Story of Orestes - A Condensation of the Trilogy
by Richard G. Moulton
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A passionate dialogue (in mixed verse: Electra, speaking lyrics, Orestes Blank Verse) of exultation and weeping succeeds: until finally Orestes is calling back their thoughts to the plans of vengeance when enter from Palace Attendant of Orestes, who chides them for their loud joy, which he has barely been able to prevent from reaching the ears of Clytaemnestra. Electra is informed who this attendant is, and joyfully recognizes him and calls him father for his faithfulness. He cuts conversation short and hurries Orestes and Pylades within. Electra with a prayer retires. {1383}


Short expression of the sense of a critical moment: Strophe, Ares and the Avengers are on their way—Antistrophe, they have passed beneath the roof-tree. {1397}


Electra rushes out to stand on guard against Aegisthus while vengeance is being done on Clytaemnestra.—Cries from within; Electra and Chorus perceive that the deed is done.—Enter Orestes and Pylades from the Palace red-handed; they are about to triumph when Electra thrusts them back, for Aegisthus is at hand.—Enter Aegisthus enquiring for the strangers of Electra. {1442}

Aegis. Where are the strangers, then? Tell this to me. Elec. Within; for they have found a loving hostess. Aegis. And did they say distinctly he was dead? Elec. Ah no! they showed it, not in words alone. Aegis. And is it here, that we may see it plain? Elec. 'Tis here, a sight most pitiful to see. Aegis. Against thy wont thou giv'st me cause for joy. Elec. Thou may'st rejoice, if this be ground of joy. Aegis. I hid you hush, and open wide the gates That all of Argos and Mycenae see, So if there be that once were lifted up With hopes they had, vain hopes they fixed on him, Now seeing him dead, they may receive my curb, And finding me their master, sense may gain Without coercion. Elec. And that end is reached By me; for I by time have wisdom gained, To yield to those more mighty.

The doors are thrown open, and disclose Orestes and Pylades standing by the dead body of Clytaemnestra, which is covered with a sheet and a veil over the face.

Aegis. Lo, I see, O Zeus, a sight that comes right well for me. (Without offence I say it; should it move The wrath divine, I wish it all unsaid.) Withdraw the veil which hides the face, that I To kindred blood may pay the meed of tears. Ores. Do thou uplift it. 'Tis thy task not mine, To look on this, and kindly words to speak. Aegis. Thou giv'st good counsel, and I list to thee, And thou, if yet she tarries in the house, Call Clytaemnestra. Ores. (as Aegisthus lifts the veil) Here she lies before thee, Seek her not elsewhere, {1474} Aegis. Oh what sight is this! Ores. Whom fearest thou? Who is't thou dost not know? Aegis. Into whose snares, whose closely-tangled mesh Have I, poor victim, fallen? Ores. Saw'st thou not Long since that thou didst speak to them that live As they were dead? Aegis. Ah me! I catch thy words. It needs must be that he who speaks to me Is named Orestes. Ores. Wert thou then deceived, Thou excellent diviner? Aegis. Woe is me! I perish, yet permit me first to speak One little word. Elec. Give him no leave to speak, By all the gods, my brother, nor to spin His long discourse. When men are plunged in ills What gain can one who stands condemned to die Reap from delay? No, slay him out of hand; And, having slain him, cast him forth, to find Fit burial at their hands from whom 'tis meet That he should have it, far away from view. Thus only shall I gain a remedy For all the evils of the years gone by. Ores. [To Aegisthus.] Go thou within, and quickly. Now our strife Is not of words, but for thy life itself. Aegis. Why dost thou force me in? If this be right, What need of darkness? Why not slay at once? Ores. Give thou no orders, but where thou did'st slay My father go, that thou too there may'st die. Aegis. Truly the doom is fixed, this house should see The ills that on the house of Pelops fall, Or present, or to come. Ores. Yes, those that fall On thee: of these I am a prophet true. Aegis. Thou boastest of a skill which he had not— Thy father. Ores. Still thou bandiest many words, And length'nest out the way. Move on. Aegis. Lead thou. Ores. Not so, thou must go first. Aegis. Dost think I'll flee? Ores. Thou must not die the death thou would'st desire. I needs must make it utter. Doom like this Should fall on all who dare transgress the laws, The doom of death. Then wickedness no more Would multiply its strength. Chor. O seed of Atreus, after many woes, Thou hast come forth, thy freedom hardly won, By this emprise made perfect!

[1] The quotations of Sophocles are (mostly) from Plumptre's translation.



The Scene is in front of a Peasant's Cottage: the Centre is the door of the Cottage, the scene on the two sides of it represents the ways to fields and to the river. Time: early Morning, the stars still shining.

Enter from the Cottage the Peasant on his way to his day's work. In the form of a Morning Prayer to the stream Inachus, he makes known the situation of affairs, the murder of Agamemnon, etc.—and in particular how Aegisthus, fearing lest some nobleman might marry Electra and be her avenger, had forced her into wedlock with himself, a peasant, honest but in the lowest poverty. But he is too good a friend to his master's house and to the absent Orestes to wrong Electra; he has been a husband only in name, to give her the shelter of his humble roof. Enter Electra from the Cottage with a watering pot: not seeing the Peasant she in a similar soliloquy announces that she is on her way to the river to prosecute her unnatural toil.

Peas. Why will thou thus, unhappy lady, toil For my sake bearing labours, nor desist At my desire? Not thus hast thou been train'd. Elec. Thee equal to the gods I deem my friend, For in my ills thou hast not treated me With insult. In misfortunes thus to find What I have found in thee, a gentle pow'r, Lenient of grief, must be a mighty source Of consolations. It behoves me then, Far as my pow'r avails, to ease thy toils, That lighter thou may'st feel them, and to share Thy labour, though unbidden; in the fields Thou hast enough of work; be it my task Within to order well. The lab'rer tired Abroad, with pleasure to his house returns. Accustom'd all things grateful there to find.

Peas. Go then, since such thy will; nor distant far The fountain from the house. At the first dawn My bullocks yoked I to the field will drive, And sow my furrows; for no idle wretch With the gods always in the mouth can gain Without due labour the support of life. {95}

Stage vacant a moment. Then enter by Distance-door Orestes and Pylades.

Orestes in conversation with his friend makes known he is come by divine command to avenge his father's death: he has fulfilled the god's first charge to present offerings on his father's tomb; the second is that he must not enter the walls of the city; thus he wishes to find his sister—now, as he hears, wedded to a peasant!—and consult—they step aside as they see one whom 'female slave her tresses show' approaching. {127}

Re-enter Electra with her water-pot filled: and in a Monody (strophe, antistrophe and epode) laments her situation: laments for her lost father, her brother afar off, in servitude it may be: and adjures her father's spirit to send vengeance. {187}


Enter the Orchestra Chorus of Maidens of Mycenae, and in dialogue (two Strophes and Antistrophes) beg Electra to join them in an approaching festival, as she had been wont in happier days.—Electra declares she is fit for tears and rags, not for festivities.—As for rags they will find her the festal robes; and vows, instead of tears may gain the goddess's help.—No god, says Electra, has an ear for the wretched, and in wretched toil and obscure retreat her life is wasting away.—A sob from the concealed Orestes startles them, and they are about to flee, when Orestes and Pylades discover themselves and reassure them. With difficulty he restrains his emotions throughout a long conversation, personating a messenger from himself to Electra.

Ores. Bearing thy brother's words to thee I come. {251} Elec. Most welcome: breathes he yet this vital air? Ores. He lives: I first would speak what brings thee joy. Elec. Oh be thou blest for these most grateful words! Ores. To both in common this I give to share. Elec. Where is th' unhappy outcast wand'ring now? Ores. He wastes his life not subject to one state. Elec. Finds he with toil what life each day requires? Ores. Not so; but mean the wand'ring exile's state. Elec. But with what message art thou from him charg'd? Ores. T' inquire, if living, where thou bear'st thy griefs. Elec. First then observe my thin and wasted state. Ores. Wasted with grief, so that I pity thee. Elec. Behold my head, its crisped honours shorn. Ores. Mourning thy brother, or thy father dead? Elec. What can be dearer to my soul than these? Ores. Alas! What deem'st thou are thy brother's thoughts? Elec. He, though far distant, is most dear to me. Ores. Why here thy dwelling from the city far? Elec. O, stranger, in base nuptials I am join'd— Ores. I feel thy brother's grief!—To one of rank? Elec. Not as my father once to place me hop'd— Ores. That hearing I may tell thy brother, speak. Elec. This is his house: in this I dwell remote. Ores. This house some digger or some herdsman suits. Elec. Generous, though poor, in reverence me he holds. Ores. To thee what reverence doth thy husband pay? Elec. He never hath presumed t' approach my bed.

The conversation is prolonged, bringing out for the benefit of the Strangers and the Chorus the whole of Electra's troubles, and how her father's blood is crying for vengeance.

Elec. The monarch's tomb Unhonoured, nor libations hath receiv'd, Nor myrtle bough, no hallow'd ornament Hath dignified the pyre. Inflamed with wine, My mother's husband, the illustrious lord, For so they call him, trampled on the earth Insultingly where Agamemnon lies, And hurling 'gainst his monument a stone, Thus taunts us with proud scorn, "Where is thy son, "Orestes where? right noble is thy tomb "Protected by his presence." Thus he mocks The absent; but, O stranger, tell him this Suppliant I beg thee. {371}

Enter unexpectedly the Peasant. On hearing that these strangers are messengers from Orestes, he instantly calls for refreshments to be brought, and begs the stranger to delay no longer to enter the cottage: poverty must be no excuse for not offering what hospitality he has.—A burst of admiration is drawn from Orestes. {400}

Ores. Nature hath giv'n no outward mark to note The generous mind; the qualities of men To sense are indistinct. I oft have seen One of no worth a noble father shame, And from vile parents worthy children spring, Meanness oft grov'lling in the rich man's mind, And oft exalted spirits in the poor. How then discerning shall we judge aright? By riches? ill would they abide the test. By poverty? on poverty awaits This ill, through want it prompts to sordid deeds. Shall we pronounce by arms? but who can judge By looking on the spear the dauntless heart? Such judgment is fallacious; for this man, Nor great among the Argives, nor elate With the proud honours of his house, his rank Plebeian, hath approv'd his liberal heart. Will you not then learn wisdom, you whose minds Error with false presentments leads astray? Will you not learn by manners and by deeds To judge the noble? Such discharge their trust With honour to the state and to their house. Mere flesh without a spirit is no more Than statues in the forum; nor in war Doth the strong arm the dang'rous shock abide More than the weak; on nature this depends And an intrepid mind. But we accept Thy hospitable kindness; for the son Of Agamemnon, for whose sake we come, Present or not is worthy to this house. Go, my attendants, I must enter it; This man, though poor, more cheerful than the rich Receives me; to his kindness thanks are due. More would it joy me if thy brother, blest Himself, could lead me to his prosperous house: Yet haply he may come; th' oracular voice Of Phoebus firmly will be ratified: Lightly of human prophecies I deem. {438}

[Orestes and his attendants enter the house.]

