AESCHYLUS, AGAMEMNON
 

AESCHYLUS INDEX

PROMETHEUS BOUND

SUPPLIANT WOMEN

SEVEN AGAINST THEBES

AGAMEMNON 1

AGAMEMNON 2

LIBATION BEARERS

EUMENIDES

FRAGMENTS 1 - 56

FRAGMENTS 57 - 154

FRAGMENTS 155 - 272

PAPYRI FRAGMENTS

AGAMEMNON, TRANSLATED BY HERBERT WEIR SMYTH

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

WATCHMAN
CHORUS of Argive Elders
CLYTAEMESTRA
HERALD
AGAMEMNON
CASSANDRA
AEGISTHUS

SCENE.—Argos
TIME. —The heroic age.
DATE. —458 B.C., at the City Dionysia.

ARGUMENT

When that Helen had fled with Paris to Troyland, her husband Menelaüs and his brother Agamemnon, the sons of Atreus and two-throned Kings of Argos, sought to take vengeance on him who had done outrage to Zeus, the guardian of the rights of hospitality. Before their palace appeared a portent, which the seer Calchas interpreted to them: the two eagles were the Kings themselves and the pregnant hare seized in their talons was the city which held Priam’s son and Helen and her wealth. But Artemis, she that loves wild things of the field, was wroth with the Kings: and when all their host was gathered at Aulis and would sail with its thousand ships, she made adverse winds to blow; so that the ships rotted and the crews lost heart. Then the seer, albeit in darkling words, spake to Agamamnon: “If thou wilt appease the goddess and so free the fleet, thou must sacrifice with thine own hand thy daughter Iphigenia.” And he did even so, and the Greeks sailed away in their ships. Nine years did they lay siege to Troytown, but they could not take it; for it was fated that it should not be taken until the tenth year.

Now when King Agamemnon fared forth from Argos, he left at home his Queen, Clytaemestra, Leda’s child and Helen’s sister (though she had for father Tyndareus, but Helen’s was Zeus himself); and in her loneliness and because Agamemnon had slain her daughter, she gave ear to the whisperings of another’s love, even of Aegisthus, son of that Thyestes who had lain with he wife of his brother Atreus; an for revenge Atreus slew other of Thyestes’ sons and gave their father thereof to eat; and when Thyestes learned whereof he had eaten, he cursed his brother’s race.

With the coming of the tenth year of the war, Queen Clytaemestra, plotting with Aegisthus against her husband’s life, ordered that watch be kept upon the roof of her palace at Argos; for a succession of beacon-fires was to flash the news from Troy when the city should be captured by Agamemnon. For weary months the watchman has been on the look-out—but at last the signal blazes forth in the night. In celebration of the glad event, the Queen has altar-fires kindled throughout the city. The Chorus of Elders will not credit the tidings; nor are their doubts resolved until a herald announced the approach of Agamemnon, whose ship had alone escaped the storm that had raged in the night just passed. Welcomed by his Queen, Agamemnon bespeaks a kindly reception for his captive, Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, and on his wife’s urgence consents to walk in his palace on costly tapestries. Cassandra seeks in vain to convince the Elders of their master’s peril; and, conscious also of her own doom, passes within. Agamemnon’s death-shriek is heard; the two corpses are displayed. Clytaemestra exults in her deed and defies the Elders. Aegisthus enters to declare that Agamemnon has been slain in requital for his father’s crime. The Elders, on the point of coming to blows with Aegisthus and his body-guard, are restrained by Clytaemestra, but not before they utter the warning that Orestes will return to exact vengeance for the murder of his father.

WATCHMAN
[Upon the roof of the palace of Agamemnon at Argos.]
[1] Release from this weary task of mine has been my plea to the gods throughout this long year's watch, in which, lying upon the palace roof of the Atreidae, upon my bent arm, like a dog, I have learned to know well the gathering of the night's stars, those radiant potentates conspicuous in the firmament, bringers of winter and summer to mankind [the constellations, when they rise and set].

[8] So now I am still watching for the signal-flame, the gleaming fire that is to bring news from Troy and  tidings of its capture. For thus commands my queen, woman in passionate heart and man in strength of purpose. And whenever I make here my bed, restless and dank with dew and unvisited by dreams—for instead of sleep fear stands ever by my side, so that I cannot close my eyelids fast in sleep—and whenever I care to sing or hum (and thus apply an antidote of song to ward off drowsiness), then my tears start forth, as I bewail the fortunes of this house of ours, not ordered for the best as in days gone by. But tonight may there come a happy release from my weary task! May the fire with its glad tidings flash through the gloom!

[The signal fire suddenly flashes out.]
[22] Oh welcome, you blaze in the night, a light as if of day, you harbinger of many a choral dance in Argos in thanksgiving for this glad event! What ho! What ho! To Agamemnon's queen I thus cry aloud the signal to rise from her bed, and as quickly as she can to lift up in her palace halls a shout of joy in welcome of this fire, if the city of Ilium truly is taken, as this beacon unmistakably announces. And I will make an overture with a dance upon my own account; for my lord's lucky roll I shall count to my own score, now that this beacon has thrown me triple six.

