When Agamemnon returned home from the taking of Troy, his adulterous wife Klytemnestra, with help of her paramour Aegisthus, murdered him as he entered the silver bath in his palace. They sought also to slay his young son Orestes, that no avenger might be left alive; but an old servant stole him away, and took him out of the land, unto Phocis. There was he nurtured by king Strophius, and Pylades the king's son loved him as a brother. So Aegisthus dwelt with Klytemnestra, reigning in Argos, where remained now of Agamemnon's seed Electra his daughter only. And these twain marked how Electra grew up in hate and scorn of them, indignant for her father's murder, and fain to avenge him. Wherefore, lest she should wed a prince, and persuade husband or son to accomplish her heart's desire, they bethought them how they should forestall this peril. Aegisthus indeed would have slain her, yet by the queen's counsel forebore, and gave her in marriage to a poor yeoman, who dwelt far from the city, as thinking that from peasant husband and peasant children there should be nought to fear. Howbeit this man, being full of loyalty to the mighty dead and reverence for blood royal, behaved himself to her as to a queen, so that she continued virgin in his house all the days of her adversity. Now when Orestes was grown to man, he journeyed with Pylades his friend to Argos, to seek out his sister, and to devise how he might avenge his father, since by the oracle of Apollo he was commanded so to do.
And herein is told the story of his coming, and how brother and sister were made known to each other, and how they fulfilled the oracle in taking vengeance on tyrant and adulteress.
Peasant, wedded in name to Electra.
Electra, daughter of Agamemnon.
Orestes, son of Agamemnon.
Pylades, son of Strophius king of Phocis.
Klytemnestra, murderess of her husband Agamemnon.
Old Man, once servant of Agamemnon.
Messenger, servant of Orestes.
The Twin Brethren, Kastor and Pollux, sons of Zeus.
Chorus, consisting of women of Argos.
Attendants of Orestes and Pylades; handmaids of Klytemnestra.
Scene:—Before the Peasant's cottage on the borders of Argolis.
Enter Peasant from the cottage.
Hail, ancient Argos, streams of Inachus,
Whence, with a thousand galleys battle-bound,
To Troyland's shore King Agamemnon sailed,
And, having slain the lord of Ilian land,
Priam, and taken Dardanus' burg renowned, 5
Came to this Argos, and on her high fanes
Hung up unnumbered spoils barbarian.
In far lands prospered he; but in his home
Died by his own wife Klytemnestra's guile,
And by Aegisthus' hand, Thyestes' son. 10
So, leaving Tantalus' ancient sceptre, he
Is gone, and o'er the realm Aegisthus reigns,
Having the king's wife, child of Tyndareus.
Of those whom Troyward bound he left at home,
The boy Orestes and the maid Electra, 15
One his sire's foster-father stole away,
Orestes, doomed to die by Aegisthus' hand,
And Phocis-ward to Strophius sent, to rear:
But in her father's halls Electra stayed,
Till o'er her mantled womanhood's first flush, 20
And Hellas' princes wooing asked her hand.
Aegisthus then, in fear lest she should bear
To a prince a son, avenger of Agamemnon,
Kept her at home, betrothed her unto none.
But, since this too with haunting dread was fraught, 25
Lest she should bear some noble a child of stealth,
He would have slain her; yet, how cruel soe'er,
Her mother saved her from Aegisthus' hand;—
A plea she had for murder of her lord,
But feared to be abhorred for children's blood:— 30
Wherefore Aegisthus found out this device:
On Agamemnon's son, who had fled the land,
He set a price, even gold to whoso slew;
But to me gives Electra, her to have
To wife,—from sires Mycenian sprung indeed 35
Am I, herein I may not be contemned;
Noble my line is, I in this world's goods
Am poor, whereby men's high descent is marred,—
To make his fear naught by this spouse of naught.
For, had she wed a man of high repute, 40
Agamemnon's slumbering blood-feud had he waked;
Then on Aegisthus vengeance might have fallen.
But never I—Kypris my witness is—
Have shamed her couch: a virgin is she yet.
Myself think shame to take a prince's child 45
And outrage—I, in birth unmeet for her!
Yea, and for him I sigh, in name my kin,
Hapless Orestes, if to Argos e'er
He come, and see his sister's wretched marriage.
If any name me fool, that I should take 50
A young maid to mine home, and touch her not,
Let him know that he meteth chastity
By his own soul's base measure—base as he.
Enter Electra, with a water-jar upon her head.
Hail, black-winged Night, nurse of the golden stars,
Wherein this pitcher poised upon mine head 55
I bear, to bring the river's fountain-flow,—
Not for that of constraint I am bowed to this,
But to show Heaven Aegisthus' tyranny,
And wail to the broad welkin for my sire.
For mine own mother, Tyndareus' baleful child, 60
Thrust me from home, for grace to this her spouse,
And, having borne Aegisthus other sons,
Thrusteth aside Orestes' rights and mine.
Why toil'st thou thus, O hapless, for my sake,
Nor dost refrain from labour,—thou of old 65
Royally nurtured, though I bid thee so?
Kind I account thee even as the Gods,
Who in mine ills hast not insulted me.
High fortune this, when men for sore mischance
Find such physician as I find in thee. 70
I ought, as strength shall serve, yea, though forbid,
To ease thy toil, that lighter be thy load,
And share thy burdens. Work enow without
Hast thou: beseems that I should keep the house
In order. When the toiler cometh home, 75
'Tis sweet to find the household fair-arrayed.
If such thy mind, pass on: in sooth not far
The spring is from yon cot. I at the dawn
Will drive my team afield and sow the glebe.
None idle—though his lips aye prate of Gods— 80
Can gather without toil a livelihood.
[Exeunt Peasant and Electra.
Enter Orestes and Pylades.
Pylades, foremost thee of men I count
In loyalty, love, and friendship unto me.
Sole of Orestes' friends, thou honouredst me
In this my plight, wronged foully by Aegisthus, 85
Who, with my utter-baneful mother, slew
My sire. At Phœbus' oracle-hest I come
To Argos' soil, none privy thereunto,
To pay my father's murderers murder-wage.
This night o'erpast to my sire's tomb I went; 90
There tears I gave and offerings of shorn hair,
And a slain sheep's blood poured upon the grave,
Unmarked of despot-rulers of this land.
And now I set not foot within their walls,
But blending two assays in one I come 95
To this land's border,—that to another soil
Forth I may flee, if any watch and know me;
To seek withal my sister,—for she dwells
In wedlock yoked, men say, nor bides a maid,—
To meet her, for the vengeance win her help, 100
And that which passeth in the city learn.
Now—for the Dawn uplifteth her bright eyne—
Step we a little from this path aside.
Haply shall some hind or some bondswoman
Appear to us, of whom we shall enquire 105
If in some spot hereby my sister dwell.
Lo, yonder I discern a serving-maid
Who on shorn head her burden from the spring
Bears: sit we down, and of this bondmaid ask,
If tidings haply we may win of that 110
For which we came to this land, Pylades.
[Orestes and Pylades retire to rear.
Bestir thou, for time presses, thy foot's speed;
Haste onward, weeping bitterly.
I am his child, am Agamemnon's seed,—
Alas for me, for me!
And I the daughter Klytemnestra bore—
Tyndareus' child, abhorred of all;—
And me the city-dwellers evermore
Hapless Electra call.
Woe and alas for this my lot of sighing, 120
My life from consolation banned!
O father Agamemnon, thou art lying
In Hades, thou whose wife devised thy dying—
Her heart, Aegisthus' hand.
On, wake once more the selfsame note of grieving:
Upraise the dirge of tears that bring relieving.
Bestir thou, for time presses, thy foot's speed;
Haste onward weeping bitterly.
Ah me, what city sees thee in thy need,
Brother?—alas for thee! 130
In what proud house hast thou a bondman's place,
Leaving thy woeful sister lone
Here in the halls ancestral of our race
In sore distress to moan?
Come, a Redeemer from this anguish, heeding
My desolation and my pain:
Come Zeus, come Zeus, the champion of a bleeding
Father most foully killed—to Argos leading
The wanderer's feet again.
Set down this pitcher from thine head: 140
Let me prevent the morn
With wailings for a father dead,
Shrieks down to Hades borne,
Through the grave's gloom, O father, ringing:
Through Hades' hall to thee I call,
Day after day my cries outflinging;
And aye my cheeks are furrowed red
With blood by rending fingers shed.
Mine hands on mine head smiting fall—
Mine head for thy death shorn.
