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

Lines 800–1200

Him and these fellow-farers at his side;

Give them such guest-right as beseems our halls;

I bid thee do as thou shalt answer for it.

And I unto the prince who rules our home

Will tell the tale, and, since we lack not friends,

With them will counsel how this hap to bear.[Exit Clytemnestra.

So be it done—

Sister—servants, when draws nigh

Time for us aloud to cry,

Orestes and his victory?

O holy earth and holy tomb

Over the grave—pit heaped on high,

Where low doth Agamemnon lie,

The king of ships, the army’s lord!

Now is the hour—give ear and come,

For now doth Craft her aid afford,

And Hermes, guard of shades in hell,

Stands o’er their strife, to sentinel

The dooming of the sword.

I wot the stranger worketh woe within—

For lo! I see come forth, suffused with tears,

Orestes’ nurse. What ho, Kilissa—thou

Beyond the doors? Where goest thou? Methinks

Some grief unbidden walketh at thy side.[Enter Kilissa, a nurse.

My mistress bids me, with what speed I may,

Call in Ægisthus to the stranger guests,

That he may come, and standing face to face,

A man with men, may thus more clearly learn

This rumour new. Thus speaking, to her slaves

She hid beneath the glance of fictive grief

Laughter for what is wrought—to her desire

Too well; but ill, ill, ill besets the house,

Brought by the tale these guests have told so clear.

And he, God wot, will gladden all his heart

Hearing this rumour. Woe and well-a-day!

The bitter mingled cup of ancient woes,

Hard to be borne, that here in Atreus’ house

Befel, was grievous to mine inmost heart,

But never yet did I endure such pain.

All else I bore with set soul patiently;

But now—alack, alack!—Orestes dear,

The day—and night-long travail of my soul!

Whom from his mother’s womb, a new-born child,

I clasped and cherished! Many a time and oft

Toilsome and profitless my service was,

When his shrill outcry called me from my couch!

For the young child, before the sense is born,

Hath but a dumb thing’s life, must needs be nursed

As its own nature bids. The swaddled thing

Hath nought of speech, whate’er discomfort come—

Hunger or thirst or lower weakling need,—

For the babe’s stomach works its own relief.

Which knowing well before, yet oft surprised,

’Twas mine to cleanse the swaddling clothes—poor I

Was nurse to tend and fuller to make white;

Two works in one, two handicrafts I took,

When in mine arms the father laid the boy.

And now he’s dead—alack and well—a—day!

Yet must I go to him whose wrongful power

Pollutes this house—fair tidings these to him!

Say then with what array she bids him come?

What say’st thou! Speak more clearly for mine ear.

Bids she bring henchmen, or to come alone?

She bids him bring a spear-armed body-guard.

Nay, tell not that unto our loathed lord,

But speed to him, put on the mien of joy,

Say, Come along, fear nought, the news is good:

A bearer can tell straight a twisted tale.

Does then thy mind in this new tale find joy?

What if Zeus bid our ill wind veer to fair?

And how? the home’s hope with Orestes dies.

Not yet—a seer, though feeble, this might see.

What say’st thou? Know’st thou aught this tale belying?

Go, tell the news to him, perform thine hest,—

What the gods will, themselves can well provide.

Well, I will go, herein obeying thee;

And luck fall fair, with favour sent from heaven.[Exit.

Zeus, sire of them who on Olympus dwell,

Hear thou, O hear my prayer!

Grant to my rightful lords to prosper well

Even as their zeal is fair!

For right, for right goes up aloud my cry—

Zeus, aid him, stand anigh!

Into his father’s hall he goes

To smite his father’s foes.

Bid him prevail! by thee on throne of triumph set,

Twice, yea and thrice with joy shall acquit the debt.

Bethink thee, the young steed, the orphan foal

Of sire beloved by thee, unto the car

Of doom is harnessed fast.

Guide him aright, plant firm a lasting goal,

Speed thou his pace,—O that no chance may mar

The homeward course, the last!

And ye who dwell within the inner chamber

Where shines the stored joy of gold—

Gods of one heart, O hear ye, and remember;

Up and avenge the blood shed forth of old,

With sudden rightful blow;

Then let the old curse die, nor be renewed

With progeny of blood,—

Once more, and not again, be latter guilt laid low!

