden deep and terrible,

To her profoundest depths convulsive rocked.

The tree-tops trembled, and the lofty groves

Gave forth a thunderous sound of crashing boughs;

While down from Ida’s rent and rugged slopes 175

The loosened bowlders rolled. And not alone

The earth did quake: behold, the swelling sea

Perceived its own Achilles drawing near,

And spread its waves abroad. Then did the ground

Asunder yawn, revealing mighty caves,

And gave a path from Erebus to earth.

And then the high-heaped sepulcher was rent, 180

From which there sprang Achilles’ mighty shade,

In guise as when, in practice for thy fates,

O Troy, he prostrate laid the Thracian arms,

Or slew the son of Neptune, doomed to wear

The swan’s white plumes; or when, amidst the ranks

In furious battle raging, he the streams 185

Did choke with corpses of the slain, and Xanthus

Crept sluggishly along with bloody waves;

Or when he stood as victor in his car,

Plying the reins and dragging in the dust

Great Hector’s body and the Trojan state.

So there he stood and filled the spreading shore 190

With wrathful words: “Go, get you gone, ye race

Of weaklings, bear away the honors due

My manes; loose your thankless ships, and sail

Across my seas. By no slight offering

Did ye aforetime stay Achilles’ wrath;

And now a greater shall ye pay. Behold,

Polyxena, once pledged to me in life, 195

Must by the hand of Pyrrhus to my shade

Be led, and with her blood my tomb bedew.”

So spake Achilles and the realms of day

He left for night profound, reseeking Dis;

And as he plunged within the depths of earth,

The yawning chasm closed and left no trace.

The sea lies tranquil, motionless; the wind

Its boisterous threats abates, and where but now 200

The storm-tossed waters raged in angry mood,

The gentle waves lap harmless on the shore;

While from afar the band of Tritons sounds

The marriage chorus of their kindred lord.


[Enter Pyrrhus and Agamemnon.]

Pyrrhus: Now that you homeward fare, and on the sea

Your joyful sails would spread, my noble sire

Is quite forgot, though by his single hand

Was mighty Troy o’erthrown; for, though his death 205

Some respite granted to the stricken town,

She stood but as some sorely smitten tree,

That sways uncertain, choosing where to fall.

Though even now ye seek to make amends

For your neglect, and haste to grant the thing

He asks, ‘tis but a tardy recompense.

Long since, the other chieftains of the Greeks

Have gained their just reward. What lesser prize

Should his great valor claim? Or is it naught 210

That, though his mother bade him shun the war,

And spend his life in long, inglorious ease,

Surpassing even Pylian Nestor’s years,

He cast his mother’s shamming garments off,

Confessing him the hero that he was?

When Telephus, in pride of royal power, 215

Forbade our progress through his kingdom’s bounds,

He stained with royal blood the untried hand

That young Achilles raised. Yet once again

He felt that selfsame hand in mercy laid

Upon his wound to heal him of its smart.

Then did Eëtion, smitten sore, behold

His city taken and his realm o’erthrown;

By equal fortune fell Lyrnessus’ walls, 220

For safety perched upon a ridgy height,

Whence came that captive maid, Briseïs fair;

And Chrysa, too, lies low, the destined cause

Of royal strife; and Tenedos, and the land

Which on its spreading pastures feeds the flocks 225

Of Thracian shepherds, Scyros; Lesbos too,

Upon whose rocky shore the sea in twain

Is cleft; and Cilla, which Apollo loved.

All these my father took, and eke the towns

Whose walls Caÿcus with his vernal flood

Doth wash against. This widespread overthrow

Of tribes, this fearful and destructive scourge,

That swept through many towns with whirlwind power– 230

This had been glory and the height of fame

For other chiefs; ‘twas but an incident

In great Achilles’ journey to the war.

So came my father and such wars he waged

While but preparing war. And though I pass

In silence all his other merits, still

Would mighty Hector’s death be praise enough. 235

My father conquered Troy; the lesser task

Of pillage and destruction is your own.

‘Tis pleasant thus to laud my noble sire

And all his glorious deeds pass in review:

Before his father’s eyes did Hector lie,

Of life despoiled; and Memnon, swarthy son

Of bright Aurora, goddess of the dawn,

For whose untimely death his mother’s face

Was sicklied o’er with grief, while day was veiled 240

In darkness. When the heaven-born Memnon fell,

Achilles trembled at his victory;

For in that fall he learned the bitter truth

That even sons of goddesses may die.

Then, ‘mongst our latest foes, the Amazons,

Fierce maidens, felt my father’s deadly power.

So, if thou rightly estimate his deeds,

Thou ow’st Achilles all that he can ask,

E’en though he seek from Argos or Mycenae 245

Some high-born maid. And dost thou hesitate

And haggle now, inventing scruples new,

And deem it barbarous to sacrifice

This captive maid of Troy to Peleus’ son?

But yet for Helen’s sake didst thou devote

Thy daughter to the sacrificial knife.

I make in this no new or strange request,

But only urge a customary rite.

Agamemnon: ‘Tis the common fault of youth to have no check 250

On passion’s force; while others feel alone

The sweeping rush of this first fire of youth,

His father’s spirit urges Pyrrhus on.

I once endured unmoved the blustering threats

Of proud Achilles, swoll’n with power; and now,

My patience is sufficient still to bear

His son’s abuse. Why do you seek to smirch 255

With cruel murder the illustrious shade

Of that famed chief? ‘Tis fitting first to learn

Within what bounds the victor may command,

The vanquished suffer. Never has for long

Unbridled power been able to endure,

But lasting sway the self-controlled enjoy.

The higher fortune raises human hopes, 260

The more should fortune’s favorite control

His vaulting pride, and tremble as he views

The changing fates of life, and fear the gods

Who have uplifted him above his mates.

By my own course of conquest have I learned

That mighty kings can straightway come to naught.

Should Troy o’erthrown exalt us overmuch?

Behold, we stand today whence she has fallen. 265

I own that in the past too haughtily

Have I my sway o’er fallen chieftains borne;

But thought of fortune’s gift has checked my pride,

Since she unto another might have given

These selfsame gifts. O fallen king of Troy,

Thou mak’st me proud of conquest over thee,

Thou mak’st me fear that I may share thy fate. 270

Why should I count the scepter anything

But empty honor and a tinsel show?

This scepter one short hour can take away,

Without the aid, perchance, of countless ships

And ten long years of war. The steps of fate

Do not for all advance with pace so slow. 275

For me, I will confess (‘tis with thy grace,

O land of Greece, I speak) I have desired

To see the pride and power of Troy brought low;

But that her walls and homes should be o’erthrown

In utter ruin have I never wished.

But a wrathful foe, by greedy passion driven,

And heated by the glow of victory,

Within the shrouding darkness of the night, 280

Cannot be held in check. If any act

Upon that fatal night unworthy seemed

Or cruel, ‘twas the deed of heedless wrath,

And darkness which is ever fury’s spur,

And the victorious sword, whose lust for blood,

When once in blood imbued, is limitless.

Since Troy has lost her all, seek not to grasp 285

The last poor fragments that remain. Enough,

And more has she endured of punishment.

