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

Act V

Scene VI



Theramenes, is’t thou? Where is my son?

I gave him to thy charge from tenderest childhood.

But whence these tears that overflow thine eyes?

How is it with my son?


Concern too late!

Affection vain! Hippolytus is dead.




I have seen the flow’r of all mankind

Cut off, and I am bold to say that none

Deserved it less.


What! My son dead! When I

Was stretching out my arms to him, has Heav’n

Hasten’d his end? What was this sudden stroke?


Scarce had we pass’d out of the gates of Trœzen,

He silent in his chariot, and his guards,

Downcast and silent too, around him ranged;

To the Mycenian road he turn’d his steeds,

Then, lost in thought, allow’d the reins to lie

Loose on their backs. His noble chargers, erst

So full of ardour to obey his voice,

With head depress’d and melancholy eye

Seem’d now to mark his sadness and to share it.

A frightful eye, that issues from the deep,

With sudden discord rends the troubled air;

And from the bosom of the earth a groan

Is heard in answer to that voice of terror.

Our blood is frozen at our very hearts;

With bristling manes the list’ning steeds stand still

Meanwhile upon the watery plain there rises

A mountain billow with a mighty crest

Of foam, that shoreward rolls, and, as it breaks,

Before our eyes vomits a furious monster.

With formidable horns its brow is arm’d,

And all its body clothed with yellow scales,

In front a savage bull, behind a dragon

Turning and twisting in impatient rage.

Its long continued bellowings make the shore

Tremble; the sky seems horror-struck to see it;

The earth with terror quakes; its poisonous breath

Infects the air. The wave that brought it ebbs

In fear. All fly, forgetful of the courage

That cannot aid, and in a neighbouring temple

Take refuge—all save bold Hippolytus.

A hero’s worthy son, he stays his steeds,

Seizes his darts, and, rushing forward, hurls

A missile with sure aim that wounds the monster

Deep in the flank. With rage and pain it springs

E’en to the horses’ feet, and, roaring, falls,

Writhes in the dust, and shows a fiery throat

That covers them with flames, and blood, and smoke.

Fear lends them wings; deaf to his voice for once,

And heedless of the curb, they onward fly.

Their master wastes his strength in efforts vain;

With foam and blood each courser’s bit is red.

Some say a god, amid this wild disorder,

Was seen with goads pricking their dusty flanks.

O’er jagged rocks they rush urged on by terror;

Crash! goes the axle-tree. Th’ intrepid youth

Sees his car broken up, flying to pieces;

He falls himself entangled in the reins.

Pardon my grief. That cruel spectacle

Will be for me a source of endless tears.

I saw thy hapless son, I saw him, Sire,

Dragg’d by the horses that his hands had fed,

Pow’rless to check their fierce career, his voice

But adding to their fright, his body soon

One mass of wounds. Our cries of anguish fill

The plain. At last they slacken their swift pace,

Then stop, not far from those old tombs that mark

Where lie the ashes of his royal sires.

Panting I thither run, and after me

His guard, along the track stain’d with fresh blood

That reddens all the rocks; caught in the briers

Locks of his hair hang dripping, gory spoils!

I come, I call him. Stretching forth his hand,

He opes his dying eyes, soon closed again.

“The gods have robb’d me of a guiltless life,”

I hear him say: “Take care of sad Aricia

When I am dead. Dear friend, if e’er my father

Mourn, undeceived, his son’s unhappy fate

Falsely accused; to give my spirit peace,

Tell him to treat his captive tenderly,

And to restore—” With that the hero’s breath

Fails, and a mangled corpse lies in my arms,

A piteous object, trophy of the wrath

Of Heav’n—so changed, his father would not know him.


Alas, my son! Dear hope for ever lost!

The ruthless gods have served me but too well.

For what a life of anguish and remorse

And I reserved!


Aricia at that instant,

Flying from you, comes timidly, to take him

For husband, there, in presence of the gods.

Thus drawing nigh, she sees the grass all red

And reeking, sees (sad sight for lover’s eye!)

Hippolytus stretch’d there, pale and disfigured.

But, for a time doubtful of her misfortune,

Unrecognized the hero she adores,

She looks, and asks—“Where is Hippolytus?”

Only too sure at last that he lies there

Before her, with sad eyes that silently

Reproach the gods, she shudders, groans, and falls

Swooning and all but lifeless, at his feet.

Ismene, all in tears, kneels down beside her,

And calls her back to life-life that is naught

But sense of pain. And I, to whom this light

Is darkness now, come to discharge the duty

The hero has imposed on me, to tell thee

His last request—a melancholy task.

But hither comes his mortal enemy.