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

Act II

Scene I



Hippolytus request to see me here!

Hippolytus desire to bid farewell!

Is’t true, Ismene? Are you not deceived?


This is the first result of Theseus’ death.

Prepare yourself to see from every side.

Hearts turn towards you that were kept away

By Theseus. Mistress of her lot at last,

Aricia soon shall find all Greece fall low,

To do her homage.


’Tis not then, Ismene,

An idle tale? Am I no more a slave?

Have I no enemies?


The gods oppose

Your peace no longer, and the soul of Theseus

Is with your brothers.


Does the voice of fame

Tell how he died?


Rumours incredible

Are spread. Some say that, seizing a new bride,

The faithless husband by the waves was swallow’d.

Others affirm, and this report prevails,

That with Pirithoüs to the world below

He went, and saw the shores of dark Cocytus,

Showing himself alive to the pale ghosts;

But that he could not leave those gloomy realms,

Which whoso enters there abides for ever.


Shall I believe that ere his destined hour

A mortal may descend into the gulf

Of Hades? What attraction could o’ercome

Its terrors?


He is dead, and you alone

Doubt it. The men of Athens mourn his loss.

Trœzen already hails Hippolytus

As King. And Phædra, fearing for her son,

Asks counsel of the friends who share her trouble,

Here in this palace.


Will Hippolytus,

Think you, prove kinder than his sire, make light

My chains, and pity my misfortunes?



I think so, Madam.


Ah, you know him not

Or you would never deem so hard a heart

Can pity feel, or me alone except

From the contempt in which he holds our sex.

Has he not long avoided every spot

Where we resort?


I know what tales are told

Of proud Hippolytus, but I have seen

Him near you, and have watch’d with curious eye

How one esteem’d so cold would bear himself.

Little did his behavior correspond

With what I look’d for; in his face confusion

Appear’d at your first glance, he could not turn

His languid eyes away, but gazed on you.

Love is a word that may offend his pride,

But what the tongue disowns, looks can betray.


How eagerly my heart hears what you say,

Tho’ it may be delusion, dear Ismene!

Did it seem possible to you, who know me,

That I, sad sport of a relentless Fate,

Fed upon bitter tears by night and day,

Could ever taste the maddening draught of love?

The last frail offspring of a royal race,

Children of Earth, I only have survived

War’s fury. Cut off in the flow’r of youth,

Mown by the sword, six brothers have I lost,

The hope of an illustrious house, whose blood

Earth drank with sorrow, near akin to his

Whom she herself produced. Since then, you know

How thro’ all Greece no heart has been allow’d

To sigh for me, lest by a sister’s flame

The brothers’ ashes be perchance rekindled.

You know, besides, with what disdain I view’d

My conqueror’s suspicions and precautions,

And how, oppos’d as I have ever been

To love, I often thank’d the King’s injustice

Which happily confirm’d my inclination.

But then I never had beheld his son.

Not that, attracted merely by the eye,

I love him for his beauty and his grace,

Endowments which he owes to Nature’s bounty,

Charms which he seems to know not or to scorn.

I love and prize in him riches more rare,

The virtues of his sire, without his faults.

I love, as I must own, that generous pride

Which ne’er has stoop’d beneath the amorous yoke.

Phædra reaps little glory from a lover

So lavish of his sighs; I am too proud

To share devotion with a thousand others,

Or enter where the door is always open.

But to make one who ne’er has stoop’d before

Bend his proud neck, to pierce a heart of stone,

To bind a captive whom his chains astonish,

Who vainly ’gainst a pleasing yoke rebels,—

That piques my ardour, and I long for that.

’Twas easier to disarm the god of strength

Than this Hippolytus, for Hercules

Yielded so often to the eyes of beauty,

As to make triumph cheap. But, dear Ismene,

I take too little heed of opposition

Beyond my pow’r to quell, and you may hear me,

Humbled by sore defeat, upbraid the pride

I now admire. What! Can he love? and I

Have had the happiness to bend—


He comes

Yourself shall hear him.