The Plays of Euripides (Coleridge)/Heracleidae

For other English-language translations of this work, see Heracleidae (Euripides).



Servant (of Hyllus).
Chorus of aged Athenians.

Scene.—Before the altar of Zeus at Marathon.


Iol. I hold this true, and long have held: Nature hath made one man upright for his neighbours' good, while another hath a disposition wholly given over to gain, useless alike to the state and difficult to have dealings with, but for himself the best of men; and this I know, not from mere hearsay. I, for instance, from pure regard and reverence for my kith and kin, though I might have lived at peace in Argos, alone of all my race shared with Heracles his labours, while he was yet with us, and now that he dwells in heaven, I keep these his children safe beneath my wing, though myself I need protection. For when their father passed from earth away, Eurystheus would first of all have slain us, but we escaped. And though our home is lost, our life was saved. But in exile we wander from city to city, ever forced to roam. For, added to our former wrongs, Eurystheus thought it fit to put this further outrage upon us: wheresoe'er he heard that we were settling, thither would he send heralds demanding our surrender and driving us from thence, holding[1] out this threat, that Argos is no mean city to make a friend or foe, and furthermore pointing to his own prosperity. So they, seeing how weak my means, and these little ones left without a father, bow to his superior might and drive us from their land. And I share the exile of these children, and help them bear their evil lot by my sympathy, loth to betray them, lest someone say, "Look you! now that the children's sire is dead, Iolaus no more protects them, kinsman though he is." Not one corner left us in the whole of Hellas, we are come to Marathon and its neighbouring land, and here we sit as suppliants at the altars of the gods, and pray their aid; for 'tis said two sons of Theseus dwell upon these plains, the lot of their inheritance, scions of Pandion's stock, related to these children; this the reason we have come on this our way to the borders of glorious Athens. To lead the flight two aged guides are we; my care is centred on these boys, while she, I mean Alcmena, clasps her son's daughter in her arms, and bears her for safety within this shrine, for we shrink from letting tender maidens[2] come anigh the crowd or stand as suppliants at the altar. Now Hyllus and the elder of his brethren are seeking some place for us to find a refuge, if we are driven by force from this land. O children, children, come hither! hold unto my robe; for lo! I see a herald coming towards us from Eurystheus, by whom we are persecuted, wanderers excluded from every land. A curse on thee and him that sent thee, hateful wretch! for that same tongue of thine hath oft announced its master's evil hests to these children's noble sire as well.

Cop. Doubtless thy folly lets thee think this is a good position to have taken up, and that thou art come to a city that will help thee. No! there is none that will prefer thy feeble arm to the might of Eurystheus. Begone! why take this trouble? Thou must arise and go to Argos, where awaits thee death by stoning.

Iol. Not so, for the god's altar will protect me, and this land of freedom, wherein we have set foot.

Cop. Wilt give me the trouble of laying hands on thee?

Iol. By force at least shall thou never drag these children hence.

Cop. That shalt thou soon learn; it seems thou wert a poor prophet, after all, in this.

[Copreus here seizes the children.

Iol. This shall never happen while I live.

Cop. Begone! for I will take them hence, for all thy refusals, for I hold[3] that they belong to Eurystheus, as they do indeed.

Iol. Help, ye who long have had your home in Athens! we suppliants at Zeus' altar in your market-place are being haled by force away, our sacred wreaths defiled, shame to your city, to the gods dishonour.

Cho. Hark, hark! What cry is this that rises near the altar? At once explain the nature of the trouble.

Iol. See this aged frame hurled in its feebleness upon the ground! Woe is me!

Cho. Who threw thee down thus pitiably?

Iol. Behold the man who flouts your gods, kind sirs, and tries by force to drag me from my seat before the altar of Zeus.

Cho. From what land, old stranger, art thou come to this confederate state of four cities? or have ye left Eubœa's cliffs, and, with the oar that sweeps the sea, put in here from across the firth?[4]

Iol. Sirs, no island life I lead, but from Mycenæ to thy land I come.

Cho. What do they call thee, aged sir, those folk in Mycenæ?

Iol. Maybe ye have heard of Iolaus, the comrade of Heracles, for he was not unknown to fame.

Cho. Yea, I have heard of him in bygone days; but tell me, whose are the tender boys thou bearest in thine arms?

Iol. These, sirs, are the sons of Heracles, come as suppliants to you and your city.

Cho. What is their quest? Are they anxious, tell me, to obtain an audience of the state?

Iol. That so they may escape surrender, nor be torn with violence from thy altars, and brought to Argos.

Cop. Nay, this will nowise satisfy thy masters, who o'er thee have a right, and so have tracked thee hither.

Cho. Stranger, 'tis but right we should reverence the gods' suppliants, suffering none with violent hand to make them[5] leave the altars, for that will dread Justice ne'er permit.

Cop. Do thou then drive these subjects of Eurystheus forth, and this hand of mine shall abstain from violence.

Cho. 'Twere impious for the state to neglect the suppliant stranger's prayer.

Cop. Yet 'tis well to keep clear of troubles, by adopting that counsel, which is the wiser.

Cho. Thou then shouldst have told the monarch of this land thy errand before being so bold, out of regard to his country's freedom, instead of trying to drag strangers by force from the altars of the gods.

Cop. Who is monarch of this land and state?

Cho. Demophon, son of gallant Theseus.

Cop. Surely it were most to the purpose to discuss this matter somewhat with him; all else has been said in vain.

Cho. Lo! here he comes in person, in hot haste, and Acamas his brother, to hear what thou hast to say.

Dem. Since thou for all thy years hast outstripped younger men in coming to the rescue to this altar of Zeus, do thou tell me what hath chanced to bring this crowd together.

Cho. There sit the sons of Heracles as suppliants, having wreathed the altar, as thou seest, O king, and with them is Iolaus, trusty comrade of their sire.

Dem. Why should this event have called for cries of pain?

Cho. (turning to Copreus). This fellow caused the uproar by trying to drag them forcibly from this altar, and he tripped up the old man, till my tears for pity flowed.

Dem. Hellenic dress and fashion in his robes doth he no doubt adopt, but deeds like these betray the barbarian. Thou, sirrah, tell me straight the country whence thou camest thither.

