The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus

Up and lead the dance of Fate!
Lift the song that mortals hate!
Tell what rights are ours on earth,
Over all of human birth.
Swift of foot to avenge are we!
He whose hands are clean and pure,
Naught our wrath to dread hath he;
Calm his cloudless days endure.
But the man that seeks to hide
Like him (1), his gore-bedewèd hands,
Witnesses to them that died,
The blood avengers at his side,
The Furies' troop forever stands.

O'er our victim come begin!
Come, the incantation sing,
Frantic all and maddening,
To the heart a brand of fire,
The Furies' hymn,
That which claims the senses dim,
Tuneless to the gentle lyre,
Withering the soul within.

The pride of all of human birth,
All glorious in the eye of day,
Dishonored slowly melts away,
Trod down and trampled to the earth,
Whene'er our dark-stoled troop advances,
Whene'er our feet lead on the dismal dances.

For light our footsteps are,
And perfect is our might,
Awful remembrances of guilt and crime,
Implacable to mortal prayer,
Far from the gods, unhonored, and heaven's light,
We hold our voiceless dwellings dread,
All unapproached by living or by dead.

What mortal feels not awe,
Nor trembles at our name,
Hearing our fate-appointed power sublime,
Fixed by the eternal law.
For old our office, and our fame,
Might never yet of its due honors fail,
Though 'neath the earth our realm in unsunned regions pale.

PROMETHEUS (alone)

O holy Aether, and swift-winged Winds,
And River-wells, and laughter innumerous
Of yon Sea-waves! Earth, mother of us all,
And all-viewing cyclic Sun, I cry on you,--
Behold me a god, what I endure from gods!
Behold, with throe on throe,
How, wasted by this woe,
I wrestle down the myriad years of Time!
Behold, how fast around me
The new King of the happy ones sublime
Has flung the chain he forged, has shamed and bound me!
Woe, woe! to-day's woe and the coming morrow's
I cover with one groan. And where is found me
A limit to these sorrows?
And yet what word do I say? I have foreknown
Clearly all things that should be; nothing done
Comes sudden to my soul--and I must bear
What is ordained with patience, being aware
Necessity doth front the universe
With an invincible gesture. Yet this curse
Which strikes me now, I find it hard to brave
In silence or in speech. Because I gave
Honor to mortals, I have yoked my soul
To this compelling fate. Because I stole
The secret fount of fire, whose bubbles went
Over the ferrule's brim, and manward sent
Art's mighty means and perfect rudiment,
That sin I expiate in this agony,
Hung here in fetters, 'neath the blanching sky.
Ah, ah me! what a sound,
What a fragrance sweeps up from a pinion unseen
Of a god, or a mortal, or nature between,
Sweeping up to this rock where the earth has her bound,
To have sight of my pangs, or some guerdon obtain--
Lo, a god in the anguish, a god in the chain!
The god Zeus hateth sore,
And his gods hate again,
As many as tread on his glorified floor,
Because I loved mortals too much evermore.
Alas me! what a murmur and motion I hear,
As of birds flying near!
And the air undersings
The light stroke of their wings--
And all life that approaches I wait for in fear.

MESSENGER

Now at the Seventh Gate the seventh chief,
Thy proper mother's son, I will announce,
What fortune for this city, for himself,
With curses he invoketh:--on the walls
Ascending, heralded as king, to stand,
With paeans for their capture; then with thee
To fight, and either slaying near thee die,
Or thee, who wronged him, chasing forth alive,
Requite in kind his proper banishment.
Such words he shouts, and calls upon the gods
Who o'er his race preside and Fatherland,
With gracious eye to look upon his prayers.
A well-wrought buckler, newly forged, he bears,
With twofold blazon riveted thereon,
For there a woman leads, with sober mien,
A mailed warrior, enchased in gold;
Justice her style, and thus the legend speaks:--
'This man I will restore, and he shall hold
The city and his father's palace homes.'
Such the devices of the hostile chiefs.
'Tis for thyself to choose whom thou wilt send;
But never shalt thou blame my herald-words.
To guide the rudder of the State be thine!


