NINE GREEK DRAMAS
By AESCHYLUS, SOPHOCLES, EURIPIDES and ARISTOPHANES
Translations by E.D.A. MORSHEAD E.H. PLUMPTRE GILBERT MURRAY and B.B. ROGERS
Translated by GILBERT MURRAY
Euripides, the youngest of the trio of great Greek tragedians was born at Salamis in 480 B.C., on the day when the Greeks won their momentous naval victory there over the fleet of the Persians. The precise social status of his parents is not clear but he received a good education, was early distinguished as an athlete, and showed talent in painting and oratory. He was a fellow student of Pericles, and his dramas show the influence of the philosophical ideas of Anaxagoras and of Socrates, with whom he was personally intimate. Like Socrates, he was accused of impiety, and this, along with domestic infelicity, has been supposed to afford a motive for his withdrawal from Athens, first to Magnesia and later to the court of Anchelaues in Macedonia where he died in 406 B.C.
The first tragedy of Euripides was produced when he was about twenty-five, and he was several times a victor in the tragic contests. In spite of the antagonisms which he aroused and the criticisms which were hurled upon him in, for example, the comedies of Aristophanes, he attained a very great popularity; and Plutarch tells that those Athenians who were taken captive in the disastrous Sicilian expedition of 413 B.C. were offered freedom by their captors if they could recite from the works of Euripides. Of the hundred and twenty dramas ascribed to Euripides, there have come down to us complete eighteen tragedies and one satyric drama, "Cyclops," beside numerous fragments.
The works of Euripides are generally regarded as showing the beginning of the decline of Greek tragedy. The idea of Fate hitherto dominant in the plays of his predecessors, tends to be degraded by him into mere chance; the characters lose much of their ideal quality; and even gods and heroes are represented as moved by the petty motives of ordinary humanity. The chorus is often quite detached from the action; the poetry is florid; and the action is frequently tinged with sensationalism. In spite of all this, Euripides remains a great poet; and his picturesqueness and tendencies to what are now called realism and romanticism, while marking his inferiority to the chaste classicism of Sophocles, bring him more easily within the sympathetic interest of the modern reader.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE THE GODDESS APHRODITE THESEUS, King of Athens and Trozen PHAEDRA, daughter of Minos, King of Crete, wife to Theseus HIPPOLYTUS, bastard son of Theseus and the Amazon Hippolyte THE NURSE OF PHAEDRA A HENCHMAN OF HIPPOLYTUS THE GODDESS ARTEMIS AN OLD HUNTSMAN A CHORUS OF HUNTSMEN ATTENDANTS ON THE THREE ROYAL PERSONS A CHORUS OF TROZENIAN WOMEN, WITH THEIR LEADER
The scene is laid in Trozen. The play was first acted when Epameinon was Archon, Olympiad 87, year 4 (B.C. 429). Euripides was first, Iophon second, Ion third.
APHRODITE Great among men, and not unnamed am I, The Cyprian, in God's inmost halls on high. And wheresoe'er from Pontus to the far Red West men dwell, and see the glad day-star, And worship Me, the pious heart I bless, And wreck that life that lives in stubbornness. For that there is, even in a great God's mind, That hungereth for the praise of human kind.
So runs my word; and soon the very deed Shall follow. For this Prince of Theseus' seed, Hippolytus, child of that dead Amazon, And reared by saintly Pittheus in his own Strait ways, hath dared, alone of all Trozen, To hold me least of spirits and most mean, And spurns my spell and seeks no woman's kiss, But great Apollo's sister, Artemis, He holds of all most high, gives love and praise, And through the wild dark woods for ever strays, He and the Maid together, with swift hounds To slay all angry beasts from out these bounds, To more than mortal friendship consecrate!
I grudge it not. No grudge know I, nor hate; Yet, seeing he hath offended, I this day Shall smite Hippolytus. Long since my way Was opened, nor needs now much labour more.
For once from Pittheus' castle to the shore Of Athens came Hippolytus over-seas Seeking the vision of the Mysteries. And Phaedra there, his father's Queen high-born; Saw him, and as she saw, her heart was torn With great love, by the working of my will. And for his sake, long since, on Pallas' hill, Deep in the rock, that Love no more might roam, She built a shrine, and named it Love-at-home: And the rock held it, but its face alway Seeks Trozen o'er the seas. Then came the day When Theseus, for the blood of kinsmen shed, Spake doom of exile on himself, and fled, Phaedra beside him, even to this Trozen. And here that grievous and amazed Queen, Wounded and wondering, with ne'er a word, Wastes slowly; and her secret none hath heard Nor dreamed.
But never thus this love shall end! To Theseus' ear some whisper will I send, And all be bare! And that proud Prince, my foe, His sire shall slay with curses. Even so Endeth that boon the great Lord of the Main To Theseus gave, the Three Prayers not in vain.
And she, not in dishonour, yet shall die. I would not rate this woman's pain so high As not to pay mine haters in full fee That vengeance that shall make all well with me.
But soft, here comes he, striding from the chase, Our Prince Hippolytus!—I will go my ways.— And hunters at his heels: and a loud throng Glorying Artemis with praise and song! Little he knows that Hell's gates opened are, And this his last look on the great Day-star! [APHRODITE withdraws, unseen by HIPPOLYTUS and a band of huntsmen, who enter from the left, singing. They pass the Statue of APHRODITE without notice.]
HIPPOLYTUS Follow, O follow me, Singing on your ways Her in whose hand are we, Her whose own flock we be, The Zeus-Child, the Heavenly; To Artemis be praise!
HUNTSMAN Hail to thee, Maiden blest, Proudest and holiest: God's Daughter, great in bliss, Leto-born, Artemis! Hail to thee, Maiden, far Fairest of all that are, Yea, and most high thine home, Child of the Father's hall; Hear, O most virginal, Hear, O most fair of all, In high God's golden dome.
[The huntsmen have gathered about the altar of ARTEMIS. HIPPOLYTUS now advances from them, and approaches the Statue with a wreath in his hand.]
HIPPOLYTUS To thee this wreathed garland, from a green And virgin meadow bear I, O my Queen, Where never shepherd leads his grazing ewes Nor scythe has touched. Only the river dews Gleam, and the spring bee sings, and in the glade Hath Solitude her mystic garden made. No evil hand may cull it: only he Whose heart hath known the heart of Purity, Unlearned of man, and true whate'er befall. Take therefore from pure hands this coronal, O mistress loved, thy golden hair to twine. For, sole of living men, this grace is mine, To dwell with thee, and speak, and hear replies Of voice divine, though none may see thine eyes. Oh, keep me to the end in this same road! [An OLD HUNTSMAN, who has stood apart from the rest, here comes up to HIPPOLYTUS.]
HUNTSMAN My Prince—for "Master" name I none but God— Gave I good counsel, wouldst thou welcome it?
HIPPOLYTUS Right gladly, friend; else were I poor of wit.
HUNTSMAN Knowest thou one law, that through the world has won?
HIPPOLYTUS What wouldst thou? And how runs thy law? Say on.
HUNTSMAN It hates that Pride that speaks not all men fair!
HIPPOLYTUS And rightly. Pride breeds hatred everywhere.
HUNTSMAN And good words love, and grace in all men's sight?
HIPPOLYTUS Aye, and much gain withal, for trouble slight.
HUNTSMAN How deem'st thou of the Gods? Are they the same?
HIPPOLYTUS Surely: we are but fashioned on their frame.
HUNTSMAN Why then wilt thou be proud, and worship not ...
HIPPOLYTUS Whom? If the name be speakable, speak out!
HUNTSMAN She stands here at thy gate: the Cyprian Queen!
HIPPOLYTUS I greet her from afar: my life is clean.
HUNTSMAN Clean? Nay, proud, proud; a mark for all to scan!
HIPPOLYTUS Each mind hath its own bent, for God or man.
HUNTSMAN God grant thee happiness ... and wiser thought!
HIPPOLYTUS These Spirits that reign in darkness like me not.
HUNTSMAN What the Gods ask, O Son, that man must pay!
HIPPOLYTUS (turning from him to the others). On, huntsmen, to the Castle! Make your way Straight to the feast room; 'tis a merry thing After the chase, a board of banqueting. And see the steeds be groomed, and in array The chariot dight. I drive them forth to-day [He pauses, and makes a slight gesture of reverence to the Statue on the left. Then to the OLD HUNTSMAN.] That for thy Cyprian, friend, and nought beside! [HIPPOLYTUS follows the huntsmen, who stream by the central door in the Castle. The OLD HUNTSMAN remains.]
HUNTSMAN (approaching the Statue and kneeling) O Cyprian—for a young man in his pride I will not follow!—here before thee, meek, In that one language that a slave may speak, I pray thee; Oh, if some wild heart in froth Of youth surges against thee, be not wroth For ever! Nay, be far and hear not then: Gods should be gentler and more wise than men! [He rises and follows the others into the Castle.]
The Orchestra is empty for a moment, then there enter from right and left several Trosenian women young and old. Their number eventually amounts to fifteen.
CHORUS There riseth a rock-born river, Of Ocean's tribe, men say; The crags of it gleam and quiver, And pitchers dip in the spray: A woman was there with raiment white To bathe and spread in the warm sunlight, And she told a tale to me there by the river The tale of the Queen and her evil day:
How, ailing beyond allayment, Within she hath bowed her head, And with shadow of silken raiment The bright brown hair bespread. For three long days she hath lain forlorn, Her lips untainted of flesh or corn, For that secret sorrow beyond allayment That steers to the far sad shore of the dead.
Some Women Is this some Spirit, O child of man? Doth Hecat hold thee perchance, or Pan? Doth she of the Mountains work her ban, Or the dread Corybantes bind thee?
Others Nay, is it sin that upon thee lies, Sin of forgotten sacrifice, In thine own Dictynna's sea-wild eyes? Who in Limna here can find thee; For the Deep's dry floor is her easy way, And she moves in the salt wet whirl of the spray.
Other Women Or doth the Lord of Erechtheus' race, Thy Theseus, watch for a fairer face, For secret arms in a silent place, Far from thy love or chiding?
Others Or hath there landed, amid the loud Hum of Piraeus' sailor-crowd, Some Cretan venturer, weary-browed, Who bears to the Queen some tiding; Some far home-grief, that hath bowed her low, And chained her soul to a bed of woe?
An Older Woman Nay—know yet not?—this burden hath alway lain On the devious being of woman; yea, burdens twain, The burden of Wild Will and the burden of Pain. Through my heart once that wind of terror sped; But I, in fear confessed, Cried from the dark to Her in heavenly bliss, The Helper of Pain, the Bow-Maid Artemis: Whose feet I praise for ever, where they tread Far off among the blessed!
THE LEADER But see, the Queen's grey nurse at the door, Sad-eyed and sterner, methinks, than of yore With the Queen. Doth she lead her hither To the wind and sun?—Ah, fain would I know What strange betiding hath blanched that brow And made that young life wither. [_The_ NURSE comes out from the central door followed by_ PHAEDRA, _who is supported by two handmaids. They make ready a couch for_ PHAEDRA _to lie upon_.]
NURSE O sick and sore are the days of men! What wouldst thou? What shall I change again Here is the Sun for thee; here is the sky; And thy weary pillows wind-swept lie, By the castle door. But the cloud of thy brow is dark, I ween; And soon thou wilt back to thy bower within: So swift to change is the path of thy feet, And near things hateful, and far things sweet; So was it before!