Cop. An Argive I; since that thou seek'st to know. Who sent me, and the object of my coming, will I freely tell. Eurystheus, king of Mycenæ, sends me hither to fetch these back; and I have come, sir stranger, with just grounds in plenty, alike for speech or action. An Argive myself, Argives I come to fetch, taking with me these runaways from my native city, on whom the doom of death was passed by our laws there; and we have a right, since we rule our city independently, to ratify its sentences. And though they have come as suppliants to the altars of numerous others, we have taken our stand on these same arguments, and no one has ventured to bring upon himself evils of his own getting. But they have come hither, either because they perceived some folly in thee, or, in their perplexity, staking all on one risky throw to win or lose; for surely they do not suppose that thou, if so thou hast thy senses still, and only thou, in all the breadth of Hellas they have traversed, wilt pity their foolish troubles. Come now, put argument against argument: what will be thy gain, suppose thou admit them to thy land, or let us take them hence? From us these benefits are thine to win: this city can secure as friends Argos, with its far-reaching arm, and Eurystheus' might complete; whilst if thou lend an ear to their piteous pleading and grow soft, the matter must result in trial of arms; for be sure we shall not yield this struggle without appealing to the sword. What pretext wilt thou urge? Of what domains art thou robbed that thou shouldst take and wage war with the Tirynthian Argives? What kind of allies art thou aiding? For[6] whom will they have fallen whom thou buriest? Surely thou wilt get an evil name from the citizens, if for the sake of an old man with one foot in the grave, a mere shadow I may say, and for these children, thou wilt plunge into troublous waters. The best[7] thou canst say is, that thou wilt find in them a hope, and nothing more; and yet this falls far short of the present need; for these would be but a poor match for Argives even when fully armed and in their prime, if haply that raises thy spirits; moreover, the time 'twixt now and then is long, wherein ye may be blotted out. Nay, hearken to me; give me naught, but let me take mine own, and so gain Mycenæ; but forbear to act now, as is your Athenian way, and take the weaker side, when it is in thy power to choose the stronger as thy friends.

Cho. Who can decide a cause or ascertain its merits, till from both sides he clearly learn what they would say?

Iol. O king, in thy land I start with this advantage, the right to hear and speak in turn, and none, ere that, will drive me hence as elsewhere they would. 'Twixt us and him is naught in common, for we no longer have aught to do with Argos since that decree was passed, but we are exiles from our native land; how then can he justly drag us back as subjects of Mycenæ,[8] seeing that they have banished us? For we are strangers. Or do ye claim that every exile from Argos is exiled from the bounds of Hellas? Not from Athens surely; for ne'er will she for fear of Argos drive the children of Heracles from her land. Here is no Trachis, not at all; no! nor that Achæan town, whence thou, defying justice, but boasting of the might of Argos in the very words thou now art using, didst drive the suppliants from their station at the altar. If this shall be, and they thy words approve, why then I trow this is no more Athens, the home of freedom. Nay, but I know the temper and nature of these citizens; they would rather die, for honour ranks before mere life with men of worth. Enough of Athens! for excessive praise is apt to breed disgust; and oft ere now I have myself felt vexed at praise that knows no bounds. But to thee, as ruler of this land, I fain would show the reason why thou art bound to save these children. Pittheus was the son of Pelops; from him sprung Æthra, and from her Theseus thy sire was born. And now will I trace back these children's lineage for thee. Heracles was son of Zeus and Alcmena; Alcmena sprang from Pelops' daughter; therefore thy father and their father would be the sons of first cousins. Thus then art thou to them related, O Demophon, but thy just debt to them beyond the ties of kinship do I now declare to thee; for I assert, in days gone by, I was with Theseus on the ship, as their father's squire, when they went to fetch that girdle fraught with death; yea, and from Hades' murky dungeons did Heracles bring thy father up; as all Hellas doth attest. [[9]Wherefore in return they crave this boon of thee, that they be not surrendered up nor torn by force from the altars of thy gods and cast forth from the land. For this were shame on thee, and[10] hurtful likewise in thy state, should suppliants, exiles, kith and kin of thine, be haled away by force. For pity's sake! cast one glance at them.] I do entreat thee, laying my suppliant bough upon thee, by thy hands and beard, slight not the sons of Heracles, now that thou hast them in thy power to help. Show thyself their kinsman and their friend; be to them father, brother, lord; for better each and all of these than to fall beneath the Argives' hand.

Cho. O king, I pity them, hearing their sad lot. Now more than ever do I see noble birth o'ercome by fortune; for these, though sprung from a noble sire, are suffering what they ne'er deserved.

Dem. Three aspects of the case constrain me, Iolaus, not to spurn the guests thou bringest; first and foremost, there is Zeus, at whose altar thou art seated with these tender children gathered round thee; next come ties of kin, and the debt I owe to treat them kindly for their father's sake; and last, mine honour, which before all I must regard; for if I permit this altar to be violently despoiled by stranger hands, men will think the land I inhabit is free no more, and that through fear[11] I have surrendered suppliants to Argives, and this comes nigh to make one hang oneself. Would that thou hadst come under a luckier star! yet, as it is, fear not that any man shall tear thee and these children from the altar by force. Get thee (to Copreus) to Argos and tell Eurystheus so; yea and more, if he have any charge against these strangers, he shall have justice; but never shalt thou drag them hence.

Cop. Not even if I have right upon my side and prove my case?

Dem. How can it be right to drag the suppliant away by force?

Cop. Well,[12] mine is the disgrace; no harm will come to thee.

Dem. 'Tis harm to me, if I let them be haled away by thee.

Cop. Banish them thyself, and then will I take them from elsewhere.

Dem. Nature made thee a fool, to think thou knowest better than the god.

Cop. It seems then evildoers are to find a refuge here.

Dem. A temple of the gods is an asylum open to the world.

Cop. Maybe they will not take this view in Mycenæ.

Dem. What! am I not lord of this domain?

Cop. So long as thou injure not the Argives, and if[13] wise, thou wilt not.

Dem. Be injured for all I care, provided I sin not against the gods.

Cop. I would not have thee come to blows with Argos.

Dem. I am of like mind in this; but I will not dismiss these from my protection.

Cop. For all that, I shall take and drag my own away.

Dem. Why then perhaps thou wilt find a difficulty in returning to Argos.

Cop. That shall I soon find out by making the attempt.

Dem. Touch them and thou shalt rue it, and that without delay.

Cho. I conjure thee, never dare to strike a herald.