[34] Ah well, may the master of the house come home and may  I clasp his welcome hand in mine! For the rest I stay silent; a great ox stands upon my tongue1—yet the house itself, could it but speak, might tell a plain enough tale; since, for my part, by my own choice I have words for those who know, and to those who do not know, I've lost my memory.

[He descends by an inner stairway; attendants kindle fires at the altars placed in front of the palace. Enter the chorus of Argive Elders.]

CHORUS
[40] This is now the tenth year since Priam's mighty adversary, king Menelaus, and with him king Agamemnon, the mighty pair of Atreus' sons, joined in honor of throne and sceptre by Zeus, set forth from this land with an army of a thousand ships manned by Argives, a warrior force to champion their cause.

[47] Loud rang the battle-cry they uttered in their rage, just as eagles scream which, in lonely grief for their brood, rowing with the oars of their wings, wheel high over their bed, because they have lost the toil of guarding their nurslings' nest.

[54] But some one of the powers supreme—Apollo perhaps or Pan, or Zeus—hears the shrill wailing scream of the clamorous birds, these sojourners in his realm, and against the transgressors sends vengeance at last though late. Even so Zeus, whose power is over all, Zeus, lord of host and guest, sends against Alexander the sons of Atreus, that for the sake of a woman with many husbands2 he may inflict many and wearying struggles (when the knee is pressed in the dust and  the spear is splintered in the onset) on Danaans and on Trojans alike.

[66] The case now stands where it stands—it moves to fulfilment at its destined end. Not by offerings burned in secret, not by secret libations, not by tears, shall man soften the stubborn wrath of unsanctified sacrifices.3

[71] But we, incapable of service by reason of our aged frame, discarded from that martial mustering of long ago, wait here at home, supporting on our canes a strength like a child's. For just as the vigor of youth, leaping up within the breast, is like that of old age, since the war-god is not in his place; so extreme age, its leaves already withering, goes its way on triple feet, and, no better than a child, wanders, a dream that is dreamed by day.

[83] But, O daughter of Tyndareôs, Queen Clytaemestra, what has happened? What news do you have? On what intelligence and convinced by what report do you send about your messengers to command sacrifice? For all the gods our city worships, the gods supreme, the gods below, the gods of the heavens and of the marketplace, have their altars ablaze with offerings. Now here, now there, the flames rise high as heaven, yielding to the soft and guileless persuasion of holy ointment, the sacrificial oil itself brought from the inner chambers of the palace. Of all this declare whatever you can and dare reveal, and be a healer of my uneasy heart. This now at one moment bodes ill, while then again hope, shining with kindly light from the sacrifices, wards off the biting care of the sorrow that gnaws my heart.

[104] I have the power to proclaim the augury of triumph given on their way  to princely men—since my age4 still breathes Persuasion upon me from the gods, the strength of song—how the twin-throned command of the Achaeans,  the single-minded captains of Hellas' youth, with avenging spear and arm against the Teucrian land, was sent off by the inspiring omen appearing to the kings of the ships—kingly birds, one black, one white of tail, near the palace, on the spear-hand,5 in a conspicuous place, devouring a hare with offspring unborn caught in the last effort to escape.6 Sing the song of woe, the song of woe, but may the good prevail!

[122] Then the wise seer of the host, noticing how the two warlike sons of Atreus were two in temper, recognized the devourers of the hare as the leaders of the army, and thus interpreted the portent and spoke: “In time those who here issue forth shall seize Priam's town, and fate shall violently ravage before its towered walls all the public store of cattle. Only may no jealous god-sent wrath cast its shadow upon the embattled host, the mighty bit forged for Troy's mouth, and strike it before it reaches its goal! For, in her pity, holy Artemis is angry at the winged hounds of her father, for they sacrifice a wretched timorous thing, together with her young, before she has brought them forth. An abomination to her is the eagles' feast.” Sing the song of woe, the song of woe, but may the good prevail!

[140] “Although, O Lovely One, you are so gracious to the tender whelps of fierce lions, and take delight in the suckling young of every wild creature that roams the field, promise that the issue be brought to pass in accordance with these signs, portents auspicious yet filled with ill. And I implore Paean,7 the healer, that she may not raise adverse gales with long delay to stay the Danaan fleet from putting forth, by urging another sacrifice, one that knows no law, unsuited for feast, worker of family strife, dissolving wife's reverence for husband. For there abides wrath—terrible, not to be suppressed, a treacherous guardian of the home, a wrath that never forgets and that exacts vengeance for a child.”

[156] Such utterances of doom, derived from auguries on the march, together with many blessings, did Calchas proclaim to the royal house; and in harmony with this. Sing the song of woe, the song of woe, but may the good prevail!

