SENECA, HERCULES FURENS 2
 

SENECA INDEX

HERCULES FURENS 1

HERCULES FURENS 2

TROADES

MEDEA

PHAEDRA

OEDIPUS

AGAMEMNON

THYESTES

HERCULES OETAEUS 1

HERCULES OETAEUS 2

PHOENISSAE

HERCULES FURENS, TRANS. BY FRANK JUSTUS MILLER

[Enter HERCULES just returned from the lower world, accompanied by THESEUS; apparently, also, he is leading the dog, CERBERUS, though this point seems less clear as the play develops.]

HERCULES
[592] O lord of kindly light, glory of heaven, who in thy flame-bearing car dost circle both spaces48 of the sky, and dost show thy shining face to the broad lands, pardon, O Phoebus, if any unlawful sight thine eyes have seen; at another’s bidding have I brought to light the hidden things of earth. And thou, O judge and sire of heavenly beings, hide thy face behind thy thunderbolt; and thou who, next in power, dost control the seas, flee to thy lowest waters. Whoever from on high looks down on things of earth, and would not be defiled by a strange, new sight, let him turn away his gaze, lift his eyes to heaven, and shun the portent. Let only two look on this monster – him who brought and her who ordered it. To appoint me penalties and tasks earth is not broad enough for Juno’s hate. I have seen places unapproached by any, unknown to Phoebus, those gloomy spaces which the baser pole hath yielded to infernal Jove; and if the regions of the third estate pleased me, I might have reigned. The chaos of everlasting night, and something worse than night, and the grim gods and the fates – all these I saw and, having flouted death, I have come back. What else remains? I have seen and revealed the lower world. If aught is left to do, give it to me, O Juno; too long already dost thou let my hands lie idle. What dost thou bid me conquer?

[616] But why do hostile soldiers guard the shrine and dreadful arms beset the sacred portal?

AMPHITRYON
[618] Can it be that my hopes deceive my sight, or has that world-subduer, the pride of Greece, come back from the silent halls of mournful gloom? Is that my son? My limbs are numb with joy. O son, sure, though late, deliverance of Thebes, do I really clasp thee risen to upper air, or am I mocked, enjoying but an empty shade? Is it thou indeed? Aye, now I recognize the bulging thews, the shoulders, the hand famed for its huge club.

HERCULES
[626] Whence this squalid garb, father? Why is my wife clad in mourning weeds? Why are my sons covered with loathsome rags? What disaster overwhelms my house?

AMPHITRYON
[629] The father of thy wife is slain; Lycus has seized the throne; thy sons, thy father, thy wife he claims for death.

HERCULES
[631] O ungrateful land, was there none to aid the house of Hercules? Did it see this monstrous wrong, the world I succoured? – but why waste the day in idle plaints? Let the victim49 be offered up, let my manhood bear this brand of shame, and let the final foe of Hercules be – Lycus. I haste me, Theseus, to drain his detested blood; remain thou here, lest some unexpected force assail. War summons me; delay thy embraces, father; wife, delay them. Let Lycus take the news to Dis that now I have returned.
[Exit HERCULES.]

THESEUS
[640] Banish that tearful look from thine eyes, O queen, and do thou,50 since thy son is safe, check thy falling tears. If I know Hercules, Lycus shall pay the penalty he owes to Creon. “Shall pay” is slow – he pays; that, too, is slow – he has paid.

AMPHITRYON
[645] May the god who can, fulfil our desire and favour our fallen estate. And do thou, great-hearted companion of our great son, unfold his heroic deeds in order; tell how long a way leads to the gloomy shades, and how the Tartarean dog bore his galling bonds.

THESEUS
[650] Thou dost force me to recall deeds which strike terror to my soul even in security. Scarcely yet do I trust assuredly to breathe the vital air; the sight of my eyes is dimmed, and my dull vision can scarce bear the unaccustomed light.

AMPHITRYON
[654] But, Theseus, master whate’er of dread yet dwells deep in thy heart and rob not thyself of toils’ best fruit; things ‘twas hard to bear ‘tis pleasant to recall. Tell thou the awful tale.

THESEUS
[658] All the world’s holy powers, and thou51 who rulest the all-holding realm, and thou52 whom, stolen from Enna, thy mother sought in vain, may it be right, I pray, boldly to speak of powers hidden away and buried beneath the earth.

