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Jean Racine (1639–1699). Phædra.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act I

Scene III



We have gone far enough. Stay, dear Œnone;

Strength fails me, and I needs must rest awhile.

My eyes are dazzled with this glaring light

So long unseen, my trembling knees refuse

Support. Ah me!


Would Heaven that our tears

Might bring relief!


Ah, how these cumbrous gauds,

These veils oppress me! What officious hand

Has tied these knots, and gather’d o’er my brow

These clustering coils? How all conspires to add

To my distress!


What is one moment wish’d,

The next, is irksome. Did you not just now,

Sick of inaction, bid us deck you out,

And, with your former energy recall’d,

Desire to go abroad, and see the light

Of day once more? You see it, and would fain

Be hidden from the sunshine that you sought.


Thou glorious author of a hapless race,

Whose daughter ’twas my mother’s boast to be,

Who well may’st blush to see me in such plight,

For the last time I come to look on thee,

O Sun!


What! Still are you in love with death?

Shall I ne’er see you, reconciled to life,

Forego these cruel accents of despair?


Would I were seated in the forest’s shade!

When may I follow with delighted eye,

Thro’ glorious dust flying in full career,

A chariot—




Have I lost my senses?

What said I? and where am I? Whither stray

Vain wishes? Ah! The gods have made me mad.

I blush, Œnone, and confusion covers

My face, for I have let you see too clearly

The shame of grief that, in my own despite,

O’erflows these eyes of mine.


If you must blush,

Blush at a silence that inflames your woes.

Resisting all my care, deaf to my voice,

Will you have no compassion on yourself,

But let your life be ended in mid course?

What evil spell has drain’d its fountain dry?

Thrice have the shades of night obscured the heav’ns

Since sleep has enter’d thro’ your eyes, and thrice

The dawn has chased the darkness thence, since food

Pass’d your wan lips, and you are faint and languid.

To what dread purpose is your heart inclined?

How dare you make attempts upon your life,

And so offend the gods who gave it you,

Prove false to Theseus and your marriage vows,

Ay, and betray your most unhappy children,

Bending their necks yourself beneath the yoke?

That day, be sure, which robs them of their mother,

Will give high hopes back to the stranger’s son,

To that proud enemy of you and yours,

To whom an Amazon gave birth, I mean



Ye gods!


Ah, this reproach

Moves you!


Unhappy woman, to what name

Gave your mouth utterance?


Your wrath is just.

’Tis well that that ill-omen’d name can rouse

Such rage. Then live. Let love and duty urge

Their claims. Live, suffer not this son of Scythia,

Crushing your children ’neath his odious sway,

To rule the noble offspring of the gods,

The purest blood of Greece. Make no delay;

Each moment threatens death; quickly restore

Your shatter’d strength, while yet the torch of life

Holds out, and can be fann’d into a flame.


Too long have I endured its guilt and shame!


Why? What remorse gnaws at your heart? What crime

Can have disturb’d you thus? Your hands are not

Polluted with the blood of innocence?


Thanks be to Heav’n, my hands are free from stain.

Would that my soul were innocent as they!


What awful project have you then conceived,

Whereat your conscience should be still alarm’d?


Have I not said enough? Spare me the rest.

I die to save myself a full confession.


Die then, and keep a silence so inhuman;

But seek some other hand to close your eyes.

Tho’ but a spark of life remains within you,

My soul shall go before you to the Shades.

A thousand roads are always open thither;

Pain’d at your want of confidence, I’ll choose

The shortest. Cruel one, when has my faith

Deceived you! Think how in my arms you lay

New born. For you, my country and my children

I have forsaken. Do you thus repay

My faithful service?


What do you expect

From words so bitter? Were I to break silence

Horror would freeze your blood.


What can you say

To horrify me more than to behold

You die before my eyes?


When you shall know

My crime, my death will follow none the less,

But with the added stain of guilt.


Dear Madam,

By all the tears that I have shed for you,

By these weak knees I clasp, relieve my mind

From torturing doubt.


It is your wish. Then rise.


I hear you. Speak.


Heav’ns! How shall I begin?


Dismiss vain fears, you wound me with distrust.


O fatal animosity of Venus!

Into what wild distractions did she cast

My mother!


Be they blotted from remembrance,

And for all time to come buried in silence.


My sister Ariadne, by what love

Were you betray’d to death, on lonely shores



Madam, what deep-seated pain

Prompts these reproaches against all your kin?


It is the will of Venus, and I perish,

Last, most unhappy of a family

Where all were wretched.


Do you love?


I feel

All its mad fever.


Ah! For whom?


Hear now

The crowning horror. Yes, I love—my lips

Tremble to say his name.




Know you him,

Son of the Amazon, whom I’ve oppress’d

So long?


Hippolytus? Great gods!


’Tis you

Have named him.


All my blood within my veins

Seems frozen. O despair! O cursèd race!

Ill-omen’d journey! Land of misery!

Why did we ever reach thy dangerous shores?


My wound is not so recent. Scarcely had I

Been bound to Theseus by the marriage yoke,

And happiness and peace seem’d well secured,

When Athens show’d me my proud enemy.

I look’d, alternately turn’d pale and blush’d

To see him, and my soul grew all distraught;

A mist obscured my vision, and my voice

Falter’d, my blood ran cold, then burn’d like fire;

Venus I felt in all my fever’d frame,

Whose fury had so many of my race

Pursued. With fervent vows I sought to shun

Her torments, built and deck’d for her a shrine,

And there, ’mid countless victims did I seek

The reason I had lost; but all for naught,

No remedy could cure the wounds of love!

In vain I offer’d incense on her altars;

When I invoked her name my heart adored

Hippolytus, before me constantly;

And when I made her altars smoke with victims,

’Twas for a god whose name I dared not utter.

I fled his presence everywhere, but found him—

O crowning horror!—in his father’s features.

Against myself, at last, I raised revolt,

And stirr’d my courage up to persecute

The enemy I loved. To banish him

I wore a step-dame’s harsh and jealous carriage,

With ceaseless cries I clamour’d for his exile,

Till I had torn him from his father’s arms.

I breathed once more, Œnone; in his absence

My days flow’d on less troubled than before,

And innocent. Submissive to my husband,

I hid my grief, and of our fatal marriage

Cherish’d the fruits. Vain caution! Cruel Fate!

Brought hither by my spouse himself, I saw

Again the enemy whom I had banish’d,

And the old wound too quickly bled afresh.

No longer is it love hid in my heart,

But Venus in her might seizing her prey.

I have conceived just terror for my crime;

I hate my life, and hold my love in horror.

Dying I wish’d to keep my fame unsullied,

And bury in the grave a guilty passion;

But I have been unable to withstand

Tears and entreaties, I have told you all;

Content, if only, as my end draws near,

You do not vex me with unjust reproaches,

Nor with vain efforts seek to snatch from death

The last faint lingering sparks of vital breath.