ETEOCLES

O heaven-demented race of Oedipus,
My race, tear-fraught, detested of the gods!
Alas, our father's curses now bear fruit.
But it beseems not to lament or weep,
Lest lamentations sadder still be born.
For him, too truly Polyneikes named,--
What his device will work we soon shall know;
Whether his braggart words, with madness fraught,
Gold-blazoned on his shield, shall lead him back.
Hath Justice communed with, or claimed him hers,
Guided his deeds and thoughts, this might have been;
But neither when he fled the darksome womb,
Or in his childhood, or in youth's fair prime,
Or when the hair thick gathered on his chin,
Hath Justice communed with, or claimed him hers,
Nor in this outrage on his Fatherland
Deem I she now beside him deigns to stand.
For Justice would in sooth belie her name,
Did she with this all-daring man consort.
In these regards confiding will I go,
Myself will meet him. Who with better right?
Brother to brother, chieftain against chief,
Foeman to foe, I'll stand. Quick, bring my spear,
My greaves, and armor, bulwark against stones.

A GLEAM -- a gleam -- from Ida's height,
By the Fire-god sent, it came;
From watch to watch it leapt, that light,
As a rider rode the flame!
It shot through the startled sky,
And the torch of that blazing glory
Old Lemnos caught on high,
On its holy promontory,
And sent it on, the jocund sign,
To Athos, Mount of Jove divine.
Wildly the while, it rose from the isle,
So that the might of the journeying Light
Skimmed over the back of the gleaming brine!
Farther and faster speeds it on,
Till the watch that keeps Macistus steep
See it burst like a blazing Sun!
Doth Macistus sleep
On his tower-clad steep?
No! rapid and red doth the wild fire sweep;
It flashes afar on the wayward stream
Of the wild Euripus, the rushing beam!
It rouses the light on Messapion's height,
And they feed its breath with the withered heath.
But it may not stay!
And away -- away --
It bounds in its freshening might.

Silent and soon,
Like a broadened moon,
It passes in sheen, Asopus green,
And bursts on Cithaeron gray!
The warder wakes to the Signal-rays,
And it swoops from the hill with a broader blaze.
On, on the fiery Glory rode;
Thy lonely lake, Gorgopis, glowed!
To Megara's Mount it came;
They feed it again
And it streams amain--
A giant beard of Flame!
The headland cliffs that darkly down
O'er the Saronic waters frown,
Are passed with the Swift One's lurid stride,
And the huge rock glares on the glaring tide.
With mightier march and fiercer power
It gained Arachne's neighboring tower;
Thence on our Argive roof its rest it won,
Of Ida's fire the long-descended Son!
Bright Harbinger of glory and of joy!
So first and last with equal honor crowned,
In solemn feasts the race-torch circles round. --
And these my heralds! -- this my SIGN OF PEACE;
Lo! while we breathe, the victor lords of Greece
Stalk, in stern tumult, through the halls of Troy!

NURSE

Our mistress bids me with all speed to call
Aegisthus to the strangers, that he come
And hear more clearly, as a man from man,
This newly brought report. Before her slaves,
Under set eyes of melancholy cast,
She hid her inner chuckle at the events
That have been brought to pass--too well for her,
But for this house and hearth most miserably,--
As in the tale the strangers clearly told.
He, when he hears and learns the story's gist,
Will joy, I trow, in heart. Ah, wretched me!
How those old troubles, of all sorts made up,
Most hard to bear, in Atreus's palace-halls
Have made my heart full heavy in my breast!
But never have I known a woe like this.
For other ills I bore full patiently,
But as for dear Orestes, my sweet charge,
Whom from his mother I received and nursed . . .
And then the shrill cries rousing me o' nights,
And many and unprofitable toils
For me who bore them. For one needs must rear
The heedless infant like an animal,
(How can it else be?) as his humor serve
For while a child is yet in swaddling clothes,
It speaketh not, if either hunger comes,
Or passing thirst, or lower calls of need;
And children's stomach works its own content.
And I, though I foresaw this, call to mind,
How I was cheated, washing swaddling clothes,
And nurse and laundress did the selfsame work.
I then with these my double handicrafts,
Brought up Orestes for his father dear;
And now, woe's me! I learn that he is dead,
And go to fetch the man that mars this house;
And gladly will he hear these words of mine.

Now long and long from wintry Strymon blew
The weary, hungry, anchor-straining blasts,
The winds that wandering seamen dearly rue,
Nor spared the cables worn and groaning masts;
And, lingering on, in indolent delay,
Slow wasted all the strength of Greece away.
But when the shrill-voiced prophet 'gan proclaim
That remedy more dismal and more dread
Than the drear weather blackening overhead,
And spoke in Artemis' most awful name,
The sons of Atreus, 'mid their armed peers,
Their sceptres dashed to earth, and each broke out in tears,
And thus the elder king began to say:
"Dire doom! to disobey the gods' commands!
More dire, my child, mine house's pride, to slay,
Dabbling in virgin blood a father's hands.
Alas! alas! which way to fly?
As base deserter quit the host,
The pride and strength of our great league all lost?
Should I the storm-appeasing rite deny,
Will not their wrathfullest wrath rage up and swell?
Exact the virgin's blood?--oh, would 't were o'er and well!"

