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


Scene I



Ah! Let them take elsewhere the worthless honours

They bring me. Why so urgent I should see them?

What flattering balm can soothe my wounded heart?

Far rather hide me: I have said too much.

My madness has burst forth like streams in flood,

And I have utter’d what should ne’er have reach’d

His ear. Gods! How he heard me! How reluctant

To catch my meaning, dull and cold as marble,

And eager only for a quick retreat!

How oft his blushes made my shame the deeper!

Why did you turn me from the death I sought?

Ah! When his sword was pointed to my bosom,

Did he grow pale, or try to snatch it from me?

That I had touch’d it was enough for him

To render it for ever horrible,

Leaving defilement on the hand that holds it.


Thus brooding on your bitter disappointment,

You only fan a fire that must be stifled.

Would it not be more worthy of the blood

Of Minos to find peace in nobler cares,

And, in defiance of a wretch who flies

From what he hates, reign, mount the proffer’d throne?


I reign! Shall I the rod of empire sway,

When reason reigns no longer o’er myself?

When I have lost control of all my senses?

When ’neath a shameful yoke I scarce can breathe?

When I am dying?




I cannot leave him.


Dare you not fly from him you dared to banish?


The time for that is past. He knows my frenzy.

I have o’erstepp’d the bounds of modesty,

And blazon’d forth my shame before his eyes.

Hope stole into my heart against my will.

Did you not rally my declining pow’rs?

Was it not you yourself recall’d my soul

When fluttering on my lips, and with your counsel,

Lent me fresh life, and told me I might love him?


Blame me or blame me not for your misfortunes,

Of what was I incapable, to save you?

But if your indignation e’er was roused

By insult, can you pardon his contempt?

How cruelly his eyes, severely fix’d,

Survey’d you almost prostrate at his feet!

How hateful then appear’d his savage pride!

Why did not Phædra see him then as I

Beheld him?


This proud mood that you resent

May yield to time. The rudeness of the forests

Where he was bred, inured to rigorous laws,

Clings to him still; love is a word he ne’er

Had heard before. It may be his surprise

Stunn’d him, and too much vehemence was shown

In all I said.


Remember that his mother

Was a barbarian.


Scythian tho’ she was,

She learned to love.


He has for all the sex

Hatred intense.


Then in his heart no rival

Shall ever reign. Your counsel comes too late

Œnone, serve my madness, not my reason.

His heart is inaccessible to love.

Let us attack him where he has more feeling.

The charms of sovereignty appear’d to touch him;

He could not hide that he was drawn to Athens;

His vessels’ prows were thither turn’d already,

All sail was set to scud before the breeze.

Go you on my behalf, to his ambition

Appeal, and let the prospect of the crown

Dazzle his eyes. The sacred diadem

Shall deck his brow, no higher honour mine

Than there to bind it. His shall be the pow’r

I cannot keep; and he shall teach my son

How to rule men. It may be he will deign

To be to him a father. Son and mother

He shall control. Try ev’ry means to move him;

Your words will find more favour than can mine.

Urge him with groans and tears; show Phædra dying.

Nor blush to use the voice of supplication.

In you is my last hope; I’ll sanction all

You say; and on the issue hangs my fate.