THE MADNESS OF HERAKLES.
Herakles was hated from his birth by Hera, and by her devices was made subject to Eurystheus, king of Argos. At his command he performed the great Twelve Labours, whereof the last was that he should bring up Cerberus, the Hound of Hades, from the Underworld. Ere he departed, he committed Amphitryon his father, with Megara his wife, and his sons, to the keeping of Kreon, king of Thebes, and so went down into the Land of Darkness. Now when he was long time absent, so that men doubted whether he would ever return, a man of Eubœa, named Lykus, was brought into Thebes by evil-hearted and discontented men, and with these conspired against Kreon, and slew him, and reigned in his stead. Then he sought further to slay all that remained of the house of Herakles, lest any should in days to come avenge Kreon's murder. So these, in their sore strait, took refuge at the altar of Zeus. And herein is told how, even as they stood under the shadow of death, Herakles returned for their deliverance, and how in the midst of that joy and triumph a yet worse calamity was brought upon them by the malice of Hera.
Megara, wife of Herakles.
Lykus, a usurper, king of Thebes.
Herakles, son of Zeus and Alkmena.
Iris, a Goddess, messenger of the Gods.
Madness, a demon.
Servant of Herakles.
Theseus, king of Athens.
Chorus, consisting of Theban Elders.
THE MADNESS OF HERAKLES.
Amphitryon, Megara, and her three sons by Herakles, seated on the steps of the altar of Zeus the Deliverer.
Who knows not Zeus's couch-mate, who of men,
Argive Amphitryon, sprung from Perseus' son
Alkaius, father of great Herakles?
Here in Thebes dwelt he, whence the earth-born crop
Of Sown Men rose, scant remnant of whose race 5
The War-god spared to people Kadmus' town
With children of their children. Sprang from these
Kreon, Menœkeus' son, king of this land,
Kreon, the father of this Megara,
Whose spousals all the sons of Kadmus once 10
Acclaimed with flutes, what time unto mine halls
Glorious Herakles brought home his bride.
But Thebes, wherein I dwelt, and Megara,
And all his marriage-kin, my son forsook,
Yearning to dwell in Argive walls, the town 15
Cyclopian, whence I am outlawed, since I slew
Elektryon: he, to lighten mine affliction,
And fain to dwell in his own fatherland,
Proffered Eurystheus for our home-return
A great price, even to rid the earth of pests— 20
Or spurred by Hera's goads, or drawn by fate.
And, all the other labours now achieved,
For the last, down the gorge of Tainarus
He hath passed to Hades, to bring up to light
The hound three-headed, whence he hath not returned. 25
Now an old legend lives mid Kadmus' sons
That erstwhile was one Lykus Dirkê's spouse,
And of this seven-gated city king,
Ere Zethus and Amphion ruled the land,
Lords of the White Steeds, sprung from loins of Zeus. 30
And this man's son, who bears his father's name,—
No Theban, a Eubœan outlander,—
Slew Kreon, and having slain him rules the land,
Falling upon the state sedition-rent.
And mine affinity with Kreon knit 35
Is turned to mighty evil, well I wot.
For, while my son is in the earth's dark heart,
This upstart Lykus, ruler of the land,
Would fain destroy the sons of Herakles,
And slay, with blood to smother blood, his wife 40
And me,—if I be reckoned among men,
A useless greybeard,—lest these, grown to man,
Take vengeance for their mother's father's blood.
And I—for me he left his halls within
To ward his sons and foster, with their mother, 45
When down into the earth's black darkness passed
My son, that Herakles' children might not die—
Here at the altar sit of Saviour Zeus,
Which, in thanksgiving for the victory won
O'er Minyan foes, mine hero-scion reared. 50
And, lacking all things, raiment, meat, and drink,
Here keep we session, on the bare hard ground
Laying our limbs; for desperate of life
Here sit we, barred from homes whose doors are sealed.
And of friends some, I note, are insincere, 55
Some, friends in truth, are helpless for our aid:
Such evil is misfortune unto men.
Never light this on one that loveth me,
Though ne'er so little—friendship's sternest test!
Ancient, who once didst smite the Taphians' burg, 60
Captaining gloriously the Theban spears,
How are God's ways with men past finding out!
For never fell my fortunes in my sire,
Who for his wealth was once accounted great,
Secure in kingship—that, for lust whereof 65
Long lances leap against men fortune-throned:
Children had he; me to thy son he gave,
In glorious spousal joined with Herakles.