Oh, pain were better than tending pain! For that were single, and this is twain, With grief of heart and labour of limb. Yet all man's life is but ailing and dim, And rest upon earth comes never. But if any far-off state there be, Dearer than life to mortality; The hand of the Dark hath hold thereof, And mist is under and mist above. And so we are sick of life, and cling On earth to this nameless and shining thing. For other life is a fountain sealed, And the deeps below are unrevealed, And we drift on legends for ever! [PHAEDRA during this has been laid on her couch; she speaks to the handmaids.]
PHAEDRA Yes; lift me: not my head so low. There, hold my arms.—Fair arms they seem!— My poor limbs scarce obey me now! Take off that hood that weighs my brow, And let my long hair stream.
NURSE Nay, toss not, Child, so feveredly. The sickness best will win relief By quiet rest and constancy. All men have grief.
PHAEDRA (not noticing her) Oh for a deep and dewy spring, With runlets cold to draw and drink! And a great meadow blossoming, Long-grassed, and poplars in a ring, To rest me by the brink!
NURSE Nay, Child! Shall strangers hear this tone So wild, and thoughts so fever-flown?
PHAEDRA Oh, take me to the Mountain! Oh, Pass the great pines and through the wood, Up where the lean hounds softly go, A-whine for wild things' blood, And madly flies the dappled roe. O God, to shout and speed them there, An arrow by my chestnut hair Drawn tight, and one keen glimmering spear— Ah! if I could!
NURSE What wouldst thou with them—fancies all!— Thy hunting and thy fountain brink? What wouldst thou? By the city wall Canst hear our own brook plash and fall Downhill, if thou wouldst drink.
PHAEDRA O Mistress of the Sea-lorn Mere Where horse-hoofs beat the sand and sing, O Artemis, that I were there To tame Enetian steeds and steer Swift chariots in the ring!
NURSE Nay, mountainward but now thy hands Yearned out, with craving for the chase; And now toward the unseaswept sands Thou roamest, where the coursers pace! O wild young steed, what prophet knows The power that holds thy curb, and throws Thy swift heart from its race? [At these words PHAEDRA gradually recovers herself and pays attention.]
PHAEDRA What have I said? Woe's me! And where Gone straying from my wholesome mind? What? Did I fall in some god's snare? —Nurse, veil my head again, and blind Mine eyes.—There is a tear behind That lash.—Oh, I am sick with shame! Aye, but it hath a sting, To come to reason; yet the name Of madness is an awful thing.— Could I but die in one swift flame Unthinking, unknowing!
NURSE I veil thy face, Child.—Would that so Mine own were veiled for evermore, So sore I love thee! ... Though the lore Of long life mocks me, and I know How love should be a lightsome thing Not rooted in the deep o' the heart; With gentle ties, to twine apart If need so call, or closer cling.— Why do I love thee so? O fool, O fool, the heart that bleeds for twain, And builds, men tell us, walls of pain, To walk by love's unswerving rule The same for ever, stern and true! For "Thorough" is no word of peace: 'Tis "Naught-too-much" makes trouble cease. And many a wise man bows thereto. [The LEADER OF THE CHORUS here approaches the NURSE.]
LEADER Nurse of our Queen, thou watcher old and true, We see her great affliction, but no clue Have we to learn the sickness. Wouldst thou tell The name and sort thereof, 'twould like us well.
NURSE Small leechcraft have I, and she tells no man.
LEADER Thou know'st no cause? Nor when the unrest began?
NURSE It all comes to the same. She will not speak.
LEADER (turning and looking at PHAEDRA). How she is changed and wasted! And how weak!
NURSE 'Tis the third day she hath fasted utterly.
LEADER What, is she mad? Or doth she seek to die?
NURSE I know not. But to death it sure must lead.
LEADER 'Tis strange that Theseus takes hereof no heed.
NURSE She hides her wound, and vows it is not so.
LEADER Can he not look into her face and know?
NURSE Nay, he is on a journey these last days.
LEADER Canst thou not force her, then? Or think of ways To trap the secret of the sick heart's pain?
NURSE Have I not tried all ways, and all in vain? Yet will I cease not now, and thou shalt tell If in her grief I serve my mistress well! [She goes across to where PHAEDRA lies; and presently, while speaking, kneels by her.] Dear daughter mine, all that before was said Let both of us forget; and thou instead Be kindlier, and unlock that prisoned brow. And I, who followed then the wrong road, now Will leave it and be wiser. If thou fear Some secret sickness, there be women here To give thee comfort. [PHAEDRA shakes her head. No; not secret? Then Is it a sickness meet for aid of men? Speak, that a leech may tend thee. Silent still? Nay, Child, what profits silence? If 'tis ill This that I counsel, makes me see the wrong: If well, then yield to me. Nay, Child, I long For one kind word, one look! [PHAEDRA lies motionless. The NURSE rises.] Oh, woe is me! Women, we labour here all fruitlessly, All as far off as ever from her heart! She ever scorned me, and now hears no part Of all my prayers! [Turning to PHAEDRA again.] Nay, hear thou shalt, and be, If so thou will, more wild than the wild sea; But know, thou art thy little ones' betrayer! If thou die now, shall child of thine be heir To Theseus' castle? Nay, not thine, I ween, But hers! That barbed Amazonian Queen Hath left a child to bend thy children low, A bastard royal-hearted—sayst not so?— Hippolytus...
PHAEDRA Ah! [She starts up, sitting, and throws the veil off.]
NURSE That stings thee?
PHAEDRA Nurse, most sore Thou hast hurt me! In God's name, speak that name no more.
NURSE Thou seest? Thy mind is clear; but with thy mind Thou wilt not save thy children, nor be kind To thine own life.
PHAEDRA My children? Nay, most dear I love them,—Far, far other grief is here.
NURSE (after a pause, wondering) Thy hand is clean, O Child, from stain of blood?
PHAEDRA My hand is clean; but is my heart, O God?
NURSE Some enemy's spell hath made thy spirit dim?
PHAEDRA He hates me not that slays me, nor I him.
NURSE Theseus, the King, hath wronged thee in man's wise?
PHAEDRA Ah, could but I stand guiltless in his eyes!
NURSE O speak! What is this death-fraught mystery?
PHAEDRA Nay, leave me to my wrong. I wrong not thee.
NURSE (suddenly throwing herself in supplication at PHAEDRA'S feet) Not wrong me, whom thou wouldst all desolate leave?
PHAEDRA (rising and trying to move away) What wouldst thou? Force me? Clinging to my sleeve?
NURSE Yea, to thy knees; and weep; and let not go!
PHAEDRA Woe to thee, Woman, if thou learn it, woe!
NURSE I know no bitterer woe than losing thee.
PHAEDRA Yet the deed shall honour me.
NURSE Why hide what honours thee? 'Tis all I claim!
PHAEDRA Why, so I build up honour out of shame!
NURSE Then speak, and higher still thy fame shall stand.
PHAEDRA Go, in God's name!—Nay, leave me; loose my hand!
NURSE Never, until thou grant me what I pray.
PHAEDRA (yielding, after a pause) So be it. I dare not tear that hand away.
NURSE (rising and releasing PHAEDRA) Tell all thou wilt, Daughter. I speak no more.
PHAEDRA (after a long pause) Mother, poor Mother, that didst love so sore!
NURSE What mean'st thou, Child? The Wild Bull of the Tide?
PHAEDRA And thou, sad sister, Dionysus' bride!
NURSE Child! wouldst thou shame the house where thou wast born?
PHAEDRA And I the third, sinking most all-forlorn!
NURSE (to herself) I am all lost and feared. What will she say?
PHAEDRA From there my grief comes, not from yesterday.
NURSE I come no nearer to thy parable.
PHAEDRA Oh, would that thou could'st tell what I must tell!
NURSE I am no seer in things I wot not of.
PHAEDRA (again hesitating) What is it that they mean, who say men...love?
NURSE A thing most sweet, my Child, yet dolorous.
PHAEDRA Only the half, belike, hath fallen on us!
NURSE (starting) On thee? Love?—Oh, what say'st thou? What man's son?
PHAEDRA What man's? There was a Queen, an Amazon ...
NURSE Hippolytus, say'st thou?
PHAEDRA (again wrapping her face in the veil) Nay, 'twas thou, not I! [PHAEDRA sinks back on the couch and covers her face again. The NURSE starts violently from her and walks up and down.]
NURSE O God! what wilt thou say, Child? Wouldst thou try To kill me?—Oh, 'tis more than I can bear; Women. I will no more of it, this glare Of hated day, this shining of the sky. I will fling down my body, and let it lie Till life be gone! Women, God rest with you, My works are over! For the pure and true Are forced to evil, against their own heart's vow, And love it! [She suddenly sees the Statue of CYPRIS, and stands with her eyes riveted upon it.] Ah, Cyprian! No god art thou, But more than god, and greater, that hath thrust Me and my queen and all our house to dust! [She throws herself on the ground close to the statue.]
Some Women O Women, have ye heard? Nay, dare ye hear The desolate cry of the young Queen's misery?
A Woman My Queen, I love thee dear, Yet liefer were I dead than framed like thee.
Others Woe, woe to me for this thy bitter bane, Surely the food man feeds upon is pain!
Others How wilt thou bear thee through this livelong day, Lost, and thine evil naked to the light? Strange things are close upon us—who shall say How strange?—save one thing that is plain to sight, The stroke of the Cyprian and the fall thereof On thee, thou child of the Isle of fearful Love!
[PHAEDRA during this has risen from the couch and comes forward collectedly. As she speaks the NURSE gradually rouses herself, and listens more calmly.]
PHAEDRA O Women, dwellers in this portal-seat Of Pelops' land, gazing towards my Crete, How oft, in other days than these, have I Through night's long hours thought of man's misery, And how this life is wrecked! And, to mine eyes, Not in man's knowledge, not in wisdom, lies The lack that makes for sorrow. Nay, we scan And know the right—for wit hath many a man— But will not to the last end strive and serve. For some grow too soon weary, and some swerve To other paths, setting before the Right The diverse far-off image of Delight: And many are delights beneath the sun! Long hours of converse; and to sit alone Musing—a deadly happiness!—and Shame: Though two things there be hidden in one name, And Shame can be slow poison if it will; This is the truth I saw then, and see still; Nor is there any magic that can stain That white truth for me, or make me blind again. Come, I will show thee how my spirit hath moved. When the first stab came, and I knew I loved, I cast about how best to face mine ill. And the first thought that came, was to be still And hide my sickness.—For no trust there is In man's tongue, that so well admonishes And counsels and betrays, and waxes fat With griefs of its own gathering!—After that I would my madness bravely bear, and try To conquer by mine own heart's purity. My third mind, when these two availed me naught To quell love was to die— [Motion of protest among the Women.] —the best, best thought— —Gainsay me not—of all that man can say! I would not have mine honour hidden away; Why should I have my shame before men's eyes Kept living? And I knew, in deadly wise, Shame was the deed and shame the suffering; And I a woman, too, to face the thing, Despised of all!
Oh, utterly accurst Be she of women, whoso dared the first To cast her honour out to a strange man! 'Twas in some great house, surely, that began This plague upon us; then the baser kind, When the good led towards evil, followed blind And joyous! Cursed be they whose lips are clean And wise and seemly, but their hearts within Rank with bad daring! How can they, O Thou That walkest on the waves, great Cyprian, how Smile in their husbands' faces, and not fall, Not cower before the Darkness that knows all, Aye, dread the dead still chambers, lest one day The stones find voice, and all be finished! Nay, Friends, 'tis for this I die; lest I stand there Having shamed my husband and the babes I bare. In ancient Athens they shall some day dwell, My babes, free men, free-spoken, honourable,
EURIPIDES And when one asks their mother, proud of me! For, oh, it cows a man, though bold he be, To know a mother's or a father's sin. 'Tis written, one way is there, one, to win This life's race, could man keep it from his birth, A true clean spirit. And through all this earth To every false man, that hour comes apace When Time holds up a mirror to his face, And girl-like, marvelling, there he stares to see How foul his heart! Be it not so with me!