Dem. Strike I will, unless that herald learn discretion.

Cho. Depart; and thou, O king, touch him not.

Cop. I go; for 'tis feeble fighting with a single arm. But I will come again, bringing hither a host of Argive troops, spearmen clad in bronze; for countless warriors are awaiting my return, and king Eurystheus in person at their head; [14] anxiously he waits the issue here on the borders of Alcathous'[15] realm. And when he hears thy haughty answer, he will burst upon thee, and thy citizens, on this land and all that grows therein; for all in vain should we possess such hosts of picked young troops in Argos, should we forbear to punish thee.

[Exit Copreus.

Dem. Perdition seize thee! I am not afraid of thy Argos. Be very sure thou shalt not drag these suppliants hence by force, to my shame; for I hold not this city subject unto Argos, but independently.

Cho. 'Tis time to use our forethought, ere the host of Argos approach our frontier, for exceeding fierce are the warriors of Mycenæ, and in the present case still more than heretofore. For all heralds observe this custom, to exaggerate what happened twofold. Bethink thee what a tale he will tell his master of his dreadful treatment, how he came very near losing his life altogether.

Iol. Children have no fairer prize than this, the being born of a good and noble sire, and the power to wed from noble families; but whoso is enslaved by passion and makes a lowborn match, I cannot praise for leaving to his children a legacy of shame, to gratify himself. For noble birth offers a stouter resistance to adversity than base parentage; we, for instance, in the last extremity of woe, have found friends and kinsmen here, the only champions of these children through all the length and breadth of this Hellenic world. Give, children, give to them your hand, and they the same to you; draw near to them. Ah! children, we have made trial of our friends, and if ever ye see the path that leads you back to your native land, and possess your home and the honours of your father, count them ever as your friends and saviours, and never lift against their land the foeman's spear, in memory of this, but hold this city first midst those ye love. Yea, they well deserve your warm regard, in that they have shifted from our shoulders to their own the enmity of so mighty a land as Argos and its people, though they saw we were vagabonds and beggars; still they did not give us up nor drive us forth. So while I live, and after death,—come when it will,—loudly will I sing thy praise, good friend, and will extol thee as I stand at Theseus' side, and cheer his heart, as I tell how thou didst give kind welcome and protection to the sons of Heracles, and how nobly thou dost preserve thy father's fame through the length of Hellas, and hast not fallen from the high estate, to which thy father brought thee, a lot which few others can boast; for 'mongst the many wilt thou find one maybe, that is not degenerate from his sire.

Cho. This land is ever ready in an honest cause to aid the helpless. Wherefore ere now it hath endured troubles numberless for friends, and now in this I see a struggle nigh at hand.

Dem. Thou hast spoken well, and I feel confident their conduct will be such; our kindness will they not forget. Now will I muster the citizens and set them in array, that I may receive Mycenæ's host with serried ranks. But first will I send scouts to meet them, lest they fall upon me unawares; for at Argos every man is prompt to answer to the call, and I will assemble prophets and ordain a sacrifice. But do thou leave the altar of Zeus and go with the children into the house; for there are those, who will care for thee, even though I be abroad. Enter then my house, old man.

Iol. I will not leave the altar. Let[16] us sit here still, praying for the city's fair success, and when thou hast made a glorious end of this struggle, will we go unto the house; nor are the gods who champion us weaker than the gods of Argos, O king; Hera, wife of Zeus, is their leader; Athena ours. And this I say is an omen of success, that we have the stronger deity, for Pallas will not brook defeat.

[Exit Demophon.

Cho. Though loud thy boasts, there be others care no more for thee for that, O stranger[17] from the land of Argos; nor wilt thou scare my soul with swelling words. Not yet be this the fate of mighty Athens, beauteous town! But thou art void of sense, and so is he, who lords it o'er Argos, the son of Sthenelus,—thou that comest to another state, in no wise weaker than Argos, and, stranger that thou art, wouldst drag away by force suppliants of the gods, wanderers that cling[18] to my land for help, refusing to yield to our king, nor yet having any honest plea to urge. How can such conduct count as honourable, at least in wise men's judgment? I am for peace myself; yet I tell thee, wicked king, although thou come unto my city, thou shalt not get so easily what thou expectest. Thou art not the only man to wield a sword or targe with plates of brass. Nay, thou eager warrior, I warn thee, bring not war's alarms against our lovely town; restrain thyself.

Iol. My son, why, prithee, art thou returned with that anxious look? Hast thou news of the enemy? Are they coming, are they here, or what thy tidings? For of a surety yon herald will not play us false. No! sure I am their captain, prosperous heretofore, will come, with thoughts exceeding proud against Athens. But Zeus doth punish overweening pride.

Dem. The host of Argos is come, and Eurystheus its king; my own eyes saw him, for the man who thinks he knows good generalship must see the foe not by messengers alone. As yet, however, he hath not sent his host into the plain, but, camped upon a rocky brow, is watching—I only tell thee what I think this means—to see by which road to lead his army hither without fighting, and how to take up a safe position in this land. However, all my plans are by this time carefully laid; the city is under arms, the victims stand ready to be slain to every god, whose due this is; my seers have filled the town with sacrifices, to turn the foe to flight and keep our country safe. All those who chant prophetic words have I assembled, and have examined ancient oracles, both public and secret, as means to save this city. And though the several answers differ in many points, yet in one is the sentiment of all clearly the same; they bid me sacrifice to Demeter's[19] daughter some maiden from a noble father sprung. Now I, though in your cause I am as zealous as thou seest, yet will not slay my child, nor will I compel any of my subjects to do so against his will; for who of his own will doth harbour such an evil thought as to yield with his own hands the child he loves? And now thou mayest[20] see angry gatherings, where some declare, 'tis right to stand by suppliant strangers, while others charge me with folly; but if I do[21] this deed, a civil war is then and there on foot. Do thou then look to this and help to find a way to save yourselves and this country without causing me to be slandered by the citizens. For I am no despot like a barbarian monarch; but provided[22] I do what is just, just will my treatment be.

Cho. Can it be that heaven forbids this city to help strangers, when it hath the will and longing so to do?