Electra is in a quandary at the idea of people of such rank being invited into her humble cottage.

Peas. Why not? If they are noble, as their port Denotes them, will they not alike enjoy Contentment, be their viands mean or rich?

The only device Electra can think of is to send to an old servant of her father's house—the same who, as Tutor, preserved the child Orestes on the fatal night—now an aged herdsman forced to hide himself in obscurity, and ask him to help them in this emergency. Exit Peasant to the fields to find the old Tutor; Electra into the cottage. {474}


apostrophises the array of ships that went to the Trojan war, the great chiefs who commanded, especially Achilles, whose shield they have seen, with its Gorgons, and Sphinxes, and Hermes in flight, and other wondrous figures—suddenly at the end connects itself with the subject of the play by the thought: it was the Prince who commanded heroes like these that a wicked wife dared to slay! {530}


Enter from the fields the Aged Tutor, tottering under the weight of a kid and other viands, clad in rags, and in tears. Electra wonders why he weeps: to mourn for Agamemnon or Orestes is surely now to mourn in vain.

Tut. In vain; but this my soul could not support; {553} For to his tomb as on the way I came, I turned aside, and falling on the ground, Alone and unobserved, indulg'd my tears; Then of the wine, brought for thy stranger guests, Made a libation, and around the tomb Plac'd myrtle branches; on the pyre I saw A sable ewe, yet fresh the victim's blood, And clust'ring auburn locks shorn from some head; I marvell'd, O my child, what man had dar'd Approach the tomb, for this no Argive dares. Perchance with secret step thy brother came And paid these honors to his father's tomb. But view these locks, compare them with thine own, Whether like thine their color; nature loves In those who from one father draw their blood In many points a likeness to preserve. Elec. Unworthy of a wise man are thy words, If thou canst think that to Mycenae's realms My brother e'er with secret step will come, Fearing Aegisthus. Then between our locks What can th' agreement be? To manly toils He in the rough Palaestra hath been train'd, Mine by the comb are soften'd; so that hence Nothing may be inferr'd. Besides, old man, Tresses like-color'd often may'st thou find Where not one drop of kindred blood is shar'd. Tut. Trace but his footsteps, mark th' impression, see If of the same dimensions with thy feet. Elec. How can th' impression of his foot be left On hard and rocky ground? But were it so, Brother and sister never can have foot Of like dimensions: larger is the man's. Tut. But hath thy brother, should he come, no vest Which thou wouldst know, the texture of thy hands, In which when snatch'd from death he was array'd? Elec. Know'st thou not, when my brother from this land Was saved, I was but young? But were his vests Wrought by my hands, then infant as he was, How could he now in his maturer age Be in the same array'd, unless his vests Grew with his person's growth? No, at the tomb Some stranger, touch'd with pity, sheared his locks, Or native, by the tyrant's spies unmark'd. Tut. Where are these strangers? I would see them: much Touching thy brother wish I to inquire. Elec. See, from the house with hast'ning step they come. {599}

Re-enter Orestes and Pylades: Conversation in which the aged Tutor eyes him curiously all over, and declares he is Orestes—general recognition and burst of joy.—Then they turn to vengeance, and in stichomuthic dialogue lay their plans. Aegisthus, the Tutor says, is to come to a neighboring field to celebrate a sacrifice; they lay a plan for Orestes and Pylades to gain admission as travellers and kill him in the moment of sacrifice. As to Clytaemnestra: a report is prevalent in the palace that Electra has given birth to a child; they conspire to give currency to the report and invite Clytaemnestra to perform the ten days' rite: once in the house, Orestes will do the dreadful deed; they tremble at their horrid tasks, but their father must be avenged.—Exeunt Orestes and, his Attendants to the fields; and Electra to the Cottage begging the Chorus, who are privy to all this as confidential friends, to keep watch and summon her if news comes. {763}


Strophe 1. The Argive mountains round, 'Mongst tales of ancient days From age to age recorded this remains: Tuned to mellifluous lays, Pan taught his pipe to sound, And as he breath'd the sprightly-swelling strains, The beauteous ram, with fleece of gold, God of shepherds, on he drove. The herald from the rock above Proclaims, "Your monarch's wonders to behold, "Wonders to sight, from which no terrors flow, "Go, Mycenaeans, to th' assembly go." With reverence they obey the call, And fill th' Atridae's spacious hall.

Antis. Its gates with gold o'erlaid, Wide oped each Argive shrine, And from the altar hallow'd flames arise; Amidst the rites divine, Joying the Muse to aid, Breath'd the brisk pipe its sweet notes to the skies; Accordant to the tuneful strain Swell'd the loud acclaiming voice, Now with Thyestes to rejoice: He, all on fire the glorious prize to gain, With secret love the wife of Atreus won, And thus the shining wonder made his own; Then to the assembly vaunting cried, "Mine is the rich Ram's golden pride."

Strophe 2. Then, oh then, indignant Jove Bade the bright sun backward move, And the golden orb of day, And the morning's orient ray; Glaring o'er the Western sky Hurl'd his ruddy lightnings fly; Clouds, no more to fall in rain, Northward roll their deep'ning train; Libyan Ammon's thirsty seat, Wither'd with the scorching heat, Feels nor show'rs nor heavenly dews Grateful moisture round diffuse.

Antis. 2. Fame hath said (but light I hold What the voice of fame hath told) That the sun, retiring far, Backward roll'd his golden car; And his vital heat withdraw, Sick'ning man's bold crimes to view. Mortals, when such tales they hear, Tremble with an holy fear, And th' offended gods adore; She, this noble pair who bore, Dar'd to murder, deed abhorr'd! This forgot, her royal lord. {815}


As the Ode is concluding, shouts are heard from the direction of the field where the sacrifice is: Chorus summon Electra.

After a brief conversation, a Messenger arrives breathless, and after rapidly giving the news that Aegisthus has fallen, is encouraged to tell the scene at length, which he does in the regular 'Messenger's Speech.'

Mess. Departing from this house, the level road {845} We enter'd soon, mark'd by the chariot wheel On either side. Mycenae's noble king Was there, amidst his gardens with fresh streams Irriguous walking, and the tender boughs Of myrtles, for a wreath to bind his head, He cropt; he saw us, he address'd us thus Aloud: "Hail, strangers; who are ye, and whence Come, from what country?" Then Orestes said, "Thessalians; victims to Olympian Jove We at the stream of Alpheus go to slay." The King replied, "Be now my guests, and share The feast with me; a bullock to the Nymphs I sacrifice; at morn's first dawn arise, Then shall you go; but enter now my house." Thus as he spoke, he took us by the hand And led us, nothing loth: beneath his roof Soon as we came, he bade his slaves prepare Baths for the strangers, that, the altars nigh, Beside the lustral ewers they might stand. Orestes then, "With lavers from the pure And living stream we lately have been cleansed: But with thy citizens these rites to share, If strangers are permitted, we, O King, Are ready to thy hospitable feast, Nothing averse." The converse here had end. Their spears, with which they guard the king, aside Th' attendants laid, and to their office all Applied their hands; some led the victim, some The baskets bore, some rais'd the flames and plac'd The cauldrons on the hearth; the house resounds. Thy mother's husband on the altars cast The salted cakes, and thus address'd his vows; "Ye Nymphs that haunt the rocks, these hallow'd rites Oft let me pay, and of my royal spouse Now absent, both by fortune blest as now; And let our foes as now, in ruin lie;" Thee and Orestes naming. But my lord, Far other vows address'd, but gave his words No utt'rance, to regain his father's house. Aegisthus then the sacrificing sword Took from the basket, from the bullock's front To cut the hair, which on the hallow'd fire With his right hand he threw; and, as his slaves The victim held, beneath its shoulder plung'd The blade; then turning to thy brother spoke: "Among her noble arts Thessalia boasts To rein the fiery courser, and with skill The victim's limbs to sever; stranger, take The sharp-edg'd steel and show that fame reports Of the Thessalians truth." The Doric blade Of temper'd metal in his hand he grasp'd, And from his shoulders threw his graceful robe; Then to assist him in the toilsome task Chose Pylades, and bade the slaves retire: The victim's foot he held, and its white flesh, His hand extending, bared, and stript the hide E'er round the course the chariot twice could roll, And laid the entrails open. In his hands The fate-presaging parts Aegisthus took, Inspecting: in the entrails was no lobe; The valves and cells the gall containing show Dreadful events to him, that view'd them, near. Gloomy his visage darken'd; but my lord Ask'd whence his sadden'd aspect: He replied— "Stranger, some treachery from abroad I fear; Of mortal men Orestes most I hate, The son of Agamemnon; to my house He is a foe." "Wilt thou," replied my lord, "King of this state, an exile's treachery dread? But that, these omens leaving, we may feast, Give me a Phthian for this Doric blade, The breast asunder I will cleave." He took The steel and cut. Aegisthus, yet intent, Parted the entrails; and, as low he bow'd His head, thy brother, rising to the stroke, Drove through his back the ponderous axe, and riv'd The spinal joints: his heaving body writh'd And quiver'd, struggling in the pangs of death. The slaves beheld, and instant snatched their spears, Many 'gainst two contesting; but my lord And Pylades with dauntless courage stood Oppos'd, and shook their spears. Orestes then Thus spoke: "I come not to this state a foe, Nor to my servants; but my father's death I on his murderer have aveng'd; you see Th' unfortunate Orestes: kill me not, My father's old attendants." At these words They all restrain'd their spears, and he was known By one grown hoary in the royal house. Crowns on thy brother's head they instant plac'd With shouts of joy. He comes, and with him brings Proof of his daring, not a Gorgon's head, But whom thou hat'st, Aegisthus: blood for blood, Bitter requital, on the dead has fall'n. {939}

General exultation (in Lyric measures) succeeds, which increases as Orestes and Pylades re-enter bearing the corpse of Aegisthus. After brief celebration of the deed the face of the corpse is uncovered, and Electra, gazing at it, gives vent to her scorn and hatred: how he had slain a hero, made her an orphan, lived in shame with her mother, enjoying and trusting in her father's wealth: but

Nature is firm, not riches: she remains For ever, and triumphant lifts her head. But unjust wealth, which sojourns with the base, Glitters for some short space, then flies away.

