Story of Orestes - A Condensation of the Trilogy
by Richard G. Moulton
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Blank verse is resumed as Pentheus enters, and meets his escaped prisoner who calmly confronts him. As Pentheus begins to threaten, Dionysus advises him first to hear the messenger even now entering from Cithaeron. An elaborate Messenger's Speech describes the miraculous life of the Maenads as they lie on the mountains, careless but not immodest. At the touch of their thyrsus the rock yields dew and the soil wine; their fingers lightly scraping the soil draw streams of exquisite milk, and honey distils from their ivied staffs. A city-bred agitator stirred up the herdsmen to confront them, but the phrensied women drove the men before them, and tore the herds to pieces; like a flock of birds they skimmed along the land, and all gave way before them.

And what they threw across their shoulders, clung Unfastened, nor fell down to the black ground, No brass, nor ponderous iron; on their locks Was fire that burned them not.

Then god-given fountains washed off the stains of their toil, and their serpents licked them clean. Even the Messenger advises submission to so mighty a god, dispensing such gifts.

Pentheus breathes nothing but defiance, and issues orders for the whole military force of Thebes to assemble. He is bewildered by the stranger, who doing or suffering still holds his peace. In long-drawn parallel verses Dionysus gradually assumes the friend, and—still warning the king that he is on the side of the god—insinuates into the mind of Pentheus the idea of visiting the scene, disguised in the feminine robes of the revellers. As the king retires to prepare, Dionysus proclaims that he is fallen into the net, and vengeance shall first deprive him of sense and then destroy him. {868}


As the crisis comes nearer the Chorus long for the moment of escape—the sensation of the hart that has leaped the net and with storm-wind haste escaped the hunter's pursuit and reached the silent shadow of the old hospitable wood. VICTORY IS THE JOY OF JOYS. Slow and true are the avenging deities, with printless foot hounding the impious along their winding path: for law is old as oldest time. VICTORY IS THE JOY OF JOYS. Happy the sailor in port, he whose race is o'er: hopes hover over thousands, but

Happiness alone is his That happy is to-day. {928}


Pentheus appears from the palace of Cadmus in disguise as a Maenad. Infatuation has become a phrensy: he sees double, Dionysus seems a bull, his eyes penetrate into distance and perceive his mother and her comrades. Unconscious of the laughter of Dionysus he adjusts his feminine dress and practices the Maenad step. Irony is added:

Dio. Follow me! thy preserver goes before thee; Another takes thee hence. Pen. Mean'st thou my mother? Dio. Aloft shalt thou be borne— Pen. O the soft carriage! Dio. In thy mother's hands. Pen. Wilt make me thus luxurious? Dio. Strange luxury, indeed! Pen. 'Tis my desert.

Exclaiming in ambiguous phrase as to the awful end to which he is destined, Dionysus leads the king out towards Cithaeron. {986}


The crisis is come! Ho, to the mountains; where the Chorus picture the scene already being enacted, the hunter of the Bacchanals caught in the inexorable net of death. VENGEANCE ON THE LAWLESS SON OF ECHION is the recurrent burden of the ode. Its prayer is to hold fast the pious mind, the smooth painless life at peace with heaven and earth, instead of fighting with the invincible, aweless outcast from all law. {1036}


A Messenger's Speech describes the catastrophe. How Pentheus, arrived within sight of the orderly Maenads, was not satisfied, but desired a higher station from which to view their unseemly life. Then a wonder: the stranger bent down an ash tree, and seating Pentheus in a fork of it let the tree return to its position, holding the wretched king aloft, seen of all.

The stranger from our view had vanished quite. Then from the heavens a voice, as it should seem, Dionysus, shouted loud, "Behold, I bring, O maidens, him that you and me, our rites, Our orgies laughed to scorn; now take your vengeance." And as he spake, a light of holy fire Stood up, and blazed from earth straight up to heaven. Silent the air, silent the verdant grove Held its still leaves; no sound of living thing. They, as their ears just caught the half-heard voice, Stood up erect, and rolled their wandering eyes, Again he shouted. But when Cadmus' daughters Heard manifest the god's awakening voice, Forth rushed they, fleeter than the winged dove, Their nimble feet quick coursing up and down.

