Home  »  The Furies  »  Lines 1–399

Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.). The Libation-Bearers.rn The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Lines 1–399

The Temple at Delphi
FIRST, in this prayer, of all the gods I name

The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next,

Second who sat—for so with truth is said—

On this her mother’s shrine oracular.

Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed,

There sat thereon another child of Earth—

Titanian Phœbe. She, in aftertime,

Gave o’er the throne, as birth-gift to a god,

Phœbus, who in his own bears Phœbe’s name.

He from the lake and ridge of Delos’ isle

Steered to the port of Pallas’ Attic shores,

The home of ships; and thence he passed and came

Unto this land and to Parnassus’ shrine.

And at his side, with awe revering him,

There went the children of Hephæstus’ seed,

The hewers of the sacred way, who tame

The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness.

And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain—king

Of this their land, with honour gave him home;

And in his breast Zeus set a prophet’s soul,

And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits,

Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight,

Gives voice to that which Zeus, his sire, decrees.

Such gods I name in my preluding prayer,

And after them, I call with honour due

On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs

Who dwell around the rock Corycian,

Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds’ haunt,

Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there,

Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells,

Since he in godship led his Mænad host,

Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent

Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last,

I call on Pleistus’ springs, Poseidon’s might,

And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher.

Then as a seeress to the sacred chair

I pass and sit; and may the powers divine

Make this mine entrance fruitful in response

Beyond each former advent, triply blest.

And if there stand without, from Hellas bound,

Men seeking oracles, let each pass in

In order of the lot, as use allows;

For the god guides whate’er my tongue proclaims.[She goes into the interior of the temple; after a short interval, she returns in great fear.

Things fell to speak of, fell for eyes to see,

Have sped me forth again from Loxias’ shrine,

With strength unstrung, moving erect no more,

But aiding with my hands my failing feet,

Unnerved by fear. A beldame’s force is naught—

Is as a child’s, when age and fear combine.

For as I pace towards the inmost fane

Bay-filleted by many a suppliant’s hand,

Lo, at the central altar I descry

One crouching as for refuge—yea, a man

Abhorred of heaven; and from his hands, wherein

A sword new-drawn he holds, blood reeked and fell:

A wand he bears, the olive’s topmost bough,

Twined as of purpose with a deep close tuft

Of whitest wool. This, that I plainly saw,

Plainly I tell. But lo, in front of him,

Crouched on the altar-steps, a grisly band

Of women slumbers—not like women they,

But Gorgons rather; nay, that word is weak,

Nor may I match the Gorgons’ shape with theirs!

Such have I seen in painted semblance erst—

Winged Harpies, snatching food from Phineus’ board,—

But these are wingless, black, and all their shape

The eye’s abomination to behold.

Fell is the breath—let none draw nigh to it—

Wherewith they snort in slumber; from their eyes

Exude the damnèd drops of poisonous ire:

And such their garb as none should dare to bring

To statues of the gods or homes of men.

I wot not of the tribe wherefrom can come

So fell a legion, nor in what land Earth

Could rear, unharmed, such creatures, nor avow

That she had travailed and brought forth death.

But, for the rest, be all these things a care

Unto the mighty Loxias, the lord

Of this our shrine: healer and prophet he,

Discerner he of portents, and the cleanser

Of other homes—behold, his own to cleanse![Exit. [The scene opens, disclosing the interior of the temple: Orestes clings to the central altar; the Furies lie slumbering at a little distance; Apollo and Hermes appear from the innermost shrine.

Lo, I desert thee never: to the end,

Hard at thy side as now, or sundered far,

I am thy guard, and to thine enemies

Implacably oppose me: look on them,

These greedy fiends, beneath my craft subdued!

See, they are fallen on sleep, these beldames old,

Unto whose grim and wizened maidenhood

Nor god nor man nor beast can e’er draw near.

Yea, evil were they born, for evil’s doom,

Evil the dark abyss of Tartarus

Wherein they dwell, and they themselves the hate

Of men on earth, and of Olympian gods.

But thou, flee far and with unfaltering speed;

For they shall hunt thee through the mainland wide

Where’er throughout the tract of travelled earth

Thy foot may roam, and o’er and o’er the seas

And island homes of men. Faint not nor fail,

Too soon and timidly within thy breast

Shepherding thoughts forlorn of this thy toil;

But unto Pallas’ city go, and there

Crouch at her shrine, and in thine arms enfold

Her ancient image: there we well shall find

Meet judges for this cause and suasive pleas,

Skilled to contrive for thee deliverance

From all this woe. Be such my pledge to thee,

For by my hest thou didst thy mother slay.