So, 'neath Necessity's stern yoke he passed,
And his lost soul, with impious impulse veering,
Surrendered to the accursed unholy blast,
Warped to the dire extreme of human daring.
The frenzy of affliction still
Maddens, dire counselor, man's soul to ill.

So he endured to be the priest
In that child-slaughtering rite unblest,
The first full offering of that host
In fatal war for a bad woman lost.

The prayers, the mute appeal to her hard sire,
Her youth, her virgin beauty,
Naught heeded they, the chiefs for war on fire.
So to the ministers of that dire duty
(First having prayed) the father gave the sign,
Like some soft kid, to lift her to the shrine.

There lay she prone,
Her graceful garments round her thrown;
But first her beauteous mouth around
Their violent bonds they wound,
With their rude inarticulate might,
Lest her dread curse the fatal house should smite.
But she her saffron robe to earth let fall:
The shaft of pity from her eye
Transpierced that awful priesthood--one and all.
Lovely as in a picture stood she by
As she would speak. Thus at her father's feasts
The virgin, 'mid the reveling guests,
Was wont with her chaste voice to supplicate
For her dear father an auspicious fate.

I saw no more! to speak more is not mine;
Not unfulfilled was Calchas' lore divine.
Eternal justice still will bring
Wisdom out of suffering.
So to the fond desire farewell,
The inevitable future to foretell;
'Tis but our woe to antedate;
Joint knit with joint, expands the full-formed fate.
Yet at the end of these dark days
May prospering weal return at length;
Thus in his spirit prays
He of the Apian land the sole remaining strength.

Now do our eyes behold
The tidings which were told:
Twin fallen kings, twin perished hopes to mourn,
The slayer, the slain,
The entangled doom forlorn
And ruinous end of twain.
Say, is not sorrow, is not sorrow's sum
On home and hearthstone come?
Oh, waft with sighs the sail from shore,
Oh, smite the bosom, cadencing the oar
That rows beyond the rueful stream for aye
To the far strand,
The ship of souls, the dark,
The unreturning bark
Whereon light never falls nor foot of Day,
Even to the bourne of all, to the unbeholden land.

Earth is rocking in space!
And the thunders crash up with a roar upon roar,
And the eddying lightnings flash fire in my face,
And the whirlwinds are whirling the dust round and round--
And the blasts of the winds universal leap free
And blow each other upon each, with a passion of sound,
And æther goes mingling in storm with the sea!
Such a curse on my head, in a manifest dread,
From the hand of your Zeus has been hurtled along!
O my mother's fair glory! O Æther, enringing
All eyes with the sweet common light of thy bringing,
Dost see how I suffer this wrong?

Hear ye my statute, men of Attica--
Ye who of bloodshed judge this primal cause;
Yea, and in future age shall Aegeus's host
Revere this court of jurors. This the hill
Of Ares, seat of Amazons, their tent,
What time 'gainst Theseus, breathing hate, they came,
Waging fierce battle, and their towers upreared,
A counter-fortress to Acropolis;--
To Ares they did sacrifice, and hence
This rock is titled Areopagus.
Here then shall sacred Awe, to Fear allied,
By day and night my lieges hold from wrong,
Save if themselves do innovate my laws,
If thou with mud, or influx base, bedim
The sparkling water, nought thou'lt find to drink.
Nor Anarchy, nor Tyrant's lawless rule
Commend I to my people's reverence;--
Nor let them banish from their city Fear;
For who 'mong men, uncurbed by fear, is just?
Thus holding Awe in seemly reverence,
A bulwark for your State shall ye possess,
A safeguard to protect your city walls,
Such as no mortals otherwhere can boast,
Neither in Scythia, nor in Pelops's realm.
Behold! This Court august, untouched by bribes,
Sharp to avenge, wakeful for those who sleep,
Establish I, a bulwark to this land.
This charge, extending to all future time,
I give my lieges. Meet it as ye rise,
Assume the pebbles, and decide the cause,
Your oath revering. All hath now been said.

STROPHE IV

Though Zeus plan all things right,
Yet is his heart's desire full hard to trace;
Nathless in every place
Brightly it gleameth, e'en in darkest night,
Fraught with black fate to man's speech-gifted race.

ANTISTROPHE IV

Steadfast, ne'er thrown in fight,
The deed in brow of Zeus to ripeness brought;
For wrapt in shadowy night,
Tangled, unscanned by mortal sight,
Extend the pathways of his secret thought.