But that a maid of royal birth should fall

An offering upon Achilles’ tomb,

Bedewing his harsh ashes with her blood,

While that foul murder gains the honored name

Of wedlock, I shall not permit. On me

The blame of all will come; for he who sin 290

Forbids not when he can, commits the sin.

Pyrrhus: Shall no reward Achilles’ shade obtain?

Agamemnon: Yea, truly; all the Greeks shall sing his praise,

And unknown lands shall hear his mighty name.

But if his shade demand a sacrifice 295

Of out-poured blood, go take our richest flocks,

And shed their blood upon thy father’s tomb;

But let no mother’s tears pollute the rite.

What barbarous custom this, that living man

Should to the dead be slain in sacrifice?

Then spare thy father’s name the hate and scorn

Which by such cruel worship it must gain. 300

Pyrrhus: Thou, swoll’n with pride so long as happy fate

Uplifts thy soul, but weak and spent with fear

When fortune frowns; O hateful king of kings,

Is now thy heart once more with sudden love

Of this new maid inflamed? Shalt thou alone

So often bear away my father’s spoils? 305

By this right hand he shall receive his own.

And if thou dost refuse, and keep the maid,

A greater victim will I slay, and one

More worthy Pyrrhus’ gift; for all too long

From royal slaughter hath my hand been free,

And Priam asks an equal sacrifice. 310

Agamemnon: Far be it from my wish to dim the praise

That thou dost claim for this most glorious deed–

Old Priam slain by thy barbaric sword,

Thy father’s suppliant.

Pyrrhus: I know full well

My father’s suppliants–and well I know

His enemies. Yet royal Priam came,

And made his plea before my father’s face; 315

But thou, o’ercome with fear, not brave enough

Thyself to make request, within thy tent

Didst trembling hide, and thy desires consign

To braver men, that they might plead for thee.

Agamemnon: But, of a truth, no fear thy father felt;

But while our Greece lay bleeding, and her ships

With hostile fire were threatened, there he lay

Supine and thoughtless of his warlike arms, 320

And idly strumming on his tuneful lyre.

Pyrrhus: Then mighty Hector, scornful of thy arms,

Yet felt such wholesome fear of that same lyre,

That our Thessalian ships were left in peace.

Agamemnon: An equal peace did Hector’s father find

When he betook him to Achilles’ ships. 325

Pyrrhus: ‘Tis regal thus to spare a kingly life.

Agamemnon: Why then didst thou a kingly life despoil?

Pyrrhus: But mercy oft doth offer death for life.

Agamemnon: Doth mercy now demand a maiden’s blood? 330

Pyrrhus: Canst thou proclaim such sacrifice a sin?

Agamemnon: A king must love his country more than child.

Pyrrhus: No law the wretched captive’s life doth spare.

Agamemnon: What law forbids not, this let shame forbid.

Pyrrhus: ‘Tis victor’s right to do whate’er he will. 335

Agamemnon: Then should he will the least who most can do.

Pyrrhus: Dost thou boast thus, from whose tyrannic reign

Of ten long years but now the Greeks I freed?

Agamemnon: Such airs from Scyros!

Pyrrhus: Thence no brother’s blood.

Agamemnon: Hemmed by the sea!

Pyrrhus: Yet that same sea is ours. 340

But as for Pelops’ house, I know it well.

Agamemnon: Thou base-born son of maiden’s secret sin,

And young Achilles, scarce of man’s estate–

Pyrrhus: Yea, that Achilles who, by right of birth,

Claims equal sovereignty of triple realms: 345

His mother rules the sea, to Aeacus

The shades submit, to mighty Jove the heavens.

Agamemnon: Yet that Achilles lies by Paris slain!

Pyrrhus: But by Apollo’s aid, who aimed the dart;

For no god dared to meet him face to face.

Agamemnon: I could have checked thy words, and curbed thy tongue,

Too bold in evil speech; but this my sword 350

Knows how to spare. But rather let them call

The prophet Calchas, who the will of heaven

Can tell. If fate demands the maid, I yield.

[Enter Calchas.]

Thou who from bonds didst loose the Grecian ships,

And bring to end the slow delays of war;

Who by thy mystic art canst open heaven,

And read with vision clear the awful truths

Which sacrificial viscera proclaim;

To whom the thunder’s roll, the long, bright trail 355

Of stars that flash across the sky, reveal

The hidden things of fate; whose every word

Is uttered at a heavy cost to me:

What is the will of heaven, O Calchas; speak,

And rule us with the mastery of fate.

Calchas: The Greeks must pay th’ accustomed price to death, 360

Ere on the homeward seas they take their way.

The maiden must be slaughtered on the tomb

Of great Achilles. Thus the rite perform:

As Grecian maidens are in marriage led

By other hands unto the bridegroom’s home,

So Pyrrhus to his father’s shade must lead

His promised bride. 365

But not this cause alone

Delays our ships: a nobler blood than thine,

Polyxena, is due unto the fates;

For from yon lofty tower must Hector’s son,

Astyanax, be hurled to certain death.

Then shall our vessels hasten to the sea,

And fill the waters with their thousand sails. 370


Chorus: When in the tomb the dead is laid,

When the last rites of love are paid;

When eyes no more behold the light,

Closed in the sleep of endless night;

Survives there aught, can we believe?

Or does an idle tale deceive? 375

What boots it, then, to yield the breath

A willing sacrifice to death,

If still we gain no dreamless peace,

And find from living no release?

Say, do we, dying, end all pain?

Does no least part of us remain?

When from this perishable clay

The flitting breath has sped away;

Does then the soul that dissolution share

And vanish into elemental air? 380

Whate’er the morning sunbeam knows,

Whate’er his setting rays disclose;

Whate’er is bathed by Ocean wide,

In ebbing or in flowing tide:

Time all shall snatch with hungry greed,

With mythic Pegasean speed. 385

Swift is the course of stars in flight,

Swiftly the moon repairs her light;

Swiftly the changing seasons go,

While time speeds on with endless flow:

But than all these, with speed more swift,

Toward fated nothingness we drift. 390

For when within the tomb we’re laid,

No soul remains, no hov’ring shade.

Like curling smoke, like clouds before the blast,

This animating spirit soon has passed. 395

Since naught remains, and death is naught

But life’s last goal, so swiftly sought;

Let those who cling to life abate

Their fond desires, and yield to fate;

And those who fear death’s fabled gloom,

Bury their cares within the tomb.

Soon shall grim time and yawning night

In their vast depths engulf us quite; 400

Impartial death demands the whole–

The body slays nor spares the soul.

Dark Taenara and Pluto fell,

And Cerberus, grim guard of hell–

All these but empty rumors seem, 405

The pictures of a troubled dream.

Where then will the departed spirit dwell?

Let those who never came to being tell.


[Enter Andromache, leading the little Astyanax.]

Andromache: What do ye here, sad throng of Phrygian dames?

Why tear your hair and beat your wretched breasts? 410

Why stream your cheeks with tears? Our ills are light

If we endure a grief that tears can soothe.

You mourn a Troy whose walls but now have fall’n;

Troy fell for me long since, when that dread car

Of Peleus’ son, urged on at cruel speed,

With doleful groanings ‘neath his massive weight,

Dragged round the walls my Hector’s mangled corse. 415

Since then, o’erwhelmed and utterly undone,

With stony resignation do I bear

Whatever ills may come. But for this child,

Long since would I have saved me from the Greeks

And followed my dear lord; but thought of him

Doth check my purpose and forbid my death.

