Home  »  The Furies  »  Lines 400–799

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

Lines 400–799

The realm of death, he cometh; neither yonder

In freedom shall he stand.

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!

When from womb of Night we sprang, on us this labour

Was laid and shall abide.

Gods immortal are ye, yet beware ye touch not

That which is our pride!

None may come beside us gathered round the blood feast—

For us no garments white

Gleam on a festal day; for us a darker fate is,

Another darker rite.

That is mine hour when falls an ancient line—

When in the household’s heart

The god of blood doth slay by kindred hands,—

Then do we bear our part:

On him who slays we sweep with chasing cry:

Though he be triply strong,

We wear and waste him; blood atones for blood,

New pain for ancient wrong.

I hold this task—’tis mine, and not another’s.

The very gods on high,

Though they can silence and annul the prayers

Of those who on us cry,

They may not strive with us who stand apart,

A race by Zeus abhorred,

Blood-boltered, held unworthy of the council

And converse of heaven’s lord.

Therefore the more I leap upon my prey;

Upon their head I bound;

My foot is hard; as one that trips a runner

I cast them to the ground;

Yea, to the depth of doom intolerable;

And they who erst were great,

And upon earth held high their pride and glory,

Are brought to low estate,

In underworld they waste and are diminished,

The while around them fleet

Dark wavings of my robes, and, subtly woven,

The paces of my feet.

Who falls infatuate, he sees not, neither knows he

That we are at his side;

So closely round about him, darkly flitting,

The cloud of guilt doth glide.

Heavily ’tis uttered, how around his hearthstone

The mirk of hell doth rise.

Stern and fixed the law is; we have hands t’ achieve it,

Cunning to devise.

Queens are we and mindful of our solemn vengeance.

Not by tear or prayer

Shall a man avert it. In unhonoured darkness,

Far from gods, we fare,

Lit unto our task with torch of sunless regions,

And o’er a deadly way—

Deadly to the living as to those who see not

Life and light of day—

Hunt we and press onward. Who of mortals hearing

Doth not quake for awe,

Hearing all that Fate thro’ hand of God hath given us

For ordinance and law?

Yea, this right to us, in dark abysm and backward

Of ages it befel:

None shall wrong mine office, tho’ in nether regions

And sunless dark I dwell.[Enter Athena from above.

Far off I heard the clamour of your cry,

As by Scamander’s side I set my foot

Asserting right upon the land given o’er

To me by those who o’er Achaia’s host

Held sway and leadership: no scanty part

Of all they won by spear and sword, to me

They gave it, land and all that grew thereon,

As chosen heirloom for my Theseus’ clan.

Thence summoned, sped I with a tireless foot,—

Hummed on the wind, instead of wings, the fold

Of this mine ægis, by my feet propelled,

As, linked to mettled horses, speeds a car.

And now, beholding here Earth’s nether brood,

I fear it nought, yet are mine eyes amazed

With wonder. Who are ye? of all I ask,

And of this stranger to my statue clinging.

But ye—your shape is like no human form,

Like to no goddess whom the gods behold,

Like to no shape which mortal women wear.

Yet to stand by and chide a monstrous form

Is all unjust—from such words Right revolts.

O child of Zeus, one word shall tell thee all.

We are the children of eternal Night,

And Furies in the underworld are called.

I know your lineage now and eke your name.

Yea, and eftsoons indeed my rights shalt know.

Fain would I learn them; speak them clearly forth.

We chase from home the murderers of men.

And where at last can he that slew make pause?

Where this is law—All joy abandon here.

Say, do ye bay this man to such a flight?

Yea, for of choice he did his mother slay.

Urged by no fear of other wrath and doom?

What spur can rightly goad to matricide?

Two stand to plead—one only have I heard.

He will not swear nor challenge us to oath.

The form of justice, not its deed, thou willest.

Prove thou that word; thou art not scant of skill.

I say that oaths shall not enforce the wrong.

Then test the cause, judge and award the right.

Will ye to me then this decision trust?

