Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aeschylus, Orestia, trasl. Paul Roche

Aeschylus, The Orestes Plays of Aeschylus, transl. Paul Roche, A Mentor Book, New American Library, New York, 1962.

Other Translations Referenced: Buckley, Theodore Alois, The Tragedies of Aeschylus Literally Translated, Harper & Brothers Publisher, Franklin Square, New York, 1859; Hamilton, Edith. Three Greek Plays. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1937; Lattimore, Richard. Orestia, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953; Fagles, Robert. The Orestia, Viking Press, New York, 1966; Harrison, Tony. The Orestia, Rex Collins, London, 1981.


WATCHMAN: O you gods! how I long for an end to all this strain:
This year-long watch, up on the roof of the Atreidae,
Crouched on my elbows like a kennel hound,
Scanning by heart the stars at night,
That chorus of master shiners,
Dispensers of our summers and our storms—
Those so conspicuous stars: their wax and wane—
For I am watching still for one bright sign:
A beacon flash from Troy to tell me it is taken.
Yet, it’s fixed on that, this woman’s man-strong heart,
There’s my bed: dew-drenched, tossed, untouched by dreams;
Fear, not sleep my comrade;
Eyelids trussed from ever sleeping safely.
And if I whistle, then, hum a little ditty,
Just a tune to charm and drug sleep off,
Oh, it turns into a dirge for this stricken house—
So gone down, so fallen from its governance.
How I wish there’d come at last a happy end to strain!
Oh make that bonfire blaze
Good news upon the gloom.
[A beacon flare slowly spreads
across the dawn]
A light! Oh look:
Lovely dayspring in the dark,
Forerunner of that chorus and the dance
Which many in Argos shall celebrate this day.
Hullo, there! Hullo!
Cry out the news to Agamemnon’s queen.
Let the lady rise with instant shout and sing
Her welcome to the beacon…
If that clarion flash be true
And Troy great city fallen.
I’ll start a dance myself; the dice are tumbling well.
My master’s lucky throw is mine:
That bonfire’s scored a triple-six.
Master, may you soon come hope and I Grasp in this hand the hand I love.
The rest I leave to silence—
A giant ox treads on my tongue.
Though if these walls could find a voice,
They’d say it plain.
As for me: I’ll let the knowing know,
But with those others—let my memory go. (Roche)
WATCHMAN: I pray the gods a deliverance from these toils, a remedy for my year-long watch, in which, couching on my elbows on the roofs of the Atreidae, like a dog, I have contemplated the host of the nightly stars, and the bright potentates that bear winter and summer to mortals, conspicuous in the firmament. And now I am watching for the signal of the beacon, the blaze of fire that brings a voice from Troy, and tidings of its capture; for thus strong in hope is the woman’s heart, of manly counsel. And while I have a night-bewildered and dew-drenched couch, not visited by dreams, for fear, in place of sleep, stands at my side, so that I can not firmly close my eyelids in slumber. And when I think to sing or whistle, preparing this the counter-charm of song against sleep, then do I mourn, sighing over the sad condition of this house, that is not, as of yore, most excellently administered. But now, may there be a happy release from my toils, as the fire of joyous tidings appears through the gloom! Oh hail! thou lamp of night, thou that displayest a light like as the day, and the marshaling of many dances in Argos, on account of this event. Ho! Ho! I will give a signal distinctly to the wife of Agamemnon, that she, having arisen with all speed from her couch, may rise aloud a joyous shout in welcome to this beacon, if indeed the city of Ilion is taken, as the beacon-light stands forth announcing; and I myself will dance a prelude. For I will count the throws of my lord that have fallen well, mine own, since this kindling of the beacon-light has cast me thrice six. May it then befall me to grasp with this hand of min the friendly hand of the sovereign of this palace on his arrival. But for the rest I am silent; a mighty ox hath come upon my tongue: but the house itself, could it find a voice, would tell most plainly. Thus I readily speak to them that know, and for such as know not I have no memory. (Buckley)

WATCHMAN: Oh God, for an end to this weary work.
A year long I have watched here, head on arm,
crouched like a dog on Agamemnon’s roof.
The stars of night have kept me company.
I know them all, and when they rise and set.
Those that bring winter’s cold and summer’s heat—
For they have power, those bright things in the sky.
And what I watch for is a beacon fire,
a flash of flame to bring the word from Troy,
word that the town has fallen.
It’s a woman’s hope, for a woman is master here,
but her heart is as stout as ever a man’s.
no rest for me by night. I wander up and down.
My bed is wet with dew. Dreams keep away.
Fear is up here, not sleep. I never close my eyes.
Singing or whistling helps a sleepy man,
but if I try to make a sound I groan
for all the evil happening down there.
Things once were right in this house, but no more.
Oh, for a bit of luck to free me now,
that fire to bring news out of the night.
(A pause. He stands silent, watching. In the dark
a spark of light is seen. It grows brighter, spreading
into a blaze.)
A flame! Oh, see! It turns the dark to day.
There’ll be dancing now and singing in the town.
Ho there! Ho there! O Agamemnon’s Queen,
Up from your bed—Quick, quick—and shout for joy.
Shout for the beacon light. Troy—Troy is taken.
The messenger has come, the fire signal.
(Lights and movement are seen within the palace.)
I’ll start the dancing up here by myself.
The dice have fallen well. I’ll mark the score.
This beacon fire has thrown us three times six.
Oh, let me see my master home again,
and hold once more his dear hand in my own.
Those other things—no more of them. I put
a weight big as an ox upon my tongue.
And yet the very house, if it had voice,
would speak out clear—just as I too speak out
to those who know. To those who do not—why,
I lose my memory. (Hamilton)

WATCHMAN: Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
from the watch I keep, one whole year awake…
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus
like a dog.
I know the stars by heart,
the companies of the night, and there in the lead
the ones that bring us snow or the warm summer,
bring us all we have—
our great kings blazing across the sky,
I know them, when they sink and when they rise…
and now I watch for the light, the signal-fire
breaking out of Troy, shouting Troy is taken.
So she commands, full of her high hopes.
That woman—she maneuvers like a man.
And when I keep to my bed, soaked in dew,
and the thoughts go drifting through the night
and sleep’s aide, good dreams… not here,
it’s the old comrade, terror at my neck.
I mustn’t sleep, no—
Look alive, sentry.
And I try to pick out tines, I hum a little,
a good cure for sleep, and the tears start,
I sob for all that’s come to the house. So badly
managed now. Men die and things go down.
Oh for a blessed end to all our pain,
some godsend burning through the dark—
Light appears slowly in the east; he
Struggles to his feet and scans it.
I salute you1
You dawn of the darkness, you turn night to day—
I see the light at last.
They’ll be dancing in the streets of Argos
thanks to you, thanks to this new stroke of—
There’s your signal clear and true, my queen!
Rise up from bed, hurry, lift a cry of triumph
through the house, praise the gods for the beacon,
if they’ve taken Troy…
But there she burns,
fire all the way. I’m for the morning dances.
Master’s luck is mine. A throw of the torch
has brought us triple-sixes—we have won!
My move now—
Beginning to dance, then breaking
off, lost in thought.
Just bring him home. My king,
I’ll take your loving hand in mine and then…
the rest is silence. The ox is on my tongue.
Aye, but the house and these old stones,
give them a voice and what a tale they’d tell.
And so would I, gladly…
I speak to those who know; to those who don’t
my mind’s a blank. I never say a word. (Fagles)

I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed upon the Atreidae’s roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night
burdened with winter and again with heat for men,
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise.
I wait; to read the meaning in that beacon light,
a blaze of fire to carry out of Troy the rumor
and outcry of its capture; to such end a lday’s
male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains.
Now as this bed stricken with night and drenched with dew
I keep, nor ever with kind dreams for company:
since fear in sleep’s place stands forever at my head
against strong closure of my eyes, or any rest:
I mince such medicine against sleep failed: I sing,
only to weep again the pity of this house
no longer, as once, administered in the grand way.
Now let there be again redemption from distress,
the flare burning from the blackness in good augury.
(A light shows in the distance.)
Oh hail, blaze of the darkness, harbinger of day’s
shining, and of processionals and dance and choirs
of multitudes in Argos for this day of grace.
I cry the news to Agamemnon’s queen,
that she may rise up from her bed of state with speed
to raise the rumor of gladness welcoming this beacon,
and singing rise, if truly the citadel of Ilium
has fallen, as the shining of this flare proclaims.
I also, I, will make my choral prelude, since
my lord’s dice cast aright are counted as my own,
and mine the tripled sixes of this torchlit throw.
May it only happen. May my king come home, and I
take up within this hand the hand I love. The rest
I leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon
my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak
aloud and plain. I speak to those who understand,
but if they fail, I have forgotten everything. (Lattimore)

WATCHMAN: No end to it all, though all year I’ve muttered
my pleas to the gods for a long groped for end.
Wish it were over, this waiting, this watching,
twelve weary months, night in and night out,
crouching and peering, head down like a bloodhound,
paws propping muzzle, up here on the palace,
the palace belonging the bloodclan of Atreus—
Agamemnon, Menelaus, bloodkin, our clanchiefs.
I’ve been so long staring I know the stars backwards,
the chiefs of the star-clans, king-stars, controllers,
those that dispense us the coldsnaps and dogdays.
I’ve had a whole year’s worth so I ought to know.
A whole year of it! Still no sign of the signal
I’m supposed to catch sight of, the beacons,
the torch-blaze that means Troy’s finally taken…
The woman says watch, so here I am watching.
That women’s not one who’s all wan and woeful.
That woman’s a man the way she gets moving.
Put down your palliasse. Dew-drenched by daybreak.
Not the soft bed you’d dream anything good in—
Fear stays all night. Sleep gives me short time.
Daren’t drop off though. Might miss it. The beacon.
And if I missed it… life’s not worth the living!
Sometimes, to stop nodding, I sing or try singing
but songs stick in my gullet. I feel more like weeping
when I think of the change that’s come over this household,
good once and well ordered… but all that seems over…
Maybe tonight it’ll finish, this watching, this waiting,
an end to the torment we’ve yearned for ten years.
Come on, blasted beacon, blaze out of the blackness!
It’s there! An oasis like daylight in deserts of dark!
It’s there! No mistaking!
Agamemnon’s woman—
best let her know the beacon’s been sighted.
Time all the women were wailing their welcome!
Troy’s taken! Troy’s down and Troy’s flattened.
There’ll be dancing in Argos and I’ll lead the dance.
My master’s struck lucky. So’ve I, I reckon.
Sighting the beacon’s a dice-throw all sixes.
Soon I’ll be grasping his hand, Agamemnon’s…
Let him come home to us, whole and unharmed!
As for the rest… I’m not saying. Better not said.
Say that an ox ground my gob into silence.
They’d tell such a story, these walls, if they could.
Those who know what I know, know what I’m saying.
Those who don’t know, won’t know. Not from me. (Harrison)

CHORUS: A thousands shouting ships of line,
Screaming like eagles high and disconsolate
Which circle and beat with the blade of their young.

CHORUS: No balm and no tears, no fire can burn
The gods’ wrath away from a sacrifice spurned.
[Clytemnestra, with oil and incense in her hands and surrounded by torchbearers, appears at the top of the palace steps. She motions the procession to halt as she stands there listening.]
We’re the deserted ones, senile carcasses,
Left behind by those glorious carcasses,
Left behind by those glorious armies,
Leaning our baby-weight frailly on crutches.
Youth’s surge in our hearts is futile with age.
Mars is misplaced; our greenery gone.
Dotage advances, totters along
Its three-footed way no more than a child:
Weak as a noonday dream.
[The old men turn toward Clytemnestra as she proceeds silently down the steps on her way to the various altars]
But you, Clytemnestra, Queen,
Tyndareus’ daughter,
What’s afoot? What news? What message has hastened you
To go in procession round blazing oblations?
The altars of all our city’s protectors—
The gods up above and gods down below,
Gods of the heavens and gods of the market place—
Are flaming with sacrifice.