For his dear sake there still remaineth cause 420

To supplicate the gods, an added care.

Through him the richest fruit of woe is lost–

The fear of naught; and now all hope of rest

From further ills is gone, for cruel fate

Hath still an entrance to my grieving heart.

Most sad his fear, who fears in hopelessness. 425

An Old Man: What sudden cause of fear hath moved thee so?

Andromache: Some greater ill from mighty ills doth rise.

The fate of fallen Troy is not yet stayed.

Old Man: What new disasters can the fates invent?

Andromache: The gates of deepest Styx, those darksome realms

(Lest fear be wanting to our overthrow), 430

Are opened wide, and forth from lowest Dis

The spirit of our buried foeman comes.

(May Greeks alone retrace their steps to earth?

For death at least doth come to all alike.)

That terror doth invade the hearts of all;

But what I now relate is mine alone– 435

A terrifying vision of the night.

Old Man: What was this vision? Speak and share thy fears.

Andromache: Now kindly night had passed her middle goal,

And their bright zenith had the Bears o’ercome.

Then came to my afflicted soul a calm 440

Long since unknown, and o’er my weary eyes,

For one brief hour did drowsy slumber steal

If that be sleep–the stupor of a soul

Forespent with ills: when suddenly I saw

Before mine eyes the shade of Hector stand;

Not in such guise as when, with blazing torch

He strove in war against the Grecian ships, 445

Nor when, all stained with blood, in battle fierce

Against the Danai, he gained true spoil

From that feigned Peleus’ son; not such his face

All flaming with the eager battle light;

But weary, downcast, tear-stained, like my own,

All covered o’er with tangled, bloody locks. 450

Still did my joy leap up at sight of him;

And then he sadly shook his head and said:

“Awake from sleep and save our son from death,

O faithful wife. In hiding let him lie;

Thus only can he life and safety find.

Away with tears–why dost thou mourning make

For fallen Troy? I would that all had fall’n. 455

Then haste thee, and to safety bear our son,

The stripling hope of this our vanquished home,

Wherever safety lies.”

So did he speak,

And chilling terror roused me from my sleep.

Now here, now there I turned my fearful eyes.

Forgetful of my son, I sought the arms

Of Hector, there to lay my grief. In vain:

For that elusive shade, though closely pressed, 460

Did ever mock my clinging, fond embrace.

O son, true offspring of thy mighty sire,

Sole hope of Troy, sole comfort of our house,

Child of a stock of too illustrious blood,

Too like thy father, thou: such countenance

My Hector had, with such a tread he walked,

With such a motion did he lift his hands,

Thus stood he straight with shoulders proudly set,

And thus he oft from that high, noble brow

Would backward toss his flowing locks.–But thou,

O son, who cam’st too late for Phrygia’s help,

Too soon for me, will that time ever come,

That happy day, when thou, the sole defense, 470

And sole avenger of our conquered Troy,

Shalt raise again her fallen citadel,

Recall her scattered citizens from flight,

And give to fatherland and Phrygians

Their name and fame again?–Alas, my son,

Such hopes consort not with our present state.

Let the humble captive’s fitter prayer be mine– 475

The prayer for life.

Ah me, what spot remote

Can hold thee safe? In what dark lurking-place

Can I bestow thee and abate my fears?

Our city, once in pride of wealth secure,

And stayed on walls the gods themselves had built,

Well known of all, the envy of the world,

Now deep in ashes lies, by flames laid low; 480

And from her vast extent of temples, walls

And towers, no part, no lurking-place remains,

Wherein a child might hide. Where shall I choose

A covert safe? Behold the mighty tomb

Wherein his father’s sacred ashes lie,

Whose massive pile the enemy has spared.

This did old Priam rear in days of power, 485

Whose grief no stinted sepulture bestowed.

Then to his father let me trust the child.–

But at the very thought a chilling sweat

Invades my trembling limbs, for much I fear

The gruesome omen of the place of death. 490

Old Man: In danger, haste to shelter where ye may;

In safety, choose.

Andromache: What hiding-place is safe

From traitor’s eyes?

Old Man: All witnesses remove.

Andromache: What if the foe inquire?

Old Man: Then answer thus:

“He perished in the city’s overthrow.”

This cause alone ere now hath safety found

For many from the stroke of death–belief

That they have died.

Andromache: But scanty hope is left;

Too huge a weight of race doth press him down.

Besides, what can it profit him to hide 495

Who must his shelter leave and face the foe?

Old Man: The victor’s deadliest purposes are first.

Andromache: What trackless region, what obscure retreat

Shall hold thee safe? Oh, who will bring us aid

In our distress and doubt? Who will defend?

O thou, who always didst protect thine own, 500

My Hector, guard us still. Accept the trust

Which I in pious confidence impose;

And in the faithful keeping of thy dust

May he in safety dwell, to live again.

Then son, betake thee hither to the tomb.

Why backward strain, and shun that safe retreat?

I read thy nature right: thou scornest fear. 505

But curb thy native pride, thy dauntless soul,

And bear thee as thine altered fates direct.

For see what feeble forces now are left:

A sepulcher, a boy, a captive band.

We cannot choose but yield us to our woes.

Then come, make bold to enter the abode,

The sacred dwelling of thy buried sire.

If fate assist us in our wretchedness, 510

‘Twill be to thee a safe retreat; if life

The fates deny, thou hast a sepulcher.

[*The boy enters the tomb, and the gates are closed and barred behind


Old Man: Now do the bolted gates protect their charge.

But thou, lest any sign of fear proclaim

Where thou hast hid the boy, come far away.

Andromache: Who fears from near at hand, hath less of fear; 515

But, if thou wilt, take we our steps away.

[Ulysses is seen approaching.]

Old Man: Now check thy words awhile, thy mourning cease;

For hither bends the Ithacan his course.

Andromache [with a final appealing look toward the tomb]:

Yawn deep, O earth, and thou, my husband, rend

To even greater depths thy tomb’s deep cave, 520

And hide the sacred trust I gave to thee

Within the very bosom of the pit.

Now comes Ulysses, grave and slow of tread;

Methinks he plotteth mischief in his heart.

[Enter Ulysses.]

Ulysses: As harsh fate’s minister, I first implore

That, though the words are uttered by my lips, 525

Thou count them not my own. They are the voice

Of all the Grecian chiefs, whom Hector’s son

Doth still prohibit from that homeward voyage

So long delayed. And him the fates demand.

A peace secure the Greeks can never feel,

And ever will the backward-glancing fear 530

Compel them on defensive arms to lean,

While on thy living son, Andromache,

The conquered Phrygians shall rest their hopes.

So doth the augur, Calchas, prophesy.

Yet, even if our Calchas spake no word,

Thy Hector once declared it, and I fear

Lest in his son a second Hector dwell; 535

For ever doth a noble scion grow

Into the stature of his noble sire.