Now is all dead—as upon wings hath flown:
And, ancient, thou and I are marked for death, 70
With Herakles' children, whom, as 'neath her wings
A bird her fledglings gathereth, so I keep.
And this and that one falls to questioning still—
"Mother, in what land stays our father?—tell.
What doth he? When comes?" In child-ignorance 75
They seek their sire: and still I put them by
With fables feigned; yet wondering start, whene'er
A door sounds; and unto their feet leap all,
As looking to embrace their father's knee.
What hope or path of safety, ancient, now 80
Devisest thou?—for unto thee I look.
We cannot quit the land's bounds unperceived,
For at all outlets guards too strong are set:
Nor linger hopes of safety any more
In friends. What counsel then thou hast soe'er, 85
Now speak it out, lest death be at the door,
And we, who are helpless, do but peize the time.
Daughter, not easily, without deep thought,
May one, though ne'er so earnest, counsel here.
Dost seek more grief, or lov'st thou life so well? 90
In this life I rejoice: I love its hopes.
And I: yet for things hopeless none may look.
Even in delay is salve for evils found.
But ah the gnawing anguish of suspense!
Daughter, a fair-wind course may yet befall 95
From storms of present ills for thee and me.
Yet may he come—my son, thy lord, may come.
Nay, calm thee: stop the fountains welling tears
Of these thy sons, and soothe them with thy words,
Cheating them with a fable—piteous cheat! 100
Sooth, men's afflictions weary of their work,
And tempest-blasts not alway keep their force;
The prosperous are not prosperous to the end;
For all things fleet and yield each other place.
He is the hero, who in steadfast hope 105
Trusts on : despair is but the coward's part.
Enter Chorus, leaning on their staves, and climbing the ascent to the altar.
Unto the stately temple-roofs, whereby
The ancient coucheth on the ground,
Bowed o'er a propping staff, a chanter I
Whose song rings sorrow round, 110
Like some hoar swan I come—a voice, no more,
Like to a night-dream's phantom-show,
Palsied with eld, yet loyal as of yore
To friends of long ago.
Hail, children fatherless! Hail, ancient, thou!
Hail, mother bowed 'neath sorrow's load,
Who mournest for thy lord long absent now
In the Unseen King's abode!
Let feet not faint, nor let the tired limbs trail
Heavy, as when uphillward strain, 120
Trampling the stones, a young steed's feet that hale
The massy four-wheel wain.
Lay hold on helping hand, on vesture's fold,
Whoso hath failing feet that grope
Blindly:—thy brother, ancient, thou uphold
Up this steep temple-slope,
Thy friend, who once mid toils of battle-peers
Shoulder to shoulder, did not shame—
When thou and he were young, when clashed the spears,—
His country's glorious name.
Mark ye how dragon-like glaring 130
As the eyes of the sire whom we knew
Are the eyes of the sons!—and unsparing
His hard lot followeth too
His sons; and the kingly mien
Of the sire in the children is seen.
O Hellas, if thou uncaring
Beholdest them slain, what a band
Of champions is lost to our land!
But lo, the ruler of this land I see,
Lykus, unto these mansions drawing nigh.
Thee, sire of Herakles, and thee, his wife, 140
I ask—if ask I may:—I may, I trow,
Who am your lord, make question as I will:—
How long seek ye to lengthen out your lives?
What hope, what help from imminent death expect ye?
Trust ye that he, the sire of these, who lies 145
In Hades, yet shall come? How basely ye
Upraise a mourning that ye needs must die!—
Thou, who through Hellas scatteredst empty vaunts
That Zeus thy couch-mate fathered a new god,
And thou, that thou wast named a hero's wife! 150
What mighty exploit by thy lord was wrought
In that he killed a hydra of the fen,
Or that Nemean lion?—which he snared,
Yet saith he slew with grip of strangling arms!
By these deeds would ye triumph?—for their sake 155
Must they die not, these sons of Herakles?—
That thing of nought, who won him valour's name
Battling with beasts, a craven in all else,
Who never to his left arm clasped the shield,
Nor within spear-thrust came; but with his bow, 160
The dastard's tool, was ever at point to flee!
Bows be no test of manhood's valiancy.
Who bideth steadfast in the ranks, calm-eyed
Facing the spear's swift furrow—a man is he!
Greybeard, no ruthlessness hath this my part, 165
But heedfulness: well know I that 1 slew
Kreon, this woman's sire, and hold his throne.