Strophe 1—First Stasimon: But those redoubtable heroes
Blessedly speeded with omens—
Their saga at least I can sing.
For even senility still
Can draw on the breath of the gods
To cast a spell with song.

Strophe 1—First Stasimon: Sing of sorrow, sorrow,
But let the good prevail.

Antistrophe 1: But first take care
No rankling god shall blacken
The mighty muzzle forged
By our bettering battalions
For bridling Troy.
“For Artemis the chaste one
Rages in her pity:

Yes, Artemis is sickened
At the eagles glutting.

Epode (Plea to Artemis): “Fair though you be and full of
Grace to the ravening lions’
Little fumbling kittens,
And tender to the suckling young
Of beasts that rove the wilds—
Yet may good become the issue of that cruel vision.

Strophe 2: Zeus the unknown god,
If Zeus be his best title—
Hail by that: Incomparable!
Undivinable in style!

Strophe 4: The winds from Strymon pent them in the port,
A forced holiday of famine:

Strophe 4: And speaking for Artemis,
Proclaimed a palliative more deadly yet…
The sons of Atreus smashed their scepters down
And could not keep from crying.
[The sacrifice of his daughter by Agamemnon. The metaphor of the is inverted: Artemis, who was represented before as being angry at its being torn by the eagles, is here demanding the destructions of a human being.]
Antistrophe 4: Then the elder king found voice and said:
“This fate is hard to disobey,
And hard if I obey.
Sever my child—my palace pearl?
Bloody my hands in that virgin flood?
A father’s hands at the altar side? Oh which
Is worse? But how can I betray
My fleet and fail my allies?
They are right in their fury-bound frenzy
To imprecate the winds to calm
By the blood of a virgin sacrificed…
I hope it may be well!”
Strophe 5: And once he’d buckled on his need to do it,
His spirit changed, gave vent to wicked airs:
Was sacrilegious, impious,
Distorted, contumacious, wild.
So does the heart possessed, pressed on by delusion,
Race to its sinning.
Callously, he dealt the deathblow to his daughter:
All for a war waged for a woman—
An offering to the fleet.
Antistrophe 5: Her prayers, her cries of “Father!” and her girlhood
Were nothing to the passion of her jury:
The military minded.
Her father blessed her; told his ministers
To go and take her as she cowered huddled
In her tunic,
And boldly lift her lovely mouth and stopper
With cruelty her curses.
Strophe 6: And slipping to the ground her saffron dress,
She glanced with piteous eyes to wound
Each bloody celebrant;
Caught as in a painting…lips about to speak:
She who had so many times
Shed luster on them at her father’s feasts,
Singing with her lucent voice—
Tender, virginal—
The hymn of grace at the third salute.

CLYTEMNESTRA: News, sir, as blessed as the proverbial dawn
Which springs in gladness from her mother Night.
Listen to a greater joy than you could hope to learn:
Priam’s city has fallen to the Argive might.
[In the Greek these four lines are, prosodically, typical of the way Aeschylus often coordinates the sound of his end syllables with assonance, consonance, rhyme and near rhyme. They are typical, too, of the way I have handled the more obvious of such passages.]
CH: What did you say? It escapes belief.
CL: The Greeks have taken Troy. Am I plain enough?
CH: Happiness suffuses me, summoning my tears.
CL: Yes, your eyes give you away—your local heart.
CH: But have you proof? Is there evidence?
CL: Proof? Why not? Unless some god has cheated us.
CH: Or unless you are the victim of a dream.
CL: I don’t take revelations from a dormant brain.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Such was the course my fire-runners ran:
Relay on to relay, finishing their chain.
The final sprinter first and last has won.
And such the warrant that I give to you in token
That to me from Troy my lord has spoken.
[These five lines are the three following are again a strong example of the way Aeschylus dovetails the sound patter of his line endings. Here he gives these final syllables: nomoi—menoi—on—o—omoi—omai—asai—in.]

CLYTEMNESTRA: The Greeks have taken Troy this day.
Oh, I think I hear unmingling clamors rise:
You’d hardly say that vinegar and oil
Mix lovingly together in a bowl!
Defeat and Triumph are in the air,
With different cries:

CLYTEMNESTRA: If they will use with due regard the city’s gods
(The conquered country’s godly shrines),
The spoilers’ turn will never turn to spoiled.
But woe to any premature and insensate excess:

Strophe 2: And Ilium dealt a deathblow not a dower.

Strophe 3: Then pathetic epitaphs:
This one “skilled in combat,”
That one “nobly killed in action” …
“For another’s wife,” some whisper.
And so regret, reproach, come creeping on
Towards the House of Atreus—these quarrelers.
While there beneath the walls of Ilium
Those others in their splendid bodies lie:
Conquerors, but covered and entombed
In soil they loathed.
Antistrophe 3: There’s danger in the grumblings of a people’s ire.
It ratifies a nation in its curse.
Some night-swathed thing
Waits upon my ear.
The gods have eyes:
The multimurderer is marked,
And in the end
The black Fates overturn and batter down
The lucky but too lawless man—
His life a shadow
Where arrivals in oblivion are most lame.
Overreaching glory is a ruin.

[A Herald enters: a remnant of the returning Greek armies. He shows by his old and dirty uniform that he has recently been through a great deal]
HERALD: O soil of my fathers! Happy land!
The one bright spot come true in all ten years
Of hopes in shreds—
I never dared to dream
That on this ground of Argos here I’d die:

HERALD: For like a light, beatifically he comes
To you, to all of you: great Agamemnon King.
Render him the welcome he deserves.
Troy he’s toppled down; plowed up her plain
With God’s own mattock, Zeus the Punisher’s.
Her divinities, her shrines, her altars gone;
Uprooted all her country’s seed—erased.

HERALD: Ah! but it’s well and done with now.
Yes, it’s been a mixed experience all these years:
Success and failure—one might say—half-and-half composed…
But who except a god expects to have it all one way?
If I should tell you of our miseries:
Overcrowded decks and quarters cramped,
Narrow berths—our daily fare…Ah, then!
What was there not to complain about?
And once we’d landed—more abominations still:
Beds in the open underneath their hostile walls,
Constant drizzle from above,
Drenching meadow dews beneath—
Rotting our uniforms,
Tangling lice into our hair.
Then the winters—you’ve no idea!
A cold to kill birds dead;
And Ida’s snows—
Enough to make one shudder!
Or the sweltering summers: and noonday sea—
Not a wave, not a breath,
Upon its flaccid slumbering.

HERALD: In the night:
Ill-waved evil running high;
A Thracian gale;
Ships thrashing into ships—
Bucking and butting in the hurricane,
Stampeding into mists of storm and thundering rain:
A panic shepherding towards oblivion.
And then the sun’s rays lighting up the scene:

HERALD: Some rescuing spirit must have willed to sit inside our
And stop her from succumbing to that smash and flood of surf
Or grinding on the stony shoals.
And we he refugees from that death-sea hell,
When the white dawn broke,
Could not convince ourselves we lived—our luck.
Our thoughts were heavy with the all-too-fresh ordeal:
The finished and the beaten fleet.
So if there’s life in any of them yet,
Now they must be saying we’re dead—why not?
Just as we think the very same of them.

Strophe 2: A man once reared a lion cub
In his house, a tender thing
Taken from its mother’s milk,
Gentle at its dawn of life:
Sweet little pet of the children,
Charming to the aged.
Much was it held in people’s arms,
Dandled like a human child,
Fawning on the hand that fed it:
Bright-eyed for its belly.
Antistrophe 2: Then one day the lion cub
Showed its proper parentage:
Gave its thanks for being raised,
At a banquet never bidden…
Running amok in the sheep,
Bloodying the house
Caught in helpless tragedy;
Turned it into a charnel house:
A fiendish priest by the wrath of God
Pampered in the home.
Strophe 3: So once there came to the town of Troy
What seemed a very breath of calm:
Unruffled, delicate,
Rare as a jewel is rich and rare;
Doe-eyed dartlings from her eyes;
Flower to prick the hand with longing.
Then suddenly she wheeled around,
Did her wedding to the death—
Evil guest and evil comrade—
Burst on Priam’s children
Like a demon: bridal
Tears at Zeus’ reception.
Antistrophe 3: It hath been said of old by men:
Prosperity becomes mature,
Grows great with child,
Engenders it and cannot die
Until it does. A man’s success
Breeds in his house a hungry brood
Of rapacious miseries.
But I say this—not like the rest—
It is the act of wickedness
Bears wickedness just like it.
A pious house begets
Fair piety.

AGAMEMNON: For this success we owe the gods
Some memorable return…
A city netted in our noose of hate,
Ground down to powder for a woman
By the Beast of Argos—Wooden Horse—

CLYTEMNESTRA: As for myself,
The wellsprings of my tears are dry;
Not a drop is left.
My eyes are sore with watching late nights,
Weeping for those bonfires set for you but never lit.
And if I drowsed I dreamt of you;
Wakened by the gnat’s thin airy whine—
Saw you in such sorrows still
As far outstretched that little space of sleep.

CLYTEMNESTRA: But now, all is endured.
With a mind released I salute this man:

A father’s only son,

First fair day when the tempest’s done,

AGAMEMNON: Daughter of Leda, guardian of my house,
Well suited to my absence is your speech:
Long drawn out.
Praise for another would be more appropriate.
Besides, I need no woman’s coddling,
No barbarian display,
With groveling on the ground and gaping praise;
Or have my path decked out to catch the Evil Eye
With carpets and embroiderings.
Keep these things and all the glory of them for the gods.
To walk on furbished trappings is for me, mere man,
A most disturbing thing.
Respect me as a man and not a god.

AGAMEMNON: Have someone loose my boots—
Those stalwart servants of my treading feet.
I want no far-off beam from some god’s eye
To smite me as I trample on these deep-sea purples.
Crass waste it is for tramping feet
To mar such substance and such stuffs that silver bought.
[The famous Tyrian purple was made from creatures of the sea—mollusks.]

CHORUS: …No confidence
Can overturn this nightmare of no meaning.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Inside the house, Cassandra—I mean you too.

At least you have the luck of masters old to money.
The newly rich with unexpected wealth
Are cruel to their slaves beyond all decency.
From us you can expect only what is proper.
[Cassandra still sits motionless]

CLYTEMNESTA: Perhaps she only understands some outlandish twittereing,
Like a swallow. I shall have to speak within her wits
To make my points.
CHORUS: Go, Cassandra: she offers you your only choice.
Please leave the chariot seat.
CLYTEMNESTRA: I simply have no time
To dawdle with this woman here outside the door.
The victims stand already at the hearthstone fro the kill—
An act of grace we never hoped to make.
So, if you’re going to join in it, don’t dally;
Or if you fail to follow what I mean,
Instead of words make signs with your barbarian hand.
[Cassandra shudders but says nothing]
CHORUS: Madam, she is a foreigner,
She needs a good interpreter.
Why, she’s like some freshly captured animal!
CLYTEMNESTRA: Mad—I say. Quite!
Cocking her inward ear to something crazed:
Fresh from a captured city.
She’ll foam and bleed at the mouth,
Play her passions out
Before she ever takes the bit.

