Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/Hecuba
When Troy was taken by the Greeks, Hecuba, the wife of Priam, and her daughters, Kassandra the prophetess, and Polyxena, with the other women of Troy, were made slaves, being portioned among the victors, so that Kassandra became the concubine of Agamemnon. But Polydorus, the youngest of Priam's sons, had long ere this been sent, with much treasure of gold, for safe keeping to his father's friend, Polymestor king of Thrace, so that his mother had one consolation of hope amidst her afflictions. Note the host of Greece could not straightway sail home, because to the spirit of their dead hero Achilles was given power to hold the winds from blowing, till meet sacrifice were rendered to him, even a maiden of Troy, most beautiful of the seed royal; and for this they chose Polyxena. And now king Polymestor, lusting for the gold, and fearing no vengeance of man, sleiu his ward, the lad Polydorus, and flung his body into the sea, so that it was in process of time cast up by the waves on the shore whereby was the camp of the Greeks, and was brought to Hecuba. And herein are told the sorrow if Hecuba and her revenge.
Phantom of Polydorus, son of Priam King of Troy, and Hecuba.
Hecuba, wife of Priam, and mother of Polydorus and Polyxena.
Polyxena, youngest daughter of Priam and Hecuba.
Odysseus, chiefest in subtlety of the Greeks, King of Ithaca.
Talthybius, herald of King Agamemnon. Agamemnon, King of Mycenæ, and captain of the host of Greece.
Polymestor, King of Eastern Thrace, which is called the Chersonese.
Handmaid of Hecuba.
Chorus of captive Trojan women.
Attendants, Greek and Thracian guards, captive women.
Scene:—Before Agamemnon's tent in the camp of the Greeks on the coast
of the Thracian Chersonese.
The phantom of Polydorus appears hovering over the tent
I come from vaults of death, from gates of darkness,
Where from the Gods aloof doth Hades dwell,
Polydorus, born of Hecuba, Kisseus' child,
And Priam, who, when peril girt the town
Of Phrygians, by the spear of Greece to fall,5
In fear from Troyland privily sent me forth
To Polymestor's halls, his Thracian friend,
Lord of the fair tilth-lands of Chersonese,
Who with the spear rules that horse-loving folk.
And secretly with me my sire sent forth10
Much gold, that, should the towers of Ilium fall,
His sons yet living might not beggared be.
Youngest of Priam's house was I: for this
He sent me forth the land, whose youthful arm
Availed not or to sway the shield or spear.15
So, while unbowed the land's defences stood,
And yet unshattered were the towers of Troy,
While triumphed yet my brother Hector's spear,
Fair-nurtured by the Thracian, my sire's friend,
Like some young sapling grew I—hapless I!20
But, when Troy perished, perished Hector's soul,
And my sire's hearths were made a desolation,
And himself at the god-built altar fell
Slain by Achilles' son, the murder-stained,
Then me for that gold's sake my father's friend25
Slays, and the slaughtered wretch mid sea-surge cast,
That in his halls himself might keep the gold.
Here on the beach I welter, surf-borne there
Drift on the racing waves' recoil and rush,
Tombless, unwept. O'er my dear mother's head30
Now flit I, leaving tenantless my body.
This is the third day that I hover so,
Even all the time that in this Chersonese
My hapless mother tarrieth, haled from Troy.
And all the Achaians idle with their ships35
Sit on the beaches of this Thracian land.
For Peleus' son above his tomb appeared,
And all the Hellenic host Achilles stayed,
Even as they homeward aimed the brine-dipt oar,
And claimed for his Polyxena my sister,40
For sacrifice and honour to his tomb;
Yea, and shall win, nor of his hero-friends
Giftless shall be. And Fate is leading on
Unto her death my sister on this day.
And of two children shall my mother see45
Two corpses, mine, and that her hapless daughter's.
For I, to gain a tomb, will—wretch—appear
Before her handmaid's feet amidst the surge.
For with the Lords of Death have I prevailed
'Twixt mother-hands to fall, and win a tomb.50
Accomplished shall be all for which I longed.
But agèd Hecuba's sight will I avoid;
For forth of Agamemnon's tent she sets
Her feet, appalled by this my ghostly phantom.
Hecuba, dressed as a slave, and supported by fellow-captives, appears coming out of Agamemnon's tent.
Mother, who after royal halls hast seen55
The day of thraldom, how thy depth of woe
Equals thine height of weal! A God bears down
The scale with olden bliss heaped, ruining thee.
Lead forth, O my children, the stricken in years from the tent.
O lead her, upbearing the steps of your fellow-thrall60
Now, O ye daughters of Troy, but of old your queen.
Clasp me, uphold, help onward the eld-forspent,
Laying hold of my wrinkled hand, lest for weakness I fall;
And, sustained by a curving arm, thereon as I lean,
I will hasten onward with tottering pace,
Speeding my feet in a laggard's race.
O lightning-splendour of Zeus, O mirk of the night,
Why quake I for visions in slumber that haunt me
With terrors, with phantoms? O Earth's majestic might,70
Mother of dreams that hover in dusk-winged flight,
I cry to the vision of darkness "Avaunt thee!"—
The dream of my son who was sent unto Thrace to be saved from the slaughter,
The dream that I saw of Polyxena's doom, my dear-loved daughter,
Which I saw, which I knew, which abideth to daunt me.
Gods of the Underworld, save ye my son,
Mine house's anchor, its only one,80
By the friend of his father warded well
Where the snows of Thrace veil forest and fell!
But a strange new stroke draweth near,
And a strain of wailing for them that wail.
Ah, never as now did the heart in me quail
With the thrilling of ceaseless fear.
O that Kassandra I might but descry
To arrede me my dreams, O daughters of Troy,
Or Helenus, god-taught seer!
For a dappled fawn I beheld which a wolf's red fangs
Which he dragged from my knees whereto she had
clung in her piteous despairing.
This terror withal on my spirit is come,
That the ghost of the mighty Achilles hath risen, and stood
High on the crest of his earth-heaped tomb;
And he claimeth a guerdon of honour, the spilling of blood,
And a woe-stricken Trojan maiden's doom.
O Gods, I am suppliant before you!—in any wise turn,
I implore you,
This fate from the child of my womb!
Enter Chorus of Trojan Captive Women.
I have hasted hitherward ; the pavilions of my lord,100
O my queen, have I forsaken, in the which I sojourn here,
Whom the lot hath doomed to fall unto a king, a thrall
From Ilium chased, the quarry of Achaian hunters' spear,—
Not for lightening of thy pain; nay, a burden have I ta'en
Of heavy tidings, herald of sore anguish unto thee,
For that met is the array of Achaia, and they say
That thy child unto Achilles a sacrifice must be.110
For thou knowest how in sheen of golden armour seen
He stood upon his tomb, and on the ocean-pacing ships
Laid a spell, that none hath sailed,—yea, though the halliards brailed
The sails up to the yards;—and a cry rang from his lips:
"Ho, Danaans! whither now, leaving unredeemed your vow
Of honour to my tomb, and my glory spurned away?"
Then a surge of high contention clashed: the spear-host in dissension120
Was cleft, some crying, "Yield his tomb the victim!"
Now the King was fervent there that thy daughter they should spare,
For that Agamemnon loveth thy prophet-bacchanal.
But the sons of Theseus twain, Athens' scions, for thy bane
Pleaded both, yet for the victim did their vote at variance fall.
"Ye cannot choose but crown with the life-blood streaming down
Achilles' grave!" they clamoured—"and, for this Kassandra's bed,
Shall any dare prefer to Achilles' prowess her—130
A concubine, a bondslave?—It shall never be!" they said.
