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Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.). Agamemnon.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Lines 1000–1499

And he who followed spake of ill on ill,

Keening Lost, lost, all lost! thro’ hall and bower.

Had this my husband met so many wounds,

As by a thousand channels rumour told,

No network e’er was full of holes as he.

Had he been slain, as oft as tidings came

That he was dead, he well might boast him now

A second Geryon of triple frame,

With triple robe of earth above him laid—

For that below, no matter—triply dead,

Dead by one death for every form he bore.

And thus distraught by news of wrath and woe,

Oft for self-slaughter had I slung the noose,

But others wrenched it from my neck away.

Hence haps it that Orestes, thine and mine,

The pledge and symbol of our wedded troth,

Stands not beside us now, as he should stand.

Nor marvel thou at this: he dwells with one

Who guards him loyally; ’tis Phocis’ king,

Strophius, who warned me erst, Bethink thee, queen,

What woes of doubtful issue well may fall!

Thy lord in daily jeopardy at Troy,

While here a populace uncurbed may cry,

“Down with the council, down!” bethink thee too,

’Tis the world’s way to set a harder heel

On fallen power.

For thy child’s absence then

Such mine excuse, no wily afterthought.

For me, long since the gushing fount of tears

Is wept away; no drop is left to shed.

Dim are the eyes that ever watched till dawn,

Weeping, the bale-fires, piled for thy return,

Night after night unkindled. If I slept,

Each sound—the tiny humming of a gnat,

Roused me again, again, from fitful dreams

Wherein I felt thee smitten, saw thee slain,

Thrice for each moment of mine hour of sleep.

All this I bore, and now, released from woe,

A hail my lord as watch-dog of a fold,

As saving stay-rope of a storm-tossed ship,

As column stout that holds the roof aloft,

As only child unto a sire bereaved,

As land beheld, past hope, by crews forlorn,

As sunshine fair when tempest’s wrath is past,

As gushing spring to thirsty wayfarer.

So sweet it is to ’scape the press of pain.

With such salute I bid my husband hail!

Nor heaven be wroth therewith! for long and hard

I bore that ire of old.

Sweet lord, step forth,

Step from thy car, I pray—nay, not on earth

Plant the proud foot, O king, that trod down Troy!

Women! why tarry ye, whose task it is

To spread your monarch’s path with tapestry?

Swift, swift, with purple strew his passage fair,

That justice lead him to a home, at last,

He scarcely looked to see.

For what remains,

Zeal unsubdued by sleep shall nerve my hand

To work as right and as the gods command.

Daughter of Leda, watcher o’er my home,

Thy greeting well befits mine absence long,

For late and hardly has it reached its end.

Know that the praise which honour bids us crave,

Must come from others’ lips, not from our own:

See too that not in fashion feminine

Thou make a warrior’s pathway delicate;

Not unto me, as to some Eastern lord,

Bowing thyself to earth, make homage loud.

Strew not this purple that shall make each step

An arrogance; such pomp beseems the gods,

Not me. A mortal man to set his foot

On these rich dyes? I hold such pride in fear,

And bid thee honour me as man, not god.

Fear not—such footcloths and all gauds apart,

Loud from the trump of Fame my name is blown;

Best gift of heaven it is, in glory’s hour,

To think thereon with soberness: and thou—

Bethink thee of the adage, Call none blest

Till peaceful death have crowned a life of weal.

’Tis said: I fain would fare unvexed by fear.

Nay, but unsay it—thwart not thou my will

Know, I have said, and will not mar my word.

Was it fear made this meekness to the gods?

If cause be cause, ’tis mine for this resolve.

What, think’st thou, in thy place had Priam done?

He surely would have walked on broidered robes.

Then fear not thou the voice of human blame.

Yet mighty is the murmur of a crowd.

Shrink not from envy, appanage of bliss.

War is not woman’s part, nor war of words.

Yet happy victors well may yield therein.

Dost crave for triumph in this petty strife?

Yield; of thy grace permit me to prevail!

Then, if thou wilt, let some one stoop to loose

Swiftly these sandals, slaves beneath my foot:

And stepping thus upon the sea’s rich dye,

I pray, Let none among the gods look down

With jealous eye on me—reluctant all,

To trample thus and mar a thing of price,

Wasting the wealth of garments silver-worth.