CA: Oh, the hue and the cry!
Apollo! Apollo!
CH: Apollo—why?
He’s not the god of those who cry.
CA: Oh, the hue and the cry!
Apollo! Apollo!
CH: Apollo again? A most sinister shout!
A god who has no place with wailing.
CA: Apollo! Apollo!
Guiding god…oh, me to death!
This time to death appalling.
CH: I think she’s going to prophesy her own disaster.
Even in a slave the gift divine endures.
CA: Apollo! Apollo!
Guiding god…oh, me to death!
What house? Oh where have you guided?
CH: To the house of Atreus. Did you not know?
I tell you so: you will not find it false.
CA: No no: to a house God hates,
Full of family butcheries:
Dangling with horrors;
Human slaughterhouse…

[Fagles translation:
CA: Aieeeeee! Earth—Mother—
Curse of the Earth—Apollo Apollo!
CH: Why cry to Apollo?
He’s not the god to call with sounds of mourning.
CA: Aieeeeee! Earth—Mother—
Curse of the Earth—Apollo Apollo!
CH: Again, it’s a bad omen.
She cries for the god who wants no part of grief.
CA: God of the long road,
Apollo, Apollo my destroyer—
you destroy me once, destroy me twice—
CH: She’s about to sense her own ordeal, I think.
Slave that she is, the god lives on inside her.
CA: God of the iron marches,
Apollo Apollo my destroyer—
where, where have you led me now? what house—
CH: The house of Atreus and his sons. Really—
Don’t you know? It’s true, see for yourself.
CA: No…the house that hates god,
An echoing womb of guilt, kinsmen
Torturing kinsmen, severed heads,
Slaughterhouses of heroes, soil streaming blood—]

[Hamilton translation:
CA: Oh, God, God! Apollo—Apollo—
CH: Why do you cry to him in misery?
Apollo gives no heed to those who mourn.
CA: Oh, God, God! Apollo, Apollo!
CH: Again she cries dark words of evil omen
To him who has no place where sorrow is.
CA: Apollo, Apollo, our guide,
Guiding me
On to death.
Twice hast thou ruined me—now utterly.
CH: Some prophecy of her own fate she speaks.
The thing within that is divine abides,
Though in a slave.
CA: Apollo, Apollo, our guide,
Guiding me
On to death.
Where have you brought me—and to what a house—]

[Buckley translation
CA: Woe! Woe! O gods! O earth! O Apollo! Apollo!
CH: Why sayest thou, Woe! For Loxias? For he is not such [a god] as to have a mourner.
CA: Woe! Woe! O gods! O earth! O Apollo! Apollo!
CH: She with ill-omened outcry is again invoking the god not suited to stand by in wailings.
CA: Apollo! Apollo! Aguieus! [i.e. my destroyer] Apollo mine! For thou hast without difficulty destroyed me the second time.
CH: She seems to be upon the point of divining, touching her own ills. Divination remains even in the mind of a slave.
CA: Apollo! Apollo! Aguieus! Destroyer mine! Ah! whither canst thou have brought me? To what kind of dwelling?]

CASSANDRA: No, no, don’t you see it?
A death-net? Yes, a snare… No she’s the snare,
Casting bed and murder into one.
Yell it to mankind ye intemperate pack:
A victim downed!

CASSANDRA: Pity me! Pity! My own turn now:
Affliction in the bitter cup—
So unblessedly you bring me here:
For what?
Only to die; conjoined in death:
How not?
CHORUS: Poor craze-tossed sybil in a trance!
Unstopping music of your fate:
You melancholy nightingale,
Untuned brown bird,
Breaking forth with “Itys! Itys!”
[Itys: omomatopeia, and also the name of Philomela’s nephew, whom she lamented after being changed into a nightingale. She had been raped by Tereus, her brother-in-law.]
Through the thicket
Of a broken heart and ruined days.
CASSANDRA: Oh, for the nightingale—her so mellifluous lot!
Invested with a feathered form divine:
A sweet life free from all lament.

CASSANDRA: There rises from these halls in single voice
A perpetual choir,
A jangled symphony of ill,
With ill its theme.

CA: Apollo, god of prophets, gave me to this office.
CH: What! Was a god in love with you?
CA: I blushed to tell this tale before.
CH: Personal success makes people prim.
CA: But his courtship was a hot sweet-breathing thing.
CH: And put you in the family way, as these things do?
CA: Not that. I promised Loxias [Apollo] but broke my word.
CH: Did you already have the gift of prophecy?
CA: Yes: even then foretelling the disaster of my town.
CH: And Apollo’s anger left you quite unscathed?
CA: Since that mistake, no one will believe a thing I say.
CH: Well, to us at least what you say seems credible.

CASSANDRA: And the Lord High Admiral,
Ravener of Ilium,
Has no idea of what the bitch’s tongue has said:
It’s hate, its hidden kiss of death,
As she licks and fawns and pricks her ears,
Plotting the very hour and stroke.

CASSANDRA: [In another spasm of possession]
Oh, fire! What fire!...It’s on me now.
Apollo, ‘Pollo, Light…What pain!

CHORUS [of different elders] and CASSANDRA
ANOTHER: What is it now? What terror turns you back?
CA: Foul! Foul!
ANOTHER: What foul but in your fraught imagining?
CA: The room—it reeks! Drips red with murder.
ANOTHER: Only the animal victims at the hearth.
CA: A breath from an open grave.
ANOTHER: Hardly our costly Syrian incense!

CASSANDRA: So much for human happiness

Who in dismay
One wet dash can sponge away:
A picture totally destroyed—

CLYTEMNESTRA: Come to triumph at last—yes, long overdue.
I stand here where I struck him. The thing is done;
And done in such a way
(I shall now disavow it)
As to make all flight and all defense from doom
Around him like a net of fish
I swung that smothering looseness—
A fatal opulence of gown.
Then I struck him twice,
And with a double groan
His limbs went loose, he fell.
I was on him with a third—“thanksgiving”—stroke:
To the Zeus of the world below, the keeper of the
Life pumping out of him
And gurgling murderous spurts of blood
Which hit me with a black-ensanguined drizzle.
Oh, it freshened me like drops from heaven
When the earth is bright and sprung with budding.
[The third libation at feasts was always to Zeus the Preserver of Life. Clytemnestra says sarcastically that the god she offered her grace-stroke to was Hades—Preserver of the Dead.]

CHORUS: You shock us with your brazen tongue:
crowing over him—and he your husband!
CLYTEMNESTRA: You challenge me like any silly woman.
It does not make me nervous in the least.
You know it.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Very well, but listen to my sworn vow too:
By the perfect vengeance of my child,
By Ate and the powers of hell
(To whom I sacrificed this man),
I shall never tread the halls of terror
So long as my hearth burns bright
Kindled by Aegisthus, loyal as ever by my side.
He is my shield of courage: no flimsy shield.
Here lies the degrader of this woman:
Petter and fooled by every gilded girl at Troy.
And here she lies, his battle booty,
Clairvoyant, concubine,
Faithful fortuneteller, bedder down—
Not unfamiliar, either, to the rub of sailors’ boards.
A well rewarded pair…
Yes, here he lies, and here is she:
The swan who warbled out her swansong, his beloved,
Leading such a dainty morsel to my bed. (Roche)

CH: Thou art lofty in spirit, and proud things hast thou uttered: thy soul is raving as under a blood-dripping fate, an unavenged blood-clot is conspicuous on thy brow. Yet mts thou hereafter, bereft of thy friends, atone for stroke by stroke.
CLYT: And thou shalt hear this plea of mine oath: By the perfect vengeance of my daughter, by Ate, and Erinnys, to whom I sacrificed this man, I expect not to tread the hall of Terror, so long as Aegisthus burns fire on my hearth, well-disposed tome as heretofore: for he is to me no small shield of confidence. He lies, the marrer of this woman, the minion of the Chryseids under Illion: and she here, his captive and soothsayer, and partner of his bed, his faithful love, the weird prophetess and sharer with his of the benches of the ships. But these twain have not done deeds without a reward. For he indeed [lies] thus; and she too, his love, having like a swan warbled her last dying wail, to me she hath brought a nuptial dainty dish for my enjoyment. (Buckley)

CLYT: Hear me in turn. The oath I swear is holy.
By justice for my child now consummated,
by black, blind Doom, by all the powers of hall,
to whom I offered what I killed, I swear
hope does not treat the halls of fear for me
while on my hearth a fire is still kindled
by one now true in my heart to me as ever,
Aegisthus, my sure shield of confidence.
Here lies the man who scorned me—me, his wife—
the fool and tool of every shameless woman
beneath Troy’s walls. Here she lies too, his slave,
got by his spear, his sibyl bed-fellow,
his paramour—God’s words upon her lips,
who rubbed the galley’s benches at his side.
They have their due, he thus and she the same,
her swan-song sung. His lover—there she lies.
I in my soft bed lying, shall delight,
Thinking of her, still more in its smooth softness (Hamilton)

CLYT: Then listen to this, the oath I’ll swear by.
By bloodright exacted on behalf of my she-child,
by Iphigeneia whose bloodgrudge has roosted,
by the Fury for whom Agamemnon’s the booty,
I swear I’ll never let fear to my fireside
as long as the hearth’s kept alight by Aegisthus,
loyal friend always, my shield, my protector.
Look at him, Shaggermemnon, shameless, shaft-happy,
ogler and grinder of Troy’s golden girlhood.
Look at her, spearprize, prophetess, princess,
whore of his wartent, his bash back on shipboard.
They’ve got their deserts the two of them now.
There he lies, She’s sung her swansong and lies
as she should do stretched out alongside him,
his ‘dear’s’ death a side-dish to the banquet of his. (Harrison)

CLYT: Now hear you this, the right behind my sacrament:
By my child’s Justice driven to fulfillment, by
her Wrath and Fury, to whom I sacrificed this man,
the hope that walks my chambers is not traced with fear
while yet Aegisthus makes the fire shine on my hearth,
my good friend, now as always, who shall be for us
the shield of our defiance, no weak thing; while he,
this other, is fallen, stained with this woman you behold,
plaything of all the golden girls at Ilium;
and here lies she, the captive of his spear, who saw
wonders, who shared his bed, the wise in revelations
and loving mistress, who yet knew the feel as well
of the men’s rowing benches. Their reward is not
unworthy. He lies there; and she who swanlike cried
aloud her lyric mortal lamentation out
is laid against his fond heart, and to me has given
a delicate excitement to my bed’s delight. (Latimore)

CLYT: Then learn this too, the power of my oaths.
By the child’s Rights I brought to birth,
by Ruin, by Fury—the three gods to whom
I sacrificed this man—I swear my hopes
will never walk the halls of fear so long
as Aegisthus lights the fire on my hearth.
Loyal to me as always, no small shield
to buttress my defiance.
Here he lies.
He brutalized me. The darling of all
the golden girls who spread the gates of Troy.
And here his spearprize—what wonders she beheld.
The seer of Apollo shared my husband’s bed,
his faithful mate who knelt at the rowing-benches,
worked by every hand.
They have their rewards.
He as you know. And she, the swan of the gods
who lived to sing her latest, dying song—
his lover lies beside him.
She brings a fresh, voluptuous relish to my bed! (Fagles)

CLYTEMNESTRA: Nor load yourself so
With anger to fall upon Helen as though
She were the man-eater:

Strophe 3: Bewildered, bereft of ready expedient,
I ask and I anxiously wonder
Where to escape from a house which is falling.
Cowered I wait while the blood-beating rainstorm
Shivers the dwelling, no longer in drops;
And Destiny whets on another whetstone
Vengeance for another disaster.

AEGISTHUS: But Atreus—godless father of the dead man here—
Outstripping even love in welcome,
Pretended a day of celebration for him:
A great dinner to be carved—
Meat of his own chidren.
And, sitting apart,
He served first before he served it
The toes from the rest of the comblike crest of fingers.
My unwitting father
Took those unsuspicious parts and ate—
Meal so poisonous, as you see, for all his race.
Then discovering what he’s done,
He made a cry, reeled back, spewed out the butchered mess,
Kicked the table over in a curse,
Bellowing out abomination on the House of Pelops:
“Go down so—in ruin—you total race of Pleisthenes.”

