Home  »  The Libation-Bearers  »  Lines 400–799

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

Lines 400–799

Strive and wrestle as we may,

Still stands doom invincible,

Nay, if so he will, the god

Still our tears to joy can turn.

He can bid a triumph-ode

Drown the dirge beside this urn;

He to kingly halls can greet

The child restored, the homeward-guided feet.

Ah my father! hadst thou lain

Under Ilion’s wall,

By some Lycian spearman slain,

Thou hadst left in this thine hall

Honour; thou hadst wrought for us

Fame and life most glorious.

Over-seas if thou hadst died,

Heavily had stood thy tomb,

Heaped on high; but, quenched in pride,

Grief were light unto thy home.

Loved and honoured hadst thou lain

By the dead that nobly fell,

In the underworld again,

Where are throned the kings of hell,

Full of sway adorable

Thou hadst stood at their right hand—

Thou that wert, in mortal land,

By Fate’s ordinance and law,

King of kings who bear the crown

And the staff, to which in awe

Mortal men bow down.

Nay, O father, I were fain

Other fate had fallen on thee.

Ill it were if thou hadst lain

One among the common slain,

Fallen by Scamander’s side—

Those who slew thee there should be!

Then, untouched by slavery,

We had heard as from afar

Deaths of those who should have died

’Mid the chance of war.

O child, forbear! things all too high thou sayest.

Easy, but vain, thy cry!

A boon above all gold is that thou prayest,

An unreached destiny,

As of the blessèd land that far aloof

Beyond the north wind lies;

Yet doth your double prayer ring loud reproof;

A double scourge of sighs

Awakes the dead; th’ avengers rise, though late;

Blood stains the guilty pride

Of the accursed who rule on earth, and Fate

Stands on the children’s side.

That hath sped thro’ mine ear, like a shaft from a bow!

Zeus, Zeus! it is thou who dost send from below

A doom on the desperate doer—ere long

On a mother a father shall visit his wrong.

Be it mine to upraise thro’ the reek of the pyre

The chant of delight, while the funeral fire

Devoureth the corpse of a man that is slain

And a woman laid low!

For who bids me conceal it! outrending control,

Blows ever the stern blast of hate thro’ my soul,

And before me a vision of wrath and of bane

Flits and waves to and fro.

Zeus, thou alone to us art parent now.

Smite with a rending blow

Upon their heads, and bid the land be well:

Set right where wrong hath stood; and thou give ear,

O Earth, unto my prayer—

Yea, hear, O mother Earth, and monarchy of hell!

Nay, the law is sternly set—

Blood drops shed upon the ground

Plead for other bloodshed yet;

Loud the call of death doth sound,

Calling guilt of olden time,

A Fury, crowning crime with crime.

Where, where are ye, avenging powers,

Puissant Furies of the slain?

Behold the relics of the race

Of Atreus, thrust from pride of place!

O Zeus, what home henceforth is ours,

What refuge to attain?

Lo, at your wail my heart throbs, wildly stirred;

Now am I lorn with sadness,

Darkened in all my soul, to hear your sorrow’s word.

Anon to hope, the seat of strength, I rise,—

She, thrusting grief away, lifts up mine eyes

To the new dawn of gladness.

Skills it to tell of aught save wrong on wrong,

Wrought by our mother’s deed?

Though now she fawn for pardon, sternly strong

Standeth our wrath, and will nor hear nor heed;

Her children’s soul is wolfish, born from hers,

And softens not by prayers.

I dealt upon my breast the blow

That Asian mourning women know;

Wails from my breast the fun’ral cry,

The Cissian weeping melody;

Stretched rendingly forth, to tatter and tear,

My clenched hands wander, here and there,

From head to breast; distraught with blows

Throb dizzily my brows.

Aweless in hate, O mother, sternly brave!

As in a foeman’s grave

Thou laid’st in earth a king, but to the bier

No citizen drew near,—

Thy husband, thine, yet for his obsequies,

Thou bad’st no wail arise!

Alas, the shameful burial thou dost speak!

Yet I the vengeance of his shame will wreak—

That do the gods command!

That shall achieve mine hand!

Grant me to thrust her life away, and I

Will dare to die!