How then the Maenads set upon him and tore him to pieces, his own mother leading them on: in triumph dance they are bringing his head to the city. Adore the gods, is the moral. {1164}


A short outburst of triumph from the Chorus: then the {1180}


begins with the approach of the Maenads, Agave bearing her son's head on a thyrsus. In a brief lyric concerto between her and the mocking Chorus her phrensied triumph is brought out, and how she takes the bleeding object to be head of a young lion. At that moment the trumpet sounds, and the army that had been summoned appears at the Electran gate. Agave turns to them, and (in blank verse) calls all Thebans to behold the quarry she has taken without the useless weapons of the hunter; it shall be nailed up a trophy before her father's house. Shortly after enters on the right a melancholy procession of Cadmus and his servants bearing the fragments of Pentheus' body, with difficulty discovered and pieced together. In extended parallel dialogue between Cadmus and Evadne the phrensy gradually passes away from her and she recognizes the deed she has done. Cadmus sums up the final situation: all the house enwrapped in one dread doom. The Chorus sympathize with Cadmus, but have no pity for Agave. She then follows with a rhesis of woe, interrupted by {1365}


Dionysus appears aloft, in divine form. The MSS. are defective here: from what we have the god appears to be painting the future of Cadmus: life in a dragon form, victories at the head of barbarian hosts, finally the Isles of the Blest. Agave as stained with blood is banished the land, vainly imploring the god's mercy. With lamentations at the thought of exile, which is the lot of both, the play ends.

[1] The quotations are from Milman's translation in Routledge's Universal Library.



Evolution of human life

Prometheus. List rather to the deeds I did for mortals: how, being fools before I made them wise and true in aim of soul, And let me tell you—not as taunting men, But teaching you the intention of my gifts— How, first beholding, they beheld in vain, And hearing, heard not, but like shapes in dreams Mixed all things wildly down the tedious time; Nor knew to build a house against the sun With wicketed sides, nor any woodcraft knew, But lived, like silly ants, beneath the ground, In hollow caves unsunned. There came to them No steadfast sign of winter nor of spring, Flower perfumed, nor summer full of fruit; But blindly and lawlessly they did all things, Until I taught them how the stars do rise And set in mystery, and devised for them Number, the inducer of philosophies, The synthesis of letters, and, beside, The artificer of all things, Memory, That sweet Muse-Mother. I was first to yoke The servile beasts in couples, carrying An heirdom of man's burdens on their backs. I joined to chariots steeds that love the bit They clamp at—the chief pomp of golden ease. And none but I originated ships, The seaman's chariots wandering on the brine, With linen wings. And I—oh miserable!— Who did devise for mortals all these arts, Have no device left now to save myself From the woe I suffer.

Chorus. Most unseemly woe Thou sufferest, and dost stagger from the sense Bewildered! like a bad leech falling sick, Thou art faint at soul, and canst not find the drugs Required to save thyself.

Prometheus. Hearken the rest, And marvel further, what more arts and means I did invent, this greatest: if a man Fell sick there was no cure, nor esculent, Nor chrism, nor liquid, but for lack of drugs Men pined and wasted, till I showed them all Those mixtures of emollient remedies, Whereby they might be rescued from disease, I fixed the various rules of mantic art, Discerned the vision from the common dream, Instructed them in vocal auguries, Hard to interpret, and defined as plain The wayside omens—flights of crook-clawed birds— Showed which are, by their nature, fortunate, And which not so, and what the food of each, And what the hates, affections, social needs, Of all to one another,—taught what sign Of visceral lightness, colored to a shade, May charm the genial gods, and what fair spots Commend the lung and liver. Burning so The limbs encased in fat, and the long chine, I led my mortals on to an art abstruse, And cleared their eyes to the image in the fire, Erst filmed in dark. Enough said now of this: For the other helps of man hid underground, The iron and the brass, silver and gold, Can any dare affirm he found them out Before me? None, I know, unless he choose To lie in his vaunt. In one word learn the whole: That all arts come to mortals from Prometheus. Aeschylus: Prometheus. [Mrs. Browning's translation.]