Therefore I would not these should grow to man,
Left to avenge them on me for my deeds.
For Zeus's part—his own son's birth let Zeus 170
Defend: but, Herakles, to me it falls
Pleading thy cause to show this fellow's folly.
I may not suffer thee to be defamed.
First, of the lie too foul to speak—for so,
Herakles, count I cowardice charged on thee,— 175
By the Gods' witness thee I clear of this:
To thunder I appeal, to Zeus's car
Whereon he rode against the earth-born brood,
The Giants, planting winged shafts in their ribs,
And with the Gods pealed forth the victory-chant. 180
Or thou to Pholoë go, most base of kings,
The four-foot monsters ask, the Centaur tribe,
Ask them whom they would count the bravest man.
Whom but my son?—of thee named "hollow show"!
Ask Dirphys, Abas' land, which fostered thee; 185
It should not praise thee:—place is none wherein
Thy land could witness to brave deed of thine!
And at the bow, the crown of wise inventions,
Thou sneerest!—learn thou wisdom from my mouth:
The man-at-arms is bondman to his arms, 190
And through his fellows, if their hearts wax faint,
Even through his neighbours' cowardice, he dies.
And, if he break his spear, he hath nought to ward
Death from himself, who hath but one defence.
But whoso grasps in hand the unerring bow,— 195
This first, and best, — lets fly unnumbered shafts,
Yet still hath store wherewith to avert the death.
Afar he stands, yet beats the foemen back,
And wounds with shafts unseen, watch as they will;
Yet never bares his body to the foe, 200
But is safe-warded; and in battle this
Is wisest policy, still to harm all foes
That beyond range shrink not, oneself unhurt.
These words have sense opposed full-face to thine
Touching the matter set at issue here. 205
But wherefore art thou fain to slay these boys?
What have they done? Herein I count thee wise,
That thou, thyself a dastard, fear'st the seed
Of heroes: yet hard fate is this for us,
If we shall for thy cowardice' sake be slain, 210
As thou by us thy betters shouldst have been,
If Zeus to us were righteously inclined.
Yet, if thy will be still to keep Thebes' crown,
Suffer us exiled to go forth the land;
But do no violence, lest thou suffer it, 215
When God shall haply cause the wind to change.
Out on it!
Land of Kadmus,—for to thee I turn,
Over thee hurling mine upbraiding words,—
Herakles and his sons thus succourest thou,
Even him who met the Minyans all in fight, 220
And made the eyes of Thebes see freedom's dawn?
And shame on Hellas!—I will hold my peace
Never, who prove her base towards my son,—
Her, whom behoved with fire, with spear, with shield
To have helped these babes, thank-offering for his toils, 225
Repayment for his purging seas and lands.
Ah boys, such aid to you the Thebans' town
Nor Hellas brings! To me, a strengthless friend,
Ye look, who am nothing but a voice's sound:
For vanished is the might I had of old, 230
Palsied with eld my limbs are, gone my strength.
Were I but young yet, master of my thews,
I had grasped a spear, this fellow's yellow hair
I had dashed with blood, that, seeing with craven eyes
My lance, he had fled beyond the Atlantic bourn! 235
Lo, cannot brave men find occasion still
For speech, how slow soe'er one be of tongue?
Rail on at me with words up-piled as towers:
I will for words requite on thee ill deeds.
(To attendant) Ho! bid my woodmen go—to Helicon these, 240
Those to Parnassus' folds, and hew them logs
Of oak; and, when these into Thebes are brought,
On either side the altar billets pile,
And kindle; so the bodies of all these
Burn ye, that they may know that not the dead 245
Ruleth the land, but now am I king here.
And ye old men which set yourselves against
My purpose, not for Herakles' sons alone
Shall ye make moan, but for your homes' affliction,
Fast as blows fall, and so shall not forget 250
That ye are bondslaves of my princely power.
O brood of Earth, whom Arês sowed of yore,
What time he stripped the dragon's ravening jaws,
Will ye not lift the props of your right hands,
Your staves, and dash with blood the impious head 255
Of yon man, who, though no Kadmeian he,
Base outland upstart, ruleth the New Folk?
Thou shalt not joy in lordship over me,
Nor that which I have gotten by toil of hand
Shalt thou have! Hence with curses whence thou cam'st! 260
There outrage! Whilst I live, thou ne'er shalt slay
Herakles' sons! Not hidden in earth too deep
For help is he, though he hath left his babes.