[160] Zeus, whoever he may be,—if by this name it pleases him to be invoked, by this name I call to him—as I weigh all things in the balance, I have nothing to compare save “Zeus,” if in truth I must cast aside this vain burden from my heart. He8 who once was mighty, swelling with insolence for every fight, he shall not even be named as having ever existed; and he9 who arose later, he has met his overthrower and is past and gone. But whoever willingly sings a victory song for Zeus, he shall gain wisdom altogether—Zeus, who sets mortals on the path to understanding, Zeus, who has established as a fixed law that “wisdom comes by suffering.” But even as trouble, bringing memory of pain, drips over the mind in sleep, so wisdom comes to men, whether they want it or not. Harsh, it seems to me, is the grace of gods enthroned upon their awful seats.

[183] So then the captain of the Achaean ships, the elder of the two—holding no seer at fault, bending to the adverse blasts of fortune, when the Achaean folk, on the shore over against Chalcis in the region where Aulis' tides surge to and fro, were very distressed by opposing winds and failing stores. The breezes that blew from the Strymon, bringing harmful leisure, hunger, and tribulation of spirit in a cruel port, idle wandering of men, and sparing neither ship nor cable, began, by doubling the season of their stay, to rub away and wither the flower of Argos; and when the seer, pointing to Artemis as cause, proclaimed to the chieftains another remedy, more oppressive even than the bitter storm, so that the sons of Atreus struck the ground with their canes and did not stifle their tears—

[205] Then the elder king spoke and said: “It is a hard fate to refuse obedience, and hard, if I must slay my child, the glory of my home, and at the altar-side stain a father's hand with streams of virgin's blood. Which of these courses is not filled with evil? How can I become a deserter to my fleet and fail my allies in arms? For that they should with all too impassioned passion crave a sacrifice to lull the winds—even a virgin's blood—stands within their right. May all be for the best.”

[217] But when he had donned the yoke of Necessity, with veering of mind, impious, unholy, unsanctified, from that moment he changed his intention and began to conceive that deed of uttermost audacity. For wretched delusion, counsellor of ill, primal source of woe, makes mortals bold. So then he hardened his heart to sacrifice his daughter so that he might further a war waged to avenge a woman, and as an offering for the voyage of a fleet!

[227] For her supplications, her cries of “Father,” and her virgin life, the commanders in their eagerness for war cared nothing. Her father, after a prayer, bade his ministers lay hold of her as, enwrapped in her robes, she lay fallen forward, nd with stout heart to raise her, as if she were a young goat, high above the altar; and with a gag upon her lovely mouth to hold back the shouted curse against her house—by the bit's strong and stifling might.

[238] Then, as she shed to earth her saffron robe, she struck each of her sacrificers with a glance from her eyes beseeching pity, looking as if in a picture, wishing she could speak; for she had often sung where men met at her father's hospitable table,  and with her virgin voice would lovingly honor her dear father's prayer for blessing at the third libation10

[248] What happened next I did not see and do not tell. The art of Calchas was not unfulfilled. Justice inclines her scales so that wisdom comes at the price of suffering. But the future, that you shall know when it occurs; till then, leave it be—it is just as someone weeping ahead of time. Clear it will come, together with the light of dawn. [Enter Clytaemestra.] But as for what shall follow, may the issue be happy, even as she wishes, our sole guardian here, the bulwark of the Apian land, who stands nearest to our lord.

[258] I have come, Clytaemestra, in obedience to your royal authority; for it is fitting to do homage to the consort of a sovereign prince when her husband's throne is empty. Now whether the news you have heard is good or ill, and you do make sacrifice with hopes that herald gladness, I wish to hear; yet, if you would keep silence, I make no complaint.

CLYTAEMESTRA
[264] As herald of gladness, with the proverb, may Dawn be born from her mother Night! You shall hear joyful news surpassing all your hopes—the Argives have taken Priam's town!

CHORUS
[268] What have you said? The meaning of your words has escaped me, so incredible they seemed.

CLYTAEMESTRA
[269] I said that Troy is in the hands of the Achaeans. Is my meaning clear?

CHORUS
[270] Joy steals over me, and it challenges my tears.

CLYTAEMESTRA
[271] Sure enough, for your eye betrays your loyal heart.

CHORUS
[272] What then is the proof? Have you evidence of this?

CLYTAEMESTRA
[273] I have, indeed; unless some god has played me false.

CHORUS
[274] Do you believe the persuasive visions of dreams?

CLYTAEMESTRA
[275] I would not heed the fancies of a slumbering brain.

CHORUS
[276] But can it be some pleasing rumor that has fed your hopes?

CLYTAEMESTRA
[277] Truly you scorn my understanding as if it were a child's.

CHORUS
[278] But at what time was the city destroyed?

CLYTAEMESTRA
[279] In the night, I say, that has but now given birth to this day here.

CHORUS
[280] And what messenger could reach here with such speed?