Yea, reverencing true child of worthy sire.

ATHENA (to Orestes)
O man unknown, make thou thy plea in turn.

Speak forth thy land, thy lineage, and thy woes;

The, if thou canst, avert this bitter blame—

If, as I deem, in confidence of right

Thou sittest hard beside my holy place,

Clasping this statue, as Ixion sat,

A sacred suppliant for Zeus to cleanse,—

To all this answer me in words made plain.

O queen Athena, first from thy last words

Will I a great solicitude remove.

Not one blood-guilty am I no foul stain

Clings to thine image from my clinging hand;

Whereof one potent proof I have to tell.

Lo, the law stands—The slayer shall not plead,

Till by the hand of him who cleanses blood

A suckling creature’s blood besprinkle him.

Long since have I this expiation done,—

In many a home, slain beasts and running streams

Have cleansed me. Thus I speak away that fear.

Next, of my lineage quickly thou shalt learn:

An Argive am I, and right well thou know’st

My sire, that Agamemnon who arrayed

The fleet and them that went therein to war—

That chief with whom thy hand combined to crush

To an uncitied heap what once was Troy;

That Agamemnon, when he homeward came,

Was brought unto no honourable death,

Slain by the dark-souled wife who brought me forth

To him,—enwound and slain in wily nets,

Blazoned with blood that in the laver ran.

And I, returning from an exiled youth,

Slew her, my mother—lo, it stands avowed!

With blood for blood avenging my loved sire;

And in this deed doth Loxias bear part,

Decreeing agonies, to goad my will,

Unless by me the guilty found their doom.

Do thou decide if right or wrong were done—

Thy dooming, whatsoe’er it be, contents me.

Too mighty is this matter, whatsoe’er

Of mortals claims to judge hereof aright.

Yea, me, even me, eternal Right forbids

To judge the issues of blood-guilt, and wrath

That follows swift behind. This too gives pause,

That thou as one with all due rites performed

Dost come unsinning, pure, unto my shrine.

Whate’er thou art, in this my city’s name,

As uncondemned, I take thee to my side.—

Yet have these foes of thine such dues by fate,

I may not banish them: and if they fail,

O’erthrown in judgment of the cause, forthwith

Their anger’s poison shall infect the land—

A dropping plague-spot of eternal ill.

Thus stand we with a woe on either hand:

Stay they, or go at my commandment forth,

Perplexity or pain must needs befal.

Yet, as on me Fate hath imposed the cause,

I choose unto me judges that shall be

An ordinance for ever, set to rule

The dues of blood-guilt, upon oath declared.

But ye, call forth your witness and your proof,

Words strong for justice, fortified by oath;

And I, whoe’er are truest in my town,

Them will I choose and bring, and straitly charge,

Look on this cause, discriminating well,

And pledge your oath to utter nought of wrong.[Exit Athena.

Now are they all undone, the ancient laws,

If here the slayer’s cause

Prevail; new wrong for ancient right shall be

If matricide go free.

Henceforth a deed like his by all shall stand,

Too ready to the hand:

Too oft shall parents in the aftertime

Rue and lament this crime,—

Taught, not in false imagining, to feel

Their children’s thrusting steel:

No more the wrath that erst on murder fell

From us, the queens of hell,

Shall fall, no more our watching gaze impend—

Death shall smite unrestrained.

Henceforth shall one unto another cry,

Lo, they are stricken, lo, they fall and die

Around me! and that other answers him,

O thou that lookest that thy woes should cease,

Behold, with dark increase

They throng and press upon thee; yea, and dim

Is all the cure, and every comfort vain!

Let none henceforth cry out, when falls the blow

Of sudden—smiting woe,

Cry out, in sad reiterated strain,

O Justice, aid! aid, O ye thrones of hell!

So though a father or a mother wail

New-smitten by a son, it shall no more avail,

Since, overthrown by wrong, the fane of Justice fell!