[662] The Spartan land a famous ridge uplifts where Taenarus with its dense forests invades the sea. Here the home of hateful Pluto unbars its mouth; a nigh cliff cracks asunder, and a huge chasm, a bottomless abyss, spreads its vast jaws wide and opens for all peoples a broad path. Not in utter darkness does the way first begin; a slender gleam of the light left behind and a doubtful glow as of the sun in eclipse falls there and cheats the vision. Such light the day mingled with night is wont to give, at early dawn or at late twilight. From here ample spaces spread out, void regions, whereto the entire human race turns and hastens. It is no toil to go; the road itself draws them down. As oft-times the waves sweep on unwilling ships, so does the downward breeze drive, and the greedy void, and never do the clutching shades permit a backward step. Within the abyss, Lethe, measureless in sweep, glides smoothly on with placid stream, and takes away our cares; and, that there may be no power to retrace the path, with windings manifold it takes its sluggish way, even as the vagrant Maeander with its inconstant waters plays along, now retreats upon itself, now presses on, in doubt whether to seek the seashore or its source. The foul pool of Cocytus’ sluggish stream lies here; here the vulture, there the dole-bringing owl utters its cry, and the sad omen of the gruesome screech-owl sounds. The leaves shudder, black with gloomy foliage where sluggish Sleep clings to the overhanging yew, where sad Hunger lies with wasted jaws, and Shame, too late, hides her guilt-burdened face. Dread stalks there, gloomy Fear and gnashing Pain, sable Grief, tottering Disease and iron-girt War; and last of all slow Age supports his steps upon a staff.

AMPHITRYON
[697] Is any land there fruitful of corn or wine?

THESEUS
[698] No meadows bud, joyous with verdant view, no ripened corn waves in the gentle breeze; not any grove has fruit-producing boughs; the barren desert of the abysmal fields lies all untilled, and the foul land lies torpid in endless sloth – sad end of things, the world’s last estate. The air hangs motionless and black night broods over a sluggish world. All things are with grief dishevelled, and worse than death itself is the abode of death.

AMPHITRYON
[707] What of him who holds sway over the dark realm? Where sits he, governing his flitting tribes?

THESEUS
[709] There is a place in dark recess of Tartarus, which with a heavy pall dense mists enshroud. Hence flow from a single source two streams, unlike: one, a placid river (by this do the gods sear), with silent current bears on the sacred Styx; the other with mighty roar rushes fiercely on, rolling down rocks in its flood, Acheron, that cannot be recrossed. The royal hall of Dis stands opposite, girt by a double moat, and the huge house is hid by an o’ershadowing grove. Here in a spacious cavern the tyrant’s doors overhang; this is the road for spirits, this is the kingdom’s gate. A plain lies round about this where sits the god, where with haughty mien his awful majesty assorts the new-arriving souls. Lowering is his brow, yet such as wears the aspect of his brothers and his high race; his countenance is that of Jove, but Jove the thunderer; chief part of that realm’s grimness is its own lord, whose aspect whate’er is dreaded dreads.

AMPHITRYON
[731] Is the report true that in the underworld justice, though tardy, is meted out, and that guilty souls who have forgot their crimes suffer due punishment? Who is that lord of truth, that arbiter of justice?

THESEUS
[731] Not one inquisitor alone sits on the high judgment-seat and allots his tardy sentences to trembling culprits. In yonder court they pass to Cretan Minos’ presence, in that to Rhadamanthus’, here the father53 of Thetis’ spouse gives audience. What each has done, he suffers; upon its author the crime comes back, and the guilty soul is crushed by its own form of guilt. I have seen bloody chiefs immured in prison; the insolent tyrant’s back torn by plebeian hands. He who reigns mildly and, though lord of life, keeps guiltless hands, who mercifully and without bloodshed rules his realm, checking his own spirit, he shall traverse long stretches of happy life and at last gain the skies, or else in bliss reach Elysium’s joyful land and sit in judgment there. Abstain from human blood, all ye who rule: with heavier punishment your sins are judged.

AMPHITRYON
[747] Does any certain place enclose the guilty? and, as rumour has it, do sinners suffer cruel punishment in bonds unending?

THESEUS
[750] Ixion whirls, racked on a flying wheel; a huge stone rests on the neck of Sisyphus; in mid-stream an old man54 with parched lips catches at the waves; the water bathes his chin and, when at last it has given him, though oft deceived, a pledge of faith, the wave perishes at his lips; fruits mock his hunger. To the vulture Tityos gives never-ending feasts; the Danaïdes bear their brimming urns in vain; the impious Cadmeïds roam in their madness, and the ravenous bird55 torments Phineus at his board.

AMPHITRYON
[760] Now tell my son’s famous struggle. Is it his willing uncle’s gift, or his spoil, he brings?

THESEUS
[762] A rock funereal o’erhangs the slothful shoals, where the waves are sluggish and the dull mere is numbed. This stream an old man tends, clad in foul garb and to the sight abhorrent, and ferries over the quaking shades. His beard hangs down unkempt; a knot ties his robe’s misshapen folds; haggard his sunken cheeks; himself his own boatman, with a long pole he directs his craft. Now, having discharged his load, he is turning his boat towards the bank, seeking the ghosts again; Alcides demands passage, while the crowd draws back. Fierce Charon cries: “Whither in such haste, bold man? Halt there thy hastening steps.” Brooking no delay, Alcmena’s son o’erpowers the ferryman with his own pole and climbs aboard. The craft, ample for whole nations, sinks low beneath one man; as he takes his seat the o’erweighted boat with rocking sides drinks in Lethe on either hand. Then the monsters he had conquered are in a panic, the fierce Centaurs and the Lapithae whom too much wine had inflamed to war; and, seeking the farthest fens of the Stygian swamp, Lerna’s labour56 plunges deep his fertile heads.