LEADER OF CHORUS Ah, God, how sweet is virtue, and how wise, And honour its due meed in all men's eyes!
NURSE (who has now risen and recovered herself) Mistress, a sharp swift terror struck me low A moment since, hearing of this thy woe. But now—I was a coward! And men say Our second thought the wiser is alway. This is no monstrous thing; no grief too dire To meet with quiet thinking. In her ire A most strong goddess hath swept down on thee. Thou lovest. Is that so strange? Many there be Beside thee! ... And because thou lovest, wilt fall And die! And must all lovers die, then? All That are or shall be? A blithe law for them! Nay, when in might she swoops, no strength can stem Cypris; and if man yields him, she is sweet; But is he proud and stubborn? From his feet She lifts him, and—how think you?—flings to scorn! She ranges with the stars of eve and morn, She wanders in the heaving of the sea, And all life lives from her.—Aye, this is she That sows Love's seed and brings Love's fruit to birth; And great Love's brethren are all we on earth! Nay, they who con grey books of ancient days Or dwell among the Muses, tell—and praise— How Zeus himself once yearned for Semele; How maiden Eos in her radiancy Swept Kephalos to heaven away, away, For sore love's sake. And there they dwell, men say, And fear not, fret not; for a thing too stern Hath met and crushed them! And must thou, then, turn And struggle? Sprang there from thy father's blood Thy little soul a11 lonely? Or the god That rules thee, is he other than our gods? Nay, yield thee to men's ways, and kiss their rods! How many, deem'st thou, of men good and wise Know their own home's blot, and avert their eyes? How many fathers, when a son has strayed And toiled beneath the Cyprian, bring him aid, Not chiding? And man's wisdom e'er hath been To keep what is not good to see, unseen! A straight and perfect life is not for man; Nay, in a shut house, let him, if he can, 'Mid sheltered rooms, make all lines true. But here, Out in the wide sea fallen, and full of fear, Hopest thou so easily to swim to land? Canst thou but set thine ill days on one hand And more good days on the other, verily, O child of woman, life is well with thee!
[She pauses, and then draws nearer to PHAEDRA.]
Nay, dear my daughter, cease thine evil mind, Cease thy fierce pride! For pride it is, and blind, To seek to outpass gods!—Love on and dare: A god hath willed it! And, since pain is there, Make the pain sleep! Songs are there to bring calm, And magic words. And I shall find the balm, Be sure, to heal thee. Else in sore dismay Were men, could not we women find our way!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Help is there, Queen, in all this woman says, To ease thy suffering. But 'tis thee I praise; Albeit that praise is harder to thine ear Than all her chiding was, and bitterer!
PHAEDRA Oh, this it is hath flung to dogs and birds Men's lives and homes and cities-fair false word! Oh, why speak things to please our ears? We crave Not that. Tis honour, honour, we must save!
NURSE Why prate so proud! 'Tis no words, brave nor base Thou cravest; 'tis a man's arms!
[PHAEDRA moves indignantly.]
Up and face The truth of what thou art, and name it straight! Were not thy life thrown open here for Fate To beat on; hadst thou been a woman pure Or wise or strong; never had I for lure Of joy nor heartache led thee on to this! But when a whole life one great battle is, To win or lose—no man can blame me then.
PHAEDRA Shame on thee! Lock those lips, and ne'er again Let word nor thought so foul have harbour there!
NURSE Foul, if thou wilt: but better than the fair For thee and me. And better, too, the deed Behind them, if it save thee in thy need, Than that word Honour thou wilt die to win!
PHAEDRA Nay, in God's name,—such wisdom and such sin Are all about thy lips!—urge me no more. For all the soul within me is wrought o'er By Love; and if thou speak and speak, I may Be spent, and drift where now I shrink away.
NURSE Well, if thou wilt!—'Twere best never to err, But, having erred, to take a counsellor Is second.—Mark me now. I have within love-philtres, to make peace where storm hath been, That, with no shame, no scathe of mind, shall save Thy life from anguish; wilt but thou be brave! [To herself, rejecting.] Ah, but from him, the well-beloved, some sign We need, or word, or raiment's hem, to twine Amid the charm, and one spell knit from twain.
PHAEDRA Is it a potion or a salve? Be plain.
NURSE Who knows? Seek to be helped, Child, not to know.
PHAEDRA Why art thou ever subtle? I dread thee, so.
NURSE Thou wouldst dread everything!—What dost thou dread?
PHAEDRA Least to his ear some word be whispered.
NURSE Let be, Child! I will make all well with thee! —Only do thou, O Cyprian of the Sea, Be with me! And mine own heart, come what may, Shall know what ear to seek, what word to say!
[The NURSE, having spoken these last words in prayer apart to the Statue of CYPRIS, turns back and goes into the house. PHAEDRA sits pensive again on her couch till towards the end of the following Song, when she rises and bends close to the door.]
Eros, Eros, who blindest, tear by tear, Men's eyes with hunger; thou swift Foe that pliest Deep in our hearts joy like an edged spear; Come not to me with Evil haunting near, Wrath on the wind, nor jarring of the clear Wing's music as thou fliest! There is no shaft that burneth, not in fire, Not in wild stars, far off and flinging fear, As in thine hands the shaft of All Desire, Eros, Child of the Highest!
In vain, in vain, by old Alpheues' shore The blood of many bulls doth stain the river And all Greece bows on Phoebus' Pythian floor; Yet bring we to the Master of Man no store The Keybearer, who standeth at the door Close-barred, where hideth ever The heart of the shrine. Yea, though he sack man's life Like a sacked city, and moveth evermore Girt with calamity and strange ways of strife, Him have we worshipped never!
* * * * *
There roamed a Steed in Oechalia's wild, A Maid without yoke, without Master, And Love she knew not, that far King's child; But he came, he came, with a song in the night. With fire, with blood; and she strove in flight, A Torrent Spirit, a Maenad white, Faster and vainly faster, Sealed unto Heracles by the Cyprian's Might. Alas, thou Bride of Disaster!
O Mouth of Dirce, O god-built wall, That Dirce's wells run under, Ye know the Cyprian's fleet footfall! Ye saw the heavens around her flare, When she lulled to her sleep that Mother fair Of twy-born Bacchus, and decked her there The Bride of the bladed Thunder. For her breath is on all that hath life, and she floats in the air, Bee-like, death-like, a wonder. [During the last lines PHAEDRA has approached the door and is listening.]
PHAEDRA Silence ye Women! Something is amiss.
LEADER How? In the house?—Phaedra, what fear is this?
PHAEDRA Let me but listen! There are voices. Hark!
LEADER I hold my peace: yet is thy presage dark.
PHAEDRA Oh, misery! O God, that such a thing should fall on me!
LEADER What sound, what word, O Women, Friend, makes that sharp terror start Out at thy lips? What ominous cry half-heard Hath leapt upon thine heart?
PHAEDRA I am undone!—Bend to the door and hark, Hark what a tone sounds there, and sinks away!
LEADER Thou art beside the bars. 'Tis thine to mark The castle's floating message. Say, Oh, say What thing hath come to thee?
PHAEDRA (calmly) Why, what thing should it be? The son of that proud Amazon speaks again In bitter wrath: speaks to my handmaiden!
LEADER I hear a noise of voices, nothing clear. For thee the din hath words, as through barred locks Floating, at thy heart it knocks.
PHAEDRA "Pander of Sin" it says.—Now canst thou hear?— And there: "Betrayer of a master's bed."
LEADER Ah me, betrayed! Betrayed! Sweet Princess, thou art ill bested, Thy secret brought to light, and ruin near, By her thou heldest dear, By her that should have loved thee and obeyed!
PHAEDRA Aye, I am slain. She thought to help my fall With love instead of honour, and wrecked all.
LEADER Where wilt thou turn thee, where? And what help seek, O wounded to despair?
PHAEDRA I know not, save one thing to die right soon. For such as me God keeps no other boon.
[The door in the centre bursts open, and HIPPOLYTUS comes forth, closely followed by the NURSE. PHAEDRA cowers aside.]
HIPPOLYTUS O Mother Earth, O Sun that makest clean, What poison have I heard, what speechless sin!
NURSE Hush O my Prince, lest others mark, and guess ...
HIPPOLYTUS I have heard horrors! Shall I hold my peace?
NURSE Yea by this fair right arm, Son, by thy pledge ...
HIPPOLYTUS Down with that hand! Touch not my garment's edge!
NURSE Oh, by thy knees, be silent or I die!
HIPPOLYTUS Why, when thy speech was all so guiltless? Why?
NURSE It is not meet, fair Son, for every ear!
HIPPOLYTUS Good words can bravely forth, and have no fear.
NURSE Thine oath, thine oath! I took thine oath before!
HIPPOLYTUS 'Twas but my tongue, 'twas not my soul that swore.
NURSE O Son, what wilt thou? Wilt thou slay thy kin?
HIPPOLYTUS I own no kindred with the spawn of sin! [He flings her from him.]
NURSE Nay, spare me! Man was born to err; oh, spare!
HIPPOLYTUS O God, why hast Thou made this gleaming snare, Woman, to dog us on the happy earth? Was it Thy will to make Man, why his birth Through Love and Woman? Could we not have rolled Our store of prayer and offering, royal gold Silver and weight of bronze before Thy feet, And bought of God new child souls, as were meet For each man's sacrifice, and dwelt in homes Free, where nor Love nor Woman goes and comes How, is that daughter not a bane confessed, Whom her own sire sends forth—(He knows her best!)— And, will some man but take her, pays a dower! And he, poor fool, takes home the poison-flower; Laughs to hang jewels on the deadly thing He joys in; labours for her robe-wearing, Till wealth and peace are dead. He smarts the less In whose high seat is set a Nothingness, A woman naught availing. Worst of all The wise deep-thoughted! Never in my hall May she sit throned who thinks and waits and sighs! For Cypris breeds most evil in the wise, And least in her whose heart has naught within; For puny wit can work but puny sin. Why do we let their handmaids pass the gate? Wild beasts were best, voiceless and fanged, to wait About their rooms, that they might speak with none, Nor ever hear one answering human tone! But now dark women in still chambers lay Plans that creep out into light of day On handmaids' lips—[Turning to the NURSE.] As thine accursed head Braved the high honour of my Father's bed. And came to traffic ... Our white torrent's spray Shall drench mine ears to wash those words away! And couldst thou dream that I ...? I feel impure Still at the very hearing! Know for sure, Woman, naught but mine honour saves ye both. Hadst thou not trapped me with that guileful oath, No power had held me secret till the King Knew all! But now, while he is journeying, I too will go my ways and make no sound. And when he comes again, I shall be found Beside him, silent, watching with what grace Thou and thy mistress shall greet him face to face! Then shall I have the taste of it, and know What woman's guile is.—Woe upon you, woe! How can I too much hate you, while the ill Ye work upon the world grows deadlier still? Too much? Make woman pure, and wild Love tame, Or let me cry for ever on their shame! [He goes off in fury to the left. PHAEDRA still cowering in her place begins to sob.]