But the vehemence of speech, each contending against each,
Was balanced, as it were, till the prater subtle-souled,
The man of honied tongue, the truckler to the throng,
Laertes' spawn, 'gan fashion the host unto his mould:
"We may not thrust aside like an outcast wretch," he cried,
"The bravest Danaan heart and the stoutest Danaan hand,
All to spare our hands the stain of the blood of bond-maid slain,
Neither suffer that a voice from the ranks of them that stand
In the presence of Hell's Queen should with scoffing bitter-keen
Cry, 'Thankless from the plains of Troy the Danaans have sped,140
Thankless unto Danaan kin whose graves are thick therein,
Who died to save their brethren—the soon -forgotten dead !'"
And Odysseus draweth near—even now shall he be here
From thy breast to rend thy darling, from thine age-enfeebled grasp.
Hie thee to the temples now: haste, before the altars bow:
Crouch low to Agamemnon, his knees in suppliance clasp.
Lift up thy voice and cry to the Gods that sit on high:
Let the Nether-dwellers hear it through their darkness ringing wild.
For, except they turn and spare, and thy prevalence of prayer150
Redeem thee from bereavement of thy ruin-stricken child,
Thou must surely live to gaze where a maiden on her face
On a grave-mound lieth slaughtered, while the darkly-gleaming tide
Welleth, welleth from the neck which the golden mockeries deck,
And all her body crimsons in the bubbling horror dyed.
Woe for mine anguish! what outcry availeth
To thrill forth its agony-throes?
What wailing its fulness of torment outwaileth—
Wretched eld—bitter bondage where heart and flesh faileth?
Ah me for my woes!
What champion is left me?—what sons to defend me?—160
What city remains to me? Gone
Are my lord and my sons! Whither now shall I wend me?
Whither flee?—Is there God—is there fiend shall befriend me?
Daughters of Troy—O ye heralds of ruin, ye heralds of ruin!—
What profits my life any more, whom your words have undone, have undone?
Now unto yonder pavilion, to tell to my child her undoing,170
Lead, O ye wretchedest feet, lead ye the eld-stricken one!
O daughter, O child of a mother most wretched, forth faring, forth faring,
Come from the tent, O hearken the voice of thy mother's word,
To the end thou mayst know what a rumour of awful despairing, despairing,
Concerning the life of thee, my beloved, but now have I heard!
O mother, my mother, what meaneth thy crying?
What strange dread thing
Is this that thou heraldest
That hath scared me, like to a bird forth-flying180
On startled wing
Out of the peace of her nest?
Alas! woe's me, my daughter!
What word of ill-boding is thine? From thy preluding ills I divine.
Ah me, life doomed unto slaughter!
Tell it out, tell it out, neither hide o'erlong;
For mine heart, my mother, is heavy with dread
For the tidings that come in thy moan.
O child, O child of the grief-distraught!
Ah, what is the message to me thou has brought?
Death: for the Argive warrior-throng
Are in one mind set, that thy blood be shed190
On the grave of Peleus' son.
Ah me, my mother, how can thy tongue
Speak out the horror?—Let all be said:
O mother mine, say on.
O child, I have heard it, the shame and the wrong,
Of the Argive vote, of the doom forth sped,
Of the hope of thy life gone—gone!
O stricken of anguish beyond all other!
O filled with affliction of desolate days!
What tempest, what tempest of outrage and shame,200
Too loathly to look on, too awful to name,
Hath a fiend uproused, that on thee it came,
That thy woeful child by her woeful mother
Nevermore down thraldom's paths shall pace!
For me, like a youngling mountain-pastured,
Like a child of the herd, shalt thou see torn far,
In woe from thy woeful embraces torn,
And, with throat by the steel of the altar shorn,
Down to the underworld darkness borne,
In the Land Unseen to lie, overmastered
Of misery, there where the death-stricken are.210
For thee, for the dark days closing around thee,
Mother, with uttermost wailings I cry:
But for this, the life that I now must lack,
For all the ruin thereof and the wrack,
I wail not, I, as I gaze aback:—
O nay, but a happier lot hath found me,
Forasmuch as to me it is given to die.
But lo, Odysseus comes with hurrying foot,
To tell thee, Hecuba, the new decree,
Lady, thou know'st, I trow, the host's resolve,
And the vote cast, yet will I tell it thee:
The Achaians will to slay Polyxena220
Thy child, upon Achilles' grave-mound's height.
Me they appoint to usher thitherward
And bring the maid: the president and priest
Of sacrifice Achilles' son shall be.
Know'st thou thy part then?—be not torn away225
Perforce, nor brave me to the strife of hands;
But know thy might, thine imminence of ills.
Wise is it even mid ills to hearken reason.
Woe! A sore trial is at hand, meseems,
Burdened with groanings, and fulfilled of tears.230
I died not there where well might I have died;
Nor Zeus destroyed, but holdeth me in life
To see—O wretch!—ills more than ills o'erpast.
Yet, if the bond may question of the free
Things that should vex them not, nor gall the heart,235
Then fits it that thou be the questioned now,
And that I ask, and hearken thy reply.
So be it: ask, I grudge not the delay.
Rememberest thou thy coming unto Troy
A spy, in rags vile-vestured; from thine eyes240
Trickled adown thy cheeks the gouts of gore?
I do, for deep it sank into mine heart.
And Helen knew thee, and told none save me?
I call to mind: mid peril grim I fell.
And to my knees didst cling, wast lowly then?245
With grasp of death closed on thy robes mine hand.
Ay, and what saidst thou—thou my bondman then?
Words—words full many found I, death to 'scape.
I saved thee—saved thee,—sent thee forth the land?
Ay, thanks to thee, I see the sun's light now.250
Art thou not caitiff proved then by these plots,
Who wast by me so dealt with as thou sayest,
Yet dost us nought good, but thine utmost ill?
A thankless spawn, all ye that grasp at honour
By babbling to the mob!—let me not know you,255
Who injure friends, and nothing reck thereof,
So ye may something say to please the rabble!
What crafty wiliness imagined ye
This, on my child to pass your murder-vote?
Was't duty drew them on to human slaughter260
Upon a grave more meet for oxen slain?
Or doth Achilles, fain, to requite with death
His slayers, justly aim death's shaft at her?
Now never aught of harm wrought she to him.
Helen should he demand, his tomb's lit victim:265
'Twas she to Troy that drew him, and destroyed.
But if some chosen captive needs must die,
In beauty peerless, not to us points this;
For Tyndareus' daughter matchless is in form,
And was found wronging him no less than we.270
This plea against his "justice" I array.
But what return thou ow'st me, on my claim,
Hear—thou didst touch mine hand, as thou dost own,
And wrinkled cheek, low cowering at my feet.
Lo, in my turn thine hand, thy beard, I touch,275
That grace of old reclaiming, now thy suppliant.
Not from mine arms tear thou my child away,
Nor slay ye her: suffice the already dead.
In her I joy, in her forget my woes.
For many a lost bliss she my solace is:280
My city she, nurse, staff, guide for my feet.
Not tyrannously the strong should use their strength,
Nor they which prosper think to prosper aye.
I too once was, but now am I no more,
And all my weal one day hath reft from me.285
O, by thy beard, have thou respect to me!
Pity me: go thou to Achaia's host;
Persuade them how that shame it is to slay
Women, whom first ye slew not, when ye tore
These from the altars, but for pity spared.290
Lo, the same law is stablished among you
For free and bond as touching blood-shedding.
Thine high repute, how ill soe'er thou speak,
Shall sway them: for the same speech carrieth no
Like weight from men contemned and men revered.295
There is no human nature so relentless
That, hearkening to thy groanings and thy wails
Long lengthened out, would not let fall the tear.
Receive instruction, Hecuba, nor him
For wrath count foe, who wisely counselleth.300
Thy life, through whom I found deliverance,
Ready am I to save; I stand thereto.