Know that a throne there is that may not pass away,

And one that sitteth on it—even Fear,

Searching with steadfast eyes man’s inner soul:

Wisdom is child of pain, and born with many a tear;

But who henceforth,

What man of mortal men, what nation upon earth,

That holdeth nought in awe nor in the light

Of inner reverence, shall worship Right

As in the older day?

Praise not, O man, the life beyond control,

Nor that which bows unto a tyrant’s sway.

Know that the middle way

Is dearest unto God, and they thereon who wend,

They shall achieve the end;

But they who wander or to left or right

Are sinners in his sight.

Take to thy heart this one, this soothfast word—

Of wantonness impiety is sire;

Only from calm control and sanity unstirred

Cometh true weal, the goal of every man’s desire.

Yea, whatsoe’er befal, hold thou this word of mine:

Bow down at Justice’ shrine,

Turn thou thine eyes away from earthly lure,

Nor with a godless foot that altar spurn.

For as thou dost shall Fate do in return,

And the great doom is sure.

Therefore let each adore a parent’s trust,

And each with loyalty revere the guest

That in his halls doth rest.

For whoso uncompelled doth follow what is just,

He ne’er shall be unblest;

Yea, never to the gulf of doom

That man shall come.

But he whose will is set against the gods,

Who treads beyond the law with foot impure,

Till o’er the wreck of Right confusion broods,—

Know that for him, though now he sail secure,

The day of storm shall be; then shall he strive and fail

Down from the shivered yard to furl the sail,

And call on powers that heed him nought, to save,

And vainly wrestle with the whirling wave.

Hot was his heart with pride—

I shall not fall, he cried.

But him with watching scorn

The god beholds, forlorn,

Tangled in toils of Fate beyond escape,

Hopeless of haven safe beyond the cape—

Till all his wealth and bliss of bygone day

Upon the reef of Rightful Doom is hurled,

And he is rapt away

Unwept, for ever, to the dead forgotten world.[Re-enter Athena, with twelve Athenian citizens.

O herald, make proclaim, bid all men come.

Then let the shrill blast of the Tyrrhene trump,

Fulfilled with mortal breath, thro’ the wide air

Peal a loud summons, bidding all men heed.

For, till my judges fill this judgment-seat,

Silence behoves,—that this whole city learn

What for all time mine ordinance commands,

And these men, that the cause be judged aright.[Apollo approaches.

O king Apollo, rule what is thine own,

But in this thing what share pertains to thee?

First, as a witness come I, for this man

Is suppliant of mine by sacred right,

Guest of my holy hearth and cleansed by me

Of blood-guilt: then, to set me at his side

And in his cause bear part, as part I bore

Erst in his deed, whereby his mother fell.

Let whoso knoweth now announce the cause.

ATHENA (to the Chorus)

’Tis I announce the cause—first speech be yours;

For rightfully shall they whose plaint is tried

Tell the tale first and set the matter clear.

Though we be many, brief shall be our tale.

(To Orestes) Answer thou, setting word to match with word;

And first avow—hast thou thy mother slain?

I slew her. I deny no word hereof.

Three falls decide the wrestle—this is one.

Thou vauntest thee—but o’er no final fall.

Yet must thou tell the manner of thy deed.

Drawn sword in hand, I gashed her neck, ’Tis told.

But by those word, whose craft, wert thou impelled?

By oracles of him who here attests me.

The prophet-god bade thee thy mother slay?

Yea, and thro’ him less ill I fared, till now.

If the vote grip thee, thou shalt change that word.

Strong is my hope; my buried sire shall aid.

Go to now, trust the dead, a matricide!

Yea, for in her combined two stains of sin.

How? speak this clearly to the judges’ mind.

Slaying her husband, she did slay my sire.

Therefore thou livest; death assoils her deed.

Then while she lived why didst thou hunt her not?

She was not kin by blood to him she slew.

And I, am I by blood my mother’s kin?

O cursed with murder’s guilt, how else wert thou

The burden of her womb? Dost thou forswear

Thy mother’s kinship, closest bond of love?

