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Electra

ELECTRA

BY SOPHOCLES

THE PERSONS

  • An Old Man, formerly one of the retainers of Agamemnon.
  • ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
  • ELECTRA, sister of Orestes.
  • CHORUS of Argive Women.
  • CHRYSOTHEMIS, sister of Orestes and Electra.
  • CLYTEMNESTRA.
  • PYLADES appears with ORESTES, but does not speak.
  • AEGISTHUS.
  •  

SCENE. Mycenae: before the palace of the Pelopidae.

PART ONE

ORESTES and the Old ManPYLADES is present.

OLD MAN. Son of the king who led the Achaean host
Erewhile beleaguering Troy, ’tis thine to day
To see around thee what through many a year
Thy forward spirit hath sighed for. Argolis
Lies here before us, hallowed as the scene
Of Io’s wildering pain: yonder, the mart
Named from the wolf slaying God, and there, to our left,
Hera’s famed temple. For we reach the bourn
Of far renowned Mycenae, rich in gold
And Pelops’ fatal roofs before us rise,
Haunted with many horrors, whence my hand,
Thy murdered sire then lying in his gore,
Received thee from thy sister, and removed
Where I have kept thee safe and nourished thee
To this bright manhood thou dost bear, to be
The avenger of thy father’s bloody death.
Wherefore, Orestes, and thou, Pylades,
Dearest of friends, though from a foreign soil,
Prepare your enterprise with speed. Dark night
Is vanished with her stars, and day’s bright orb
Hath waked the birds of morn into full song.
Now, then, ere foot of man go forth, ye two
Knit counsels. ’Tis no time for shy delay:
The very moment for your act is come.

OR. Kind faithful friend, how well thou mak’st appear
Thy constancy in service to our house!
As some good steed, aged, but nobly bred,
Slacks not his spirit in the day of war,
But points his ears to the fray, even so dost thou
Press on and urge thy master in the van.
Hear, then, our purpose, and if aught thy mind,
[page 132][30-71] Keenly attent, discerns of weak or crude
In this I now set forth, admonish me.
I, when I visited the Pythian shrine
Oracular, that I might learn whereby
To punish home the murderers of my sire,
Had word from Phoebus which you straight shall hear:
‘No shielded host, but thine own craft, O King!
The righteous death-blow to thine arm shall bring.’
Then, since the will of Heaven is so revealed,
Go thou within, when Opportunity
Shall marshal thee the way, and gathering all
Their business, bring us certain cognizance.
Age and long absence are a safe disguise;
They never will suspect thee who thou art.
And let thy tale be that another land,
Phocis, hath sent thee forth, and Phanoteus,
Than whom they have no mightier help in war.
Then, prefaced with an oath, declare thy news,
Orestes’ death by dire mischance, down-rolled
From wheel-borne chariot in the Pythian course.
So let the fable be devised; while we,
As Phoebus ordered, with luxuriant locks
Shorn from our brows, and fair libations, crown
My father’s sepulchre, and thence return
Bearing aloft the shapely vase of bronze
That’s hidden hard by in brushwood, as thou knowest,
And bring them welcome tidings, that my form
Is fallen ere now to ashes in the fire.
How should this pain me, in pretence being dead,
Really to save myself and win renown?
No saying bodes men ill, that brings them gain.
Oft have I known the wise, dying in word,
Return with glorious salutation home.
So lightened by this rumour shall mine eye
Blaze yet like bale-star on mine enemies.
O native earth! and Gods that hold the land,
Accept me here, and prosper this my way!
Thou, too, paternal hearth! To thee I come,
Justly to cleanse thee by behest from heaven.
Send me not bootless, Gods, but let me found
[page 133][72-101] A wealthy line of fair posterity!
I have spoken. To thy charge! and with good heed
Perform it. We go forth. The Occasion calls,
Great taskmaster of enterprise to men.

ELECTRA (within). Woe for my hapless lot!

OLD M. Hark! from the doors, my son, methought there came
A moaning cry, as of some maid within.

OR. Can it be poor Electra? Shall we stay,
And list again the lamentable sound?

OLD M. Not so. Before all else begin the attempt
To execute Apollo’s sovereign will,
Pouring libation to thy sire: this makes
Victory ours, and our success assured.[Exeunt

Enter ELECTRA.

MONODY.