Iol. My children, we are even as those mariners, who have escaped the storm's relentless rage, and have the land almost within their reach, but after all are driven back from shore by tempests to the deep again. Even so we, just as we reach the shore in seeming safety, are being thrust back from this land. Ah me! Why, cruel hope, didst thou then cheer my heart, though thou didst not mean to make the boon complete? The king may well be pardoned, if he will not slay his subjects' children; and with my treatment here I am content; if indeed 'tis heaven's will, I thus should fare, still is my gratitude to thee in no wise lost. Children, I know not what to do for you. Whither shall we turn? for what god's altar have we left uncrowned? to what fenced city have we failed to go? Ruin and surrender are our instant lot, poor children! If I must die, 'tis naught to me, save that thereby I give those foes of mine some cause for joy. But you, children, I lament and pity, and that aged mother of your sire, Alcmena. Ah, woe is thee for thy long span of life! and woe is me for all my idle toil! 'Twas after all our destined doom to fall into the hands of our hated foe, and die a death of shame and misery. But lend me thine aid, thou knowest how; for all hope of these children's safety has not yet left me. Give me up instead of them to the Argives, O king; run no risk, but let me save the children; to love my life becomes me not; let it pass. Me[23] will Eurystheus be most glad to take and treat despitefully, as I was Heracles' companion; for the man is but a boor; wherefore wise men ought to pray to get a wise man for their foe, and not a proud senseless fool; for so, even if by fortune[24] flouted, one would meet with much consideration.

Cho. Old man, blame[25] not this city; for though perhaps a gain[26] to us, yet would it be a foul reproach that we betrayed strangers.

Dem. A generous scheme is thine, but impossible. 'Tis not in quest of thee yon king comes marching hither; what would Eurystheus gain by the death of one so old? Nay, 'tis these children's blood he wants. For there is danger to a foe in the youthful scions of a noble race, whose memory dwells upon their father's wrongs; all this Eurystheus must foresee. But if thou hast any scheme besides, that better suits the time, be ready with it, for, since I heard that oracle, I am at a loss and full of fear.

[Exit Demophon.

Mac. Sirs, impute not boldness to me, because I venture forth; this shall be my first request, for a woman's fairest crown is this, to practise silence and discretion, and abide at home in peace. But when I heard thy lamentations, Iolaus, I came forth, albeit I was not appointed to take the lead in my family. Still in some sense am I fit to do so, for these my brothers are my chiefest care, and I fain would ask, as touching myself, whether some new trouble, added to the former woes, is gnawing at thy heart.

Iol. My daughter, 'tis nothing new that I should praise thee, as I justly may, above all the children of Heracles. Our house seemed to be prospering, when back it fell again into a hopeless state; for the king declares the prophets signify that he must order the sacrifice, not of bull or heifer, but of some tender maid of noble lineage, if we and this city are to exist. Herein is our perplexity; the king refuses either to sacrifice his own or any other's child. [27]Wherefore, though he use not terms express, yet doth he hint, that, unless we find some way out of this perplexity, we must seek some other land, for he this country fain would save.

Mac. Are these indeed the terms on which our safety depends?

Iol. Yea, on these; if, that is, we are successful otherwise.

Mac. No longer then cower before the hated Argive spear; for I, of my own free will, or ever they bid me, am ready to die and offer myself as a victim. For what excuse have we, if, while this city deems it right to incur a great danger on our behalf, we, though we might save ourselves, fly from death, by foisting our trouble on others? No! indeed, 'twere surely most ridiculous to sit and mourn as suppliants of the gods, and show ourselves but cowards, children as we are of that illustrious sire. Where among the brave is such conduct seen? Better, I suppose, this city should be taken and I (which Heaven forefend!) fall into the hands of the enemy, and then, for all I am my noble father's child, meet an awful doom, and face the Death-god none the less. Shall I wander as an exile from this land? Shall I not feel shame then, when someone says, as say they will, "Why are ye come hither with suppliant boughs, loving your lives too well? Begone from our land! for we will not succour cowards." Nay, if these be slain and I alone be saved, I have no hope in any wise of being happy, though many ere now have in this hope betrayed their friends. For who will care to wed a lonely maid or make me mother of his children? 'Tis better I should die than meet such treatment, [[28]little as I merit it. This were fitter treatment for some other, one that is not born to fame as I am.] Conduct me to the scene of death, [[29]crown me with garlands, and begin the rites, if so it please you;] then be victorious o'er the foe, for here I offer my life freely and without constraint, and for my brothers and myself I undertake to die. [[30]For I, by loving not my life too well, have found a treasure very fair, a glorious means to leave it.]

Cho. Ah, what shall I say on hearing the maid's brave words, she that is ready to die for her brothers? Who can speak more noble words or do more noble deeds henceforth for ever?

Iol. Daughter, thou art his own true child, no other man's but Heracles', that godlike soul; proud am I of thy words, though I sorrow for thy lot. Yet will I propose a fairer method: 'tis right to summon hither all the sisters of this maiden, and then let her, on whom the lot shall fall, die for her family; for that thou shouldst die without the lot is not just.

Mac. My death shall no chance lot decide; there is no graciousness in that; peace! old friend. But if ye accept and will avail you of my readiness, freely do I offer my life for these, and without constraint.

Iol. Ah, this is even nobler than thy former word; that was matchless, but thou dost now surpass thy bravery and noble speech. I cannot bid, will not forbid thy dying, O my daughter! for[31] by thy death thou dost thy brothers serve.

Mac. A cautious bidding thine! Fear not to take a stain of guilt from me; only let me die as one whose death is free. Follow me, old friend, for in thy arms I fain would die; stand by and veil my body with my robe, for I will go even to the dreadful doom of sacrifice, seeing whose daughter I avow myself.

Iol. I cannot stand by and see thee bleed.

Mac. At least do thou beg me this boon of the king, that I may breathe out my life in women's arms instead of men's.

Dem. It shall be so, unhappy maid; for this were shame to me to refuse thee honour due, for many reasons: because thou hast a soul so brave; because 'tis right; and thou hast shown more courage than any of thy sex my eyes have ever seen. Now, if thou hast aught to say to these children or thy aged guide, oh[32]! say the last thou hast to say—then go.

