The Plays of Euripides (Coleridge)/Helen

For other English-language translations of this work, see Helen (Euripides).
The Plays of Euripides  (1910)  translated by Edward Philip Coleridge



(Ladies attendant on Helen).
Old Woman
The Dioscuri.

Scene.—Tomb of Proteus in the island of Pharos.


Hel. Lo! these are the fair virgin streams of Nile, the river that waters Egypt's tilth, fed by pure melting snow instead of rain from heaven. Proteus during his life-time was king of this land, dwelling in the isle of Pharos, and ruling o'er Egypt; and he took to wife one of the daughters of the sea, Psamathe, after she left the embraces of Æacus. Two children she bare in this his palace, a son Theoclymenus, who[1] hath passed his life in duteous service to the gods, and likewise a noble daughter, her mother's pride, called Eido in her infancy, but when she reached her youthful prime, the age for wedded joys, renamed Theonoe; for well she knew whate'er the gods design, both present and to come, for she had won this guerdon from her grandsire Nereus. Nor is my fatherland unknown to fame, e'en Sparta, or my sire Tyndareus; for a legend tells how Zeus winged his way to my mother Leda's breast, in the semblance of a bird, even a swan, and thus as he fled from an eagle's pursuit, achieved by guile his amorous purpose, if this tale be true. My name is Helen, and I will now recount the sorrows I have suffered. To a hollow vale on Ida came three goddesses to Paris, for beauty's prize contending, Hera and Cypris, and the virgin child of Zeus, eager to secure his verdict on their loveliness. Now Cypris held out my beauty,—if aught so wretched deserves that name,—as a bribe before the eyes of Paris, saying he should marry me; and so she won the day; wherefore the shepherd of Ida left his steading, and came to Sparta, thinking to win me for his bride. But Hera, indignant at not defeating the goddesses, brought to naught my marriage with Paris, and gave to Priam's princely son not Helen, but a phantom endowed with life, that she made in my image out of the breath of heaven; and Paris thought that I was his, although I never was,—an idle fancy! Moreover, the counsels of Zeus added further troubles unto these; for upon the land of Hellas and the hapless Phrygians he brought a war, that he might lighten mother-earth of her myriad hosts of men, and to the bravest of the sons of Hellas bring renown. So I was set up as a prize for all the chivalry of Hellas, to test the might of Phrygia, yet not I, but my name alone; for Hermes caught me up in the embracing air, and veiled me in a cloud; for Zeus was not unmindful of me; and he set me down here in the house of Proteus, judging him to be the most virtuous of all mankind; that so I might preserve my marriage with Menelaus free from taint. Here then I abide, while my hapless lord has gathered an army, and is setting out for the towers of Ilium to track and recover me. And there by Scamander's streams hath many a life breathed out its last, and all for me; and I, that have endured all this, am accursed, and seem to have embroiled all Hellas in a mighty war by proving a traitress to my husband. Why, then, do I prolong my life? Because I heard Hermes declare, that I should yet again make my home on Sparta's glorious soil, with my lord, for Hermes knew I never went to Ilium, that so I might never submit to any other's wooing. Now as long as Proteus gazed upon yon glorious sun, I was safe from marriage; but when o'er him the dark grave closed, the dead man's son was eager for my hand. But I, from regard to my former husband, am throwing myself down in suppliant wise before this tomb of Proteus, praying him to guard my husband's honour, that, though through Hellas I bear a name dishonoured, at least my body here may not incur disgrace.

Teu. Who is lord and master of this fenced palace? The house is one I may compare to the halls of Plutus, with its royal bulwarks and towering buildings. Ha! great gods! what sight is here? I see the counterfeit of that fell murderous dame, who ruined me and all the Achæans. May Heaven show its loathing for thee, so much dost thou resemble Helen! Were I not standing on a foreign soil, with this well-aimed shaft had I worked thy death, thy reward for resembling the daughter of Zeus.

Hel. Oh! why, poor man, whoe'er thou art, dost thou turn from me, loathing me for those troubles Helen caused?

Teu. I was wrong; I yielded to my anger more than I ought; my[2] reason was, the hate all Hellas bears to that daughter of Zeus. Pardon me, lady, for the words I uttered.