But what to all I said, I unsay not—
That now, Troy taken, we should yield thy child,
At our great champion's claim, for sacrifice.305
For of this cometh weakness in most states,
That, though a man be brave and patriot-souled,
No guerdon gains he more than baser men.
But we, we deem Achilles honour-worthy,
Who died for Hellas nobly as man may.310
Were this not shame then, as a friend to treat
Him living, but no more when he is gone?
Yea, what will one say then, if once again
The host must gather for the strife with foes.
"Fight shall we," will they cry, "or cling to life,315
Beholding how unhonoured go the dead?"
Yea, for myself, how scant soe'er in life
My fare for daily need, this should suffice:
Yet fain would I my tomb were reverence-crowned—
Mine; for no fleeting gratitude is this.320
But, if thou plain of hardship, hear mine answer:
With us there be grey matrons, agèd sires,
Not any whit less wretched than art thou,
And brides of noblest bridegrooms left forlorn,
Whose corpses yonder dust of Ida shrouds.325
Endure this: we, if err we do to honour
The brave, content will stand convict of folly.
But ye barbarians, neither count as friends
Your friends, nor render your heroic dead
Homage, that Hellas so may prosperous rise,330
And your reward may match your policy.
Woe! What a curse is thraldom's nature, aye
Enduring wrong by strong constraint o'erborne!
My daughter, wasted are my words in air,
Flung vainly forth my pleadings for thy life.335
If thou canst aught prevail beyond thy mother,
Be instant; as with nightingale's sad throat
Moan, moan, that thou be not bereft of life.
Fall piteously at this Odysseus' knee:
Melt him. A plea thou hast—he too hath babes;340
Well may he so compassionate thy lot.
I see, Odysseus, how thou hid'st thine hand
Beneath thy vesture, how thou turn'st away
Thy face, lest I should touch thy beard. Fear not:
From Zeus safe art thou, from the Suppliant's Champion.345
I will go with thee, both for that I must,
And that I long to die. And, were I loth,
A coward girl life-craving were I proved.
For, wherefore should I live, whose sire was king
Of all the Phrygians? Such was my life's dawn:350
Thereafter was I nurtured mid bright hopes,
A bride for kings, for whose hand rivalry
Ran high, whose hall and hearth should hail me queen.
And I—ah me!—was Lady of the Dames
Of Ida, cynosure amidst the maidens,355
Peer of the Gods—except that man must die:—
And now a slave! The name alone constrains me
To long for death, so strange it is to me.
More—haply upon brutal-hearted lords
I might light, one that would for silver buy me,—360
Sister of Hector and of many a chief,—
Force me to grind the quern his halls within,
And make me sweep his dwelling, stand before
The loom, while days of bitterness drag on.
And, somewhere bought, some bondslave shall defile365
My couch, accounted once a prize for princes.
Never!—free light mine eyes shall last behold:
To Death my body will I dedicate.
Lead on, Odysseus, lead me to my doom;
For I see no assurance, nor in hope,370
No, nor in day-dreams, of good days to be.
Mother, do thou in no wise hinder me
By word or deed; but thou consent with me
Unto my death, ere shame unmeet befall.
For whoso is not wont to taste of ills375
Chafes, while he bears upon his neck the yoke,
And death for him were happier far than life;
For life ignoble is but crushing toil.
Strange is the impress, clear-stamped upon men,
Of gentle birth, and aye the noble name380
Higher aspires in them that worthily bear it.
My daughter, nobly said: yet anguish cleaves
Unto that "nobly." But if Peleus' son
Must gain this grace, and ye must flee reproach,
Odysseus, slay not her in any wise;385
But me, lead me unto Achilles' pyre:
Stab me, spare not: 'twas I gave Paris birth
Who with his shafts smote Peleus' son and slew.
Not thee, grey mother, did Achilles' ghost
Require the Achaian men to slay, but her.390
Yet ye—at least me with my daughter slay:
Then twice so deep a draught of blood shall sink
To earth and to the dead who claimeth this.
Thy daughter's death sufficeth: death on death
Must not be heaped. Would God we owed not this!395
I must—I must die where my daughter dies!
Must?—I knew not that I had found a master!
As ivy clings to oak will I clasp her.
Not if thou heed a wiser than thyself.
Consent I will not to let go my child.400
Nor I will hence depart and leave her here.
Mother, heed me: and thou, Laertes' son,
O bear with parents which have cause to rage.
Mother, poor mother, strive not with the strong.
Wouldst thou be earthward hurled, and wound thy flesh,405
Thine agèd flesh, with violence thrust away?—
Be hustled shamefully, by young strong arms
Haled?—This shouldst thou. Nay, 'tis not worthy thee.
But mother, darling mother, give thine hand,
Thy dear, dear hand, and lay thy cheek to mine:410
Since never more, but this last time of all
Shall I behold the sun's beam and his orb.
Receive of all my greetings this the last:—
O mother—breast that bare me—I pass deathward.
O daughter, I shall yet live on in bondage!415
Bridegroom nor bridal!—nought of all my due!
Piteous thy plight, my child, and wretched I.
There shall I lie in Hades, far from thee.
Ah me, what shall I do?—where end my life?
To die a slave, whose father was free-born!420
In fifty sons nor part nor lot have I!
What shall I tell to Hector and thy lord?
Report me of all women wretchedest.
O bosom, breasts that sweetly nurtured me!
Woe is thee, daughter, for thy fate untimely!425
Mother, farewell: Kassandra, fare thee well.
Others fare well—not for thy mother this.
Mid Thracians lives my brother Polydorus.
If he doth live. I doubt: so dark is all.
He lives, and he shall close thy dying eyes.430
I—I have died ere dying, through my woes.
Muffle mine head, Odysseus, and lead on.
For, ere ye slay me, hath my mother's moan
Melted mine heart, and mine is melting hers.
O Light!—for yet on thy name may I call—435
Yet all my share in thee is that scant space
Hence to the sword-edge and Achilles' pyre.
[Exeunt Odysseus and Polyxena.
Ah me! I swoon—beneath me fail my limbs!
O daughter, touch thy mother—reach thine hand—
Give it, nor childless leave me!—Friends—undone!—440
Oh thus to see that sister of Zeus' sons,
Helen the Spartan!—for by her bright eyes
In shameful fall she brought down prosperous Troy.
O breeze, O breeze, over sea-ways racing,
Who onward waftest the ocean-pacing
Fleet-flying keels o'er the mere dark-swelling,
Whitherward wilt thou bear me, the sorrow-laden?
From what slave-mart shall the captive maiden
Pass into what strange master's dwelling?
To a Dorian haven?—or where, overstreaming450
Fat Phthia-land's meads, laugh loveliest-gleaming
Babe-waters from founts of Apidanus welling?
Or, to misery borne by the oars brine-sweeping,
In the island-halls through days of weeping
Shall we dwell, where the first-born palm, ascending
From the earth, with the bay twined, glorifying
With enshrining frondage the couch where lying
Dear Lêto attained to her travail's ending,460
There chanting of Artemis' bow all-golden,
And the brows with the frontlet of gold enfolden,
With the Delian maidens our voices blending?
Or in Pallas's Town to the car all-glorious
Shall I yoke the steeds on the saffron -glowing
Veil of Athênê, where flush victorious
The garlands that cunningest fingers are throwing
In manifold hues on its folds wide-flowing,—470
Or the brood of the Titans whom lightnings, that fell
Flame-wrapt from Kronion, in long sleep quell?
Woe for our babes, for our fathers hoary!
Woe for our country, mid smoke and smoulder
Crashing to ruin, and all her glory
Spear-spoiled!—and an alien land shall behold her480
Bond who was free; for that Asia's shoulder
Is bowed under Europe's yoke, and I dwell,
An exile from home, in a dungeon of hell.