PHAEDRA Sad, sad and evil-starred is Woman's state. What shelter now is left or guard? What spell to loose the iron knot of fate? And this thing, O my God, O thou sweet Sunlight, is but my desert! I cannot fly before the avenging rod Falls, cannot hide my hurt. What help, O ye who love me, can come near, What god or man appear, To aid a thing so evil and so lost? Lost, for this anguish presses, soon or late, To that swift river that no life hath crossed. No woman ever lived so desolate!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Ah me, the time for deeds is gone; the boast Proved vain that spake thine handmaid; and all lost! [At these words PHAEDRA suddenly remembers the NURSE, who is cowering silently where HIPPOLYTUS had thrown her from him. She turns upon her.]
PHAEDRA O wicked, wicked, wicked! Murderess heart To them that loved thee! Hast thou played thy part? Am I enough trod down? May Zeus, my sire, Blast and uproot thee! Stab thee dead with fire! Said I not—Knew I not thine heart?—to name To no one soul this that is now my shame? And thou couldst not be silent! So no more I die in honour. But enough; a store Of new words must be spoke and new things thought. This man's whole being to one blade is wrought Of rage against me. Even now he speeds To abase me to the King with thy misdeeds; Tell Pittheus; fill the land with talk of sin! Cursed be thou, and whoso else leaps in To bring bad aid to friends that want it not. [The NURSE has raised herself, and faces PHAEDRA, downcast but calm.]
NURSE Mistress, thou blamest me; and all thy lot So bitter sore is, and the sting so wild, I bear with all. Yet, if I would, my Child, I have mine answer, couldst thou hearken aught. I nursed thee, and I love thee; and I sought Only some balm to heal thy deep despair, And found—not what I sought for. Else I were Wise, and thy friend, and good, had all sped right. So fares it with us all in the world's sight.
PHAEDRA First stab me to the heart, then humour me With words! 'Tis fair; 'tis all as it should be!
NURSE We talk too long, Child. I did ill; but, oh, There is a way to save thee, even so!
PHAEDRA A way? No more ways! One way hast thou trod Already, foul and false and loathed of god! Begone out of my sight; and ponder how Thine own life stands! I need no helpers now. [She turns from the NURSE, who creeps abashed away into the Castle.]
Only do ye, high Daughters of Trozen, Let all ye hear be as it had not been; Know naught, and speak of naught! 'Tis my last prayer.
LEADER By God's pure daughter, Artemis, I swear, No word will I of these thy griefs reveal!
PHAEDRA 'Tis well. But now, yea, even while I reel And falter, one poor hope, as hope now is, I clutch at in this coil of miseries; To save some honour for my children's sake; Yea, for myself some fragment, though things break In ruin around me. Nay, I will not shame The old proud Cretan castle whence I came, I will not cower before King Theseus' eyes, Abased, for want of one life's sacrifice!
LEADER What wilt thou? Some dire deed beyond recall?
PHAEDRA (musing) Die; but how die?
LEADER Let not such wild words fall!
PHAEDRA (turning upon her) Give thou not such light counsel! Let me be To sate the Cyprian that is murdering me! To-day shall be her day; and, all strife past Her bitter Love shall quell me at the last. Yet, dying, shall I die another's bane! He shall not stand so proud where I have lain Bent in the dust! Oh, he shall stoop to share The life I live in, and learn mercy there! [She goes off wildly into the Castle.]
Could I take me to some cavern for mine hiding, In the hill-tops where the Sun scarce hath trod; Or a cloud make the home of mine abiding, As a bird among the bird-droves of God! Could I wing me to my rest amid the roar Of the deep Adriatic on the shore, Where the waters of Eridanus are clear, And Phaethon's sad sisters by his grave Weep into the river, and each tear Gleams, a drop of amber, in the wave.
To the strand of the Daughters of the Sunset, The Apple-tree, the singing and the gold; Where the mariner must stay him from his onset, And the red wave is tranquil as of old; Yea, beyond that Pillar of the End That Atlas guardeth, would I wend; Where a voice of living waters never ceaseth In God's quiet garden by the sea, And Earth, the ancient life-giver, increaseth Joy among the meadows, like a tree.
* * * * *
O shallop of Crete, whose milk-white wing Through the swell and the storm-beating, Bore us thy Prince's daughter, Was it well she came from a joyous home To a far King's bridal across the foam? What joy hath her bridal brought her? Sure some spell upon either hand Flew with thee from the Cretan strand, Seeking Athena's tower divine; And there, where Munychus fronts the brine, Crept by the shore-flung cables' line, The curse from the Cretan water!
And for that dark spell that about her clings, Sick desires of forbidden things The soul of her rend and sever; The bitter tide of calamity Hath risen above her lips; and she, Where bends she her last endeavour? She will hie her alone to her bridal room, And a rope swing slow in the rafters' gloom; And a fair white neck shall creep to the noose, A-shudder with dread, yet firm to choose The one strait way for fame, and lose The Love and the pain for ever.
[The Voice of the NURSE is heard from within, crying, at first inarticulately, then clearly.]
VOICE Help ho! The Queen! Help, whoso hearkeneth! Help! Theseus' spouse caught in a noose of death!
A WOMAN God, is it so soon finished? That bright head Swinging beneath the rafters! Phaedra dead!
VOICE O haste! This knot about her throat is made So fast! Will no one bring me a swift blade?
A WOMAN Say, friends, what think ye? Should we haste within, And from her own hand's knotting loose the Queen?
ANOTHER Nay, are there not men there? 'Tis an ill road In life, to finger at another's load.
VOICE Let it lie straight! Alas! the cold white thing That guards his empty castle for the King!
A WOMAN Ah! "Let it lie straight!" Heard ye what she said? No need for helpers now; the Queen is dead! [The Women, intent upon the voices from the Castle, have not noticed the approach of THESEUS. He enters from the left; his dress and the garland on his head show that he has returned from some oracle or special abode of a God. He stands for a moment perplexed.]
THESEUS Ho, Women, and what means this loud acclaim Within the house? The vassals' outcry came To smite mine ears far off. It were more meet To fling out wide the Castle gates, and greet With a joy held from God's Presence! [The confusion and horror of the Women's faces gradually affects him. A dirge-cry comes from the Castle.]
How? Not Pittheus? Hath Time struck that hoary brow? Old is he, old, I know. But sore it were, Returning thus, to find his empty chair! [The Women hesitate; then the Leader comes forward.]
LEADER O Theseus, not on any old man's head This stroke falls. Young and tender is the dead.
THESEUS Ye Gods! One of my children torn from me?
LEADER Thy motherless children live, most grievously.
THESEUS How sayst thou? What? My wife? ... Say how she died. LEADER In a high death-knot that her own hands tied.
THESEUS A fit of the old cold anguish? Tell me all— That held her? Or did some fresh thing befall?
LEADER We know no more. But now arrived we be, Theseus, to mourn for thy calamity. [THESEUS stays for a moment silent, and puts his hand on his brow. He notices the wreath.]
THESEUS What? And all garlanded I come to her With flowers, most evil-starred God's-messenger! Ho, varlets, loose the portal bars; undo The bolts; and let me see the bitter view Of her whose death hath brought me to mine own. [The great central door of the Castle is thrown open wide, and the body of PHAEDRA is seen lying on a bier, surrounded by a group of Handmaids, wailing.]
THE HANDMAIDS Ah me, what thou hast suffered and hast done: A deed to wrap this roof in flame! Why was thine hand so strong, thine heart so bold? Wherefore. O dead in anger, dead in shame, The long, long wrestling ere thy breath was cold? O ill-starred Wife, What brought this blackness over all thy life? [A throng of Men and Women has gradually collected.]
THESEUS Ah me, this is the last —Hear, O my countrymen!—and bitterest Of Theseus' labours! Fortune all unblest, How hath thine heavy heel across me passed! Is it the stain of sins done long ago, Some fell God still remembereth, That must so dim and fret my life with death? I cannot win to shore; and the waves flow Above mine eyes, to be surmounted not. Ah wife, sweet wife, what name Can fit thine heavy lot? Gone like a wild bird, like a blowing flame, In one swift gust, where all things are forgot! Alas! this misery! Sure 'tis some stroke of God's great anger rolled From age to age on me, For some dire sin wrought by dim kings of old.
LEADER Sire, this great grief hath come to many an one, A true wife lost. Thou art not all alone.
THESEUS Deep, deep beneath the Earth, Dark may my dwelling be, And night my heart's one comrade, in the dearth, O Love, of thy most sweet society. This is my death, O Phaedra, more than thine. [He turns suddenly on the Attendants.] Speak who speak can! What was it? What malign Swift stroke, O heart discounselled, leapt on thee? [He bends over PHAEDRA; then, as no one speaks looks fiercely up.] What, will ye speak? Or are they dumb as death, This herd of thralls, my high house harboureth? [There is no answer. He bends again over PHAEDRA.]
SOME WOMEN Woe, woe! God brings to birth A new grief here, close on the other's tread! My life hath lost its worth. May all go now with what is finished! The castle of my King is overthrown, A house no more, a house vanished and gone!
OTHER WOMEN O God, if it may be in any way, Let not this house be wrecked! Help us who pray! I know not what is here: some unseen thing That shows the Bird of Evil on the wing. [THESEUS has read the tablet and breaks out in uncontrollable emotion.]
THESEUS Oh, horror piled on horror!—Here is writ... Nay, who could bear it, who could speak of it?
LEADER What, O my King? If I may hear it, speak!
THESEUS Doth not the tablet cry aloud, yea, shriek, Things not to be forgotten?—Oh, to fly And hide mine head! No more a man am I. God what ghastly music echoes here!
LEADER How wild thy voice! Some terrible thing is near.
THESEUS No; my lips' gates will hold it back no more; This deadly word, That struggles on the brink and will not o'er, Yet will not stay unheard. [He raises his hand, to make proclamation to all present.] Ho, hearken all this land! [The people gather expectantly about him.] Hippolytus by violence hath laid hand On this my wife, forgetting God's great eye. [Murmurs of amazement and horror; THESEUS, apparently calm, raises both arms to heaven.] Therefore, O Thou my Father, hear my cry, Poseidon! Thou didst grant me for mine own Three prayers; for one of these, slay now my son, Hippolytus; let him not outlive this day, If true thy promise was! Lo, thus I pray.
LEADER Oh, call that wild prayer back! O King, take heed! I know that thou wilt live to rue this deed.
THESEUS It may not be.—And more, I cast him out From all my realms. He shall be held about By two great dooms. Or by Poseidon's breath He shall fall swiftly to the house of Death; Or wandering, outcast, o'er strange land and sea, Shall live and drain the cup of misery.
LEADER Ah; see! here comes he at the point of need. Shake off that evil mood, O King; have heed For all thine house and folk—Great Theseus, hear! [THESEUS stands silent in fierce gloom. HIPPOLYTUS comes in from the right.]
HIPPOLYTUS Father, I heard thy cry, and sped in fear To help thee, but I see not yet the cause That racked thee so. Say, Father, what it was. [The murmurs in the crowd, the silent gloom of his Father, and the horror of the Chorus-women gradually work on HIPPOLYTUS and bewilder him. He catches sight of the bier.] Ah, what is that! Nay, Father, not the Queen Dead! [Murmurs in the crowd.] 'Tis most strange. 'Tis passing strange, I ween. 'Twas here I left her. Scarce an hour hath run Since here she stood and looked on this same sun. What is it with her? Wherefore did she die? [THESEUS remains silent. The murmurs increase.] Father, to thee I speak. Oh, tell me, why, Why art thou silent? What doth silence know Of skill to stem the bitter flood of woe? And human hearts in sorrow crave the more, For knowledge, though the knowledge grieve them sore. It is not love, to veil thy sorrows in From one most near to thee, and more than kin.
THESEUS (to himself) Fond race of men, so striving and so blind, Ten thousand arts and wisdoms can ye find, Desiring all and all imagining: But ne'er have reached nor understood one thing, To make a true heart there where no heart is!
