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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Mother and Daughter

By Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674–1762)

From ‘Electra’

CLYTEMNESTRA—So! far from answering a mother’s kindness,

Thou heap’st defiance on that sacred name!

And when my pity seeks her happiness,

Electra scorns me still. Ay, ay, defy me,

Proud princess, unrelenting! but accuse

None save thyself, that Fate so frowns on thee!

From a great monarch, jealous of his power,

I won a hero-husband for my daughter;

And hasty Hope had shown to me the sceptre

Within our house once more, bought by that union;

Yet she, ungrateful, only seeks our ruin!

But one word more: thou hold’st the heart of Itys,

And this same day shall see your lots united.

Refuse him at thy peril! for Ægisthus

Is weary of the slave within his palace,

Whose tears move men and gods to pity.

Against so proud a tyrant, O ye heavens,

What weapon? Can he fear my harmless tears,

Who thus defies remorse? Ah, madam,—mother!

Is it for thee to add to my misfortunes?

I, I Ægisthus’s slave—alack, how comes it?

Ah, hapless daughter! who such slave has made me?

And say, of whom was this Electra born?

And is it fitting thou shouldst so reproach me?

Mother!—if still that holy name can move thee,—

And if indeed my shame be known to all

Within this palace,—show compassion on me,

And on the griefs thy hand hath heaped upon me;

Speed, speed my death! but think not to unite me

To him, the son of that foul murderer!

That wretch whose fury robbed me of a father,

And still pursues him in his son and daughter,

Usurping even the disposal of my hand!

Canst speak of such a marriage, and not shudder?

Mother! that lovedst me once,—how have I lost it,

Thy tender love? Alas! I cannot hate thee;

Despite the sorrows that have hedged me round,

The bitter tears I shed within this place,

’Tis only for the tyrant I invoke

The high gods’ wrath. Ah, if I must forget

That I have lost a father—help me, madam,

To still remember that I have a mother!

Clytemnestra—What can I do? how act? Naught save thy marriage

Will satisfy the King. I pray thee, yield.

Repine no longer at thy destined lot,

And cease bewailing o’er a dead barbarian

Who—had he found another Ilion—

Thyself full quickly would have made an offering

Upon the altar of his own ambition.

Thus did he dare—oh dark and cruel heart!—

Before mine eyes to sacrifice my daughter!

Electra—Cruel—ay, madam; yet was he thy husband.

If thus he purchased for him punishment,

What gods or men appointed thee avenger?

If Heaven in extremity of harshness

Compelled him, hapless hero! to outpour

His own blood—answer! was it not for Heaven

He spilled it? But thou, most unnatural mother

Of sorrow-scourged Electra and Orestes,

Thou too wouldst spill the last drops of that blood;

Not for high Heaven, jealous of its altars,

But for the vilest mortal. Ah, behold him!

He comes, inhuman wretch! and at the sight

Fierce passions stir within my seething soul.