List thou the deed! Hewn down and foully torn,

He to the tomb was borne;

Yea, by her hand, the deed who wrought,

With like dishonour to the grave was brought,

And by her hand she strove, with strong desire,

Thy life to crush, O child, by murder of thy sire:

Bethink thee, hearing, of the shame, the pain

Wherewith that sire was slain!

Yea, such was the doom of my sire; well-a-day,

I was thrust from his side,—

As a dog from the chamber they thrust me away,

And in place of my laughter rose sobbing and tears,

As in darkness I lay.

O father, if this word can pass to thine ears,

To thy soul let it reach and abide!

Let it pass, let it pierce, thro’ the sense of thine ear,

To thy soul, where in silence it waiteth the hour!

The past is accomplished; but rouse thee to hear

What the future prepareth; wake and appear,

Our champion, in wrath and in power!

O father, to thy loved ones come in aid.

With tears I call on thee.

Listen and rise to light!

Be thou with us, be thou against the foe!

Swiftly this cry arises—even so

Pray we, the loyal band, as we have prayed!

Let their might meet with mine, and their right with my right.

O ye gods, it is yours to decree.

Ye call unto the dead; I quake to hear.

Fate is ordained of old, and shall fulfil your prayer.

Alas, the inborn curse that haunts our home,

Of Atè’s bloodstained scourge the tuneless sound!

Alas, deep insufferable doom,

The stanchless wound!

It shall be stanched, the task is ours,—

Not by a stranger’s, but by kindred hand,

Shall be chased forth the blood-fiend of our land.

Be this our spoken spell, to call Earth’s nether powers!

Lords of a dark eternity,

To you has come the children’s cry,

Send up from hell, fulfil your aid

To them who prayed.

O father, murdered in unkingly wise,

Fulfil my prayer, grant me thine halls to sway.

To me, too, grant this boon—dark death to deal

Unto Ægisthus, and to ’scape my doom.

So shall the rightful feasts that mortals pay

Be set for thee; else, not for thee shall rise

The scented reek of altars fed with flesh,

But thou shalt lie dishonoured: hear thou me!

I too, from my full heritage restored,

Will pour the lustral streams, what time I pass

Forth as a bride from these paternal halls,

And honour first, beyond all graves, thy tomb.

Earth, send my sire to fend me in the fight!

Give fair-faced fortune, O Persephone!

Bethink thee, father, in the laver slain—

Bethink thee of the net they handselled for thee!

Bonds not of brass ensnared thee, father mine.

Yea, the ill craft of an enfolding robe.

By this our bitter speech arise, O sire!

Raise thou thine head at love’s last, dearest call!

Yea, speed forth Right to aid thy kinsmen’s cause;

Grip for grip, let them grasp the foe, if thou

Willest in triumph to forget thy fall.

Hear me, O father, once again hear me.

Lo! at thy tomb, two fledglings of thy brood—

A man-child and a maid; hold them in ruth,

Nor wipe them out, the last of Pelops’ line.

For while they live, thou livest from the dead;

Children are memory’s voices, and preserve

The dead from wholly dying: as a net

Is ever by the buoyant corks upheld,

Which save the flex-mesh, in the depth submerged.

Listen, this wail of ours doth rise for thee,

And as thou heedest it thyself art saved.

In sooth, a blameless prayer ye spake at length—

The tomb’s requital for its dirge denied:

Now, for the rest, as thou art fixed to do,

Take fortune by the hand and work thy will.

The doom is set; and yet I fain would ask—

Not swerving from the course of my resolve,—

Wherefore she sent these offerings, and why

She softens all too late her cureless deed?

An idle boon it was, to send them here

Unto the dead who recks not of such gifts.

I cannot guess her thought, but well I ween

Such gifts are skilless to atone such crime.

Be blood once spilled, and idle strife he strives

Who seeks with other wealth or wine outpoured

To atone the deed. So stands the word, nor fails.

Yet would I know her thought; speak, if thou knowest.

I know it, son; for at her side I stood.

’Twas the night-wandering terror of a dream

That flung her shivering from her couch, and bade her—

Her, the accursed of God—these offerings send.

Heard ye the dream, to tell it forth aright?

Yea, from herself; her womb a serpent bare.

What then the sum and issue of the tale?

Even as a swaddled child, she lull’d the thing.

What suckling craved the creature, born full-fanged?

Yet in her dreams she proffered it the breast.