Enough hereof: and, for the stranger maid,

Lead her within, but gently: God on high

Looks graciously on him whom triumph’s hour

Has made not pitiless. None willingly

Wear the slave’s yoke—and she, the prize and flower

Of all we won, comes hither in my train,

Gift of the army to its chief and lord.

—Now, since in this my will bows down to thine,

I will pass in on purples to my home.

A Sea there is—and who shall stay its springs?

And deep within its breast, a mighty store,

Precious as silver, of the purple dye,

Whereby the dipped robe doth its tint renew.

Enough of such, O king, within thy halls

There lies, a store that cannot fail; but I—

I would have gladly vowed unto the gods

Cost of a thousand garments trodden thus

(Had once the oracle such gift required),

Contriving ransom for thy life preserved.

For while the stock is firm the foliage climbs,

Spreading a shade, what time the dog-star glows;

And thou, returning to thine hearth and home,

Art as a genial warmth in winter hours,

Or as a coolness, when the lord of heaven

Mellows the juice within the bitter grape.

Such boons and more doth bring into a home

The present footstep of its proper lord.

Zeus, Zeus, Fulfilment’s lord! my vows fulfil,

And whatsoe’er it be, work forth thy will![Exeunt all but Cassandra and the Chorus.

Wherefore for ever on the wings of fear

Hovers a vision drear

Before my boding heart? a strain,

Unbidden and unwelcome, thrills mine ear,

Oracular of pain.

Not as of old upon my bosom’s throne

Sits Confidence, to spurn

Such fears, like dreams we know not to discern.

Old, old and gray long since the time has grown,

Which saw the linked cables moor

The fleet, when erst it came to Ilion’s sandy shore;

And now mine eyes and not another’s see

Their safe return.

Yet none the less in me

The inner spirit sings a boding song,

Self-prompted, sings the Furies’ strain—

And seeks, and seeks in vain,

To hope and to be strong!

Ah! to some end of Fate, unseen, unguessed,

Are these wild throbbings of my heart and breast—

Yea, of some doom they tell—

Each pulse, a knell.

Lief, lief I were, that all

To unfulfilment’s hidden realm might fall.

Too far, too far our mortal spirits strive,

Grasping at utter weal, unsatisfied—

Till the fell curse, that dwelleth hard beside,

Thrust down the sundering wall. Too fair they blow,

The gales that waft our bark on Fortune’s tide!

Swiftly we sail, the sooner all to drive

Upon the hidden rock, the reef of woe.

Then if the hand of caution warily

Sling forth into the sea

Part of the freight, lest all should sink below,

From the deep death it saves the bark: even so,

Doom-laden though it be, once more may rise

His household, who is timely wise.

How oft the famine-stricken field

Is saved by God’s large gift, the new year’s yield!

But blood of man once spilled,

Once at his feet shed forth, and darkening the plain,—

Nor chant nor charm can call it back again.

So Zeus hath willed:

Else had he spared the leech Asclepius, skilled

To bring man from the dead: the hand divine

Did smite himself with death—a warning and a sign.

Ah me! if Fate, ordained of old,

Held not the will of gods constrained, controlled,

Helpless to us-ward, and apart—

Swifter than speech my heart

Had poured its presage out!

Now, fretting, chafing in the dark of doubt,

’Tis hopeless to unfold

Truth, from fear’s tangled skein; and, yearning to proclaim

Its thought, my soul is prophecy and flame.

Get thee within, thou too, Cassandra, go!

For Zeus to thee in gracious mercy grants

To share the sprinklings of the lustral bowl,

Beside the altar of his guardianship,

Slave among many slaves. What, haughty still?

Step from the car; Alcmena’s son, ’tis said,

Was sold perforce and bore the yoke of old.

Ay, hard it is, but, if such fate befal,

’Tis a fair chance to serve within a home

Of ancient wealth and power. An upstart lord,

To whom wealth’s harvest came beyond his hope,

Is as a lion to his slaves, in all

Exceeding fierce, immoderate in sway.

Pass in: thou hearest what our ways will be.