Rend the hair grief-defiled! 150
As swan's note, ringing wild
Where some broad stream still-stealeth,
O'er its dear sire outpealeth,
Mid guileful nets who lies
Dead—so o'er thee the cries
Wail, father, of thy child,
Thee, on that piteous death-bed laid
When that last bath was o'er!
Woe for the bitter axe-edge swayed,
Father, adrip with gore! 160
Woe for the dread resolve, prevailing
From Ilion to draw thee on
To her that waited thee—not hailing
With chaplets!—nor with wreaths arrayed
Wast thou; but with the falchion's blade
She made thee Aegisthus' sport, and won
That treacherous paramour.
Atreides' child, Electra, I have come
Unto thy rustic home.
One from Mycenæ sped this day is here,
A milk-fed mountaineer. 170
Argos proclaims, saith he, a festival
The third day hence to fall;
And unto Hera's fane must every maid
Pass, in long pomp arrayed.
Friends, not for thought of festal tide,
Nor carcanet's gold-gleaming pride
The pulses of my breast are leaping;
Nor with the brides of Argos keeping
The measure of the dance, my feet
The wreathèd maze's time shall beat: 180
Nay, but with tears the night I greet,
And wear the woeful day with weeping.
Look on mine hair, its glory shorn,
The disarray of mine attire:
Say, if a princess this beseemeth,
Daughter to Agamemnon born,
Or Troy, that, smitten by my sire,
Of him in nightmare memories dreameth?
Great is the Goddess: borrow then of me 190
Robes woven cunningly,
And jewels whereby shall beauty fairer shine.
Dost think these tears of thine,
If thou give honour not to Gods, shall bring
Thy foes low?—reverencing
The Gods with prayers, not groans, shalt thou obtain
Clear shining after rain.
No God regards a wretch's cries,
Nor heeds old flames of sacrifice
Once on my father's altars burning. 200
Woe for the dead, the unreturning!
Woe for the living, homeless now,
In alien land constrained, I trow
To serfdom's board in grief to bow—
That hero's son afar sojourning!
In a poor hovel I abide,
An exile from my father's door,
Wasting my soul with tears outwelling,
Mid scaurs of yon wild mountain-side:— 210
My mother with her paramour
In murder-bond the while is dwelling!
Of many an ill to Hellas and thine house
Was Helen, sister of thy mother, cause.
Orestes and Pylades approach.
Woe's me, friends!—needs must I break off my moan! 215
Lo, yonder strangers ambushed nigh the house
Out of their hiding-place are rising up!
With flying feet—thou down the path, and I
Into the house,—flee we from evil men!
Orestes (intercepting her).
Tarry, thou hapless one: fear not mine hand. 220
Phœbus, I pray thee that I be not slain!
Orestes (extending his hand to hers).
God grant I slay some more my foes than thee!
Hence!—touch not whom beseems thee not to touch!
None is there whom with better right I touch.
Why sword in hand waylay me by mine house? 225
Tarry and hear: my words shall soon be thine.
I stand, as in thy power;—the stronger thou.
I come to bring thee tidings of thy brother.
Friend—friend!—and liveth he, or is he dead?
He liveth: first the good news would I tell. 230
Blessings on thee, for meed of words most sweet!
This blessing to us twain I give to share.
What land hath he for weary exile's home?
Outcast, he claims no city's citizenship.
Not—surely not in straits for daily bread? 235
That hath he: yet the exile helpless is.
And what the message thou hast brought from him?
Liv'st thou?—he asks; and, living, what thy state?
Seest thou not how wasted is my form?—
So sorrow-broken that myself could sigh. 240
Mine head withal—my tresses closely shorn.
Heart-wrung by a brother's fate, a father's death?
Ah me, what is to me than these more dear?
Alas! art thou not to thy brother dear?
Far off he stays, nor comes to prove his love. 245
Why dost thou dwell here, from the city far?
I am wedded, stranger—as in bonds of death.
Alas thy brother!—A Mycenian lord?
Not such to whom my sire once hoped to wed me.
Tell me, that hearing I may tell thy brother. 250
In this his house from Argos far I live.
Delver or neatherd should but match such house!
Poor, yet well-born, and reverencing me.
Now what this reverence rendered of thy spouse?
Never hath he presumed to touch my couch. 255
A vow of chastity, or scorn of thee?
He took not on him to insult my sires.
How, did he not exult to win such bride?
He deems that who betrothed me had not right.
I understand:—and feared Orestes' vengeance? 260
Yea, this: yet virtuous was he therewithal.
A noble soul this, worthy of reward!
Yea, if the absent to his home return.
But did the mother who bare thee suffer this?
Wives be their husbands', not their children's friends. 265
Why did Aegisthus this despite to thee?
That weaklings of weak sire my sons might prove.
Ay, lest thou bear sons to avenge the wrong?
So schemed he—God grant I requite him yet!
Knows he, thy mother's spouse, thou art maiden still? 270
Nay, for by silence this we hide from him.
Friends, then, are these which hearken these thy words?
Yea, true to keep thy counsel close and mine.
What help, if Argos-ward Orestes came?
Thou ask!—out on thee!—is it not full time? 275
How slay his father's murderers, if he came?
Daring what foes against his father dared.
And with him wouldst thou, couldst thou, slay thy mother?
Ay!—with that axe whereby my father died!
This shall I tell him for thy firm resolve? 280
My mother's blood for his—then welcome death!
Ah, were Orestes nigh to hear that word!
But, stranger, though I saw, I should not know him.
No marvel—a child parted from a child.
One only of my friends would know him now,— 285
Who stole him out of murder's clutch, men say?
The sometime agèd child-ward of my sire.
And thy dead father—hath he found a tomb?
Such tomb as he hath found, flung forth his halls!
Ah me, what tale is this!—Yea, sympathy 290
Even for strangers' pain wrings human hearts.
Tell on, that, knowing, to thy brother I
May bear the joyless tale that must be heard.
Yea, pity dwells, albeit ne'er in churls,
Yet in the wise:—this is the penalty 295
Laid on the wise for souls too finely wrought.
His heart's desire, the same is also mine:
For, from the town far dwelling, nought know I
The city's sins: now fain would I too hear.
Tell will I—if I may. Sure I may tell 300
A friend my grievous fortune and my sire's.
Since thou dost wake the tale, I pray thee, stranger,
Report to Orestes all mine ills and his.
Tell in what raiment I am hovel-housed,
Under what squalor I am crushed, and dwell 305
Under what roof, after a palace-home;—
How mine own shuttle weaves with pain my robes,
Else must I want, all vestureless my frame;—
How from the stream myself the water bear;—
Banned from the festal rite, denied the dance;— 310
No part have I with wives, who am a maid,
No part in Kastor, though they plighted me
To him, my kinsman, ere to heaven he passed:
The while mid Phrygian spoils upon a throne
Sitteth my mother: at her footstool stand 315
Bondmaids of Asia, captives of my sire,
Their robes Idæan with the brooches clasped
Of gold:—and yet my sire's blood 'neath the roofs,
A dark clot, festers! He that murdered him
Mounteth his very car, rides forth in state; 320
The sceptre that he marshalled Greeks withal
Flaunting he graspeth in his blood-stained hand.
And Agamemnon's tomb is set at nought:
Drink-offerings never yet nor myrtle-spray
Had it, a grave all bare of ornament. 325
Yea, with wine drunken, doth my mother's spouse—
The glorious, as men say—leap on the grave,
And pelt with stones my father's monument;
And against us he dares to speak this taunt:
"Where is thy son Orestes?—bravely nigh 330
To shield thy tomb!" So is the absent mocked.
But, stranger, I beseech thee, tell him this:
Many are summoning him,—their mouthpiece I,—
These hands, this tongue, this stricken heart of mine,
My shorn head, his own father therewithal. 335
Shame, that the sire destroyed all Phrygia's race,
And the son singly cannot slay one man,
Young though he be, and of a nobler sire!
But lo, yon man—thy spouse it is I name—
Hath ceased from toil, and homeward hasteneth. 340
How now? What strangers these about my doors?
For what cause unto these my rustic gates
Come they?—or seek they me? Beseemeth not
That with young men a wife should stand in talk.
O kindest heart, do not suspect me thou, 345
And thou shalt hear the truth. These strangers come
Heralds to me of tidings of Orestes.
And, O ye strangers, pardon these his words.
What say they? Is he man, and seeth light?
Yea, by their tale—and I mistrust it not. 350
Ha!—and remembereth thy sire's wrongs and thine?
Hope is as yet all: weak the exile is.