O king Apollo, since right well thou know’st

What justice bids, have heed, fulfil the same,—

Thy strength is all-sufficient to achieve.

Have thou too heed, nor let thy fear prevail

Above thy will. And do thou guard him, Hermes,

Whose blood is brother unto mine, whose sire

The same high God. Men call thee guide and guard,

Guide therefore thou and guard my suppliant;

For Zeus himself reveres the outlaw’s right,

Boon of fair escort, upon man conferred.

[Exeunt Apollo, Hermes, and Orestes. The Ghost of Clytemnestra rises.

Sleep on! awake! what skills your sleep to me—

Me, among all the dead by you dishonoured—

Me from whom never, in the world of death,

Dieth this curse, ’Tis she who smote and slew,

And shamed and scorned I roam? Awake, and hear

My plaint of dead men’s hate intolerable.

Me, sternly slain by them that should have loved,

Me doth no god arouse him to avenge,

Hewn down in blood by matricidal hands.

Mark ye these wounds from which the heart’s blood ran,

And by whose hand, bethink ye! for the sense

When shut in sleep hath then the spirit-sight,

But in the day the inward eye is blind.

List, ye who drank so oft with lapping tongue

The wineless draughty by me outpoured to soothe

Your vengeful ire! how oft on kindled shrine

I laid the feast of darkness, at the hour

Abhorred of every god but you alone!

Lo, all my service trampled down and scorned!

And he hath baulked your chase, as stag the hounds;

Yea, lightly bounding from the circling toils,

Hath wried his face in scorn, and flieth far.

Awake and hear—for mine own soul I cry—

Awake, ye powers of hell! the wandering ghost

That once was Clytemnestra calls—Arise![The Furies mutter grimly, as in a dream.

Mutter and murmur! He hath flown afar—

My kin have gods to guard them, I have none![The Furies mutter as before.

O drowsed in sleep too deep to heed my pain!

Orestes flies, who me, his mother, slew.[The Furies give a confused cry.

Yelping, and drowsed again? Up and be doing

That which alone is yours, the deed of hell![The Furies give another cry.

Lo, sleep and toil, the sworn confederates,

Have quelled your dragon-anger, once so fell!

THE FURIES (muttering more fiercely and loudly)
Seize, seize, seize, seize—mark, yonder!

In dreams ye chase a prey, and like some hound,

That even in sleep doth ply his woodland toil,

Ye bell and bay. What do ye, sleeping here?

Be not o’ercome with toil, nor, sleep-subdued,

Be heedless of my wrong. Up! thrill your heart

With the just chidings of my tongue,—such words

Are as a spur to purpose firmly held.

Blow forth on him the breath of wrath and blood,

Scorch him with reek of fire that burns in you,

Waste him with new pursuit—swift, hound him down![Ghost sinks.

FIRST FURY (awaking)
Up! rouse another as I rouse thee; up!

Sleep’st thou? Rise up, and spurning sleep away,

See we if false to us this prelude rang.

Alack, alack, O sisters, we have toiled,

O much and vainly have we toiled and borne!

Vainly! and all we wrought the gods have foiled,

And turnèd us to scorn!

He hath slipped from the net, whom we chased: he hath ’scaped us who should be our prey—

O’ermastered by slumber we sank, and our quarry hath stolen away!

Thou, child of the high God Zeus, Apollo, hast robbed us and wronged;

Thou, a youth, hast down-trodden the right that to godship more ancient belonged;

Thou hast cherished thy suppliant man; the slayer, the God-forsaken,

The bane of a parent, by craft from out of our grasp thou hast taken;

A god, thou hast stolen from us, the avengers, a matricide son—

And who shall consider thy deed and say, It is rightfully done?

The sound of chiding scorn

Came from the land of dream;

Deep to mine inmost heart I felt it thrill and burn,

Thrust as a strong-grasped goad, to urge

Onward the chariot’s team.

Thrilled, chilled with bitter inward pain

I stand as one beneath the doomsman’s scourge.

Shame on the younger gods who tread down right,

Sitting on thrones of might!