(For comparison with the preceding)

Warmly this argument with others oft Have I disputed, who assert that ill To mortal man assign'd outweighs the good. Far otherwise I deem, that good is dealt To man in larger portions: were it not, We could not bear the light of life. That Power, Whatever god he be, that called us forth From foul and savage life, hath my best thanks. Inspiring reason first, he gave the tongue Articulate sounds, the intercourse of language: The fruits of earth he gave, and to that growth The heaven-descending rain, that from the earth, Cheer'd by its kindly dews, they might arise, And bear their life-sustaining food mature: to this The warm defense against th' inclement storm He taught to raise, and the umbrageous roof The fiery sun excluding: the tall bark He gave to bound o'er the wide sea, and bear From realm to realm in grateful interchange The fruits each wants. Is aught obscure, aught hid? Doubts darkening on the mind the mounting blaze Removes; or from the entrail's panting fibres The seer divines, or from the flight of birds. Are we not then fastidious to repine At such a life so furnish'd by the gods? Euripides: Suppliants 214. [Potter.]


Specimen of Accelerated Rhythm in the exact metre


How thy word and act shall issue thou shalt shortly understand. CHORUS

Up to action, O my comrades! for the fight is hard at hand, Swift, your right hands to the sword hilt! bare the weapon as for strife.

AEGISTHUS Lo! I too am standing ready, hilt to hilt, for death, or life!

CHORUS 'Twas thy word and we accept it! onward to the chance of war!

CLYTEMNESTRA Nay, enough, enough, my champion! we will smite and slay no more. Already we have heaped enough the harvest-field of guilt, Enough of wrong and murder, let no other blood be spilt! Peace, old men! and pass away into the homes by fate decreed, Lest ill valor meet our vengeance—'twas a necessary deed. But enough of toils and troubles—be the end, if ever, now, Ere the wrath of the Avenger deal another deadly blow. 'Tis a woman's word of warning, and let who will list thereto.

AEGISTHUS But that these should loose and lavish reckless blossoms of the tongue, And in hazard of their fortune cast upon me words of wrong, And forget the law of subjects, and to heed their ruler's word—

CHORUS Ruler? but 'tis not for Argives, thus to own a dastard lord!

AEGISTHUS I will follow to chastise thee in my coming days of sway.

CHORUS Not if Fortune guide Orestes safely on his homeward way.

AEGISTHUS Ah, well I know how exiles feed on hopes of their return!

CHORUS Feed and batten on pollution of the right, while 'tis thy turn!

AEGISTHUS Thou shalt pay, be well assured, heavy quittance for thy pride.

CHORUS Crow and strut, with her beside thee, like a cock, his mate beside!

CLYTEMNESTRA Heed not thou too highly of them—let the cur-pack growl and yell— I and thou will rule the palace and will order all things well? Conclusion of Agamemnon. (Morshead.)


Scene from the 'Hercules Mad' of Euripides

Translated by Robert Browning


Horror! Are we come to the self-same passion of fear, Old friends?—such a phantasm fronts me here Visible over the palace-roof! In flight, in flight, the laggard limb Bestir, and haste aloof From that on the roof there—grand and grim! O Paian, king! Be thou my safeguard from the woeful thing!

IRIS Courage, old men! beholding here—Night's birth— Madness, and me the handmaid of the gods, Iris: since to your town we come no plague— Wage war against the house of but one man From Zeus and from Alkmene sprung, they say. Now, till he made an end of bitter toils Fate kept him safe, nor did his father Zeus Let us once hurt him, Here nor myself. But since he has toiled through Eurustheus' task Here desires to fix fresh blood on him— Slaying his children; I desire it too.

Up then, collecting the unsoftened heart, Unwedded virgin of black Night! Drive, drag, Frenzy upon the man here—whirls of brain Big with child-murder, while his feet leap gay. Let go the bloody cable its whole length! So that,—when o'er the Acherousian ford He has sent floating, by self-homicide, His beautiful boy-garland,—he may know First, Here's anger, what it is to him, And then learn mine. The gods are vile indeed And mortal matters vast if he 'scape free.

MADNESS Certes, from well-born sire and mother too Had I my birth, whose blood is Night's and Heaven's; But here's my glory,—not to grudge the good! Nor love I raids against the friends of man. I wish, then, to persuade, before I see You stumbling, you and Here: trust my words! This man, the house of whom ye hound me to, Is not unfamed on earth, nor gods among; Since, having quelled waste land and savage sea, He alone raised again the falling rights Of gods—gone ruinous through impious men. Desire no mighty mischief, I advise!

IRIS Give thou no thought to Here's faulty schemes!

MADNESS Changing her step from faulty to fault-free!