EL. O purest light!
And air by earth alone
Measured and limitable, how oft have ye
Heard many a piercing moan,
Many a blow full on my bleeding breast,
When gloomy night
Hath slackened pace and yielded to the day!
And through the hours of rest,
Ah! well ’tis known
To my sad pillow in yon house of woe,
What vigil of scant joyance keeping,
Whiles all within are sleeping,
For my dear father without stint I groan,
Whom not in bloody fray
The War-god in the stranger-land
Received with hospitable hand,
But she that is my mother, and her groom,
As woodmen fell the oak,
Cleft through the skull with murdering stroke.
And o’er this gloom
No ray of pity, save from only me,
Goes forth on thee,
[page 134][101-136] My father, who didst die
A cruel death of piteous agony.
But ne’er will I
Cease from my crying and sad mourning lay,
While I behold the sky,
Glancing with myriad fires, or this fair day.
But, like some brood-bereavèd nightingale,
With far-heard wail,
Here at my father’s door my voice shall sound.
O home beneath the ground!
Hades unseen, and dread Persephonè,
And darkling Hermes, and the Curse revered,
And ye, Erinyës, of mortals feared,
Daughters of Heaven, that ever see
Who die unjustly, who are wronged i’ the bed
Of those they wed,
Avenge our father’s murder on his foe!
Aid us, and send my brother to my side;
Alone I cannot longer bide
The oppressive strain of strength-o’ermastering woe.

CHORUS (entering).

O sad Electra, childI 1 Of a lost mother, why still flow
Unceasingly with lamentation wild
For him who through her treachery beguiled,
Inveigled by a wife’s deceit,
Fallen at the foul adulterer’s feet,
Most impiously was quelled long years ago?
Perish the cause! if I may lawfully pray so.

EL. O daughters of a noble line,
Ye come to soothe me from my troublous woe.
I see, I know:
Your love is not unrecognized of mine.
But yet I will not seem as I forgot,
Or cease to mourn my hapless father’s lot.
Oh, of all love
That ever may you move,
This only boon I crave—
Leave me to rave!

[page 135] CH. Lament, nor praying breathI 2 [137-172]
Will raise thy sire, our honoured chief,
From that dim multitudinous gulf of death.
Beyond the mark, due grief that measureth,
Still pining with excess of pain
Thou urgest lamentation vain,
That from thy woes can bring thee no relief.
Why hast thou set thy heart on unavailing grief?

EL. Senseless were he who lost from thought
A noble father, lamentably slain!
I love thy strain,
Bewildered mourner, bird divinely taught,
For ‘Itys,’ ‘Itys,’ ever heard to pine.
O Niobè, I hold thee all divine,
Of sorrows queen,
Who with all tearful mien
Insepulchred in stone
Aye makest moan.

CH. Not unto thee alone hath sorrow come,II 1
Daughter, that thou shouldst carry grief so far
Beyond those dwellers in the palace-home
Who of thy kindred are
And own one source with thee.
What life hath she,
Chrysothemis, and Iphianassa bright,
And he whose light
Is hidden afar from taste of horrid doom,
Youthful Orestes, who shall come
To fair Mycenae’s glorious town,
Welcomed as worthy of his sire’s renown,
Sped by great Zeus with kindly thought,
And to this land with happiest omen brought?

EL. Awaiting him I endlessly endure;
Unwed and childless still I go,
With tears in constant flow,
Girt round with misery that finds no cure.
But he forgets his wrong and all my teaching.
What message have I sent beseeching,
But baffled flies back idly home?
Ever he longs, he saith, but, longing, will not come.

[page 136] CH. Take heart, dear child! still mighty in the skyII 2 [173-208]
Is Zeus who ruleth all things and surveys.
Commit to him thy grief that surgeth high,
And walk in safer ways,
Let not hate vex thee sore,
Nor yet ignore
The cause of hate and sorrow in thy breast.
Time bringeth rest:
All is made easy through his power divine.
The heir of Agamemnon’s line
Who dwells by Crisa’s pastoral strand
Shall yet return unto his native land;
And he shall yet regard his own
Who reigns beneath upon his Stygian throne.

EL. Meanwhile my life falls from me in despair
Years pass and patience nought avails:
My heart within me fails:
Orphaned I pine without protecting care;
And like a sojourner all unregarded
At slave-like labour unrewarded
I toil within my father’s hall
Thus meanly attired, and starved, a table-serving thrall.