And what word from Orestes have they brought?
These hath he sent, his spies, to mark my wrongs.
They see but part: thou haply tell'st the rest? 355
They know: hereof nought lacketh unto them.
Then should our doors ere this have been flung wide.
Pass ye within: for your fair tidings' sake
Receive such guest-cheer as mine house contains.
Ye henchmen, take their gear these doors within. 360
Say me not nay—friends are ye from a friend
Which come to me: for, what though I be poor,
Yet will I nowise show a low-born soul.
'Fore heaven, is this the man who keepeth close
Thy wedlock-secret, not to shame Orestes? 365
Even he, named spouse of me the hapless one.
Lo, there is no sure test for manhood's worth;
For mortal natures are confusion-fraught.
I have seen ere now a noble father's son
Proved nothing-worth, seen good sons of ill sires, 370
Starved leanness in a rich man's very soul,
And in a poor man's body a great heart.
How then shall one discern 'twixt these and judge?
By wealth?—a sorry test were this to use.
Or by the lack of all?—nay, poverty 375
Is plague-struck, schooling men to sin through need.
To prowess shall I turn me?—who, that looks
On spears, shall witness to the hero-heart?
Best leave such things to fall out as they will:
For this man is not among Argives great, 380
Nor by a noble house's name exalted,
But one of the many—proved a king of men!
Learn wisdom, ye which wander aimless, swoln
With vain imaginings: by converse judge
Men, even the noble by their daily walk. 385
For such be they which govern states aright
And homes: but fleshly bulks devoid of wit
Are statues in the market place. Nor bides
The strong arm staunchlier than the weak in fight;
But this of nature's inborn courage springs. 390
But—seeing worthy is Agamemnon's son,
Present or absent, for whose sake we come,—
Accept we shelter of this roof. Ho, thralls,
Enter this house. For me the host whose heart
Leaps out in welcome, rather than the rich! 395
Thanks for the welcome into this man's house;
Yet fain would I it were thy brother now
That prospering led me into prosperous halls.
Yet may he come; for Loxias' oracles
Fail not. Of men's soothsaying will I none. 400
[They enter cottage.
Now, more than heretofore, Electra, glows
Mine heart with joy. Thy fortune now, though late
Advancing, haply shall be stablished fair.
Poor man, thou know'st thine house's poverty.
Wherefore receive these guests too great for thee? 405
How?—an they be of high birth, as they seem,
Will they content them not with little or much?
Since then thou so hast erred, and thou so poor,
Go to the ancient fosterer of my sire,
Who on the banks of Tanaüs, which parts 410
The Argive marches from the Spartan land,
An outcast from our city, tends his flocks.
Bid him to wend home straightway, and to come
And furnish somewhat for the strangers' meat.
He shall rejoice, yea, render thanks to heaven, 415
To hear how lives the child whom once he saved.
For of my mother from my father's halls
Nought should we gain: our tidings should we rue
If that wretch heard that yet Orestes lives.
If thus thou wilt, thy message will I bear 420
To yon grey sire: but pass thou in with speed,
And there make ready. Woman's will can find
Many a thing shall eke the feasting out.
Yea, and within the house is store enough
To satisfy for one day these with meat. 425
In such things, when my thoughts turn thitherward,
I mark what mighty vantage substance hath,
To give to guests, to medicine the body
In sickness: but for needs of daily food
Not far it reacheth. Each man, rich and poor, 430
Can be but filled, when hunger is appeased.
[Exit Peasant. Electra enters the cottage.
O galleys renowned, by your myriad-sweeping
Oars hurled high on the Trojan strand,
Whom the Sea-maids followed, with dances surrounding
Your dusky prows, when the dolphin was bounding
Around them, bewitched by your music, and leaping
In sinuous rapture on every hand,
Escorting Achilles, the fleetfoot son
Of Thetis, with King Agamemnon on
Unto where broad Simoïs, seaward-creeping 440
Rippled and glittered o'er Trojan sand.
And the Sea-maids fleeted by shores Eubœan
From the depths where the golden anvils are
Of the Fire-god, a hero's harness bearing—
Over Pelion, over the wild spurs faring
Of Ossa, over the glens Nymphæan;
From the watchtower-crags outgazing afar
They sought where his father, the chariot-lord,
Fostered for Thetis a sea-born ward,
A light for Hellas, a victory-pæan, 450
The fleetfoot help to the Atreïds' war.
Of a farer from Ilium heard I the story,
Who had stepped to the strand in the Nauplian haven,
Heard, O Thetis' son, of thy buckler of glory,
Of the blazonry midst of the round of it graven,
Whose god-fashioned tokens of terror made craven
The hearts of the Trojans in battle adread,—
How gleamed on the border that compassed its splendour
Perseus, on sandals swift-winged as he fled 460
Bearing throat-severed the Gorgon-fiend's head,
While Maia's son, Prince of the Fields, for defender,
Herald of Zeus, at his side ever sped.
And flamed in the midst of the buckler outblazing
The orb of the Sun-god, his heaven-track riding
On the car after coursers wing-wafted on-racing.
And therein were the stars in their sky-dance gliding,
The Pleiads and Hyades, evil-betiding
To Hector, for death in his eyes did they fling.
On the golden-forged helmet were Sphinxes, bearing 470
In their talons the victim that minstrels sing.
On the corslet his bosom encompassing
The fire-breathing lioness rushed, up-glaring
At the winged steed trapped by Peirênê's spring.
And battle-steeds pranced on his falchion of slaughter;
O'er their shoulders was floating the dark dust-cloud:—
And thou slewest the chieftain. O Tyndareus' daughter,
That captained such heroes, so godlike and proud!
'Twas thy bridal that slew him, O thou false-hearted!
Therefore the Dwellers in Heaven shall repay
Death unto thee in the on-coming day.
I shall see it—shall see when the life-blood hath started
From thy neck at the kiss of the steel that shall slay!
Enter Old Man.
Where shall the princess, my young mistress, be,
Agamemnon's daughter, nursed erewhile of me?
How steep ascent hath she to this her home
For mine eld-wrinkled feet to attain thereto! 490
Howbeit to those I love must I drag on
Mine age-bowed spine, must drag my tottering knees.
Daughter,—for now I see thee at thy door,—
Lo, I am come: I bring thee from my flocks
A suckling lamb, yea, taken from the ewe, 495
Garlands, and cheeses from the presses drawn,
And this old treasure-drop of the Wine-god's boon,
Rich-odoured—scant store; yet the weaker draught
Is turned to nectar, blent with a cup of this.
Let one bear these unto thy guests within; 500
For with this tattered vesture am I fain
To wipe away the tears that dim mine eyes.
Whence to thine eyes, grey sire, this sorrow-rain?
Have mine ills wakened memories long asleep?
Or for Orestes' exile groanest thou, 505
And for my sire, whom in thine arms of old
Thou fosteredst?—all in vain for thee and thine!
In vain! Yet could I not endure it so.
I turned, in coming, to his tomb aside,
There kneeling, for its desolation wept, 510
Poured a drink-offering from the skin I bear
Thy guests, and crowned the tomb with myrtle-sprays.
But—on the grave a black-fleeced ram I saw
New-slain, and blood but short time since outpoured,
And severed locks thereby of golden hair! 515
I marvelled, daughter, who of men had dared
Draw nigh the tomb: no Argive he, I wot.
Haply thy brother hath in secret come,
And honoured so his father's grave forlorn.
Look on the tress; yea, lay it to thine hair; 520
Mark if the shorn lock's colour be the same:
For they which share one father's blood shall oft
By many a bodily likeness kinship show.
Not worthy a wise man, ancient, be thy words—
To think mine aweless brother would have come, 525
Fearing Aegisthus, hither secretly.
Then, how should tress be matched with tress of hair—
That, a young noble's trained in athlete-strife,
This, womanlike comb-sleeked? It cannot be.
Sooth, many shouldst thou find of hair like-hued, 530
Though of the same blood, ancient, never born.
Nay, but some stranger, pitying his tomb,
Shore it, or some one of this land, by stealth.
Set in his sandal's print thy tread, and mark
If that foot's measure answer, child, to thine. 535
How on a stony plain should there be made
Impress of feet? Yea, if such print be there,
Brother's and sister's foot should never match—
A man's and woman's: greater is the male.
Hath he not weft of thine own loom—whereby 540
To know thy brother, if he should return—
Wherein I stole him, years agone, from death?
Know'st thou not, when Orestes fled the land,
I was a child?—yea, had I woven vests,
How should that lad the same cloak wear to-day, 545
Except, as waxed the body, vestures grew?