The Libation Bearers

ORESTES: Hermes:
God of my fathers, lord of the dead,
I invoke you.
Be my champion, be my friend.
I am home again—back on my soil—
And beg my father from this mounded grave
To hear me and attend.
[He advances to the tomb and lays a strand of hair upon it]
One lock, Inachus, for you,
Who fed my manhood;
And here’s a second—fed with mourning.
For I was not there, Father, to break my grief upon your murder
Or stretch out my hand towards your bier
And body’s passing.
[As he speaks, a band of captive women in black, the Chorus, led by Electra, emerge from the palace and make their way towards the tomb. They carry vases and, in the extravagant manner of the East, beat themselves and wail. Note: The women who make up the Chorus are ladies of the court brought back from captured Troy. Expressions of grief which to the Greeks might seem barbarous were current in Asia. Solon’s later laws forbade them to the Athenians.]
But, what do I see?
What solemnities of black
Draped upon this throng of women coming?
What matching sorrow?
Some new death to strike the house?
Or is it rather urns of peace
They carry to my father here
To pour out for the dead?
Yes, surely so;
For I think I see my sister there, Electra,
Distinguished in her bitter walk of sorrow.
O Zeus,
Grant me to avenge my father’s fate—
By my ready ally.
Pylades, let us step aside
And let me see
What this processional of women means.
[Orestes and Pyaldes take cover]
Strophe 1: Straight from the house precipitate
With urns dispatched I come and flying fingers spoiling
New furrows in my face which nails have flared
Bright with crimson tearing,
While perpetually my heart is fed
Upon perpetual crying.
Ah! loud from my breast is rent that brave
Display of vestments, rags, so sorrow-shred,
And all my smiling shattered.
Antistrophe 1: Keen the bristling horror seen
By a palace dreamer in a dream which deep within
Blasted sleep with hate abd broke
The fabric of the night with shrieking;
Fell like vivid lead upon
The women’s walls. The dream-diviners called
The gods to witness, said:
The livid underworld was smoldering still
Against the murderers of the dead.

ELECTRA: Come, you handmaids, sweet orderers of home,
Who join me on this suppliant walk,
Counsel me in this: what shall I say
As I empty out these urns of empty grief?
What words of grace? What invocation to my father?
Shall I say I carry love—a woman’s to a man—
And mean my mother?
I have no heart for this, I have no words
For pouring chrism on my father’s tomb.
[Chrism – honey, meal, and oil was the mixture commonly used for funeral libations]
Or shall I mouth this formula and pray:
“Reward us fittingly for these honored wreaths
with a gift that—ah!—fully fits the crime”?
Or in a mute indignity,
Just as my father died,
Shall I scatter forth these tributes fro the guzzling ground to drink,
Then toss away my urn, step back,
Avert my eyes—like someone emptying refuse out?
Share these counsels with me, friends of mine,
As in this house we share a common hate.
Do not hide behind your hearts for fear of anyone.
The fated hour awaits the free
Just as it does the foisted subjects of a mighty hand.
Tell me, if you know a better course than this.
[The women of the Chorus lay their hands on Agamemnon’s tomb]

CHORUS: Pray that to them may come some god or man…
ELECTRA: You mean, a judge or punisher?
CHORUS: Just say: “One to render death for death.”
ELECTRA: But in the eyes of the gods is that a pious prayer?
CHORUS: Why not? A stroke for a stroke against your enemies.
[Electra advances to the tomb and begins to pour]

ORESTES: Too many cravings coincide in me:
The god’s behest,
My father’s giant grief,
The loss of my estates,
The scandal of my citizens, those famous ones
Who toppled Troy down with their sterling worth,
Now at the beck and call of this brace of women…
For Aegisthus is a woman too at heart,
Or must prove it soon if he is not.

ORESTES: Strophe 1:
Father, my father so sad, what word
Or action of mine could I conjure
Down from afar like a filtering breeze
To the purlieus of your chamber,
A light to match your darkness?
Nevertheless, my sorrow
Given away for the once great house
Of Atreus is glory.
CHORUS: Strophe 2:
My son, the fire’s yawning
Jaws consume no spirit
Of the dead; he vividly blazes
His anger afterwards.
The deceased receives his funeral moan,
The noxious murderer is shown,
The Dirges antiphone
A hue and a cry on every side
For parents wronged and the father.

[Buckley: ORESTES: Father, unhappy father, by saying or by doing what, could I, with a favoring breeze, waft from afar to thee, where thy couch [of death] holds thee, a light equal to darkness? But nevertheless, a glorious dirge for the patriarchs of Atreus’ line, at all events, is deemed a grateful offering.
CHORUS: My child, the consuming jaws of fire quell not the spirit of the dead, but afterward he shows his wrath. But the dead is bewailed with a funeral moan, and he that wronged him is discovered. A righteous grief for fathers and for parents, stirred up on all sides, investigates the whole.]

[Fagles: ORESTES:
Dear father, father of dread,
What can I do or say to reach you now?
What breath can reach from here
To the bank where you lie moored at anchor?
What light can match your darkness? None,
But there is a kind of grace that comes
When the tears revive a proud old house
And Atreus’ sons, the warlords lost and gone.
CHORUS: The ruthless jaws of the fire,
My child, can never tame the dead,
His rage inflames his sons.
Men die and the voices rise, they light the guilty, true—
Cries raised for the fathers, clear and just,
Will hunt their killers harried to the end. ]

[Lattimore: ORESTES:
Father, o my dread father, what thing
Can I say, can I accomplish
From this far place where I stand, to mark
And reach you there in your chamber
With light that will match your dark?
Yet it is called an action
Of grace to mourn in style for the house,
Once great, of the sons of Atreus.
CHORUS: Child, when the fire burns
And tears with teeth at the dead man
It can not wear out the heart of will.
He shows his wrath in the after-
Days. One dies, and is dirged.
Light falls on the man who killed him.
He is hunted down by the deathsong
For sires slain and for fathers,
Disturbed, and stern, and enormous.]

CHORUS: Single Strophe: (in response to Electra’s and
Orestes’ wish that their father had the chance to die
honorably at Troy)
Ah! daughter, your wish is better than gold,
Bigger than bliss north of the wind,
Voiced because your wishing is easy.
But wait: the crack of this dual stroke
Already resounds to your champions under
The ground and hands of the rulers are rotten;
Accursed are these, and now the advantage
Grows on the side of the children.

[Buckley: CHORUS: These things of which thou speakest, my child, are more precious than gold, and surpassing e’en Hyperborean happiness, for thou art in anguish. But [enough], for the clang of this double scourge comes upon me: the protectors of these [children] are already beneath the earth: but the hands of the odious pair that rule are polluted; on their children too it hath fallen heavier.]

[Fagles: CHORUS:
You are dreaming, children,
Dreams dearer than gold, more blessed
Than the Blest beyond the Northwind’s raging.
Dreams are easy, oh,
But the double lash is striking home.
Now our comrades group undergroud.
Our masters’ reeking hands are doomed—
The children take the day!]

[Lattimore: CHORUS:
Child, child, you are dreaming, since dreaming is a light
Pastime, of fortune more than gold
Or the Blessed Ones north of the North Wind.
But the stroke of the twofold lash is pounding
Close, and powers gather under ground
To give aid. The hands of those who are lords
Are unclean, and these are accursed.
Power grows on the side of the children.]

CHORUS: Antistrophe 6:
And he was mangled—if you must know.
As she maimed, so she buried him;
Keen to consummate a violence
More than your young life could bear:
A father mutilated—listen to it.
[The limbs of the murdered person were cut off and dangled under the armpits. This was done in symbol and hope that now he was disabled and powerless to take vengeance.]

CHORUS: Antistrophe 8:
Sink it deep, this tale,
Into your ears, through to your soul’s still fundament.
This is the way things are.
This is the way your zeal must go
To learn the reaches of a rage undampable.

[Buckley: [confused line attribution]
Listening to such things grave them within my bosom, and make my tale pass through thine ears with the leisure step of thin understanding. For these matters some are thus, and others seek thou thyself eagerly to learn. But it becomes thee to enter the lists with unflinching spirit.]

[Fagles: CHORUS: Let it ring in your ears
but let your heart stand firm.
The outrage stands as it stands,
You burn to know the end,
But first be strong, be steel, then down and fight.]

[Lattimore: CHORUS: Let words such as these
drip deep in your ears, but on a quiet heart.
So far all stands as it stands;
What is to come, yourself burn to know.
You must be hard, give no ground, to win home.]

[Harrison: CHORUS: Antistrophe 8:
Yes, let it fire the rage you feel.
Two bouts are lost. The bout to be
Depends upon your fire and steel,
Hot heart, cool head to win bout three.]

Antistrophe 11: In this house a cure—
Not from others or without
But savage on itself—
Can staunch this curse with gore.
Such is the song we sing to the gods below.
Single Strophe: Hear us you blessed ones under the ground.
Despatch this prayer, and graciously
Cheer on your children to victory.

ELECTRA: So, though you died, you never yet were dead.
For children are the saving voices of a dead man’s fame.
Like buoyant corks they float the net
And in the deep bear up the flaxen lines.
Please hear us, then.
It is for you these supplications pour.

ORESTES: Yet I must ask—and not outside my course—
How comes it that she sent libations out?

CHORUS: My son, I know, for I was there.
It was her dreams.
Shaken by the flitting terrors of the dark,
This godless woman sent these offerings out.

CHORUS: Strophe 1—First Stasimon:
How many terrors the world
Produces of mischief and wonder.
The crotches of the sea-deeps
Swarm with menace and monsters.
And high in the air swing near
The shooting torches.
Creatures that fly, and crawlers;
Tell of them all and the gusty
Rage of whirlwinds.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS:
Full many a dread and grievous horror does the earth nurture, and the arms of the deep teem with monsters hostile to mortals! And there spring forth in mid-air lights hung aloft. Both the creatures that fly and those that crawl, and the gusty rage of hurricanes, one might be able to describe.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS:
Numberless, the earth breeds
Dangers, and the sober though of fear.
The bending sea’s arms swarm
With bitter, savage beasts.
Torches blossom to burn along
The high space between ground and sky.
Things fly, and things walk the earth.
Remember too
The storm and wrath of the whirlwind.]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS:
What Earth breeds is appalling.
Monsters rock in the arms of the sea.
Fearful sky-flames flare and fall
Through terrible void territory.]

[Fagles: CHORUS:
Marvels, the Earth breeds many marvels,
Terrible marvels overwhelm us.
The heaving arms of the sea embrace and swarm
With savage life. And high in the no man’s land of night
Torches hang like swords. The hawk on the wing,
The beast astride the fields
Can tell of the whirlwind’s fury roaring strong.]

