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

Scenes from ‘Agamemnon’

By Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803)

  • Translation of Edgar Alfred Bowring
  • [During the absence of Agamemnon at the siege of Troy, Ægisthus, son of Thyestes and the relentless enemy of the House of Atreus, wins the love of Clytemnestra, and with devilish ingenuity persuades her that the only way to save her life and his is to slay her husband.]



    ÆGISTHUS—To be a banished man,… to fly,… to die:

    … These are the only means that I have left.

    Thou, far from me, deprived of every hope

    Of seeing me again, wilt from thy heart

    Have quickly chased my image: great Atrides

    Will wake a far superior passion there;

    Thou, in his presence, many happy days

    Wilt thou enjoy— These auspices may Heaven

    Confirm— I cannot now evince to thee

    A surer proof of love than by my flight;…

    A dreadful, hard, irrevocable proof.

    Clytemnestra—If there be need of death, we both will die!—

    But is there nothing left to try ere this?

    Ægis.—Another plan, perchance, e’en now remains;…

    But little worthy …
    Cly.—And it is—
    Ægis.—Too cruel.

    Cly.—But certain?
    Ægis.—Certain, ah, too much so!

    Canst thou hide it from me?
    Ægis.—How canst thou

    Of me demand it?
    Cly.—What then may it be?…

    I know not … Speak: I am too far advanced;

    I cannot now retract: perchance already

    I am suspected by Atrides; maybe

    He has the right already to despise me:

    Hence do I feel constrained, e’en now, to hate him;

    I cannot longer in his presence live;

    I neither will, nor dare.—Do thou, Ægisthus,

    Teach me a means, whatever it may be,

    A means by which I may withdraw myself

    From him forever.
    Ægis.—Thou withdraw thyself

    From him? I have already said to thee

    That now ’tis utterly impossible.

    Cly.—What other step remains for me to take?…

    Cly.—Now I understand thee.—What a flash,

    Oh, what a deadly, instantaneous flash

    Of criminal conviction rushes through

    My obtuse mind! What throbbing turbulence

    In ev’ry vein I feel!—I understand thee:

    The cruel remedy … the only one …

    Is Agamemnon’s life-blood.
    Ægis.—I am silent …

    Cly.—Yet, by thy silence, thou dost ask that blood.

    Ægis.—Nay, rather I forbid it.—To our love

    And to thy life (of mine I do not speak)

    His living is the only obstacle;

    But yet, thou knowest that his life is sacred:

    To love, respect, defend it, thou art bound;

    And I to tremble at it.—Let us cease:

    The hour advances now; my long discourse

    Might give occasion to suspicious thoughts.—

    At length receive … Ægisthus’s last farewell.

    Cly.—Ah! hear me … Agamemnon to our love …

    And to thy life?… Ah, yes; there are, besides him,

    No other obstacles: too certainly

    His life is death to us!
    Ægis.—Ah! do not heed

    My words: they spring from too much love.
    Cly.—And love

    Revealed to me their meaning.
    Ægis.—Hast thou not

    Thy mind o’erwhelmed with horror?
    Cly.—Horror?… yes;…

    But then to part from thee!…
    Ægis.—Wouldst have the courage?…

    Cly.—So vast my love, it puts an end to fear.

    Ægis.—But the king lives surrounded by his friends:

    What sword would find a passage to his heart?

    Cly.—What sword?
    Ægis.—Here open violence were vain.

    Cly.—Yet,… treachery!…
    Ægis.—’Tis true, he merits not

    To be betrayed, Atrides: he who loves

    His wife so well; he who, enchained from Troy,

    In semblance of a slave in fetters, brought

    Cassandra, whom he loves, to whom he is

    Himself a slave …
    Cly.—What do I hear!

    Expect that when of thee his love is wearied,

    He will divide with her his throne and bed;

    Expect that, to thy many other wrongs,

    Shame will be added: and do thou alone

    Not be exasperated at a deed

    That rouses every Argive.
    Cly.—What said’st thou?…

    Cassandra chosen as my rival?…

    Atrides wills.
    Cly.—Then let Atrides perish.

    Ægis.—How? By what hand?
    Cly.—By mine, this very night,

    Within that bed which he expects to share

    With this abhorred slave.
    Ægis.—O Heavens! but think …

    Cly.—I am resolved …
    Ægis.—Shouldst thou repent?…
    Cly.—I do

    That I so long delayed.
    Ægis.—And yet …
    Cly.—I’ll do it;

    I, e’en if thou wilt not. Shall I let thee,

    Who only dost deserve my love, be dragged

    To cruel death? And shall I let him live

    Who cares not for my love? I swear to thee,

    To-morrow thou shalt be the king in Argos.