[782] Next after this there appears the palace of greedy Dis. Here the savage Stygian dog frightens the shades; tossing back and forth his triple heads, with huge bayings he guards the realm. Around his head, foul with corruption, serpents lap, his shaggy man bristles with vipers, and in his twisted tail a long snake hisses. His rage matches his shape. Soon as he feels the stir of feet he raises his head, rough with darting snakes, and with ears erect catches at the onsped sound, wont as he is to hear even the shades. When the son of Jove stood closer, within his cave the dog crouches hesitant and feels a touch of fear. Then suddenly, with deep bayings, he terrifies the silent places; the snakes hiss threateningly along all his shoulders. The clamour of his dreadful voice, issuing from triple throats, fills even the blessed shades with dread. Then from his left arm the hero looses the fierce-grinning jaws, thrusts out before him the Cleonaean57 head and, beneath that huge shield crouching, plies his mighty club with victorious right hand. Now here, now there, with unremitting blows he whirls it, redoubling the strokes. At last the dog, vanquished ceases his threatenings and, spent with struggle, lowers all his heads and yields all wardship of his cavern. Both rulers58 shiver on their throne, and bid lead the dog away. Me also they give as boon to Alcides’ prayer.

[807] Then, stroking the monster’s sullen necks, he binds him with chains of adamant. Forgetful of himself, the watchful guardian of the dusky realm droops his ears, trembling and willing to be led, owns his master, and with muzzle lowered follows after, beating both his sides with snaky tail. But when he came to the Taenarian borders, and the strange gleam of unknown light smote on his eyes, though conquered he regained his courage and in frenzy shook his ponderous chains. Almost he bore his conqueror away, back dragging him, forward bent, and forced him to give ground. Then even to my aid Alcides looked, and with our twofold strength we drew the dog along, mad with rage and attempting fruitless war, and brought him out to earth. But when he saw the bright light of day and viewed the clear spaces of the shining sky, black night rose over him and he turned his gaze to ground, closed tight his eyes and shut out the hated light; backward he turned his face and with all his necks sought the earth; then in the shadow of Hercules he hid his head. – But see, a dense throng comes on, glad shouting, with laurel wreaths upon their brows and chanting the well-won praises of great Hercules.

CHORUS
[830] Eurystheus, brought to the light by birth untimely, had bidden thee explore the world’s foundations; this only was lacking to thy tale of labours, to despoil the king of the third estate. Thou wast bold to enter blind approach, where a way leads to the far-off shades, a gloomy way and fearsome with dark woods, but crowded with vast accompanying throngs.

[838] Great as the host that moves through citystreets, eager to see the spectacle in some new theatre; great as that which pours to the Elean59 Thunderer, when the fifth summer has brought back the sacred games; great as the throng which (when the time comes again for night to lengthen and the balanced Scales, yearning for quiet slumber, check Phoebus’ car) surges to Ceres’ secret rites, and the initiates of Attica, quitting their homes, swiftly hasten to celebrate their night – so great is the throng that is led through the silent plains. Some go slow with age, sad and sated with long life; some still can run, being of happier age – maidens, not yet in wedlock joined, youths with locks still unshorn, and babes that have but lately learned the name of “mother.” To these last alone, that they be not afraid, ‘tis given to lessen night’s gloom by torches borne ahead; the rest move sadly through the dark. O ye dead, what thoughts are yours when, light now banished, each has sorrowing felt his head o’erwhelmed ‘neath all the earth? There are thick chaos, loathsome murk, night’s baleful hue, the lethargy of a silent world and empty clouds.

[864] Late may old age bear us thither! None comes too late unto that land, whence never, when once come, can he return. Why does it please us to hasten cruel fate? For all this throng which wanders up and down the earth’s vast spaces shall go to the world of shades and shall set sail on Cocytus’ lifeless stream. For thee, O Death, all things are growing; all that the setting sun, all that the rising, sees – oh, spare thou those who are sure to come – for thee are we all preparing. Though thou be slow, we hasten of ourselves; the hour which first gave life is plucking it away.

[875] Thebes’ joyful day is here. Lay hold on the altars, ye suppliants; slay the fat victims; let husbands and wives together start up the festal dance; let the tillers of the fertile field lay by the yoke and rest.

[882] Peace reigns by the hand of Hercules from the land of dawn to the evening star, and where the sun, holding mid-heaven, gives to shapes no shadows. Whatever land is washed by Tethys’ far-reaching circuit Alcides’ toil has conquered. He has crossed the streams of Tartarus, subdued the gods of the underworld, and has returned. And now no fear remains; naught lies beyond the underworld.

[893] Now, priest, bedeck thy bristling60 hair with his well-loved poplar.

[Enter HERCULES, fresh from the slaying of LYCUS.]

HERCULES
[895] Felled by my conquering hand, Lycus face down has smitten the earth. Next, whoever had been the tyrant’s comrade lies low, the comrade also of his punishment. And now as victor will I bring offerings to my father and to the heavenly gods, slay victims, and honour the altars with due sacrifice.