Behold the little comrade of the herd,

His budding horns still hidden from the sight:

Full soon with arching neck and lofty front,

He doth command and lead his father’s flock. 540

The slender twig, just lopped from parent bough,

Its mother’s height and girth surpasses soon,

And casts its shade abroad to earth and sky.

So doth a spark within the ashes left,

Leap into flame again before the wind.

Thy grief, I know, must partial judgment give; 545

Still, if thou weigh the matter, thou wilt grant

That after ten long years of grievous war.

A veteran soldier doeth well to fear

Still other years of slaughter, and thy Troy

Still unsubdued. This fear one cause alone 550

Doth raise–another Hector. Free the Greeks

From dread of war. For this and this alone

Our idle ships still wait along the shore.

And let me not seem cruel in thy sight,

For that, compelled of fate, I seek thy son:

I should have sought our chieftain’s son as well.

Then gently suffer what the victor bids. 555

Andromache: Oh, that thou wert within my power to give,

My son, and that I knew what cruel fate

Doth hold thee now, snatched from my eager arms–

Where thou dost lie; then, though my breast were pierced

With hostile spears, and though my hands with chains

Were bound, and scorching flames begirt my sides, 560

Thy mother’s faith would ne’er betray her child.

O son, what place, what lot doth hold thee now?

Dost thou with wandering footsteps roam the fields?

Wast thou consumed amid the raging flames?

Hath some rude victor reveled in thy blood? 565

Or, by some ravening beast hast thou been slain,

And liest now a prey for savage birds?

Ulysses: Away with feignéd speech; no easy task

For thee to catch Ulysses: ‘tis my boast

That mother’s snares, and even goddesses’

I have o’ercome. Have done with vain deceit. 570

Where is thy son?

Andromache: And where is Hector too?

Where agéd Priam and the Phrygians? Thou seekest one; my quest includes them all.

Ulysses: By stern necessity thou soon shalt speak

What thy free will withholds.

Andromache: But safe is she,

Who can face death, who ought and longs to die.

Ulysses: But death brought near would still thy haughty words.

Andromache: If ‘tis thy will, Ulysses, to inspire 575

Andromache with fear, then threaten life;

For death has long been object of my prayer.

Ulysses: With stripes, with flames, with lingering pains of death

Shalt thou be forced to speak, against thy will,

What now thou dost conceal, and from thy heart

Its inmost secrets bring. Necessity 580

Doth often prove more strong than piety.

Andromache: Prepare thy flames, thy blows, and all the arts

Devised for cruel punishment: dire thirst,

Starvation, every form of suffering;

Come, rend my vitals with the sword’s deep thrust;

In dungeon, foul and dark, immure; do all 585

A victor, full of wrath and fear, can do

Or dare; still will my mother heart, inspired

With high and dauntless courage, scorn thy threats.

Ulysses: This very love of thine, which makes thee bold,

Doth warn the Greeks to counsel for their sons. 590

This strife, from home remote, these ten long years

Of war, and all the ills which Calchas dreads,

Would slight appear to me, if for myself

I feared: but thou dost threat Telemachus.

Andromache: Unwillingly, Ulysses, do I give

To thee, or any Grecian, cause of joy;

Yet must I give it, and speak out the woe,

The secret grief that doth oppress my soul. 595

Rejoice, O sons of Atreus, and do thou,

According to thy wont, glad tidings bear

To thy companions: Hector’s son is dead.

Ulysses: What proof have we that this thy word is true?

Andromache: May thy proud victor’s strongest threat befall,

And bring my death with quick and easy stroke; 600

May I be buried in my native soil,

May earth press lightly on my Hector’s bones:

According as my son, deprived of light,

Amidst the dead doth lie, and, to the tomb

Consigned, hath known the funeral honors due

To those who live no more. 605

Ulysses [joyfully]: Then are the fates

Indeed fulfilled, since Hector’s son is dead,

And I with joy unto the Greeks will go,

With grateful tale of peace at last secure.


But stay, Ulysses, this rash joy of thine!

The Greeks will readily believe thy word;

But what dost thou believe?–his mother’s oath.

Would then a mother feign her offspring’s death,

And fear no baleful omens of that word?

They omens fear who have no greater dread. 610

Her truth hath she upheld by straightest oath.

If that she perjured be, what greater fear

Doth vex her soul? Now have I urgent need

Of all my skill and cunning, all my arts,

By which so oft Ulysses hath prevailed;

For truth, though long concealed, can never die.

Now watch the mother; note her grief, her tears, 615

Her sighs; with restless step, now here, now there,

She wanders, and she strains her anxious ears

To catch some whispered word. ‘Tis evident,

She more by present fear than grief is swayed.

So must I ply her with the subtlest art.

[To Andromache.]

When others mourn, ‘tis fit in sympathy

To speak with kindred grief; but thou, poor soul,

I bid rejoice that thou hast lost thy son, 620

Whom cruel fate awaited; for ‘twas willed

That from the lofty tower that doth remain

Alone of Troy’s proud walls, he should be dashed,

And headlong fall to quick and certain death.

Andromache [aside]: My soul is faint within me, and my limbs

Do quake; while chilling fear congeals my blood. 625

Ulysses [aside]: She trembles; here must I pursue my quest.

Her fear betrayeth her; wherefore this fear

Will I redouble.–

[To attendants.]

Go in haste, my men,

And find this foe of Greece, the last defense

Of Troy, who by his mother’s cunning hand

Is safe bestowed, and set him in our midst.

[Pretending that the boy is discovered.]

‘Tis well! He’s found. Now bring him here with haste. 630

[To Andromache.]

Why dost thou start, and tremble? Of a truth

Thy son is dead, for so hast thou declared.

Andromache: Oh, that I had just cause of dread. But now,

My old habitual fear instinctive starts;

The mind ofttimes forgets a well-conned woe.

Ulysses: Now since thy boy hath shunned the sacrifice

That to the walls was due, and hath escaped 635

By grace of better fate, our priest declares

That only can our homeward way be won

If Hector’s ashes, scattered o’er the waves,

Appease the sea, and this his sepulcher

Be leveled with the ground. Since Hector’s son

Has failed to pay the debt he owed to fate, 640

Then Hector’s sacred dust must be despoiled.

Andromache [aside]: Ah me, a double fear distracts my soul!

Here calls my son, and here my husband’s dust.

Which shall prevail? Attest, ye heartless gods,

And ye, my husband’s shades, true deities: 645

Naught else, O Hector, pleased me in my son,

Save only thee; then may he still survive

To bring thine image back to life and me.–

Shall then my husband’s ashes be defiled?

Shall I permit his bones to be the sport

Of waves, and lie unburied in the sea?

Oh, rather, let my only son be slain!– 650

And canst thou, mother, see thy helpless child

To awful death given up? Canst thou behold

His body whirling from the battlements?

I can, I shall endure and suffer this,

Provided only, by his death appeased,

The victor’s hand shall spare my Hector’s bones.–

But he can suffer yet, while kindly fate 655

Hath placed his sire beyond the reach of harm.

Why dost thou hesitate? Thou must decide

Whom thou wilt designate for punishment.

What doubts harass thy troubled soul? No more

Is Hector here.–Oh, say not so; I feel

He is both here and there. But sure am I

That this my child is still in life, perchance

To be the avenger of his father’s death.