CLYTAEMESTRA
[281] Hephaestus, from Ida speeding forth his brilliant blaze. Beacon passed beacon on to us by courier-flame: Ida, to the Hermaean crag in Lemnos; to the mighty blaze upon the island succeeded, third, the summit of Athos sacred to Zeus; and, soaring high aloft so as to leap across the sea, the flame, travelling joyously onward in its strength the pinewood torch, its golden-beamed light, as another sun, passing the message on to the watchtowers of Macistus.  He, delaying not nor carelessly overcome by sleep, did not neglect his part as messenger. Far over Euripus' stream came the beacon-light and signalled to the watchmen on Messapion. They, kindling a heap of withered heather, lit up their answering blaze and sped the message on. The flame, now gathering strength and in no way dimmed, like a radiant moon overleaped the plain of Asopus to Cithaeron's ridges, and roused another relay of missive fire. Nor did the warders there disdain the far-flung light, but made a blaze higher than their commands. Across Gorgopus' water shot the light, reached the mount of Aegiplanctus, and urged the ordinance of fire to make no delay. Kindling high with unstinted force a mighty beard of flame, they sped it forward so that, as it blazed, it passed even the headland that looks upon the Saronic gulf; until it swooped down when it reached the lookout, near to our city, upon the peak of Arachnaeus; and next upon this roof of the Atreidae it leapt, this very fire not undescended from the Idaean flame. Such are the torch-bearers I have arranged, completing the course in succession one to the other; and the victor is he who ran both first and last.11 This is the kind of proof and token I give you, the message of my husband from Troy to me.

CHORUS
[317] Lady, my prayers of thanksgiving to the gods I will offer soon. But as I would like to hear and satisfy my wonder at your tale straight through to the end, so may you tell it yet again.

CLYTAEMESTRA
[320] This day the Achaeans hold Troy. Within the town there sounds loud, I believe, a clamor of voices which will not blend. Pour vinegar and oil into the same vessel and you will say that, as foes, they keep apart; so the cries of vanquished and victors greet the ear, distinct as their fortunes are diverse. Those, flung upon the corpses of their husbands and their brothers, children upon the bodies of their aged fathers who gave them life, bewail from lips no longer free the death of their dearest ones, while these—a night of restless toil after battle sets them down famished to break their fast on such fare as the town affords; not faring according to rank, but as each man has drawn his lot by chance. And even now they are quartered in the captured Trojan homes, delivered from the frosts and dew of the naked sky, and like happy men will sleep all the night without a guard.

[338] Now if they keep clear of guilt towards the gods of the town—those of the conquered land—and towards their shrines, the captors shall not be made captives in their turn. Only may no mad impulse first assail the army, overmastered by greed, to pillage what they should not! For to win safe passage home they need to travel back the other length of their double course. But even if, without having offended the gods, our troops should reach home, the grievous suffering of the dead might still remain awakeif no fresh disaster transpires. These are my woman's words; but may the good prevail clearly for all to see! For, choosing thus, I have chosen the enjoyment of many a blessing.

CHORUS
[351] Lady, you speak as wisely as a prudent man. And, for my part, now that I have listened to your certain proofs, I prepare to address due prayers of thanksgiving to the gods; for a success has been achieved that well repays the toil.

[355] Hail, sovereign Zeus, and you kindly Night, you who have given us great glory, you who cast your meshed snare upon the towered walls of Troy, so that neither old nor young could overleap  the huge enslaving net of all-conquering Destruction. Great Zeus it is, lord of host and guest, whom I reverehe has brought this to pass. He long kept his bow bent against Alexander until his bolt would neither fall short of the mark nor, flying beyond the stars, be launched in vain.

[367] “The stroke of Zeus” they may call it; his hand can be traced there. As he determines, so he acts. Someone said that the gods do not trouble themselves to remember mortals who trample underfoot the grace of things not to be touched. But that man was impious!

[374] Now it stands revealed! The penalty for reckless crime is ruin when men breathe a spirit of pride above just measure, because their mansions teem with more abundance than is good for them. But let there be such wealth as brings no distress, enough to satisfy a sensible man. For riches do not protect the man who in wantonness has kicked the mighty altar of Justice into obscurity.

[385] Perverse Temptation, the overmastering child of designing Destruction, drives men on; and every remedy is futile. His evil is not hidden; it shines forth, a baleful gleam. Like base metal beneath the touchstone's rub, when tested he shows the blackness of his grain (for he is like a child who chases a winged bird) and upon his people he brings a taint against which there is no defence. No god listens to his prayers. The man associated with such deeds, him they destroy in his unrighteousness.

[399] And such was Paris, who came to the house of the sons of Atreus and dishonoured the hospitality of his host by stealing away a wedded wife.

[403] But she, bequeathing to her people the clang of shield and spear and army of fleets, and bringing to Ilium destruction in place of dowry, with light step she passed through the gates—daring a deed undareable. Then loud wailed the seers of the house crying,  “Alas, alas, for the home, the home, and for the princes! Alas for the husband's bed and the impress of her form so dear! He sits apart in the anguish of his grief, silent, dishonored but making no reproach. In his yearning for her who sped beyond the sea, a phantom will seem to be lord of the house. The grace of fair-formed statues is hateful to him; and in the hunger of his eyes all loveliness is departed.