Hel. Who art thou? whence comest thou to visit this land?

Teu. One of those hapless Achæans am I, lady.

Hel.[3] No wonder then that thou dost hate Helen. But say, who art thou? Whence comest? By what name am I to call thee?

Teu. My name is Teucer; my sire was Telamon, and Salamis is the land that nurtured me.

Hel. Then why art thou visiting these meadows by the Nile?

Teu. A wanderer I, an exile from my native land.

Hel. Thine must be a piteous lot; who from thy country drives thee out?

Teu.[4] My father Telamon. Couldst find a nearer and a dearer?

Hel. But why? This case is surely fraught with woe.

Teu. The death of Aias my brother at Troy, was my ruin.

Hel. How so? surely 'twas not thy sword that stole his life away?

Teu. He threw himself on his own blade and died.

Hel. Was he mad? for who with sense endowed would bring himself to this?

Teu. Dost thou know aught of Achilles, son of Peleus?

Hel. He came, so I have heard, to woo Helen once.

Teu. When he died, he left his arms for his comrades to contest.

Hel. Well, if he did, what harm herein to Aias?

Teu. When another won these arms, to himself he put an end.

Hel. Art thou then a sufferer by woes that he inflicted?

Teu. Yes, because I did not join him in his death.

Hel. So thou camest, sir stranger, to Ilium's famous town?

Teu. Aye, and, after helping to sack it, myself did learn what ruin meant.

Hel. Is Troy already fired and utterly by flames consumed?

Teu. Yea, so that not so much as one vestige of her walls is now to be seen.

Hel. Woe is thee, poor Helen! thou art the cause of Phrygia's ruin.

Teu. And of Achæa's too. Ah! 'tis a tale of grievous misery!

Hel. How long is it since the city was sacked?

Teu. Nigh seven fruitful[5] seasons have come and gone.

Hel. And how much longer did ye abide in Troy?

Teu. Many a weary month, till through ten full years the moon had held her course.

Hel. And did ye capture that Spartan dame?

Teu. Menelaus caught her by the hair, and was for dragging her away.

Hel. Didst thou thyself behold that unhappy one? or art thou speaking from hearsay?

Teu. As plain as I now see thee, I then saw her.

Hel. Consider whether ye were but indulging an idle fancy sent by heaven.

Teu. Bethink thee of some other topic; no more of her!

Hel.[6] Are you so sure this fancy was reliable?

Teu.[7] With these eyes I saw her face to face, if so be I see thee now.

Hel. Hath Menelaus reached his home by this time with his wife?

Teu. No; he is neither in Argos, nor yet by the streams of Eurotas.

Hel. Ah me! here is evil news for those to whom thou art telling it.

Teu. 'Tis said he disappeared with his wife.

Hel. Did not all the Argives make the passage together?

Teu. Yes; but a tempest scattered them in every direction.

Hel. In what quarter of the broad ocean?

Teu. They were crossing the Ægean in mid channel.

Hel. And after that, doth no man know of Menelaus' arrival?

Teu. No, none; but through Hellas is he reported to be dead.

Hel. Then am I lost. Is the daughter of Thestius alive?

Teu. Dost speak of Leda? She Is dead; aye, dead and gone.

Hel. Was it Helen's shame that caused her death?

Teu. Aye, 'tis said she tied the noose about her noble neck.

Hel. Are the sons of Tyndareus still alive or not?

Teu. Dead, and yet alive: 'tis a double story.

Hel. Which is the more credible report? Woe is me for my sorrows!

Teu. Men say that they are gods in the likeness of stars.

Hel. That is happy news; but what is the other rumour?

Teu. That they by self-inflicted wounds gave up the ghost because of their sister's shame. But enough of such talk! I have no wish to multiply my griefs. The reason of my coming to this royal palace was a wish to see that famous prophetess Theonoe. Do thou the means afford, that I from her may obtain an oracle how I shall steer a favourable course to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus; for there Apollo hath declared my home shall be, giving to it the name of Salamis, my island home, in honour of that fatherland across the main.