His effeminate manners are more than maiden tongue may speak of; beauty graced his perfect form:

But be not mine a husband, whose fair face In softness with a virgin's vies, but one Of manly manners; for the sons of such By martial toils are trained to glorious deeds; The beauteous only the dance give grace.

Let the wicked in future learn they are not secure till the goal of life is reached. {1092}

Clytaemnestra is then seen approaching: they hurry Orestes in; his heart fails him at the thought of his mother; with difficulty Electra rouses him to his appointed vengeance. [Exeunt all but Electra into the Cottage. Enter Clytaemnestra in a Chariot and splendid array.] The Chorus welcome her, and she begs their aid to alight.—Electra thrusts herself forward clad in rags as she is, and begs that she too may assist.—Clyt. feels the impropriety of the scene, and falls into an apologetic tone; it was Electra's father who, by his injustice to Iphigenia, was the real cause of Electra's trouble. This leads to the usual judicial disputation: Clyt. pleading that this sacrifice of her daughter was done not for a good cause, but for the wanton Helen; this sacrifice she had avenged, and to avenge it must join an enemy, not a friend, of Agamemnon.—Electra, getting permission, replies: Helen was not the only wanton one of her family; if no motive but vengeance, why begin to adorn as soon as Agamemnon was out of the way, why rejoice whenever the Trojans prospered, why go on to persecute Orestes and herself, nay, why not slay Aegisthus for persecuting these her children? The sight of Electra's miserable condition makes even Clyt. feel compunction: she has been too harsh, she will be kinder now, and so shall Aegisthus—Electra replying to all that it is too late. At last Clyt. prepares to go within the house and perform the rite for Electra; then she will join her husband. Exeunt Attendants with Chariot, and Electra ushers Clytaemnestra into the Cottage.

Let my poor house receive thee: but take heed Lest thy rich vests the blackening smoke denies.— There shalt thou sacrifice, as to the gods Behoves thee sacrifice: the basket there Is for the rites prepared, and the keen blade Which struck the bull; beside him shalt thou fall By a like blow; in Pluto's courts his bride He shall receive, with whom in heav'n's fair light Thy couch was shared: to thee this grace I give, Thou vengeance for my father shalt give me. {1274}


The waves of mischief are flowing back, the gale of Violence is veering: Vengeance for the crime of old standing is come at last. {1298}


Cries are heard from within: the Chorus know that the deed is done.

By the machinery of the roller-stage the interior of the Cottage is displayed, with Orestes and Electra standing over the corpse of Clytaemnestra.

A revulsion of feeling has come over them; they did the deed in frenzy; now, instead of triumph, they have no thoughts but for the act they have done, and how they will carry a curse with them ever after, and all will shun them. With horror they recall the details of the scene:

Ores. Didst thou see her when she drew {1338} Her vests aside, and bared her breasts, and bow'd To earth her body whence I drew my birth, Whilst in her locks my furious hand I wreath'd?

Elec. With anguish'd mind, I know, thou didst proceed, When heard thy wailing mother's piteous cries.

Ores. These words, whilst with her hands she strok'd my cheeks, Burst forth, "Thy pity I implore, my son;" Soothing she spoke, as on my cheeks she hung, That bloodless from my hand the sword might fall.

Chor. Wretched Electra, how could'st thou sustain A sight like this? How bear thy mother's death, Seeing her thus before thine eyes expire?

Ores. Holding my robe before mine eyes, I rais'd The sword and plung'd it in my mother's breast.

Elec. I urged thee to it, I too touch'd the sword.

Chor. Of deeds most dreadful this which thou hast done. Cover thy mother's body; in her robes Decent compose her wounded limbs.—Thou gav'st Being to those who were to murder thee.


Suddenly over the Permanent Scene two Supernatural Beings appear and move along, recognized by the Chorus as Castor and Pollux, the Family Deities. {1364}

Hear, son of Agamemnon: for to thee Thy mother's brothers, twin-born sons of Jove Castor, and this my brother Pollux, speak. Late, having calmed the ocean waves, that swell'd The lab'ring vessel menacing, we came To Argos, where our sister we beheld, Thy mother, slain: with justice vengeance falls On her; in thee unholy is the deed. Yet Phoebus, Phoebus—but, my king is he; I will be silent: yet, though wise, he gave To thee response not wise; but I must praise Perforce these things. Thou now must do what Fate And Jove decree.

Electra is to marry Pylades, and Orestes to flee to Athens and be purified by the Court on the Hill of Mars: Apollo assisting. Orestes' future life is foretold [thus working out various details of the Orestes legends].—With awe Orestes, Electra, and Chorus enter into converse with the gods, and the word is confirmed. They failed to avert the trouble from their house on account of dire Fate and 'the voice unwise of Phoebus from his shrine.' There has been a Demon hostile to Electra's parents.—Then the brother and sister's thoughts turn to the life-long separation, and the painful wandering, sorrows e'en to the gods mournful to hear. Farewell to Argos: the Gods hurry Orestes away for the Furies are already on his track, and conclude:

To the impious thro' the ethereal tract We no assistance bring: but those to whom Justice and sanctity of life is dear, We from their dangerous toils relieve and save. Let no one then unjustly will to act, Nor in one vessel with the perjured sail: A god to mortals this monition gives.

Chor. Oh, be you blest! And those, to whom is given Calmly the course of mortal life to pass, By no affliction sunk, pronounce we blest.

[1] The quotations of Euripides are from Potter's translation.



Of the Story as it would be traditionally familiar to the Audience before-hand.—Admetus was the splendid King of Pherae, so famous for the sacred rites of Hospitality that he had Sons of the Gods for Guests, and the God of Brightness, Apollo, himself while he sojourned on earth chose Admetus's household to dwell in. In the full tide of his greatness the time came for him to die: Apollo interposed for his chief votary, and won from the Fates that he might die by substitute. But none was found willing to be the victim, not even his aged parents: at last Alcestis his wife, young and bright as himself, gave herself for her husband and died. Then another Guest-Friend of Admetus came to the rescue, Jupiter's own son Hercules, and by main force wrested Alcestis from the grasp of Death, and restored her to her husband.


Scene: Pherae in Thessaly. The early morning sunshine blazes full on the Royal Palace of the Glorious Admetus, and on the statues, conspicuous in front of it, of Jupiter Lord of Host and Guest, and Apollo: nevertheless the Courtyard is silent and deserted.—At last Apollo himself is seen, not aloft in the air as Gods were wont to appear, but on the threshold of the Central Gate.

APOLLO meditates on his happy associations with the house he is quitting. How when there was trouble in heaven, and he himself, for resisting Jove's vengeance on the Healer Aesculapius, was doomed to a year's slavery amongst mortal men, he had bound himself as herdsman to Admetus, and Admetus exercised his lordship with all reverence:

A holy master o'er his holy slave. {13}

How again when trouble came to Admetus he had saved him from the day of death, on condition that another would die in his stead.

His friends, his father, e'en the aged dame {19} That gave him birth were asked in vain: not one Was found, his wife except.

The dreadful day has come, and Alcestis is at this moment breathing her last in the arms of her husband: and he himself must leave his loved friend, for Deity may not abide in the neighborhood of death's pollution. {27}

Suddenly, the hideous Phantom of Death becomes visible, ascending the Steps of the Dead [from below the Orchestra on to the Stage]: his pace never flags, yet he cowers, like all things of darkness, before the Bow of Apollo.

Death reproaches Apollo with haunting the dwellings of mortals, and with seeking by that Bow of his to defraud the Infernal Powers of their due. Apollo defends himself: he is but visiting friends he loves: he has no thought of using force. But would he could persuade Death to choose his victims according to the law of nature, and slay ripe lingering age instead of youth!

Death. Greater my glory when the youthful die! {58}

Apollo appeals to self-interest: more sumptuous obsequies await the aged dead.—That, answers Death, were to make laws in favor of the rich.—Apollo condescends to ask mercy for his friend as a favor; but favors, Death sneers, are not in keeping with his manners; and taunts Apollo with his helplessness to resist fate. The taunt rouses Apollo to a flash of prophecy (which is one of his attributes), giving (as the Greek stage loved to do) a glimpse into the end of the story.

Apollo. Yet, ruthless as thou art, soon wilt thou cease {67} This contest; such a man to Pherae's house Comes. . . . . He, in this house A welcome guest to Admetus, will by force Take his wife from thee; and no thanks from me Will be thy due; yet what I now entreat Then thou wilt yield, and I shall hate thee still.

Apollo moves away and disappears in the distance [by Left Side-door], while Death, hurling defiance after him, waves his fatal sword and crosses the threshold. {81}


Enter the Orchestra [by the Right Archway, as from the neighborhood] the Chorus: Old Men of Pherae, come to enquire how it is with the Queen on the morning of this appointed day of her death. As usual in such Chorus-Entries their chanting is accompanied with music and gesture-dance to a rhythm traditionally associated with marching. But by a very unusual effect they enter in disordered ranks, moving in two loosely-formed bodies towards the Central Altar. {82}

1st Semichorus. What a silence encloses the Palace! What a hush in the house of Admetus! 2nd Semichorus. Not a soul is at hand of the household To answer our friendly enquiry— Is it over, all over but weeping? Or sees she the light awhile longer, Our Queen, brightest pattern of women The wide world through, Most devoted of wives, our Alcestis?

Arriving at the Altar they fall for a time into compact order, and exchange their marching rhythm for the elaborate Choral ritual, the evolutions taking them to the Right of the Orchestra. {89}


Full Chorus. Listen for the heavy groan, Smitten breast and piercing moan, Ringing out that life is gone. The house forgets its royal state, And not a slave attends the gate. Our sea of woe runs high:—ah, mid the waves Appear, Great Healer, Apollo!

They break again into loose order and marching rhythm, remaining on the Right of the Orchestra.