Clear unto thee, O maid, is her command,

But thou—within the toils of Fate thou art—

If such thy will, I urge thee to obey;

Yet I misdoubt thou dost nor hear nor heed.

I wot—unless like swallows she doth use

Some strange barbarian tongue from oversea—

My words must speak persuasion to her soul.

Obey: there is no gentler way than this.

Step from the car’s high seat and follow her.

Truce to this bootless waiting here without!

I will not stay: beside the central shrine

The victims stand, prepared for knife and fire—

Offerings from hearts beyond all hope made glad.

Thou—if thou reckest aught of my command,

’Twere well done soon: but if thy sense be shut

From these my words, let thy barbarian hand

Fulfil by gesture the default of speech.

No native is she, thus to read thy words

Unaided: like some wild thing of the wood,

New-trapped, behold! she shrinks and glares on thee.

’Tis madness and the rule of mind distraught,

Since she beheld her city sink in fire,

And hither comes, nor brooks the bit, until

In foam and blood her wrath be champed away.

See ye to her; unqueenly ’tis for me,

Unheeded thus to cast away my words.[Exit Clytemnestra.

But with me pity sits in anger’s place

Poor maiden, come thou from the car; no way

There is but this—take up thy servitude.

Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou

Apollo, Apollo!

Peace! shriek not to the bright prophetic god,

Who will not brook the suppliance of woe.

Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou

Apollo, Apollo!

Hark, with wild curse she calls anew on him,

Who stands far off and loathes the voice of wail.

Apollo, Apollo!

God of all ways, but only Death’s to me,

Once and again, O thou, Destroyer named,

thou hast destroyed me, thou, my love of old!

She grows presageful of her woes to come,

Slave tho’ she be, instinct with prophecy.

Apollo, Apollo!

God of all ways, but only Death’s to me,

O thou Apollo, thou Destroyer named!

What way hast led me, to what evil home?

Know’st thou it not? The home of Atreus’ race:

Take these my words for sooth and ask no more.

Home cursed of God! Bear witness unto me,

Ye visioned woes within—

The blood-stained hands of them that smite their kin—

The strangling noose, and, spattered o’er

With human blood, the reeking floor!

How like a sleuth-hound questing on the track,

Keen-scented unto blood and death she hies!

Ah! can the ghostly guidance fail,

Whereby my prophet-soul is onwards led?

Look! for their flesh the spectre-children wail,

Their sodden limbs on which their father fed!

Long since we knew of thy prophetic fame,—

But for those deeds we seek no prophet’s tongue.

God! ’tis another crime—

Worse than the storied woe of olden time,

Cureless, abhorred, that one is plotting here—

A shaming death, for those that should be dear!

Alas! and far away, in foreign land,

He that should help doth stand!

I knew th’ old tales the city rings withal—

But now thy speech is dark, beyond my ken.

O wretch, O purpose fell!

Thou for thy wedded lord

The cleansing wave hast poured—

A treacherous welcome!

How the sequel tell?

Too soon ’twill come, too soon, for now, even now,

She smites him, blow on blow!

Riddles beyond my rede—I peer in vain

Thro’ the dim films that screen the prophecy.

God! a new sight! a net, a snare off hell,

Set by her hand—herself a snare more fell!

A wedded wife, she slays her lord,

Helped by another hand!

Ye powers, whose hate

Of Atreus’ home no blood can satiate,

Raise the wild cry above the sacrifice abhorred!

Why biddest thou some fiend, I know not whom,

Shriek o’er the house? Thine is no cheering word.

Back to my heart in frozen fear I feel

My waning life-blood run—

The blood that round the wounding steel

Ebbs slow, as sinks life’s parting sun—

Swift, swift and sure, some woe comes pressing on!

Away, away—keep him away—

The monarch of the herd, the pasture’s pride,

Far from his mate! In treach’rous wrath,

Muffling his swarthy horns, with secret scathe

She gores his fenceless side!

Hark! in the brimming bath,

The heavy plash—the dying cry—

Hark—in the laver—hark, he falls by treachery!

I read amiss dark sayings such as thine,

Yet something warns me that they tell of ill.