Mac. Farewell, old friend, farewell! and prithee teach these children to be like thyself, wise at every point; let them strive no further, for that will suffice them. And seek to save them from death, even as thou art anxious to do; thy children are we, thy care it was that nurtured us. Thou seest how I yield my bridal bloom to die for them. For you, my brothers gathered here, may you be happy! and may every blessing be yours, for the which my blood shall pay the price![33] Honour this old friend, and her that is within the house, Alcmena, the aged mother of my sire, and these strangers too. And if ever heaven for you devise release from trouble and a return to your home, remember the burial due to her that saved you, a funeral fair[34] as I deserve; for I have not failed, but stood by you, and died to save my race. This shall be my pearl of price instead of children, and for the maiden life I leave, if there be really aught beyond the grave God grant there may not be! For if, e'en there, we who are to die shall find a life of care, I know not whither one shall turn; for death is held a sovereign cure for every ill.

Iol. Maiden of heroic soul, transcending all thy race, be sure the fame that thou shalt win from us, in life, in death, shall leave the rest of women far behind; farewell to thee! I dare not say harsh words of her to whom thou art devoted, the goddess-daughter of Demeter. [Exit Macaria.] Children, I am undone, grief unnerves my limbs; take hold and support me to a seat hard by, when ye have drawn my mantle o'er my face, my sons. For I am grieved at what hath happened, and yet, were it not fulfilled, we could not live; thus were the mischief worse, though this is grief enough.

Cho. Without the will of heaven none is blest, none curst, I do maintain; nor doth the same house for ever tread the path of bliss; for one kind of fortune follows hard upon another; one man it brings to naught from his high estate, another though of no[35] account it crowns with happiness. To shun what fate decrees, is no wise permitted; none by cunning shall thrust it from him; but he, who vainly would do so, shall have unceasing trouble. Then fall not prostrate thou, but bear what heaven sends, and set a limit to thy soul's grief; for she, poor maid! in dying for her brothers and this land, hath won a glorious death, and splendid fame shall be her meed from all mankind; for virtue's path leads through troublous ways. Worthy of her father, worthy of her noble birth is this conduct. And if thou dost honour the virtuous dead, I share with thee that sentiment.

Ser. All hail, ye children! Where is aged Iolaus? where the mother of your sire, absent from their place at this altar?

Iol. Here am I, so far as I can be present at all.

Ser. Why dost thou lie there? Why that downcast look?

Iol. There is come a sorrow on my house, whereby I am distressed.

Ser. Arise, lift up thy head.

Iol. I am old, and all my strength is gone.

Ser. But I come with tidings of great joy for thee.

Iol. Who art thou? Where have I met thee? I have no remembrance.

Ser. I am a vassal of Hyllus; dost not recognize me now?

Iol. Best of friends, art thou come to save us twain from hurt?

Ser. Assuredly; and moreover thou art lucky in the present case.

Iol. Alcmena, mother of a noble son, to thee I call! come forth, hear this welcome news. For long has anguish caused thee inwardly to waste, wondering if those, who now are here, would ever come.

Alc. What means that shout, that echoes throughout the house? Hath there come yet a herald from Argos, O Iolaus, and is he treating thee with violence? Feeble is any strength of mine; yet thus much let me tell thee, stranger, never, whilst I live, shalt thou drag them hence. Shouldst thou succeed, no more let me be thought the mother of that hero. And if thou lay a finger on them, thou wilt struggle to thy shame with two aged foes.

Iol. Courage, aged dame, fear not; not from Argos is a herald come, with hostile messages.

Alc. Why then didst raise a cry, fear's harbinger?

Iol. I called thee to come to me in front of this temple.

Alc. I know not what it means; who is this?

Iol. A messenger who says thy grandson cometh hither.

Alc. All hail to thee for these thy tidings! But why is he not here, where is he? if in this land he hath set foot. What hath happened to keep him from coming hither with thee, to cheer my heart?

Ser. He is posting the army he brought with him, and seeing it marshalled.

Alc. Then have I no concern herein.

Iol. Yes, thou hast; though it is my business to inquire into these matters.

Ser. What then wouldst thou learn of these events?

Iol. About how many allies has he with him?

Ser. A numerous force; I cannot otherwise describe the number.

Iol. The leaders of the Athenians know this, I suppose?

Ser. They do; already is their left wing set in array.

Iol. Is then the host already armed for battle?

Ser. Yea, and already are the victims brought[36] near[37] the ranks.

Iol. About what distance is the Argive host from us?

Ser. Near enough for their general to be plainly seen.

Iol. What is he about? marshalling the enemy's line?

Ser. So we guessed; we could not hear exactly. But I must go, for I would not that my master should engage the foe without me, if I can help it.

Iol. I also will go with thee; for I like thee am minded, so it seems, to be there and help my friends.

Ser. It least of all becomes thee thus to utter words of folly.

Iol. Far less to shrink from sharing with my friends the stubborn fight.

Ser. Mere looks can wound no one, if the arm do naught.

Iol. Why, cannot I smite even through their shields?

Ser. Smite perhaps, more likely be smitten thyself.

Iol. No foe will dare to meet me face to face.

Ser. Friend, the strength, that erst was thine, is thine no more.

Iol. Well, at any rate, I will fight with as many as ever I did.

Ser. Small the weight thou canst throw into the balance for thy friends.

Iol. Detain me not, when I have girded myself for action.

Ser. The power to act is thine no more, the will maybe is there.

Iol. Stay here I will not, say what else[38] thou wilt.

Ser. How shalt thou show thyself before the troops unarmed?

Iol. There be captured arms within this shrine; these will I use, and, if I live, restore; and, if I am slain, the god will not demand them of me back. Go thou within, and from its peg take down a suit of armour and forthwith bring it to me. To linger thus at home is infamous, while some go fight, and others out of cowardice remain behind.

[Exit Servant.

Cho. Not yet hath time laid low thy spirit, 'tis young as ever; but thy body's strength is gone. Why toil to no purpose? 'Twill do thee hurt and benefit our city little. At thy age thou shouldst confess thy error and let impossibilities alone. Thou canst in no way get thy vigour back again.

Alc. What means this mad resolve to leave me with my children undefended here?

Iol. Men must fight; and thou must look to them.

Alc. And what if thou art slain? what safety shall I find?

Iol. Thy son's surviving children will care for thee.

Alc. Suppose they meet with some reverse? which Heaven forefend!

Iol. These strangers will not give thee up, fear not.

Alc. They are my last and only hope, I have no other.

Iol. Zeus too, I feel sure, cares for thy sufferings.

Alc. Ah! of Zeus will I never speak ill, but himself doth know, whether he is just to me.