It is thine hour, Apollo—speak the law,

Averring if this deed were justly done;

For done it is, and clear and undenied.

But if to thee this murder’s cause seem right

Or wrongful, speak—that I to these may tell.

To you, Athena’s mighty council-court,

Justly for justice will I plead, even I,

The prophet-god, nor cheat you by one word.

For never spare I from my prophet-seat

One word, of man, of woman, or of state,

Save what the Father of Olympian gods

Commanded unto me. I rede you then,

Bethink you of my plea, how strong it stands,

And follow the decree of Zeus, or sire,—

For oaths prevail not over Zeus’ command.

Go to; thou sayest that from Zeus befal

The oracle that this Orestes bade

With vengeance quit the slaying of his sire,

And hold as nought his mother’s right of kin!

Yea, for it stands not with a common death,

That he should die, a chieftain and a king

Decked with the sceptre which high heaven confers—

Die, and by female hands, not smitten down

By a far-shooting bow, held stalwartly

By some strong Amazon. Another doom

Was his: O Pallas, hear, and ye who sit

In judgment, to discern this thing aright!—

She with a specious voice of welcome true

Hailed him, returning from the mighty mart

Where war for life gives fame, triumphant home;

Then o’er the laver, as he bathed himself;

She spread from head to foot a covering net,

And in the endless mesh of cunning robes

Enwound and trapped her lord, and smote him down.

Lo, ye have heard what doom this chieftain met,

The majesty of Greece, the fleets high lord:

Such as I tell it, let it gall your ears,

Who stand as judges to decide this cause.

Zeus, as thou sayest, holds a father’s death

As first of crimes,—yet he of his own act

Cast into chains his father, Cronos old:

How suits that deed with that which now ye tell?

O ye who judge, I bid ye mark by words!

O monsters loathed of all, O scorn of gods,

He that hath bound my loose: a cure there is,

Yea, many a plan that can unbind the chain.

But when the thirsty dust sucks up man’s blood

Once shed in death, he shall arise no more.

No chant nor charm for this my Sire hath wrought.

All else there is, he moulds and shifts at will,

Not scant of strength nor breath, whate’er he do.

Think yet for what acquittal thou dost plead:

He who hath shed a mother’s kindred blood,

Shall he in Argos dwell, where dwelt his sire?

How shall he stand before the city’s shrines,

How share the clansmen’s holy lustral bowl?

This too I answer; mark a soothfast word:

Not the true parent is the woman’s womb

That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed

New-sown: the male is parent; she for him,

As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ

Of life, unless the god its promise blight.

And proof hereof before you will I set.

Birth may from fathers, without mothers, be:

See at your side a witness of the same,

Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,

Never within the darkness of the womb

Fostered nor fashioned, but a bud more bright

Than any goddess in her breast might bear.

And I, O Pallas, howsoe’er I may,

Henceforth will glorify thy town, thy clan,

And for this end have sent my suppliant here

Unto thy shrine; that he from this time forth

Be loyal unto thee for evermore,

O goddess—queen, and thou unto thy side

Mayst win and hold him faithful, and his line,

And that for aye this pledge and troth remain

To children’s children of Athenian seed.

Enough is said; I bid the judges now

With pure intent deliver just award.

We too have shot our every shaft of speech,

And now abide to hear the doom of law.

ATHENA (to Apollo and Orestes)

Say, how ordaining shall I ’scape your blame?

I spake, ye heard; enough. O stranger men,

Heed well your oath as ye decide the cause.

O men of Athens, ye who first to judge

The law of bloodshed, hear me now ordain.

Here to all time for Ægeus’ Attic host

Shall stand this council-court of judges sworn,

Here the tribunal, set on Ares’ Hill

Where camped of old the tented Amazons,

What time in hate of Theseus they assailed

Athens, and set against her citadel

A counterwork of new sky-pointing towers,

And there to Ares held their sacrifice,

Where now the rock hath name, even Ares’ Hill.

And hence shall Reverence and her kinsman Fear