HIPPOLYTUS That were indeed beyond man's mysteries, To make a false heart true against his will. But why this subtle talk? It likes me ill, Father; thy speech runs wild beneath this blow.
THESEUS (as before) O would that God had given us here below Some test of love, some sifting of the soul, To tell the false and true! Or through the whole Of men two voices ran, one true and right, The other as chance willed it; that we might Convict the liar by the true man's tone, And not live duped forever, every one!
HIPPOLYTUS (misunderstanding him; then guessing at something of the truth) What? Hath some friend proved false? Or in thine ear Whispered some slander? Stand I tainted here, Though utterly innocent? [Murmurs from the crowd.] Yea, dazed am I; 'Tis thy words daze me, falling all awry, Away from reason, by fell fancies vexed!
THESEUS O heart of man, what height wilt venture next? What end comes to thy daring and thy crime? For if with each man's life 'twill higher climb, And every age break out in blood and lies Beyond its fathers, must not God devise Some new world far from ours, to hold therein Such brood of all unfaithfulness and sin? Look, all, upon this man, my son, his life Sprung forth from mine! He hath defiled my wife; And standeth here convicted by the dead, A most black villain! [HIPPOLYTUS falls back with a cry and covers his face with his robe.] Nay, hide not thine head! Pollution, is it? Thee it will not stain. Look up, and face thy Father's eyes again! Thou friend of Gods, of all mankind elect; Thou the pure heart, by thoughts of ill unflecked! I care not for thy boasts. I am not mad, To deem that Gods love best the base and bad. Now is thy day! Now vaunt thee; thou so pure, No flesh of life may pass thy lips! Now lure Fools after thee; call Orpheus King and Lord; Make ecstasies and wonders! Thumb thine hoard Of ancient scrolls and ghostly mysteries— Now thou art caught and known! Shun men like these, I charge ye all! With solemn words they chase their prey, and in their hearts plot foul disgrace. My wife is dead.—"Ha, so that saves thee now," That is what grips thee worst, thou caitiff, thou! What oaths, what subtle words, shall stronger be Than this dead hand, to clear the guilt from thee? "She hated thee," thou sayest; "the bastard born Is ever sore and bitter as a thorn To the true brood."—A sorry bargainer In the ills and goods of life thou makest her, If all her best-beloved she cast away To wreck blind hate on thee!—What, wilt thou say "Through every woman's nature one blind strand Of passion winds, that men scarce understand?"— Are we so different? Know I not the fire And perilous flood of a young man's desire, Desperate as any woman, and as blind, When Cypris stings? Save that the man behind Has all men's strength to aid him. Nay, 'twas thou... But what avail to wrangle with thee now, When the dead speaks for all to understand, A perfect witness! Hie thee from this land To exile with all speed. Come never more To god-built Athens, not to the utmost shore Of any realm where Theseus' arm is strong! What? Shall I bow my head beneath this wrong, And cower to thee? Not Isthmian Sinis so Will bear men witness that I laid him low, Nor Skiron's rocks, that share the salt sea's prey, Grant that my hand hath weight vile things to slay!
LEADER Alas! whom shall I call of mortal men Happy? The highest are cast down again.
HIPPOLYTUS Father, the hot strained fury of thy heart Is terrible. Yet, albeit so swift thou art Of speech, if all this matter were laid bare, Speech were not then so swift; nay, nor so fair... [Murmurs again in the crowd.] I have no skill before a crowd to tell My thoughts. 'Twere best with few, that know me well.— Nay that is natural; tongues that sound but rude In wise men's ears, speak to the multitude With music. None the less, since there is come This stroke upon me, I must not be dumb, But speak perforce... And there will I begin Where thou beganst, as though to strip my sin Naked, and I not speak a word! Dost see This sunlight and this earth? I swear to thee There dwelleth not in these one man—deny All that thou wilt!—more pure of sin than I. Two things I know on earth: God's worship first; Next to win friends about me, few, that thirst To hold them clean of all unrighteousness. Our rule doth curse the tempters, and no less Who yieldeth to the tempters.—How, thou say'st, "Dupes that I jest at?" Nay; I make a jest Of no man. I am honest to the end, Near or far off, with him I call my friend. And most in that one thing, where now thy mesh Would grip me, stainless quite! No woman's flesh Hath e'er this body touched. Of all such deed Naught wot I, save what things a man may read In pictures or hear spoke; nor am I fain, Being virgin-souled, to read or hear again. My life of innocence moves thee not; so be it. Show then what hath seduced me; let me see it. Was that poor flesh so passing fair, beyond All woman's loveliness? Was I some fond False plotter, that I schemed to win through her Thy castle's heirdom? Fond indeed I were! Nay, a stark madman! "But a crown," thou sayest, "Usurped, is sweet." Nay, rather most unblest To all wise-hearted; sweet to fools and them Whose eyes are blinded by the diadem. In contests of all valour fain would I Lead Hellas; but in rank and majesty Not lead, but be at ease, with good men near To love me, free to work and not to fear. That brings more joy than any crown or throne. [He sees from the demeanor of THESEUS and of the crowd that his words are not winning them, but rather making them bitterer than before. It comes to his lips to speak the whole truth.] I have said my say; save one thing...one alone O had I here some witness in my need, As I was witness! Could she hear me plead, Face me and face the sunlight; well I know, Our deeds would search us out for thee, and show Who lies! But now, I swear—so hear me both, The Earth beneath and Zeus who Guards the Oath— I never touched this woman that was thine! No words could win me to it, nor incline My heart to dream it. May God strike me down, Nameless and fameless, without home or town, An outcast and a wanderer of the world; May my dead bones rest never, but be hurled From sea to land, from land to angry sea, If evil is my heart and false to thee! [He waits a moment; but sees that his Father is unmoved. The truth again comes to his lips.] If 'twas some fear that made her cast away Her life ... I know not. More I must not say. Right hath she done when in her was no right; And Right I follow to mine own despite!
LEADER It is enough! God's name is witness large, And thy great oath, to assoil thee of this charge,
THESEUS Is not the man a juggler and a mage, Cool wits and one right oath—what more?—to assuage Sin and the wrath of injured fatherhood!
HIPPOLYTUS Am I so cool? Nay, Father, 'tis thy mood That makes me marvel! By my faith, wert thou The son, and I the sire; and deemed I now In very truth thou hadst my wife assailed, I had not exiled thee, nor stood and railed, But lifted once mine arm, and struck thee dead!
THESEUS Thou gentle judge! Thou shalt not so be sped To simple death, nor by thine own decree. Swift death is bliss to men in misery. Far off, friendless forever, thou shalt drain Amid strange cities the last dregs of pain!
HIPPOLYTUS Wilt verily cast me now beyond thy pale, Not wait for Time, the lifter of the veil?
THESEUS Aye, if I could, past Pontus, and the red Atlantic marge! So do I hate thine head.
HIPPOLYTUS Wilt weigh nor oath nor faith nor prophet's word To prove me? Drive me from thy sight unheard?
THESEUS This tablet here, that needs no prophet's lot To speak from, tells me all. I ponder not Thy fowls that fly above us! Let them fly.
HIPPOLYTUS O ye great Gods, wherefore unlock not I My lips, ere yet ye have slain me utterly, Ye whom I love most? No. It may not be! The one heart that I need I ne'er should gain To trust me. I should break mine oath in vain.
THESEUS Death! but he chokes me with his saintly tone!— Up, get thee from this land! Begone! Begone!
HIPPOLYTUS Where shall I turn me? Think. To what friend's door Betake me, banished on a charge so sore?
THESEUS Whoso delights to welcome to his hall Vile ravishers ... to guard his hearth withal!
HIPPOLYTUS Thou seekst my heart, my tears? Aye, let it be Thus! I am vile to all men, and to thee!
THESEUS There was a time for tears and thought; the time Ere thou didst up and gird thee to thy crime.
HIPPOLYTUS Ye stones, will ye not speak? Ye castle walls! Bear witness if I be so vile, so false!
THESEUS Aye, fly to voiceless witnesses! Yet here A dumb deed speaks against thee, and speaks clear!
HIPPOLYTUS Alas! Would I could stand and watch this thing, and see My face, and weep for very pity of me!
THESEUS Full of thyself, as ever! Not a thought For them that gave thee birth; nay, they are naught!
HIPPOLYTUS O my wronged Mother! O my birth of shame! May none I love e'er bear a bastard's name!
THESEUS (in a sudden blaze of rage) Up, thralls, and drag him from my presence! What, 'Tis but a foreign felon! Heard ye not? [The thralls still hesitate in spite of his fury.]
HIPPOLYTUS They touch me at their peril! Thine own hand Lift, if thou canst, to drive me from the land.
THESEUS That will I straight, unless my will be done! [HIPPOLYTUS comes close to him and kneels.] Nay! Not for thee my pity! Get thee gone! [HIPPOLYTUS rises, makes a sign of submission, and slowly moves away. THESEUS, as soon as he sees him going, turns rapidly and enters the Castle. The door is closed again. HIPPOLYTUS has stopped for a moment before the Statue of ARTEMIS, and, as THESEUS departs, breaks out in prayer.]
HIPPOLYTUS So; it is done! O dark and miserable! I see it all, but see not how to tell The tale.—O thou beloved, Leto's Maid, Chase-comrade, fellow-rester in the glade, Lo, I am driven with a caitiff's brand Forth from great Athens! Fare ye well, O land And city of old Erechtheus! Thou, Trozen, What riches of glad youth mine eyes have seen In thy broad plain! Farewell! This is the end; The last word, the last look! Come, every friend And fellow of my youth that still may stay, Give me god-speed and cheer me on my way. Ne'er shall ye see a man more pure of spot Than me, though mine own Father loves me not! [HIPPOLYTUS goes away to the right, followed by many Huntsmen and other young men. The rest of the crowd has by this time dispersed, except the Women of the Chorus and some Men of the Chorus of Huntsmen.]
Men Surely the thought of the Gods hath balm in it alway, to win me Far from my griefs; and a thought, deep in the dark of my mind, Clings to a great Understanding. Yet all the spirit within me Faints, when I watch men's deeds matched with the guerdon they find. For Good comes in Evil's traces, And the Evil the Good replaces; And Life, 'mid the changing faces, Wandereth weak and blind.
Women What wilt thou grant me, O God? Lo, this is the prayer of my travail— Some well-being; and chance not very bitter thereby; Spirit uncrippled by pain; and a mind not deep to unravel Truth unseen, nor yet dark with the brand of a lie. With a veering mood to borrow Its light from every morrow, Fair friends and no deep sorrow, Well could man live and die!
Men Yet my spirit is no more clean, And the weft of my hope is torn, For the deed of wrong that mine eyes have seen, The lie and the rage and the scorn; A Star among men, yea, a Star That in Hellas was bright, By a Father's wrath driven far To the wilds and the night. Oh, alas for the sands of the shore! Alas for the brakes of the hill, Where the wolves shall fear thee no more, And thy cry to Dictynna is still!
Women No more in the yoke of thy car Shall the colts of Enetia fleet; Nor Limna's echoes quiver afar To the clatter of galloping feet. The sleepless music of old, That leaped in the lyre, Ceaseth now, and is cold, In the halls of thy sire. The bowers are discrowned and unladen Where Artemis lay on the lea; And the love-dream of many a maiden Lost, in the losing of thee.
A Maiden And I, even I, For thy fall, O Friend, Amid tears and tears, Endure to the end Of the empty years, Of a life run dry. In vain didst thou bear him, Thou Mother forlorn! Ye Gods that did snare him, Lo, I cast in your faces My hate and my scorn! Ye love-linked Graces, (Alas for the day!) Was he naught, then, to you, That ye cast him away, The stainless and true, From the old happy places?