But both I cannot spare. What then? O soul, 660

Save of the two, whom most the Greeks do fear.

Ulysses [aside]: Now must I force her answer.

[To Andromache.]

From its base

Will I this tomb destroy.

Andromache: The tomb of him

Whose body thou didst ransom for a price?

Ulysses: I will destroy it, and the sepulcher

From its high mound will utterly remove. 665

Andromache: The sacred faith of heaven do I invoke,

And just Achilles’ plighted word: do thou,

O Pyrrhus, keep thy father’s sacred oath.

Ulysses: This tomb shall soon lie level with the plain.

Andromache: Such sacrilege the Greeks, though impious,

Have never dared. ‘Tis true the sacred fanes,

E’en of your favoring gods, ye have defiled; 670

But still your wildest rage hath spared our tombs.

I will resist, and match your warriors’ arms

With my weak woman’s hands. Despairing wrath

Will nerve my arm. Like that fierce Amazon,

Who wrought dire havoc in the Grecian ranks;

Or some wild Maenad by the god o’ercome,

Who, thrysus-armed, doth roam the trackless glades

With frenzied step, and, clean of sense bereft, 675

Strikes deadly blows but feels no counter-stroke:

So will I rush against ye in defense

Of Hector’s tomb, and perish, if I must,

An ally of his shade.

Ulysses [to attendants]: Do ye delay,

And do a woman’s tears and empty threats

And outcry move you? Speed the task I bid. 680

Andromache [struggling with attendants]:

Destroy me first! Oh, take my life instead!

[The attendants roughly thrust her away.]

Alas, they thrust me back! O Hector, come,

Break through the bands of fate, upheave the earth,

That thou mayst stay Ulysses’ lawless hand.

Thy spirit will suffice.–Behold he comes!

His arms he brandishes, and firebrands hurls.

Ye Greeks, do ye behold him, or do I,

With solitary sight, alone behold? 685

Ulysses: This tomb and all it holds will I destroy.

Andromache [*aside, while the attendants begin to demolish the

tomb*]: Ah me, can I permit the son and sire

To be in common ruin overwhelmed?

Perchance I may prevail upon the Greeks

By prayer.–But even now those massive stones

Will crush my hidden child.–Oh, let him die,

In any other way, and anywhere, 690

If only father crush not son, and son

No desecration bring to father’s dust.

[Casts herself at the feet of Ulysses.]

A humble suppliant at thy knees I fall,

Ulysses; I, who never yet to man

Have bent the knee in prayer, thy feet embrace.

By all the gods, have pity on my woes,

And with a calm and patient heart receive

My pious prayers. And as the heavenly powers 695

Have high exalted thee in pride and might,

The greater mercy show thy fallen foes.

Whate’er is given to wretched suppliant

Is loaned to fate. So mayst thou see again

Thy faithful wife; so may Laërtes live

To greet thee yet again; so may thy son

Behold thy face, and, more than that thou canst pray, 700

Excel his father’s valor and the years

Of old Laërtes. Pity my distress:

The only comfort left me in my woe,

Is this my son.

Ulysses: Produce the boy–and pray.

Andromache [goes to the tomb and calls to Astyanax]:

Come forth, my son, from the place of thy hiding 705

Where thy mother bestowed thee with weeping and fear.

[Astyanax appears from the tomb. Andromache presents him to


Here, here is the lad, Ulysses, behold him;

The fear of thy armies, the dread of thy fleet!

[To Astyanax.]

My son, thy suppliant hands upraise,

And at the feet of this proud lord,

Bend low in prayer, nor think it base 710

To suffer the lot which our fortune appoints.

Put out of mind thy regal birth,

Thy agéd grandsire’s glorious rule

Of wide domain; and think no more

Of Hector, thy illustrious sire.

Be captive alone–bend the suppliant knee; 715

And if thine own fate move thee not,

Then weep by thy mother’s woe inspired.

[To Ulysses.]

That older Troy beheld the tears

Of its youthful king, and those tears prevailed

To stay the fierce threats of the victor’s wrath, 720

The mighty Hercules. Yea he,

To whose vast strength all monsters had yielded,

Who burst the stubborn gates of hell,

And o’er that murky way returned,

Even he was o’ercome by the tears of a boy. 725

“Take the reins of the state,” to the prince he said;

“Reign thou on thy father’s lofty throne,

But reign with the scepter of power–and truth.”

Thus did that hero subdue his foes.

And thus do thou temper thy wrath with forbearance. 730

And let not the power of great Hercules, only,

Be model to thee. Behold at thy feet,

As noble a prince as Priam of old

Pleads only for life! The kingdom of Troy

Let fortune bestow where she will. 735

Ulysses [aside]: This woe-struck mother’s grief doth move me sore;

But still the Grecian dames must more prevail,

Unto whose grief this lad is growing up.

Andromache [hearing him]: What? These vast ruins of our fallen


To very ashes brought, shall he uprear?

Shall these poor boyish hands build Troy again? 740

No hopes indeed hath Troy, if such her hopes.

So low the Trojans lie, there’s none so weak

That he need fear our power. Doth lofty thought

Of mighty Hector nerve his boyish heart?

What valor can a fallen Hector stir?

When this our Troy was lost, his father’s self

Would then have bowed his lofty spirit’s pride;

For woe can bend and break the proudest soul. 745

If punishment be sought, some heavier fate

Let him endure; upon his royal neck

Let him support the yoke of servitude.

Must princes sue in vain for this poor boon?

Ulysses: Not I, but Calchas doth refuse thy prayer.

Andromache: O man of lies, artificer of crime, 750

By whom in open fight no foe is slain,

But by whose tricks and cunning, evil mind

The very chiefs of Greece are overthrown,

Dost thou now seek to hide thy dark intent

Behind a priest and guiltless gods? Nay, nay:

This deed within thy sinful heart was born.

Thou midnight prowler, brave to work the death 755

Of this poor boy, dost dare at length alone

To do a deed, and that in open day?

Ulysses: Ulysses’ valor do the Grecians know

Full well, and all too well the Phrygians.

But we are wasting time with empty words.

The impatient ships are tugging at their chains.

Andromache: But grant a brief delay, while to my son 760

I pay the rites of woe, and sate my grief

With tears and last embrace.

Ulysses: I would ‘twere mine

To spare thy tears; but what alone I may,

I’ll give thee respite and a time for grief.

Then weep thy fill, for tears do soften woe. 765

Andromache [to Astyanax]: O darling pledge of love, thou only stay

Of our poor fallen house, last pang of Troy;

O thou whom Grecians fear, O mother’s hope,

Alas too vain, for whom, with folly blind,

I prayed the war-earned praises of his sire,

His royal grandsire’s prime of years and strength:

But God hath scorned my prayers. 770

Thou shalt not live

To wield the scepter in the royal courts

Of ancient Troy, to make thy people’s laws,

And send beneath thy yoke the conquered tribes;

Thou shalt not fiercely slay the fleeing Greeks,

Nor from thy car in retribution drag

Achilles’ son; the dart from thy small hand 775

Thou ne’er shalt hurl, nor boldly press the chase

Of scattered beasts throughout the forest glades;

And when the sacred lustral day is come,

Troy’s yearly ritual of festal games,

The charging squadrons of the noble youth

Thou shalt not lead, thyself the noblest born;

Nor yet among the blazing altar fires, 780

With nimble feet the ancient sacred dance

At some barbaric temple celebrate,

While horns swell forth swift-moving melodies.