1st Semi. Were she dead, could they keep such a silence? {94} 2nd Semi. May it be—she is gone from the Palace? 1st Semi. Never! 2nd Semi. Nay, why so confident answer? 1st Semi. To so precious a corpse could Admetus Give burial bare of its honours?

They reunite in Choral order and work back to the Altar.


Full Chorus. Lo, no bath the porch below, {99} Nor the cleansing fountain's flow, Gloomy rite for house of woe. The threshold lacks its locks of hair, Clipp'd for the dead in death's despair. Who hears the wailing voice and thud of hands, The seemly woe of the maidens?

At the Altar they again break up and fall into marching rhythm.

2nd Semi. Yet to-day is the dread day appointed— {105} 1st Semi. Speak not the word! 2nd Semi. The day she must pass into Hades— 1st Semi. I am cut to the heart! I am cut to the soul! 2nd Semi. When the righteous endure tribulation, Avails nought long-tried love Nought is left to the friendly—but mourning!

Accordingly they address themselves to a Full Choral Ode, the evolutions carrying them to the extreme Left of the Orchestra in the Strophe, and in the Antistrophe back to the Altar.



In vain—our pious vows are vain— {111} Make we the flying sail our care, The light bark bounding o'er the main; To what new realm shall we repair? To Lycia's hallow'd strand? Or where in solitary state, Mid thirsty deserts wild and wide That close him round on every side, Prophetic Ammon holds his awful seat? What charm, what potent hand Shall save her from the realms beneath? He comes, the ruthless tyrant Death: I have no priest, no altar more, Whose aid I may implore!


O that the Son of Phoebus now {121} Lived to behold th' ethereal light! Then might she leave the seats below, Where Pluto reigns in cheerless night! The Sage's potent art, Till thund'ring Jove's avenging pow'r Hurl'd his red Thunders at his breast, Could, from the yawning gulf releast, To the sweet light of life the dead restore. Who now shall aid impart? To ev'ry god, at ev'ry shrine, The king hath paid the rites divine: But vain his vows, his pious care; And ours is dark despair!


At last they have been heard, and one of the Queen's Women comes weeping from the Palace [by one of the Inferior Doors]: the Chorus fall into their Episode position, in two ranks, between the Altar and the Stage, taking part by their Foreman in the dialogue.

The Chorus eagerly enquire whether Alcestis yet lives. {138}

Attend. As living may I speak of her, and dead. Cho. Living and dead at once, how may that be? Attend. E'en now she sinks in death and breathes her last.

They join in extolling her heroic devotion, and the Attendant tells of her bearing on this day of Death, which she celebrates as if a day of religious festival.

When she knew {160} The destin'd day was come, in fountain water She bath'd her lily-tinctured limbs, then took From her rich chests, of odorous cedar form'd, A splendid robe, and her most radiant dress; Thus gorgeously array'd she stood before The hallow'd flames, and thus address'd her pray'r: "O Queen, I go to the infernal shades! Yet, e'er I go, with reverence let me breathe My last request: Protect my orphan children, Make my son happy with the wife he loves, {170} And wed my daughter to a noble husband: Nor let them, like their mother, to the tomb Untimely sink, but in their native land Be blest through length'ned life to honour'd age." Then to each altar in the royal house She went, and crown'd it, and address'd her vows, Plucking the myrtle bough; nor tear, nor sigh Came from her, neither did the approaching ill Change the fresh beauties of her vermeil cheek. Her chamber then she visits, and her bed; {180} There her tears flow'd, and thus she spoke: "O bed To which my wedded lord, for whom I die, Led me a virgin bride, farewell; to thee No blame do I impute, for me alone Hast thou destroy'd; disdaining to betray Thee and my lord, I die: to thee shall come Some other woman, not more chaste, perchance More happy"—as she lay, she kissed the couch, And bath'd it with a flood of tears; that pass'd, She left her chamber, then return'd, and oft {190} She left it, oft return'd, and on the couch Fondly, each time she enter'd, cast herself. Her children, as they hung upon her robes, Weeping, she rais'd, and clasp'd them to her breast Each after each, as now about to die. Each servant through the house burst into tears In pity of their mistress; she to each Stretch'd her right hand; nor was there one so mean To whom she spoke not, and admitted him To speak to her again. Within the house {200} So stands it with Admetus. Had he died, His woes were over: now he lives to bear A weight of pain no moment shall forget.

Alcestis is wasting away, and fading with swift disease, while her distracted husband holds her in his arms, entreating impossibilities. And now they are about to bring her out, for the dying Alcestis has a longing for one more sight of heaven and the radiant morning. The Chorus are plunged in despair: how will their king bear to live after the loss of such a wife!

The lamentations rise higher still as the Central Gates open and the couch of Alcestis is borne out, Admetus holding her in his arms, and, her children clinging about her; the Stage fills with weeping friends and attendants. The whole dialogue falls into lyrical measures with strophic alternations just perceptible. Alcestis commences to address the sunshine and fair scenery she has come out to view—when the scene changes to her dying eyes, and she can see nothing but the gloomy river the dead have to cross, with the boatman ready waiting, and the long dreary journey beyond. Dark night is creeping over her eyes, when Admetus, as he ever mingles his passionate prayers with her wanderings, conjures her for her children's sake as well as his own not to forsake them. A thought for her children's future rouses the mother from her stupor, and she rallies for a solemn last appeal [the measure changing to blank verse to mark the change of tone]. She begins to recite the sacrifice she is making for her lord:

I die for thee, though free {284} Not to have died, but from Thessalia's chiefs Preferring whom I pleas'd, in royal state To have lived happy here—I had no will To live bereft of thee with these poor orphans— I die without reluctance, though the gifts Of youth are mine to make life grateful to me. {290} Yet he that gave thee birth, and she that bore thee, Deserted thee, though well it had beseem'd them With honour to have died for thee, t' have saved Their son with honour, glorious in their death. They had no child but thee, they had no hope Of other offspring, should'st thou die; and I Might thus have lived, thou mightst have lived till age Crept slowly on, nor wouldst thou heave the sigh Thus of thy wife deprived, nor train alone Thy orphan children:—but some God appointed {300} It should be thus: thus be it.

All this is the basis for a requital she demands of her husband: that he shall let her children be lords in their own house, and not set over them the cruel guardianship of a step-mother.

My son that holds endearing converse with thee {315} Hath in his father a secure protection; But who, my daughter, shall with honour guide Thy virgin years? What woman shalt thou find New-wedded to thy father, whose vile arts Will not with slanderous falsehoods taint thy name, And blast thy nuptials in youth's freshest bloom? For never shall thy mother see thee led A bride, nor at thy throes speak comfort to thee, Then present when a mother's tenderness Is most alive: for I must die! {325}

The Chorus pledge their faith that the king will honour such a request as long as reason lasts. Admetus addresses a solemn vow to his dying wife, that her will shall be done:

Living thou wast mine, {334} And dead thou only shalt be called my wife.

It will be only too easy to keep such a pledge as that, for life henceforth will be one long mourning to him.

Hence I renounce The feast, the cheerful guest, the flow'ry wreath, {350} And song that used to echo through my house: For never will I touch the lyre again, Nor to the Libyan flute's sweet measures raise My voice: with thee all my delights are dead. Thy beauteous figure, by the artist's hand Skillfully wrought, shall in my bed be laid; By that reclining, I will clasp it to me, And call it by thy name, and think I hold My dear wife in my arms, and have her yet, Though now no more I have her: cold delight {360} I ween, yet thus th' affliction of my soul I shall relieve, and visiting my dreams Shalt thou delight me.

O for the power of Orpheus's lyre, that might rescue thee even from the realms of the dead!

But there await me till I die; prepare {374} A mansion for me, as again with me To dwell; for in thy tomb I will be laid, In the same cedar, by thy side composed: For e'en in death I will not be disjoin'd From thee who hast alone been faithful to me!

As the Chorus join in Admetus's sorrow the pledge is reiterated, and the dying mother is satisfied.

Alc. Thus pledging, from my hands receive thy children. {386} Adm. A much-loved gift, and from a much-loved hand!

The strength Alcestis had summoned for her last effort now forsakes her: she sinks rapidly.

Alc. A heavy weight hangs on my darkened eye. {396} Adm. If thou forsake me I am lost indeed! Alc. As one that is no more I now am nothing. Adm. Ah, raise thy face! forsake not thus thy children! Alc. It must be so perforce: farewell, my children. Adm. Look on them, but a look. Alc. I am no more. Adm. How dost thou? Wilt thou leave us so? Alc. Farewell. Adm. And what a wretch, what a lost wretch am I! Cho. She's gone! Thy wife, Admetus, is no more!

The little Son flings himself passionately on the corpse [the metre breaking out into strophic alternations.]


Son. O my unhappy fate! {405} My mother sinks to the dark realms of night, Nor longer views this golden light; But to the ills of life exposed Leaves my poor orphan state! Her eyes, my father, see, her eyes are closed, And her hand nerveless falls. Yet hear me, O my mother, hear my cries! It is thy son who calls, Who prostrate on the earth breathes on thy lips his sighs.

Adm. On one that hears not, sees not! I and you Must bend beneath affliction's heaviest load.


Son. Ah! she hath left my youth— {417} My mother, my loved mother is no more— Left me my sufferings to deplore, Left me a heritage of woe: Who shall my sorrows soothe? Thou too, my sister, thy full share shalt know Of grief, thy heart to rend. Vain, O my father, vain thy nuptial vows, Brought to this speedy end: For when my mother died in ruin sank our house! {425}

The Chorus [in calm blank verse] call on their king to command himself and bear what many have had to bear before.—Admetus knows he must: this calamity has not come without notice. He rouses himself to give orders as to the preparations for burial: the mourning rites shall last a whole year, and shall extend throughout the whole region of Thessaly: the very horses shall have their waving manes cut close, and no sound of flute or instrument of joy shall be heard in the city. {445}

The corpse is slowly carried out, and at last the Stage is vacant. Then the Chorus address themselves to a Choral Ode in memory of the Spirit now passed beneath the earth: the evolutions as usual, carrying them with each Strophe to one end of the Orchestra, and with the Antistrophe back to the Altar.


Strophe I

Immortal bliss be thine, {446} Daughter of Pelias, in the realms below, Immortal pleasures round thee flow, Though never there the sun's bright beams shall shine. Be the black-brow'd Pluto told, And the Stygian boatman old, Whose rude hands grasp the oar, the rudder guide, The dead conveying o'er the tide,— Let him be told, so rich a freight before His light skiff never bore; Tell him that o'er the joyless lakes The noblest of her sex her dreary passage takes.