[900] Thee, thee, O ally and helper of my toils, I pray, O warlike Pallas, on whose left arm the targe with its petrifying face sends forth fierce threats; may he, too, be near, the tamer61 of Lycurgus and the ruddy sea,62 who bears a spear-point hidden beneath his vine-wreathed staff; and ye, twin deities, Phoebus and Phoebus’ sister, the sister more ready with her arrows, Phoebus with his lyre; and whatever brother of mine dwells in the sky – but not a brother from my stepdame born.

[908] [To his attendants.] Hither drive fat herds; whatever the fields of Indians produce, whatever fragrant thing the Arabs gather from their trees, heap on the altars; let the rich smoke roll on high. Let wreaths of poplar bedeck our hair; but thee, O Theseus, an olive-branch, with thy own race’s leaves, shall crown. The Thunderer shall my hand adore; do thou63 invoke the founders of our city, the wooded caves of savage Zethus, Dirce of far-famed water, and the Tyrian house-gods of our pilgrim king.64 Heap incense on the flames.

AMPHITRYON
[918] O son, first purify thy hands, dripping with thy slaughtered foeman’s blood.

HERCULES
[920] Would that I could pour out to the gods the blood of the man I hate; no more pleasing stream had stained the altars; no greater, richer victim can be sacrificed to Jove than an unrighteous king.

AMPHITRYON
[924] Pray that thy father end thy toils, that at least rest and repose be given to the weary.

HERCULES
[926] Myself will I frame prayers worthy of Jupiter and me: May heaven abide in its own place, and earth and sea; may the eternal stars hold on their way unhindered; may deep peace brood upon the nations; may the harmless country’s toil employ all iron, and may swords lie hid; may no raging tempest stir up the sea, no fires leap forth from angered Jove, no river, fed by winter’s snows, sweep away the uptorn fields. Let poisons cease to be. Let no destructive herb swell with harmful juice. May savage and cruel tyrants rule no more. If earth is still to produce any wickedness, let her make haste, and if she is preparing any monster, let it be mine.65

[The madness planned by JUNO beings to come upon him.]
[939] But what is this? Shadows have begirt midday. Phoebus fares with darkened face though there be no cloud. Who puts the day to flight and drives it back to dawn? Whence does an unfamiliar night rear its black head? Whence do so many stars fill the sky though it is day? See where the lion, my first toil, glows in no small part of heaven, is all hot with rage, and makes ready his fangs. Forthwith he will seize some star; threatening he stands with gaping jaws, and breathes forth fires, and shakes the mane upon his flaming neck; whatever stars sickly autumn and cold winter with its frozen tracts bring back, with one bound will he o’erleap, and attack and crush the neck of the vernal Bull.

AMPHITRYON
[952] What sudden ill is this? Why, my son, dost turn thy keen eyes now here, now there, and look upon an unreal sky with troubled gaze?

HERCULES
[955] The earth has been subdued, the swollen seas are at rest, the infernal realms have felt my onset; heaven is as yet untried, a task worthy of Alcides. To the lofty regions of the universe on high let me make my way, let me seek the skies; the stars are my father’s promise.66 And what if he should not keep his word? Earth has not room for Hercules, and at length restores him unto heaven. See, the whole company of the gods of their own will summons me, and opens wide the door of heaven, with one alone forbidding. And wilt thou unbar the sky and take me in? Or shall I carry off the doors of stubborn heaven? Dost even doubt my power? I’ll free Saturn from his bonds, and against my unfilial67 father’s lawless sway I’ll loose my grandsire. Let the Titans prepare war, with me to lead their rage; rocks, woods and all, will I bring, and with my right hand I’ll snatch up ridges full of Centaurs. Now with twin mountains I’ll construct a pathway to the realms above; Chiron shall see his own Pelion ‘neath Ossa, and Olympus, set as third in order, shall reach clean to heaven – or else I’ll hurl it there!

AMPHITRYON
[973] Have done with these horrible imaginings: Repress the mad fury of thy proud heart, no longer sane.

HERCULES
[976] What’s this? The baleful Giants are taking arms. Tityos has escaped the shades and, with breast all torn and empty, has almost reached the sky. Cithaeron is tottering, lofty Pellene quakes, and Tempe’s beauty fades. Here one Giant has seized Pindus’ peak, there one has seized Oete, while horribly Mimas rages. Fiery Erinys cracks her brandished scourge, and closer, closer yet, holds out before my face brands burnt on funeral pyres. Cruel Tisiphone, her head with snakes encircled, since the dog was stolen away has blocked the empty gate with her outstretched torch.

[He catches sight of his children.]
[987] But look! here lurk the children of the king, my enemy, the abominable spawn of Lycus; to your detested father this hand forthwith shall send you. Let my bowstring discharge swift arrows – so it is meet that the shafts of Hercules should fly.