[420] Mournful apparitions come to him in dreams, bringing only vain joy; for vainly, whenever in his imagination a man sees delights, straightaway the vision, slipping through his arms, is gone, winging its flight along the paths of sleep.Such are the sorrows at hearth and home, but here are sorrows surpassing these; and at large, in every house of all who went forth together from the land of Hellas, unbearable grief is seen. Many things pierce the heart. Each knows whom he sent forth. But to the home of each come urns and ashes,12 not living men.

[437] Ares barters the bodies of men for gold; he holds his balance in the contest of the spear; and back from Ilium to their loved ones he sends a heavy dust passed through his burning, a dust cried over with plenteous tears, in place of men sending well made urns with ashes. So they lament, praising now this one: “How skilled in battle!” now that one: “Fallen nobly in the carnage,”—“for another's wife—” some mutter in secret, and  grief charged with resentment spreads stealthily against the sons of Atreus, champions in the strife. But there far from home, around the city's walls, those in their beauty's bloom have graves in Ilium—the enemy's soil has covered its conquerors.

[456] Dangerous is a people's voice charged with wrath—it acts as a curse of publicly ratified doom.  In anxious fear I wait to hear something shrouded still in gloom. The gods are not blind to men with blood upon their hands. In the end the black Spirits of Vengeance bring to obscurity that one who has prospered in unrighteousness and wear down his fortunes by reverse. Once a man is among the unseen, there is no more help for him. Glory in excess is fraught with peril; the lofty peak is struck by Zeus' thunderbolt. I choose prosperity unassailed by envy. May I not be a sacker of cities, and may I not myself be despoiled and live to see my own life in another's power!

(ONE ELDER)
[475] Heralded by a beacon of good tidings a swift report has spread throughout the town. Yet whether it is true, or some deception of the gods, who knows?

(A SECOND ELDER)
[479] Who is so childish or so bereft of sense, once he has let his heart be fired by sudden news of a beacon fire, to despair if the story changes?

(A THIRD ELDER)
[483] It is just like a woman's eager nature to yield assent to pleasing news before yet the truth is clear.

(A FOURTH ELDER)
[485] Too credulous, a woman's mind has boundaries open to quick encroachment; but quick to perish is rumor spread by a woman.

(LEADER OF THE CHORUS)
[489] We shall soon know about this passing on of flaming lights and beacon signals and fires, whether they perhaps are true or whether, dream-like, this light's glad coming has beguiled our senses. Look! I see approaching from the shore a herald crowned with boughs of olive. The thirsty dust, consorting sister of the mud,13 assures me that neither by pantomime nor by kindling a flame of mountain wood will he signal with smoke of fire. Either in plain words he will bid us to rejoice the more, or—but I have little love for the report opposite to this! May still further good be added to the good that has appeared!

(ANOTHER ELDER)
[501] Whoever makes this prayer with other intent toward the state, let him reap himself the fruit of his misguided purpose!

[Enter a Herald]

HERALD
[503] All hail, soil of Argos, land of my fathers! On this happy day in the tenth year I have come to you. Many hopes have shattered, one only have I seen fulfilled; for I never dared to dream that here in this land of Argos I should die and have due portion of burial most dear to me. Now blessings on the land, blessings on the light of the sun, and blessed be Zeus, the land's Most High, and the Pythian lord; and may he launch no more his shafts against us. Enough of your hostility did you display by Scamander's banks; but now, in other mood, be our preserver and our healer, O lord Apollo. And the gods gathered here, I greet them all; him, too, my own patron, Hermes, beloved herald, of heralds all revered; and the heroes14 who sped us forth, I pray that they may receive back in kindliness the remnant of the host which has escaped the spear.

[519] Hail, halls of our kings, beloved roofs, and you august seats, and you divinities that face the sun,15 if ever you did in days gone by, now after long lapse of years, with gladness in your eyes receive your king. For bearing light in darkness to you and to all assembled here alike, he has returned— Agamemnon, our king. Oh greet him well, as is right, since he has uprooted Troy with the mattock of Zeus the Avenger, with which her soil has been uptorn. Demolished are the altars and the shrines of her gods; and the seed of her whole land has been wasted utterly. Upon the neck of Troy he has cast such a yoke. Now he has come home, our king, Atreus' elder son, a man of happy fate, worthy of honor beyond all living men. For neither Paris nor his partner city can boast that the deed was greater than the suffering. Convicted for robbery and for theft as well, he has lost the plunder and has razed in utter destruction his father's house and even the land. The sons of Priam have paid a twofold penalty for their sins.

CHORUS
[538] Joy to you, Herald from the Achaean host!

HERALD
[539] I do rejoice. I will no longer refuse to die, if that pleases the gods.

CHORUS
[540] Was it yearning for this your fatherland that wore you out?

HERALD
[541] Yes, so that my eyes are filled with tears for joy.

CHORUS
[542] It was then a pleasing malady from which you suffered.

HERALD
[543] How so? Teach me, and I shall master what you say.

CHORUS
[544] You were smitten with desire for those who returned your love.

HERALD
[545] Do you mean that our land longed for the longing host?

CHORUS
[546] Longed so, that often from a darkly brooding spirit I have sighed.