Antistrophe I

Thy praise the bards shall tell, When to their hymning voice the echo rings, Or when they sweep the solemn strings, And wake to rapture the seven-chorded shell: Or in Sparta's jocund bow'rs, Circling when the vernal hours Bring the Carnean Feast, whilst through the night Full-orb'd the high moon rolls her light; Or where rich Athens, proudly elevate, Shows her magnific state: Their voice thy glorious death shall raise, And swell th' enraptured strain to celebrate thy praise.

Strophe II

O that I had the pow'r, Could I but bring thee from the shades of night, Again to view this golden light, To leave that boat, to leave that dreary shore, Where Cocytus, deep and wide, Rolls along his sullen tide! For thou, O best of women, thou alone For thy lord's life daredst give thy own. Light lie the earth upon thy gentle breast, And be thou ever blest! While, should he choose to wed again, Mine and his children's hearts would hold him in disdain.

Antistrophe II

When, to avert his doom, His mother in the earth refused to lie; Nor would his ancient father die To save his son from an untimely tomb; Though the hand of time had spread Hoar hairs o'er each aged head: In youth's fresh bloom, in beauty's radiant glow, The darksome way thou daredst to go, And for thy youthful lord's to give thy life. Be ours so true a wife! Though rare the lot, then should we prove Th' indissoluble bond of faithfulness and love.


Enter on the Stage through the distance-entrance [Left Side-door] the colossal figure of Hercules. Here is the turning-point of the play: which has the peculiarity of combining an element of the Satyric Drama (or Burlesque) with Tragedy, the combination anticipating the 'Action-Drama' (or 'Tragi-Comedy') of modern times. Accordingly the costume and mask of Hercules are compounded, of his conventional appearance in Tragedy, in which he is conceived as the perfection of physical strength toiling and suffering for mankind, and his conventional appearance in Satyric plays as the gigantic feeder, etc. The two are harmonized in the conception of conscious energy rejoicing in itself, and plunging with equal eagerness into duty and relaxation, while each lasts.

Hercules hails the Chorus and enquires for Admetus. They reply that he is within the Palace, and [shrinking, like all Greeks, from being the first to tell evil tidings] turn the conversation by enquiring what brings the Demi-god to Pherae—in stichomuthic dialogue it is brought out that Hercules is on his way to one of his 'Labors'—that of the Thracian Steeds; and (so lightly does the thought of toil sit on him) it appears he has not troubled to enquire what the task meant: from the Chorus he learns for the first time the many dangers before him, and how the Steeds are devourers of human flesh.

Herc. A toil you tell of that well fits my fate, {517} My life of hardship, ever struggling upward.

Admetus now appears, in mourning garb: after first salutations between the two friends, Hercules enquires what his trouble is, which gives scope for a favorite effect in Greek Drama—'dissimulation.'

Herc. Why are thy locks in sign of mourning shorn? {530} Adm. 'Tis for one dead, whom I to-day must bury. Herc. The Gods avert thy mourning for a child! Adm. My children, what I had, live in my house. Herc. Thy aged father, haply he is gone. Adm. My father lives, and she that bore me lives. Herc. Lies then thy wife Alcestis mongst the dead? Adm. Of her I have in double wise to speak. Herc. As of the living speakst thou, or the dead? Adm. She is, and is no more: this grief afflicts me. Herc. This gives no information: dark thy words. {540} Adm. Knowst thou not then the destiny assign'd her? Herc. I know that she submits to die for thee. Adm. To this assenting is she not no more? Herc. Lament her not too soon: await the time. Adm. She's dead: one soon to die is now no more. Herc. It differs wide to be, and not to be. Adm. Such are thy sentiments, far other mine. Herc. But wherefore are thy tears? What man is dead? Adm. A woman: of a woman I made mention. Herc. Of foreign birth, or one allied to thee? {550} Adm. Of foreign birth, but to my home most dear.

Hercules is moving away for the purpose of seeking hospitality elsewhere: Admetus will not hear of it, and, when Hercules loudly protests, puts aside his opposition with the air of one whose authority in matters of hospitable rites is not to be disputed. He orders attendants to conduct Hercules to a distant quarter of the Palace, to spread a sumptuous feast, and bar fast the doors, lest the voice of woe should affect the feasting guest. When Hercules is gone the Chorus are staggered by such a mastery of personal grief as this implies. But Admetus asks how could he let a guest depart from his house?

My affliction would not thus {575} Be less, but more unhospitable I.

But why, the Chorus ask, conceal the truth?—His friend, answers Admetus, would never have entered, had he known. Some may blame him, he continues, but his house simply knows not how to do dishonor to a guest.—Admetus returns into the Palace, to his funeral preparations: the Chorus are moved to enthusiasm by this forgetfulness of self in hospitable devotion; their enthusiasm breaks out in an Ode celebrating the glories of their king's hospitality in the past, and ending in a gleam of hope that it may yet do something for him in the future. {588}


Evolutions, etc., as usual.

Strophe I

O liberal house! with princely state {589} To many a stranger, many a guest, Oft hast thou oped thy friendly gate, Oft spread the hospitable feast. Beneath thy roof Apollo deign'd to dwell, Here strung his silver-sounding shell, And, mixing with thy menial train, Deigned to be called the shepherd of the plain: And as he drove his flocks along, Whether the winding vale they rove, Or linger in the upland grove, He tuned the pastoral pipe, or rural song.

Antistrophe I

Delighted with his tuneful lay, {601} No more the savage thirsts for blood; Amidst the flocks, in harmless play, Wantons the lynx's spotted brood; Pleas'd from his lair on Othrys' rugged brow The lion seeks the vale below: Whilst to the lyre's melodious sound The dappled hinds in sportive measures bound; And as the vocal echo rings, Lightly their nimble feet they ply, Leaving their pine-clad forests high, Charm'd by the sweet notes of his gladdening strings.

Strophe II

Hence is thy house, Admetus, graced With all that plenty's hand bestows; Near the sweet-streaming current placed, That from the lake of Boebia flows; Far towards the shades of night thy wide domain, Rich-pastured mead and cultured plain, Extends, to those Molossian meads Where the sun stations his unharnessed steeds; And stretching towards his eastern ray, Where Pelion, rising in his pride, Frowns o'er th' Aegean's portless tide: Reaches from sea to sea thy ample sway.

Antistrophe II

And thou wilt ope thy gate e'en now, {625} E'en now wilt thou receive this guest; Though from thine eye the warm tear flow, Though sorrow rend thy suffering breast, Sad tribute to thy wife, who, new in death, Lamented lies thy roof beneath! Nature in truth has thus decreed: The pure soul must bear fruit of reverent deed. Lo, all the pow'r of wisdom lies Fix'd in the righteous bosom: hence Rests in my soul this confidence— The good shall yet safe from their trials rise. {636}


The Central Gates open and the Funeral Procession slowly files out and begins to fill the Stage. Admetus beside the bier of Alcestis is calling on the Chorus (as representing the citizens of Pherae) to join in the invocations to the dead—when suddenly another Procession appears on the Stage [entering by the Right Side-door, as from the immediate neighborhood]: it is headed by the father and mother of Admetus, both of whom have reached the furthest verge of old age, and who with difficulty totter along, while attendants follow them bearing sumptuous drapery and other funeral gifts. The scene settles down into the 'Forensic Contest,' a fixed feature of every Greek Tragedy, in which the 'case' of the hero and the opposition to it are brought out with all the formality of a judicial process, the long rheses representing advocates' speeches, the stichomuthic dialogue suggesting cross-examination, and the Chorus interposing as moderators.

Pheres in the tone of conventional consolation speaks of the virtues of the dead, and the special virtue of Alcestis's sacrifice, which has saved her husband's life, and himself from a childless old age; it is meet then that he should do honor to the corpse. Attendants of Admetus advance to receive the presents: Admetus waves them back and stands coldly confronting his father. At last he speaks. His father is an uninvited guest at this funeral feast, and unwelcome: the dead shall never be arrayed in his gifts. Then was the time for his father to show kindness when a life was demanded: and yet he could stand aloof and let a younger die! He will never believe himself the son of so mean and abject a soul.

At such an age, just trembling on the verge {677} Of life, thou would'st not, nay, thou dared'st not die For thine own son; but thou couldst suffer her, Though sprung from foreign blood: with justice then Her only as my father must I deem, Her only as my mother. Yet this course Mightst thou have run with glory, for thy son Daring to die; brief was the space of life That could remain to thee: I then had lived My destin'd time, she too had lived.

Yet Pheres had already had his share of all that makes life happy: a youth amid royal luxury, a prosperous reign, a son to inherit his state and who ever did him honor. But let him beget him new sons to cherish his age and attend him in death: Admetus's hand shall never do such offices for him. And this is all that comes of old age's longing for death: let death show itself, and the old complaints of life are all silenced!

Cho. Forbear! Enough the present weight of woe: {710} My son, exasperate not a father's mind.

To this long rhesis Pheres answers in a set speech of similar length. Is he a slave to be so rated by his own son? And for what? He has given his son birth and nurture, he has already handed over to him a kingdom and will bequeath him yet more wide lands; all that fathers owe to sons he gives. What new obligation is this for Greece to submit to, that a father should die for his son?

It is a joy to thee {730} To view the light of heaven, and dost thou think Thy father joys not in it? Long I deem Our time in death's dark regions: short the space Of life, yet sweet! So thought thy coward heart And struggled not to die: and thou dost live, Passing the bounds of life assign'd by fate, By killing her! My mean and abject spirit Dost thou rebuke, O timidest of all, Vanquish'd e'en by a woman, her who gave For thee, her young fair husband, her own life! {740} A fine device that thou mightst never die, Couldst thou persuade—who at the time might be Thy wife—to die for thee!

If such a man takes to heaping reproaches on his own kin he shall at least hear the truth told him to his face!

Cho. Too much of ill already hath been spoken: {750} Forbear, old man, nor thus revile thy son.

Admetus says if his father does not like to hear the truth he should not have done the wrong.