How? did the hateful thing not bite her teat?

Yea, and sucked forth a blood-gout in the milk.

Not vain this dream—it bodes a man’s revenge.

Then out of sleep she started with a cry,

And thro’ the palace for their mistress’ aid

Full many lamps, that erst lay blind with night,

Flared into light; then, even as mourners use,

She sends these offerings, in hope to win

A cure to cleave and sunder sin from doom.

Earth and my father’s grave, to you I call—

Give this her dream fulfilment, and thro’ me.

I read it in each part coincident

With what shall be; for mark, that serpent sprang

From the same womb as I, in swaddling bands

By the same hands was swathed, lipped the same breast,

And sucking forth the same sweet mother’s-milk

Infused a clot of blood; and in alarm

She cried upon her wound the cry of pain.

The rede is clear: the thing of dread she nursed,

The death of blood she dies; and I, ’tis I,

In semblance of a serpent, that must slay her.

Thou art my seer, and thus I read the dream.

So do; yet ere thou doest, speak to us,

Bidding some act, some, by not acting, aid.

Brief my command: I bid my sister pass

In silence to the house, and all I bid

This my design with wariness conceal,

That they who did by craft a chieftain slay

May by like craft and in like noose be ta’en,

Dying the death which Loxias foretold—

Apollo, king and prophet undisproved.

I with this warrior Pylades will come

In likeness of a stranger, full equipt

As travellers come, and at the palace gates

Will stand, as stranger, yet in friendship’s bond

Unto this house allied; and each of us

Will speak the tongue that round Parnassus sounds,

Feigning such speech as Phocian voices use.

And what if none of those that tend the gates

Shall welcome us with gladness, since the house

With ills divine is haunted? if this hap,

We at the gate will bide, till, passing by,

Some townsman make conjecture and proclaim,

How? is Ægisthus here, and knowingly

Keeps suppliants aloof, by bolt and bar?

Then shall I win my way; and if I cross

The threshold of the gate, the palace’ guard,

And find him throned where once my father sat—

Or if he come anon, and face to face

Confronting, drop his eyes from mine—I swear

He shall not utter, Who art thou and whence?

Ere my steel leap, and compassed round with death

Low he shall lie: and thus, full-fed with doom,

The Fury of the house shall drain once more

A deep third draught of rich unmingled blood.

But thou, O sister, look that all within

Be well prepared to give these things event.

And ye—I say ’twere well to bear a tongue

Full of fair silence and of fitting speech

As each beseems the time; and last, do thou,

Hermes the warder-god, keep watch and ward,

And guide to victory my striving sword.[Exit with Pylades.

Many and marvellous the things of fear

Earth’s breast doth bear;

And the sea’s lap with many monsters teems,

And windy levin-bolts and meteor-gleams

Breed many deadly things—

Unknown and flying forms, with fear upon their wings,

And in their tread is death;

And rushing whirlwinds, of whose blasting breath

Man’s tongue can tell.

But who can tell aright the fiercer thing,

The aweless soul, within man’s breast inhabiting?

Who tell, how, passion-fraught and love-distraught,

The woman’s eager, craving thought

Doth wed mankind to woe and ruin fell?

Yea, how the loveless love that doth possess

The woman, even as the lioness,

Doth rend and wrest apart, with eager strife,

The link of wedded life?

Let him be the witness, whose thought is not borne on light wings thro’ the air,

But abideth with knowledge, what thing was wrought by Althea’s despair;

For she marr’d the life-grace of her son, with ill counsel rekindled the flame

That was quenched as it glowed on the brand, what time from his mother he came,

With the cry of a new-born child; and the brand from the burning she won,

For the Fates had foretold it coeval, in life and in death, with her son.

Yea, and man’s hate tells of another, even Scylla of murderous guile,

Who slew for an enemy’s sake her father, won o’er by the wile

And the gifts of Cretan Minos, the gauds of the high-wrought gold;

For she clipped from her father’s head the lock that should never wax old,

As he breathed in the silence of sleep, and knew not her craft and her crime—

But Hermes, the guard of the dead, doth grasp her, in fulness of time.