O dark prophetic speech,

Ill tidings dost thou teach

Ever, to mortals here below!

Ever some tale of awe and woe

Thro’ all thy windings manifold

Do we unriddle and unfold!

Ah well-a-day! the cup of agony,

Whereof I chant, foams with a draught for me.

Ah lord, ah leader, thou hast led me here—

Was’t but to die with thee whose doom is near?

Distraught thou art, divinely stirred,

And wailest for thyself a tuneless lay,

As piteous as the ceaseless tale

Wherewith the brown melodious bird

Doth ever Itys! Itys! wail,

Deep-bowered in sorrow, all its little lifetime’s day!

Ah for thy fate, O shrill-voiced nightingale!

Some solace for thy woes did heaven afford,

Clothed thee with soft brown plumes, and life apart from wail—

But for my death is edged the double-biting sword!

What pangs are these, what fruitless pain,

Sent on thee from on high?

Thou chantest terror’s frantic strain,

Yet in shrill measured melody.

How thus unerring canst thou sweep along

The prophet’s path of boding song?

Woe, Paris, woe on thee! thy bridal joy

Was death and fire upon thy race and Troy!

And woe for thee, Scamander’s flood!

Beside thy banks, O river fair,

I grew in tender nursing care

From childhood unto maidenhood!

Now not by thine, but by Cocytus’ stream

And Acheron’s banks shall ring my boding scream.

Too plain is all, too plain!

A child might read aright thy fateful strain.

Deep in my heart their piercing fang

Terror and sorrow set, the while I heard

That piteous, low, tender word,

Yet to mine ear and heart a crushing pang.

Woe for my city, woe for Ilion’s fall!

Father, how oft with sanguine stain

Streamed on thine altar-stone the blood of cattle, slain

That heaven might guard our wall!

But all was shed in vain.

Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,

And I—ah burning heart!—shall soon lie low as well.

Of sorrow is thy song, of sorrow still!

Alas, what power of ill

Sits heavy on thy heart and bids thee tell

In tears of perfect moan thy deadly tale?

Some woe—I know not what—must close thy piteous wail.

List! for no more the presage of my soul,

Bride-like, shall peer from its secluding veil;

But as the morning wind blows clear the east,

More bright shall blow the wind of prophecy,

And as against the low bright line of dawn

Heaves high and higher yet the rolling wave,

So in the clearing skies of prescience

Dawns on my soul a further, deadlier woe,

And I will speak, but in dark speech no more.

Bear witness, ye, and follow at my side—

I scent the trail of blood, shed long ago.

Within this house a choir abidingly

Chants in harsh unison the chant of ill;

Yea, and they drink, for more enhardened joy,

Man’s blood for wine, and revel in the halls,

Departing never, Furies of the home.

They sit within, they chant the primal curse,

Each spitting hatred on that crime of old,

The brother’s couch, the love incestuous

That brought forth hatred to the ravisher.

Say, is my speech or wild and erring now,

Or doth its arrow cleave the mark indeed?

They called me once, The prophetess of lies,

The wandering hag, the pest of every door—

Attest ye now, She knows in very sooth

The house’s curse, the storied infamy.

Yet how should oath—how loyally soe’er

I swear it—aught avail thee? In good sooth,

My wonder meets thy claim: I stand amazed

That thou, a maiden born beyond the seas,

Dost as a native know and tell aright

Tales of a city of an alien tongue.

That is my power—a boon Apollo gave.

God though he were, yearning for mortal maid?

Ay! what seemed shame of old is shame no more.

Such finer sense suits not with slavery.

He strove to win me, panting for my love.

Came ye by compact unto bridal joys?

Nay—for I plighted troth, then foiled the god.

Wert thou already dowered with prescience?

Yea—prophetess to Troy of all her doom.

How left thee then Apollo’s wrath unscathed?

I, false to him, seemed prophet false to all.

Not so—to us at least thy words seem sooth.

Woe for me, woe! Again the agony—

Dread pain that sees the future all too well

With ghastly preludes whirls and racks my soul.

Behold ye—yonder on the palace roof

The spectre-children sitting—look, such things

As dreams are made on, phantoms as of babes,

Horrible shadows, that a kinsman’s hand

Hath marked with murder, and their arms as full—

A rueful burden—see, they hold them up,

The entrails upon which their father fed!