Thou, ruin of this land, possessest her;
And he, her saviour, faileth of his due! 265
Am I a busy meddler then, who aid
Dead friends in plight where friends are needed most?
Ah right hand, how thou yearn'st to grip the spear,
But in thy weakness know'st thy yearning vain!
Else had I smitten thy taunt of bondslave dumb, 270
And we had ruled with honour this our Thebes
Wherein thou joyest! A city plagued with strife
And evil counsels thinketh not aright;
Else never had she gotten thee for lord.
Fathers, I thank you. Needs must friends be filled 275
With righteous indignation for friends' wrongs.
Yet for our sake through wrath against your lords
Suffer not scathe. Amphitryon, hearken thou
My counsel, if my words seem good to thee:
I love my sons,—how should I not love whom 280
I bare and toiled for?—and to die I count
Fearful: yet—yet—against the inevitable
Who strives, I hold him but a foolish man.
Since we must needs die, better 'tis to die
Not with fire roasted, yielding laughter-scoff 285
To foes, an evil worse than death to me.
Great is our debt of honour to our house:—
Thou hast been crowned with glorious battle-fame;
Thou canst not, must not, die a coward's death:
Nor any witness needs my glorious spouse 290
That he would not consent to save these sons
Stained with ill-fame: for fathers gently born
Are crushed beneath the load of children's shame.
My lord's example I cannot thrust from me.
Thine own hope—mark how lightly I esteem it: 295
Thou think'st, from the underworld thy son shall come;
Yet, of the dead, who hath returned from Hades?
Or might we appease this wretch with words, think'st thou?
Never!—of all foes must thou shun the churl.
To wise and nobly-nurtured foes give ground; 300
So thy submission may find chivalrous grace.
Even now methought, "What if we asked for these
The boon of exile?"—nay, 'twere misery
To give them life with wretched penury linked.
For upon exile-friends the eyes of hosts 305
Look kindly, say they, one day and no more.
Face death with us: it waits thee in any wise.
Thy noble blood I challenge, ancient friend.
Whoso with eager struggling would writhe out
From fate's net, folly is his eagerness. 310
For doom's decree shall no man disannul.
Had any outraged thee while yet mine arms
Were strong, right quickly had he ceased therefrom.
But now I am nought. 'Tis thine, Amphitryon, now
To search how thou shalt pierce misfortune's snares. 315
Nor cowardice nor life-craving holds me back
From death: but for my son I fain would save
His sons—I covet things past hope, meseems.
Lo, here my throat is ready for thy sword,
For stabbing, murdering, hurling from the rock. 320
Yet grant us twain one grace, I pray thee, king:
Slay me and this poor mother ere the lads,
That—sight unhallowed—we see not the boys
Gasping out life, and calling on their mother
And grandsire: in all else thine eager will 325
Work out; for we have no defence from death.
And, I beseech, to this grace add a grace,
To be twice benefactor to us twain:—
Open yon doors; let me array my sons
In death's attire,—for now are we shut out,— 330
Their one inheritance from their father's halls.
So be it: I bid my men throw wide the doors.
Pass in; adorn you: I begrudge no robes.
But, when ye have cast the arraying round your limbs,
I come, to give you to the nether world. 335
Children, attend your hapless mother's steps
To your sire's halls, where others' mastery holds
His substance, but his name yet lingereth ours.
[Exit with children.
Zeus, for my couch-mate gained I thee in vain:
For nought I named thee father of my son. 340
Less than thou seemest art thou friend to us.
Mortal, in worth thy godhead I outdo:
Herakles' sons have I abandoned not.
Cunning wast thou to steal unto my couch,—
To filch another's right none tendered thee,— 345
Yet know'st not how to save thy dear ones now!
Thine is unwisdom, or injustice thine.
Hard on the paean triumphant-ringing
Oft Phœbus outpealeth a mourning-song,
O'er the strings of his harp of the voice sweet-singing 350
Sweeping the plectrum of gold along.
I also of him who hath passed to the places
Of underworld gloom—be it Zeus' son's story,
Be Amphitryon's scion the theme of my praises,—
Sing: I am fain to uplift him before ye
Wreathed with the Twelve Toils' garland of glory:
For the dead have a heritage, yea, have a crown,
Even deathless memorial of deeds of renown.