And since of the crimes of the cruel I tell, let my singing record

The bitter wedlock and loveless, the curse on these halls outpoured

The crafty device of a woman, whereby did a chieftain fall,

A warrior stern in his wrath, the fear of his enemies all,—

A song of dishonour, untimely! and cold is the hearth that was warm,

And ruled by the cowardly spear, the woman’s unwomanly arm.

But the summit and crown of all crimes is that which in Lemnos befel;

A woe and a mourning it is, a shame and a spitting to tell;

And he that in aftertime doth speak of his deadliest thought,

Doth say, It is like to the deed that of old time in Lemnos was wrought;

And loathed of men were the doers, and perished, they and their seed,

For the gods brought hate upon them; none loveth the impious deed.

It is well of these tales to tell; for the sword in the grasp of Right

With a cleaving, a piercing blow to the innermost heart doth smite,

And the deed unlawfully done is not trodden down nor forgot,

When the sinner outsteppeth the law and heedeth the high God not;

But Justice hath planted the anvil, and Destiny forgeth the sword

That shall smite in her chosen time; by her is the child restored;

And, darkly devising, the Fiend of the house, world-cursed, will repay

The price of the blood of the slain that was shed in the bygone day.[Enter Orestes and Pylades, in guise of travellers.

ORESTES (knocking at the palace gate)
What ho! slave, ho! I smite the palace gate

In vain, it seems; what ho, attend within,—

Once more, attend; come forth and ope the halls,

If yet Ægisthus holds them hospitable.

SLAVE (from within)
Anon, anon!
[Opens the door.

Speak, from what land art thou, and sent from whom?

Go, tell to them who rule the palace halls,

Since ’tis to them I come with tidings new—

(Delay not—Night’s dark car is speeding on,

And time is now for wayfarers to cast

Anchor in haven, wheresoe’er a house

Doth welcome strangers)—that there now come forth

Some one who holds authority within—

The queen, or, if some man, more seemly were it;

For when man standeth face to face with man,

No stammering modesty confounds their speech,

But each to each doth tell his meaning clear.[Enter Clytemnestra.

Speak on, O strangers; have ye need of aught?

Here is whate’er beseems a house like this—

Warm bath and bed, tired Nature’s soft restorer,

And courteous eyes to greet you; and if aught

Of graver import needeth act as well,

That, as man’s charge, I to a man will tell.

A Daulian man am I, from Phocis bound,

And as with mine own travel-scrip self-laden

I went toward Argos, parting hitherward

With travelling foot, there did encounter me

One whom I knew not and who knew not me,

But asked my purposed way nor hid his own,

And, as we talked together, told his name—

Strophius of Phocis; then he said, “Good sir,

Since in all case thou art to Argos bound,

Forget not this my message, heed it well,

Tell to his own, Orestes is no more.

And—whatsoe’er his kinsfolk shall resolve,

Whether to bear his dust unto his home,

Or lay him here, in death as erst in life

Exiled for aye, a child of banishment—

Bring me their hest, upon thy backward road;

For now in brazen compass of an urn

His ashes lie, their dues of weeping paid.”

So much I heard, and so much tell to thee,

Not knowing if I speak unto his kin

Who rule his home; but well, I deem, it were,

Such news should earliest reach a parent’s ear.

Ah woe is me! thy word our ruin tells;

From roof-tree unto base are we despoiled.—

O thou whom nevermore we wrestle down,

Thou Fury of this home, how oft and oft

Thou dost descry what far aloof is laid,

Yea, from afar dost bend th’ unerring bow

And rendest from my wretchedness its friends;

As now Orestes—who, a brief while since,

Safe from the mire of death stood warily,—

Was the home’s hope to cure th’ exulting wrong;

Now thou ordainest, Let the ill abide.

To host and hostess thus with fortune blest,

Lief had I come with better news to bear

Unto your greeting and acquaintanceship;

For what goodwill lies deeper than the bond

Of guest and host? and wrong abhorred it were,

As well I deem, if I, who pledged my faith

To one, and greetings from the other had,

Bore not aright the tidings ’twixt the twain.

Whate’er thy news, thou shalt not welcome lack,

Meet and deserved, nor scant our grace shall be.

Hadst thou thyself not come, such tale to tell,

Another, sure, had borne it to our ears.

But lo! the hour is here when travelling guests,

Fresh from the daylong labour of the road,

Should win their rightful due. Take him within[To the slave.

To the man-chamber’s hospitable rest—