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


Scene V



Strange welcome for your father, this!

What does it mean, my son?


Phædra alone

Can solve this mystery. But if my wish

Can move you, let me never see her more;

Suffer Hippolytus to disappear

For ever from the home that holds you wife.


You, my son! Leave me?


’Twas not I who sought her:

’Twas you who led her footsteps to these shores.

At your departure you thought meet, my lord,

To trust Aricia and the Queen to this

Trœzenian land, and I myself was charged

With their protection. But what cares henceforth

Need keep me here? My youth of idleness

Has shown its skill enough o’er paltry foes

That range the woods. May I not quit a life

Of such inglorious ease, and dip my spear

In nobler blood? Ere you had reach’d my age

More than one tyrant, monster more than one

Had felt the weight of your stout arm. Already,

Successful in attacking insolence,

You had removed all dangers that infested

Our coasts to east and west. The traveller fear’d

Outrage no longer. Hearing of your deeds,

Already Hercules relied on you,

And rested from his toils. While I, unknown

Son of so brave a sire, am far behind

Even my mother’s footsteps. Let my courage

Have scope to act, and if some monster yet

Has ’scaped you, let me lay the glorious spoils

Down at your feet; or let the memory

Of death faced nobly keep my name alive,

And prove to all the world I was your son.


Why, what is this? What terror has possess’d

My family to make them fly before me?

If I return to find myself so fear’d,

So little welcome, why did Heav’n release me

From prison? My sole friend, misled by passion,

Was bent on robbing of his wife the tyrant

Who ruled Epirus. With regret I lent

The lover aid, but Fate had made us blind,

Myself as well as him. The tyrant seized me

Defenceless and unarm’d. Pirithoüs

I saw with tears cast forth to be devour’d

By savage beasts that lapp’d the blood of men.

Myself in gloomy caverns he inclosed,

Deep in the bowels of the earth, and nigh

To Pluto’s realms. Six months I lay ere Heav’n

Had pity, and I ’scaped the watchful eyes

That guarded me. Then did I purge the world

Of a foul foe, and he himself has fed

His monsters. But when with expectant joy

To all that is most precious I draw near

Of what the gods have left me, when my soul

Looks for full satisfaction in a sight

So dear, my only welcome is a shudder,

Embrace rejected, and a hasty flight.

Inspiring, as I clearly do, such terror,

Would I were still a prisoner in Epirus!

Phædra complains that I have suffer’d outrage.

Who has betray’d me? Speak. Why was I not

Avenged? Has Greece, to whom mine arm so oft

Brought useful aid, shelter’d the criminal?

You make no answer. Is my son, mine own

Dear son, confederate with mine enemies?

I’ll enter. This suspense is overwhelming.

I’ll learn at once the culprit and the crime,

And Phædra must explain her troubled state.