Hel. That shall the voyage itself explain, sir stranger; but do thou leave these shores and fly, ere the son of Proteus, the ruler of this land, catch sight of thee. Now is he away with his trusty hounds tracking his savage quarry to the death; for every stranger that he catcheth from the land of Hellas doth he slay. His reason never ask to know; my lips are sealed; for what could word of mine avail thee?

Teu. Lady, thy words are fair. Heaven grant thee a fair requital for this kindness! For though in form thou dost resemble Helen, thy soul is not like hers, nay, very different. Perdition seize her! May she never reach the streams of Eurotas! But thine be joy for evermore, lady!

[Exit Teucer.

Hel. Ah me! what piteous dirge shall I strive to utter, now that I am beginning my strain of bitter lamentation? What Muse shall I approach with tears or songs of death or woe? Ah me! ye Sirens, Earth's virgin daughters, wingèd maids, come, oh! come to aid my mourning, bringing with you the Libyan flute or pipe, to[8] waft to Persephone's ear a tearful plaint, the echo of my sorrow, with grief for grief, and mournful chant for chant, with songs of death and doom to match my lamentation, that in return she may receive from me, besides my tears, dirges for the departed dead beneath her gloomy roof!

Cho. Beside the deep-blue water I chanced to be hanging purple robes along the tendrils green and on the sprouting reeds, to dry them in the sun-god's golden blaze, when[9] lo! I heard a sound of woe, a mournful wail, the voice of one crying aloud in her anguish; yea, such a cry of woe as Naiad nymph might send ringing o'er the hills, while to her cry the depths of rocky grots re-echo her screams at the violence of Pan.

Hel. Woe! woe! ye maids of Hellas, booty of barbarian sailors! one hath come, an Achæan mariner, bringing fresh tears to me, the news of Ilium's overthrow, how that it is left to the mercy of the foeman's flame, and all for me the murderess, or for my name with sorrow fraught. While for anguish at my deed of shame, hath Leda sought her death by hanging; and on the deep, to weary wandering doomed my lord hath met his end; and Castor and his brother, twin glory of their native land, are vanished from men's sight, leaving the plains that shook to their galloping steeds, and the course beside reed-fringed Eurotas, where those youthful athletes strove.

Cho. Ah, misery! Alas! for thy grievous destiny! Woe for thy sad lot, lady! Ah! 'twas a day of sorrow meted out for thee when Zeus came glancing through the sky on snowy pinions like a swan and won thy mother's heart. What evil is not thine? Is there a grief in life that thou hast not endured? Thy mother is dead; the two dear sons of Zeus have perished miserably,[10] and thou art severed from thy country's sight, while through the towns of men a rumour runs, consigning thee, my honoured mistress, to a barbarian's bed; and 'mid the ocean waves thy lord hath lost his life, and never, never more shalt thou fill with glee thy father's halls or Athena's temple of the "Brazen House."

Hel. Ah! who was that Phrygian, who was he,[11] that felled that pine with sorrow fraught for Ilium, and for those that came from Hellas? Hence it was that Priam's son his cursed barque did build, and sped by barbarian oars sailed unto my home, in quest of beauty, woman's curse, to win me for his bride; and with him sailed the treacherous queen of Love, on slaughter bent, with death alike for Priam's sons, and Danai too. Ah me! for my hard lot! Next, Hera, stately bride of Zeus, seated on her golden throne, sent the son of Maia, swift of foot, who caught me up as I was gathering fresh rose-buds in the folds of my robe, that I might go to the "Brazen House," and bore me through the air to this loveless land, making me an object of unhappy strife 'twixt Hellas and the race of Priam. And my name is but a sound without reality beside the streams of Simois.

Cho. Well I know thou hast a bitter lot to bear; still 'tis best to bear as lightly as we may the ills that life is heir to.