Woe on the altar of earth’s central fane!

Clotted on step and shrine,

Behold, the guilt of blood, the ghastly stain!

Woe upon thee, Apollo! uncontrolled,

Unbidden, hast thou, prophet-god, imbrued

The pure prophetic shrine with wrongful blood!

For thou too heinous a respect didst hold

Of man, too little heed of powers divine!

And us the Fates, the ancients of the earth,

Didst deem as nothing worth.

Scornful to me thou art, yet shalt not fend

My wrath from him; though unto hell he flee,

There too are we!

And he, the blood-defiled, should feel and rue,

Though I were not, fiend-wrath that shall not end,

Descending on his head who foully slew.[Re—enter Apollo from the inner shrine.

Out! I command you. Out from this my home—

Haste, tarry not! Out from the mystic shrine,

Lest thy lot be to take into thy breast

The winged bright dart that from my golden string

Speeds hissing as a snake,—lest, pierced and thrilled

With agony, thou shouldst spew forth again

Black frothy heart’s-blood, drawn from mortal men,

Belching the gory clots sucked forth from wounds.

These be no halls where such as you can prowl—

Go where men lay on men the doom of blood,

Heads lopped from necks, eyes from their spheres plucked out,

Hacked flesh, the flower of youthful seed crushed out,

Feet hewn away, and hands, and death beneath

The smiting stone, low moans and piteous

Of men impaled—Hark, hear ye for what feast

Ye hanker ever, and the loathing gods

Do spit upon your craving? Lo, your shape

Is all too fitted to your greed; the cave

Where lurks some lion, lapping gore, were home

More meet for you. Avaunt from sacred shrines,

Nor bring pollution by your touch on all

That nears you. Hence! and roam unshepherded—

No god there is to tend sn]uch herd as you.

O king Apollo, in our turn hear us.

Thou hast not only part in these ill things,

But art chief cause and doer of the same.

How? stretch thy speech to tell this, and have done.

Thine oracle bade this man slay his mother.

I bade him quit his sire’s death,—wherefore not?

Then didst thou aid and guard red-handed crime.

Yea, and I bade him to this temple flee.

And yet forsooth dost chide us following him!

Ay—not for you it is, to near this fane.

Yet is such office ours, imposed by fate.

What office? vaunt the thing ye deem so fair.

From home to home we chase the matricide.

What? to avenge a wife who slays her lord?

That is not blood outpoured by kindred hands.

How darkly ye dishonour and annul

The troth to which the high accomplishers,

Hera and Zeus, do honour. Yea, and thus

Is Aphrodite to dishonour cast,

The queen of rapture unto mortal men.

Know that above the marriage-bed ordained

For man and woman standeth Right as guard,

Enhancing sanctity of troth-plight sworn;

Therefore, if thou art placable to those

Who have their consort slain, nor will’st to turn

On them the eye of wrath, unjust art thou

In hounding to his doom the man who slew

His mother. Lo, I know thee full of wrath

Against one deed, but all too placable

Unto the other, minishing the crime.

But in this cause shall Pallas guard the right.

Deem not my quest shall ever quit that man.

Follow then, make thee double toil in vain!

Think not by speech mine office to curtail.

None hast thou, that I would accept of thee!

Yea, high thine honour by the throne of Zeus:

But I, drawn on by scent of mother’s blood,

Seek vengeance on this man and hound him down.

But I will stand beside him; ’tis for me

To guard my suppliant: gods and men alike

Do dread the curse of such an one betrayed,

And in me Fear and Will say, Leave him not.[Exeunt omnes.

The scene changes to Athens. In the foreground, the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis; her statue stands in the centre; Orestes is seen clinging to it.

Look on me, queen Athena; lo, I come

By Loxias’ behest; thou of thy grace

Receive me, driven of avenging powers—

Not now a red—hand slayer unannealed,

But with guilt fading, half effaced, outworn

On many homes and paths of mortal men.

For to the limit of each land, each sea,

I roamed, obedient to Apollo’s hest,

And come at last, O Goddess, to thy fane,

And clinging to thine image, bide my doom.[Enter the Chorus of Furies, questing like hounds.

Ho! clear is here the trace of him we seek:

Follow the track of blood, the silent sign!