LEADER Look yonder! 'Tis the Prince's man, I ween Speeding toward this gate, most dark of mien. [A HENCHMAN enters in haste.]
HENCHMAN Ye women, whither shall I go to seek King Theseus? Is he in this dwelling? Speak!
LEADER Lo, where he cometh through the Castle gate! [THESEUS comes out from the Castle.]
HENCHMAN O King, I bear thee tidings of dire weight To thee, aye, and to every man, I ween, From Athens to the marches of Trozen.
THESEUS What? Some new stroke hath touched, unknown to me, The sister cities of my sovranty?
HENCHMAN Hippolytus is...Nay, not dead; but stark Outstretched, a hairsbreadth this side of the dark.
THESEUS (as though unmoved) How slain? Was there some other man, whose wife He had like mine denied, that sought his life?
HENCHMAN His own wild team destroyed him, and the dire Curse of thy lips. The boon of thy great Sire Is granted thee, O King, and thy son slain.
THESEUS Ye Gods! And thou, Poseidon! Not in vain I called thee Father; thou hast heard my prayer! How did he die? Speak on. How closed the snare Of Heaven to slay the shamer of my blood?
HENCHMAN 'Twas by the bank of beating sea we stood, We thralls, and decked the steeds, and combed each mane; Weeping; for word had come that ne'er again The foot of our Hippolytus should roam This land, but waste in exile by thy doom. So stood we till he came, and in his tone No music now save sorrow's, like our own, And in his train a concourse without end Of many a chase-fellow and many a friend. At last he brushed his sobs away, and spake: "Why this fond loitering? I would not break My Father's law—Ho, there! My coursers four And chariot, quick! This land is mine no more." Thereat, be sure, each man of us made speed. Swifter than speech we brought them up, each steed Well dight and shining, at our Prince's side. He grasped the reins upon the rail: one stride And there he stood, a perfect charioteer, Each foot in its own station set. Then clear His voice rose, and his arms to heaven were spread: "O Zeus, if I be false, strike thou me dead! But, dead or living, let my Father see One day, how falsely he hath hated me!" Even as he spake, he lifted up the goad And smote; and the steeds sprang. And down the road We henchmen followed, hard beside the rein, Each hand, to speed him, toward the Argive plain And Epidaurus. So we made our way Up toward the desert region, where the bay Curls to a promontory near the verge Of our Trozen, facing the southward surge Of Saron's gulf. Just there an angry sound, Slow-swelling, like God's thunder underground Broke on us, and we trembled. And the steeds Pricked their ears skyward, and threw back their heads. And wonder came on all men, and affright, Whence rose that awful voice. And swift our sight Turned seaward, down the salt and roaring sand. And there, above the horizon, seemed to stand A wave unearthly, crested in the sky; Till Skiron's Cape first vanished from mine eye, Then sank the Isthmus hidden, then the rock Of Epidaurus. Then it broke, one shock And roar of gasping sea and spray flung far, And shoreward swept, where stood the Prince's car. Three lines of wave together raced, and, full In the white crest of them, a wild Sea-Bull Flung to the shore, a fell and marvellous Thing. The whole land held his voice, and answering Roared in each echo. And all we, gazing there, Gazed seeing not; 'twas more than eyes could bear. Then straight upon the team wild terror fell. Howbeit, the Prince, cool-eyed and knowing well Each changing mood a horse has, gripped the reins Hard in both hands; then as an oarsman strains Up from his bench, so strained he on the thong, Back in the chariot swinging. But the young Wild steeds bit hard the curb, and fled afar; Nor rein nor guiding hand nor morticed car Stayed them at all. For when he veered them round, And aimed their flying feet to grassy ground, In front uprose that Thing, and turned again The four great coursers, terror-mad. But when Their blind rage drove them toward the rocky places, Silent and ever nearer to the traces, It followed rockward, till one wheel-edge grazed. The chariot tript and flew, and all was mazed In turmoil. Up went wheel-box with a din, Where the rock jagged, and nave and axle-pin. And there—the long reins round him—there was he Dragging, entangled irretrievably. A dear head battering at the chariot side, Sharp rocks, and rippled flesh, and a voice that cried: "Stay, stay, O ye who fattened at my stalls, Dash me not into nothing!—O thou false Curse of my Father!—Help! Help, whoso can, An innocent, innocent and stainless man!" Many there were that laboured then, I wot, To bear him succour, but could reach him not, Till—who knows how?—at last the tangled rein Unclasped him, and he fell, some little vein Of life still pulsing in him. All beside, The steeds, the horned Horror of the Tide, Had vanished—who knows where?—in that wild land. O King, I am a bondsman of thine hand; Yet love nor fear nor duty me shall win To say thine innocent son hath died in sin. All women born may hang themselves, for me, And swing their dying words from every tree On Ida! For I know that he was true!
LEADER O God, so cometh new disaster, new Despair! And no escape from what must be!
THESEUS Hate of the man thus stricken lifted me At first to joy at hearing of thy tale; But now, some shame before the Gods, some pale Pity for mine own blood, hath o'er me come. I laugh not, neither weep, at this fell doom.
HENCHMAN How then? Behoves it bear him here, or how Best do thy pleasure?—Speak, Lord. Yet if thou Wilt mark at all my word, thou wilt not be Fierce-hearted to thy child in misery.
THESEUS Aye, bring him hither. Let me see the face Of him who durst deny my deep disgrace And his own sin; yea, speak with him, and prove His clear guilt by God's judgments from above. [The HENCHMAN departs to fetch HIPPOLYTUS; THESEUS sits waiting in stern gloom, while the CHORUS sing. At the close of their song a Divine Figure is seen approaching on a cloud in the air and the voice of ARTEMIS speaks.]
CHORUS Thou comest to bend the pride Of the hearts of God and man, Cypris; and by thy side, In earth-encircling span, He of the changing plumes, The Wing that the world illumes, As over the leagues of land flies he, Over the salt and sounding sea.
For mad is the heart of Love, And gold the gleam of his wing; And all to the spell thereof Bend, when he makes his spring; All life that is wild and young In mountain and wave and stream, All that of earth is sprung, Or breathes in the red sunbeam; Yea, and Mankind. O'er all a royal throne, Cyprian, Cyprian, is thine alone!
A VOICE FROM THE CLOUD O thou that rulest in Aegeus' Hall, I charge thee, hearken! Yea, it is I, Artemis, Virgin of God most High. Thou bitter King, art thou glad withal For thy murdered son? For thine ear bent low to a lying Queen, For thine heart so swift amid things unseen? Lo, all may see what end thou hast won! Go, sink thine head in the waste abyss; Or aloft to another world than this, Birdwise with wings, Fly far to thine hiding, Far over this blood that clots and clings; For in righteous men and in holy things No rest is thine nor abiding! [The cloud has become stationary in the air.] Hear, Theseus, all the story of thy grief! Verily, I bring but anguish, not relief; Yet, 'twas for this I came, to show how high And clean was thy son's heart, that he may die Honoured of men; aye, and to tell no less The frenzy, or in some sort the nobleness, Of thy dead wife. One Spirit there is, whom we That know the joy of white virginity, Most hate in heaven. She sent her fire to run In Phaedra's veins, so that she loved thy son. Yet strove she long with love, and in the stress Fell not, till by her Nurse's craftiness Betrayed, who stole, with oaths of secrecy, To entreat thy son. And he, most righteously, Nor did her will, nor, when thy railing scorn Beat on him, broke the oath that he had sworn, For God's sake. And thy Phaedra, panic-eyed, Wrote a false writ, and slew thy son, and died, Lying; but thou wast nimble to believe! [THESEUS, at first bewildered, then dumfounded, now utters a deep groan.] It stings thee, Theseus?—Nay, hear on and grieve Yet sorer. Wottest thou three prayers were thine Of sure fulfilment, from thy Sire divine? Hast thou no foes about thee, then, that one— Thou vile King!—must be turned against thy son? The deed was thine. Thy Sea-born Sire but heard The call of prayer, and bowed him to his word. But thou in his eyes and in mine art found Evil, who wouldst not think, nor probe, nor sound The deeps of prophet's lore, nor day by day Leave Time to search; but swifter than man may, Let loose the curse to slay thine innocent son!
THESEUS O Goddess, let me die!
ARTEMIS Nay; thou hast done A heavy wrong; yet even beyond this ill Abides for thee forgiveness. 'Twas the will Of Cypris that these evil things should be, Sating her wrath. And this immutably Hath Zeus ordained in heaven: no God may thwart A God's fixed will; we grieve but stand apart. Else, but for fear of the Great Father's blame, Never had I to such extreme of shame Bowed me, be sure, as here to stand and see Slain him I loved best of mortality! Thy fault, O King, its ignorance sunders wide From very wickedness; and she who died By death the more disarmed thee, making dumb The voice of question. And the storm has come Most bitterly of all on thee! Yet I Have mine own sorrow, too. When good men die, There is no joy in heaven, albeit our ire On child and house of the evil falls like fire. [A throng is seen approaching; HIPPOLYTUS enters, supported by his attendants.]
CHORUS Lo, it is he! The bright young head Yet upright there! Ah the torn flesh and the blood-stained hair; Alas for the kindred's trouble! It falls as fire from a God's hand sped, Two deaths, and mourning double.
HIPPOLYTUS Ah, pain, pain, pain! O unrighteous curse! O unrighteous sire! No hope.—My head is stabbed with fire, And a leaping spasm about my brain. Stay, let me rest. I can no more. O fell, fell steeds that my own hand fed, Have ye maimed me and slain, that loved me of yore? —Soft there, ye thralls! No trembling hands As ye lift me, now!—Who is that that stands At the right?—Now firm, and with measured tread, Lift one accursed and stricken sore By a father's sinning.
Thou, Zeus, dost see me? Yea, it is I; The proud and pure, the server of God, The white and shining in sanctity! To a visible death, to an open sod, I walk my ways; And all the labour of saintly days Lost, lost, without meaning!
Ah God, it crawls This agony, over me! Let be, ye thralls! Come, Death, and cover me: Come, O thou Healer blest!
But a little more, And my soul is clear, And the anguish o'er! Oh, a spear, a spear! To rend my soul to its rest!
Oh, strange, false Curse! Was there some blood-stained head, Some father of my line, unpunished, Whose guilt lived in his kin, And passed, and slept, till after this long day It lights... Oh, why on me? Me, far away And innocent of sin?
O words that cannot save! When will this breathing end in that last deep Pain that is painlessness? 'Tis sleep I crave. When wilt thou bring me sleep, Thou dark and midnight magic of the grave!
ARTEMIS Sore-stricken man, bethink thee in this stress, Thou dost but die for thine own nobleness.
HIPPOLYTUS Ah! O breath of heavenly fragrance! Though my pain Burns, I can feel thee and find rest again. The Goddess Artemis is with me here.
ARTEMIS With thee and loving thee, poor sufferer!
HIPPOLYTUS Dost see me, Mistress, nearing my last sleep?
ARTEMIS Aye, and would weep for thee, if Gods could weep.
HIPPOLYTUS Who now shall hunt with thee or hold thy quiver?
ARTEMIS He dies but my love cleaves to him for ever.
HIPPOLYTUS Who guide thy chariot, keep thy shrine-flowers fresh?
ARTEMIS The accursed Cyprian caught him in her mesh!
HIPPOLYTUS The Cyprian? Now I see it!—Aye, 'twas she.
ARTEMIS She missed her worship, loathed thy chastity!