Where be the strangers? I would fain behold
And of thine absent brother question them.
Lo, here with light foot step they forth the house.
Re-enter Orestes and Pylades.
Old Man (aside).
High-born of mien:—yet false the coin may be; 550
For many nobly born be knaves in grain.
Yet—(aloud) to the strangers greeting fair I give.
Greeting, grey sire! Electra, of thy friends
Who hath this time-worn wreck of man to thrall?
This, stranger, was my father's fosterer. 555
How say'st thou?—this, who stole thy brother hence?
Even he who saved him, if he liveth yet.
Why looks he on me, as who eyes the stamp
On silver?—likening me to any man?
Joying perchance to see Orestes' friend. 560
A dear friend he:—yet wherefore pace me round?
I also marvel, stranger, seeing this.
Daughter Electra—princess!—pray the Gods—
For what—of things that are or are not ours?
To win the precious treasure God reveals! 565
Lo, I invoke them. What wouldst say, old sire?
Look on him now, child,—on thy best-beloved!
Long have I dreaded lest thy wits be crazed.
I, crazed!—who look upon thy brother,—there!
What mean'st thou, ancient, by a word past hope? 570
I see Orestes, Agamemnon's son.
What token hast thou marked, that I may trust?
A scar along his brow:—in his father's halls
Chasing with thee a fawn, he fell and gashed it.
How say'st thou?—yea, I see the mark thereof! 575
Now, art thou slow to embrace thy best-beloved?
No, ancient, no! By this thy sign convinced
Mine heart is. Thou who hast at last appeared,
Unhoped I hold thee!
Clasped at last of me!
Never I looked for this!
Nor dared I hope. 580
And art thou he?
Yea, thy one champion I,—
So I draw in the net-cast that I seek:
And sure I shall!—we must believe no more
In Gods, if wrong shall triumph over right.
Thou hast come, thou hast come, dawn long-delayed!
Thou hast flashed from the sky, thou hast lifted on high
O'er the land as a beacon the exile that strayed
From his father's halls, while the years dragged by
Victory! God unto us is bringing 590
Victory, O my friend!
Lift up thine hands and thy voice upringing
In prayers to the Gods, that, with Fortune flinging
Her shield round about him, thy brother through Argos' gates may wend! 595
Hold—the sweet bliss of greeting I receive
Of thee, hereafter must I render back.
But, ancient—for in season hast thou come,—
Say, how shall I requite my father's slayer,
And her that shares his guilty couch, my mother? 600
Have I in Argos any loyal friend,
Or, like my fortunes, am I bankrupt all?
With whom to league me?—best were night, or day?
What path shall I essay to assault my foes?
Ah son, no friend hast thou in thy misfortune. 605
Nay, but this thing as treasure-trove is rare,
That one should share thine evil as thy good.
Since thou art wholly, as touching friends, bereft,—
Art even hope-forlorn,—be assured of me,
In thine own hand and fortune is thine all 610
For winning father's house and city again.
What shall I do then, to attain thereto?
Thyestes' son and thine own mother slay.
To win this prize I come. How shall I grasp it?
Through yon gates, never, how good soe'er thy will. 615
With guards beset is he, and spearmen's hands?
Thou sayest: he fears thee, that he cannot sleep.
Ay so:—what followeth, ancient, counsel thou.
Hear me—even now a thought hath come to me.
Be thy device good, keen to follow I! 620
Aegisthus saw I, hither as I toiled,—
Now welcome be the word! Thou saw'st him—where?
Nigh to these fields, by pastures of his steeds.
What doth he? From despair I look on hope!
A feast would he prepare the Nymphs, meseemed. 625
For nursing-dues of babes, or birth at hand?
Nought know I, save his purposed sacrifice.
With guards how many?—or alone with thralls?
They only of his household; Argives none.
None, ancient, who might look on me, and know? 630
Thralls are they who looked never on thy face.
Haply my partisans, if I prevail?
The bondman's wont, by happy chance for thee.
How then shall I make shift to approach to him?
Pass full in view at hour of sacrifice. 635
Hard by the highway be his lands, I trow.
Thence shall he see, and bid thee to the feast.
A bitter fellow-feaster, heaven to help!
Thereafter thou take thought, as fortune falls.
Well hast thou said. My mother—where is she? 640
In Argos, yet shall soon attend the feast.
Why went not forth my mother with her lord?
Fearing the people's taunts there tarried she.
Yea—knowing how men look askance on her.
Even so; a woman for her crimes abhorred. 645
How shall I slay together him and her?
Even I my mother's slaying will prepare.
Good sooth, for his shall Fortune smooth the path.
This man shall minister to us in both.
Yea. How wilt thou contrive thy mother's death? 650
Go, ancient, say to Klytemnestra this—
Report me mother of a child, a male.
Long since delivered, or but as of late?
Within these ten days—purifying's space.
Yet—to thy mother how doth this bring death? 655
At tidings of my travail will she come.
How?—deem'st thou, child, she careth aught for thee?
Yea—even to weeping for my babes' high birth!
Haply: yet goalward turn I back thy speech.
Let her but come, and surely is she dead. 660
Nay then, to the very house-door let her come.
Ay—short the bypath thence to Hades' gates!
Oh but to see this hour, then welcome death!
First, ancient, then, be guide unto this man.
To where Aegisthus doeth sacrifice? 665
Then seek my mother, and my message tell.
Yea, it shall seem the utterance of thy lips.
Electra (to Orestes).
Now to thy work. Thou drewest first blood-lot.
I will set forth if any guide appear.
Even I will speed thee thither nothing loth. 670
My fathers' God, Zeus, smiter of my foes,
Pity us: pitiful our wrongs have been.
Ah, pity them whose lineage is of thee!
Queen of Mycenæ's altars, Hera, help!
Grant to us victory, if we claim the right. 675
Grant for our father vengeance upon these!
Father, by foul wrong dweller 'neath the earth,
And thou, Earth, Queen, on whom I lay mine hands,
Help, help us, these thy children best-beloved.
Now come thou, bringing all the dead to aid, 680
All them whose spears with thee laid Phrygians low,
And all which hate defilers impious!
Hear'st thou, O foully-entreated of my mother?
Our sire hears all, I know:—but time bids forth.
And for this cause I warn thee, die he must,— 685
If thou, o'ermastered, fall a deadly fall,
I die too; count me then no more alive:
For I with sword twin-edged will pierce mine heart.
Now pass I in, to set in order all,
That, if there come fair tidings touching thee, 690
The house may shout its joy: but, if thou die,
Far other shall betide. Thus charge I thee.
All know I.
Wherefore must thou play the man.
And ye, girls, beacon-like raise signal-cry
Of this strife's issue. I will keep good watch, 695
Holding the sword aye ready in my grasp:
For never, overmastered, to my foes
Will I for vengeance-outrage yield me up.
[Retires within cottage. Exeunt
Orestes, Pylades, and Old Man.
In ancient song is the tale yet told
How Pan, the Master of forest and mead, 700
Unearthly sweet while the melody rolled
From his pipes of cunningly-linkèd reed,
Did of yore from the mountains of Argos lead,
From the midst of the tender ewes of the fold,
A lamb bright-fleeced with the splendour of gold.
From the steps of marble the herald then
Cried all the folk to the market-place—
"To the gathering away, Mycenian men!
On the awesome portent press to gaze 710
Of the lords of the heaven-favoured race!"
And with blithe acclaim the dancers came, and with songs of praise.
And the gold-laid pavements in glorious wise
Were tapestry-spread: through street on street
Flashed flames of the Argives' sacrifice;
And the voices were ringing of flutes most sweet,
Which render the Muses service meet:
Aye richer-swelling did glad songs rise
Of the golden lamb, of Thyestes' prize.
For the nets of a love with dark guile fraught 720
O'er the soul of Atreus' bride did he fling;
And the marvel so to his halls hath he brought,
And hath sped to the thronged folk, publishing
How his palace had gotten that strange horned thing,
The golden-fleeced:—and the strife so ceased, and they hailed him king,
Then, then, in his anger arose Zeus, turning
The stars' feet back on the fire-fretted way;
Yea, and the Sun's car splendour-burning,
And the misty eyes of the morning grey. 730
And with flash of his chariot-wheels back-flying
Flushed crimson the face of the fading day:
To the north fled the clouds with their burden sighing;
And for rains withheld, and for dews fast-drying
The dwellings of Ammon in faintness were yearning,
For sweet showers crying to heavens denying.