Oh, mode of death, far worse than bloody war!

More tearful sight than mighty Hector’s end

The walls of Troy must see. 785

Ulysses: Now stay thy tears,

For mighty grief no bound or respite finds.

Andromache: Small space for tears, Ulysses, do I ask;

Some scanty moments yet, I pray thee, grant,

That I may close his eyes though living still,

And do a mother’s part.

[To Astyanax.]

Lo, thou must die,

For, though a child, thou art too greatly feared.

Thy Troy awaits thee: go, in freedom’s pride, 790

And see our Trojans, dead yet unenslaved.

Astyanax: O mother, mother, pity me and save!

Andromache: My son, why dost thou cling upon my robes,

And seek the vain protection of my hand?

As when the hungry lion’s roar is heard,

The frightened calf for safety presses close 795

Its mother’s side; but that remorseless beast,

Thrusting away the mother’s timid form,

With ravenous jaws doth grasp the lesser prey,

And, crushing, drag it hence: so shalt thou, too,

Be snatched away from me by heartless foes.

Then take my tears and kisses, O my son,

Take these poor locks, and, full of mother love, 800

Go speed thee to thy sire; and in his ear

Speak these, thy grieving mother’s parting words:

“If still thy manes feel their former cares,

And on the pyre thy love was not consumed,

Why dost thou suffer thy Andromache

To serve a Grecian lord, O cruel Hector?

Why dost thou lie in careless indolence? 805

Achilles has returned.”

Take once again

These hairs, these flowing tears, which still remain

From Hector’s piteous death; this fond caress

And rain of parting kisses take for him.

But leave this cloak to comfort my distress,

For it, within his tomb and near his shade,

Hath lain enwrapping thee. If to its folds 810

One tiny mote of his dear ashes clings,

My eager lips shall seek it till they find.

Ulysses: Thy grief is limitless. Come, break away,

And end our Grecian fleet’s too long delay.

[He leads the boy away with him.]

Chorus: Where lies the home of our captivity?

On Thessaly’s famed mountain heights?

Where Tempe’s dusky shade invites? 815

Or Phthia, sturdy warriors’ home,

Or where rough Trachin’s cattle roam?

Iolchos, mistress of the main,

Or Crete, whose cities crowd the plain? 820

Where frequent flow Mothone’s rills,

Beneath the shade of Oete’s hills,

Whence came Alcides’ fatal bow

Twice destined for our overthrow? 825

But whither shall our alien course be sped?

Perchance to Pleuron’s gates we go,

Where Dian’s self was counted foe;

Perchance to Troezen’s winding shore,

The land which mighty Theseus bore;

Or Pelion, by whose rugged side

Their mad ascent the giants tried.

Here, stretched within his mountain cave, 830

Once Chiron to Achilles gave

The lyre, whose stirring strains attest

The warlike passions of his breast. 835

What foreign shore our homeless band invites?

Must we our native country deem

Where bright Carystos’ marbles gleam?

Where Chalcis breasts the heaving tide,

And swift Euripus’ waters glide?

Perchance unhappy fortune calls 840

To bleak Gonoëssa’s windswept walls;

Perchance our wondering eyes shall see

Eleusin’s awful mystery; 845

Or Elis, where great heroes strove

To win the Olympic crown of Jove. 850

Then welcome, stranger lands beyond the sea!

Let breezes waft our wretched band,

Where’er they list, to any land;

If only Sparta’s curséd state

(To Greeks and Trojans common fate)

And Argos, never meet our view,

And bloody Pelops' city too; 855

May we ne’er see Ulysses' isle,

Whose borders share their master’s guile.

But thee, O Hecuba, what fate,

What land, what Grecian lord await? 860


[Enter Helen.]

Helen [aside]: Whatever wedlock, bred of evil fate,

Is full of joyless omens, blood and tears,

Is worthy Helen’s baleful auspices.

And now must I still further harm inflict

Upon the prostrate Trojans: ‘tis my part

To feign Polyxena, the royal maid,

Is bid to be our Grecian Pyrrhus’ wife, 865

And deck her in the garb of Grecian brides.

So by my artful words shall she be snared,

And by my craft shall Paris' sister fall.

But let her be deceived; ‘tis better so;

To die without the shrinking fear of death

Is joy indeed. But why dost thou delay

Thy bidden task? If aught of sin there be, 870

‘Tis his who doth command thee to the deed.

[To Polyxena.]

O maiden, born of Priam’s noble stock,

The gods begin to look upon thy house

In kinder mood, and even now prepare

To grant thee happy marriage; such a mate

As neither Troy herself in all her power

Nor royal Priam could have found for thee. 875

For lo, the flower of the Pelasgian lords,

Whose sway Thessalia’s far-extending plains

Acknowledge, seeks thy hand in lawful wedlock.

Great Tethys waits to claim thee for her own,

And Thetis, whose majestic deity

Doth rule the swelling sea, and all the nymphs

Who dwell within its depths. As Pyrrhus’ bride 880

Thou shalt be called the child of Peleus old,

And Nereus the divine.

Then change the garb

Of thy captivity for festal robes,

And straight forget that thou wast e’er a slave.

Thy wild, disheveled locks confine; permit

That I, with skilful hands, adorn thy head. 885

This chance, mayhap, shall place thee on a throne

More lofty far than ever Priam saw.

The captive’s lot full oft a blessing proves.

Andromache: This was the one thing lacking to our woes–

That they should bid us smile when we would weep.

See there! Our city lies in smouldering heaps;

A fitting time to talk of marriages! 890

But who would dare refuse? When Helen bids,

Who would not hasten to the wedding rites?

Thou common curse of Greeks and Trojans too,

Thou fatal scourge, thou wasting pestilence,

Dost thou behold where buried heroes lie?

And dost thou see these poor unburied bones

That everywhere lie whitening on the plain?

This desolation hath thy marriage wrought. 895

For thee the blood of Asia flowed; for thee

Did Europe’s heroes bleed, whilst thou, well pleased,

Didst look abroad upon the warring kings,

Who perished in thy cause, thou faithless jade!

There! get thee gone! prepare thy marriages!

What need of torches for the solemn rites?

What need of fire? Troy’s self shall furnish forth 900

The ruddy flames to light her latest bride.

Then come, my sisters, come and celebrate

Lord Pyrrhus’ nuptial day in fitting wise:

With groans and wailing let the scene resound.

Helen: Though mighty grief is ne’er by reason swayed,

And oft the very comrades of its woe,

Unreasoning, hates; yet can I bear to stand 905

And plead my cause before a hostile judge,

For I have suffered heavier ills than these.

Behold, Andromache doth Hector mourn,

And Hecuba her Priam; each may claim

The public sympathy; but Helena

Alone must weep for Paris secretly.

Is slavery’s yoke so heavy and so hard 910

To bear? This grievous yoke have I endured,

Ten years a captive. Doth your Ilium lie

In dust, your gods o’erthrown? I know ‘tis hard

To lose one’s native land, but harder still

To fear the land that gave you birth. Your woes

Are lightened by community of grief;

But friend and foe are foes alike to me.