For this, for this, I say there plots revenge

A coward lion, couching in the lair—

Guarding the gate against my master’s foot—

My master-mine—I bear the slave’s yoke now,

And he, the lord of ships, who trod down Troy,

Knows not the fawning treachery of tongue

Of this thing false and dog-like—how her speech

Glazes and sleeks her purpose, till she win

By ill fate’s favour the desired chance,

Moving like Ate to a secret end.

O aweless soul! the woman slays her lord—

Woman? what loathsome monster of the earth

Were fit comparison? The double snake—

Or Scylla, where she dwells, the seaman’s bane,

Girt round about with rocks? some hag of hell,

Raving a truceless curse upon her kin?

Hark—even now she cries exultingly

The vengeful cry that tells of battle turned—

How fain, forsooth, to greet her chief restored!

Nay, then, believe me not: what skills belief

Or disbelief? Fate works its will—and thou

Wilt see and say in ruth, Her tale was true.

Ah—’tis Thyestes’ feast on kindred flesh—

I guess her meaning and with horror thrill,

Hearing no shadow’d hint of th’ o’er—true tale,

But its full hatefulness: yet, for the rest,

Far from the track I roam, and know no more.

’Tis Agamemnon’s doom thou shalt behold.

Peace, hapless woman, to thy boding words!

Far from my speech stands he who sains and saves.

Ay—were such doom at hand—which God forbid!

Thou prayest idly—these move swift to slay.

What man prepares a deed of such despite?

Fool! thus to read amiss mine oracles.

Deviser and device are dark to me.

Dark! all too well I speak the Grecian tongue.

Ay—but in thine, as in Apollo’s strains,

Familiar is the tongue, but dark the thought.

Ah ah the fire! it waxes, nears me now—

Woe, woe for me, Apollo of the dawn!

Lo, how the woman-thing, the lioness

Couched with the wolf—her noble mate afar—

Will slay me, slave forlorn! Yea, like some witch,

She drugs the cup of wrath, that slays her lord

With double death—his recompense for me!

Ay, ’tis for me, the prey he bore from Troy,

That she hath sworn his death, and edged the steel!

Ye wands, ye wreaths that cling around my neck,

Ye showed me prophetess yet scorned of all—

I stamp you into death, or e’er I die—

Down, to destruction!

Thus I stand revenged—

Go, crown some other with a prophet’s woe.

Look! it is he, it is Apollo’s self

Rending from me the prophet-robe he gave.

God! while I wore it yet, thou saw’st me mocked

There at my home by each malicious mouth—

To all and each, an undivided scorn.

The name alike and fate of witch and cheat—

Woe, poverty, and famine—all I bore;

And at this last the god hath brought me here

Into death’s toils, and what his love had made,

His hate unmakes me now: and I shall stand

Not now before the altar of my home,

But me a slaughter-house and block of blood

Shall see hewn down, a reeking sacrifice.

Yet shall the gods have heed of me who die,

For by their will shall one requite my doom.

He, to avenge his father’s blood outpoured,

Shall smite and slay with matricidal hand.

Ay, he shall come—tho’ far away he roam,

A banished wanderer in a stranger’s land—

To crown his kindred’s edifice of ille

Called home to vengeance by his father’s fall:

Thus have the high gods sworn, and shall fulfil.

And now why mourn I, tarrying on earth,

Since first mine Ilion has found its fate

And I beheld, and those who won the wall

Pass to such issue as the gods ordain?

I too will pass and like them dare to die![Turns and looks upon the palace door.

Portal of Hades, thus I bid thee hail!

Grant me one boon—a swift and mortal stroke,

That all unwrong by pain, with ebbing blood

Shed forth in quiet death, I close mine eyes.

Maid of mysterious woes, mysterious lore,

Long was thy prophecy: but if aright

Thou readest all thy fate, how, thus unscared,

Dost thou approach the altar of thy doom,

As fronts the knife some victim, heaven-controlled?

Friends, there is no avoidance in delay.

Yet who delays the longest, his the gain.

The day is come—flight were small gain to me!