AMPHITRYON
[991] To what deed is his blind fury driven? He has bent his huge bow, the tips drawn close together; he has opened his quiver; shrilly sings the shaft, discharged with force – it has struck the neck full in the middle and sped out past the wound.

HERCULES
[995] The rest of the brood will I rout out and all their hiding-places. Why delay? A greater struggle awaits me at Mycenae, that there, by these hands overthrown, the Cyclopean rocks may fall.

[He begins to tear at the doors of the shrine in which his remaining sons have taken refuge.]
[999] Let the doors fly, one here, one there, the barriers cast down and burst the posts asunder; let the smitten roof reel. The whole palace is alight; I see hiding there the son of a cursed sire.
[He seizes the child and drags him from the scene.]

AMPHITRYON
[Standing where he can see what is going on within the palace.]
[1002] See how he stretches out coaxing hands to his father’s knees, and with piteous voice begs – oh impious crime, grim and horrid sight! With his right hand he has caught the pleading child, and, madly whirling him again and yet again, has hurled him; his head crashed loudly against the stones; the room is drenched with scattered brains. But Megara, poor woman, sheltering her little son within her bosom, flees like a mad creature from her hiding-place.

HERCULES
[Behind the scene to MEGARA, also behind the scene.]
[1010] Though thou run and hide in the Thunderer’s bosom, everywhence shall this hand seek thee and hale thee forth.

AMPHITRYON
[1012] [To MEGARA.] Wither dost thou flee, poor child? What flight of what hiding-place dost thou seek? There is no place safe from Hercules enraged. Embrace him, rather, and essay to calm him with soothing prayers.

THE VOICE OF MEGARA
[1014] Husband, spare me now, I beg. See, I am Megara. This is thy son, with thine own looks and bearing. See, how he stretches out his hands.

THE VOICE OF HERCULES
[1017] I have caught my stepdame. Come, pay me thy debt, and free o’ermastered Jove from a degrading yoke.68 But before the mother let this little monster perish.

THE VOICE OF MEGARA
[1021] What wouldst thou, madman? Thine own blood wilt thou shed?

AMPHITRYON
[1022] Stricken with terror of his sire’s blazing eyes, the child died ere he felt the blow; fear snatched his life away. Against his wife now he poises his heavy club – her bones are crushed, her head is gone from her mangled body, gone utterly.

[1026] [To himself.] Darest thou abide this sight, O too stubborn age? If thou art weary of grief, death thou hast ready; expose they breast to those shafts, or turn against it that club smeared with our children’s gore. [Calling to HERCULES.] Make away with thy pretended sire, this blot upon thy name, lest he make discord midst thy praise.

CHORUS
[1032] Why, old man, dost wantonly challenge death? Whither wouldst go, senseless? Flee and securely hide thee, and save the hands of Hercules from the crime left.

[Re-enter HERCULES.]

HERCULES
[1035] ‘Tis well; the shameless king’s house is utterly destroyed. To thee, wife of almighty Jove, have I slaughtered this devoted flock; vows worthy of thee have I paid right joyfully, and Argos69 shall give still other victims.

AMPHITRYON
[1039] Not yet hast thou made full atonement, son; complete the sacrifice. See, a victim stands before the altar; with bent neck he awaits the stroke. I offer myself to death, I run to meet it, I follow after it; smite – but what is this? The glance of his eyes wanders, and faintness dulls his vision. Do I see the hands of Hercules a-tremble? His eyelids fall in slumber, and his tired neck sinks beneath his drooping head; now his knees give way and his whole body goes crashing to the ground, like an ash-tree felled in the woods, or a falling mass of rock that will give a breakwater to the sea.

[1048] [To HERCULES.] Livest thou still, or has that same madness given thee to death which sent thy kindred to their doom? [He examines the prostrate body.] He sleeps; his chest heaves with measured breathing. Let him have time for rest, that deep slumber may break the force of his madness and relive his troubled heart. Ye slaves, remove his weapons, lest in rage he seek them yet again.

CHORUS
[1054] Let heaven mourn, and the great father of high heaven, and fertile earth, and wandering waves of the restless main; and thou above all, who ever the lands and stretches of the sea dost shed thy rays, and dispellest night with comely face, O glowing Sun; equally with thee hath Alcides seen the lands of thy setting and thy rising, and hath known both thy dwellings.

[1063] O free his soul from such monstrous ills, free him, ye gods, and turn to better things his darkened spirit. And do thou, O Sleep, vanquisher of woes, rest of the soul, the better part of human life, thou winged son of thy mother Astraea, sluggish brother of cruel Death, thou who dost mingle false with true, sure yet gloomy guide70 to what shall be; O thou, who art peace after wanderings, haven of life, day’s respite and night’s comrade, who comest alike to king and slave, who doest compel the human race, trembling at death, to prepare for unending night – sweetly and gently soothe his weary spirit; hold him fast bound in heavy stupor; let slumber chain his untamed limbs, and leave not his savage breast until his former mind regain its course.

