Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > The Furies
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  The Furies.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1–399
The Temple at Delphi


FIRST, in this prayer, of all the gods I name
The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next,
Second who sat—for so with truth is said—
On this her mother’s shrine oracular.        4
Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed,
There sat thereon another child of Earth—
Titanian Phœbe. She, in aftertime,
Gave o’er the throne, as birth-gift to a god,        8
Phœbus, who in his own bears Phœbe’s name.
He from the lake and ridge of Delos’ isle
Steered to the port of Pallas’ Attic shores,
The home of ships; and thence he passed and came        12
Unto this land and to Parnassus’ shrine.
And at his side, with awe revering him,
There went the children of Hephæstus’ seed,
The hewers of the sacred way, who tame        16
The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness.
  And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain—king
Of this their land, with honour gave him home;
And in his breast Zeus set a prophet’s soul,        20
And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits,
Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight,
Gives voice to that which Zeus, his sire, decrees.
Such gods I name in my preluding prayer,        24
And after them, I call with honour due
On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs
Who dwell around the rock Corycian,
Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds’ haunt,        28
Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there,
Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells,
Since he in godship led his Mænad host,
Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent        32
Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last,
I call on Pleistus’ springs, Poseidon’s might,
And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher.
Then as a seeress to the sacred chair        36
I pass and sit; and may the powers divine
Make this mine entrance fruitful in response
Beyond each former advent, triply blest.
And if there stand without, from Hellas bound,        40
Men seeking oracles, let each pass in
In order of the lot, as use allows;
For the god guides whate’er my tongue proclaims.  [She goes into the interior of the temple; after a short interval, she returns in great fear.
Things fell to speak of, fell for eyes to see,        44
Have sped me forth again from Loxias’ shrine,
With strength unstrung, moving erect no more,
But aiding with my hands my failing feet,
Unnerved by fear. A beldame’s force is naught—        48
Is as a child’s, when age and fear combine.
For as I pace towards the inmost fane
Bay-filleted by many a suppliant’s hand,
Lo, at the central altar I descry        52
One crouching as for refuge—yea, a man
Abhorred of heaven; and from his hands, wherein
A sword new-drawn he holds, blood reeked and fell:
A wand he bears, the olive’s topmost bough,        56
Twined as of purpose with a deep close tuft
Of whitest wool. This, that I plainly saw,
Plainly I tell. But lo, in front of him,
Crouched on the altar-steps, a grisly band        60
Of women slumbers—not like women they,
But Gorgons rather; nay, that word is weak,
Nor may I match the Gorgons’ shape with theirs!
Such have I seen in painted semblance erst—        64
Winged Harpies, snatching food from Phineus’ board,—
But these are wingless, black, and all their shape
The eye’s abomination to behold.
Fell is the breath—let none draw nigh to it—        68
Wherewith they snort in slumber; from their eyes
Exude the damnèd drops of poisonous ire:
And such their garb as none should dare to bring
To statues of the gods or homes of men.        72
I wot not of the tribe wherefrom can come
So fell a legion, nor in what land Earth
Could rear, unharmed, such creatures, nor avow
That she had travailed and brought forth death.        76
But, for the rest, be all these things a care
Unto the mighty Loxias, the lord
Of this our shrine: healer and prophet he,
Discerner he of portents, and the cleanser        80
Of other homes—behold, his own to cleanse!  [Exit.
[The scene opens, disclosing the interior of the temple: Orestes clings to the central altar; the Furies lie slumbering at a little distance; Apollo and Hermes appear from the innermost shrine.

Lo, I desert thee never: to the end,
Hard at thy side as now, or sundered far,
I am thy guard, and to thine enemies        84
Implacably oppose me: look on them,
These greedy fiends, beneath my craft subdued!
See, they are fallen on sleep, these beldames old,
Unto whose grim and wizened maidenhood        88
Nor god nor man nor beast can e’er draw near.
Yea, evil were they born, for evil’s doom,
Evil the dark abyss of Tartarus
Wherein they dwell, and they themselves the hate        92
Of men on earth, and of Olympian gods.
But thou, flee far and with unfaltering speed;
For they shall hunt thee through the mainland wide
Where’er throughout the tract of travelled earth        96
Thy foot may roam, and o’er and o’er the seas
And island homes of men. Faint not nor fail,
Too soon and timidly within thy breast
Shepherding thoughts forlorn of this thy toil;        100
But unto Pallas’ city go, and there
Crouch at her shrine, and in thine arms enfold
Her ancient image: there we well shall find
Meet judges for this cause and suasive pleas,        104
Skilled to contrive for thee deliverance
From all this woe. Be such my pledge to thee,
For by my hest thou didst thy mother slay.