Long since, the fated lot has hung in doubt 915

That sorts you to your lords; but I alone,

Without the hand of fate am claimed at once.

Think you that I have been the cause of war,

And Troy’s great overthrow? Believe it true

If in a Spartan vessel I approached

Your land; but if, sped on by Phrygian oars, 920

I came a helpless prey; if to the judge

Of beauty’s rival claims I fell the prize

By conquering Venus’ gift, then pity me,

The plaything of the fates. An angry judge

Full soon my cause shall have–my Grecian lord.

Then leave to him the question of my guilt,

And judge me not.

But now forget thy woes

A little space, Andromache, and bid 925

This royal maid–but as I think on her

My tears unbidden flow.

[She stops, overcome by emotion.]

Andromache [in scorn]: Now great indeed

Must be the evil when our Helen weeps!

But dry thy tears, and tell what Ithacus

Is plotting now, what latest deed of shame?

Must this poor maid be hurled from Ida’s heights,

Or from the top of Ilium’s citadel?

Must she be flung into the cruel sea 930

That roars beneath this lofty precipice,

Which our Sigeum’s rugged crag uprears?

Come, tell what thou dost hide with mimic grief.

In all our ills there’s none so great as this,

That any princess of our royal house

Should wed with Pyrrhus. Speak thy dark intent; 935

What further suffering remains to bear?

To compensate our woes, this grace impart,

That we may know the worst that can befall.

Behold us ready for the stroke of fate.

Helen: Alas! I would ‘twere mine to break the bonds

Which bind me to this life I hate; to die

By Pyrrhus’ cruel hand upon the tomb 940

Of great Achilles, and to share thy fate,

O poor Polyxena. For even now,

The ghost doth bid that thou be sacrificed,

And that thy blood be spilt upon his tomb;

That thus thy parting soul may mate with his,

Within the borders of Elysium.

Andromache [observing the joy with which Polyxena *receives these

tidings*]: Behold, her soul leaps up with mighty joy 945

At thought of death; she seeks the festal robes

Wherewith to deck her for the bridal rites,

And yields her golden locks to Helen’s hands.

Who late accounted wedlock worse than death,

Now hails her death with more than bridal joy.

[Observing Hecuba.]

But see, her mother stands amazed with woe,

Her spirit staggers ‘neath the stroke of fate. 950

[To Hecuba.]

Arise, O wretched queen, stand firm in soul,

And gird thy fainting spirit up.

[Hecuba falls fainting.]


By what a slender thread her feeble life

Is held to earth. How slight the barrier now

That doth remove our Hecuba from joy.

But no, she breathes, alas! she lives again,

For from the wretched, death is first to flee.

Hecuba [reviving]: Still dost thou live, Achilles,

for our bane? 955

Dost still prolong the bitter strife? O Paris,

Thine arrow should have dealt a deadlier wound.

For see, the very ashes and the tomb

Of that insatiate chieftain still do thirst

For Trojan blood. But lately did a throng

Of happy children press me round; and I,

With fond endearment and the sweet caress

That mother love would shower upon them all,

Was oft forespent. But now this child alone 960

Is left, my comrade, comfort of my woes,

For whom to pray, in whom to rest my soul.

Hers are the only lips still left to me

To call me mother. Poor, unhappy soul,

Why dost thou cling so stubbornly to life?

Oh speed thee out, and grant me death at last,

The only boon I seek. Behold, I weep;

And from my cheeks, o’erwhelmed with sympathy, 965

A sudden rain of grieving tears descends.

Andromache: We, Hecuba, Oh, we should most be mourned,

Whom soon the fleet shall scatter o’er the sea; 970

While she shall rest beneath the soil she loves.

Helen: Still more wouldst thou begrudge thy sister’s lot,

If thou didst know thine own.

Andromache: Remains there still

Some punishment that I must undergo?

Helen: The whirling urn hath given you each her lord.

Andromache: To whom hath fate allotted me a slave? 975

Proclaim the chief whom I must call my lord.

Helen: To Pyrrhus hast thou fallen by the lot.

Andromache: O happy maid, Cassandra, blest of heaven,

For by thy madness art thou held exempt

From fate that makes us chattels to the Greeks.

Helen: Not so, for even now the Grecian king

Doth hold her as his prize.

Hecuba [to Polyxena]: Rejoice, my child.

How gladly would thy sisters change their lot

For thy death-dooming marriage.

[To Helen.]

Tell me now,

Does any Greek lay claim to Hecuba?

Helen: The Ithacan, though much against his will, 980

Hath gained by lot a short-lived prize in thee.

Hecuba: What cruel, ruthless providence hath given

A royal slave to serve unkingly[50] men?

What hostile god divides our captive band?

What heartless arbiter of destiny

So carelessly allots our future lords,

That Hector’s mother is assigned to him 985

Who hath by favor gained th’ accursed arms

Which laid my Hector low? And must I then

Obey the Ithacan? Now conquered quite,

Alas, and doubly captive do I seem,

And sore beset by all my woes at once.

Now must I blush, not for my slavery, 990

But for my master’s sake. Yet Ithaca,

That barren land by savage seas beset,

Shall not receive my bones.

Then up, Ulysses,

And lead thy captive home. I’ll not refuse

To follow thee as lord; for well I know

That my untoward fates shall follow me.

No gentle winds shall fill thy homeward sails, 995

But stormy blasts shall rage; destructive wars,

And fires, and Priam’s evil fates and mine,

Shall haunt thee everywhere. But even now,

While yet those ills delay, hast thou received

Some punishment. For I usurped thy lot,

And stole thy chance to win a fairer prize.

[Enter Pyrrhus.]

But see, with hurried step and lowering brow,

Stern Pyrrhus comes. 1000

[To Pyrrhus.]

Why dost thou hesitate?

Come pierce my vitals with thy impious sword,

And join the parents of Achilles' bride.

Make haste, thou murderer of agéd men,

My blood befits thee too.

[Pointing to Polyxena.]

Away with her;

Defile the face of heaven with murder’s stain,

Defile the shades.–But why make prayer to you? 1005

I’ll rather pray the sea whose savage rage

Befits these bloody rites; the selfsame doom,

Which for my ship I pray and prophesy,

May that befall the thousand ships of Greece,

And so may evil fate engulf them all.

Chorus: ‘Tis sweet for one in grief to know

That he but feels a common woe; 1010

And lighter falls the stroke of care

Which all with equal sorrow bear;

For selfish and malign is human grief 1015

Which in the tears of others finds relief.

Remove all men to fortune born,

And none will think himself forlorn;

Remove rich acres spreading wide, 1020

With grazing herds on every side:

Straight will the poor man’s drooping soul revive,

For none are poor if all in common thrive. 1025

The mariner his fate bewails,

Who in a lonely vessel sails,

And, losing all his scanty store,

With life alone attains the shore;

But with a stouter heart the gale he braves,

That sinks a thousand ships beneath the waves. 1030

When Phrixus fled in days of old

Upon the ram with fleece of gold,

His sister Helle with him fared

And all his exiled wanderings shared;

But when she fell and left him quite alone,

Then nothing could for Helle’s loss atone. 1035

Not so they wept, that fabled pair,

Deucalion and Pyrrha fair,

When ‘midst the boundless sea they stood

The sole survivors of the flood;

For though their lot was hard and desolate,

They shared their sorrow–‘twas a common fate. 1040

Too soon our grieving company

Shall scatter on the rolling sea,

Where swelling sails and bending oars 1045

Shall speed us on to distant shores.