HERALD
[547] Where did this gloom of melancholy upon your spirit come from?

CHORUS
[548] Long since have I found silence an antidote to harm.

HERALD
[549] How so? Did you fear anyone when our princes were gone?

CHORUS
[550] In such fear that now, in your own words, even death would be great joy.

HERALD
[551] Yes, all's well, well ended. Yet, of what occurred in the long years, one might well say that part fell out happily, and part in turn amiss. But who, unless he is a god, is free from suffering all his days? For were I to recount our hardships and our wretched quarters, the scanty space and the sorry berths—what did we not have to complain of . . .16 Then again, ashore, there was still worse to loathe; for we had to lie down close to the enemy's walls, and the drizzling from the sky and the dews from the meadows distilled upon us, working constant destruction to our clothes and filling our hair with vermin.

[563] And if one were to tell of the wintry cold, past all enduring, when Ida's snow slew the birds; or of the heat, when upon his waveless noonday couch, windless the sea sank to sleep—but why should we bewail all this? Our labor's past; past for the dead so that they will never care even to wake to life again. Why should we count the number of the slain, or why should the living feel pain at their past harsh fortunes? Our misfortunes should, in my opinion, bid us a long farewell. For us, the remnant of the Argive host, the gain has the advantage and the loss does not bear down the scale; so that, as we speed over land and sea, it is fitting that we on this bright day make this boast:17 “The Argive army, having taken Troy at last, has nailed up these spoils to be a glory for the gods throughout Hellas in their shrines from days of old.” Whoever hears the story of these deeds must extol the city and the leaders of her host; and the grace of Zeus that brought them to accomplishment shall receive its due measure of gratitude. There, you have heard all that I have to say.

CHORUS
[583] Your words have proved me wrong. I do not deny it; for the old have ever enough youth to learn aright. But these tidings should have most interest for the household and Clytaemestra, and at the same time enrich me.

[Enter Clytaemestra.]

CLYTAEMESTRA
[587] I raised a shout of triumph in my joy long before this, when the first flaming messenger arrived by night, telling that Ilium was captured and overthrown. Then there were some who chided me and said: “Are you so convinced by beacon-fires as to think that Troy has now been sacked? Truly, it is just like a woman to be elated in heart.” By such taunts I was made to seem as if my wits were wandering. Nevertheless I still held on with my sacrifice, and throughout all the quarters of the city, according to their womanly custom, they raised a shout of happy praise while in the shrines of the gods they lulled to rest the fragrant spice-fed flame.

[598] So now why should you rehearse to me the account at length? From the king himself I shall hear the whole tale; but I should hasten to welcome my honored husband best on his return. For what joy is sweeter in a woman's eyes than to unbar the gates for her husband when God has spared him to return from war? Give this message to my husband: let him come with all speed, his country's fond desire, come to find at home his wife faithful, even as he left her, a watchdog of his house, loyal to him, a foe to those who wish him ill; yes, for the rest, unchanged in every part; in all this length of time never having broken any seal. Of pleasure from any other man or of scandalous repute I know no more than of dyeing bronze.
[Exit.]

HERALD
[613] A boast like this, loaded full with truth, does not shame the speech of a noble wife.

CHORUS
[615] Thus has she spoken for your schooling, but speciously for those that can interpret right. But, Herald, say—I want to hear of Menelaus. Has he, our land's dear lord, travelled safe home and has he returned with you?

HERALD
[620] It would be impossible to report false news so fair that those I love should take pleasure for long.

CHORUS
[622] Oh if only you could tell tidings true yet good! It is not easy to conceal when true and good are split apart.

HERALD
[624] The prince was swept from the sight of the Achaean host, himself, and his ship likewise. I speak no lies.

CHORUS
[626] Did he put forth in sight of all from Ilium, or did a storm, distressing all in common, snatch him from the fleet?

HERALD
[628] Like a master bowman you have hit the mark; a long tale of distress have you told in brief.

CHORUS
[630] Did the general voice of other voyagers bring news of him as alive or dead?

HERALD
[632] None knows to give clear report of this—except only the Sun that fosters life upon the earth.

CHORUS
[634] How then do you say rose the storm by the wrath of the gods upon the naval host and passed away?

HERALD
[636] An auspicious day one should not mar with a tale of misfortune—the honor due to the gods keeps them apart.18 When a messenger with gloomy countenance reports to a people dire disaster of its army's routone common wound inflicted on the State, while from many a home many a victim is devoted to death by the two-handled whip beloved of Ares, destruction double-armed, a gory pair—when, I say, he is packed with woes like this, he should sing the triumph-song of the Avenging Spirits.