Where shall I find her that of late was queen
Of Ilium, Hecuba, ye maids of Troy?485
Lo there, anigh thee, on the ground outstretched,
Talthybius, lies she muffled in her robes.
What shall I say, Zeus?—that thou look'st on men?
Or that this fancy false we vainly hold
For nought, who deem there is a race of Gods,490
While chance controlleth all things among men?
This—was she not the wealthy Phrygians' queen?
This—was she not all-prosperous Priam's wife?
And now her city is all spear-o'erthrown;
Herself a slave, old, childless, on the earth495
Lieth, her hapless head with dust defiled.
Ah, old am I, yet be it mine to die
Ere into any shameful lot I fall!
Arise, ill-starred, and from the earth uplift
Thy body and thine head all snow-besprent.500
Ha, who art thou that lettest not my frame
Rest?—why disturb my grief, whoe'er thou be?
Talthybius I, the Danaans' minister,
Of Agamemnon sent, O queen, for thee.
Friend, friend, art come because the Achaians will505
To slay me too?—How sweet thy tidings were!
Haste we—make speed—O ancient, lead me on.
Lady, that thou mayst bury thy dead child
I come in quest of thee; and sent am I
Of Atreus' two sons and the Achaian folk.510
Woe!—what wouldst say? Not as to one death-doomed
Cam'st thou to us, but all to publish ills?
Child, thou hast perished, from thy mother torn!
Childless, as touching thee, am I—ah wretch!—
How did ye slay her?—how?—with reverence meet,515
Or with brute outrage, as men slay a foe,
Ancient? Tell on, though all unsweet thy tale.
Twofold tear-tribute wouldst thou win from me
In pity for thy child. Mine eyes shall weep
The tale, as by the grave when she was dying.520
There met was all Achaia's warrior-host
Thronged at the grave to see thy daughter slain.
Then took Achilles' son Polyxena's hand,
And on the mound's height set her: I stood by.
And followed of the Achaians chosen youths525
Whose hands should curb the strugglings of thy lamb.
Then taking 'twixt his hands a chalice brimmed,
Pure gold, Achilles' son to his dead sire
Drink-offerings poured, and signed me to proclaim
Siience unto the whole Achaian host.530
By him I stood, and in the midst thus cried:
"Silence, Achaians! Hushed be all the host!
Peace!—not a word!"—so breathless stilled the folk.
Then spake he "Son of Peleus, father mine,[errata 1]
Accept from me these drops propitiatory,535
Ghost-raising. Draw thou nigh to drink pure blood
Dark-welling from a maid. We give it thee,
The host and I. Gracious to us be thou:
Vouchsafe us to cast loose the sterns and curbs
Of these ships, kindly home-return to win540
From Troy, and all to reach our fatherland."
So spake he; in that prayer joined all the host;
Then grasped his golden-plated falchion's hilt,
Drew from the sheath, and to those chosen youths
Of Argos' war-host signed to seize the maid.545
But she, being ware thereof, spake forth this speech:
"O Argives, ye which laid my city low,
Free-willed I die: on my flesh let no man
Lay hand: my neck unflinching will I yield.
But, by the Gods, let me stand free, the while550
Ye slay, that I may die free; for I shame
Slave to be called in Hades, who am royal."
"Yea!" like a great sea roared the host: the King
Spake to the youths to let the maiden go.
And they, soon as they heard that last behest555
Of him of chiefest might, drew back their hands.
And she, when this she heard, her masters' word,
Her vesture grasped, and from the shoulder's height
Rent it adown her side, down to the waist,
And bosom showed and breasts, as of a statue,560
Most fair; and, bowing to the earth her knee,
A word, of all words most heroic, spake:
"Lo here, O youth, if thou art fain to strike
My breast, strike home: but if beneath my neck
Thou wouldest, here my throat is bared to thee."565
And he, loth and yet fain, for ruth of her,
Cleaves with the steel the channels of the breath:
Forth gushed the life-springs: but she, even in death,
Took chiefest thought decorously to fall,
Hiding what hidden from men's eyes should be.570
But when she had spent her breath 'neath that death-stroke,
Each Argive 'gan his task—no man the same:
But some upon the dead were strawing leaves
Out of their hands, and some heap high the pyre,
Bringing pine-billets thither: whoso bare not575
Heard such and such rebukes of him that bare:
"Dost stand still, basest heart, with nought in hand—
Robe for the maiden, neither ornament?
Nought wilt thou give to one in courage matchless,
Noblest of soul?"
Such is the tale I tell580
Of thy dead child. Most blest in motherhood
I count thee of all women, and most hapless.
Dread bale on Priam's line and city hath poured
Its lava-flood:—'tis heaven's resistless doom.
Daughter, I know not on what ills to look,585
So many throng me: if to this I turn,
That hindereth me: thence summoneth me again
Another grief, on-ushering ills on ills.
And now I cannot from my soul blot out
Thine agony, that I should wail it not.590
Yet hast thou barred the worst, proclaimed to me
So noble. Lo, how strange, that evil soil
Heaven-blest with seasons fair, bears goodly crops,
While the good, if it faileth of its dues,
Gives evil fruit: but always among men595
The caitiff nothing else than evil is,
The noble, noble; nor 'neath fortune's stress
Marreth his nature, but is good alway.
By blood, or nurture, is the difference made?
Sooth, gentle nurture bringeth lessoning600
In nobleness; and whoso learns this well
By honour's touchstone knoweth baseness too:—
Ah, unavailing arrows of the mind!
But go thou, to the Argives this proclaim,
That none my daughter touch, but that they keep605
The crowd thence: in a war-array untold
Lawless the mob is, and the shipmen's license
Outraveneth flame. 'Tis sin if one sin not.
But, ancient handmaid, take a vessel thou,
And dip, and of the sea-brine hither bring,610
That with the last bath I may wash my child,—
The bride unwedded, maid a maid no more,—
And lay her out—as meet is, how can I?
Yet as I may; for lo, what plight is mine!
Jewels from fellow-captives will I gather615
Which dwell my neighbour-thralls these tents within,
If haply any, to our lords unknown,
Hath any stolen treasure of her home.
O stately halls, O home so happy once!
O rich in fair abundance, goodliest offspring,620
Priam!—and I, a grey head crowned with sons!
How are we brought to nought, of olden pride
Stripped bare! And lo, we men are puffèd up,
One of us for the riches of his house,
And one for honour in the mouths of men!625
These things be nought. All vain the heart's devisings,
The vauntings of the tongue! Most blest is he
To whom no ill befalls as days wear on.
My doom of disaster was written,
The doom of mine anguish was sealed,630
When of Paris the pine-shafts were smitten
Upon Ida, that earthward they reeled,
To ride over ridges surf-whitened
Till the bride-bed of Helen was won,
Woman fairest of all that be lightened
By the gold of the sun.
For battle-toils, yea, desolations
Yet sorer around us close;
And the folly of one is the nation's640
Destruction; of alien foes
Cometh ruin by Simois' waters.
So judged is the doom that was given
When on Ida the strife of the Daughters
Of the Blessed was striven,
For battle, for murder, for ruin
Of mine halls:—by Eurotas is moan,650
Where with tears for their homes' undoing
The maidens Laconian groan,
Where rendeth her tresses hoary
The mother for sons that are dead,
And her cheeks with woe-furrows are gory,
And her fingers are red.
Enter Handmaid, with bearers carrying a covered corpse.
Women, O where is Hecuba, sorrow's queen,
Who passeth every man, all womankind,
In woes? No man shall take away her crown.660
What now, O hapless voice of evil-boding?
Shall they ne'er sleep, thy publishings of grief?
To Hecuba I bring this pang: mid woes
Not easily may mortal lips speak fair.