I.In Zeus' glen first, in the Lion's lair,
He fought, and the terror was no more there; 360
But the tawny beast's grim jaws were veiling
His golden head, and behind swept, trailing
Over his shoulders, its fell of hair.
II.Then on the mountain-haunters raining
Far-flying arrows, his hand laid low
The tameless tribes of the Centaurs, straining
Against them of old that deadly bow.
Peneius is witness, the lovely-gliding,
And the fields unsown over plains wide-spreading,
And the hamlets in glens of Pelion hiding, 370
And on Homolê's borders many a steading,
Whence poured they with ruining hoofs down-treading
Thessaly's harvests, for battle-brands
Tossing the mountain pines in their hands.
III.And the Hind of the golden-antlered head,
And the dappled hide, which wont to spread
O'er the lands of the husbandmen stark desolation,
He slew it, and brought, for propitiation,
Unto Oinoë's Goddess, the Huntress dread.
IV.And on Diomede's chariot he rode, for he reined them, 380
By his bits overmastered, the stallions four
That had ravined at mangers of murder, and stained them
With revel of banquets of horror, when gore
From men's limbs dripped that their fierce teeth tore.
V.Over eddies of Hebrus silvery-coiling
He passed to the great work yet to be done,
In the tasks of the lord of Mycenæ toiling;
By the surf mid the Maliac reefs ever boiling,
And by founts of Anaurus, he journeyed on, 390
Till the shaft from his string did the death-challenge sing
Unto Kyknus the guest-slayer, Amphanæ's king,
Who gave welcome to none.
VI.To the Song-maids he came, to the Garden enfolden
In glory of sunset, to pluck, where they grew
Mid the fruit-laden frondage the apples golden:
And the flame-hued dragon, the warder that drew
All round it his terrible spires, he slew.
VII.Through the rovers' gorges seaward-gazing 400
He sought; and thereafter in peace might roam
All mariners plying the oars swift-racing:
VIII.And he came to the mansion of Atlas, and placing
His arms outstretched 'neath the sky's mid-dome,
By his might he upbore the firmament's floor,
And the palace with splendour of stars fretted o'er,
The Immortals' home.
IX.On the Amazon hosts upon war-steeds riding
By the shores of Mæotis, the river-meads green,
He fell; for the surges of Euxine he cleft. 410
What brother in arms was in Hellas left,
That came not to follow his banner's guiding,
When to win the Belt of the Warrior Queen,
The golden clasp of the mantle vest,
He marched far north on a death-fraught quest?
And the wild maid's spoils for a glory abiding
Greece won: in Mycenæ they yet shall be seen.
X.And the myriad heads he seared
Of the Hydra-fiend with flame, 420
Of the murderous hound Lyrnæan:
XI.With its venom the arrows he smeared
That stung through the triple frame
Of the herdman-king Erythæan.
Many courses beside hath he run, ever earning
Triumph; but now to the dolorous land,
XII.Unto Hades, hath sailed for his last toil-strife;
And there hath he quenched his light of life
Utterly—woe for the unreturning! 430
And of friends forlorn doth thy dwelling stand;
And waits for thy children Charon's oar
By the river that none may repass any more,
Whither godless wrong hath sped them: and yearning
We strain our eyes for a vanished hand.
But if mine were the youth and the might
Of old—were mine old friends here,
Might my spear but in battle be shaken,
I had championed thy children in fight:—
But mid desolate days and drear 440
I am left, of my youth forsaken!
Lo where they come!—the shrouds of burial cover
Each one,—the children of that Herakles
Named the most mighty in the days past over,—
She whom he loved, whose hands draw onward these
Like to a chariot's trace-led steeds,—the father
Stricken in years of Herakles!—woe's me!
Fountains of tears within mine old eyes gather;
How should I stay them, such a sight who see? 450
Enter Megara, Amphitryon, and children.
Who is the priest, the butcher, of the ill-starred?
Or who the murderer of my wretched life?
Ready the victims are to lead to death.
O sons, a shameful chariot-team death-driven
Together, old men, mothers, babes, are we. 450
O hapless doom of me and these my sons
Whom for the last time now mine eyes behold!
I bare you, nursed you—all to be for foes
A scoff, a glee, a thing to be destroyed.
Woe and alas!
Ah for my shattered dreams, my broken hopes, 450
Hopes that I once built on your father's words!
Argos to thee thy dead sire would allot:
Thou in Eurystheus' palace wast to dwell
In fair and rich Pelasgia's sceptred sway.