CH. Sad was thy greeting when he reached the strand,III 1
Piteous thy crying where thy father lay
On that fell day
When the bronze edge with dire effect was driven.
By craft ’twas planned,
By frenzied lust the blow was given:
Mother and father of a monstrous birth,
Whether a God there wrought or mortal of the Earth.

EL. O day beyond all days that yet have rolled
Most hateful in thy course of light!
O horror of that night!
O hideous feast, abhorr’d, not to be told!
How could I bear it, when my father’s eye
Saw death advancing from the ruthless pair,
Conjoint in cruel villany,
By whom my life was plunged in black despair?
[page 137][209-243] Oh, to the workers of such deeds as these
May great Olympus’ Lord
Return of evil still afford,
Nor let them wear the gloss of sovran ease!

CH. Take thought to keep thy crying within bound.III 2
Doth not thy sense enlighten thee to see
How recklessly
Even now thou winnest undeservèd woe?
Still art thou found
To make thy misery overflow
Through self-bred gloomy strife. But not for long
Shall one alone prevail who strives against the strong.

EL. ’Twas dire oppression taught me my complaint
I know my rage a quenchless fire:
But nought, however dire,
Shall visit this my frenzy with restraint,
Or check my lamentation while I live.
Dear friends, kind women of true Argive breed,
Say, who can timely counsel give
Or word of comfort suited to my need?
Beyond all cure shall this my cause be known.
No counsels more! Ah leave,
Vain comforters, and let me grieve
With ceaseless pain, unmeasured in my moan.

CH. With kind intentIV
Full tenderly my words are meant;
Like a true mother pressing heart to heart,
I pray thee, do not aggravate thy smart.

EL. But have my miseries a measure? Tell.
Can it be well
To pour forgetfulness upon the dead?
Hath mortal head
Conceived a wickedness so bold?
O never may such brightness shine for me,
Nor let me peaceful be
With aught of good my life may still enfold,
If from wide echoing of my father’s name
The wings of keen lament I must withhold.
[page 138][244-287] Sure holy shame
And pious care would vanish among men,
If he, mere earth and nothingness, must lie
In darkness, and his foes shall not again
Render him blood for blood in amplest penalty.

LEADER OF CH. Less from our own desires, my child, we came,
Than for thy sake. But, if we speak amiss,
Take thine own course. We still will side with thee.

EL. Full well I feel that too impatiently
I seem to multiply the sounds of woe.
Yet suffer me, dear women! Mighty force
Compels me. Who that had a noble heart
And saw her father’s cause, as I have done,
By day and night more outraged, could refrain?
Are my woes lessening? Are they not in bloom?—
My mother full of hate and hateful proved,
Whilst I in my own home must dwell with these,
My father’s murderers, and by them be ruled,
Dependent on their bounty even for bread.
And then what days suppose you I must pass,
When I behold Aegisthus on the throne
That was my father’s; when I see him wear
Such robes, and pour libations by the hearth
Where he destroyed him; lastly, when I see
Their crowning insolence,—our regicide
Laid in my father’s chamber beside her,
My mother—if she still must bear the name
When resting in those arms? Her shame is dead.
She harbours with blood-guiltiness, and fears
No vengeance, but, as laughing at the wrong,
She watches for the hour wherein with guile
She killed our sire, and orders dance and mirth
That day o’ the month, and joyful sacrifice
Of thanksgiving. But I within the house
Beholding, weep and pine, and mourn that feast
Of infamy, called by my father’s name,
All to myself; for not even grief may flow
As largely as my spirit would desire.
That so-called princess of a noble race
[page 139][288-327] O’ercrows my wailing with loud obloquy:
‘Hilding! are you alone in grief? Are none
Mourning for loss of fathers but yourself?
‘Fore the blest Gods! ill may you thrive, and ne’er
Find cure of sorrow from the powers below!’
So she insults: unless she hear one say
‘Orestes will arrive’: then standing close,
She shouts like one possessed into mine ear,
‘These are your doings, this your work, I trow.
You stole Orestes from my gripe, and placed
His life with fosterers; but you shall pay
Full penalty.’ So harsh is her exclaim.
And he at hand, the husband she extols,
Hounds on the cry, that prince of cowardice,
From head to foot one mass of pestilent harm.
Tongue-doughty champion of this women’s-war.
I, for Orestes ever languishing
To end this, am undone. For evermore
Intending, still delaying, he wears out
All hope, both here and yonder. How, then, friends,
Can I be moderate, or feel the touch
Of holy resignation? Evil fruit
Cannot but follow on a life of ill.