    Nor shall my hand, nor shall my bosom tremble …

    But who approaches?
    Ægis.—’Tis Electra …

    Let us avoid her. Do thou trust in me.



    Electra—Ægisthus flies from me, and he does well;

    But I behold that likewise from my sight

    My mother seeks to fly. Infatuated

    And wretched mother! She could not resist

    The guilty eagerness for the last time

    To see Ægisthus.—They have here, at length,

    Conferred together … But Ægisthus seems

    Too much elated, and too confident,

    For one condemned to exile … She appeared

    Like one disturbed in thought, but more possessed

    With anger and resentment than with grief …

    O Heavens! who knows to what that miscreant base,

    With his infernal arts, may have impelled her!

    To what extremities have wrought her up!…

    Now, now, indeed, I tremble: what misdeeds,

    How black in kind, how manifold in number,

    Do I behold!… Yet, if I speak, I kill

    My mother:… If I’m silent—?…



    Ægis.—Hast thou performed the deed?

    Cly.—Ægisthus …
    Ægis.—What do I behold? O woman,

    What dost thou here, dissolved in useless tears?

    Tears are unprofitable, late, and vain;

    And they may cost us dear.
    Cly.—Thou here?… but how?…

    Wretch that I am! what have I promised thee?

    What impious counsel?…
    Ægis.—Was not thine the counsel?

    Love gave it thee, and fear recants it.—Now,

    Since thou’rt repentant, I am satisfied;

    Soothed by reflecting that thou art not guilty,

    I shall at least expire. To thee I said

    How difficult the enterprise would be;

    But thou, depending more than it became thee

    On that which is not in thee, virile courage,

    Daredst thyself thy own unwarlike hand

    For such a blow select. May Heaven permit

    That the mere project of a deed like this

    May not be fatal to thee! I by stealth,

    Protected by the darkness, hither came,

    And unobserved, I hope. I was constrained

    To bring the news myself, that now my life

    Is irrecoverably forfeited

    To the king’s vengeance …
    Cly.—What is this I hear?

    Whence didst thou learn it?
    Ægis.—More than he would wish

    Atrides hath discovered of our love;

    And I already from him have received

    A strict command not to depart from Argos.

    And further, I am summoned to his presence

    Soon as to-morrow dawns: thou seest well

    That such a conference to me is death.

    But fear not; for I will all means employ

    To bear myself the undivided blame.

    Cly.—What do I hear? Atrides knows it all?

    Ægis.—He knows too much: I have but one choice left:

    It will be best for me to ’scape by death,

    By self-inflicted death, this dangerous inquest.

    I save my honor thus; and free myself

    From an opprobrious end. I hither came

    To give thee my last warning: and to take

    My last farewell…. Oh, live; and may thy fame

    Live with thee, unimpeached! All thoughts of pity

    For me now lay aside; if I’m allowed

    By my own hand, for thy sake, to expire,

    I am supremely blest.
    Cly.—Alas!… Ægisthus …

    What a tumultuous passion rages now

    Within my bosom, when I hear thee speak!…

    And is it true?… Thy death …
    Ægis.—Is more than certain….

    Cly.—And I’m thy murderer!…
    Ægis.—I seek thy safety.

    Cly.—What wicked fury from Avernus’ shore,

    Ægisthus, guides thy steps? Oh, I had died

    Of grief, if I had never seen thee more;

    But guiltless I had died: spite of myself,

    Now, by thy presence, I already am

    Again impelled to this tremendous crime….

    An anguish, an unutterable anguish,

    Invades my bones, invades my every fibre….

    And can it be that this alone can save thee?…

    But who revealed our love?
    Ægis.—To speak of thee,

    Who but Electra to her father dare?

    Who to the monarch breathe thy name but she?

    Thy impious daughter in thy bosom thrusts

    The fatal sword; and ere she takes thy life,

    Would rob thee of thy honor.
    Cly.—And ought I

    This to believe?… Alas!…
    Ægis.—Believe it, then,

    On the authority of this my sword,

    If thou believ’st it not on mine. At least

    I’ll die in time….
    Cly.—O Heavens! what wouldst thou do?

    Sheathe, I command thee, sheathe that fatal sword.—

    Oh, night of horrors!… hear me … Perhaps Atrides

    Has not resolved….
    Ægis.—What boots this hesitation?…

    Atrides injured, and Atrides king,

    Meditates nothing in his haughty mind

    But blood and vengeance. Certain is my death,

    Thine is uncertain: but reflect, O queen,

    To what thou’rt destined, if he spare thy life.

    And were I seen to enter here alone,

    And at so late an hour … Alas, what fears

    Harrow my bosom when I think of thee!

    Soon will the dawn of day deliver thee

    From racking doubt; that dawn I ne’er shall see:

    I am resolved to die:…—Farewell … forever!