O thou who dwell’st in Delphi’s mighty cave,

Grant us to see this home once more restored

Unto its rightful lord!

Let it look forth, from veils of death, with joyous eye

Unto the dawning light of liberty;

And Hermes, Maia’s child, lend hand to save,

Willing the right, and guide

Our state with Fortune’s breeze adown the favouring tide.

Whate’er in darkness hidden lies,

He utters at his will;

He at his will throws darkness on our eye,

By night and eke by day inscrutable.

Then, then shall wealth atone

The ills that here were done.

Then, then will we unbind,

Fling free on wafting wind

Of joy, the woman’s voice that waileth now

In piercing accents for a chief laid low;

And this our songs shall be—

Hail to the commonwealth restored!

Hail to the freedom won to me!

All hail! for doom hath passed from him, my well—loved lord!

And thou, O child, when Time and Chance agree,

Up to the deed that for thy sire is done!

And if she wail unto thee, Spare, O son—

Cry, Aid, O father—and achieve the deed,

The horror of man’s tongue, the gods’ great need!

Hold in thy breast such heart as Perseus had,

The bitter woe work forth,

Appease the summons of the dead,

The wrath of friends on earth;

Yea, set within a sign of blood and doom,

And do to utter death him that pollutes thy home.[Enter Ægisthus.

Hither and not unsummoned have I come;

For a new rumour, borne by stranger men

Arriving hither, hath attained mine ears.

Of hap unwished-for, even Orestes’ death.

This were new sorrow, a blood-bolter’s load

Laid on the house that doth already bow

Beneath a former wound that festers deep.

Dare I opine these words have truth and life?

Or are they tales, of woman’s terror born,

That fly in the void air, and die disproved?

Canst thou tell aught, and prove it to my soul?

What we have heard, we heard; go thou within

Thyself to ask the strangers of their tale.

Strengthless are tidings, thro’ another heard;

Question is his to whom the tale is brought.

I too will meet and test the messenger,

Whether himself stood witness of the death

Or tells it merely from dim rumour learnt:

None shall cheat me, whose soul hath watchful eyes.[Exit.

Zeus, Zeus! what word to me is given?

What cry or prayer, invoking heaven,

Shall first by me be uttered?

What speech of craft—nor all revealing,

Nor all too warily concealing—

Ending my speech, shall aid the deed?

For lo! in readiness is laid

The dark emprise, the rending blade;

Blood-dropping daggers shall achieve

The dateless doom of Atreus’ name,

Or—kindling torch and joyful flame

In sign of new-won liberty—

Once more Orestes shall retrieve

His father’s wealth, and throned on high,

Shall hold the city’s fealty.

So mighty is the grasp whereby,

Heaven-holpen, he shall trip and throw

Unseconded, a double foe.

Ho for the victory![A loud cry within.

Help, help, alas!

Ho there, ho! how is’t within?

Is’t done? is’t over? Stand we here aloof

While it is wrought, that guiltless we may seem

Of this dark deed; with death is strife fulfilled.[Enter a slave.

O woe, O woe, my lord is done to death!

Woe, woe, and again, Ægisthus gone!

Hasten, fling wide the doors, unloose the bolts

Of the queen’s chamber. O for some young strength

To match the need! but aid availeth nought

To him laid low for ever. Help, help, help!

Sure to deaf ears I shout, and call in vain

To slumber ineffectual. What ho!

The queen! how fareth Clytemnestra’s self?

Her neck too, hers, is close upon the steel,

And soon shall sink, hewn thro’ as justice wills.[Enter Clytemnestra.

What ails thee, raising this ado for us?

I say the dead are come to slay the living.

Alack, I read thy riddles all to clear—

We slew by craft and by like craft shall die.

Swift, bring the axe that slew my lord of old;

I’ll know anon or death or victory—

So stands the curse, so I confront it here.[Enter Orestes, his sword dropping with blood.

Thee too I seek: for him what’s done will serve.

Woe, woe! Ægisthus, spouse and champion, slain!

What, lov’st the man? then in his grave lie down,

Be his in death, desert him nevermore!