[1082] See, prone on the ground, he revolves in his fierce heart his savage dreams; not yet has the baleful power of so great woe been overcome; wont to recline his weary head on his heavy club, he feels for its ponderous trunk with empty hand, tossing his arms in fruitless movement. Not yet has he dispelled all his surging madness, but as the waves, stirred up by a mighty wind, still keep their long, tumultuous roll, and still are swollen though the wind has ceased, [so does his former rage still rack the hero.] Banish71 the mad passions of thy soul; let the hero’s piety and manly courage come again. Or rather, let his mind still be stirred by uncontrolled emotion; let his blind error go on the way it has begun; madness alone can now make thee innocent. Next best to guiltless hands is ignorance of guilt.

[1100] Now let Hercules’ breast resound beneath the blows of his palms; let those arms that were wont to upbear the universe be smitten by his victorious hands; let the heavens hear his mighty groans, let the queen of the dark world hear, and fierce Cerberus, crouching in his lowest cave, his necks still bound with chains; let Chaos re-echo the outcries of his grief, and the spreading waves of the broad deep, and mid-air which no less had felt thy shafts; the breast beset by so great ills must by no light blow be smitten; with one lamentation three kingdoms must resound. And thou, brave reed, which hung so long as ornament and weapon from his neck, and thou, heavy quiver, lay savage blows on his untamed back; let the stout oak club mangle his strong shoulders with its hard knots bruise his breast; let his weapons make lament for his mighty woes.

[1135] Go ye, ill-fated brood, ye boys, along the gloomy way of your father’s famous task, not destined to be partakers of his praise by taking bloody vengeance on savage kings; never taught in Argive wrestling school to ply the limbs, brave with boxing-glove and brave with hand, never yet taught to wound the maned lion with well-hurled javelin, but yet already bold to poise and throw with steady hand the slender Scythian dart, and shoot the deer that seek safety in flight – go to the haven of the Styx, go, harmless shades whom on the very threshold of life your sire’s mad crime o’ercame; go, go to the presence of the angered kings.72

HERCULES
[Waking up in his right mind.]
[1138] What place is this? What region, what quarter of the world? Where am I? Beneath the sun’s rising or beneath the wheeling course of the frozen Bear? Is this the boundary set to Ocean’s stream by that farthest land on the western sea? What air is this I breathe? What soil lies beneath my weary frame? Surely I have returned to earth –

[His eyes fall on his murdered children.]
[1143] How is it that I see bloody corpses lying before my house? Is my mind not yet free from infernal phantoms? Even after my return do troops of ghastly things still throng before my eyes? With shame I confess it – I am afraid; something, some great calamity my heart forebodes. Where art thou, father? Where is my wife, so proud of her brood of sons? Why is my left shoulder bare of the lion’s spoil? Whither has it gone, that shield of mine, at once a soft couch, too, for the sleep of Hercules? Where are my shafts? my bow? Who ahs been able to steal away my arms while I still live? Who has gained so great spoils of me, and has not shuddered at even a sleeping Hercules? Glad would I be to see my conqueror, glad. Come forth, thou brave hero, whom my sire, leaving heaven, has begotten, a later son, at whose begetting night stood still, longer than at mine –

[He recognizes his dead wife and children.]
[1159] What horror do I see? My sons, with bloody murder destroyed, lie here, my wife lies slain. What Lycus holds sway now? Who ahs dared perpetrate such outrages in Thebes, though Hercules has returned? Whoever dwellest by Ismenus’ stream, on Attic plains, in the kingdom of Dardanian Pelops, lapped by two seas, come to my aid, tell me the doer of this cruel murder. On all let mine anger sweep; my foeman is he who points not out the foe. Vanquisher of Alcides, hidest thou? Come out; whether thou dost seek vengeance for the savage horses of the bloody Thracian73 or for Geryon’s flock, or the Libyan heroes,74 I am ready for the fray. Here I stand defenceless, e’en though with my own arms thou shouldst assail me armourless.

[1173] Why does Theseus avoid my eyes, why does my father? Why do they hide their faces? Postpone your tears. Who ahs given my loved ones to death, all of them at once, tell me – why, father art thou silent? But do thou tell, Theseus! Nay, Theseus, tell me by thy loyalty! – They both in silence turn away and hide their faces as if in shame, while tears steal down their cheeks. In woes so great what room is there for shame? Has the ruthless lord75 of Argos, has the hostile band of dying Lycus, in ruin so vast overwhelmed me? O father, by the glory of my deeds, I pray thee, and by thy sacred name76 always next77 hallowed in my sight, speak out! who has overthrown my house? To whom have I fallen prey?

AMPHITRYON
[1186] In silence, as they may, let troubles pass.

HERCULES
[1187] And I be unavenged?

AMPHITRYON
[1187] Oft vengeance has brought bane.

HERCULES
[1188] Has any e’er borne such woes supinely?

AMPHITRYON
[1189] Yes, he who greater woes has feared.

HERCULES
[1189] But than these, father, can aught still greater of heavier be feared?

AMPHITRYON
[1191] How small the part of thy calamity is that thou knowest!