That beast's fell o'er thine head he wont to throw, 450
The lion's skin wherein himself went clad.
Thou shouldst be king of chariot-loving Thebes,
And hold the champaigns of mine heritage;
Thy prayer won this of him that gave thee life.
And to thy right hand would he yield the club, 470
A feignèd gift, his carven battle-stay.
To thee the land, by his far-smiting bow
Once wasted, promised he, Oechalia.
So with three princedoms would your sire exalt
His three sons, in his pride of your great hearts. 475
And I chose out the choice of Hellas' brides,
Linking to ours by marriage Athens' land,
And Thebes, and Sparta, that ye might, as ships
Moored by sheet-anchors, ride the storms of life.
All that is past: the wind of fate hath veered, 480
And given to you the Maids of Doom for brides,
Tears for my bride-baths. Woe for those my dreams!
And now your grandsire makes the spousal-feast
With Hades for brides' sire, grim marriage-kin.
Ah me! which first of all, or which the last, 485
To mine heart shall I press?—whom to my lips?
Whom shall I clasp? Oh but to gather store
Of moan, like brown-winged bee, from all grief's field,
And blend together in tribute of one tear!
Dear love,—if any in Hades of the dead 490
Can hear,—I cry this to thee, Herakles:
Thy sire, thy sons, are dying; doomed am I,
I, once through thee called blest in all men's eyes.
Help!—come!—though as a shadow, yet appear!
For thou by that bare coming shouldst suffice 495
To daunt the cravens who would slay thy sons.
Lady, the death-rites duly order thou.
But I, O Zeus, with hand to heaven upcast
Cry—if for these babes thou hast any help,
Save them; for soon thou nothing shalt avail. 500
Yet oft hast thou been prayed: in vain I toil;
For now, meseems, we cannot choose but die.
Ah friends, old friends, short is the span of life:
See ye pass through it blithely as ye may,
Wasting no time in grief 'twixt morn and eve. 505
For nothing careth Time to spare our hopes:
Swiftly he works his work, and fleets away.
See me, the observed of all observers once,
Doer of deeds of name—in one day all
Fortune hath snatched, as a feather skyward wafted. 510
None know I whose great wealth or high repute
Is sure. Farewell: for him that was your friend
Now for the last time, age-mates, have ye seen.
Herakles appears in the distance.
Ancient, my dear lord—else what?—do I see?
I know not, daughter,—speechless am I struck. 515
'Tis he who lay, we heard, beneath the earth,
Except in broad day we behold a dream!
What say I?—see they dreams, these yearning eyes?
This is none other, ancient, than thy son.
Boys, hither!—hang upon your father's cloak. 520
Speed ye, unhand him not; for this is he,
Your helper he, no worse than Saviour Zeus.
All hail, mine house, hail, portals of mine hearth!
How blithe, returned to light, I look on you!
Ha! what is this?—my sons before the halls 525
In death's attire and with heads chapleted!—
And, mid a throng of men, my very wife!—
My father weeping over some mischance!
Come, let me draw nigh these and question them.
Wife, what strange stroke hath fallen on mine house? 530
O best-beloved!—to thy sire light of life!
Art come?—art saved for friends' most desperate need?
How?—father, what confusion find I here?
We are at point to die!—thy pardon, ancient,
That I before thee snatch thy right of speech, 535
For woman is more swift than man to mourn,
And my sons were to die, and I was doomed.
Apollo!—what strange prelude to thy speech!
Dead are my brethren and my grey-haired sire.
How?—by what deed, or stricken by what spear? 540
'Twas Lykus slew them, this land's upstart king.
Met in fair fight?—or plague-struck was the land?
By faction. So he rules seven-gated Thebes.
Why fell on thee and on the old man dread?
Thy sire, thy sons, and me he fain would slay. 545
How?—of my fatherless children what feared he?
Lest Kreon's death one day they might avenge.
This vesture meet for dead folk, what means it?
In this attire we shrouded us for death.
And were to die by violence?—woe is me! 550
Forlorn of friends, we heard that thou hadst died.
Wherefore came on you this despair of me?
The heralds of Eurystheus published this.
But why did ye forsake mine home and hearth?
By force: thy father from his bed was flung. 555
Had he no shame to outrage these grey hairs?
Shame?—from that Goddess far his dwelling is!
So poor of friends am I when far away!
Friends!—what friends hath a man unfortunate?
Scorned they the fights with Minyans I endured? 560
Friendless, I tell thee again, misfortune is.