Pher. Had I died for thee, greater were the wrong. Adm. Is death alike then to the young and old? Pher. Man's due is one life, not to borrow more. Adm. Thine drag thou on and out-tire heaven's age! Pher. Darest thou to curse thy parents, nothing wrong'd? Adm. Parents in dotage lusting still to live! {760} Pher. And thou—what else but life with this corpse buyest? Adm. This corpse—the symbol of thy infamy! Pher. For us she died not; that thou canst not say! Adm. Ah! mayst thou some time come to need my aid! Pher. Wed many wives that more may die for thee! Adm. On thee rests this reproach—thou daredst not die! Pher. Sweet is this light of heav'n! sweet is this light! Adm. Base is thy thought, unworthy of a man! Pher. The triumph is not thine to entomb my age. Adm. Die when thou wilt, inglorious wilt thou die. {770} Pher. Thy ill report will not affect me dead. Adm. Alas, that age should outlive sense of shame! Pher. But lack of age's wisdom slew her youth. Adm. Begone, and suffer me to entomb my dead. Pher. I go: no fitter burier than thyself Her murderer! Look for reckoning from her friends: Acastus is no man, if his hand fails Dearly to avenge on thee his sister's blood. Adm. Why, get you gone, thou and thy worthy wife: Grow old in consort—that is now your lot— The childless parents of a living son: For never more under one common roof Come you and I together: had it needed, By herald I your hearth would have renounced.

Pheres and his train withdraw along the Stage [to the Right Side-door]. The interrupted Funeral Procession is continued, filing amidst lamentations of the Chorus, down the steps from the Stage into the Orchestra: there the Chorus join it and the whole passes out [by the Right Archway] to the royal sepulchre in the neighbourhood.

Stage and Orchestra both vacant for a while.


Enter the Stage [by one of the Inferior Doors of the Palace] the Steward of Admetus: he has stolen away to get a moment's respite from the hateful hilarity of this strange visitor—some ruffian or robber he supposes—on whom his office has condemned him to wait, and thereby to miss paying the last offices to a mistress who has been more like a mother to him. The guest has been willing to enter, and though he saw the mourning of the household, he did not allow it to make any difference to his mirth:

Grasping in his hands {804} A goblet wreath'd with ivy, fill'd it high With the grape's purple juice, and quaff'd it off Untemper'd, till the glowing wine inflamed him; Then binding round his head a myrtle wreath, Howls dismal discord:—two unpleasing strains We heard, his harsh notes who in nought revered Th' afflictions of Admetus, and the voice Of sorrow through the family that wept Our mistress. Yet our tearful eyes we showed not, Admetus so commanded, to the guest. {814}

He starts as he feels on his shoulder the huge hand of Hercules, who has followed him, and now appears on the Stage goblet in hand, wreathed and attired like a reveller in full revel. Hercules good-humouredly scolds him for letting a remote family bereavement hinder him from showing a sociable countenance to his lord's guest. He lectures him on the easy ethics of the banquet-hour:

Come hither, that thou mayst be wiser, friend: {832} Knowst thou the nature of all mortal things? Not thou, I ween: how shouldst thou? hear from me. By all of human race death is a debt That must be paid; and none of mortal men Knows whether till to-morrow life's short space Shall be extended: such the dark events Of fortune, never to lie learn'd or traced By any skill. Instructed thus by me {840} Bid pleasure welcome, drink; the life allow'd From day to day esteem thine own; all else Fortune's.

The Steward receives his lecture with a bad grace: he knows all that—but there is a time for all things. His manner raises Hercules' suspicions that Admetus has been keeping something back:

Herc. Is it some sorrow which he told not me? {866} Stew. Go thou with joy: ours are our lord's afflictions. Herc. These are not words that speak a foreign loss. Stew. If such, thy revelry had not displeased me.

The secret is not long kept against the questioning of Hercules. When the truth comes out Hercules drops the goblet: he might have known all from so grief-worn a face! All the lightness of the reveller disappears, and the godlike bearing returns to Hercules' figure as he catches the full dignity of his friend's hospitable feat: he is fired to essay a rival deed of nobility.

Now, my firm heart, and thou, my daring soul, {894} Show what a son the daughter of Electryon, Alcmena of Tirynthia, bore to Jove! This lady, new in death, behoves me save, And, to Admetus rendering grateful service, Restore his lost Alcestis to his house. This sable-vested tyrant of the dead Mine eye shall watch, not without hope to find him Drinking th' oblations nigh the tomb. If once Seen from my secret stand I rush upon him, These arms shall grasp him till his panting sides Labour for breath; and who shall force him from me Till he gives back this woman? {906}

If he fails to find Death elsewhere he will descend to the dark world of spirits itself, rather than fail in making a fit return to his friend:

Whose hospitable heart {913} Receiv'd me in his house, nor made excuse Though pierc'd with such a grief; this he conceal'd Through generous thought, and reverence to his friend. Who in Thessalia bears a warmer love To strangers? Who, through all the realms of Greece? It never shall be said this noble man Received in me a base and worthless wretch!

Exit [through the Stage Right Side-door] in the direction of the tomb.

Stage and Orchestra vacant for a while.


Return of the Funeral Procession, headed by the Chorus who remain in the Orchestra; the rest file up the steps onto the stage, Admetus last. The Episode is technically a 'Dirge' between Admetus, whose speeches fall into the rhythm of a Funeral March, and the Chorus, who speak in Strophes and Antistrophes of more elaborate lyric rhythm, often interrupted by the wails of Admetus.

Admetus reaching the top of the Steps from the Orchestra stands face to face with the splendid facade of his Palace. Hateful entrance, hateful aspect of a widowed home! How find rest there, in the heavy woes to which he is now doomed? It is with the dead that rest is found: his heart is in their dark houses, where he has placed a loved hostage torn from him by fate! {931}

Chorus [in Strophe]. Nevertheless he must go forward; he must hide him in the deepest recesses of his Palace with his grief, the helpless groans that yet will nothing aid her whom he will never see more! {938}

Admetus cries that that is the deepest wound of all! Would he had never wedded! To mourn single is pain endurable; to see children wasting with disease, to see death invading the nuptial bed—that is the pang unbearable! {950}

Chorus [in Antistrophe]. Fate is resistless: shall sorrow then have no bounds? Other men have known what it is to lose a wife: and in one or other of innumerable forms misery has found out every son of mortality. {956}

Admetus begins to speak of the life-long mourning for the lost—but the thought is too much for him; why did they hold him back when he would have cast himself into the gaping tomb, and gone the last journey with his love? {963}

The Chorus [in Strophe] think of one they knew who lost a son in the flower of his age, an only son and well worthy of tears: yet he bore his lonely burden like a man, and—courage! his hair is white and he is nearing the end. {969}

Admetus moves a few steps forward and the Procession, advances towards the portal: but the contrast catches his thought between this and another procession towards the same threshold, when, amidst blazing torches of Pelian pine and bridal dances, he led his new wife by the hand, and shouts wished their union happy. Now wails for shouts, black for glistening raiment, and before him the solitary chamber! {983}

Chorus [in Antistrophe]. Trouble has come upon their master all at once, in the midst of prosperity, and on one unschooled in misfortune. But if the wife is gone the love is left. Many have had Admetus's loss: but his gain let him remember: a rescued life. {988}

As if this jarred upon his mind, Admetus turns round and addresses the Chorus, his whole tone changed [the dirge measures giving place to blank verse].

Adm. My friends, I deem the fortune of my wife Happier than mine, though otherwise it seems. {990} For nevermore shall sorrow touch her breast, And she with glory rests from various ills. But I, who ought not live, my destined hour O'erpassing, shall drag on a mournful life, Late taught what sorrow is. How shall I bear To enter here? To whom shall I address My speech? Whose greeting renders my return Delightful? Which way shall I turn? Within In lonely sorrow shall I waste away, As, widowed of my wife, I see my couch, {1000} The seats deserted where she sat, the rooms Wanting her elegance. Around my knees My children hang, and weep their mother lost: The household servants for their mistress sigh. This is the scene of misery in my home: Abroad the nuptials of Thessalia's youth And the bright circles of assembled dames Will but augment my grief: how shall I bear To see the lov'd companions of my wife! And if one hates me, he will say: Behold {1010} The man who basely lives, who dared not die, But giving, through the meanness of his soul, His wife, avoided death—yet would be deem'd A man: he hates his parents, yet himself Had not the spirit to die. These ill reports Cleave to me: why then wish for longer life, On evil tongues thus fallen, and evil days!

Admetus sinks down on the threshold and buries his face in his robe. The Chorus gather up the feeling of the situation in a full Choral Ode, celebrating the natural topics of consolation; the stern laws of Necessity, the fair memory of the dead.


Strophe I

My venturous foot delights {1018} To tread the Muses' arduous heights; Their hallow'd haunts I love t' explore, And listen to their lore: Yet never could my searching mind Aught, like Necessity, resistless find. No herb of sovereign pow'r to save, Whose virtues Orpheus joy'd to trace, And wrote them in the rolls of Thrace; Nor all that Phoebus gave, Instructing the Asclepian train, When various ills the human frame assail, To heal the wound, to soothe the pain, 'Gainst Her stern force avail.

Antistrophe I

Of all the Pow'rs Divine {1032} Alone none dares t' approach Her shrine; To Her no hallow'd image stands, No altar She commands. In vain the victim's blood would flow, She never deigns to hear the suppliant's vow. Never to me mayst Thou appear, Dread Goddess, with severer mien Than oft in life's past tranquil scene Thou hast been known to wear. By Thee Jove works his stern behest: Thy force subdues e'en Scythia's stubborn steel; Nor ever does Thy rugged breast The touch of pity feel.

Strophe II

And now, with ruin pleas'd, {1046} On thee, O King, her hands have seiz'd, And bound thee in her iron chain: Yet her fell force sustain. For from the gloomy realms of night No tears recall the dead to life's sweet light. No virtue, though to heav'n allied, Saves from the inevitable doom: Heroes and sons of gods have died, And sunk into the tomb. Dear, whilst our eyes her presence blest, Dear, in the gloomy mansions of the dead: Most generous she, the noblest, best, Who graced thy nuptial bed.

Antistrophe II

Thy wife's sepulchral mound {1060} Deem not as common, worthless ground That swells their breathless bodies o'er Who die, and no are more. No, be it honor'd as a shrine; Raised high, and hallow'd to some Pow'r Divine: The traveller, as he passes by, Shall thither bend his devious way, With reverence gaze, and with a sigh, Smite on his breast, and say: "She died of old to save her lord; Now blest among the blest; Hail, Pow'r revered, To us thy wonted grace afford!" Such vows shall be preferred.