[646] But when one comes with glad news of deliverance to a city rejoicing in its happiness—how shall I mix fair with foul in telling of the storm, not unprovoked by the gods' wrath, that broke upon the Achaeans? For fire and sea, beforehand bitterest of foes, swore alliance and as proof destroyed the unhappy Argive army. In the night-time arose the mischief from the cruel swells. Beneath blasts from Thrace ship dashed against ship; and they, gored violently by the furious hurricane and rush of pelting rain, were swept out of sight by the whirling gust of an evil shepherd.19 But when the radiant light of the sun rose we beheld the Aegean flowering with corpses of Achaean men and wreckage of ships. Ourselves, however, and our ship, its hull unshattered, some power, divine not human, preserved by stealth or intercession, laying hand upon its helm; and Savior Fortune chose to sit aboard our craft so that it should neither take in the swelling surf at anchorage nor drive upon a rock-bound coast. Then, having escaped death upon the deep, in the clear bright day, scarce crediting our fortune, we brooded in anxious thought over our late mischance, our fleet distressed and sorely buffeted. So now, if any of them still draw the breath of life, they speak of us as lost—and why should they not? We think the same of them. But may all turn out for the best! For Menelaus, indeed; first and foremost expect him to return. At least if some beam of the sun finds him alive and well, by the design of Zeus, who has not yet decided utterly to destroy the race, there is some hope that he will come home again. Hearing so much, be assured that you hear the truth.
[Exit.]

CHORUS
[681] Who can have given a name so altogether true—was it some power invisible guiding his tongue aright by forecasting of destiny?—who named that bride of the spear and source of strife with the name of Helen? For, true to her name, a Hell she proved to ships, Hell to men, Hell to city, when stepping forth from her delicate and costly-curtained bower, she sailed the sea before the breath of earth-born Zephyrus. And after her a goodly host of warrior huntsmen followed on the oars' vanished track in pursuit of a quarry that had beached its boat on Simois' leafy banks—in a strife to end in blood.

[699] To Ilium, its purpose fulfilling, Wrath brought a marriage rightly named a mourning,20 exacting in later time requital for the dishonor done to hospitality and to Zeus, the partaker of the hearth, upon those who with loud voice celebrated the song in honor of the bride, even the bridegroom's kin to whom it fell that day to raise the marriage-hymn. But Priam's city has learned, in her old age, an altered strain, and now, I trust, wails a loud song, full of lamentation, calling Paris “evil-wed”; for she has born the burden of a life in which everything was destroyed, a life full of lamentation because of  the wretched slaughter of her sons.

[716] Even so a man reared in his house a lion's whelp, robbed of its mother's milk yet still desiring the breast. Gentle it was in the prelude of its life, kindly to children, and a delight to the old. Much did it get, held in arms like a nursling child, with its bright eye turned toward his hand, and fawning under compulsion of its belly's need.

[727] But brought to full growth by time it showed the nature it had from its parents. Unbidden, as payment for its fostering, it prepared a feast with ruinous slaughter of the flocks; so that the house was defiled with blood, and whose who lived there could not control their anguish, and great was the carnage far and wide. A priest of ruin, by order of a god, it was reared in the house.

[737] At first, I would say, there came to Ilium the spirit of unruffled calm, a delicate ornament of wealth, a darter of soft glances from the eye, love's flower that stings the heart. Then, swerving from her course, she brought her marriage to a bitter end, sped on to the children of Priam under escort of Zeus, the warder of host and guest, ruining her sojourn and her companions, a vengeful Fury who brought tears to brides.

[750] A venerable utterance proclaimed of old has been fashioned among mankind: the prosperity of man, when it has come to full growth, engenders offspring and does not die childless, and from his good fortune there springs up insatiable misery.

[756] But I hold my own mind and think apart from other men. It is the evil deed that afterwards begets more iniquity like its own breed; but when a house is righteous, the lot of its children is blessed always.

[763] But an old Hubris tends to bring forth in evil men, sooner or later, at the fated hour of birth, a young Hubris and that irresistible, unconquerable, unholy spirit, Recklessness, and for the household black Curses, which resemble their parents.

[773] But Righteousness shines in smoke-begrimed dwellings and esteems the virtuous man. From gilded mansions, where men's hands are foul, she departs with averted eyes and makes her way to pure homes; she does not worship the power of wealth stamped counterfeit by the praise of men, and she guides all things to their proper end.

[Enter Agamemnon and Cassandra, in a chariot, with a numerous retinue.]
[782] All hail, my King, sacker of Troy, off-spring of Atreus! How shall I greet you? How shall I do you homage, not overshooting or running short of the due measure of courtesy? Many of mortal men put appearance before truth and thereby transgress the right.Every one is ready to heave a sigh over the unfortunate, but no sting of true sorrow reaches the heart; and in seeming sympathy they join in others' joy, forcing their faces into smiles. But whoever is a discerning shepherd of his flock cannot be deceived by men's eyes which, while they feign loyalty of heart, only fawn upon him with watery affection.21

[799] Now in the past, when you marshaled the army in Helen's cause, you were depicted in my eyes (for I will not hide it from you) most ungracefully and as not rightly guiding the helm of your mind in seeking through your sacrifices to bring courage to dying men.

[804] But now, from the depth of my heart and with no lack of love their toil is joy to those who have won success. In course of time you shall learn by enquiry who of your people has been an honest, and who an unfitting guardian of the State.