CHORUS: Strophe 3:
And since I am telling of evils that harrow,
It is timely to speak of that unloved marriage
Haunting a house; and a woman—
Secretive wife who plotted the life
Of a man and a hero in armor;
Of a man who could make his enemies cower.
Give me the hearth of a house which is cold
To assertive conceit; and a meekness of woman.
CHORUS: Antistrophe 3:
But the Lemnian horror presides in legend:
Prime, regrettable, odious, painful.
The Lemnian horror became
The pattern and image of every calamity:
The disgrace of the heaven-abhorred
Stroke which removed a tribeful of men.
No one respects what the gods find disgusting…
Is any one of these tales unfair?
CHORUS: Strophe 4:
Because of the Right the sword
Is keen-tipped, ready to strike right through
The lungs. For sulely it is not fit
For every sovereign credit of Zeus
To be flouted and trampled under foot.
CHORUS: Antistrophe 4:
The anvil of Justice is firm.
Destiny forges and hammers her steel
Already. The famous and pondering Fury
Contributes a son to the house at last
To pay for murders gone stale, and pollution.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS:
And since I have made mention of savage horrors, though unseasonably, [one may also mention] the odious match, execrated by the house, and plots laid by a woman’s mind against an armed warrior, against a warrior for his majesty bitter to his enemies; and I honor the hearth of a household that knows not audacity, and in women an undaring spirit. Of horrors, indeed, that of Lemnos holds the first place in story; and it is deplored in every clime as an abomination, and a man is wont to compare what is dreadful to Lemnian sufferings. And by reason of heaven-detested guilt the race of mortals perishes in infamy; for no one reverses that which is offensive to the gods. Which of these hideous facts do I unreasonably reckon up? But the sword, sharp and bitter, inflicts a wound right through the lungs, driven by the hand of Justice. For the lawless conduct of him that hath lawlessly trespassed against every awful attribute of Jupiter, is not trampled under foot on the ground. But the base of Justice is planted firm; and Fate, that forges the sword, prepares it for the deed, and brings into the house a new offering of ancient murders, and time-honored Erinnys avenges the stain.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS:
Since I recall cruelties from quarrels long
Ago, in vain, and married love turned to bitterness
A house would fend far away
By curse; the guile, treacheries of the woman’s heart
Against a lord armored in
Power, a lord his enemies revered,
I prize the hearth not inflamed within the house,
The woman’s right pushed not into daring.
Of all foul things the legends tell the Lemnian
Outranks, a vile wizard’s charm, detestable
So that man names a hideous
Crime “Lemnian” in memory of their wickedness.
When once the gods loathe a breed
Of men they go outcast and forgotten.
No man respects what the gods have turned against.
What of these tales I gather has no meaning?
The sword edges near the lungs.
It stabs deep, bittersharp,
And right drives it. For that which had no right
Lies not yet stamped into the ground, although
One in sin and transgressed Zeus’ majesty.
Right’s anvil stands staunch on the ground
And the smith, Destiny, hammers out of the sword.
Delayed in glory, pensive from
The murk, Vengeance brings home at last
A child, to wipe out the stain of blood shed long ago.]

[Fagles translation : CHORUS:
Now that I call to mind old wounds that never heal—
Stop, it’s time for the wedded love-in-hate,
For the curse of the halls,
The woman’s brazen cunning
Bend on her lord in arms,
Her warlord’s power—
Do you respect such things?
I prize the hearthstone warmed by faith
a woman’s temper nothing bends to outrage.
First at the head of legendary crime stands Lemnos.
People shudder and moan, and can’t forget—
Each new horror that comes
We call hells of Lemnos.
Loathed by the gods for guilt,
Cast off by men, disgraced, their line dies out.
Who could respect what god detests?
What of these tales have I not picked with justice?
The sword’s at the lungs!—it stabs deep,
The edge cuts through
And Justice drives it—Outrage still lives on,
Not trodden to pieces underfoot, not yet,
Though the laws lie trampled down,
The majesty of Zeus.
The anvil of Justice stands fast
And Fate beats out her sword.
Tempered for glory, a child will wipe clean
The inveterate stain of blood shed long ago—
Fury brings him home at last,
The brooding mother Fury! ]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS
This bloodclan too. A bedbond void
Of love by which a man’s destroyed.
The plot against your manlord’s life,
You the cunning killer wife.
Against a man his enemies revered
And all his spear-foes justly feared.
You prized a fireless hearth instead
A spearless she-man in your bed.
LEMNOS! Its very name is vile
Clytemnestra should have been
Of that murderous and manless isle
The killer queen.
Queen of women who wield knives
Of slaughtered husband’s sword.
The Lemnos husband-killing wives.
LEMNOS—name to be abhorred.
The swordpoint pricks against the skin
Ready to be driven in.
Bloodright pushes at the hilt
To broach the gory springs of guilt.
The transgressors, those who trod
Down the laws of ZEUS, high he-god.
Bloodright’s the whetstone where fate whets
The blades demanding old blood-debts.
Bloodgrudge leads the son at last
To purge the bloodspill of the past.]

CH: And how did she tell him to come? Prepared?
CI: Prepared? What? Please repeat the question for me.
CH: I mean, with guards? Or altogether unattended?
CI: She said: “Bring your bodyguard, and armed.”
CH: No: don’t tell our hated master that.
Just tell him to bring himself,
Cheerfully and quickly.
He mustn’t be alarmed… Ha! The messenger
Straightening out the message!

CHORUS: Antistrophe 2:
May Mercury, son of Maia,
Send the support for the right he outgh,
Since nobody better than he
Can waft a fair wind when he will.
All that lies secret he can make plain.
He utters his mystic word;
Mantles our eyes with the darkness of night;
Keeps mystery there in the day.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS:
May Maia’s most propitious son also, willing him an auspicious issue, rightfully take up the case. Many other mysterious things too will he develop if he be willing; and uttering obscure language, both by night he brings darkness before the eyes, and in the daytime he is nought clearer.]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS:
HERMES, guile-god, if you choose,
Those you champion can’t lose.
You blind their opponents so
They can’t see the coming blow.
Those you help see through the dark
And shoot their weapons at the mark.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS:
And with right may the son
Of Maia lend his hand, strong to send
Wind fair for action, if he will.
Much else lies secret he may show at need.
He speaks the markless word, by
Night hoods darkness on the eyes
Nor shows more plainly when the day is there.]

[Fagles translation: CHORUS:
And lend a hand and scheme
For the rights, my Hermes, help us,
Sail the action on with all your breath.
Reveal what’s hidden, please,
Or say a baffling word
In the night and blind men’s eyes—
When the morning comes your word is just as dark.]

OR: You’re the one I’m looking for. This wretch has had enough.
CL: Oh, no! Aegisthus dead?... you my strong beloved?
OR: You love that man? Then in the same grave with him you’ll lie:
Faithful unto death and ever afterwards.
CL: Wait, son, wait. My baby, soften
Towards this bosom where so many times
You went to sleep, with little gums
Fumbling at the milk which sweetly made you grow.
OR: Pylades, what shall I do? Weaken and not kill my mother?
PY: Then what becomes of the oracles Apollo spoke,
Those oracles at Pythia,
And all our solemn oaths?
Make the world your enemy but not the gods.
OR: Your word wins. It is good advice. [Turns on his mother]
Come here. I’ll drop you slaughtered by his side.
You thought him finer than my father while he lived.
Go then: sleep with him in death.
You love this man and hate the one you ought to love.
CL: I reared you up from babyhood. Oh, let me then grow old with you.
OR: What! Slay my father—then come sharing homes with me?
CL: Fate, my son, is half to blame for that.
OR: Then Fate arranges for your dying now.
CL: Son, does a parent’s curse mean nothing to you?
OR: Not a thing. You gave me birth, then flung me out—to misery.
CL: No, no—into a friend’s house. Is that to fling?
OR: Shamefully sold. A freeborn father’s son.
CL: Oh? Then where is the price I got for you?
OR: That, in public, I should blush to say.
CL: Then blush as well for those senseless things your father did.
OR: Do not taunt him. You sat at home. He toiled.

ORESTES: But this woman—this plotter who upset her man,
By whom she carried children underneath her zone,
Once joyous weight and now proved bitter load—
What does she seem to you?
Some deadly moray, some adder-born,
Whose touch would shrivel long before her bite
By very force of poison in the will.

[Buckley translation: ORESTES:
But she who plotted this detestable deed against a husband, from whom she had been wont to bear the burden of children beneath her zone—a burden once dear, but now, as is plain, a hostile ill—what thinkest thou? Assuredly she was a conger, or a viper, that could canker by a touch one who had not suffered from her bite, by reason of her daring and unrighteous spirit; ]

[Fagles translation: ORESTES:
But she who plotted this horror against her husband,
She carried his children, growing in her womb
And she—I loved her once
And now I loathe, I have to loathe—
What is she?
Some moray eel, some viper born to rot her mate
With a single touch, no fang to strike him,
Just the wrong, the reckless fury in her heart!]

[Lattimore translation: ORESTES:
But she, who plotted this foul death against the man
By whom she carried the weight of children underneath
Her zone, burden once loved, shown hard and hateful now,
What does she seem to be? Some water snake, some viper
Whose touch is rot even to him who felt no fang
Strike, by that brutal and wrong daring in her heart.]

[Harrison translation: ORESTES:
What of her who hatched this horror up for her husband,
Whose children she carried under her girdle,
A burden apparently loved but really abhorrent,
What about her? If she’d been shark-hag or viper
Just the mere feel of her, without any fang-marks
Would turn her poor victim purple with poison,
Make him all stiff and all swollen with blood.
Her spirit alone spurts out putrefaction.]

The Eumenides

These are the gods fixed in the prelude of my prayer;
With words of praise for Pallas-of-the-Holies too,
And worship for the nymphs where the hollow rock
Of Corycis is bird-loud, loved
By deities that haunt.

[Buckley translation: THE PYTHIA:
To these deities I prelude my address with prayers. And Pronaean Pallas is celebrated in story. And I venerate the nymphs, where is the Corician hollow grot, bird-loved, the haunt of Deities.]

[Fagles translation: THE PYTHIA:
But Athena at the Forefront of the Temple crowns my stories.
I revere the nymphs who keep the Corycian rock’s deep hollows,
Loving haunt of birds where the spirits drift and hover.]

[Lattimore translation: THE PYTHIA:
These are the gods I set in the proem of my prayer.
But Pallas-before-the-temple has her right in all
I say. I worship the nymphs where the Corycian rock
Is hollowed inward, haunt of birds and paced by gods.]

[Harrison translation: THE PYTHIA:
Next Pallas Athene who stands before god-shrines.
I honour the nymphs in the Corycian caverns
Hollow, where birds swoop, patrol place of spirits.]

THE PYTHIA: Oh, horrible to tell about—horrible to see!
Things that hurl me back again from Loxias’ domain,
Too weak to walk or stand;
Scurrying on my hands with legs gone dumb.
An old woman in a panic is nothing but a child.
I was on my way
To the deep garland-heavy shrine,
When there I see a man in God’s disgrace
Upon the center-stone:
Sitting where the contrite sit,
Hands oozing blood,
Sword fresh-drawn, long olive branch
Piously, enormously, bedecked with wool
As white as fleece and piercing as I saw it.
And before that man:
The weirdest troupe of women
Lolling on their seats asleep—
Oh no, not women, Gorgons, surely!
Or not Gorgons even but shapes like…
Like once I saw in pictures—
Carrying off the feast of Phineus—
Only, these I saw were wingless, black,
Absolute in their mephitic deadliness:
Snoring and blowing disgustingly,
With cess of droopings leaking from their eyes; their dress
Not fit to wear before the idols of the gods
Nor any human home.
I have not seen what race could spawn
Such clots as these, nor any earth
That could be proud of such a breed
And not groan out in hurt and sorrow.

[Buckley: THE PYTHIA: Certainly tings dreadful to tell, and dreadful to behold with eyes have sent me back from the abodes of Loxias, so that I neither have strength, nor can uplift my steps: but I run with my hands, not by swiftness of legs; for an affrightened old woman is nothing, like a child [in strength]. I creep, indeed, towards the shrine of many garlands, and I behold at the marble navel stone a man under the curse of god, sitting as a suppliant, with his hands dripping with blood, and holding a newly-drawn sword, and a high-grown branch of olive, for so I will clearly declare. But before this man a wondrous troop of women sleeps seated in the seats; by no means women, but Gorgons I call them; nor again will I liken them to Gorgon forms, [for] I have seen once on a time [the Harpies] painted, carrying off the food of Phineus; but these are wingless to behold, and black, abominable in kind. And they snore with breathings not to be approached, and form their eyes they distill hateful violence. And their dress is fit to wear neither at the images of gods, nor within the dwellings of men. I have not beheld the tribe of this sisterhood; nor [do I know] what land can boast of having nourished this face with impunity, so as not to groan on account of its troubles.]