Lo where she cometh from beneath the roofs:665
In season for thy tale appeareth she.
O all-afflicted, more than lips can say!
Queen, thou art slain—thou seest the light no more!
Unchilded, widowed, cityless—all-destroyed!
No news this: 'tis but taunting me who knew.670
But wherefore com'st thou bringing me this corpse,
Polyxena's, whose burial-rites, 'twas told,
By all Achaia's host were being sped?
She nothing knows: Polyxena—ah me!—
Still wails she, and the new woes graspeth not.675
O hapless I!—not—not the bacchant head
Of prophetess Kassandra bring'st thou hither?
Thou nam'st the living: but the dead—this dead,
Bewailest not,—look, the dead form is bared!
[Uncovers the corpse.
Seems it not strange—worse than all boding fears?680
Ah me, my son!—I see Polydorus dead,
Whom in his halls I deemed the Thracian warded.
O wretch! it is my death—I am no more!
O my child, O my child!
Mine anguish shall thrill685
Through a wail shrilling wild
In the ears of me still
Which pealed there but now from the throat of a
demon, a herald of ill.
Didst thou then know thy son's doom, hapless one?
Beyond, beyond belief, new woes I see.
Ills upon ills throng one after other:690
Never day shall pass by without tear, without sigh,
nor mine anguish refrain.
Dread, O dread evils, hapless queen, we suffer.
O child, O child of a grief-stricken mother!
By what fate didst thou die?—in what doom dost thou
lie?—of what man wast thou slain?
I know not: on the sea-strand found I him.
Cast up by the tide, or struck down by the spear in a
On the smooth-levelled sand?700
The outsea surge in-breaking flung him up.
Woe's me, I discern it, the vision that blasted my sight!
Neither flitted unheeded that black-winged phantom of night,
Which I saw, which revealed that my son was no more of the light.
Who slew him? Canst thou, dream-arreder, tell?
'Twas my friend, 'twas my guest, 'twas the Thracian chariot-lord710
To whose charge his grey father had given him to hide and to ward.
Oh, what wouldst say?—slew him to keep the gold?
O horror unspeakable, nameless, beyond all wonder!—
Impious, unbearable!—Where are they, friendship and truth?
O accursèd of men, lo, how hast thou carved asunder
His flesh!—how thy knife, when my child's limbs quivered thereunder,
Hath slashed him and mangled, and thou wast unmelted of ruth!720
O hapless, how a God, whose hand on thee
Is heavy, above all mortals heaps thee pain!
But lo, I see our master towering nigh,
Agamemnon: friends, henceforth hold we our peace.725
Why stay'st thou, Hecuba, thy child to entomb
According to Talthybius' word to me
That of the Argives none should touch thy daughter?
Wherefore we let her be, and touch her not.
Yet loiterest thou, that wonder stirreth me.730
I come to speed thee hence; for all things there
Are well wrought—if herein may aught be well.
Ha, who is this that by the tents I see?
What Trojan dead?—No Argive this, the robes
That shroud the body make report to me.735
Hapless!—myself I name in naming thee—
O Hecuba, what shall I do?—or fall
At the king's feet, or silent bear mine ills?
Wherefore on me dost turn thy back, and mourn,
Nor tellest what is done, and who is this?740
But if, a slave and foe accounting me,
He thrust me from his knees, 'twere pang on pang.
No prophet born am I, to track the path
Of these thy musings, if I hear them not.
Lo, surely am I counting this man's heart745
O'ermuch my foe, who is no foe at all.
Sooth, if thou wilt that nought hereof I know,
At one we are: I care not, I, to hear.
I cannot, save with help of him, avenge
My children—wherefore do I dally thus?750
I must needs venture, or to win or lose:—
Agamemnon, I beseech thee by thy knees,
And by thy beard, and thy victorious hand—
What matter seekest thou? Wouldst have thy days
Free henceforth? Sooth, thy boon is lightly won.755
No—no! Avenge me of mine adversary,
And I will welcome lifelong bondage then.
But to what championship dost summon me?
To nought of all whereof thou dreamest, king.
Seest thou this corpse, for which my tears rain down?760
I see,—yet what shall come I cannot tell.
Him once I bare, and carried 'neath my zone.
One of thy sons is this, O sorrow-crushed?
Nay, not of Priam's sons by Ilium slain.
How? didst thou bear another more than these?765
Yea—to my grief, meseems: thou seest him here.
Yet where was he what time the city fell?
Dreading his death his father sent him thence.
And whither drew him from the rest apart?
Unto this land, where dead hath he been found.770
To Polymestor, ruler of the land?
Yea—sent in charge of thrice-accursed gold.
And of whom slain, and lighting on what doom?
Of whom save one?—that Thracian friend slew him.
O wretch!—for that he lusted for the gold?775
Even so, when Phrygia's fall was known of him.
Where found'st thou him?—or who hath brought thy dead?
She there: upon the strand she chanced on him.
Seeking him, or on other task employed?
Sea-brine she sought to lave Polyxena.780
So then this guest-friend slew and cast him forth.
Yea, on the sea to drift, his flesh thus hacked.
O woe is thee for thine unmeasured pains!
'Tis death—there is no deeper depth of woe.
Alas, was woman e'er so fortune-crost?785
None, except thou wouldst name Misfortune's self.
But for what cause I bow thy knees to clasp,
Hear:—if my righteous due my sufferings seem
To thee, I am content: if not, do thou
Avenge me on that impious, impious friend,790
Who neither feared the powers beneath the earth,
Nor those on high, but wrought most impious deed,—
Who ofttimes at my table ate and drank,
For welcome foremost in my count of friends,
Having all dues, yea, all his need forestalled,—795
Slew him, nor in his thoughts of murder found
Room for a grave, but cast him mid the sea.
And I—a slave I may be, haply weak;
Yet are the Gods strong, and their ruler strong,
Even Law; for by this Law we know Gods are,800
And live, and make division of wrong and right:
And if this at thy bar be disannulled,
And they shall render not account which slay
Guests, or dare rifle the Gods' holy things,
Then among men is there no righteousness.805
This count then shameful; have respect to me;
Pity me:—like a painter so draw back,
Scan me, pore on my portraiture of woes.
A queen was I, time was, but now thy slave;
Crowned with fair sons once, childless now and old,810
Cityless, lone, of mortals wretchedest.
Woe for me!—whither wouldst withdraw thy foot?
Meseems I shall not speed—O hapless I!
Wherefore, O wherefore, at all other lore
Toil men, as needeth, and make eager quest,815
Yet Suasion, the unrivalled queen of men,
Nor price we pay, nor make ado to learn her
Unto perfection, so a man might sway
His fellows as he would, and win his ends?
How then shall any hope good days henceforth?820
So many sons—none left me any more!
Myself mid shame a spear-thrall ruin-sped;—
Yon smoke o'er Troy upsoaring in my sight!
Yet—yet—'twere unavailing plea perchance
To cast Love's shield before me—yet be it said:825
Lo, at thy very side my child is couched,
Kassandra, whom the Phrygians called the Inspired:—
Those nights of love, hath their memorial perished?
Or for the lovingkindness of the couch
What thank shall my child have, or I for her?830
For of the darkness and the night's love-spells
Cometh on men the chiefest claim for thank.
Hearken now, hearken: seest thou this dead boy?
Doing him right, to thine own marriage-kin
Shalt thou do right. One plea more lack I yet:—835
O that I had a voice in these mine arms
And hands and hair and pacings of my feet,
By art of Dædalus lent, or of a God,
That all together to thy knees might cling
Weeping, and pressing home pleas manifold!840
O my lord, mightiest light to Hellas' sons,
Hearken, O lend thine hand to avenge the aged;
What though a thing of nought she be, yet hear!