IRIS Not to be wise, did Zeus' wife send thee here!

MADNESS Sun, thee I cite to witness—doing what I loath to do! But since indeed to Here and thyself I must subserve, And follow you quick, with a whizz, as the hounds a-hunt with the huntsman, —Go I will! and neither the sea, as it groans with its waves so furiously, Nor earthquake, no, nor the bolt of thunder gasping out heaven's labor-throe, Shall cover the ground as I, at a bound, rush into the bosom of Herakles! And home I scatter and house I batter, Having first of all made the children fall,— And he who felled them is never to know He gave birth to each child that received the blow, Till the Madness I am have let him go!

Ha, behold, already he rocks his head—he is off from the starting place! Not a word, as he rolls his frightful orbs, from their sockets wrenched in the ghastly race! And the breathings of him he tempers and times no more than a bull in act to toss, And hideously he bellows invoking the Keres, daughters of Tartaros. Ay and I soon will dance thee madder, and pipe thee quite out of thy mind with fear! So, up with the famous foot, thou Iris, march to Oluympus, leave me here! Me and mine, who now combine, in the dreadful shape no mortal sees, And now are about to pass, from without, inside of the home of Herakles!


Otototoi,—groan: Away is mown Thy flower, Zeus' offspring, City! Unhappy Hellas, who dost cast (the pity!) Who worked thee all the good, Away from thee,—destroyest in a mood Of Madness him, to death whom pipings dance! There goes she, in her chariot,—groans, her brood And gives her team the goad, as though adrift For doom, Night's Gorgon, Madness, she whose glance Turns man to marble! with what hissings lift Their hundred heads the snakes, her head's inheritance! Quick has the God changed fortune: through their sire Quick will the children, that he saved, expire! O miserable me! O Zeus! thy child— Childless himself—soon vengeance, hunger-wild, Craving for punishment, will lay how low— Loaded with many a woe! O palace-roofs! your courts about, A measure begins all unrejoiced By the tympanies and the thyrsos hoist Of the Bromian revel-rout, O ye domes! and the measure proceeds For blood, not such as the cluster bleeds Of the Dionusian pouring-out! Break forth! fly, children! fatal this— Fatal the lay that is piped, I wis! Ay, for he hunts a children-chase— Never shall madness lead her revel And leave no trace in the dwelling-place! Ai, ai, because of the evil! Ai, ai, the old man—how I groan For the father, and not the father alone! She who was nurse of his children small,—small Her gain that they never were born at all! See! see! A whirlwind shakes hither and thither The house—the roof falls in together! Ha, ha, what dost thou, son of Zeus? A trouble of Tartaros broke loose, Such as once Pallas on the Titan thundered, Thou sendest on thy domes, roof-shattered and wall-sundered.

Ideas of Deity


None of mortal men Escape unhurt by fortune, nor the gods, Unless the stories of the bards be false. Have they not formed connubial ties to which No law assents? Have they not gall'd with chains Their fathers through ambition? Yet they hold Their mansions on Olympus, and their wrongs With patience bear. Euripides: Hercules 1414.


These are your works, ye gods! these changes fraught With horrible confusion, mingled thus That we through ignorance might worship you. Euripides: Hecuba 943.


O supreme of heav'n, What shall we say? that thy firm providence Regards mankind? or vain the thoughts, which deem That the just gods are rulers in the sky, Since tyrant fortune lords it o'er the world? Do. 470.


Mortal as I am In virtue I exceed thee, though a god Of mighty pow'r; for I have not betray'd The sons of Hercules: well did'st thou know To come by stealth unto my couch, t' invade A bed not thine, nor leave obtain'd; to save Thy friends thou dost not know; thou art a god In wisdom or in justice little vers'd. Euripides: Hercules 385.


I deem not of the gods, as having form'd Connubial ties to which no law assents, Nor as oppressed with chains: disgraceful this I hold, nor ever will believe that one Lords it o'er others: of no foreign aid The god, who is indeed a god, hath need: These are the wretched fables of the bards. Euripides: Hercules 1444.


O Jove, who rulest the rolling of the earth, And o'er it hast thy throne, whoe'er thou art, The ruling mind, or the necessity Of nature, I adore thee: dark thy ways, And silent are thy steps; to mortal man Yet thou with justice all things dost ordain. Euripides: Daughters of Troy 955.