Re-enter Hercules, leading a veiled woman

Herc. I would speak freely to my friend, Admetus, Nor what I blame keep secret in my breast. I came to thee amidst thy ills, and thought I had been worthy to be proved thy friend. Thou told'st me not the obsequies prepared {1080} Were for thy wife; but in thy house receiv'dst me As if thou griev'dst for one of foreign birth. I bound my head with garlands, to the gods Pouring libations in thy house with grief Oppress'd. I blame this: yes, in such a state I blame this: yet I come not in thine ills To give thee pain; why I return in brief Will I unfold. This woman from my hands Receive to thy protection, till return'd I bring the Thracian steeds, having there slain {1090} The proud Bistorian tyrant; should I fail— Be that mischance not mine, for much I wish Safe to revisit thee—yet should I fail, I give her to the safeguard of thy house. For with much toil she came unto my hands. To such as dare contend some public games, Which well deserv'd my toil, I find propos'd; I bring her thence, she is the prize of conquest: For slight assays each victor led away A courser; but for those of harder proof {1100} The conqueror was rewarded from the herd, And with some female graced; victorious there, A prize so noble it were base to slight. Take her to thy protection, not by stealth Obtain'd, but the reward of many toils: The time, perchance, may come when thou will thank me. Adm. Not that I slight thy friendship, or esteem thee Other than noble, wished I to conceal My wife's unhappy fate; but to my grief It had been added grief, if thou had'st sought Elsewhere the rites of hospitality; Suffice it that I mourn ills which are mine. This woman, if it may be, give in charge, I beg thee, king, to some Thessalian else, That hath not cause like me to grieve; in Pherae Thou may'st find many friends; call not my woes Fresh to my memory; never in my house Could I behold her, but my tears would flow: To sorrow add not sorrow; now enough I sink beneath its weight. Where should her youth With me be guarded? for her gorgeous vests Proclaim her young; if mixing with the men She dwell beneath my roof, how shall her fame, Conversing with the youths, be kept unsullied? It is not easy to restrain the warmth Of that intemperate age; my care for thee Warns me of this. Or if from them remov'd I hide her in th' apartments late my wife's, How to my bed admit her? I should fear A double blame: my citizens would scorn me As light and faithless to the kindest wife That died for me, if to her bed I took Another blooming bride; and to the dead Behoves me pay the highest reverence Due to her merit. And thou, lady, know, Whoe'er thou art, that form, that shape, that air Resembles my Alcestis! By the Gods, Remove her from my sight! it is too much, I cannot bear it; when I look on her, Methinks I see my wife; this wounds my heart And calls the tears fresh gushing from my eyes. This is the bitterness of grief indeed! Chor. I cannot praise thy fortune; but behoves thee To bear with firmness what the gods assign. Herc. O that from Jove I had the pow'r to bring Back from the mansions of the dead thy wife To heav'n's fair light, that grace achieving for thee! Adm. I know thy friendly will; but how can this Be done? The dead return not to this light. Herc. Check then thy swelling griefs; with reason rule them. Adm. How easy to advise, but hard to bear! Herc. What should it profit should'st thou always groan? Adm. I know it; but I am in love with grief. Herc. Love to the dead calls forth the ceaseless tear. Adm. O, I am wretched more than words can speak. Herc. A good wife hast thou lost, who can gainsay it? Adm. Never can life be pleasant to me more. Herc. Thy sorrow now is new; time will abate it. Adm. Time say'st thou? Yes, the time that brings me death. Herc. Some young and lovely bride will bid it cease. Adm. No more: What say'st thou? Never could I think— Herc. Will thou still lead a lonely widow'd life? Adm. Never shall other women share my bed. Herc. And think'st thou this will aught avail the dead? Adm. This honor is her due, where'er she be. Herc. This hath my praise, though near allied to frenzy. Adm. Praise me or not, I ne'er will wed again. Herc. I praise thee that thou'rt faithful to thy wife. Adm. Though dead, if I betray her, may I die! Herc. Well, take this noble lady to thy house. {1170} Adm. No, by thy father Jove, let me entreat thee. Herc. Not to do this would be the greatest wrong. Adm. To do it would with anguish rend my heart. Herc. Let me prevail; this grace may find its meed. Adm. O that thou never had'st receiv'd this prize! Herc. Yet in my victory thou art victor with me. Adm. 'Tis nobly said: yet let this woman go. Herc. If she must go, she shall! but must she go? Adm. She must, if I incur not thy displeasure. Herc. There is a cause that prompts my earnestness. {1180} Adm. Thou hast prevailed, but much against my will. Herc. The time will come when thou wilt thank me for it. Adm. Well, if I must receive her, lead her in. Herc. Charge servants with her! No, that must not be. Adm. Lead her thyself, then, if thy will incline thee. Herc. No, to thy hand alone will I commit her. Adm. I touch her not; but she hath leave to enter. Herc. I shall entrust her only to thy hand. Adm. Thou dost constrain me, king, against my will. Herc. Venture to stretch thy hand, and touch the stranger's. {1190} Adm. I touch her, as I would the headless Gorgon. Herc. Hast thou her hand? Adm. I have. Herc. (lifting the veil) Then hold her safe. Hereafter thou wilt say the son of Jove Hath been a generous guest; view now her face, See if she bears resemblance to thy wife, And thus made happy bid farewell to grief. Adm. O, Gods, what shall I say? 'Tis marvelous, Exceeding hope. See I my wife indeed? Or doth some god distract me with false joy? Herc. In very deed dost thou behold thy wife. {1200} Adm. See that it be no phantom from beneath. Herc. Make not thy friend one that evokes the shades. Adm. And do I see my wife, whom I entomb'd? Herc. I marvel not that thou art diffident. Adm. I touch her; may I speak to her as living? Herc. Speak to her: thou hast all thy heart could wish. Adm. Dearest of women, do I see again That face, that person? This exceeds all hope; I never thought that I should see thee more. Herc. Thou hast her; may no God be envious of thee. {1210} Adm. O be thou blest, thou generous son of Jove! Thy father's might protect thee! Thou alone Hast rais'd her to me; from the realms below How hast thou brought her to the light of life? Herc. I fought with him that lords it o'er the shades. Adm. Where with the gloomy tyrant didst thou fight? Herc. I lay in wait and seized him at the tomb. Adm. But wherefore doth my wife thus speechless stand? Herc. It is not yet permitted[3] that thou hear Her voice addressing thee, till from the Gods {1220} That rule beneath she be unsanctified With hallow'd rites, and the third morn return. But lead her in; and as thou'rt just in all Besides, Admetus, see thou reverence strangers. Farewell: I go t' achieve the destined toil For the imperial son of Sthenelus. Adm. Abide with us, and share my friendly hearth. Herc. That time will come again; this demands speed. Adm. Success attend thee: safe may'st thou return. Now to my citizens I give in charge, {1230} And to each chief, that for this blest event They institute the dance; let the steer bleed, And the rich altars, as they pay their vows, Breathe incense to the gods; for now I rise To better life, and grateful own the blessing.


Our fates the Gods in various shapes dispose: {1236} Heaven sets the crown on many a hopeless cause: That which is looked for Fails in the issue. To goals unexpected Heav'n points out a passage. And this is the end of the matter.

[1] The quotations are from Potter's Translation, in Routledge's Universal Library, freely altered in parts for the purpose of bringing out changes of metre, etc., in the original. The References are to the numbering of the lines in Potter.

[2] That is, a scene carried on upon the Stage without the presence of the Chorus in the Orchestra,—a very rare effect in Greek Drama.

[3] The fact was that the Alcestis was represented in place of a 'Satyric Drama,' which only allowed two (speaking) personages on the Stage at the same time.



Scene: Sicily, in front of cave of the Cyclops, Polyphemus.

Prologue by Silenus, the rural demi-god, who recounts his faithful service to Bacchus, and yet the ungrateful god has let himself and his children fall into this slavery to the horrid Cyclops Polyphemus, where, worst of their many woes, they are debarred from the wine they worship.

Parode: The Chorus of Satyrs driving their goats and lamenting how different this from the merry service of Bacchus.

Episode I. Silenus hurries back with the news that a ship is approaching to water in the island: fresh victims for the monster. Enter Ulysses and crew: mutual explanations, all couched in 'burlesque' tone. The mariners have had no food except flesh, and gladly partake milk and fruits of the Satyrs, affording in return to Silenus the long-lost luxury of wine: the scene then going on to paint [with the utmost coarseness] the oncoming of drunkenness.

Suddenly enter Polyphemus: Ulysses and the crew hide. After some rough bandying between the Monster and the Chorus, the strangers are discovered: and Silenus, to save himself, turns traitor, and tells Polyphemus how they have beaten him because he would not let them steal, also what dire woes they were going to work upon Polyphemus. In spite of their protests Silenus is believed: Ulysses promises, if set free, to erect shrines in Greece for the Cyclops, besides dwelling upon the impiety of attacking innocent strangers: Polyphemus replies that he does not care for shrines, and as for impiety he is independent of Zeus; which gives occasion for a glorification of the life of nature. They are driven into the cave to be fed on at leisure.

Choral Ode: General disgust at the monster.

Episode II. Ulysses [apparently standing at the mouth of the cave] describes Polyphemus gorging—then details his plan of deliverance by aid of the wine.

Choral Ode: Lyric delight of Chorus at prospect of deliverance.

Episode III. The Cyclops appears sated with his banquet, and settling down to this new treat of drinking—the effects of on-coming intoxication are painted again in Polyphemus, with the usual coarseness—a farcical climax being reached when the monster begins to be affectionate to his cup-bearer, old Silenus, in memory of Zeus and his famous cup-bearer, Ganymede.

Choral Ode: Anticipation of Revenge.

Exodus. The plan of Revenge, the boring out of the Cyclops's one eye while overpowered with drink, is carried out—various farcical effects by the way, e.g., the Chorus drawing back with excuses and leaving Ulysses to do the deed at the critical moment. The Drama ends with the Monster's rage and vain attempts to catch the culprit, Ulysses putting him off with his feigned name 'No man': thus all are delivered.