Stay, child, and fear to strike, O son, this breast

Pillowed thine head full oft, while, drowsed with sleep,

Thy toothless mouth drew mother’s milk from me.

Can I my mother spare? speak, Pylades.

Where then would fall the hest Apollo gave

At Delphi, where the solemn compact sworn?

Choose thou the hate of all men, not of gods.

Thou dost prevail; I hold thy counsel good.[To Clytemnestra.

Follow; I will to slay thee at his side.

With him whom in his life thou lovedst more

Than Agamemnon, sleep in death, the meed

For hate where love, and love where hate was due!

I nursed thee young; must I forego mine eld?

Thou slew’st my father; shalt thou dwell with me?

Fate bore a share in these things, O my child!

Fate also doth provide this doom for thee.

Beware, O child, a parent’s dying curse.

A parent who did cast me out to ill!

Not cast thee out, but to a friendly home.

Born free, I was by twofold bargain sold.

Where then the price that I received for thee?

The price of shame; I taunt thee not more plainly.

Nay, but recount thy father’s lewdness too.

keeping, chide not him who toils without.

’Tis hard for wives to live as widows, child.

The absent husband toils for them at home.

Thou growest fain to slay thy mother, child.

Nay, ’tis thyself wilt slay thyself, not I.

Beware thy mother’s vengeful hounds from hell.

How shall I ’scape my father’s, sparing thee?

Living, I cry as to a tomb, unheard.

My father’s fate ordains this doom for thee.

Ah, me! this snake it was I bore and nursed.

Ay, right prophetic was thy visioned fear.

Shameful thy deed was—die the death of shame![Exit, driving Clytemnestra before him.

Lo, even for these I mourn, a double death:

Yet since Orestes, driven on by doom,

Thus crowns the height of murders manifold,

I say, ’tis well that not in night and death

Should sink the eye and light of this our home.

There came on Priam’s race and name

A vengeance; though it tarried long,

With heavy doom it came.

Came, too, on Agamemnon’s hall

A lion-pair, twin swordsmen strong.

And last, the heritage doth fall

To him to whom from Pythian cave

The god his deepest counsel gave.

Cry out, rejoice! our kingly hall

Hath ’scaped from ruin—ne’er again

Its ancient wealth be wasted all

By two usurpers, is sin-defiled—

An evil path of woe and bane!

On him who dealt the dastard blow

Comes Craft, Revenge’s scheming child.

And hand in hand with him doth go,

Eager for fight,

The child of Zeus, whom men below

Call Justice, naming her aright.

And on her foes her breath

Is as the blast of death;

For her the god who dwells in deep recess

Beneath Parnassus’ brow,

Summons with loud acclaim

To rise, though late and lame,

And come with craft that worketh righteousness.

For even o’er powers divine this law is strong—

Thou shalt not serve the wrong.

To that which ruleth heaven beseems it that we bow.

Lo, freedom’s light hath come!

Lo, now is rent away

The grim and curbing bit that held us dumb.

Up to the light, ye halls! this many a day

Too low on earth ye lay.

And Time, the great Accomplisher,

Shall cross the threshold, whensoe’er

He choose with purging hand to cleanse

The palace, driving all pollution thence.

And fair the cast of Fortune’s die

Before our state’s new lords shall lie,

Not as of old, but bringing fairer doom.

Lo, freedom’s light hath come![The scene opens, disclosing Orestes standing over the corpses of Ægisthus and Clytemnestra; in one hand he holds his sword, in the other the robe in which Agamemnon was entangled and slain.

There lies our country’s twofold tyranny,

My father’s slayers, spoilers of my home.

Erst were they royal, sitting on the throne,.

And loving are they yet,—their common fate

Tells the tale truly, shows their trothplight firm.

They swore to work mine ill—starred father’s death,

They swore to die together; ’tis fulfilled.

O ye who stand, this great doom’s witnesses,

Behold this too, the dark device which bound

My sire unhappy to his death,—behold

The mesh which trapped his hands, enwound his feet!

Stand round, unfold it—’tis the trammel—net

That wrapped a chieftain; hold it that he see,

The father—not my sire, but he whose eye

Is judge of all things, the all—seeing Sun!

Let him behold my mother’s damnèd deed,

Then let him stand, when need shall be to me,

Witness that justly I have sought and slain

My mother; blameless was Ægisthus’ doom—

He died the death law bids adulterers die.