CH. Say, is Aegisthus near while thus you speak?
Or hath he left the palace? We would know.

EL. Most surely. Never think, if he were by,
I could stray out of door. He is abroad.

CH. Then with less fear I may converse with thee.

EL. Ask what you will, for he is nowhere near.

CH. First of thy brother I beseech thee tell,
How deem’st thou? Will he come, or still delay?

EL. His promise comes, but still performance sleeps.

CH. Well may he pause who plans a dreadful deed.

EL. I paused not in his rescue from the sword.

CH. Fear not. He will bestead you. He is true.

EL. But for that faith my life had soon gone by.

CH. No more! I see approaching from the house
Thy sister by both parents of thy blood,
Chrysothemis; in her hand an offering,
Such as old custom yields to those below.

[page 140][328-363]

Enter CHRYSOTHEMIS.

CHRYSOTHEMIS. What converse keeps thee now beyond the gates,
Dear sister? why this talk in the open day?
Wilt thou not learn after so long to cease
From vain indulgence of a bootless rage?
I know in my own breast that I am pained
By what thou griev’st at, and if I had power,
My censure of their deeds would soon be known.
But in misfortune I have chosen to sail
With lowered canvas, rather than provoke
With puny strokes invulnerable foes.
I would thou didst the like: though I must own
The right is on thy side, and not on mine.
But if I mean to dwell at liberty,
I must obey in all the stronger will.

EL. ’Tis strange and pitiful, thy father’s child
Can leave him in oblivion and subserve
The mother. All thy schooling of me springs
From her suggestion, not of thine own wit.
Sure, either thou art senseless, or thy sense
Deserts thy friends. Treason or dulness then?
Choose!—You declared but now, if you had strength,
You would display your hatred of this pair.
Yet, when I plan full vengeance for my sire,
You aid me not, but turn me from the attempt.
What’s this but adding cowardice to evil?
For tell me, or be patient till I show,
What should I gain by ceasing this my moan?
I live to vex them:—though my life be poor,
Yet that suffices, for I honour him,
My father,—if affection touch the dead.
You say you hate them, but belie your word,
Consorting with our father’s murderers.
I then, were all the gifts in which you glory
Laid at my feet, will never more obey
This tyrant power. I leave you your rich board
And life of luxury. Ne’er be it mine to feed
On dainties that would poison my heart’s peace!
[page 141][364-402] I care not for such honour as thou hast.
Nor wouldst thou care if thou wert wise. But now,
Having the noblest of all men for sire,
Be called thy mother’s offspring; so shall most
Discern thine infamy and traitorous mind
To thy dead father and thy dearest kin.

CH. No anger, we entreat. Both have said well,
If each would learn of other, and so do.

CHR. For my part, women, use hath seasoned me
To her discourse. Nor had I spoken of this,
Had I not heard a horror coming on
That will restrain her from her endless moan.

EL. Come speak it forth, this terror! I will yield,
If thou canst tell me worse than I endure.

CHR. I’ll tell thee all I know. If thou persist
In these thy wailings, they will send thee far
From thine own land, and close thee from the day,
Where in a rock-hewn chamber thou may’st chant
Thine evil orisons in darkness drear.
Think of it, while there ’s leisure to reflect;
Or if thou suffer, henceforth blame me not.

EL. And have they so determined on my life?

CHR. ’Tis certain; when Aegisthus comes again.

EL. If that be all, let him return with speed!

CHR. Unhappy! why this curse upon thyself?

EL. If this be their intent, why, let him come!

CHR. To work such harm on thee! What thought is this!

EL. Far from mine eye to banish all your brood.

CHR. Art not more tender of the life thou hast?

EL. Fair, to a marvel, is my life, I trow!

CHR. It would be, couldst thou be advised for good.

EL. Never advise me to forsake my kin.

CHR. I do not: only to give place to power.

EL. Thine be such flattery. ’Tis not my way.

CHR. Sure, to be wrecked by rashness is not well.

EL. Let me be wrecked in ’venging my own sire.

CHR. I trust his pardon for my helplessness.

EL. Such talk hath commendation from the vile.

CHR. Wilt thou not listen? Wilt thou ne’er be ruled?

[page 142][403-432] EL. No; not by thee! Let me not sink so low.

CHR. Then I will hie me on mine errand straight.