Oh, then how hard shall be our wretched plight,

When far away our country lies,

And round us heaving billows rise,

And lofty Ida’s summit sinks from sight.

Then mother shall her child embrace, 1050

And point with straining eyes the place

Where Ilium’s smouldering ruins lie,

Far off beneath the eastern sky:

“See there, my child, our Trojan ashes glow,

Where wreathing smoke in murky clouds

The distant, dim horizon shrouds;

And by that sign alone our land we know.” 1055


[50] Reading, haud regibus.


Messenger [entering]: Oh, cruel fate, Oh, piteous, horrible!

What sight so fell and bloody have we seen

In ten long years of war? Between thy woes,

Andromache, and thine, O Hecuba,

I halt, and know not which to weep the more.

Hecuba: Weep whosesoe’er thou wilt–thou weepest mine. 1060

While others bow beneath their single cares,

I feel the weight of all. All die to me;

Whatever grief there is, is Hecuba’s.

Messenger: The maid is slain, the boy dashed from the walls.

But each has met his death with royal soul.

Andromache: Expound the deed in order, and display 1065

The twofold crime. My mighty grief is fain

To hear the gruesome narrative entire.

Begin thy tale, and tell it as it was.

Messenger: One lofty tower of fallen Troy is left,

Well known to Priam, on whose battlements

He used to sit and view his warring hosts. 1070

Here in his arms his grandson he would hold

With kind embrace, and bid the lad admire

His father’s warlike deeds upon the field,

Where Hector, armed with fire and sword, pursued

The frightened Greeks. Around this lofty tower 1075

Which lately stood, the glory of the walls,

But now a lonely crag, the people pour,

A motley, curious throng of high and low.

For some, a distant hill gives open view;

While others seek a cliff, upon whose edge 1080

The crowd in tiptoed expectation stand.

The beech tree, laurel, pine, each has its load;

The whole wood bends beneath its human fruit.

One climbs a smouldering roof; unto another

A crumbling wall precarious footing gives; 1085

While others (shameless!) stand on Hector’s tomb.

Now through the thronging crowd with stately tread

Ulysses makes his way, and by the hand

He leads the little prince of Ilium.

With equal pace the lad approached the wall; 1090

But when he reached the lofty battlement,

He stood and gazed around with dauntless soul.

And as the savage lion’s tender young,

Its fangless jaws, all powerless to harm,

Still snaps with helpless wrath and swelling heart; 1095

So he, though held in that strong foeman’s grasp,

Stood firm, defiant. Then the crowd of men,

And leaders, and Ulysses’ self, were moved.

But he alone wept not of all the throng

Who wept for him. And now Ulysses spake

In priestly wise the words of fate, and prayed, 1100

And summoned to the rite the savage gods;

When suddenly, on self-destruction bent,

The lad sprang o’er the turret’s edge, and plunged

Into the depths below.–

Andromache: What Colchian, what wandering Scythian,

What lawless race that dwells by Caspia’s sea 1105

Could do or dare a crime so hideous?

No blood of helpless children ever stained

Busiris’ altars, monster though he was;

Nor did the horses of the Thracian king

E’er feed on tender limbs. Where is my boy?

Who now will take and lay him in the tomb? 1110

Messenger: Alas, my lady, how can aught remain

From such a fall, but broken, scattered bones,

Dismembered limbs, and all those noble signs

In face and feature of his royal birth,

Confused and crushed upon the ragged ground?

Who was thy son lies now a shapeless corse. 1115

Andromache: Thus also is he like his noble sire.

Messenger: When headlong from the tower the lad had sprung,

And all the Grecian throng bewailed the crime

Which it had seen and done; that selfsame throng

Returned to witness yet another crime 1120

Upon Achilles’ tomb. The seaward side

Is beaten by Rhoeteum’s lapping waves;

While on the other sides a level space,

And rounded, gently sloping hills beyond,

Encompass it, and make a theater.

Here rush the multitude and fill the place 1125

With eager throngs. A few rejoice that now

Their homeward journey’s long delay will end,

And that another prop of fallen Troy

Is stricken down. But all the common herd

Look on in silence at the crime they hate.

The Trojans, too, attend the sacrifice, 1130

And wait with quaking hearts the final scene

Of Ilium’s fall. When suddenly there shone

The gleaming torches of the wedding march;

And, as the bride’s attendant, Helen came

With drooping head. Whereat the Trojans prayed:

“Oh, may Hermione be wed like this, 1135

With bloody rites; like this may Helena

Return unto her lord.” Then numbing dread

Seized Greeks and Trojans all, as they beheld

The maid. She walked with downcast, modest eyes,

But on her face a wondrous beauty glowed

In flaming splendor, as the setting sun

Lights up the sky with beams more beautiful, 1140

When day hangs doubtful on the edge of night.

All gazed in wonder. Some her beauty moved,

And some her tender age and hapless fate;

But all, her dauntless courage in the face 1145

Of death. Behind the maid grim Pyrrhus came;

And as they looked, the souls of all were filled

With quaking terror, pity, and amaze.

But when she reached the summit of the mound

And stood upon the lofty sepulcher, 1150

Still with unfaltering step the maid advanced.

And now she turned her to the stroke of death

With eyes so fierce and fearless that she smote

The hearts of all, and, wondrous prodigy,

E’en Pyrrhus' bloody hand was slow to strike.

But soon, his right hand lifted to the stroke, 1155

He drove the weapon deep within her breast;

And straight from that deep wound the blood burst forth

In sudden streams. But still the noble maid

Did not give o’er her bold and haughty mien,

Though in the act of death. For in her fall

She smote the earth with angry violence,

As if to make it heavy for the dead.

Then flowed the tears of all. The Trojans groaned 1160

With secret woe, since fear restrained their tongues;

But openly the victors voiced their grief.

And now the savage rite was done. The blood

Stood not upon the ground, nor flowed away;

But downward all its ruddy stream was sucked,

As if the tomb were thirsty for the draught.

Hecuba: Now go, ye Greeks, and seek your homes in peace. 1165

With spreading sails your fleet in safety now

May cleave the welcome sea; the maid and boy

Are slain, the war is done. Oh, whither now

Shall I betake me in my wretchedness?

Where spend this hateful remnant of my life?

My daughter or my grandson shall I mourn, 1170

My husband, country–or myself alone?

O death, my sole desire, for boys and maids

Thou com’st with hurried step and savage mien;

But me alone of mortals dost thou fear

And shun; through all that dreadful night of Troy,

I sought thee ‘midst the swords and blazing brands, 1175

But all in vain my search. No cruel foe,

Nor crumbling wall, nor blazing fire, could give

The death I sought. And yet how near I stood

To agéd Priam’s side when he was slain!

Messenger: Ye captives, haste you to the winding shore;

The sails are spread, our long delay is o’er.



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