Ser. Lo! here thou seest a full coat of mail; make haste to case thyself therein; for the strife is nigh, and bitterly doth Ares loathe loiterers; but if thou fear the weight of the armour, go for the present without it, and in the ranks do on this gear; meantime will I carry it.

Iol. Well said! keep the harness ready to my hand, put a spear within my grasp, and support me on the left side, guiding my steps.

Ser. Am I to lead this warrior like a child?

Iol. To save the omen, we must go without stumbling.

Ser. Would thy power to act were equal to thy zeal!

Iol. Hasten; I shall feel it grievously, if I am too late for the battle.

Ser. 'Tis thou who art slow, not I, though thou fanciest thou art doing wonders.

Iol. Dost not mark how swift my steps are hasting?

Ser. I mark more seeming than reality in thy haste.

Iol. Thou wilt tell a different tale when thou seest me there.

Ser. What shall I see thee do? I wish thee all success, at any rate.

Iol. Thou shalt see me smite some foeman through the shield.

Ser. Perhaps, if ever we get there. I have my fears of that.

Iol. Ah! would to Heaven that thou, mine arm, e'en as I remember thee in thy lusty youth, when with Heracles thou didst sack Sparta, couldst so champion me to-day! how I would put Eurystheus to flight! since he is too craven to wait the onslaught. For prosperity carries with it this error too: a reputation for bravery; for we think the prosperous man a master of all knowledge.

Cho. O earth, and moon that shines by night, and dazzling radiance of the god, that giveth light to man, bear the tidings to me, shout aloud to heaven for joy, and beside our ruler's throne, and in the shrine of grey-eyed Athene. For my fatherland and home will I soon decide the issue of the strife with the gleaming sword, because I have taken suppliants under my protection. 'Tis a fearful thing, that a city prosperous as Mycenæ is, one famed for martial prowess, should harbour wrath against my land; still, my countrymen, it were a shameful thing in us to yield up suppliant strangers at the bidding of Argos. Zeus is on my side, I am not afraid; Zeus hath a favour unto me, as is my due; never by me[39] shall gods be thought weaker than mortal men. O dread goddess,[40] thine the soil whereon we stand, thine this city, for thou art its mother, queen, and saviour; wherefore turn some other way the impious king, who leadeth a host from Argos with brandished lance against this land; for, such my worth, I little merit exile from my home. For thy worship[41] is aye performed with many a sacrifice, and never art thou forgotten as each month draweth to its close, when young voices sing and dancers' music is heard abroad, while on our wind-swept hill goes up the cry of joy to the beat of maidens' feet by night.

Ser. Mistress, the message that I bring is very short for thee to hear and fair for me, who stand before thee, to announce. O'er our foes we are victorious, and trophies are being set up, with panoplies upon them, taken from thy enemies.

Alc. Best of friends! this day hath wrought[42] thy liberty by reason of these tidings. But there still remains one anxious thought thou dost not free me from; a thought of fear;—are those, whose lives I cherish, spared to me?

Ser. They are, and high their fame through all the army spreads.

Alc. The old man Iolaus,—is he yet alive?

Ser. Aye, that he is, a hero whom the gods delight to honour.

Alc. How so? Did he perform some deed of prowess?

Ser. He hath passed from age to youth once more.

Alc. Thy tale is passing strange; but first I would that thou shouldst tell me, how our friends won the day.

Ser. One speech of mine puts it all clearly before thee. When we had deployed our troops and marshalled them face to face with one another, Hyllus dismounted from his four-horsed chariot and stood midway betwixt the hosts. Then cried he, "Captain, who art come from Argos, why cannot we leave this land alone? No hurt wilt thou do Mycenæ, if of one man thou rob her; come! meet me in single combat, and, if thou slay me, take the children of Heracles away with thee, but, if thou fall, leave me to possess my ancestral honours and my home." The host cried yes! saying the scheme he offered was a fair one, both to rid them of their trouble and satisfy their valour. But that other, feeling no shame before those who heard the challenge or at his own cowardice, quailed, general though he was, to come within reach of the stubborn spear, showing himself an abject coward; yet with such a spirit he came to enslave the children of Heracles. Then did Hyllus withdraw to his own ranks again, and the prophets seeing that no reconciliation would be effected by single combat, began the sacrifice without delay and forthwith let flow from a human[43] throat auspicious streams of blood. And some were mounting chariots, while others couched beneath the shelter of their shields, and the king of the Athenians, as a highborn chieftain should, would exhort his host: "Fellow-citizens, the land, that feeds you and that gave you birth, demands to-day the help of every man." Likewise Eurystheus besought his allies that they should scorn to sully the fame of Argos and Mycenæ. Anon the Etrurian trumpet sounded loud and clear, and hand to hand they rushed; then think how loudly clashed their ringing shields, what din arose of cries and groans confused! At first the onset of the Argive spear-men broke our ranks; then they in turn gave ground; next, foot to foot and man to man, they fought their stubborn fray, many falling the while. And either chief cheered on his men, "Sons of Athens! Ye who till the fields of Argos! ward from your land disgrace." Do all we could, and spite of every effort, scarce could we turn the Argive line in flight. When lo! old Iolaus sees Hyllus starting from the ranks, whereon he lifts his hands to him with a prayer to take him up into his chariot. Thereon he seized the reins and went hard after the horses of Eurystheus. From this point onward must I speak from hearsay, though hitherto as one whose own eyes saw. For as he was crossing Pallene's hill, sacred to the goddess Athene, he caught sight of Eurystheus' chariot, and prayed to Hebe and to Zeus, that for one single day he might grow young again and wreak his vengeance on his foes. Now must thou hear a wondrous tale: two stars settled on the horses' yokes and threw the chariot into dark shadow, which at least so say our wiser folk were thy son and Hebe; and from that murky gloom appeared that aged man in the form of a youth with strong young arms; then by the rocks of Sciron the hero Iolaus o'ertakes Eurystheus' chariot. And he bound his hands with gyves, and is bringing that chieftain once so prosperous as a trophy hither, whose fortune now doth preach a lesson, clear as day, to all the sons of men, that none should envy him, who seems to thrive, until they see his death; for fortune's moods last but a day.

Cho. O Zeus, who puttest my foes to flight, now may I behold the day that frees me from cruel fear!