HIPPOLYTUS Three lives by her one hand! 'Tis all clear now.
ARTEMIS Yea, three; thy father and his Queen and thou.
HIPPOLYTUS My father; yea, he too is pitiable!
ARTEMIS A plotting Goddess tripped him, and he fell.
HIPPOLYTUS Father, where art thou? ... Oh, thou sufferest sore!
THESEUS Even unto death, child. There is joy no more.
HIPPOLYTUS I pity thee in this coil; aye, more than me.
THESEUS Would I could lie there dead instead of thee!
HIPPOLYTUS Oh, bitter bounty of Poseidon's love!
THESEUS Would God my lips had never breathed thereof!
HIPPOLYTUS (gently) Nay, thine own rage had slain me then, some wise!
THESEUS A lying spirit had made blind mine eyes!
HIPPOLYTUS Ah me! Would that a mortal's curse could reach to God!
ARTEMIS Let be! For not, though deep beneath the sod Thou liest, not unrequited nor unsung Shall this fell stroke, from Cypris' rancour sprung, Quell thee, mine own, the saintly and the true! My hand shall win its vengeance through and through, Piercing with flawless shaft what heart soe'er Of all men living is most dear to Her. Yea, and to thee, for this sore travail's sake, Honours most high in Trozen will I make; For yokeless maids before their bridal night Shall shear for thee their tresses; and a rite Of honouring tears be thine in ceaseless store; And virgin's thoughts in music evermore Turn toward thee, and praise thee in the Song Of Phaedra's far-famed love and thy great wrong. O seed of ancient Aegeus, bend thee now And clasp thy son. Aye, hold and fear not thou! Not knowingly hast thou slain him; and man's way, When Gods send error, needs must fall astray. And thou, Hippolytus, shrink not from the King, Thy father. Thou wast born to bear this thing. Farewell! I may not watch man's fleeting breath, Nor strain mine eyes with the effluence of death. And sure that Terror now is very near. [The cloud slowly rises and floats away.]
HIPPOLYTUS Farewell, farewell, most Blessed! Lift thee clear Of soiling men! Thou wilt not grieve in heaven For my long love! ...Father, thou art forgiven. It was Her will. I am not wroth with thee... I have obeyed Her all my days! ... Ah me, The dark is drawing down upon mine eyes; It hath me! ... Father! ... Hold me! Help me rise!
THESEUS (supporting him in his arms) Ah, woe! How dost thou torture me, my son!
HIPPOLYTUS I see the Great Gates opening. I am gone.
THESEUS Gone? And my hand red-reeking from this thing!
HIPPOLYTUS Nay, nay; thou art assoiled of manslaying.
THESEUS Thou leav'st me clear of murder? Sayst thou so?
HIPPOLYTUS Yea, by the Virgin of the Stainless Bow!
THESEUS Dear Son! Ah, now I see thy nobleness!
HIPPOLYTUS Pray that a true-born child may fill my place.
THESEUS Ah me, thy righteous and god-fearing heart!
HIPPOLYTUS Farewell; A long farewell, dear Father, ere we part! [THESEUS bends down and embraces him passionately.]
THESEUS Not yet!—O hope and bear while thou hast breath!
HIPPOLYTUS Lo, I have borne my burden. This is death... Quick, Father; lay the mantle on my face. [THESEUS covers his face with a mantle and rises.]
THESEUS Ye bounds of Pallas and of Pelops' race, What greatness have ye lost! Woe, woe is me! Thou Cyprian, long shall I remember thee!
CHORUS On all this folk, both low and high, A grief hath fallen beyond men's fears. There cometh a throbbing of many tears, A sound as of waters falling. For when great men die, A mighty name and a bitter cry Rise up from a nation calling. [They move into the Castle, carrying the body of HIPPOLYTUS.]
DIONYSUS, THE GOD; son of Zeus and of the Theban princess Semele. CADMUS, formerly King of Thebes, father of Semele. PENTHEUS, King of Thebes, grandson of Cadmus. AGAVE, daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus. TEIRESIAS, an aged Theban prophet. A SOLDIER OF PENTHEUS' GUARD. TWO MESSENGERS. A CHORUS OF INSPIRED DAMSELS, following Dionysus from the East.
"The play was first produced after the death of Euripides by his son who bore the same name, together with the Iphigenia in Aulis and the Alcmaeon, probably in the year 405 B.C."
_The background represents the front of the Castle of_ PENTHEUS, _King of Thebes. At one side is visible the sacred Tomb of Semele, a little enclosure overgrown with wild vines, with a cleft in the rocky floor of it from which there issues at times steam or smoke. The God_ DIONYSUS _is discovered alone.
DIONYSUS Behold, God's Son is come unto this land Of heaven's hot splendour lit to life, when she Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand Who bore me, Cadmus' daughter Semele, Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man, I walk again by Dirce's streams and scan Ismenus' shore. There by the castle side I see her place, the Tomb of the Lightning's Bride, The wreck of smouldering chambers, and the great Faint wreaths of fire undying—as the hate Dies not, that Hera held for Semele. Aye, Cadmus hath done well; in purity He keeps this place apart, inviolate, His daughter's sanctuary; and I have set My green and clustered vines to robe it round Far now behind me lies the golden ground Of Lydian and of Phrygian; far away The wide hot plains where Persian sunbeams play, The Bactrian war-holds, and the storm-oppressed Clime of the Mede, and Araby the Blest, And Asia all, that by the salt sea lies In proud embattled cities, motley-wise Of Hellene and Barbarian interwrought; And now I come to Hellas—having taught All the world else my dances and my rite Of mysteries, to show me in men's sight Manifest God. And first of Helene lands I cry this Thebes to waken; set her hands To clasp my wand, mine ivied javelin, And round her shoulders hang my wild fawn-skin. For they have scorned me whom it least beseemed, Semele's sisters; mocked by birth, nor deemed That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed. My mother sinned, said they; and in her need, With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God. Thus must they vaunt; and therefore hath my rod On them first fallen, and stung them forth wild-eyed From empty chambers; the bare mountain side Is made their home, and all their hearts are flame. Yea, I have bound upon the necks of them The harness of my rites. And with them all The seed of womankind from hut and hall Of Thebes, hath this my magic goaded out. And there, with the old King's daughters, in a rout Confused, they make their dwelling-place between The roofless rocks and shadowy pine trees green. Thus shall this Thebes, how sore soe'er it smart, Learn and forget not, till she crave her part In mine adoring; thus must I speak clear To save my mother's fame, and crown me here, As true God, born by Semele to Zeus.
Now Cadmus yieldeth up his throne and use Of royal honour to his daughter's son Pentheus; who on my body hath begun A war with God. He thrusteth me away From due drink-offering, and, when men pray, My name entreats not. Therefore on his own Head and his people's shall my power be shown. Then to another land, when all things here Are well, must I fare onward, making clear My godhead's might. But should this Theban town Essay with wrath and battle to drag down My maids, lo, in their path myself shall be, And maniac armies battled after me! For this I veil my godhead with the wan Form of the things that die, and walk as Man.
O Brood of Tmolus o'er the wide world flown, O Lydian band, my chosen and mine own, Damsels uplifted o'er the orient deep To wander where I wander, and to sleep Where I sleep; up, and wake the old sweet sound, The clang that I and mystic Rhea found, The Timbrel of the Mountain! Gather all Thebes to your song round Pentheus' royal hall. I seek my new-made worshippers, to guide Their dances up Kithaeron's pine clad side.
[As he departs, there comes stealing in from the left a band of fifteen Eastern Women, the light of the sunrise streaming upon their long white robes and ivy-bound hair. They wear fawn-skins over the robes, and carry some of them timbrels, some pipes and other instruments. Many bear the thyrsus, or sacred Wand, made of reed ringed with ivy. They enter stealthily till they see that the place is empty, and then begin their mystic song of worship.]
A Maiden From Asia, from the dayspring that uprises To Bromios ever glorying we came. We laboured for our Lord in many guises; We toiled, but the toil is as the prize is; Thou Mystery, we hail thee by thy name!
Another Who lingers in the road? Who espies us? We shall hide him in his house nor be bold. Let the heart keep silence that defies us; For I sing this day to Dionysus The song that is appointed from of old.
All the Maidens Oh, blessed he in all wise, Who hath drunk the Living Fountain, Whose life no folly staineth, And his soul is near to God; Whose sins are lifted, pall-wise, As he worships on the Mountain, And where Cybele ordaineth, Our Mother, he has trod:
His head with ivy laden And his thyrsus tossing high, For our God he lifts his cry; "Up, O Bacchae, wife and maiden, Come, O ye Bacchae, come; Oh, bring the Joy-bestower, God-seed of God the Sower, Bring Bromios in his power From Phrygia's mountain dome; To street and town and tower, Oh, bring ye Bromios home."
Whom erst in anguish lying For an unborn life's desire, As a dead thing in the Thunder His mother cast to earth; For her heart was dying, dying, In the white heart of the fire; Till Zeus, the Lord of Wonder, Devised new lairs of birth;
Yea, his own flesh tore to hide him, And with clasps of bitter gold Did a secret son enfold, And the Queen knew not beside him; Till the perfect hour was there; Then a horned God was found, And a God of serpents crowned; And for that are serpents wound In the wands his maidens bear, And the songs of serpents sound In the mazes of their hair.
Some Maidens All hail, O Thebes, thou nurse of Semele! With Semele's wild ivy crown thy towers; Oh, burst in bloom of wreathing bryony, Berries and leaves and flowers; Uplift the dark divine wand, The oak-wand and the pine-wand, And don thy fawn-skin, fringed in purity With fleecy white, like ours.
Oh, cleanse thee in the wands' waving pride! Yea, all men shall dance with us and pray, When Bromios his companies shall guide Hillward, ever hillward, where they stay, The flock of the Believing, The maids from loom and weaving By the magic of his breath borne away.
Others Hail thou, O Nurse of Zeus, O Caverned Haunt Where fierce arms clanged to guard God's cradle rare, For thee of old crested Corybant First woke in Cretan air The wild orb of our orgies, The Timbrel; and thy gorges Rang with this strain; and blended Phrygian chant And sweet keen pipes were there.
But the Timbrel, the Timbrel was another's, And away to Mother Rhea it must wend; And to our holy singing from the Mother's The mad Satyrs carried it, to blend In the dancing and the cheer Of our third and perfect Year; And it serves Dionysus in the end!
A Maiden O glad, glad on the mountains To swoon in the race outworn, When the holy fawn-skin clings, And all else sweeps away, To the joy of the red quick fountains, The blood of the hill-goat torn, The glory of wild-beast ravenings, Where the hill-tops catch the day; To the Phrygian, Lydian, mountains! 'Tis Bromios leads the way.
Another Maiden Then streams the earth with milk, yea, streams With wine and nectar of the bee, And through the air dim perfume steams Of Syrian frankincense; and He, Our leader, from his thyrsus spray A torchlight tosses high and higher, A torchlight like a beacon-fire, To waken all that faint and stray; And sets them leaping as he sings, His tresses rippling to the sky, And deep beneath the Maenad cry His proud voice rings: "Come, O ye Bacchae, come!"
All the Maidens Hither, O fragrant of Tmolus the Golden, Come with the voice of timbrel and drum; Let the cry of your joyance uplift and embolden The God of the joy-cry; O Bacchanals, come! With pealing of pipes and with Phrygian clamour, On, where the vision of holiness thrills, And the music climbs and the maddening glamour, With the wild White Maids, to the hills, to the hills! Oh, then, like a colt as he runs by a river, A colt by his dam, when the heart of him sings, With the keen limbs drawn and the fleet foot a-quiver, Away the Bacchanal springs!