Like to some hound that hunts a wounded fawn,

We snuff along the scent of dripping gore,

And inwardly we pant, for many a day

Toiling in chase that shall fordo the man;

For o’er and o’er the wide land have I ranged,

And o’er the wide sea, flying without wings,

Swift as a sail I pressed upon his track,

Who now hard by is crouching, well I wot,

For scent of mortal blood allures me here.

Follow, seek him—round and round

Scent and snuff and scan the ground,

Lest unharmed he slip away,

He who did his mother slay!

Hist—he is there! See him his arms entwine

Around the image of the maid divine—

Thus aided, for the deed he wrought

Unto the judgment wills he to be brought.

It may not be! a mother’s blood, poured forth

Upon the stainèd earth,

None gathers up: it lies—bear witness, Hell!—

For aye indelible!

And thou who sheddest it shalt give thine own

That shedding to atone!

Yea, from thy living limbs I suck it out,

Red, clotted, gout by gout,—

A draught abhorred of men and gods; but I

Will drain it, suck thee dry;

Yea, I will waste thee living, nerve and vein;

Yea, for thy mother slain,

Will drag thee downward, there where thou shalt dree

The weird of agony!

And thou and whatsoe’er of men hath sinned—

Hath wronged or God, or friend,

Or parent,—learn ye how to all and each

The arm of doom can reach!

Sternly requiteth, in the world beneath,

The judgment-seat of Death;

Yea, Death, beholding every man’s endeavour,

Recordeth it for ever.

I, schooled in many miseries, have learnt

How many refuges of cleansing shrines

There be; I know when law alloweth speech

And when imposeth silence. Lo, I stand

Fixed now to speak, for he whose word is wise

Commands the same. Look, how the stain of blood

Is dull upon mine hand and wastes away,

And laved and lost therewith is the deep curse

Of matricide; for while the guilt was new,

’Twas banished from me at Apollo’s hearth,

Atoned and purified by death of swine.

Long were my word if I should sum the tale,

How oft since then among my fellow-men

I stood and brought no curse. Time cleanses all—

Time, the coeval of all things that are.

Now from pure lips, in words of omen fair,

I call Athena, lady of this land,

To come, my champion: so, in aftertime,

She shall not fail of love and service leal,

Not won by war, from me and from my land

And all the folk of Argos, vowed to her.

Now, be she far away in Libyan land

Where flows from Triton’s lake her natal wave,—

Stand she with planted feet, or in some hour

Of rest conceal them, champion of her friends

Where’er she be,—or whether o’er the plain

Phlegræan she look forth, as warrior bold—

I cry to her to come, where’er she be

(And she, as goddess, from afar can hear),

And aid and free me, set among my foes.

Thee not Apollo nor Athena’s strength

Can save from perishing, a castaway

Amid the Lost, where no delight shall meet

Thy soul—a bloodless prey of nether powers,

A shadow among shadows. Answerest thou

Nothing? dost cast away my words with scorn,

Thou, prey prepared and dedicate to me?

Not as a victim slain upon the shrine,

But living shalt thou see thy flesh my food.

Hear now the binding chant that makes thee mine.

Weave the weird dance,—behold the hour

To utter forth the chant of hell,

Our sway among mankind to tell,

The guidance of our power.

Of Justice are we ministers,

And whosoe’er of men may stand

Lifting a pure unsullied hand,

That man no doom of ours incurs,

And walks thro’ all his mortal path

Untouched by woe, unharmed by wrath.

But if, as yonder man, he hath

Blood on the hands he strives to hide,

We stand avengers at his side,

Decreeing, Thou hast wronged the dead:

We are doom’s witnesses to thee.

The price of blood his hands have shed,

We wring from him; in life, in death,

Hard at his side are we!

Night, Mother Night, who brought me forth, a torment

To living men and dead,

Hear me, O hear! by Leto’s stripling son

I am dishonoured:

He hath ta’en from me him who cowers in refuge,

To me made consecrate,—

A rightful victim, him who slew his mother,

Given o’er to me and Fate.

Hear the hymn of hell,

O’er the victim sounding,—

Chant of frenzy, chant of ill,

Sense and will confounding!

Round the soul entwining

Without lute or lyre—

Soul in madness pining,

Wasting as with fire!

Fate, all—pervading Fate, this service spun, commanding

That I should bide therein:

Whosoe’er of mortals, made perverse and lawless,

Is stained with blood of kin,

By his side are we, and hunt him ever onward,

Till to the Silent Land,