EL. Stay; whither art bound? For whom to spend those gifts?

CHR. Sent by my mother to my father’s tomb
To pour libations to him.

EL. How? To him?
Most hostile to her of all souls that are?

CHR. Who perished by her hand—so thou wouldst say.

EL. What friend hath moved her? Who hath cared for this?

CHR. Methinks ’twas some dread vision, seen by night.

EL. Gods of my father, O be with me now!

CHR. What? art thou hopeful from the fear I spake of?

EL. Tell me the dream, and I will answer thee.

CHR. I know but little of it.

EL. Speak but that.
A little word hath ofttimes been the cause
Of ruin or salvation unto men.

CHR. ’Tis said she saw our father’s spirit come
Once more to visit the abodes of light;
Then take and firmly plant upon the hearth
The sceptre which he bore of old, and now
Aegisthus bears: and out of this upsprang
A burgeoned shoot, that shadowed all the ground
Of loved Mycenae. So I heard the tale
Told by a maid who listened when the Queen
Made known her vision to the God of Day.
But more than this I know not, save that I
Am sent by her through terror of the dream.
And I beseech thee by the Gods we serve
To take my counsel and not rashly fall.
If thou repel me now, the time may come
When suffering shall have brought thee to my side.

EL. Now, dear Chrysothemis, of what thou bearest
Let nothing touch his tomb. ’Tis impious
[page 143][433-469] And criminal to offer to thy sire
Rites and libations from a hateful wife.
Then cast them to the winds, or deep in dust
Conceal them, where no particle may reach
His resting-place: but lie in store for her
When she goes underground. Sure, were she not
Most hardened of all women that have been,
She ne’er had sent those loveless offerings
To grace the sepulchre of him she slew.
For think how likely is the buried king
To take such present kindly from her hand,
Who slew him like an alien enemy,
Dishonoured even in death, and mangled him,
And wiped the death-stain with his flowing locks—
Sinful purgation! Think you that you bear
In those cold gifts atonement for her guilt?
It is not possible. Wherefore let be.
But take a ringlet from thy comely head,
And this from mine, that lingers on my brow
Longing to shade his tomb. Ah, give it to him,
All I can give, and this my maiden-zone,
Not daintily adorned, as once erewhile.
Then, humbly kneeling, pray that from the ground
He would arise to help us ’gainst his foes,
And grant his son Orestes with high hand
Strongly to trample on his enemies;
That in our time to come from ampler stores
We may endow him, than are ours to-day.
I cannot but imagine that his will
Hath part in visiting her sleep with fears.
But howsoe’er, I pray thee, sister mine,
Do me this service, and thyself, and him,
Dearest of all the world to me and thee,
The father of us both, who rests below.

CH. She counsels piously; and thou, dear maid,
If thou art wise, wilt do her bidding here.

CHR. Yea, when a thing is right, it is not well
Idly to wrangle, but to act with speed.
Only, dear friends, in this mine enterprise,
Let me have silence from your lips, I pray;
[page 144][470-507] For should my mother know of it, sharp pain
Will follow yet my bold adventurous feat.[Exit CHRYSOTHEMIS

CHORUS.

An erring seer am I,I 1
Of sense and wisdom lorn,
If this prophetic Power of right,
O’ertaking the offender, come not nigh
Ere many an hour be born.
Yon vision of the night,
That lately breathed into my listening ear,
Hath freed me, O my daughter, from all fear.
Sweet was that bodement. He doth not forget,
The Achaean lord that gave thee being, nor yet
The bronzen-griding axe, edged like a spear,
Hungry and keen, though dark with stains of time,
That in the hour of hideous crime
Quelled him with cruel butchery:
That, too, remembers, and shall testify.

From ambush deep and dreadI 2
With power of many a hand
And many hastening feet shall spring
The Fury of the adamantine tread,
Visiting Argive land
Swift recompense to bring
For eager dalliance of a blood-stained pair
Unhallowed, foul, forbidden. No omen fair,—
Their impious course hath fixed this in my soul,—
Nought but black portents full of blame shall roll
Before their eyes that wrought or aided there.
Small force of divination would there seem
In prophecy or solemn dream,
Should not this vision of the night
Reach harbour in reality aright.

O chariot-course of Pelops, full of toil!II
How wearisome and sore
Hath been thine issue to our native soil!—
[page 145][508-545] Since, from the golden oar
Hurled to the deep afar,
Myrtilus sank and slept,
Cruelly plucked from that fell chariot-floor,
This house unceasingly hath kept
Crime and misfortune mounting evermore.