Hel. Good friends, to what a fate am I united? Did not my mother bear me to be a monster to the world? For[12] no woman, Hellene or barbarian, gives birth to babes in eggs inclosed, as they say Leda bare me to Zeus. My life and all I do is one miracle, partly owing to Hera, and partly is my beauty to blame. Would God I could rub my beauty out like a picture, and assume[13] hereafter in its stead a form less comely, and oh! that Hellas had forgotten the evil fate that now I bear, and were now remembering my career of honour as surely as they do my deeds of shame. Now, if a man doth turn his eyes to a single phase of fortune, and meets ill-usage at heaven's hands, 'tis hard no doubt; but still it can be borne; but I in countless troubles am involved. First, although I never sinned, my good name is gone. And this is a grief beyond the reality, if a man incurs blame for sins that are not his. Next, have the gods removed me from my native land, to dwell with men of barbarous habits, and reft of every friend, I am become a slave though free by birth; for amongst barbarians all are slaves but one. And the last anchor that held my fortunes, the hope that my husband would return one day, and rid me of my woes, is now no more, lost since the day he died. My mother too, is dead, and I am called her murderess, unjustly it is true, but still that injustice is mine to bear; and she that was the glory of my house, my darling child, is growing old and grey, unwedded still; and those twin brethren, called the sons of Zeus, are now no more. But 'tis fortune, not my own doing, that hath crushed me with sorrow and slain me. And this is the last evil of all; if ever I come to my native land, they will shut me up in prison, thinking me that Helen of Ilium, in quest of whom Menelaus came thither. Were my husband still alive, we might have recognized each other, by having recourse to tokens which ourselves alone would know. But now this may not be, nor is there any chance of his escape. Why then do I prolong my life? What fortune have I still in store? Shall I choose marriage as an alternative of evils, and dwell with a barbarian lord, seated at his sumptuous board? No! when a husband she loathes is mated with a woman, even life is loathly to her. Best for her to die; but how shall I die a noble death? The[14] dangling noose is an uncomely end; even slaves consider it a disgrace; to stab oneself hath something fair and noble in it; 'tis a small thing that moment of ridding the flesh[15] of life. Yes, it must be; I am plunged so deep in misery; for that beauty, which to other women is a boon, to me hath been a very bane.

Cho. Helen, never believe that the stranger, whoe'er he was that came, has spoken naught but truth.

Hel. Yet he said so clearly that my lord was dead.

Cho. There is much that falsehood seems to make quite clear.

Hel. The word[16] of truth hath a very different sound to falsehood.

Cho. Thou art inclined to misfortune, rather than to luck.

Hel. Fear girds me with terrors as with a garment, and takes me in her train.

Cho. What friends hast thou within the palace?

Hel. All are my friends here save him who seeks to wed me.

Cho. Thy action then is clear; leave thy seat at the tomb.

Hel. To what words or advice art thou leading up?

Cho. Go in and question the daughter of the ocean Nereid, who knoweth all things, even Theonoe, whether thy husband is still alive, or whether he hath left the light of day; and when thou knowest for certain, be glad or


  1. Reading ὃς with Hermann and Paley, with Scaliger's insertion of μὲν after θεοκλύμενον, instead of ὅτι δὴ.
  2. This line is bracketed by Nauck as suspicious.
  3. Badham regards the next three lines as spurious.
  4. Nauck considers this and the next line interpolated.
  5. Nauck proposes καμπίμους for καρπίμους, but unnecessarily it seems.
  6. Nauck brackets this line and the next; they were also condemned by Ribbeck and Czwalina.
  7. Reading ἀυτὸς γὰρ ὄσσοις εἶδον, εἰ καὶ νῦν σ᾽ὁρῶ. The correction εἶδον εἰ is due to Clark, the καὶ νῦν σ᾽ ὁρῶ to Hermann.
  8. Paley's reading, adopted from Hermann, is here followed.
  9. Reading with Badham ἔνθεν οἰκτρὸν ὅμαδον ἔκλυον, and omitting ἀνεβόασεν, with a lacuna before αἰάγμασι.
  10. Herwerden conjectures οὐκ ἔστ᾽ ἐν φάει for MS. οὐκ εὐδαιμονεῖ.
  11. The reading followed is Hermann's correction, as adopted by Paley in place of the old unmetrical and unmeaning reading.
  12. Badham regards lines 257–259 as spurious.
  13. Reading Hermann's λάβοιν=λάβοιμι for MS. λαβεῖν. Porson proposed ᾽λαβον and Nauck's text gives ἔλαβον.
  14. Lines 299–302 are rejected by Hartung.
  15. σάρκα is Hermann's emendation for ἄρτι.
  16. Reading with Hermann ἀληθείας ἔπη.

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