For 'tis the good man's part to champion right,
And everywhere and aye to smite the wrong.845
Strange, strange, how all cross-chances hap to men!
These laws shift landmarks even of friendship's ties,
Turning to friends the bitterest of foes,
Setting at enmity the erstwhile loving.
I am stirred to pity, Hecuba, both of thee,850
Thy son, thy fortune, and thy suppliant hand;
And for the Gods' and justice' sake were fain
Thine impious guest should taste for this thy vengeance,
So means were found thy cause to speed, while I
Seem not unto the host to plot this death855
For Thracia's king for thy Kassandra's sake.
For herein is mine heart disquieted:—
This very man the host account their friend,
The dead their foe: that dear he is to thee
Is nought to them, nor part have these in him.860
Wherefore take thought: in me thou hast one fain
To share thy toil, and swift to lend thee aid,
But slow to face the Achaians' murmurings.
Ah, among mortals is there no man free!
To lucre or to fortune is he slave:865
The city's rabble or the laws' impeachment
Constrains him into paths his soul abhors.
But since thou fear'st, dost overrate the crowd,
Even I will set thee free from this thy dread.
Be privy thou, what ill soe'er I plot870
For my son's slayer, but share not the deed.
If tumult mid the Achaians rise, or cry
Of rescue, when the Thracian feels my vengeance,
Thou check them, not in seeming for my sake.
For all else, fear not: I will shape all well.875
How? what wouldst do? Wouldst in thy wrinkled hand
A dagger clutch, and yon barbarian slay?—
With poisons do the deed, or with what help?
What arm shall aid thee? whence wilt win thee friends?
These tents a host of Trojan women hide.880
The captives meanest thou, Greek hunters' prey?
By these will I avenge me on my slayer.
How?—women gain the mastery over men?
Mighty are numbers: joined with craft, resistless.
Ay, mighty, yet misprize I womankind.885
What? did not women slay Aigyptus' sons?—
The males of Lemnos wholly extirpate?
Yet be it so: forbear to reason this.
But to this woman give thou through the host
(To a servant) Thou, draw nigh our Thracian guest,890
Say, "Hecuba, late Queen of Ilium,
Calls thee on thy behoof no less than hers,
Thy sons withal; for these must also hear
Her words." The burial of Polyxena
Late-slaughtered, Agamemnon, thou delay:895
So sister joined with brother in one flame,
A mother's double grief, shall be entombed.
So shall it be: yet, might the host but sail,
No power had I to grant this grace to thee:
But, seeing God sends no fair-following winds,900
Needs must we tarry watching idle sails.
Now fair befall: for all men's weal is this,—
Each several man's, and for the state,—that ill
Betide the bad, prosperity the good.
O my fatherland, Ilium, thou art named no more
Mid burgs unspoiled,
Such a battle-cloud lightening spears enshrouds thee o'er,
All round thee coiled!
Thou art piteously shorn of thy brows' tower-diadem,910
And smirched with stain
Of the reek; and thy streetways—my feet shall not tread them,
Ah me, again!
At the midnight my doom lighted on me, when sleep shed
O'er eyes sweet rain,
When from sacrifice-dance and from hushed songs on his bed
My lord had lain,
And the spear on the wall was uphung, for watchman's ken920
Saw near nor far
Overtrampling the Ilian plains those sea-borne men,
That host of war.
I was ranging the braids of mine hair 'neath soft snood-fold:
On mine eyes thrown
Were the rays from the limitless sheen, the mirror-gold,
Ere I sank down
To my rest on the couch;—but a tumult's tempest-blast
Swept up the street,
And a battle-cry thundered—"Ye sons of Greeks, on fast!930
Be the castles of Troy overthrown, that home at last
May hail your feet!"
From my dear bed, my lost bed, I sprang, like Dorian maid
And to Artemis' altar I clung—woe's me, I prayed
In vain, and wailed.
And my lord I beheld lying dead; and I was borne
O'er deep salt sea,
Looking back upon Troy, by the ship from Ilium torn
As she sped on the Hellas-ward path: then woe-forlorn940
Upon Helen the sister of Zeus' sons hurling back,
And on Paris, fell shepherd of Ida, curses black,
Who from mine home
By their bridal had reft me—'twas bridal none, but wrack950
Devil-wrought:—to her fatherland home o'er yon sea-track
Ne'er may she come!
Enter Polymestor with his two little sons attended by a guard of Thracian spearmen.
Priam of men most dear!—and dearest thou,
Hecuba, I weep beholding thee,
Thy city, and thine offspring slain so late.955
Nought is there man may trust, nor high repute,
Nor hope that weal shall not be turned to woe:
But the Gods all confound, hurled forth and back,
Turmoiling them, that we through ignorance
May worship them:—what skills it to make moan960
For this, outrunning evils none the more?
But if mine absence thou dost chide, forbear;
For in the mid-Thrace tracts afar was I
When thou cam'st hither: soon as I returned,
At point was I to hasten forth mine home;965
When lo, for this same end thine handmaid came
Telling a tale whose tidings winged mine haste.
I shame to look thee in the face, who lie,
O Polymestor, in such depth of ills.
Thou sawest me in weal: shame's thrall I am,970
Found in such plight wherein I am this day.
I cannot look on thee with eyes undrooped.
Yet count it not as evil-will to thee,
Polymestor; therebeside is custom's bar
That women look not in the eyes of men.975
No marvel:—but what need hast thou of me?
For what cause from mine home hast sped my feet?
A secret of mine own I fain would tell
To thee and thine. I pray thee, bid thy guards
Aloof from these pavilions to withdraw.980
Depart ye, for this solitude is safe.[Exeunt guards.
My friend art thou, well-willed to me this host
Achaian. Now behoves thee to declare
Wherein the prosperous must render help
To friends afflicted: lo, prepared am I.985
First, of the son whom in thine halls thou hast,
Polydorus, of mine hands, and of his sire's—
Liveth he?—I will ask thee then the rest.
Surely: as touching him thy lot is fair.
Dear friend, how well thou speak'st and worthy thee!990
Prithee, what next art fain to learn of me?
If me, his mother, he remembereth?
Yea—fain had come to thee in secret hither.
Is the gold safe, wherewith from Troy he came?
Safe—warded in mine halls in any wise.995
Safe keep it: covet not thy neighbours' goods.
Nay, lady: joy be mine of that I have!
Know'st what I fain would tell thee and thy sons?
I know not: this thy word shall signify.
Be it sweet to thee as thou to me art dear!1000
But what imports my sons and me to know?
Gold—ancient vaults of gold of Priam's line.
This is it thou art fain to tell thy son?
Yea, by thy mouth: thou art a righteous man.
What needeth then the presence of my sons?1005
Better they knew, if haply thou shouldst die.
Well hast thou said: yea, 'twere the wiser way.
Dost know where stood Athênê's Trojan fane?
There?—is the gold there?—and the token, what?
A black rock from the earth's face jutting forth.1010
Hast aught beside to tell me of that hoard?
Some jewels I brought forth with me—wouldst keep these?
Where?—where?—beneath thy raiment, or in hiding?
In yon tents, safe beneath a heap of spoils.
Safe?—there?—Achaian ships empale us round.1015
Inviolate are the captive women's tents.
Within is all safe? Be they void of men?
Within is no Achaian, only we.
Enter the tents,—for fain the Argives are
To unmoor the ships for homeward flight from Troy,—1020
That, all well done, thou mayst with thy sons fare
To where thou gav'st a home unto my child.
Hecuba and Polymestor with Children enter the tent.
Not yet is the penalty paid, but thy time is at hand,
As who reeleth adown an abyss wherein foothold is none
Slant-slipping, from sweet life hurled, for the life thou hast ta'en.