Enter CLYTEMNESTRA.

CLYTEMNESTRA. Again you are let loose and range at will.
Ay, for Aegisthus is not here, who barred
Your rashness from defaming your own kin
Beyond the gates. But now he’s gone from home,
You heed not me: though you have noised abroad
That I am bold in crime, and domineer
Outrageously, oppressing thee and thine.
I am no oppressor, but I speak thee ill,
For thou art ever speaking ill of me—
Still holding forth thy father’s death, that I
Have done it. So I did: I know it well:
That I deny not; for not I alone
But Justice slew him; and if you had sense,
To side with Justice ought to be your part.
For who but he of all the Greeks, your sire,
For whom you whine and cry, who else but he
Took heart to sacrifice unto the Gods
Thy sister?—having less of pain, I trow,
In getting her, than I, that bore her, knew!
Come, let me question thee! On whose behalf
Slew he my child? Was ’t for the Argive host?
What right had they to traffic in my flesh?—
Menelaüs was his brother. Wilt thou say
He slew my daughter for his brother’s sake?
How then should he escape me? Had not he,
Menelaüs, children twain, begotten of her
Whom to reclaim that army sailed to Troy?
Was Death then so enamoured of my seed,
That he must feast thereon and let theirs live?
Or was the God-abandoned father’s heart
Tender toward them and cruel to my child?
[page 146][546-581] Doth this not argue an insensate sire?
I think so, though your wisdom may demur.
And could my lost one speak, she would confirm it.
For my part, I can dwell on what I have done
Without regret. You, if you think me wrong,
Bring reasons forth and blame me to my face!

EL. Thou canst not say this time that I began
And brought this on me by some taunting word.
But, so you’d suffer me, I would declare
The right both for my sister and my sire.

CLY. Thou hast my sufferance. Nor would hearing vex,
If ever thus you tuned your speech to me.

EL. Then I will speak. You say you slew him. Where
Could there be found confession more depraved,
Even though the cause were righteous? But I’ll prove
No rightful vengeance drew thee to the deed,
But the vile bands of him you dwell with now.
Or ask the huntress Artemis, what sin
She punished, when she tied up all the winds
Round Aulis.—I will tell thee, for her voice
Thou ne’er may’st hear! ’Tis rumoured that my sire,
Sporting within the goddess’ holy ground,
His foot disturbed a dappled hart, whose death
Drew from his lips some rash and boastful word.
Wherefore Latona’s daughter in fell wrath
Stayed the army, that in quittance for the deer
My sire should slay at the altar his own child.
So came her sacrifice. The Achaean fleet
Had else no hope of being launched to Troy
Nor to their homes. Wherefore, with much constraint
And painful urging of his backward will,
Hardly he yielded;—not for his brother’s sake.
But grant thy speech were sooth, and all were done
In aid of Menelaüs; for this cause
Hadst thou the right to slay him? What high law
Ordaining? Look to it, in establishing
Such precedent thou dost not lay in store
Repentance for thyself. For if by right
[page 147][581-620] One die for one, thou first wilt be destroyed
If Justice find thee.—But again observe
The hollowness of thy pretended plea.
Tell me, I pray, what cause thou dost uphold
In doing now the basest deed of all,
Chambered with the blood-guilty, with whose aid
Thou slewest our father in that day. For him
You now bear children—ousting from their right
The stainless offspring of a holy sire.
How should this plead for pardon? Wilt thou say
Thus thou dost ’venge thy daughter’s injury?
O shameful plea? Where is the thought of honour,
If foes are married for a daughter’s sake?—
Enough. No words can move thee. Thy rash tongue
With checkless clamour cries that we revile
Our mother. Nay, no mother, but the chief
Of tyrants to us! For my life is full
Of weariness and misery from thee
And from thy paramour. While he abroad,
Orestes, our one brother, who escaped
Hardly from thy attempt, unhappy boy!
Wears out his life, victim of cross mischance.
Oft hast thou taunted me with fostering him
To be thy punisher. And this, be sure,
Had I but strength, I had done. Now for this word,
Proclaim me what thou wilt,—evil in soul,
Or loud in cursing, or devoid of shame:
For if I am infected with such guilt,
Methinks my nature is not fallen from thine.