Fling from your hair these cerements of the grave:
Look up to the light, beholding with your eyes
Exchange right welcome from the nether-gloom.
And I—for now work lieth to mine hand— 565
Will first go, and will raze to earth the house
Of this new king, his impious head smite off
And cast to dogs to rend. Of Thebans, all
Found traitors after my good deeds to them,
Some will I slay with this victorious mace, 570
And the rest scatter with my feathered shafts,
With slaughter of corpses all Ismenus fill,
And Dirkê's pure stream red with blood shall run.
For whom should I defend above my wife
And sons and aged sire? Great toils, farewell! 575
Vainly I wrought them, leaving these unhelped!
I ought defending these to die, if these
Die for their father:—else, what honour comes
Of hydra and of lion faced in fight
At king Eurystheus' hests, and from my sons 580
Death not averted? How shall I be called
Herakles the Victorious, as of old?
'Tis just the father should defend the sons,
The grey sire, and the yokemate of his life.
Son, worthy of thee it is to love thy friends, 585
To hate thy foes: yet be not over rash.
Herein what showeth, father, haste unmeet?
The king hath many an ally, lackland knaves,
Fellows that have a name that they are rich,
Who sowed sedition, ruining the land, 590
To plunder neighbours, since their own estates,
Squandered by wasteful idleness, were gone.
Thou wast seen entering Thebes: since thou wast seen,
Let not foes gather, and thou fall unwares.
Though all the city saw me, nought reck I. 595
Yet, since I marked a bird in ominous place,
I knew that trouble on mine house had fallen,
And of set purpose entered secretly.
Go now, and hail thine hearth-gods with fair speech,
And show thy face to thine ancestral halls. 600
Himself, yon king, shall come to hale thy wife
And sons for murder, and to slaughter me.
If here thou bide, shall all go well with thee,
And thou shalt gain by surety. Stir not up
Thy city, ere thou hast ordered all things well. 605
I will: well said. I pass mine halls within.
Returned at last from sunless nether crypts
Of Hades and The Maid, I will not slight
The Gods, but hail them first beneath my roof.
Son, didst thou verily go to Hades' halls? 610
Yea; the three-headed hound I brought to light.
Vanquished in fight, or by the Goddess given?
In fight. I had seen the Mysteries—well for me!
How, is the monster in Eurystheus' halls?
Nay, in Demeter's Grove, in Hermion's town. 615
Nor knows Eurystheus thou art risen to day?
Nay; hither first, to know your state, I came.
How wast thou so long time beneath the earth?
From Hades rescuing Theseus, tarried I.
Where is he? Hath he passed to his fatherland? 620
To Athens, glad to have 'scaped the underworld.
Come, children, follow to the house your sire;
For fairer to you is your entering-in
Than your outgoing. Nay then, pluck up heart,
And shed the tear-floods from your eyes no more; 625
And rally thou, my wife, thy fainting spirit:
From trembling cease: and ye, let go my cloak.
I am no winged thing, nor would I fly my friends.
These let not go, but hang upon my cloak
Only the more! Was doom so imminent then? 630
E'en must I lead them clinging to mine hands,
As ship that tows her boats. Not I reject
Care of my sons. Men's hearts be all like-framed:
They love their babes, as well the nobler sort,
As they that are but naught. In wealth they differ; 635
These have, those lack: their children all men love.
[Exeunt Herakles, Amphitryon, Megara, and children.
Ah, sweet is youth!—but always eld,
On mine head weighing, downward drags,
A heavier load than lay the crags
Of Etna on the Titan quelled, 640
Muffling mine eyes in mantle-fold
Of gloom. Not mine be wealth that lies
In Asian tyrants' treasuries;
Not mine be halls of hoarded gold,
If forfeit youth for these must fleet—
Youth, fairest gem of high estate,
In lowliness most fair! I hate
Age, dark with death's on-coming feet:
Deep be it drowned 'neath storm-waves' stress! 650
Ah, would that ne'er such visitant
Had come, men's homes and towns to haunt,
That yet its wings flew shelterless!
If wisdom, as of sons of earth,
And understanding, dwelt in heaven,
Twice o'er the boon of youth were given,
Seal manifest of manhood's worth
On all true hearts: these from the grave
To the sun's light again should climb, 660
To run their course a second time;
One life alone the vile should have.
Then, who are evil, who are good,
By such a sign might all men learn,
As shipmen 'twixt the clouds discern
The star-host's marshalled multitude.