It is told of the singers—scant credence such story,
Touching secrets of Gods, of my spirit hath won—
That the Sun from that vision turned backward the glory
Of the gold of the face of his flaming throne,
With the scourge of his wrath in affliction repaying 740
Mortals for deeds in their mad feuds done:—
Yet it may be the tale liveth, soul-affraying,
To bow us to Godward in lowly obeying.
O mother of princes, it rose not before thee
Mid thy lord's moan, staying thine hand from the slaying!
Heard ye a great voice—or am I beguiled
Of fancy?—like earth-muffled thunder of Zeus?
Lo there, the gale is swelling all too plain!
Princess, come forth thine house!—Electra, come! 750
Friends, what befalls?—how doth our conflict speed?
I know but this, I hear a cry of death.
I also hear—far off—yet oh, I hear!
Faint from the distance stole the cry, yet clear.
A shriek of Argives?—or of them I love? 755
I know not: all confused rang out the strain.
Thine answer is my death!—why linger I?
Stay, till in certainty thou learn thy fate.
No—vanquished!—where be they, his messengers?
They yet shall come; not lightly slain are kings. 760
Victory! victory, maids Mycenian!
To all friends, tidings of Orestes' triumph!
Low lieth Agamemnon's murderer
Aegisthus: render thanks unto the Gods.
Who art thou?—what attests thy tidings' truth? 765
Look,—dost thou know me not,—thy brother's henchman?
O friend, I knew not, out of very fear,
Thy face; but now in very sooth I know.
How say'st thou?—is my sire's foul murderer dead?
Dead. Twice I say it, since thou will'st it so. 770
Gods! All-seeing Justice, thou hast come at last!
In what wise, and by what device of death,
Slew he Thyestes' son? I fain would know.
Soon as our feet from thine abode had passed,
The highway chariot-rutted entered we, 775
Where journeyed this renowned Mycenian king.
Into his watered garden had he turned,
Plucking soft myrtle-sprays to bind his brows.
He saw, and cried, "Hail, strangers, who be ye?
Whence journeying, and children of what land?" 780
"Thessalians we," Orestes spake, "who seek
Alpheus, to sacrifice to Olympian Zeus."
Now when Aegisthus heard this, answered he,
"Nay, at this altar-feast ye needs must be
My guests: I sacrifice unto the Nymphs. 785
With morning shall ye rise from sleep, and speed
No less. Come, let us go into the house,"—
So speaking, did he take us by the hand,
And led us in,—"ye may not say me nay."
And, when we stood within his doors, he spake: 790
"Let one with speed bring water for the guests,
That they may compass with cleansed hands the altar."
But spake Orestes, "In pure river-streams
It was but now we purified ourselves.
If strangers may with citizens sacrifice, 795
Ready we are, nor say thee nay, O King."
So made they end of parley 'twixt the twain.
Then, laying down their spears, the tyrant's guards,
His thralls, all set their hands unto the work.
Some brought the bowl of slaughter, some the maunds: 800
The fire some kindled, and the caldrons set
Over the hearths: with tumult rang the roofs.
Then took thy mother's paramour the meal,
And thus spake, on the altars casting it:
"Nymphs of the Rocks, vouchsafe me oft, with her, 805
Mine home-mate Tyndareus' child, to sacrifice,
As now, blest, and my foes in like ill case."
Thee and Orestes meant he; but my lord
Reversed the prayer, low-murmuring, even to win
Ancestral halls. Aegisthus from the maund 810
Took the straight blade, the calf's hair shore therewith,
And on the pure flame with his right hand cast;
Then, when his thralls heaved shoulder-high the calf,
Severed the throat, and to thy brother spake:
"Herein, men boast, Thessalians take their pride, 815
In deftly quartering the slaughtered bull,
And taming steeds. Take thou the steel, O guest,
And prove the fame of the Thessalians true."
Then grasped he a fair-wrought Dorian blade in hand,
And from his shoulder cast his graceful cloak, 820
Took Pylades for helper in his task,
And put the thralls back; seized the calf's foot then,
And bared the white flesh, stretching forth his arm,
And quicker flayed the hide than runner's feet
Twice round the turnings of the horse-course speed; 825
So opened it. Aegisthus grasped the inwards,
And gazed thereon. No lobe the liver had:
The gate-vein, the gall-bladder nigh thereto,
Portended perilous scathe to him that looked.
Scowling he stared; but straight my master asks: 830
"Why cast down, O mine host?" "A stranger's guile
I dread. Of all men hatefullest to me,
And foe to mine, is Agamemnon's son."
But he, "Go to: thou fear an exile's guile—
The King! That we on flesh of sacrifice 835
May feast, let one for this of Doris bring
A Phthian knife: the breast-bone let me cleave."
So took, and cleft. Aegisthus grasped the inwards,
Parted, and gazed. Even as he bowed his head,
Thy brother strained himself full height, and smote 840
Down on his spine, and through his backbone's joints
Crashed. Shuddered all his frame from head to foot,
Convulsed in throes of agony dying hard.
Straightway the thralls beholding sprang to arms,—
A host to fight with two,—but unafraid 845
Pylades and Orestes, brandishing
Their weapons, faced them: "Not a foe," he cried,
"To Argos, nor my servants, am I come!
I have avenged me on my father's slayer,—
Orestes I, the hapless! Slay me not, 850
My father's ancient thralls!" They, when they heard
His words, stayed spear: and recognised was he
Of an old servant, long time of the house.
Straightway a wreath upon thy brother's head
They set, with shouts rejoicing. And he comes 855
To show the head to thee—no Gorgon's this,
But whom thou hat'st, Aegisthus. Blood for blood,
Bitter repayment, to the slain hath come.
Forth to the dance, O beloved, with feet
That rapture is winging! 860
Bounding from earth, as a fawn's, let them fleet!
Lo, thy brother comes bringing
Victory-garlands more fair than they gain
By Alpheus' flow! As I dance, be thy strain
Of triumph outringing! 865
O light, O splendour of the Sun-god's steeds,
O Earth, and Night that filled my gaze till now,
Free are mine eyes now: dawn's wings open free!
My father's slayer Aegisthus is laid low!
Come, such things as I have, my dwelling's store, 870
Let me bring forth to grace his hair, O friends,
To crown my conquering brother's head withal.
Crown him, the conqueror!—garlands upraise,
To the dance that the Muses love forth will we pace. 875
Now shall rule o'er our nation
Her kings well-beloved whom of old she hath known;
For the right is triumphant, the tyrant o'erthrown:—
Ring, joy's exultation!
Enter Orestes and Pylades, with attendants bearing Aegisthus' body.
Hail, glorious conqueror, Orestes sprung 880
Of father triumph-crowned in Ilium's war!
Receive this wreath to bind thy clustering hair.
Thou hast come home, who hast run no bootless course
In athlete-race, but who hast slain thy foe
Aegisthus, murderer of thy sire and mine. 885
And thou, his battle-helper, Pylades,
A good man's nursling, from mine hand accept
A wreath; for in this conflict was thy part
As his: in my sight ever prosper ye!
The Gods account thou first, Electra, authors 890
Of this day's fortune: praise thereafter me,
Who am but minister of heaven and fate.
I come, who not in word, but deed, have slain
Aegisthus, and for proof for whoso will
To know, the dead man's self I bring to thee; 895
Whom, if thou wilt, for ravin of beasts cast forth,
Or for the children of the air to rend
Impale him on a stake: thy bondman now
Is he, who heretofore was called thy lord.
I take shame—none the less I fain would speak— 900
What is it? Speak: thou hast left fear's prison-house.
To mock the dead, lest ill-will light on me.
There is no man can blame thee for such cause.
Our folk be ill to please, and censure-prone.
Speak, sister, what thou wilt. No terms of truce 905
Be in the feud betwixt us and this man.
Enough—where shall reproach of thee begin?
Where end? Where shall the arraignment find its midst?
Yet, morn by morn, I never wont to cease
Conning what I would tell thee to thy face, 910
If ever from past terrors disenthralled
I stood. Now am I; and I pay the debt
Of taunts I fain had hurled at thee alive.
Thou wast my ruin, of a sire beloved
Didst orphan me and him, who wronged thee never; 915
Didst foully wed my mother, slew'st her lord,
Hellas' war-chief,—thou who ne'er sawest Troy!
Such was thy folly's depth that thou didst dream
Thou hadst wedded in my mother a true wife,
With whom thou didst defile my father's couch! 920
Let whoso draggeth down his neighbour's wife
To folly, and then must take her for his own,
Know himself dupe, who deemeth that to him
She shall be true, who to her lord was false.