CH. (looking at CLYTEMNESTRA).
I see her fuming with fresh wrath: the thought
Of justice enters not her bosom now.

CLY. What thought of justice should be mine for her,
Who at her age can so insult a mother?
Will shame withhold her from the wildest deed?

EL. Not unashamed, assure thee, I stand here,
Little as thou mayest deem it. Well I feel
My acts untimely and my words unmeet.
But your hostility and treatment force me
[page 148][620-656] Against my disposition to this course.
Harsh ways are taught by harshness.

CLY. Brazen thing!
Too true it is that words and deeds of mine
Are evermore informing thy harsh tongue.

EL. The shame is yours, because the deeds are yours.
My words are but their issue and effect.

CLY. By sovereign Artemis, whom still I serve,
You’ll rue this boldness when Aegisthus comes.

EL. See now, your anger bears you off, and ne’er
Will let you listen, though you gave me leave.

CLY. Must I not even sacrifice in peace
From your harsh clamour, when you’ve had your say?

EL. I have done. I check thee not. Go, sacrifice!
Accuse not me of hindering piety.

CLY. (to an attendant).
Then lift for me those fruitful offerings,
While to Apollo, before whom we stand,
I raise my supplication for release
From doubts and fears that shake my bosom now.
And, O defender of our house! attend
My secret utterance. No friendly ear
Is that which hearkens for my voice. My thought
Must not be blazoned with her standing by,
Lest through her envious and wide-babbling tongue
She fill the city full of wild surmise.
List, then, as I shall speak: and grant the dreams
Whose two-fold apparition I to-night
Have seen, if good their bodement, be fulfilled:
If hostile, turn their influence on my foes.
And yield not them their wish that would by guile
Thrust me from this high fortune, but vouchsafe
That ever thus exempt from harms I rule
The Atridae’s home and kingdom, in full life,
Partaking with the friends I live with now
All fair prosperity, and with my children,
Save those who hate and vex me bitterly.
Lykeian Phoebus, favourably hear
My prayer, and grant to all of us our need!
[page 149][657-689] More is there, which, though I be silent here,
A God should understand. No secret thing
Is hidden from the all-seeing sons of Heaven.

Enter the Old Man.

OLD M. Kind dames and damsels, may I clearly know
If these be King Aegisthus’ palace-halls?

CH. They are, sir; you yourself have guessed aright.

OLD M. May I guess further that in yonder dame
I see his queen? She looks right royally.

CH. ’Tis she,—no other,—whom your eyes behold.

OLD M. Princess, all hail! To thee and to thy spouse
I come with words of gladness from a friend.

CLY. That auspice I accept. But I would first
Learn from thee who of men hath sent thee forth?

OLD M. Phanoteus the Phocian, with a charge of weight.

CLY. Declare it, stranger. Coming from a friend,
Thou bring’st us friendly tidings, I feel sure.

OLD M. Orestes’ death. Ye have the sum in brief.

EL. Ah me! undone! This day hath ruined me.

CLY. What? Let me hear again. Regard her not.

OLD M. Again I say it, Orestes is no more.

EL. Undone! undone! Farewell to life and hope!

CLY. (to ELECTRA).
See thou to thine own case! (To Old Man) Now, stranger, tell me
In true discourse the manner of his death.