HERCULES
[1192] Have pity, father; see, I stretch out suppliant hands. What? from my hands he started back – here lurks the sin. Whence this blood? What of that shaft, still dripping with the blood of boys? It has been dipped in Hydra’s gore – ah, now my own weapons do I recognize. No need to ask the hand that used them! Who could have bent the bow or what hand drawn the string which scarce yields to me? I turn to you again; father, is this my deed? Silent still – ‘tis mine.

AMPHITRYON
[1200] Truly the woe is thine; the crime thy stepdame’s. This mischance is free from sin.

HERCULES
[1202] Now from every quarter of the sky, O father, thunder in thy wrath; though thou hast forgotten me, with tardy hand at least avenge thy grandsons. Let the starry heavens resound, and the skies dart lightnings from pole to pole; let the Caspian crags78 claim my fettered body, and let the ravenous bird – Why are Prometheus’ crags unoccupied? Why, the bare, steep side of Caucasus which, on its lofty summit, feeds beasts and birds of prey? Let those clashing rocks79 which confine the Scythian sea stretch my fettered hands apart this way and that o’er the deep, and, when with recurrent change they come together and when, as the crags rush from either side, the rocks force up to heaven the interposing flood, may I lie there the mountains’ tortured curb. Nay, I will build me a huge pile of logs and burn my body spattered with impious gore. Thus, thus must I do – to the nether gods will I give back Hercules.

AMPHITRYON
[1219] His heart, not yet eased of frenzy’s tumult, ahs shifted its wrath’s aim and now, sure sign of madness, he rages against himself.

HERCULES
[1221] Ye dire abodes of fiends, prison-house of the dead, ye regions set apart for the guilty throng, if any place of banishment lies hidden away beneath hell itself, unknown to Cerberus and me, hide me there, O earth; to the remotest bounds of Tartarus will I go and there abide. O heart too fierce! Who can weep worthily for you, my children, scattered through all my house? This face, hardened with woe, has forgotten how to weep. Give my bow here, give me my arrows, here give me my huge club.

[He bends the corpses and addresses each in turn.]
[1231] For thee will I break my shafts, for thee, poor boy, will I rend my bow; but to thy shades my heavy club shall burn; my quiver itself, full of Lerna’s darts, shall go with thee to the pyre. So let my arms pay the penalty. You, too, with my weapons will I burn, O cursed, O stepdame’s hands.

AMPHITRYON
[1237] What man anywhere hath laid on error the name of guilt?

HERCULES
[1238] Oft hath great error held the place of guilt.

AMPHITRYON
[1239] Now must thou be Hercules; bear thou this weight of trouble.

HERCULES
[1240] Shame, quenched by madness, has not so far gone from me that with unhallowed presence I should scare all peoples. Arms, Theseus, my arms! I pray you quickly give back what you have stolen. If my mind is sane give back to my hands their weapons; if madness still remains, fly, O my father; I shall find a path to death.

AMPHITRYON
[1247] By the holy ties of birth, by the right of both my names, whether thou dost call me foster-father or true sire, by these grey hairs, which pious sons revere, spare thyself, I pray, to my lonely age and to my weary years. Sole prop of my fallen house, sole light of my woe-darkened life, save thyself for me. No enjoyment of thee, no fruit of thy toils has fallen to my lot; but always have I had to fear either the stormy seas or monsters; every cruel king that rages in all the world with guilt on his hands or altars is cause of dread to me; always do I, thy father, yearn for the joy of touch and sight of thee, my ever-absent son.

HERCULES
[1258] Why I should longer stay my soul in the light of day, and linger here, there is no cause; all that was dear to me I’ve lost: reason, arms, honour, wife, children, strength – and madness too! No power could purge a tainted spirit; by death must sin be healed.

AMPHITRYON
[1263] Thou’lt slay thy father.

HERCULES
[1263] Lest I do so, I’ll die.

AMPHITRYON
[1264] Before thy father’s eyes?

HERCULES
[1264] I have taught him to look on impious deeds.

AMPHITRYON
[1265] Nay, rather think upon thy deeds glorious to all, and seek from thyself pardon for one sin.

HERCULES
[1267] Shall he give remission to himself who to none other gave it? As for my glorious deeds, at others’ hest I did them; this alone is mine. Help me, father; whether love move thee, or my sad fate, or the tarnished glory of my manhood. Bring me my weapons; by my right hand let fate be vanquished.

THESEUS
[1272] Enough thy father’s prayers have power to move, but let my weeping move thee, too. Up! and with thy wonted force break through adversity. Now get back thy courage which was ne’er unequal to any hardship; now must thou greatly play the man – forbid Hercules to rage!