Wretched thy life was, which thou thoughtest blest:— 925
Thou knewest thine a marriage impious,
And she, that she had ta'en for lord a villain.
Transgressors both, each other's lot ye took,—
She took thy fortune, thou didst take her curse.
And through all Argos this was still thy name— 930
"That woman's husband": none said "That man's wife."
Yet shame is this, when foremost in the home
Is wife, not husband. Out upon the sons
That not the man's, their father's, sons are called,
Nay, but the mother's, all the city through! 935
For, when the ignoble weddeth high-born bride,
None take account of him, but all of her.
This was thy strong delusion, blind of heart,
Through pride of wealth to boast thee some great one!
Nought wealth is, save for fleeting fellowship. 940
'Tis character abideth, not possessions:
This, ever-staying, lifteth up the head;
But wealth by vanity gotten, held of fools,
Takes to it wings; as a flower it fadeth soon.
For those thy sins of the flesh—for maid unmeet 945
To name—I pass them by: too clear the hint!
Thou waxedst wanton, with thy royal halls,
Thy pride of goodlihead! Be mine a spouse
Not girl-faced, but a man in mien and port.
The sons of these to warrior-prowess cleave; 950
Those, the fair-seeming, but in dances shine.
Perish, O blind to all for which at last,
Felon convict, thou'rt punished, caitiff thou!
Let none dream, though at starting he run well,
That he outrunneth Justice, ere he touch 955
The very goal and gain the bourn of life.
Dread were his deeds; dread payment hath he made
To thee and this man. Great is Justice' might.
Enough: now must ye bear his corpse within,
And hide in shadow, thralls, that, when she comes, 960
My mother ere she die see not the dead.
Hold:—turn we now unto another theme.
How, from Mycenæ seest thou rescue come?
Nay, but my mother, her that gave me birth.
Ha! fair and full into the toils she runs. 965
O flaunting pomp of chariots and attire!
What shall we do?—our mother shall we slay?
How?—hath ruth seized thee, seeing thy mother's form?
How can I slay her—her that nursed, that bare me?
Even as she thy father slew and mine. 970
O Phœbus, folly exceeding was thine hest—
Nay, where Apollo erreth, who is wise?
Who against nature bad'st me slay my mother!
How art thou harmed, avenging thine own sire?
Arraigned for a mother's murder—pure ere this! 975
Yet impious, if thou succour not thy sire.
My mother for her blood must I requite.
And Him!—if thou forbear to avenge a father.
Ha!—spake a fiend in likeness of the God?—
Throned on the holy tripod!—I trow not. 980
I dare not trust this oracle's utter faith!
Wilt thou turn craven—be no more a man?
Lo, I will lay the selfsame snare for her
Whereby thou didst her spouse Aegisthus slay.
I will go in. A horror I essay!— 985
Yea, horrors will achieve! If this please Heaven,
So be it. Bitter strife, yet sweet, for me. [Enters hut.
Enter Klytemnestra in chariot, with attendants, captive maids of Troy.
Hail, Queen of the Argive land!
All hail, O Tyndareus' daughter!
Hail, sister of Zeus' sons, heroes twain 990
In the glittering heavens mid stars who stand,
And their proud right this, to deliver from bane
Men tossed on the storm-vext water.
Hail! As to the Blest, do I yield thee thy right
Of homage, for awe of thy wealth and thy bliss.
With observance to compass thy fortune's height
This, Queen, is the hour, even this!
Step from the wain, Troy's daughters; take mine hand,
That from this chariot-floor I may light down.
As the Gods' temples are with spoils adorned 1000
Of Troy, so these, the chosen of Phrygian land,
Have I, to countervail my daughter lost:—
Scant guerdon, yet fair honour for mine house.
May I not then,—the slave, the outcast I
From my sire's halls, whose wretched home is here,— 1005
Mother, may I not take that heaven-blest hand?
Here be these bondmaids: trouble not thyself.
How?—me thou mad'st thy spear-thrall, banished home:
Captive mine house was led, and captive I,
Even as these, unfathered and forlorn. 1010
Such fruit thy father's plottings had, contrived
Against his dearest, all unmerited.
Yea, I will speak; albeit, when ill fame
Compasseth woman, all her tongue drops gall—
As touching me, unjustly: let men learn 1015
The truth, and if the hate be proved my due,
'Tis just they loathe me; if not, wherefore loathe?
Of Tyndareus was I given to thy sire—
Not to be slain, nor I, nor those I bare.
He took my child—drawn by this lie from me, 1020
That she should wed Achilles,—far from home
To ship-thronged Aulis, laid her on the pyre,
And shore through Iphigonê's snowy throat!
Had he, to avert Mycenæ's overthrow,—
To exalt his house,—to save the children left,— 1025
Slain one for many, 'twere not past forgiving.
But, for that Helen was a wanton, he
That wed the traitress impotent for vengeance,
Even for such cause murdered he my child.
Howbeit for this wrong, how wronged soe'er, 1030
I had not raged, nor had I slain my lord;—
But to me with that prophet-maid he came,
Made her usurp my couch, and fain would keep
Two brides together in the selfsame halls.
Women be frail: sooth, I deny it not. 1035
But when, this granted, 'tis the husband errs,
Slighting his own true bride, and fain the wife
Would copy him, and find another love,
Ah then, fierce light of scandal beats on us;
But them which show the way, the men, none blame! 1040
Now had Menelaus from his home been stoln,
Ought I have slain Orestes, so to save
My sister's lord? How had thy sire endured
Such deed? Should he 'scape killing then, who slew
My child, and I at his hands die for his? 1045
I slew him; turned me—'twas the only way—
Unto his foes; for who of thy sire's friends
Had been partaker with me in his blood?
Speak all thou wilt: boldly set forth thy plea
To prove thy father did not justly die. 1050
Justice thy plea!—thy "justice" were our shame!
The wife should yield in all things to her lord,
So she be wise. If any think not so,
With her mine argument hath nought to do.
Bethink thee, mother, of thy latest words, 1055
Vouchsafing me free speech to answer thee.
Again I say it; and I draw not back.
Yea, mother, but wilt hear—and punish then?
Nay: I grant grace of license to thy mood.
Then will I speak. My prelude this shall be:— 1060
O mother, that thou hadst a better heart!
That beauty wins you worthy meed of praise,
Helen's and thine: true sisters twain were ye!
Ay, wantons both, unworthy Kastor's name!
She, torn from home—yet fain to be undone; 1065
Thou, murderess of Hellas' noblest son,
Pleading that for a daughter's sake thou slew'st
A husband!—ah, men knew thee not as I,
Thee, who, before thy daughter's death was doomed,
When from thine home thy lord had newly passed, 1070
Wert sleeking at the mirror thy bright hair!
The woman who, her husband far from home,
Bedecks herself, blot out her name as vile!
She needeth not to flaunt abroad a face
Made fair, except she be on mischief bent. 1075
Of Hellas' daughters none save thee I know,
Who, when the might of Troy prevailed, was glad,
Whose eyes were clouded when her fortunes sank,
Who wished not Agamemnon home from Troy.
Yet reason fair thou hadst to be true wife: 1080
Not worser than Aegisthus was thy lord,
Whom Hellas chose to lead her war-array.
And, when thy sister Helen so had sinned,
High praise was thine to win; for sinners' deeds
Lift up the good for ensamples in men's sight. 1085
If, as thou say'st, my father slew thy daughter,
How did I wrong thee, and my brother how?
Why, having slain thy lord, didst thou on us
Bestow not our sire's halls, but buy therewith
An alien couch, and pay a price for shame? 1090
Nor is thy spouse now exiled for thy son,
Nor for me slain, who hath dealt me living death
Twice crueller than my sister's: yea, if blood
'Gainst blood in judgment rise, I and thy son,
Orestes, must slay thee to avenge our sire: 1095
For, if thy claim was just, this too is just.
Whoso, regarding wealth, or birth, shall wed
A wanton, is a fool: the lowly chaste
Are better in men's homes than high-born wives.
Chance ordereth women's bridals. Some I mark 1100
Fair, and some foul of issue among men.
Child, still thy nature bids thee love thy sire.
So likewise to the man some sons will cleave:
Some more the mothers than the father love.
I pardon thee. In sooth, not all so glad 1105
Am I, my child, for deeds that I have done.
But thou, why thus unwashed and meanly clad,
Seeing thy travail-sickness now is past?