Alc. At last, O Zeus, hast thou turned a favouring eye on my affliction; yet do I thank thee for what has happened. And though ere this I did not believe my son was gathered to the gods, now am I convinced thereof. My children, now at last from toil shall ye be free, free from him, whom hideous death awaits, Eurystheus; now shall ye behold your father's city, and set foot in the land of your inheritance, and sacrifice to those ancestral gods, from whom ye have been debarred and forced to lead in strangers' lands a life of wretched vagrancy. But tell me, what sage purpose Iolaus nursed in his heart, that he spared the life of Eurystheus, for to my mind this is no wisdom, to catch a foe and wreak no vengeance on him.

Ser. 'Twas his regard for thee, that thou might'st see him subject to thy hand, and triumph[44] o'er him. Rest assured, 'twas no willing prisoner he made, but by strong constraint he bound him, for Eurystheus was loth indeed to come alive into thy presence and pay his penalty. Farewell, my aged mistress; I pray thee remember thy first promise when I was beginning my story; set me free; for, at such a time as this, sincerity becometh noble lips.

[Exit Servant.

Cho. Sweet is the dance to me, whenso the clear-toned flute and lovely Aphrodite shed grace upon the feast; and a joyful thing too it is, I trow, to witness the good luck of friends, who till then ne'er dreamt of it. For numerous is the offspring of Fate, that bringeth all to pass, and of Time, the son of Cronos. Thine is the path of justice, O my city; this must no man wrest from thee, thy reverence for the gods, and, whoso denieth it of thee, draws nigh to frenzy's goal, with these plain proofs in view. Yea, for the god proclaims it clearly, by cutting short the bad man's pride in every case. In heaven, mother, lives thy son, passed from earth away; that he went down to Hades' halls, his body burnt by the fire's fierce flame, is past belief; in golden halls reclined he has to wife Hebe, lovely nymph. Thou, O Hymen, hast honoured them, children both of Zeus. Things for the most part form a single chain; for instance, men say Athene used to champion their father, and now the citizens of that goddess have saved his children, and checked the insolence of him, whose heart preferred violence to justice. God save me from such arrogance, such greed of soul!

[Eurystheus is brought in bound.

Mes. Mistress, though thine eyes see him, yet will I announce we have brought Eurystheus hither for thy pleasure, an unexpected sight, for him no less a chance he ne'er foresaw; for little he thought of ever falling into thy hands, what time he marched from Mycenæ with his toil-worn warriors, to sack Athens, thinking himself far above fortune. But a power divine hath reversed our destinies, changing their position. Now Hyllus and brave Iolaus I left raising an image to Zeus, who routs the foe, for their triumphant victory, whilst they bid me bring this prisoner to thee, wishing to gladden thy heart; for 'tis the sweetest sight to see a foe fall on evil days after prosperity.

Alc. Art come, thou hateful wretch? Hath Justice caught thee then at last? First, turn thy head this way to me, and endure to look thy enemies in the face, for thou art no more the ruler, but the slave. Art[45] thou the man—for this I fain would learn who didst presume to heap thy insults on my son, who now is where he is, thou miscreant? What outrage didst thou abstain from putting upon him? Thou that didst make him go down alive even to Hades, and wouldst send him with an order to slay hydras and lions? Thy other evil schemes I mention not, for to tell them were a tedious task for me. Nor did it content thee to venture thus far only; no! but from all Hellas wouldst thou drive me and my children, heaven's suppliants though we were, grey-heads some of us, and some still tender babes. But here hast thou found men and a free city, that feared not thee. Die in torment must thou, and e'en so wilt thou gain in every way, for one death is not thy due, after all the sorrow thou hast caused.

Mes. Thou mayst not slay him.

Alc. Then have we taken him captive in vain. But say, what law forbids his death?

Mes. It is not the will of the rulers of this land.

Alc. Why, what is this? Do they not approve of slaying enemies?

Mes. Not such as they have taken alive in battle.

Alc. Did Hyllus uphold this decision?

Mes. He, I suppose, ought to have disobeyed the law of the land.

Alc. The prisoner's life ought not to have been spared a moment.

Mes. It was then that he was wronged, by not being slain at first.

Alc. Why, then, he is still in time to pay his penalty.

Mes. There is no one, who will slay him now.

Alc. I will; and yet I count myself someone.

Mes. Well, thou wilt incur great blame, if thou do this deed.

Alc. I love this city well; that cannot be gainsaid. But since this man hath fallen into my power, no mortal hand shall wrest him from me. Wherefore let who will, call me the woman bold, with thoughts too high for her sex; yet shall this deed be brought to pass by me.

Cho. Lady, full well I understand thou hast a dire quarrel with this man, and 'tis pardonable.

Eur. Woman, be sure I will not flatter thee nor say aught to save my life, that can give any occasion for a charge of cowardice. It was not of my own free will I took this quarrel up; I am aware that I was born thy cousin, and kinsman to Heracles, thy son; but whether I would or no, Hera, by her power divine, caused me to be afflicted thus. Still, when I undertook to be his foe, and when I knew I had to enter on this struggle, I set myself to devise trouble in plenty, and oft from time to time my midnight communing bore fruit, scheming how to push aside and slay my foes, and for the future divorce myself from fear; for I knew that son of thine was no mere cipher, but a man indeed; yea, for, though he was my foe, I will speak well of him, because he was a man of worth. Now, after he was taken hence, was I not forced, by reason of these children's hatred, and because I was conscious of an hereditary feud, to leave no stone unturned by slaying, banishing, and plotting against them? So long as I did so, my safety was assured. Suppose thyself hadst had my lot, wouldst not thou have set to harassing the lion's angry whelps, instead of letting them dwell at Argos undisturbed? Thou wilt not persuade us otherwise. Now therefore, since they did not slay me then, when I was prepared to die, by the laws of Hellas my death becomes a curse on him, who slays me now. The city wisely let me go, in that she regarded the gods more than her hatred of me. Thou hast had my answer to thy words; henceforth must I be called avenging spirit[46] and noble hero too.[47] 'Tis even thus with me; to die have I no wish, but, if I leave my life, I shall in no way be grieved.

Cho. Alcmena, fain I would advise thee somewhat; let this man go, for 'tis the city's will.

Alc. Suppose he die, and yet I obey the city?

Cho. That would be best of all; but how can this be?

Alc. I will teach thee easily. I will slay him and then give up his corpse to those of his friends, who come for it, for, as regards his body, I will not disobey[48] the state; but by his death shall he pay me the penalty.