For wherever it cometh to pass that the rightful demand1029
Of justice's claim and the laws of the Gods be at one,
Then is ruinous bane for the sinner, O ruinous bane !
It shall mock thee, thy wayfaring's hope; to the Unseen Land,
To the place of the dead hath it drawn thee, O wretch undone!
By the hand not of warriors, thou hero, shalt thou be slain.
Ah, I am blinded of mine eyes' light—wretch!1035
Heard ye the yell of yonder Thracian, friends?
Ah me, my children!—ah the awful murder!
Friends, strange grim work is wrought in yonder tent.
Surely by swift feet shall ye not escape!
My blows shall rive this dwelling's inmost parts!1040
Lo, crasheth there swift bolt of giant hand.
Shall we burst in?—the peril summoneth us
To help of Hecuba and the Trojan dames.
Smite on—spare not—ay, batter down the doors!
Ne'er shalt thou set bright vision in thine orbs,1045
Nor living see thy sons whom I have slain.
Hast vanquished?—overcome thy Thracian guest,
Lady?—hast done the deed thou threatenedst?
Him shalt thou straightway see before the tents,
Blind, pacing with blind aimless-stumbling feet,1050
And his two children's corpses, whom I slew
With Trojan heroines' help: now hath he paid me
The vengeance-dues. There comes he forth, thou seest.
I from his path will step; the seething rage
Of yonder Thracian monster will I shun.1055
Ah me, whitherward shall I go?—where stand?
Where find me a mooring-place?
Must I prowl on their track with foot and with hand
As a mountain-beast should pace?
Or to this side or that shall I turn me, for vengeance pursuing1060
The slaughterous hags of Troy which have wrought mine undoing?
Foul daughters of Phrygia, murderesses
Accursèd, in what deep-hidden recesses
Are ye cowering in flight?
O couldst thou but heal these eye-pits gory—
O couldst thou but heal the blind, and restore me,
O Sun, thy light!
Hist—hist—their stealthy footfalls creep—
I hear them—whither shall this foot leap,1070
That their flesh and their bones I may gorge, and may slake me
With their blood, and a banquet of wild beasts make me,
Requiting their outrage well
With grimmer revenge?—Woe! where am I borne
Forsaking my fenceless babes to be torn
Of the bacchanals of hell,
Butchered and cast away for the dogs' blood-boultered prey
On a desolate mountain-fell?
Ah, where shall I stand?—whither go?—where rest?
As a ship furls sail that hath havenward pressed,1080
I would dart into that death-haunted lair,
I would shroud my babes in my linen vest,
I would guard them there!
Wretch! wreaked on thee are ills intolerable:
Foul deeds thou didst, and awful penalty
A God hath laid on thee with heavy hand.
What ho! spear-brandishers, nation arrayed in warrior's weed!
Thracians possessed of the War-god, lords of the gallant steed!1090
What ho, ye Achaians!—Atreus' seed!
Rescue! Rescue! I raise the cry.
O come, in the name of the Gods draw nigh!
Hears any man?—wherefore delay?—will no man help me nor heed?
Of women undone, destroyed, am I—
The women of Troy's captivity.
Horrors are wrought on me—horrors! Woe for the felon deed!
Whitherward shall I turn me? Whitherward fare?
Shall I leap as on wings to the height of the heaven, to the mansions of air,1100
To Orion or Sirius, fearful-gleaming
With the burning flames from his eyes out-streaming,
Or plunge to the blackness of darkness, to Hades' gorge in despair?
Small blame, if he which suffereth heavier woes
Than man may bear, should flee his wretched life.
Hearing a shout I came; for in no whispers
The mountain-rock's child Echo through the host1110
Cried, waking tumult. Knew we not the towers
Of Phrygia by the spear of Greeks had fallen,
No little panic had this clangour roused.
Dear friend—for, Agamemnon, 'tis thy voice,
I hear and know—see'st thou what I endure?1115
Ha, wretched Polymestor, who hath marred thee?,
Who dashed with blood thine eyes, and blinded thee?—,
Slew these thy sons? Sooth, against thee and thine,
Grim was his fury, whosoe'er it was.
Hecuba, with the captive woman-throng,1120
Destroyed me—nay, destroyed not—O, far worse!
What say'st thou?—Thine the deed, as he hath said?
Thou, Hecuba, dare this thing impossible!
Ha! what say'st thou?—and is she nigh at hand?
Tell where is she, that I may in mine hands1125
Clutch her and rend, and bathe her flesh in blood.
Agamemnon. (holding him back).
Ho thou, what ails thee?
By the Gods I pray thee,
Unhand me—loose my frenzied hand on her!
Forbear: cast out the savage from thine heart.
Speak, let me hear first thee, then her, and judge1130
Justly for what cause thus thou sufferest.
Yea, I will speak. 'Twas Priam's youngest son
Polydorus, Hecuba's child—from Troy to me
Him his sire sent to nurture in mine halls,
Misdoubting, ye may guess, the fall of Troy.1135
Him slew I. For what cause I slew him, hear:
Mark how I dealt well, wisely, prudently:—
I feared their son might, left alive thy foe,
Gather Troy's remnant and repeople her,
And, hearing how a Priamid lived, Achaia1140
To Phrygia-land again should bring her host;
Then should they trample down these plains of Thrace
In foray, and the ills that wasted us
But now, O king, should on Troy's neighbours fall.
And Hecuba, being ware of her son's death,1145
With this tale lured me, that she would reveal
Hid treasuries of Priam's line in Troy
Of gold. Me only with my sons she leads
Within the tents, that none beside might know.
Bowing the knee there sat I in their midst;1150
While, on my left hand some, some on the right,
As by a friend, forsooth, Troy's daughters sat
Many: the web of our Edonian loom
Praised they, uplifting to the light my cloak;
And some my Thracian lance admiring took,1155
And stripped me so alike of spear and shield.
As many as were mothers, loud in praise
Dandled my babes, that from their sire afar
They might be borne, from hand to hand passed on.
Then, after such smooth speech,—couldst thou believe?—1160
Suddenly snatching daggers from their robes,
They stab my sons; and others all as one
In foemen's fashion gripped mine hands and feet,
And held: and, when I fain would aid my sons,
If I essayed to raise my face, by the hair1165
They held me down: if I would move mine hands,
For the host of women, wretch! I nought prevailed.
And last—O outrage than all outrage worse!—
A hideous deed they wrought: for of mine eyes
These wretched eyeballs—grasping their brooch-pins—1170
They stab, they flood with gore. Then through the tents
Fleeing they went. Up from the earth I leapt,
And like a wild beast chased the blood-stained hounds,
Groping o'er all the wall, like tracking huntsman,
Smiting and battering. All for my zeal's sake1175
For thee, I suffered this, who slew thy foe,
Agamemnon. Wherefore needeth many words?
Whoso ere now hath spoken ill of women,
Or speaketh now, or shall hereafter speak,
All this in one word will I close and say:—1180
Nor sea nor land doth nurture such a breed:
He knoweth, who hath converse with them most.
Be nowise reckless, nor, for thine own ills,
Include in this thy curse all womankind.
For some, yea many of us, deserve not blame,1185
Though some by vice of blood count midst the bad.
Agamemnon, never should this thing have been,
That words with men should more avail than deeds,
But good deeds should with reasonings good be paired,
And caitiff deed be ranged by baseless plea,1190
And none avail to gloze injustice o'er.
There be whose craft such art hath perfected;
Yet cannot they be cunning to the end:
Foully they perish : never one hath 'scaped.
Such prelude hath my speech as touching thee.1195
Now with plea answering plea to him I turn:—
To spare the Greeks, say'st thou, a twice-toiled task,
For Agamemnon's sake thou slew'st my son.