But she who plotted this accursed thing

To slay her lord, by whom she bare beneath

Her girdle once the burden of her babes,

Beloved erewhile, now turned to hateful foes—

What deem ye of her? or what venomed thing,

Sea-snake or adder, had more power than she

To poison with a touch the flesh unscarred?

So great her daring, such her impious will.

How name her, if I may not speak a curse?

A lion-springe! a laver’s swathing cloth,

Wrapping a dead man, twining round his feet—

A net, a trammel, an entangling robe?

Such were the weapon of some strangling thief,

The terror of the road, a cut-purse hound—

With such device full many might he kill,

Full oft exult in heat of villainy.

Ne’er have my house so cursed an indweller—

Heaven send me, rather, childless to be slain!

Woe for each desperate deed!

Woe for the queen, with shame of life bereft!

And ah, for him who still is left,

Madness, dark blossom of a bloody seed!

Did she the deed or not? this robe gives proof,

Imbrued with blood that bathed Ægisthus’ sword:

Look, how the spurted stain combines with time

To blur the many dyes that once adorned

Its pattern manifold! I now stand here,

Made glad, made sad with blood, exulting, wailing—

Hear, O thou woven web that slew my sire!

I grieve for deed and death and all my home—

Victor, pollution’s damnèd stain for prize.

Alas, that none of mortal men

Can pass his life untouched by pain!

Behold, one woe is here—

Another loometh near.

Hark ye and learn—for what the end shall be

For me I know not: breaking from the curb,

My spirit whirls me off, a conquered prey,

Borne as a charioteer by steeds distraught

Far from the course, and madness in my breast

Burneth to chant its song, and leap, and rave—

Hark ye and learn, friends, ere my reason goes!

I say that rightfully I slew my mother,

A thing God-scorned, that foully slew my sire.

And chiefest wizard of the spell that bound me

Unto this deed I name the Pythian seer

Apollo, who foretold that if I slew,

The guilt of murder done should pass from me;

But if I spared, the fate that should be mine

I dare not blazon forth—the bow of speech

Can reach not to the mark, that doom to tell.

And now behold me, how with branch and crown

I pass, a suppliant made meet to go

Unto Earth’s midmost shrine, the holy ground

Of Loxias, and that renowned light

Of ever-burning fire, to ’scape the doom

Of kindred murder: to no other shrine

(So Loxias bade) may I for refuge turn.

Bear witness, Argives, in the aftertime,

How came on me this dread fatality.

Living, I pass a banished wanderer hence,

To leave in death the memory of this cry.

Nay, but the deed is well; link not thy lips

To speech ill-starred, nor vent ill-boding words—

Who hast to Argos her full freedom given,

Lopping two serpents’ heads with timely blow.

Look, look, alas!

Handmaidens, see—what Gorgon shapes throng up,

Dusky their robes and all their hair enwound—

Snakes coiled with snakes—off, off, I must away!

Most loyal of all sons unto thy sire,

What visions thus distract thee? Hold, abide;

Great was thy victory, and shalt thou fear?

These are no dreams, void shapes of haunting ill,

But clear to sight my mother’s hell-hounds come!

Nay, the fresh bloodshed still imbrues thine hands,

And thence distraction sinks into thy soul.

O king Apollo—see, they swarm and throng—

Black blood of hatred dripping from their eyes!

One remedy thou hast; go, touch the shrine

Of Loxias, and rid thee of these woes.

Ye can behold them not, but I behold them.

Up and away! I dare abide no more.[Exit.

Farewell than as thou mayst,—the god thy friend

Guard thee and aid with chances favouring.

Behold, the storm of woe divine

That raves and beats on Atreus’ line

Its great third blast hath blown.

First was Thyestes’ loathly woe—

The rueful feast of long ago,

On children’s flesh, unknown.

And next the kingly chief’s despite,

When he who led the Greeks to fight

Was in the bath hewn down.

And now the offspring of the race

Stands in the third, the saviour’s place,

To save—or to consume?

O whither, ere it be fulfilled,

Ere its fierce blast be hushed and stilled,

Shall blow the wind of doom?[Exeunt.