OLD M. For that I am here, and I will tell the whole.
He, entering on the great arena famed
As Hellas’ pride, to win a Delphian prize,
On hearing the loud summons of the man
Calling the foot-race, which hath trial first,
Came forward, a bright form, admired by all.
And when his prowess in the course fulfilled
The promise of his form, he issued forth
Dowered with the splendid meed of victory.—
To tell a few out of the many feats
Of such a hero were beyond my power.
[page 150][690-727] Know then, in brief, that of the prizes set
For every customary course proclaimed
By order of the judges, the whole sum
Victoriously he gathered, happy deemed
By all; declared an Argive, and his name
Orestes, son of him who levied once
The mighty armament of Greeks for Troy.
So fared he then: but when a God inclines
To hinder happiness, not even the strong
Are scatheless. So, another day, when came
At sunrise the swift race of charioteers,
He entered there with many a rival car:—
One from Achaia, one from Sparta, two
Libyan commanders of the chariot-yoke;
And he among them fifth, with steeds of price
From Thessaly;—the sixth Aetolia sent
With chestnut mares; the seventh a Magnete man;
The eighth with milk-white colts from Oeta’s vale;
The ninth from god-built Athens; and the tenth
Boeotia gave to make the number full.
Then stood they where the judges of the course
Had posted them by lot, each with his team;
And sprang forth at the brazen trumpet’s blare.
Shouting together to their steeds, they shook
The reins, and all the course was filled with noise
Of rattling chariots, and the dust arose
To heaven. Now all in a confusèd throng
Spared not the goad, each eager to outgo
The crowded axles and the snorting steeds;
For close about his nimbly circling wheels
And stooping sides fell flakes of panted foam.
Orestes, ever nearest at the turn,
With whirling axle seemed to graze the stone,
And loosing with free rein the right-hand steed
That pulled the side-rope, held the near one in.
So for a time all chariots upright moved,
But soon the Oetaean’s hard-mouthed horses broke
From all control, and wheeling as they passed
From the sixth circuit to begin the seventh,
Smote front to front against the Barcan car.
[page 151][728-766] And when that one disaster had befallen,
Each dashed against his neighbour and was thrown,
Till the whole plain was strewn with chariot-wreck.
Then the Athenian, skilled to ply the rein,
Drew on one side, and heaving to, let pass
The rider-crested surge that rolled i’ the midst.
Meanwhile Orestes, trusting to the end,
Was driving hindmost with tight rein; but now,
Seeing him left the sole competitor,
Hurling fierce clamour through his steeds, pursued:
So drave they yoke by yoke—now this, now that
Pulling ahead with car and team. Orestes,
Ill-fated one, each previous course had driven
Safely without a check, but after this,
In letting loose again the left-hand rein,
He struck the edge of the stone before he knew,
Shattering the axle’s end, and tumbled prone,
Caught in the reins, that dragged him with sharp thongs.
Then as he fell to the earth the horses swerved,
And roamed the field. The people when they saw
Him fallen from out the car, lamented loud
For the fair youth, who had achieved before them
Such glorious feats, and now had found such woe,—
Dashed on the ground, then tossed with legs aloft
Against the sky,—until the charioteers,
Hardly restraining the impetuous team,
Released him, covered so with blood that none,—
No friend who saw—had known his hapless form.
Which then we duly burned upon the pyre.
And straightway men appointed to the task
From all the Phocians bear his mighty frame—
Poor ashes! narrowed in a brazen urn,—
That he may find in his own fatherland
His share of sepulture.—Such our report,
Painful to hear, but unto us, who saw,
The mightiest horror that e’er met mine eye.

CH. Alas! the stock of our old masters, then,
Is utterly uprooted and destroyed.

CLY. O heavens! what shall I say? That this is well?
[page 152][767-799] Or terrible, but gainful? Hard my lot,
To save my life through my calamity!

OLD M. Lady, why hath my speech disheartened thee?

CLY. To be a mother hath a marvellous power:
No injury can make one hate one’s child.

OLD M. Then it should seem our coming was in vain.

CLY. In vain? Nay, verily; thou, that hast brought
Clear evidences of his fate, who, sprung
Prom my life’s essence, severed from my breast
And nurture, was estranged in banishment,
And never saw me from the day he went
Out from this land, but for his father’s blood
Threatened me still with accusation dire;
That sleep nor soothed at night nor sweetly stole
My senses from the day, but, all my time,
Each instant led me on the way to death!—
But this day’s chance hath freed me from all fear
Of him, and of this maid: who being at home
Troubled me more, and with unmeasured thirst
Kept draining my life-blood; but now her threats
Will leave us quiet days, methinks, and peace
Unbroken.—How then shouldst thou come in vain?

EL. O misery! ’Tis time to wail thy fate,
Orestes, when, in thy calamity,
Thy mother thus insults thee. Is it well?

CLY. ’Tis well that he is gone, not that you live.

EL. Hear, ’venging spirits of the lately dead!

CLY. The avenging spirits have heard and answered well.

EL. Insult us now, for thou art fortunate!

CLY. You and Orestes are to quench my pride.

EL. Our pride is quenched. No hope of quenching thee!

CLY. A world of good is in thy coming, stranger,
Since thou hast silenced this all-clamorous tongue.

OLD M. Then I may go my way, seeing all is well.

[page 153][800-836] CLY. Nay, go not yet! That would disgrace alike
Me and the friend who sent you to our land.
But come thou in, and leave her out of door
To wail her own and loved ones’ overthrow.
[Exeunt CLYTEMNESTRA and Old Man


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