[Fagles: THE PYTHIA: Terrors—
terrors to tell, terrors all can see!—
they send me reeling back from Apollo’s house.
The strength drains, it’s hard to stand,
Crawling on all fours, no spring in the legs…
An old woman, gripped by fear, is nothing,
A child, nothing more.
[Struggling to her fee, trying to compose herself.]
I’m on my way to the vault,
It’s green with wreaths, and there at the Navelstone
I see a man—an abomination to god—
He holds dripping blood, and his sword just drawn,
And he holds a branch (it must have topped an olive)
Wreathed with a fine tuft of wool, all piety,
Fleece gleaming white. So far it’s clear, I tell you.
But there in a ring around the man, an amazing company—
Women, sleeping, nestling against the benches…
Not women, no,
Gorgons I’d cal them; but then with Gorgons
You’d see the grim, inhuman…
I saw a picture
Years ago, the creatures tearing the feast
Away from Phineus—
These have no wings,
I looked. But black they are, and so repulsive.
Their heavy, rasping breathing makes me cringe.
And their eyes ooze a discharge, sickening,
And what they wear—to flaunt that at the gods,
The idols, sacrilege! Even in the homes of men.
The tribe that produced that brood I never saw,
Or a plot of ground to boast it nursed their kind
Without some pain and tears for all its labor.]

[Lattimore translation: THE PYTHIA:
Things terrible to tell and for the eyes to see
Terrible drove me out again from Loxias’ house
So that I have no strength and cannot stand on springing
Feet, but run with hands’ help and my legs have no speed.
An old woman afraid is nothing: a child, no more.
See, I am on my way to the wreath-hung recess
And on the centrestone I see a man with god’s
Defilement on him postured in the suppliant’s seat
With blood dripping from his hands and from a new-drawn sword,
Holding too a branch that had grown high on an olive
Tree, decorously wrapped in a great tuft of wool,
And the fleece shone. So far, at least, I can speak clear.
In front of this man slept a startling company
Of women laying all upon the chairs. Or not
Women, I think I call them rather gorgons, only
Not gorgons either, since their shape is not the same.
I saw some creatures painted in a picture once,
Who tore the food from Phineus, only these had no
Wings, that could be seen; they are black and utterly
Repulsive, and they snore with breath that drives one back.
From their eyes drips the foul ooze, and their dress is such
As is not right to wear in the presence of the gods’
Statues, not even into any human house.
I have never seen the tribe that owns this company
Nor know what piece of earth can claim with pride it bore
Such brood, and without hurt and tears for labor given.]

[Harrison translation: THE PYTHIA:
Terribel things to clap mortal eyes on
Have made me bolt out of the house of Apollo.
Sapped of all strength my feet can’t support me.
I scrabble on all fours. My legs have gone liquid.
A scared old woman crawling, worse than a baby.
Entering the innermost shrine with its garlands
I set eyes on a man at the shrine’s central stone,
An abomination to gods in the suppliant’s seat.
His hands dripped blood. He had his drawn sword out.
He held an olive-branch tipped with white wool tufts.
In front of this person, a strange group of she-hags
Sighing and snorting, asleep on the thronestools.
Not women really, but more like the Gorgons.
I call them Gorgons but they weren’t that exactly.
I once saw a picture of Harpiae, Graspers,
Unflaggingly swooping on Phineus the Thracian,
Keeping the blind king in perpetual tension,
Filched his food off him or left it beshitten,
Splattered their bat-bowels over his platters
And kept him terror-stricken and starving.
These were black like Harpiae but they were wingless.
The snorts from their nostrils would keep you a mile off.
Their eye-sockets glued with sickening ooze-clots.
Their grave-garb’s all wrong for the statues of godheads
Nor would it seem right in the houses of mortals.
Don’t know what brute-clan this brood belongs to,
What region would want to boast that it bred them
And didn’t wish now that their birth had been aborted.]

APOLLO: But you must still go fleeing
And not grow faint of heart;
For they will chase your roaming footfall far
Over the steppes and constant
Across the oceans even
To sea-enswirling cities.
So leave the though behind
Or tire before your time;
But when you touch upon the town of Pallas,
Sit down and hug in your hands her ancient effigy.
For there’ll be judges there of this
And words to charm; and we shall find a means—
An absolute release for you from all this strife:
For I it was who told you to take your mother’s life.

[Apollo disappears. Orestes departs led by Hermes. The Ghost of Clytemnestra rises from the ground.]
Go on! Go sleeping on! We just need sleepers, eh?
So you can make this fool of me among other dead—
Among the shades where I (because of those I killed)
Am a reproach that never stops wandering in my shame.
Oh, I tell you, in their eyes—most heinously—
I am the one to blame.
Yet even this absurd suffering from my own
Makes not a single deity excite himself for me,
Cut down though I am by a mother-killing son.
See these gashes here—into my heart—from where?
Surely in sleep your eyes can see it plain,
Where the daylight blaze is dark for man’s concern.
You’ve sucked up quite a goodly deal from me:
With your wineless oblations, thin appeasements,
And those dead-of-nightly dinners
Grilled by me in fore and sacrifice
At an hour no god shared.
All under food now, I see.
All trodden down;
While he skips off, is gone, just like a fawn:
Yes, leaps out lightly from your midst
With a merry bleat of laughter.
Listen to me pleading for my soul.
Awake and think, you goddesses of deep below;
For only in your dreams now is Clytemnestra calling.
[The Chorus stirs, whimpering and muttering in sleep]
Oh, whine away! The man is gone, fled far.
His friends are not at all like mine.

[Buckley translation: CLYTEMNESTRA: Sleep on, will ye? And what need is there of sleepers? But I thus dishonoured by you among the other dead, because I was a slayer, reproach among the dead ceases not: and in disgrace I wander, and I declare to you that I have the greatest reproach from those. But having suffered thus dreadful things from those most dear, none of the deities is enraged on account of me, slaughtered by matricidal hands. Behold these blows on thee, my heart; for the slumbering mind is keen in its eyes, but during day the fate of mortals can not foresee futurity. Full oftentimes have ye tasted of my offerings, both wineless libations, temperate soothing gifts, and I have offered at the hearth of fire nightly solemn feasts at an hour common to none of the gods. and all these things I behold trampled under the heel. But he is gone having escaped like a fawn, and moreover lightly has he rushed from the midst of the toils, having greatly laughed at you. Hear what I have said in behalf of my soul, O goddesses beneath the earth: for I Clytemnestra, a dream now call upon you. Snore on, but the man is gone flying afar: for the gods of supplication are friendly to my relatives, not me.]

[Fagles translation: CLYTEMNESTA:
So, you can sleep…
Awake, awake—what use are sleepers now?
I go shorn of honor, thanks to you,
Alone among the dead. And of those I killed
The charges of the dead will never cease, never—
I wander in disgrace, I feel the guilt, I tell you,
Enormous gilt from all the outraged dead!
But I suffered too, terribly, from dear ones,
And none of my spirits rages to avenge me.
I was slaughtered by his matricidal hand.
See these gashes—
[Seizing one of the Furies weak with sleep.]
Carve them in your senses.
The sleeping brain has eyes that give us light;
We can never see our destiny by day.
And after all my libations…how you lapped
The honey, the sober offerings poured to soothe you,
Awesome midnight feasts I burned at the hearthfire,
Your dread hour never shared with gods.
All those rites, I see them trampled down.
And he springs free like a fawn, one light leap
At that—he’s through the thick of your nets,
He breaks away!
Mocking laughter twists across his face.
Hear me, I am pleading for my life.
Awake, my Furies, goddesses of the Earth!
A dream is calling—Clytemnestra calls you now.
[The Furies mutter in their sleep.]
Mutter on. Your man is gone, fled far away.
My kin has friends to defend him, not like mine.]

[Lattimore translation: CLYTEMNESTRA:
You would sleep, then? And what use are you, if you sleep?
It is because of you I go dishonoured thus
Among the rest of the dead. Because of those I killed
My bad name among the perished suffered no eclipse
But I am driven in disgrace. I say to you
That I am charged with guilt most grave by these. And yet
I suffered too, horribly, and from those most dear,
Yet none among the powers is angered for my sake
That I was slaughtered, and by matricidal hands.
Look at these gashes in my heart, think where they came
From. Eyes illuminate the sleeping brain,
But in the daylight man’s future cannot be seen.
Yet I have given you much to lap up, outpourings
Without wine, sober propitiations, sacrificed
In secrecy of night and on a hearth of fire
For you, at an hour given to no other god.
Now I watch all these honors trampled into the ground,
And he is out and gone away like any fawn
So lightly, from the very middle of your nets,
Sprung clear, and laughing merrily at you. Hear me.
It is my life depends upon this spoken plea.
Think then, o goddesses beneath the ground. For I,
The dream of Clytemnestra, call upon your name.
[The Furies stir in their sleep and whimper]
Oh, whimper, then, but your man has got away and gone
Far. He has friends to help him, who are not like mine.]

[Harrison translation: CLYTEMNESTRA:
You’re supposed to be Furies and I find you sleeping!
When Furies need naps they’re no longer Furies.
Dishonoured, defamed by the dead that I dwell with,
I walk underground through a gauntlet of ghost-cries,
Catcalls that brand my phantom with blood-guilt.
Slaughtered through I was by the hand of my he-child
Not one spirit’s incensed at the sore fate I’ve suffered.
Look here at my heart with hackmarks all over.
Remember too all those midnight libations,
Not winebowls, but liquor much redder and thicker,
Poured at the house when there’s only you stirring
While mortals are sleeping, gods in god-spaces.
But you trample and spurn all my spendthrift libations.
He’s given you the slip the quarry you’re hunting
Like a nimble deer clearing the spread of your net-mesh
Belling his beast-taunts as he bounds off for freedom.
Listen! It’s for my after-life that I’m pleading.
Wake up, she-gods of underneath spaces.
The Clytemnestra you’re dreaming calls you from sleep.
[Furies are heard within moaning in their sleep.]
O make your cow noises! Your quarry’s escaped.
He’s luck in his friends. At least they aren’t Furies.]

Oh, breathe upon him with that butchery breath of yours.
Shrivel him to ash from your smoking burning bowels.
Off at him again. Pursue him to the bone.

Strophe 1: Oh, curse it! Curse it, sisters:
We have been betrayed.
And after all I’ve suffered,
All of it in vain.
Oh, yes! Oh, yes, we’ve suffered
Though a deal of pain,
Of hellish pain.
He’s slipped out from our noose,
Our beast he’s got away.
We lose ourselves in sleep,
And lost our prey.

APOLLO: Out, I say from here.
Leave this edifice at once.
Get off and gone from my prophetic holy place,
Or feel the strike of a winged and coruscating snake
Whipped from my golden bow,
To make you froth away your life in spasms
Of black and man-drawn bile—
Spewing out your clotted human suckings.
This is no fitting residence for you to board.
Yours is a place of sentences:
Where heads are chopped, eyes gouged, throats cut,
And seed is crushed from striplings spoiled in flower.
Yes, a place of mutilations, stonings—
Helpless wailings long drawn out
From men pinned through the spine.
Do you want to know what turns the stomachs of the Gods?
Those feasts you find so charming.
Your whole shape and mien give you away.
Freaks like you should make their hole
Deep in some blood-beslobbered lion’s den
And not come rubbing off their filth
On those beside these sacred mantic spots.
Get gone, you goatish rabble with no goatherd:
No god’s love is long on such a flock.