Villain of villains, when, when could thy race,
Thy brute race, be a friend unto the Greeks?1200
Never. And, prithee, whence this fervent zeal
To serve his cause?—didst look to wed his daughter?
Art of his kin?—Or what thy private end?
Or were they like to sail again and waste
Thy crops? Whom think'st thou to convince hereby?1205
That gold—hadst thou the will to tell the truth—
Murdered my son: that, and thy greed of gain.
For, hearken: why, when all went well with Troy,
When yet her ramparts girt the city round,
And Priam lived, and triumphed Hector's spear,1210
Why not then, if thou fain wouldst earn kings' thanks,
When in mine halls ye had my son and fostered,
Slay him, or living bring him to the Greeks?
But, soon as in the light we walked no more,
And the smoke's token proved our town the foe's,1215
Thou slew'st the guest that came unto thine hearth.
Nay more, hear now how thou art villain proved:
Thou oughtest, if thou wert the Achaians' friend,
Have brought the gold thou dar'st not call thine own,
But for him held in trust, to these impoverished1220
And long time exiled from their fatherland.
But thou not yet canst ope thine heart to unclose
Thy grip; thy miser-clutch keeps it at home.
Yet hadst thou, as behoved thee, reared my son
And saved alive, thine had been fair renown.1225
For in adversity the good are friends
Most true: prosperity hath friends unsought.
Hadst thou lacked money, and his lot been fair,
A treasury deep my son had been to thee:
But now thou hast not him unto thy friend;1230
Gone is the gold's avail, thy sons are gone,—
And this thy plight! Now unto thee I say,
Agamemnon, if thou help him, base thou showest.
The godless, false to whom he owed fair faith,
The impious host unrighteous shalt thou comfort.1235
Thou joyest in the wicked, shall we say,
If such thou be—but on my lords I rail not.
Lo, how the good cause giveth evermore
To men occasion for good argument
It likes me not to judge on others' wrongs;1240
Yet needs I must, for shame it were to take
This cause into mine hands, and then thrust by.
But,—wouldst thou know my thought,—not for my sake,
Nor the Achaians', didst thou slay thy guest,
But even to keep that gold within thine halls.1245
In this ill plight thou speak'st to serve thine ends.
Haply with you guest-murder is as nought,
But to us which be Greeks foul shame is this.
How can I uncondemned adjudge thee guiltless?
I cannot. Forasmuch as thou hast dared1250
To do foul deeds, even drain thy bitter cup.
Woe's me!—by a woman-slave o'ercome, meseems,
'Neath vengeance of the viler must I bow!
Is it not just, if thou hast vileness wrought?
Woe for my babes and for mine eyes!—ah wretch!1255
Griev'st thou?—and I?—dost deem my son's loss sweet?
Thou joyest triumphing over me, thou fiend!
Should I not joy for vengeance upon thee?
Ah, soon thou shalt not, when the outsea surge—
Shall bear me to the coasts of Hellas-land?1260
Nay, but shall whelm thee fallen from the mast.
Yea?—forced of whom to take the leap of death?
Thyself shalt climb the ship's mast with thy feet.
So?—and with shoulders winged, or in what guise?
A dog with fire-red eyes shalt thou become.1265
How know'st thou of the changing of my shape?
This Dionysus told, the Thracian seer.
But nought foretold to thee of these thine ills?
Nay; else with guile thou ne'er hadst trapped me thus.
There shall I die, or live my full life out?1270
Die shalt thou: and thy grave shall bear a name—
Accordant to my shape?—or what wilt say?
The wretched Dog's Grave, sign to seafarers.
Nought reck I, seeing thou hast felt my vengeance.
Yea, and thy child Kassandra too must die.1275
A scorn and spitting!—back on thee I hurl it.
Slay her shall this king's wife, a houseward grim.
Never so mad may Tyndareus' daughter be!
Yea—slay him too, upswinging high the axe.
Ho, fellow, ravest thou? Dost court thy bane?1280
Slay on: a bath of blood in Argos waits thee.
Haste, henchmen, hale him from my sight perforce.
Art galled to hear?
Set curb upon his mouth!
Ay, gag: my say is said.
Make speed, make speed,
And on some desert island cast him forth,1285
Seeing his bold mouth's insolence passeth thus.
Hecuba, hapless, fare thou on, entomb
Thy corpses twain. Draw near, ye dames of Troy,
To your lords' tents, for I discern a breeze
Upspringing, home to waft us, even now.1290
Fair voyage be ours to Hellas, fair the plight
Wherein, from these toils freed, we find our homes.
To the tents, O friends, to the haven fare;
The yoke of thraldom our necks must bear.
Fate knows not pity, fate will not spare.1295
- Demophon and Akamas, sons of Theseus by Phædra.
- These three lines, in which the spirit overcomes the flesh in a fierce rally of the failing powers, that the swooning mother may concentrate her burning sense of wrong, her impotent longing for vengeance, in a curse upon the author of her woes, are so true to human nature, so appropriate to the character of Hecuba, that it seems strange that commentators should have proposed to omit them as "feeble and unnatural." It is a significant touch that Hecuba can imagine for the author of her sufferings no sterner retribution than even such sufferings:—"O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us." c.f. also ll. 941–943 of this play.
- This has been cited as one of the so-called inappropriate and irrelevant chorus-songs of Euripides. But why should the poet, after bringing the situation to a climax in the pathos of the daughter's farewell, in the agony of the mother's bereavement, proceed to water his wine by obvious moralizings, or by commonplaces of commiseration? When to add words of direct comment on a perfect situation would be "to gild refinèd gold," we may trust Euripides' artistic sense not to err. But that their fellow-captives, in view of what had befallen these, should be led to forecast their own fate, was (a) appropriate, for the theme had been already suggested by the words of Polyxena, ll. 359–364; (b) natural, if Homer was natural in Il. xix. 301–2.
- i.e., Embroider thereon the chariot and horses of Athênê, bearing the Goddess to battle against the Giants. The allusion is to the great saffron-dyed mantle which was carried, outspread like a sail, in solemn procession through the streets of Athens to the temple on the Acropolis, every fourth year, at the Great Panathenaic Festival.
- But the Scholiast interprets—
"She spake a word, of all most pitiful:"
- No philosophic moralizing can avail to assuage my sorrow.
- "They think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot." (1 Pet. iv., 4.)
- As being united to Achilles in death.
- c.f. Hen. VI, Part 1. Act v. iii. for a closely similar series of asides.
- Another interpretation—
"Yet scheming this the while!"
- This transition will not appear abrupt and artificial if we suppose that Agamemnon, apprehensive of the obligation thrust upon him, makes a movement to draw back, which Hecuba, with the quick wit of desperation, converts to a simile which arrests him till l. 812, when she is driven to make a more direct appeal to his sense of honour. Note, that she uses just such words as a Greek painter might have used in pointing out to a patron the merits of his work—"ἰδοῦ, κἀνάθρησον οἷ ἔχει καλά."
- The laws of right and wrong, and the obligation to avenge the blood of kin, compel Hecuba to ally herself with Agamemnon, her late enemy, against Polymestor, her late friend.
- The Greek word, for which I cannot find any English equivalent in this sense, expresses that apparent absence of any bounding surface in a perfect mirror, which has sometimes betrayed the unwary into walking through such.
- I venture to propose οὐκ for εἴσ᾽ in 1185. In a copy from a cursive MS., especially one like Harl. 5724, in which the contracted ει and ου are so similar, εἴσ᾽ would be more likely to have crept in for οὐκ, than τῶν for μὴ (1186), as suggested by Paley; and the Chorus would be more likely to claim that the majority of their sisters were good, than that they were bad.
- Original: Then spake the son of Peleus: "Father mine, was amended to Then spake he "Son of Peleus, father mine,: detail