STROPHE V

From towering hopes mortals he hurleth prone
To utter doom; but for their fall
No force arrayeth he; for all
That gods devise is without effort wrought.
A mindful Spirit aloft on holy throne
By inborn energy achieves his thought.

ANTISTROPHE V

But let him mortal insolence behold:--
How with proud contumacy rife,
Wantons the stem in lusty life
My marriage craving;--frenzy over-bold,
Spur ever-pricking, goads them on to fate,
By ruin taught their folly all too late.

STROPHE VI

Thus I complain, in piteous strain,
Grief-laden, tear-evoking, shrill;
Ah woe is me! woe! woe!
Dirge-like it sounds; mine own death-trill
I pour, yet breathing vital air.
Hear, hill-crowned Apia, hear my prayer!
Full well, O land,
My voice barbaric thou canst understand;
While oft with rendings I assail
My byssine vesture and Sidonian veil.

ANTISTROPHE VI

My nuptial right in Heaven's pure sight
Pollution were, death-laden, rude;
Ah woe is me! woe! woe!
Alas for sorrow's murky brood!
Where will this billow hurl me? Where?
Hear, hill-crowned Apia, hear my prayer;
Full well, O land,
My voice barbaric thou canst understand,
While oft with rendings I assail
My byssine vesture and Sidonian veil.

STROPHE VII

The oar indeed and home with sails
Flax-tissued, swelled with favoring gales,
Staunch to the wave, from spear-storm free,
Have to this shore escorted me,
Nor so far blame I destiny.
But may the all-seeing Father send
In fitting time propitious end;
So our dread Mother's mighty brood,
The lordly couch may 'scape, ah me,
Unwedded, unsubdued!

ANTISTROPHE VII

Meeting my will with will divine,
Daughter of Zeus, who here dost hold
Steadfast thy sacred shrine,--
Me, Artemis unstained, behold,
Do thou, who sovereign might dost wield,
Virgin thyself, a virgin shield;

So our dread Mother's mighty brood
The lordly couch may 'scape, ah me,
Unwedded, unsubdued!

The night was passing, and the Grecian host
By no means sought to issue forth unseen.
But when indeed the day with her white steeds
Held all the earth, resplendent to behold,
First from the Greeks the loud-resounding din
Of song triumphant came; and shrill at once
Echo responded from the island rock.
Then upon all barbarians terror fell,
Thus disappointed; for not as for flight
The Hellenes sang the holy pæan then,
But setting forth to battle valiantly.
The bugle with its note inflamed them all;
And straightway with the dip of plashing oars
They smote the deep sea water at command,
And quickly all were plainly to be seen.
Their right wing first in orderly array
Led on, and second all the armament
Followed them forth; and meanwhile there was heard
A mighty shout: "Come, O ye sons of Greeks,
Make free your country, make your children free,
Your wives, and fanes of your ancestral gods,
And your sires' tombs! For all we now contend!"
And from our side the rush of Persian speech
Replied. No longer might the crisis wait.
At once ship smote on ship with brazen beak;
A vessel of the Greeks began the attack,
Crushing the stem of a Phoenician ship.
Each on a different vessel turned its prow.
At first the current of the Persian host
Withstood; but when within the strait the throng
Of ships was gathered, and they could not aid
Each other, but by their own brazen bows
Were struck, they shattered all our naval host.
The Grecian vessels not unskillfully
Were smiting round about; the hulls of ships
Were overset; the sea was hid from sight,
Covered with wreckage and the death of men;
The reefs and headlands were with corpses filled,
And in disordered flight each ship was rowed,
As many as were of the Persian host.
But they, like tunnies or some shoal of fish,
With broken oars and fragments of the wrecks
Struck us and clove us; and at once a cry
Of lamentation filled the briny sea,
Till the black darkness' eye did rescue us.
The number of our griefs, not though ten days
I talked together, could I fully tell;
But this know well, that never in one day
Perished so great a multitude of men.

The man who rightly acts without coercion
Will not be grieved, can never wholly sink in wretchedness;
While the lawless criminal is forcibly dragged under
In the current of time when from the shattered mast
The elements rip down his sails.
He shouts, there is no ear to hear him
Struggling, hopeless, at the maelstrom's center.
Gods laugh at the transgressor now,
Watching him, his pride now wrecked,
Caught in desperation's shackles.
He flees the rocks in vain;
His fortunes smash on retribution's reef
And, unmourned, he is engulfed.

— The End —