[Enter TEIRESIAS. He is an old man and blind, leaning upon a staff and moving with slow stateliness, though wearing the Ivy and the Bacchic fawn-skin.]
TEIRESIAS Ho, there, who keeps the gate?—Go, summon me Cadmus, Agenor's son, who crossed the sea From Sidon and upreared this Theban hold. Go, whosoe'er thou art. See he be told Teiresias seeketh him. Himself will gauge Mine errand, and the compact, age with age, I vowed with him, grey hair with snow-white hair, To deck the new God's thyrsus, and to wear His fawn-skin, and with ivy crown our brows.
[Enter CADMUS from the Castle. He is even older than TEIRESIAS, and wears the same attire.]
CADMUS True friend! I knew that voice of thine, that flows Like mellow wisdom from a fountain wise. And, lo, I come prepared, in all the guise And harness of this God. Are we not told His is the soul of that dead life of old That sprang from mine own daughter? Surely then Must thou and I with all the strength of men Exalt him. Where then shall I stand, where tread The dance and toss this bowed and hoary head? O friend, in thee is wisdom; guide my grey And eld-worn steps, eld-worn Teiresias.—Nay; I am not weak. [At the first movement of worship his manner begins to change; a mysterious strength and exaltation enter into him.]
Surely this arm could smite The wild earth with its thyrsus, day and night, And faint not! Sweetly and forgetfully The dim years fall from off me!
TEIRESIAS As with thee, With me 'tis likewise. Light am I and young, And will essay the dancing and the song.
CADMUS Quick, then, our chariots to the mountain road.
TEIRESIAS Nay; to take steeds were to mistrust the God.
CADMUS So be it. Mine old arms shall guide thee there.
TEIRESIAS The God himself shall guide! Have thou no care.
CADMUS And in all Thebes shall no man dance but we?
TEIRESIAS Aye, Thebes is blinded. Thou and I can see.
CADMUS 'Tis weary waiting; hold my hand, friend; so.
TEIRESIAS Lo, there is mine. So linked let us go.
CADMUS Shall things of dust the Gods' dark ways despise?
TEIRESIAS Or prove our wit on Heaven's high mysteries? Not thou and I! That heritage sublime Our sires have left us, wisdom old as time, No word of man, how deep soe'er his thought And won of subtlest toil, may bring to naught. Aye, men will rail that I forgot my years, To dance and wreath with ivy these white hairs; What recks it? Seeing the God no line hath told To mark what man shall dance, or young or old; But craves his honours from mortality All, no man marked apart; and great shall be!
CADMUS (after looking away toward the Mountain). Teiresias, since this light thou canst not read, I must be seer for thee. Here comes in speed Pentheus, Echion's son, whom I have raised To rule my people in my stead.—Amazed He seems. Stand close, and mark what we shall hear.
[The two stand back, partially concealed, while there enters in hot haste PENTHEUS, followed by a bodyguard. He is speaking to the SOLDIER in command.]
PENTHEUS Scarce had I crossed our borders, when mine ear Was caught by this strange rumour, that our own Wives, our own sisters, from their hearths are flown To wild and secret rites; and cluster there High on the shadowy hills, with dance and prayer To adore this new-made God, this Dionyse, Whate'er he be!—And in their companies Deep wine-jars stand, and ever and anon Away into the loneliness now one Steals forth, and now a second, maid or dame Where love lies waiting, not of God! The flame They say, of Bacchios wraps them. Bacchios! Nay, 'Tis more to Aphrodite that they pray. Howbeit, all that I have found, my men Hold bound and shackled in our dungeon den; The rest, I will go hunt them! Aye, and snare My birds with nets of iron, to quell their prayer And mountain song and rites of rascaldom! They tell me, too, there is a stranger come, A man of charm and spell, from Lydian seas, A head all gold and cloudy fragrancies, A wine-red cheek, and eyes that hold the light Of the very Cyprian. Day and livelong night He haunts amid the damsels, o'er each lip Dangling his cup of joyance! Let me grip Him once, but once, within these walls, right swift That wand shall cease its music, and that drift Of tossing curls lie still—when my rude sword Falls between neck and trunk! 'Tis all his word, This tale of Dionysus; how that same Babe that was blasted by the lightning flame With his dead mother, for that mother's lie, Was re-conceived, born perfect from the thigh Of Zeus, and now is God! What call ye these? Dreams? Gibes of the unknown wanderer? Blasphemies That crave the very gibbet? Stay! God wot, Here is another marvel! See I not In motley fawn-skins robed the vision-seer Teiresias? And my mother's father here— O depth of scorn!—adoring with the wand Of Bacchios?—Father!—Nay, mine eyes are fond; It is not your white heads so fancy-flown! It cannot be! Cast off that ivy crown, O mine own mother's sire! Set free that hand That cowers about its staff. 'Tis thou hast planned This work, Teiresias! 'Tis thou must set Another altar and another yet Amongst us, watch new birds, and win more hire Of gold, interpreting new signs of fire! But for thy silver hairs, I tell thee true, Thou now wert sitting chained amid thy crew Of raving damsels, for this evil dream Thou hast brought us, of new Gods! When once the gleam Of grapes hath lit a Woman's Festival, In all their prayers is no more health at all!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS (the words are not heard by PENTHEUS) Injurious King, hast thou no fear of God, Nor Cadmus, sower of the Giants' Sod, Life-spring to great Echion and to thee?
TEIRESIAS Good words my son, come easily, when he That speaks is wise, and speaks but for the right. Else come they never! Swift are thine, and bright As though with thought, yet have no thought at all Lo this new God, whom thou dost flout withal, I cannot speak the greatness wherewith He In Hellas shall be great! Two spirits there be, Young Prince, that in man's world are first of worth. Demeter one is named; she is the Earth— Call her which name thou will!—who feeds man's frame With sustenance of things dry. And that which came Her work to perfect, second, is the Power From Semele born. He found the liquid show Hid in the grape. He rests man's spirit dim From grieving, when the vine exalteth him. He giveth sleep to sink the fretful day In cool forgetting. Is there any way With man's sore heart, save only to forget? Yea, being God, the blood of him is set Before the Gods in sacrifice, that we For his sake may be blest.—And so, to thee, That fable shames him, how this God was knit Into God's flesh? Nay, learn the truth of it Cleared from the false.—When from that deadly light Zeus saved the babe, and up to Olympus' height Raised him, and Hera's wrath would cast him thence Then Zeus devised him a divine defence. A fragment of the world-encircling fire He rent apart, and wrought to his desire Of shape and hue, in the image of the child, And gave to Hera's rage. And so, beguiled By change and passing time, this tale was born, How the babe-god was hidden in the torn Flesh of his sire. He hath no shame thereby. A prophet is he likewise. Prophecy Cleaves to all frenzy, but beyond all else To frenzy of prayer. Then in us verily dwells The God himself, and speaks the thing to be. Yea, and of Ares' realm a part hath he. When mortal armies, mailed and arrayed, Have in strange fear, or ever blade met blade, Fled maddened, 'tis this God hath palsied them. Aye, over Delphi's rock-built diadem Thou yet shalt see him leaping with his train Of fire across the twin-peaked mountain-plain, Flaming the darkness with his mystic wand, And great in Hellas.—List and understand, King Pentheus! Dream not thou that force is power; Nor, if thou hast a thought, and that thought sour And sick, oh, dream not thought is wisdom!—Up, Receive this God to Thebes; pour forth the cup Of sacrifice, and pray, and wreathe thy brow. Thou fearest for the damsels? Think thee now; How toucheth this the part of Dionyse To hold maids pure perforce? In them it lies, And their own hearts; and in the wildest rite Cometh no stain to her whose heart is white. Nay, mark me! Thou hast thy joy, when the Gate Stands thronged, and Pentheus' name is lifted great And high by Thebes in clamour; shall not He Rejoice in his due meed of majesty? Howbeit, this Cadmus whom thou scorn'st and I Will wear His crown, and tread His dances! Aye, Our hairs are white, yet shall that dance be trod! I will not lift mine arm to war with God For thee nor all thy words. Madness most fell Is on thee, madness wrought by some dread spell, But not by spell nor leechcraft to be cured!
CHORUS Grey prophet, worthy of Phoebus is thy word, And wise in honouring Bromios, our great God.
CADMUS My son, right well Teiresias points thy road. Oh, make thine habitation here with us, Not lonely, against men's uses. Hazardous Is this quick bird-like beating of thy thought Where no thought dwells.—Grant that this God be naught, Yet let that Naught be Somewhat in thy mouth; Lie boldly, and say He is! So north and south Shall marvel, how there sprang a thing divine From Semele's flesh, and honour all our line. [Drawing nearer to PENTHEUS.] Is there not blood before thine eyes even now? Our lost Actaeon's blood, whom long ago His own red hounds through yonder forest dim Tore unto death, because he vaunted him Against most holy Artemis? Oh, beware And let me wreathe thy temples. Make thy prayer With us, and walk thee humbly in God's sight. [He makes as if to set the wreath on PENTHEUS head.]
PENTHEUS Down with that hand! Aroint thee to thy rite Nor smear on me thy foul contagion! [Turning upon TEIRESIAS.] This Thy folly's head and prompter shall not miss The justice that he needs!—Go, half my guard Forth to the rock-seat where he dwells in ward O'er birds and wonders; rend the stone with crown And trident; make one wreck of high and low And toss his bands to all the winds of air! Ha, have I found the way to sting thee, there? The rest, forth through the town! And seek amain This girl-faced stranger, that hath wrought such bane To all Thebes, preying on our maids and wives Seek till ye find; and lead him here in gyves, Till he be judged and stoned and weep in blood The day he troubled Pentheus with his God! [The guards set forth in two bodies; PENTHEUS goes into the Castle.]
TEIRESIAS Hard heart, how little dost thou know what seed Thou sowest! Blind before, and now indeed Most mad!—Come, Cadmus, let us go our way, And pray for this our persecutor, pray For this poor city, that the righteous God Move not in anger.—Take thine ivy rod And help my steps, as I help thine. 'Twere ill, If two old men should fall by the roadway. Still, Come what come may, our service shall be done To Bacchios, the All-Father's mystic son O Pentheus, named of sorrow! Shall he claim From all thy house fulfilment of his name, Old Cadmus?—Nay, I speak not from mine art, But as I see—blind words and a blind heart! [The two Old Men go off towards the Mountain.]
Some Maidens Thou Immaculate on high; Thou Recording Purity; Thou that stoopest, Golden Wing, Earthward, manward, pitying, Hearest thou this angry King? Hearest thou the rage and scorn 'Gainst the Lord of Many Voices, Him of mortal mother born, Him in whom man's heart rejoices, Girt with garlands and with glee, First in Heaven's sovranty? For his kingdom, it is there, In the dancing and the prayer, In the music and the laughter, In the vanishing of care, And of all before and after; In the Gods' high banquet, when Gleams the graperflood, flashed to heaven; Yea, and in the feasts of men Comes his crowned slumber; then Pain is dead and hate forgiven!
Others Loose thy lips from out the rein; Lift thy wisdom to disdain; Whatso law thou canst not see, Scorning; so the end shall be Uttermost calamity! 'Tis the life of quiet breath, 'Tis the simple and the true, Storm nor earthquake shattereth, Nor shall aught the house undo
Where they dwell. For, far away, Hidden from the eyes of day, Watchers are there in the skies, That can see man's life, and prize Deeds well done by things of clay. But the world's Wise are not wise, Claiming more than mortal may. Life is such a little thing; Lo, their present is departed, And the dreams to which they cling Come not. Mad imagining Theirs, I ween, and empty-hearted!