The permanent scene covered by movable scenery representing a wide landscape—the valley of the Dirce. A pile of buildings occupies the middle, to which the central entrance is an approach: these are the Cadmeia and royal palaces. That on the left is the palace of Pentheus, and further to the left is the mystic scene of Bacchus's birth—a heap of ruins, still miraculously smouldering, and covered by trailing vines. On the right is the palace of Cadmus, and the scene extends to take in the Electron gate of Thebes, and (on the right turn-scene) the slopes of Cithaeron.

DIONYSUS enters, in mortal guise, through the distance archway, and (in formal prologue) opens the situation. He brings out the points of the landscape before him, dear as the site of his miraculous birth and the sad end of his mortal mother. Then he details the Asiatic realms through which he has made triumphant progress, Lydia, Phrygia, sun-seared Persia, Bactria; the wild, wintry Median land; Araby the Blest, and the cities by the sea; everywhere his orgies accepted and his godhead received. Now for the first time he has reached an Hellenic city: and here—where least it should have been—his divinity is questioned by his own mother's sisters who make the story of his birth a false rumor, devised to cover Semele's shame, and avenged by the lightning flash which destroyed her. To punish his unnatural kin he has infected all their womenkind with his sacred phrensy, and maddened out of their quiet life, they are now on the revel under the pale pines of the mountain, unseemly mingled with the sons of Thebes: so shall the recusant city learn her guilt, and make atonement to him and his mother. Pentheus, it seems, is the main foe of his godhead, who reigns as king over Thebes, the aged Cadmus having yielded the sovereignty in his lifetime to his sister's son: he repels Bacchus from the sacred libations, nor names him in prayer. So he and Thebes must learn a dread lesson, and then away to make revelation in other lands. As to force, if attempt is made to drive the Maenads from the mountains, Bacchus himself will mingle in the war, and for this he has assumed mortal shape.

He calls upon his 'Thyasus of women,' fellow-pilgrims from the lands beyond the sea, to beat their Phrygian drums in noisy ritual about the palace of Pentheus till all Thebes shall flock to hear; he goes to join his worshippers on Cithaeron. {70}


The Chorus enter the orchestra, Asiatic women in wild attire of Bacchic rites, especially the motley (dappled fawnskin) always associated with abandon: they move with wild gestures and dances associated with Asiatic rituals.

The wild ode resumes the joyous dance that has made their whole way from Asia one long sacred revel—

Toilless toil and labour sweet.

Blest above all men he who hallows his life in such mystic rites, and, purified with holiest waters, goes dancing with the worshippers of Bacchus, and of thee, mighty Mother Cybele, shaking his thyrsus, and all his locks crowned with ivy. Bacchus's birth is sung, and how from the flashing lightning Jove snatched him and preserved in his thigh, until at the fated hour he gave him to light, horned and crowned with serpents. Wherefore should Thebes, sacred scene of the miracle, be one blossom of revellers, clad in motley and waving the thyrsus, the whole land maddening with the dance. The Chorus think of the first origin of such noisy joys, when the wild ones of Crete beat their cymbals round the sunless caverns where the infant Jove was hidden, and these rites of Rhoea soon mingled for the frantic Satyrs with the third year's dances to Bacchus. Then the ode recurs to the bliss of such holy rites, luxurious interchange of wild energy and delicious repose. They long for the climax of the dance, when, with luxuriant hair all floating, they can rage and madden to the clash of heavy cymbals and the shout Evoe, Evoe, frisking like colts to the soft breathing of the holy pipe, while the mountain echoes beneath their boundings. {178}


The blind prophet Teiresias enters from Thebes, and is soon joined by Cadmus from the palace. Old as they are they have put on the livery of the god, and will join in the dance, for which supernatural strength will be given: they alone of the city are wise.

The ancestral faith, coeval with our race, No subtle reasoning, if it soar aloft Ev'n to the height of wisdom, can o'erthrow.

They are stopped by the entrance of Pentheus, as from a far journey. His opening words betray his anxiety as to the scandal in his realm—the young women of his family, even his mother Agave, all gone to join the impious revels.

In pretext, holy sacrificing Maenads, But serving Aphrodite more than Bacchus.

Some he has imprisoned, the rest he will hunt from the mountains, and put an end to the joyous movements of this fair stranger with golden locks, who has come to guide their maidens to soft inebriate rites. Suddenly he sees his hero ancestor and the prophet in Bacchic attire. Bitter reproaches follow; the scene soon settling down into the forensic contest. Teiresias elaborately puts the case for the god. Man has two primal needs: one is the solid food of the boon mother, the other has been discovered by the son of their Semele—the rich grape's juice: this beguiles the miserable of their sorrow, this gives all-healing sleep. The author of such blessings is recognized in heaven as a god: yet Pentheus puts scorn upon him by the story of the babe hidden in Jove's thigh. [This is explained away by a play upon words, as between ho meeros, thigh, and homeeros, a hostage: Jove hid the infant god in a cleft of air, a hostage from the wrath of Here.] Prophecy is ascribed to the wine-god, for phrensy is prophetic; and he is an ally in war, sending panic on the foe ere lance crosses lance. He will soon be a god celebrated through all Greece and hold torchdance on the crags of Delphi. Let Thebes take her place among the worshippers, fearing nought for the purity of its daughters, who will be no less holy in the revel than at home.—The Chorus approve, and Cadmus follows on the same side, urging policy: a splendid falsehood making Semele the mother of a god will advance their household. Pentheus shakes off Cadmus's clasp in disgust: bids some of his servants go and overturn the prophet's place of divination, and others seek out the stranger who leads the rebels. Exit to the palace, while Teiresias and Cadmus depart, in horror at his impiety, in the direction of Cithaeron. {379}


Shocked at such defiance of heaven the Chorus invoke Sanctity, crowned as goddess in the nether world, to hear the awful words of Pentheus, uttered against the immortal son of Semele, first and best of gods, ruler of the flower-crowned feast, and the dance's jocund strife, and the laughter, and the sparkling wine-cup, and the sweet sleep that follows the festival. Sorrow closes the lot of such aweless, unbridled madness: stability is for the calmly reverent life, knitting whole houses in sweet domestic harmony. Clasp the present of brief life: no grasping after a bright future with far-fetched wisdom. Oh, for the lands where the graces and sweet desire have their haunts, and young loves soothe the heart with tender guile: fit regions for the Bacchanals, whose joy is Peace—wealth-giver to rich and poor. Away with stern austerity: hail the homely wisdom of the multitude. {439}


An officer brings in Dionysus as prisoner; he has yielded himself without resistance, while as for the imprisoned worshippers their chains have fallen off spontaneous, and they are away to the revels on the mountains. In long-drawn parallel dialogue Pentheus questions the Stranger—struck with his beauty though he be. Dionysus calmly answers to every point, but allows the orgies are secret and must not be revealed to the uninitiated. The King threatens in vain.

Pen. First I will clip away those soft bright locks. Dio. My locks are holy, dedicate to my god. Pen. Next, give thou me that thyrsus in thy hand. Dio. Take it thyself; 'tis Dionysus' wand. Pen. I'll bind thy body in strong iron chains. Dio. My god himself will loose them when he will. Pen. When thou invok'st him 'mid thy Bacchanals. Dio. Even now he is present, he beholds me now. Pen. Where is he then? mine eyes perceive him not. Dio. Near me: the impious eyes may not discern him.

The king relies on his superior strength.

Dio. Thou knowest not where thou art or what thou art. Pen. Pentheus, Agave's son, my sire Echion. Dio. Thou hast a name whose very sound is woe.

Dionysus is removed a prisoner to the palace of Pentheus, while the latter retires to prepare measures against the Maenads.


The Chorus, addressing the landscape before them, expostulate with the sacred stream in which the infant god was dipped for not accepting the divinity whose mystic name is 'Twice-born.' They call upon Dionysus to see them from Olympus, his rapt prophets at strife with dark necessity, and, golden wand in hand, to come to their rescue against the threats of the proud dragon-brood. They are wondering what fair land of song may be holding their sacred leader, when cries from within put an end to the ode. {582}


In wild lyric snatches shouts are interchanged between Dionysus within and groups of the disordered Chorus, bringing out the tumultuous scene—the earth rocking beneath them, sounds of crashing masonry, capitals of pillars hurled through the air; then by the machinery of the hemicyclium the whole scene left of the center disappears and is replaced by a tableau representing Pentheus' palace in ruins, and the smouldering tomb of Semele surmounted by bright flame. From the ruins steps Dionysus, unharmed and free, the metre breaking into accelerated rhythm. {613}

Dio. O, ye Barbarian women. Thus prostrate in dismay; Upon the earth ye've fallen! See ye not as ye may, How Bacchus Pentheus' palace In wrath hath shaken down? Rise up! rise up! take courage—Shake off that trembling swoon. Chor. O light that goodliest shinest Over our mystic rite, In state forlorn we saw thee—Saw with what deep affright! Dio. How to despair ye yielded As I boldly entered in To Pentheus, as if captured, into that fatal gin. Chor. How could I less? Who guards us If thou shouldst come to woe? But how wast thou delivered From thy ungodly foe? Dio. Myself myself delivered With ease and effort slight. Chor. Thy hands had he not bound them In halters strong and tight? Dio. 'Twas even then I mocked him: He thought me in his chain; He touched me not nor reached me; His idle thoughts were vain! In the stable stood a heifer Where he thought he had me bound; Round the beast's knees his cords And cloven hoofs he wound, Wrath-breathing, from his body The sweat fell like a flood, He bit his lips in fury, While I beside who stood Looked on in unmoved quiet. As at that instant come, Shook Bacchus the strong palace, And on his mother's tomb Flames kindled. When he saw it, on fire the palace deeming, Hither he rushed and thither. For 'Water, water,' screaming; And every slave 'gan labor, But labored all in vain, The toil he soon abandoned. As though I had fled amain He rushed into the palace: In his hand the dark sword gleamed. Then as it seemed, great Bromius—I say but, as it seemed— In the hall a bright light kindled. On that he rushed, and there, As slaying me in vengeance, Stood stabbing the thin air. But then the avenging Bacchus Wrought new calamities; From roof to base that palace In smouldering ruin lies. Bitter ruing our imprisonment, With toil forespent he threw On earth his useless weapon. Mortal, he had dared to do 'Gainst a god unholy battle. But I, in quiet state, Unheeding Pentheus' anger, Came through the palace gate. It seems even now his sandal Is sounding on its way; Soon is he here before us, And what now will he say? With ease will I confront him, Ire-breathing though he stand. 'Tis easy to a wise man To practice self-command. {651}

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