Woe and alas for my devisings!—more
I spurred my spouse to anger than was need. 1110
Too late thou sighest, since thou canst not heal.
My sire is dead: but him, the banished one,
Why dost thou not bring back, thine homeless son?
I fear: mine own good I regard, not his.
Wroth for his father's blood he is, men say. 1115
Why tarre thy spouse on ever against me?
Nay, tis his mood: stiff-necked thou also art,
For grief am I; yet will I cease from wrath.
Yea?—then he too shall cease from troubling thee.
He is haughty, seeing he dwelleth in mine home. 1120
Lo there!—thou kindlest fires of strife anew.
I am dumb: I fear him—even as I fear.
Cease from this talk. Why didst thou summon me?
Touching my travailing thou hast heard, I wot.
Thou sacrifice for me—I know not how— 1125
The wonted tenth-moon offerings for the babe,
Skilless am I, who have borne no child ere this.
This were her task, who in thy travail helped.
Unhelped I travailed, bore alone my babe.
Dwell'st thou from friends and neighbours so remote? 1130
The poor—none careth to win these for friends!
I enter, to the Gods to pay the dues
For a son's time accomplished. Having shown thee
That grace, I pass afield, to where my lord
Worships the Nymphs. This chariot ye my maids 1135
Lead hence, and stall my steeds. Soon as ye deem
That this my service to the Gods is done,
Attend. My spouse too must my presence grace.
Pass in to my poor house; and have a care
The smoke-grimed beams besmirch not thine attire. 1140
The Gods' due sacrifice there shalt thou offer.
[Klytemnestra enters hut.
The maund is dight, and whetted is the knife
Which slew the bull by whose side thou shalt lie
Stricken. Thou shalt in Hades be his bride
Whose love thou wast in life. So great the grace 1145
I grant thee: thine to me—to avenge my sire!
Vengeance for wrong! The stormy winds, long lashing
The house, have veered! There was an hour saw fall
My chief, with blood the laver's silver dashing,
When shrieked the roof,—yea, topstones of the wall 1150
Shrieked back his cry, "Fiend-wife, and art thou tearing
My life from me, who in the tenth year's earing
Come to my dear land, mine ancestral hall?"
The tide of justice whelmeth, refluent-roaring,
The wanton wife who met her hapless lord,
When to the towers Titanic heavenward-soaring
He came,—with welcome met him of the sword,
Who grasped in hand the axe keen-edged to sever
Life's thread:—O hapless spouse, what wrong soever 1160
Stung to the deed the murderess abhorred!
Ruthless as mountain lioness roaming through
Green glades, she wrought the deed she had set her hands to do.
O children, in God's name slay not your mother! 1165
Dost thou hear how thrills 'neath the roof a cry?
Woe! wretched I!
I too could wail one by her children slain.
God meteth justice out in justice' day.
Ghastly thy sufferings; foully didst thou slay 1170
Thy lord for thine own bane!
They come, they come! Lo, forth the house they set
Their feet, besprent with gouts of mother's blood,
Trophies that witness to her piteous cries.
There is no house more whelmed in misery, 1175
Nor hath been, than the line of Tantalus.
Enter Orestes with Electra.
Earth, Zeus, whose all-beholding eye
Is over men, behold this deed
Of blood, of horror—these that lie
Twinned corpses on the earth, that bleed
For my wrongs, and by mine hand die. 1180
[Woe and alas! I weep to know
My mother by mine hand laid low!]
Well may we weep!—it was my sin, brother!
My fury was kindled as flame against her from whose womb I came.
Woe's me, a daughter!—and this, my mother!
Alas for thy lot! Their mother wast thou,
And horrors and anguish no words may tell
At thy children's hands thou hast suffered now!
Yet justly the blow for their sire's blood fell.
Phœbus, the deed didst thou commend, 1190
Aye whispering "Justice"—thou hast bared
The deeds of darkness, and made end,
Through Greece, of lust that murder dared.
But me what land shall shield?—what friend,
What righteous man shall bear to see
The slayer of his mother—me?
Woe's me! What refuge shall what land give me?
O feet from the dance aye banned! O spousal-hopeless hand!
What lord to a bridal-bower shall receive me? 1200
Again have thy thoughts veered round, yet again!
Now right is thine heart, which was then not right
When to deeds of horror didst thou constrain
Thy brother, O friend, in his heart's despite.
Didst thou mark, how the hapless, clinging, clinging
To my mantle, bared her bosom in dying—
Woe's me!—and even to the earth bowed low
The limbs that bare me, mine heart-strings wringing?
I know thine agony, hearing the crying 1210
Of the mother that bare thee, her wail of woe.
Her hand on my cheek did she lay, and her calling
Rang in mine ears—"My child!—I implore thee!"
And she hung, she hung on my neck, to stay
The sword, from my palsied hand-grasp falling.
Chorus (to Electra).
Wretch, how couldst thou bear to behold before thee
Thy mother, gasping her life away? 1220
I cast my mantle before mine eyes,
And my sword began that sacrifice,
Through the throat of my mother cleaving, cleaving!
Yea, and I urged thee with instant word,
And I set with thee mine hand to the sword.
I have done things horrible past believing!
Take, take, with her vesture the limbs shroud round
Of my mother: O close her wide death-wound.
Thou barest them, thou, these hands death-dealing!
Lo, thou that wast dear and yet not dear, 1230
With the mantle I veil thee over: here
May the curse of the house have end and healing!
Kastor and Pollux appear in mid air above the stage.
Lo, lo, where over the roof-ridge high
Demigods gleam;—or from thrones in the sky
Stoop Gods?—it is not vouchsafed unto men
To tread yon path: why draw these nigh
Unto mortal ken?
Hear, child of Agamemnon: Sons of Zeus,
Twin brothers of thy mother, call to thee;
I Kastor, this my brother Polydeukes. 1240
Even now the sea's shipwrecking surge have we
Assuaged, and come to Argos, having seen
The slaying of our sister, of thy mother.
She hath but justice;—yet not just thine act.
Phœbus is Phœbus: since he is my king, 1245
I am dumb. He is wise:—not wise his hest for thee!—
We must needs say "'Tis well." Henceforth must thou
Perform what Fate and Zeus ordain for thee.
To Pylades Electra give to wife:
But thou, leave Argos; for thou may'st not tread 1250
Her streets, since thou hast wrought thy mother's death.
The dread Weird Sisters, hound-eyed Goddesses,
Shall drive thee mad, and dog thy wanderings.
To Athens go: the awful image clasp
Of Pallas; for their serpent-frenzied rage 1255
Shall she refrain, that they may touch thee not,
Outstretching o'er thine head her Gorgon shield.
There is a Hill of Ares, where first sat
Gods to give judgment touching blood-shedding,
When fierce-souled Ares Halirrothius slew, 1260
The Sea-king's son, in wrath for outrage done
His daughter. That tribunal since that hour
Sacred and stablished stands in sight of Gods.
There must thou for this murder be arraigned.
And, in the judgment, equal votes cast down 1265
From death shall save thee: for the blame thereof
Shall Loxias take, who bade thee slay thy mother.
And this for after times shall rest the law,
That equal votes shall still acquit the accused.
Yet shall the Dread Ones, anguish-stricken for this, 1270
Hard by that hill sink into earth's deep cleft
Revered by men, a sacred oracle.
Thou by Alpheius' streams must found a city
Arcadian, near Lykaian Zeus's shrine;
And by thy name the city shall be called. 1275
This to thee: touching yon Aegisthus' corse,
The Argive folk shall hide it in the tomb.
Thy mother—Menelaus, now first come
To Nauplia, since he won the land of Troy,
Shall bury her, he and Helen: for she comes, 1280
Who ne'er saw Troy, from Proteus' halls in Egypt.
But Zeus, to stir up strife and slaughter of men,
A phantom Helen unto Ilium sent.
And Pylades shall take his virgin wife,
And from the land Achaian lead her home; 1285
And him, thy kinsman by repute, shall bring
To Phocis, and shall give him store of wealth.
Thou, journey round the neck of Isthmian land,
Till thou attain Kekropia's blissful home.
For, when thou hast fulfilled this murder's doom, 1290
Thou shalt be happy, freed from all these toils.
Ochildren of Zeus, may we draw nigh
Unto speech of your Godhead lawfully?
Yea: stainless are ye of the murderous deed.
I too, may I speak to you, Tyndareus' seed?
Thou too: for on Phœbus I lay the guilt
Of the blood thou hast spilt.