    Cly.—Stay, stay … Thou shalt not die.
    Ægis.—By no man’s hand

    Assuredly, except my own:—or thine,

    If so thou wilt. Ah, perpetrate the deed;

    Kill me; and drag me, palpitating yet,

    Before thy judge austere: my blood will be

    A proud acquittance for thee.
    Cly.—Madd’ning thought!…

    Wretch that I am!… Shall I be thy assassin?…

    Ægis.—Shame on thy hand, that cannot either kill

    Who most adores thee, or who most detests thee!

    Mine then must serve….
    Cly.—Ah!… no….
    Ægis.—Dost thou desire

    Me, or Atrides, dead?
    Cly.—Ah! what a choice!…

    Ægis.—Thou art compelled to choose.
    Cly.—I death inflict …

    Ægis.—Or death receive; when thou hast witnessed mine.

    Cly.—Ah, then the crime is too inevitable!

    Ægis.—The time now presses.
    Cly.—But … the courage … strength?…

    Ægis.—Strength, courage, all, will love impart to thee.

    Cly.—Must I then with this trembling hand of mine

    Plunge … in my husband’s heart … the sword?…
    Ægis.—The blows

    Thou wilt redouble with a steady hand

    In the hard heart of him who slew thy daughter.

    Cly.—Far from my hand I hurled the sword in anguish.

    Ægis.—Behold a steel, and of another temper:

    The clotted blood-drops of Thyestes’s sons

    Still stiffen on its frame: do not delay

    To furbish it once more in the vile blood

    Of Atreus; go, be quick: there now remain

    But a few moments; go. If awkwardly

    The blow thou aimest, or if thou shouldst be

    Again repentant, lady, ere ’tis struck,

    Do not thou any more tow’rd these apartments

    Thy footsteps turn: by my own hands destroyed,

    Here wouldst thou find me in a sea of blood

    Immersed. Now go, and tremble not; be bold.

    Enter and save us by his death.—



    Ægis.—Come forth,

    Thyestes, from profound Avernus; come,

    Now is the time; within this palace now

    Display thy dreadful shade. A copious banquet

    Of blood is now prepared for thee, enjoy it;

    Already o’er the heart of thy foe’s son

    Hangs the suspended sword; now, now, he feels it:

    An impious consort grasps it; it was fitting

    That she, not I, did this: so much more sweet

    To thee will be the vengeance, as the crime

    Is more atrocious…. An attentive ear

    Lend to the dire catastrophe with me;

    Doubt not she will accomplish it: disdain,

    Love, terror, to the necessary crime

    Compel the impious woman.—

    AGAMEMNON (within)

    Aga.—Treason! Ah!…

    My wife? .. O Heavens! .. I die .. O traitorous deed!

    Ægis.—Die, thou—yes, die! And thou redouble, woman,

    The blows redouble; all the weapon hide

    Within his heart; shed, to the latest drop,

    The blood of that fell miscreant: in our blood

    He would have bathed his hands.



    Cly.—What have I done?

    Where am I?…
    Ægis.—Thou hast slain the tyrant: now

    At length thou’rt worthy of me.
    Cly.—See, with blood

    The dagger drips;… my hands, my face, my garments,

    All, all are blood … Oh, for a deed like this,

    What vengeance will be wreaked!… I see already

    Already to my breast that very steel

    I see hurled back, and by what hand! I freeze,

    I faint, I shudder, I dissolve with horror.

    My strength, my utterance, fail me. Where am I?

    What have I done?… Alas!…
    Ægis.—Tremendous cries

    Resound on every side throughout the palace:

    ’Tis time to show the Argives what I am,

    And reap the harvest of my long endurance.



    Elec.—It still remains for thee to murder me,

    Thou impious, vile assassin of my father …

    But what do I behold? O Heavens!… my mother?…

    Flagitious woman, dost thou grasp the sword?

    Didst thou commit the murder?
    Ægis.—Hold thy peace.

    Stop not my path thus; quickly I return;

    Tremble: for now that I am king of Argos,

    Far more important is it that I kill

    Orestes than Electra.



    Cly.—Heavens!… Orestes?…

    Ægisthus, now I know thee….
    Elec.—Give it me:

    Give me that steel.
    Cly.—Ægisthus!… Stop!… Wilt thou

    Murder my son? Thou first shalt murder me.



    Elec.—O night! .. O father! .. Ah, it was your deed,

    Ye gods, this thought of mine to place Orestes

    In safety first.—Thou wilt not find him, traitor.—

    Ah live, Orestes, live: and I will keep

    This impious steel for thy adult right hand.

    The day, I hope, will come, when I in Argos

    Shall see thee the avenger of thy father.