But now, no line clear-severing
'Twixt good and bad the Gods have drawn: 670
Wealth, as the rolling years sweep on,
Is all the burden that they bring.
The Muses shall for me be twined for ever with the Graces:
For evermore my song shall pour that sweetest union's praises.
No life be mine of songless clown,
But, where for singers shines the crown,
Mine old lips still shall hymn renown of Memory's fair creation.
Great Herakles the triumph-crowned my song extolleth ever, 680
In feasts my theme, where beakers gleam of Bromius wine-giver,
And where the lyre of sevenfold string
Sounds, and where Libyan flutes outring:
Ceaseless I'll hear the Muses sing, queens of my inspiration.
As maids of Delos chant the pæan's holy strain immortal,
Whose white feet glance as sweeps the dance round Leto's scion's portal, 690
So will I raise the pagan-lay,
Swan-song of singer hoary-grey:
The portals of thine halls to-day shall hear the old lips chanting.
Proud theme hath minstrelsy, to sing mine hero's high achieving:
He is Zeus' son, but deeds hath done whose glory mounts, far-leaving
The praise of birth divine behind,
Whose toils gave peace to humankind,
Slaying dread shapes that filled man's mind with terrors ceaseless-haunting. 700
Enter Lykus, attended. Re-enter Amphitryon.
So!—in good time, Amphitryon, com'st thou forth.
Ye have tarried all too long as ye arrayed
Your limbs in robes and trappings of the grave.
Haste, bid the sons and wife of Herakles
To show themselves forth-coming from these halls, 705
By your self-tendered covenant to die.
King, thou dost trample on my misery:
Thou heapest insult on the heart bereaved.
So strong and so impatient fits not thee.
But, since of force thou doomest me to die, 710
Of force must I content me and do thy will.
And Megara, and Alkmena's son's brood—where?
I think that she—if one without may guess—
What now?—for this thy thinking hast thou ground?
Sits suppliant at the holy altar-steps,— 715
With bootless prayer to heaven to save her life!
And vainly calleth on a husband dead.
Not here is he; nor shall he ever come.
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Farewell, old sire.
Farewell thou, son.
Bury the lads—
Who burieth me, my child?
When com'st thou?
When thou hast buried them— 1420
I from Thebes to Athens will bring thee.
Bear in my babes—this curse that loads the earth!
I, who have wasted by my shame mine house,
Like wreck in tow will trail in Theseus' wake.
Whoso would fain possess or wealth or strength 1425
Rather than loyal friends, is sense-bereft.
With mourning and weeping sore do we pass away,
Who have lost the chiefest of all our friends this day.
- Mycenæ, whence Amphitryon, having accidentally slain Elektryon, his uncle, was banished by Sthenelus, father of Eurystheus.
- Though Amphitryon had, with his family, been banished for shedding kindred blood, yet, having been ceremonially purified from the guilt by Kreon king of Thebes, he might now return by consent of the ruler of Mycenæ.
- καινὸς vice κλεινὸς, "glorious" (ironically); and so in line 541.
- So Paley; but, according to Hutchinson and Gray,
"Daughter, not easily, nor recklessly,
May one with careless haste give counsel here."
- Or, according to Sandys's explanation of the technical sense of ἄρρητα, "First, of that libel—for a very libel,"
- Perhaps a later influx of population (like the Plebeians at Rome). Others would render, "the young men." Others again would read ἐγγενῶν or τῶν ἐτῶν, "rules the native-born."
- The Lay of the "Labours of Herakles":—I. The Nemean Lion; II. The Centaurs; III. The golden-antlered Hind; IV The horses of Diomede; V. Kyknus the Robber; VI. The Golden Apples; VII. Extirpation of Pirates; VIII. Supporting the Pillars of Heaven; IX. The girdle of the Amazon Queen; X. The Hydra; XI. Geryon the three-bodied giant; XII. Cerberus. For II, V, VII, VIII, later writers substitute the Erymanthian Boar, the Augean Stables, the Stymphalian Birds, and the Cretan Bull.
- The eldest son, Therimachus.
- The second son, Kreontidas.
- The third son, Deïkoön.
- I follow MSS. in giving 517 to Megara; otherwise τί φημί; seems pointless.
- A euphemism for Persephonê, whose name it was perilous to utter. See Helen, l. 1307.
- Their unnatural death made their presence a pollution to the land