How fell it, that ye Gods, brethren twain
Of her that is slain,
Kept not from her halls those Powers of Bane? 1300
By resistless fate was her doom on-driven,
And by Phœbus' response, in unwisdom given.
Yet why hath Apollo by bodings ordained
That I with a mother's blood be stained?
In the deed ye shared, as the doom ye shared:
The curse of your sires was for twain prepared,
And it hath not spared.
Ah, sister mine, after long, long space of weary waiting, to see thy face,
And lo, from thy love to be straightway torn,
To forsake thee, be left of thee forlorn! 1310
A husband is hers and a home: this pain
Alone must she know, no more to remain
Here, ne'er know Argos again.
What drearier lot than this, to be banned
For aye from the borders of fatherland?
But I flee from the halls of my father afar;
For a mother's blood at the alien's bar
Arraigned must I stand!
Fear not: to the sacred town shalt thou fare
Of Pallas all safely: be strong to bear. 1320
Fold me around, breast close to breast,
O brother, O loved!—of all loved best!
For the curse of a mother's blood must sever
From our sire's halls us, for ever—for ever!
Fling thee on me! Cling close, mine own!
As over the grave of the dead make moan.
Alas and alas!—for thy pitiful wail
Even Gods' hearts fail;
For with me and with all the Abiders on High
Is compassion for mortals' misery. 1330
I shall look upon thee not again—not again!
Nor my yearning eyes upon thee shall I strain!
The last words these we may speak, we twain!
O city, farewell;
Farewell, ye maidens therein that dwell!
O faithful and true, must we part, part so?
We part;—my welling eyes overflow.
Pylades, go; fair fortune betide: 1340
Take thou Electra for bride.
These shall find spousal-solace:—up, be doing;
Yon hell-hounds flee, till thou to Athens win.
Their fearful feet pad on thy track pursuing,
Demons of dragon talon, swart of skin,
Who batten on mortal agonies their malice.
We speed to seas Sicilian, from their wrath
To save the prows of surge-imperilled galleys:
Yet, as we pace along the cloudland path,
We help not them that work abomination; 1350
But, whoso loveth faith and righteousness
All his life long, to such we bring salvation,
Bring them deliverance out of all distress.
Let none dare then in wrong to be partaker,
Neither to voyage with the doomed oath-breaker.
I am a God: to men I publish this.
Farewell! Ah, whosoe'er may know this blessing,
To fare well, never crushed 'neath ills oppressing,
Alone of mortals tastes abiding bliss.
- Or, "gainsaid" (Keene).
- χρηστηρίων (Barnes). Others read μυστηρίων, "From Phœbus' mystic shrine."
- Therefore her festival is not lightly to be neglected.
- i.e. Politically and socially.
- This word is used in the somewhat esoteric sense in which it was employed by Greek thinkers to denote those in whom the moral and æsthetic faculties, as well as the intellectual, were cultivated to the highest point.
- So MSS. Others would read αὐαίνομαι, "wastes my life away." Prof. Tucker suggests ἀλᾴζομαι (ironical) "I am fair-arrayed."
- Or, reading ὃς ἐμνήστευεν, "who, before he passed
To heaven, wooed me, as of kin to him."
- Cf. "Lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." Proverbs, xxx, 9.
- i.e. Wealth, poverty, strength: these, their incidence being independent of character, may be "disregarded quantities" in our investigation. The interpretation of Paley, Keene, and others, that it is best to dismiss the whole problem (thus understanding ταῦτα) as insoluble, is inconsistent with the conclusion which immediately follows, which is "by their fruits ye shall know them."
- One of Euripides' contemptuous references to the fine-looking, but brainless, athletes, who were held in higher honour than, in his opinion, they deserved.
- Weil reads τῶνδ᾽ ἀφιγμένων, "since hither these have fared."
- Bellerophon, mounted on Pegasus, attacking the Chimæra.
- Reading ἄορι δ᾽ἐν φονίῳ. Carved probably on the scabbard.
- So Weil. Paley translates—
"Nought is there, if thy brother should return,
Whereby to know the weft of thine own loom,
- A commercial metaphor, used of a deposit to be repaid.
- Adopting the reading δέχ᾽ for λέγ᾽. The ceremony of purification was performed on the tenth day.
- Retaining ἄγω. The metaphor is from the race-course, Electra's reference to her mother's spite seems irrelevant, so he guides her, like a horse that has swerved from the course, in the direction of the goal, i.e., the point at issue.
- i.e. To thy lot it falls to execute the first murder, that of Aegisthus.
- The lines which follow have been variously assigned by editors. The arrangement adopted by Keene is here followed.
- Metaphor from wrestling—"art overthrown in death."
- When Atreus and Thyestes, sons of Pelops, both claimed the throne, it was decided that whichever of them should display a divine portent should be king. A lamb with golden fleece appeared amongst the flocks of Atreus; but Aeropê, his wife, conveyed it to her paramour Thyestes. Atreus, in revenge, threw Aeropê into the sea, murdered Thyestes' sons, and served their flesh up at a feast to their father. In horror at the deed the sun turned his course backward from west to east for one day.
- Euripides, perhaps on artistic grounds, perhaps as too well known, omits the details of Atreus' horrible revenge (given in their full loathsomeness by Aeschylus, Agam. 1590—1602), and passes on directly to their consequences in the judgment of Heaven.
- Weil's interpretation. Paley, "So did they commune from the rest apart": Keene, "Such speech they spake in hearing of us all."
- The bowl to receive the victim's blood.
- The baskets that held the sacred barley-meal and the sacrificial knife.
- i.e. the time it would take a foot-runner to do the half-mile, a distance sufficiently long to be a standard distance for a horse-race.
- The quadrate lobe of the liver, if fully developed, would overlap the portal vein and gall-bladder. When, as sometimes happens, it was but rudimentary, the latter were exposed, and this was an evil omen.
- A heavy cleaver, better adapted both for his ostensible and for his real purpose.
- Reading ἐσφάδᾳζε.
- Reading κάρα for κακά, "maketh end of ills."
- i.e. Her avenging Furies will exact satisfaction from me.
- Retaining MS. ἀλλ᾽ ἦ, and ὑποστήσω.
- Keene proposes δεινῶν, and interprets, "To shield me from one horror (i.e. the God's vengeance), Horrors will I achieve."
- There is a double entendre conveyed by the two meanings of which θεραπεύεσθαι is capable. Klytemnestra understands it of court (Shaksperian "observance") to be paid to her high fortunes; the Chorus, of the watchfulness which was never so necessary as now, unavailing as it must be.
- Iphigeneia, sacrificed for the Greeks' sake, who have therefore given these as some compensation.
- So Paley. Keene renders, "As seemeth me."
- Variant for the common form Iphigeneia.
- The argument is based on the Greek axiom, that the son was physically the father's, the daughter the mother's, child. Accordingly it runs—"If Agamemnon would have been justified in killing me, had I slain his child to rescue my sister's husband, conversely, I was justified in killing him, because he did slay my child to rescue his brother's wife.
- Her assumption (1035–1045) of the justice of the principle that woman has equal rights with man. All Greeks would have scouted it, and their adoption of it would but have made them the laughing-stock of the then civilized world.
- For the sake of clearness, I use in this scene "spouse" to denote Aegisthus; "lord," or "husband," for Agamemnon. Keene interprets here "I raged against mine husband."
- Lines 1118, 1119, 1120, 1122 are examples of Tragic Irony, Electra using expressions to which the audience, from their knowledge of what has happened, attach a meaning unsuspected by Klytemnestra; while Klytemnestra uses words which bear a construction unsuspected by herself. Perhaps "a son's time accomplished" (1133), may be another instance, since her own son's time of waiting was fulfilled.
- i.e. Not at all, since he is dead: but Klytemnestra would understand this in the usual sense, "more than I can express."
- Great-grandfather of Agamemnon.
- Conjecturally supplied to fill lacuna of two lines which have been lost, as is indicated by the gap in the metre, after 1180.
- The Eumenides, or Erinyes, (Lat. Furies,) whose special office was to avenge such as had the claim of kindred, or some claim equally holy, upon the offender.
- As there is no record of oracles delivered at the Areopagus by the Eumenides, οἰκητήριον has been proposed—"their hallowed dwelling-place."
- According to the legend followed in the "Helena," but not in "The Daughters of Troy."
- Thy nominal brother-in-law, i.e. the peasant, reputed husband of Electra.
- The Isthmus of Corinth.
- Athens, whose citadel was called Kekropia, from its founder and first king, Kekrops.