HERCULES
[1278] If I keep to life, I have wrought wrong; if I die, have borne it. I am in haste to purge the earth. Long since a monstrous form, impious, savage, inexorable, wild, has stalked before my eyes; come, hand, grapple with this task greater than the last of all thy labours. Coward, dost thou shrink, brave against boys alone and trembling mothers? My arms, I say! Unless they are given me, either I will cut down all the woods of Thracian Pindus and Bacchus’ groves and Cithaeron’s ridges, and along with my own body I will burn them up; or else all the dwellings of Thebes with their households and their masters, the temples with all their gods, I will pull down upon myself and lie buried ‘neath a city’s wreck; and if, hurled on my shoulders, the walls shall fall with too light a weight, and if, buried beneath the seven gates, I be not crushed enough, then all the mass which lies at the centre of the universe and separates gods from men will I overthrow upon my head.

AMPHITRYON
[1295] I return thine arms.

HERCULES
[1295] The words are worthy the sire of Hercules. See, slain by this shaft fell my boy.

AMPHITRYON
[1297] ‘Twas Juno shot the arrow by thy hand.

HERCULES
[1298] ‘Tis I who shall use it now.

AMPHITRYON
[1298] Oh, how my woeful heart trembles with fear and smites on my anxious breast!

HERCULES
[1300] The shaft is notched.

AMPHITRYON
[1300] Ah, now wilt thou sin of thine own will and knowledge.

HERCULES
[1301] Speak out; what wouldst have me do?

AMPHITRYON
[1302] I make no prayer; for me woe is assured – thou alone canst preserve my son to me, but not even thou canst snatch him from me. I have passed my greatest fear; wretched thou canst not make me, but blest, thou canst. Decide, then, as thou wilt decide, but know that in so doing thy cause and fame stand at hazard and doubtful issue; either thou livest or slayest me. This flitting soul, weary with age and no less with woe weary, I hold upon my very lips. So grudgingly does any man grant his father life? [He seizes a sword and sets its point to his breast.] I will brook no more delay; with the fatal steel thrust home will I pierce my breast; here, here shall lie the crime of a sane Hercules.

HERCULES
[1314] Now hold, father, hold, recall thy hand! Strong soul of mine, yield, do a father’s will; add this task also to Hercules’ toils – and live! Theseus, lift thou from the ground my father’s fainting limbs. My hands defiled shrink from that pious touch.

AMPHITRYON
[1319] But this hand I clasp joyfully; by its help I’ll walk and, holding it close to my aching heart, banish my griefs.

HERCULES
[1321] Whither shall I flee? Where shall I hide me, or in what land bury me? What Tanaïs, what Nile, what Tigris, raging with Persian torrents, what warlike Rhine, or Tagus, turbid with the golden sands of Spain, can cleanse this hand? Though cold Maeotis should pour its northern sea upon me, though the whole ocean should stream along my hands, still will the deep stains cling. To what countries, man of sin, wilt thou betake thee? The rising or the setting sun wilt seek? Know in every land, I have lost place for exile. The world shrinks from my presence, the stars, moving askance, turn away their courses; Titan himself looked upon Cerberus with kindlier face. O faithful friend, Theseus, seek a hiding-place for me, remote, obscure; since, though witness of others’ sins, thou dost ever love the sinners, grant me now grace and recompense for favours past. Take me back, I pray thee, and restore me to the nether shades; put me in thy stead, loaded with thy chains; that place will hide me – but it, too, knows me!

THESEUS
[1341] My land awaits thee. There Gradivus once cleansed his hands from blood80 and gave them back to war; thee, Alcides, does that land call, land which can free the immortals from their stains.81

THE END.

48. i.e. the upper and lower hemispheres.
49. i.e. Lycus.
50. To Amphitryon.

51. Pluto.
52. Proserpina.
53. Aeacus, father of Peleus.
54. Tantalus.
55. The harpy.
56. The Hydra.
57. i.e. of the Nemean lion, so called from Cleonae, near Nemea, in Argolis.
58. Pluto and Proserpina.
59. i.e. Olympian. The reference is to the Olympic games, celebrated in honour of Zeus.
60. i.e. with the divine afflatus. Compare Virgil’s description of the Sibyl, Aeneid vi. 48: non comptae mansere comae.

61. Bacchus.
62. Which Bacchus crossed when he conquered India.
63. Addressed to Amphitryon.
64. Cadmus.
65. i.e. to destroy, as he had destroyed so many other earth-born monsters.
66. i.e. Jove has promised to deify his son. This is one of the chief themes in Hercules Oetaeus.
67. Jove with his two brothers had driven their father, Saturn, from the throne.
68. He imagines that Megara is Juno, and now he will pay off old scores both in his own and Jove’s interests.
69. Eurystheus was lord of Argos.
70. Perhaps because dreams are generally evil.

71. The poet wavers in his conception of the person addressed throughout this passage (1092-1121).
72. i.e. the lords of death, angry because Hercules had defied them.
73. Diomedes.
74. e.g. Antaeus, Busiris.
75. Eurystheus.
76. i.e. of father.
77. i.e. next to that of Jove, real father of Hercules. The play on the words nomen and numen cannot be reproduced in English.
78. To which Prometheus had been bound, and from which Hercules released him.
79. The Symplegades.
80. Mars [for the murder of Hallirhothius].
81. If Athens could cleanse Mars from blood-guiltiness, she could do the same for Hercules.

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