[Buckley translation: APOLLO: Out, I bid you depart with speed from these abodes; begone from the prophetic shrines, lest even having received the winged swift snake, hurled from the golden string, you send forth through pain the black foam [sucked] from men, vomiting the clots of gore which you have drawn. By no means is it fitting to approach these abodes, but where there are head-cutting, eye-digging revenges and slaughters, and the vigor of boys is injured, and destruction of the seed, and maiming, and stoning, [and where] those impaled by the spine groan with much wailing. Hear, you abhorred by the gods, of what a feast you have the delight? But the whole fashion of your of the blood-sucking lion, not to tarry in these oracular seats, an abomination to the neighbors. Begone, you who feed without a keeper; but none of the gods has regard for such a herd.]

[Falges translation: APOLLO:
Out, I tell you out of these halls—Fast,
Set the Prophet’s chamber free!
[Seizing one fo the Furies, shaking an arrow across her face.]
Or take
The flash and stab of this, this flying viper
Shot from the longbow’s golden cord strung taut!
Heave in torment, black froth erupting from your lungs,
Vomit the clots of all the murders your have drained.
But never touch my falls, you have no right.
Go where heads are severed, eyes gouged out,
Where Justice and bloody slaughter are the same…
Castrations, wasted seed, young men’s glories butchered,
Extremities maimed, and huge stones at the chest,
And the victims wail for pity—
Spikes inching up the spine, torsos stuck on spikes.
[The Furies close in on him.]
So, you hear your love east, yearn to have it all?
You revolt the gods. Your look,
Your whole regalia gives you away—your kind
Should infest a lion’s cavern reeking blood.
But never rub your filth on the Prophet’s shrine.
Out, you flock without a herdsman—out!
No god will ever shepherd you with love.]

[Lattimore translation: APOLLO:
Get out, I tell you, go and leave this house. Away
In haste, from your presence set the mantic chamber free,
Else you may feel the flash and bite of a flying snake
Launched from the twisted thong of gold that spans my bow
To make you in your pain spew out the black and foaming
Blood of men, vomit the clots sucked from their veins.
This house is no right place for such as you to cling
Upon; but where, by judgment given, heads are lopped
And eyes gouged out, throats cut, and by the spoil of sex
The glory of young boys is defeated, where mutilation
Lives, and stoning, and the long moan of tortured men
Spiked underneath the spine and stuck on pales. Listen
To how the gods spit out the manner of that feast
Your loves lean to. The whole cast of your shape is guide
To what you are, the like of whom should hole in the cave
Of the blood-reeking lion, not in oracular
Interiors, like mine nearby, wipe off your filth.
Out then, you flock of goats without a herdsman, since
No god has such affection as to tend this brood.]

[Harrison translation: APOLLO:
Get out! Get out! Out you go! Out you go!
Leave the prophet’s earthcleft free of pollution
Or a serpent with wings on and venomous fangbane
Shot from gold bowstrings will go through your gutbag!
You’ll spew up black salver of gobbled up goreswill,
Gore-clots your crones’ gobs sucked out of corpses.
Not a finger of yours should befoul my own hearth-fane.
You belong where heads go splat off the hackblock,
Eyes get gouged out and lugged from their sockets,
Where bloodright’s castrations, boys’ ballocks battered,
Men spitted on stakespikes screaming for mercy.
Your bat-snouts go snorting in society’s bloodtroughs.
It’s the food you get fat on makes you hated by he-gods.
All your appearance says blood food and filth baths.
You hags should live in the beast dens in jungles,
Dark lairs all larded with shit and chewed gristle,
Not here, contagious to all you come to.
Get out! Out you go! You goats with no goatherd!]

CHORUS: Murderers of mothers we harry form their homes.
APOLLO: Then what about a woman who undermines her man?
CHORUS: Such a killing does not count as blood of kin.
APOLLO: How you heap contempt upon—make cheap—
Hera’s consummated pact with Zeus.
Aphrodite too such logic brushes off, condemns—
The source of mankind’s sweetest joys.
Love in marriage is a holy state between a man and woman:
Stronger than an oath, sentineled by Right.
And if one slays the other and you be lax,
Not flash in anger on them,
I’ll never for a moment say you are not wrong
To hunt Orestes down.

CHORUS: But that may not be:
A mother’s blood once spilt
Is passed recall.
Oh, that flood on the floor
Has gushed and gone!
In requisite I’ll suck
Your limbs alive
Of scarlet chrism;
And you must let me.
Oh, to feed on you—
You grisly elixir!
And when I’ve sucked you limp
I’ll drag you down
Below to pay
A murdered mother’s pains.

CHORUS: Not Apollo, not all Athena’s power,
Can snatch you from abandonment and ruin:
A spirit absolutely ignorant of joy—
Bloodless fodder for the demons; and a shade.
[The Furies wait for some response]
What! Won’t you answer?
Not repudiate these words of mine?
Sweet victim fattened for me!
Banquet all alive—oblated at no altar!...
Then listen spellbound to this song.
[The Furies begin to dance and sing in a weird measure]
[First Stasimon] Come, link hands and join the dance
of hate in the canticle
blasted by us with the best of intent
to give you a lesson on how the lots
are issued to men by our committee.
Oh, we’re so fair
So very proper!

[Buckley translation: CHORUS: By no means shall Apollo, or the might of Minerva set you free, so as not to perish neglected, not having learned where in your mind to rejoice, the bloodless food of demons a shadow. Dost thou not reply, but dost thou disdain my words, thou who art both nourished for, and devoted to me? And alive you shall feed me, not slain at the altar, and you shall hear this hymn that charms you. Come then, let us also join the dance, since it has seemed good to us to pour forth the hated song, and to declare how our band distributes its lots among men; and we delight in being upright [ministers] of justice.]

[Fagles translation: LEADER: Never—neither
Apollo’s nor Athena’s strength can save you.
Down you go, abandoned,
Searching your soul for joy but joy is gone.
Bled white, gnawed by demons, a husk, a wraith—
[She breaks off, waiting for reply, but Orestes prays in silence]
No reply? You spit my challenge back?
You’ll feast me alive, my fatted calf,
Not cut on the altar first. Now hear my spell,
The chains of song I sing to bind you tight.
FURIES: Come, Furies, dance!—
Link arms for the dancing hand-to-hand
Now we long to reveal our art,
Our terror, now to declare our right
To steer the lives of men,
We all conspire, we dance! We are
The just and upright, we maintain.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS:
Neither Apollo nor Athene’s strength must win
You free, save you from going down forgotten, without
Knowing where joy lies anywhere inside your heart,
Blood drained, chewed dry by the powers of death, a wraith, a shell.
You will not speak to answer, spew my challenge away?
You are consecrate to me and fattened for my feast,
And you shall feed me while you live, not cut down first
At the altar. Hear the spell I sing to bind you in.
Come then, link we our choral. Ours
To show forth the power
And terror of our music, declare
Our rights of office, how we conspire
To steer men’s lives.
We hold we are straight and just.]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS:
Neither the power of Apollo, nor the power of Athena
Can save you from perishing spurned and abandoned,
Even forgetting that joy had a meaning,
Broached of blood, banqueted on, flesh pod, shadow,
A shriveled up fruitfind squeezed dry of its juices.
Won’t answer! Spits what we say back in our faces!
Our little sacrifice all ready for slicing!
No need of godstones, we’ll eat you still living.
It will swaddle you helpless, our ‘lullaby’ listen—
She-kin, show our force, Join hands!
Dance the doom-dance steps, display
Through our grim music that our band’s
A power over men that gets its way:
Our mission’s bloodright, we’re not sent
Ever to harm the innocent.]

Strophe 2:
This was the settlement made us—our lot when begot:
Hands off Immortals and no collocations of banquets;
Nothing in common and nothing at all of the whiteness
They wear on their feast days:
The staggering whiteness.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS: This lot was assigned to us at our birth: to keep our hands from the immortals, nor is there any common feeder with us; and of white garments am I ever destitute and devoid.]

[Fagles translation: CHORUS:
Even by birth, I say, our rights were so ordained.
The deathless gods must keep their hands far off,
No god may share our cups, our solemn feasts.
From all part in their pure white robes the Fates
That gave us power have kept us free.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS:
When we were born such lots were assigned for our keeping.
So the immortals must hold hands off, nor is there
One who shall sit at our feasting.
For sheer white robes I have no right and no portion.]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS:
When we came into being, they were marked out, the confines.
We and the Olympians have no intimate contacts.
Food’s offered to either but not to both together.
We don’t wear white robes, they don’t wear black ones.]

Strophe 4: Dishonored, despised, we do
Our duty (though barred from the gods
With a sunless torch) : to roughen the road
For eyes that are dark and that see.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS: …executing an office ignoble and unhonored, apart from gods with a sunless torch, in a way alike difficult to be trodden by those who see and by the blind.]

[Falges translation: CHORUS:
disgraced, degraded, drive our powers through;
banished far from god to a sunless, torchlit dusk,
we drive men through their rugged passage,
blinded dead and those who see by day.]

[Lattimore translation: CHORUS: …spurned, outcast
from gods, driven apart to stand in light
not of the sun. So sheer with rock are ways
for those who see, as upon those whose eyes are lost.]

[Harrison translation: CHORUS:
We’re despised, we’re rejected. The light we work by
Is nothing like sunshine. Sharp and sheer-sided
Our tracks are a peril to blind and to sighted.]

ATHENA: Who in the world are you? The lot of you, I mean?
This stranger sitting at my statue’s feet?
And you—you spawn of race unclassified,
Unglimpsed among the goddesses by gods,
Not even stamped from any human mold?...
But no, it is not fair to be unkind
In the presence of a freak—
Fairness stands aloof.
CHORUS: Daughter of Zeus, you shall hear it all in brief:
We are the dismal children of the Night—
Called curses in the deep abodes beneath.
ATHENA: A race I know: oh, names notorious!

ATHENA: You truly want to lay the case with me?
CHORUS: Why not? From noble lineage cherish noble law.
ATHENA: [turning to Orestes] Stranger, your turn now:
And what have you to say?
Tell me first your country, race and fortunes;
Then defend yourself against this charge—
If you really think your case is sound,
Which makes you sit here by my hearth and hug my form:
A dedicated penitent like Ixion.
Give me some assurance of these things.
ORESTES: Sovereign Athena,
First from your last words
I would remove a mighty slur:
I am no contaminated suppliant
Clinging to your effigy with dirty hands.
I’ll give you proof of this—a weighty proof.
The man of blood keeps mute, the canons say,
Until he is sprinkled with a yeanling sacrificed
By one who is fit to was his blood away.
Victims and running streams,
These rites at other seats I have fulfilled:
This care at least I clear from off our way.

ATHENA: Yet, these women have a work we cannot slight
And if they fail to be victorious in this,
The poison of their disappointment afterwards
Will drop infection on the ground
And blight our earth with everlasting plague.

Antistrophe 2: There is a time for fear
To sit inside the will;
To guard and there preside.
Oh, it is good
To groan and so be wise.
How might a man not trained
In fear of heart—a man
Or city too—still learn
Respect for Righteousness?
Strophe 3: The life which has no law,
The life which is a slave’s,
Be far from praise.

OR: I say: I took my sword and ran her through the throat.
CH: On whose suggestion? Who planned the thing?
OR: The selfsame prophet-god. He’ll answer for me.
CH: What! A god and a prophet prompt to matricide?
OR: Yes. And to this moment I do not blame my lot.
CH: Ah! when the sentence grips you, you’ll change your tone.
OR: I am confident. My father’ll send his help beyond the grave.
CH: So—kill a mother, all to trust a corpse!
OR: I do. She smeared herself twice over with her sin.
CH: Precisely how? Please tell the judges that.
OR: The stroke that slayed her husband felled my father.
CH: She paid for it and died: you still live.
OR: But when she lived why didn’t you pursue and pounce?
CH: Because she was not one blood with the man she killed.