AGAMEMNON
[810] Argos first, as is right and proper, I greet, and her local gods who have helped me to my safe return and to the justice I exacted from Priam's town. For listening to no pleadings by word of mouth,22 without dissenting voice, they cast into the bloody urn their ballots for the murderous destroying of Ilium; but to the urn of acquittal that no hand filled, Hope alone drew near. The smoke even now still declares the city's fall. Destruction's blasts still live, and the embers, as they die, breathe forth rich fumes of wealth. For this success we should render to the gods a return in ever-mindful gratitude, seeing that we have thrown round the city the toils of vengeance, and in a woman's cause it has been laid low by the fierce Argive beast, brood of the horse,23 a shield-armed folk, that launched its leap when the Pleiades waned. Vaulting over its towered walls, the ravening lion lapped up his fill of princely blood.

[829] For the gods then I have stretched out this prelude. But, touching your sentiments—which I heard and still bear in memory—I both agree and you have in me an advocate. For few there are among men in whom it is inborn to admire without envy a friend's good fortune. For the venom of malevolence settles upon the heart and doubles the burden of him who suffers from that plague: he is himself weighed down by his own calamity, and groans to see another's prosperity. From knowledge—for well I know the mirror of companionship—I may call a shadow of a shade those who feigned exceeding loyalty to me.24 Only Odysseus, the very man who sailed against his will, once harnessed, proved my zealous yoke-fellow. This I affirm of him whether he is alive or dead.

[844] But, for the rest, in what concerns the State and public worship, we shall appoint open debates and consider. Where all goes well, we must take counsel so that it may long endure; but whenever there is need of healing remedy, we will by kind appliance of cautery or the knife endeavor to avert the mischief of the disease.

[851] And now I will pass to my palace halls and to my household hearth, and first of all pay greeting to the gods. They who sent me forth have brought me home again. May victory, now that it has attended me, remain ever with me constant to the end!
[He descends from his chariot.]

CONTINUED

1. A proverbial expression (of uncertain origin) for enforced silence; cf. fr. 176, “A key stands guard upon my tongue.”
2. Menelaus, Paris, Deiphobus.
3. “Unsanctified,” literally “fireless,” “that will not burn.” A veiled reference either to the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Agamemnon and the wrath of Clytaemestra, or to Paris' violation of the laws of hospitality that provoked the anger of Zeus.
4. sumphutos aiôn, literally “life that has grown with me,” “time of life,” here “old age,” as the Scholiast takes it; cf. Mrs. Barbauld, “Life. We've been long together.”
5. The right hand.
6. The Scholiast, followed by Hermann and some others, takes laginan gennan as a periphrasis for lagôon, with which blabenta agrees (cp. pasa genna ... dôsôn Eur. Tro. 531). With Hartung's phermata, the meaning is “the brood of a hare, the burden of her womb, thwarted of their final course. loisthiôn dromôn, on this interpretation, has been thought to mean “their final course” (towards birth) or even their “future racings.”
7. Apollo; who is implored to divert his sister Artemis from accomplishing the evil part of the omen
8. Uranus.
9. Cronus.
10. At the end of a banquet, libations were offered 1. to Zeus and Hera, or to the Olympian gods in general, 2. to the Heroes, 3. to Zeus, the Saviour; then came the paean, or song, after which the symposium began.

11. The light kindled on Mt. Ida is conceived as starting first and finishing last; the light from Mt. Arachnaeus, as starting last and finishing first.
12. This passage, in which war is compared to a gold-merchant, is charged with double meanings: talantouchos, “balance” and “scales of battle,” purôthen of “purified” gold-dust and of the “burnt” bodies of the slain, baru, “heavy” and “grievous,” antênoros, “the price of a man,” and “instead of men,” lebêtas, “jars” and “funeral urns.”
13. His attire bears evidence of dust and mud. Cp. the description of Sir Walter Blunt, “Stained with the variation of each soil Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours” (Henry IV.).
14. The heroes are the deified spirits of the ancient kings and other illustrious men. In Aesch.
Supp. 25 they are included under the nether powers (chthonioi).
15. Statues of the gods, in front of the palace, placed to front the east.
16. For lachontes in l. 557 numerous emendations have been proposed, e.g. klaiontes, laskontes, chalôntes. êmatos meros probably means “as our day's portion.”
17. Or “to this light of the sun.”
18. To the Olympian gods belong tales of good, to the Erinyes (l. 645) belong tales of misfortune. Some interpret the passage to mean that the honour due to the gods is to be kept apart from pollution through the recital of ills.
19. The “evil shepherd” is the storm that drives the ships, like sheep, from their course.
20. kêdos has a double sense: “marriage-alliance” and “sorrow.”

21. The figure is of wine much diluted.
22. “Not hearing pleadings from the tongue” -- as if the Greeks and Trojans were waging war in words before a human court -- but with divine insight of the true merits of the case.
23. The wooden horse.
24. This version takes homilias katoptron to mean that companionship shows the true character of a man's associates. An alternative rendering takes katoptron in a disparaging sense -- the semblance as opposed to reality -- and makes katoptron, eidôlon and dokountas in apposition.

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