Eur. Slay me, I do not ask thee for mercy; yet since this city let me go and shrunk from slaying me, I will reward it with an old oracle of Loxias, which in time will benefit them more than doth appear. Bury my body after death in its destined grave in front of the shrine of the virgin goddess[49] at Pallene. And I will be thy friend and guardian of thy city for ever, where I lie buried in a foreign soil, but a bitter foe to these children's descendants, whensoe'er[50] with gathered host they come against this land, traitors to your kindness now; such are the strangers ye have championed. Why then came I hither, if I knew all this, instead of regarding the god's oracle? Because I thought, that Hera was mightier far than any oracle, and would not betray me. Waste no drink-offering on my tomb, nor spill the victim's blood; for I will requite them for my treatment here with a journey they shall rue; and ye shall have double gain from me, for I will help you and harm them by my death.

Alc. Why, why delay to kill this man, after hearing this, since this is needed to secure the safety of your city and your children? Himself points out the safest road. Though the man is now our foe, yet after death is he our gain. Away with him, ye servants, and cast him[51] to the dogs when ye have slain him. Think not thou shalt live to cast me forth from my native land again.

CHO. I agree. Lead on, servants. Our[52] conduct shall bring no stain of guilt upon our rulers.


  1. Reading προτείνων (Canter's emendation of προτιμῶν MS.).
  2. Tradition only assigned one daughter, Macaria, to the hero, παρθένους is to be understood quite generally.
  3. Elmsley, followed by Nauck, reads κομίζων.
  4. i.e. the Euripus between Eubœa and Attica.
  5. Reading σφε (Musgrave) for MS. σε. Schmidt, τάδ᾽ ἀλιτεῖν σ᾽ ἕδη "thee (i.e. Copreus) to transgress against."
  6. Nauck brackets this sentence as spurious.
  7. i.e. a hope that they will do the same for you in your hour of need. Jebb suggested (Cf. Jerram) Ἐρῶ τὸ λῷστον· ἐλπιδ᾽ εὑρήσει μόνον "I will put your case in the best light: you will find hope and nothing more." A most tempting elucidation of a very puzzling passage.
  8. Mycenæ and Argos are used indiscrimately, in the same way that Euripides elsewhere speaks of Greeks as Argives, Achæans, Hellenes, etc., without distinction.
  9. The following six lines have been condemned by the joint verdict of Paley, Porson, and Dindorf.
  10. This line as it stands has a syllable too many for the metre. Hermann omits τε. Wecklein inserts τῇ and omits κακόν.
  11. Reading ὄκνῳ.
  12. Reading with Musgrave οὐκοῦν . . . ἀλλ᾽ οὐ. Jerram reads οὔκουν . . . ἀλλὰ σοὶ giving as the sense of this line and the next—
  13. Kirchhoff places a comma after ἐκείνους, and changes ἣν into ἄν, but this is not necessary.
  14. "Cop. No disgrace to me: the hurt will be thine.
    Dem. So it will, if I let thee take them."
  15. He was king of Megara.
  16. Or, "let us keep our suppliant seat, awaiting the city's success."
  17. Reading ὦ ξεῖν᾽ Ἀργόθεν ἐλθών (Erfurdt).
  18. Reading with Dindorf ἀντισχομένους. Nauck has ἀντομένους.
  19. Persephone, queen of the dead.
  20. Hartung unnecessarily reads ἀστῶν ἴδοις.
  21. Reading εἰ δὲ δὴ which gives a quite intelligible sense; yet it has been altered by some into ἣν δὲ μὴ.
  22. Cobet proposed ἤνπερ ἄδικα, i.e. "if I do what is unjust, I shall get my deserts."
  23. Usener, followed by Nauck, regards lines 456 to 460 as spurious.
  24. Reading with Tyrrwhitt κἀτυχής for καὶ δίκης, which in the Aldine became καὶ τύχης and suggested the emendation.
  25. But Iolaus has praised, not blamed Athens. And so Hartung proposes to read ἐπαινέσȢς. Usener τήνδε ταῦτ᾽ ἄιτει.
  26. Reading κέρδος. Nauck ψευδές.
  27. Nauck condemns lines 494 to 497.
  28. Paley brackets these two lines as spurious, and Nauck suspects their genuineness.
  29. Paley encloses this line in brackets. Nauck says it is either spurious or corrupt. Certainly it offends against tragic usage by containing a cretic foot as the fifth.
  30. Also regarded by Paley as spurious.
  31. Nauck condemns this line.
  32. Reading δὴ, with Elmsley, for μοι.
  33. Badham proposed σφαλήσεται, certainly an easier reading.
  34. Nauck, μάλιστα for κάλλιστα.
  35. Reading ἀτίταν, Fix's emendation for the unmetrical ἀλήταν of MS.
  36. κατῆρκται has been proposed for παρῆκται.
  37. πέλας is Dindorf 's emendation for ἑκάς.
  38. Badham proposed τἀμὰ for τἄλλα.
  39. Dindorf's emendation is followed in this corrupt passage; ἥσσονες παρ᾽ ἐμοὶ θεοὶ φανοῦνται.
  40. Pallas.
  41. The festival of the Panathenæa is alluded to.
  42. Reiske, διήνυσεν for the unusual διήλασεν.
  43. If βροτείων is correct, it would seem to refer to Macaria. Paley offers the ingenious suggestion βοτείων, i.e., "throats of beasts" but the word has no authority. Better is Helbig's βοείων.
  44. Reading with Reiske κρατοῦσα.
  45. Nauck condemns this line; as also line 948.
  46. Or, "guilty of blood." Lat. homo piacularis.
  47. i.e. I will meet my doom like a hero, and haunt you after death.
  48. ἀπιστήσω is suspected by Nauck, and certainly it is difficult to extract any satisfactory meaning from it. Liddell and Scott, citing this passage, alone say "will not hesitate to commit it to the ground"—a doubtful usage.
  49. Pallas.
  50. Referring to invasions by the Peloponnesians, descendants of the Heracleidæ.
  51. A strange breach of her promise just before—perhaps here, as in other parts of this play, some confusion is due to the very probable theory of Hermann that our text is incomplete—e.g. no account of Macaria's death-scene is extant; this could hardly have been omitted by such a lover of pathos as Euripides.
  52. We have had nothing to do with it. The responsibility rests with Alcmena.