Was this then human, or divine? Did it a middle nature share? What mortal shall declare? Who shall the secret bounds define? When the gods work we see their pow'r; We see on their high bidding wait The prosperous gales, the storms of fate: But who their awful councils shall explore? Euripides: Helena 1235.


And those, the Ever-Virgin ones, I call, Erinnyes dread that see all human deeds, Swift-footed, that they mark how I am slain By you Atreidae; may they seize on them. Doers of evil, with all evil plagues And uttermost destruction. Sophocles: Ajax 937 [Plumptre].

Passing bits of Nature-Painting


Thou firmament of God, and swift-wing'd winds, Ye springs of rivers, and of ocean waves That smile innumerous! Mother of us all, O Earth, and Sun's all-seeing eye, behold, I pray, what I a God from Gods endure. Aeschylus: Prometheus 88 [Plumptre].


A Sacred Spot

This spot is holy, one may clearly tell, Full as it is of laurel, olive, vine. And many a nightingale within sings sweetly. Rest my limbs here upon this rough-hewn rock. Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus 16.


A Grove of the Furies

Rush not on Through voiceless, grass-grown grove, Where blends with rivulet of honey'd stream The cup of water clear. Do. 156.


A Meadow of Artemis

Thee, goddess, to adorn I bring this crown Inwoven with the various flowers that deck The unshorn mead, where never shepherd dared To feed his flock, and the scythe never came, But o'er its vernal sweets unshorn the bee Ranges at will, and hush'd in reverence glides Th' irriguous streamlet: garish art hath there No place; of these the modest still may cull At pleasure, interdicted to th' impure. Euripides: Hippolytus 81.


The Nile

These are the streams of Nile, the joy of nymphs, Glowing with beauty's radiance; he his floods Swell'd with the melted snow o'er Egypt's plain Irriguous pours, to fertilize her fields, Th' ethereal rain supplying. Euripides: Helena 1.


The Nightingale

On thee, high-nested in the museful shade By close-inwoven branches made, Thee, sweetest bird, most musical Of all that warble their melodious song The charmed woods among, Thee, tearful nightingale, I call: O come, and from thy dark-plumed throat Swell sadly-sweet thy melancholy note. Euripides: Helena 1191.


Flight of Cranes

O might we through the liquid sky Wing'd like the birds of Lybia fly; Birds, which the change of seasons know, And, left the wintry storms and snow, Their leader's well-known call obey. O'er many a desert dry and cultured plain He guides the marshall'd train, And cheers with jocund notes their way. Ye birds that through th' aerial height Your course with clouds light-sailing share, Your flight amidst the Pleiads hold, And where Orion nightly flames in gold; Then on Eurota's banks alight, And this glad message bear: "Your king from Troy shall reach once more, With conquest crown'd, his native shore." Euripides: Helena 1603.


A Storm

So is it as a wave Of ocean's billowing surge (Where Thrakian storm-winds rave, And floods of darkness from the depths emerge,) Rolls the black sand from out the lowest deep, And shores re-echoing wail, as rough blasts o'er them sweep. Sophocles: Antigone 586 [Plumptre].


Steering their rough course o'er this boisterous main, Form'd in a ring beneath whose waves The Nereid train in high-arch'd caves Weave the light dance, and raise the sprightly song, Whilst whisp'ring in their swelling sails Soft Zephyrs breathe, or southern gales Piping amidst their tackling play, As their bark ploughs its wat'ry way Those hoary cliffs, the haunts of birds, among, To that wild strand, the rapid race Where once Achilles deigned to grace. Euripides: Iphigenia among the Tauri 492.

(Specimens of Gnomic Verses)


Amongst barbarians all are slaves, save one. Helena 311.


He is no lover who not always loves. Daughters of Troy 1148.


What our necessities demand, becomes Of greater moment than to conquer Troy. Andromache 427.


'Tis not the counsel, but the speaker's worth, That gives persuasion to his eloquence. Hecuba 266.


Skilful leech Mutters no spell o'er sore that needs the knife. Ajax 581.


It is through God that man or laughs or mourns. Ajax 385.


No mortal man May therefore be call'd happy, till you see The last of all his days, and how, that pass'd, He to the realms of Pluto shall descend. Andromache 114.


All human things A day lays low, a day lifts up again; But still the gods love those of order'd soul. Ajax 130.


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