APOLLO: Such is justice at its strongest—mark it well.
I am asking you to bow before the Father’s will.
No oath exists more binding-strong than Zeus.
CHORUS: So Zeus, you say, was prompter of this oracle,
Bidding this man Orestes to avenge his father’s blood
By ignoring every scrap of honor to his mother?

CHORUS: Zeus, you say, puts greater stock upon a father’s end,
Yet he himself put chain on his old father, Cronus.
How does this not contradict?
I call upon the court to witness.

[The Jurors drop their ballots one by one into the two urns, either of bronze for acquittal, or of wood for condemnation]
CHORUS: I advise you not to disregard our sisterhood:
We can be a heavy load upon your land.
APOLLO: And my oracles—which are those of Zeus—I ask you:
Do not ignore or make them fruitless.
CHORUS: Oh, you and your concern with blood beyond your business!
The prophecies you prophecy are tainted now.
APOLLO: So my Father made an error in his judgment
When Ixion, first murderer, appealed to him?
CHORUS: You talk. But if I fail to win my cause
I shall come back and haunt this land.
APOLLO: You are of no consequence either among the elder
Or the younger gods… I shall win.

ATHENA: My business is to close the case:
My own vote goes in favor of Orestes.
No mother ever gave me birth:
I am unreservedly for male in everything
Save marrying one—
Enthusiastically on my father’s sid.e

CHORUS: Strophe 1:
Curse on you upstart gods who have ridden
Down immemorial laws and filched them
Clean from my fingers. Abused, disappointed,
Raging I come—oh, shall come!—
And drip from my heart
A hurt on your soil, a contagion,
A culture, a canker:
Leafless and childless Revenge
Rushing like wildfire over the lowlands,
Smearing its death-pus on the mortals and meadows.
Shall I cry—oh, cry for the future?
Mocked by these burghers!
Insufferably worsted!
Bitter Night’s daughters, immensely
Dishonored and saddened.
ATHENA: Let me persuade you not to break your heart so:
You were not beaten; the votes were only even;
All fell fair and no disgrace to you.

I pledge to you in absolute good faith
A cavernous deep place—your rightly promised land.
There you shall sit by hearths on shining thrones;
And by these selfsame citizens
Most abundantly be worshiped.

CHORUS: Strophe 2: That I could be so beaten!
I the old wisdom under the earth
Displaced like dirt!
My very breath is caught with fury and disgust.
Earth, the disgrace!
Oh, what is this pain—seeping through my sides?
Mother, I am hurt.
O hear me Night.
They have stripped me down, the gods:
Tricked all my status from me.
ATHENA: I’ll bear with your anger, for you are elder
And therefore certainly more wise than I;
But Zeus gave me a mind as well:
This other-peopled land you’ve come to
You shall learn to love—I so predict it.

So, in these my realms you must not throw
Your bloody whetstone down
To sharpen up and spoil the spleen of youth
With passions worse than wine;
Or snatch the hearts from fighting cocks
And bury them with Ares deep amongst my citizens
Made savage on each other.
Keep war outside and far from home—
Keep it for the greedy of hard-won fame.
Battle with the home-bred bird…I do not name.

I shall not tire of tempting you with good,
And you shall never say that you—
Uncivilly and scorned—
Were ousted from this land by me,
Old goddess by a new,
And by my mortal citizens.

[Buckley translation: CHORUS: That I should have suffered these things! Alas! That I wretched should dwell on earth! Alas! A dishonorable pollution! Therefore I breathe forth my rage, and all my wrath. Oh! oh! Earth! Alas! What anguish pierces my sides! Hear my rage, mother Night! For the crafty wiles of the gods have deprived me of my public honors as if of no account.
ATHENA: I will bear with your passion; for you are older; and certainly indeed you are much more wise than I: but to me too Jove has given no small share of wisdom. But you having come into a land of strangers will be loved by this country: I foretell these things… But do not you in my realms cast either bloody whetstones, a destruction to the entrails of youths, rendering them frantic with rage not excited by wine; nor rousing them like the heart of cocks, among my citizens plant Mars both civil and bold against each other. Let there be a foreign war, not a present broil with difficulty, in which there shall be a violent love of glory; but I mention not the fight of the domestic bird...By no means shall I be tired of speaking wht is good for you; that you may never say that you, an ancient goddess, did through me a younger, and through men that dwell in cities, depart dishonored, inhospitably driven from this land.]

[Fagles translation: ATHENA:
Here in our homeland never cast the stones
That whet our bloodlust. Never waste our youth,
Inflaming them with the burning wine of strife.
Never pluck the heart of the battle cock
And plant it in our people—intestine war
Seething against themselves. Let our wars
Rage on abroad, will all their force, to satisfy
Our powerful lust for fame. But as for the bird
That fights at home—my curse on civil war.]

[Lattimore translation: ATHENA:
Only in this place that I haunt do not inflict
Your bloody stimulus to twist the inward hearts
Of young men, raging in a fury not of wine,
Nor, as if plucking the heart from fighting cocks,
Engraft among my citizens that spirit of way
That turns their battle fury inward on themselves.
No, let our wars rage outward hard against the man
Who has fallen horribly in love with high renown.
No true fighter I call the bird that fights at home.]

[Harrison translation: ATHENA:
On this land, my land, goad no-one to bloodshed,
Or let them strop their grudge on your whetstones,
Our youth up in arms and drunk with aggression
Battling like bantams in the strife between bloodkin.
Let them battle abroad if they need to gain glory.
I want no cocks fighting in my country’s farmyard,
Birds of a feather I forbid to do battle.]

CH: Lady Athena, what is this place for me you speak of?
AT: One innocent of pain. Take it for your own.
CH: And if I do, what privilege is in store?
AT: No single house shall thrive except by you.
CH: But will you really work it that I wax so strong?
AT: Yes; for we bless the fortunes of our votaries.
CH: And what assurance can you give—everlastingly?
AT: I am not the one to pledge and not perform.
CH: You are winning me, I think: my anger goes.

ATHENA: Never to see wrong right,
But blessings from the earth
And from our deep sea drifts;
And out of the sky
Winds and breezes blowing
Clear sunshine on the soil;
And overflowing plenty
Of fruit and field and lock,
Which fails our people never;
And precious life
For man’s own mortal seed;
The wicked weeded out—
For like a careful gardener
I love my plants:
This race of just and harmless men.
Such your part; and mine:
Never to allow
This city in the dazzling lists of war
Not to be conquest-crowned in the world of men
And not to be distinct.

[Buckley translation: ATHENA: Such things as regard good victory, and these from the earth, and from the dews of the sea, and from heaven, and the gales of the winds blowing with clear sunshine to come upon this land; and that the fruit of the earth and of flocks flowing plenteously abounding to the citizens fail not with time, and that there be safety of mortal seed. But may you be more inclined to root out the impious: for I cherish free from calamity, like a gardener, this race of just men here. Such be thy care. But with respect to illustrious warlike contests, I will not endure not to honor this city with victory among mortals.]

[Fagles translation: ATHENA:
Nothing that strikes a note of brutal conquest. Only peace—
Blessings, rising up from the earth and the heaving sea,
And down the vaulting sky let the wind-gods breathe
A wash of sunlight streaming through the land,
And the yield of soil and grazing cattle flood
Of our city’s life with power and never flag
With time. Make the seed of men live on,
The more they worship you the more they thrive.
I love them as a gardener loves his plants,
These upright men, this breed fought free of grief.
All that is yours to give.
And I,
In the trails of war where fighters burn for fame,
Will never endure the overthrow of Athens—
And will praise her, victor city, pride of man.]

[Lattimore translation: ATHENA:
Something that has no traffic with evil success.
Let it come out of the ground, out of the sea’s water,
And form the high air make the waft of gentle gales
Wash over the country in full sunlight, and the seed
And stream of the soil’s yield and of the grazing beasts
Be strong and never fail our people as time goes,
And make the human seed be kept alive. Make more
The issue of those who worship more your ways, for as
The gardener works in love, so love I best of all
The unblighted generation of these upright men.
All such is yours fro granting. In the speech and show
And pride of battle, I myself shall not endure
This city’s eclipse in the estimation of mankind.]

[Harrison translation: ATHENA:
Brings blessings from earth, sea-billows and sky.
Let the wind warm the land as sun-filled sou’westers,
Let farm-fields and flocks always be fruitful
And never fail fold who will farm them in future,
And as the land prospers so will the people,
Especially those who give gifts to your godstones.
Like a green-fingered gardener tending his garden
I let the good grow, and nip the bad as it’s budding.
I see that the good’s wants get well enough watered,
Protect their green life-lot from all blight and croprot.
Your part’s to prosper my people in peace-time,
And mine, when the time comes for war-cries and weapons,
Is to make certain my city’s triumphant.]

ATHENA: Thus with a will, thus dispatching
This for these citizens, I’m investing
Divinities for them great and exacting:
Everything human falls to their function,
And anyone failing
To feel their import
Does not know whence life can hit him.
The sins of the fathers draw a man near them
Till destruction
Without a sound levels him down
Loudly boasting:
Viciously, angrily, into the dust.
CHORUS: Antistrophe 1:
Let no blasting wind blight trees:
This is the grace I utter.
Let no hotness blaze across
And scorch away the buddings.
Let no thwarting canker creep, blistering the fruitings.
Btu may Earth engender
In her lavish season
Twofold yeanlings to the flocks;
A stream of fortunes form the mines,
God-blessed and god-given.

[Buckely translation: ATHENA: I willingly do these things for these my citizens, having settled in this place these mighty deities, and hard to be appeased: for they have obtained by lot to administer all things regarding men. But he who has not found them gentle, knows not whence come the ills of life: for the sins of his forefathers lead him away to these, and silent destruction with hostile wrath lays him low even while talking big.]

[Fagles translation: ATHENA:
These blessings I bestow on you, my people, gladly.
I enthrone these strong, implacable spirits here
And root them in our soil.
Theirs to rule the lives of men,
It is their fated power.
But he who has never felt their weight,
Or known the blows of life and how they fall,
The crimes of his fathers hale him toward their bar,
And there for all his boasts—destruction,
Stilent, majestic in anger,
Crushes him to dust.]

[Lattimore translation: ATHENA:
Here are my actions. In all good will
Toward the citizens I establish in power
Spirits who are large, difficult to soften.
To them is given the handling entire
Of men’s lies. That man
Who has not felt the weight of their hands
Takes the strokes of life, knows not whence, not why,
For crimes wreaked in past generations
Drag him before these powers. Loud his voice
But the silent doom
Hates hard, and breaks him to dust.]

[Harrison translation: ATHENA:
I act on behalf of a people I cherish
And install among them these implacable spirits
Whose province has been and is to manage mankind.
A man feels their onslaught but not where it comes from.
Crimes from the past get him hauled up before them.
And though he bursts his lungs with loud shouting
Their silent grudge grinds him down into nothing.]

[While the following verses are sung, Pallas Athena stations herlsef at the head of the Furies—now propitiously renamed the Eumenides or Gentle Ones. At the same time an escort of matrons, girls, and grandmothers—the Chorus of Athenian Women—foroms for the grand processional exit.]

ATHENA: And farewell to you; but first by the holy light
Of this escort and marching before you
I mean to show you your chambers.
Oh, go majestically sped,
With these holocausts, under the ground. Hold off
All harm against this country:

Praised be the words of your prayers.
And now with the light of these torch-flung flames,
I take you down to the deeps of the underworld
With this ministrant escort—women devoted
To watching my image.

[The procession begins to move off. The Eumenides are led down the steps of the temple towards their shrines under the earth.]


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