O king Apollo, since right well thou know’st
What justice bids, have heed, fulfil the same,—
Thy strength is all-sufficient to achieve.

Have thou too heed, nor let thy fear prevail
Above thy will. And do thou guard him, Hermes,        112
Whose blood is brother unto mine, whose sire
The same high God. Men call thee guide and guard,
Guide therefore thou and guard my suppliant;
For Zeus himself reveres the outlaw’s right,        116
Boon of fair escort, upon man conferred.
  [Exeunt Apollo, Hermes, and Orestes. The Ghost of Clytemnestra rises.

Sleep on! awake! what skills your sleep to me—
Me, among all the dead by you dishonoured—        120
Me from whom never, in the world of death,
Dieth this curse, ’Tis she who smote and slew,
And shamed and scorned I roam? Awake, and hear
My plaint of dead men’s hate intolerable.        124
Me, sternly slain by them that should have loved,
Me doth no god arouse him to avenge,
Hewn down in blood by matricidal hands.
Mark ye these wounds from which the heart’s blood ran,        128
And by whose hand, bethink ye! for the sense
When shut in sleep hath then the spirit-sight,
But in the day the inward eye is blind.
List, ye who drank so oft with lapping tongue        132
The wineless draughty by me outpoured to soothe
Your vengeful ire! how oft on kindled shrine
I laid the feast of darkness, at the hour
Abhorred of every god but you alone!        136
Lo, all my service trampled down and scorned!
And he hath baulked your chase, as stag the hounds;
Yea, lightly bounding from the circling toils,
Hath wried his face in scorn, and flieth far.        140
Awake and hear—for mine own soul I cry—
Awake, ye powers of hell! the wandering ghost
That once was Clytemnestra calls—Arise!  [The Furies mutter grimly, as in a dream.
Mutter and murmur! He hath flown afar—        144
My kin have gods to guard them, I have none!  [The Furies mutter as before.
O drowsed in sleep too deep to heed my pain!
Orestes flies, who me, his mother, slew.  [The Furies give a confused cry.
Yelping, and drowsed again? Up and be doing        148
That which alone is yours, the deed of hell!  [The Furies give another cry.
Lo, sleep and toil, the sworn confederates,
Have quelled your dragon-anger, once so fell!
THE FURIES (muttering more fiercely and loudly)

Seize, seize, seize, seize—mark, yonder!

In dreams ye chase a prey, and like some hound,
That even in sleep doth ply his woodland toil,
Ye bell and bay. What do ye, sleeping here?
Be not o’ercome with toil, nor, sleep-subdued,        156
Be heedless of my wrong. Up! thrill your heart
With the just chidings of my tongue,—such words
Are as a spur to purpose firmly held.
Blow forth on him the breath of wrath and blood,        160
Scorch him with reek of fire that burns in you,
Waste him with new pursuit—swift, hound him down!  [Ghost sinks.
FIRST FURY (awaking)

Up! rouse another as I rouse thee; up!
Sleep’st thou? Rise up, and spurning sleep away,        164
See we if false to us this prelude rang.

Alack, alack, O sisters, we have toiled,
  O much and vainly have we toiled and borne!
Vainly! and all we wrought the gods have foiled,        168
                    And turnèd us to scorn!
He hath slipped from the net, whom we chased: he hath ’scaped us who should be our prey—
O’ermastered by slumber we sank, and our quarry hath stolen away!
Thou, child of the high God Zeus, Apollo, hast robbed us and wronged;        172
Thou, a youth, hast down-trodden the right that to godship more ancient belonged;
Thou hast cherished thy suppliant man; the slayer, the God-forsaken,
The bane of a parent, by craft from out of our grasp thou hast taken;
A god, thou hast stolen from us, the avengers, a matricide son—        176
And who shall consider thy deed and say, It is rightfully done?
            The sound of chiding scorn
            Came from the land of dream;
    Deep to mine inmost heart I felt it thrill and burn,        180
        Thrust as a strong-grasped goad, to urge
          Onward the chariot’s team.
        Thrilled, chilled with bitter inward pain
    I stand as one beneath the doomsman’s scourge.        184
    Shame on the younger gods who tread down right,
        Sitting on thrones of might!
    Woe on the altar of earth’s central fane!
        Clotted on step and shrine,        188
Behold, the guilt of blood, the ghastly stain!
  Woe upon thee, Apollo! uncontrolled,
    Unbidden, hast thou, prophet-god, imbrued
    The pure prophetic shrine with wrongful blood!        192
  For thou too heinous a respect didst hold
Of man, too little heed of powers divine!
    And us the Fates, the ancients of the earth,
        Didst deem as nothing worth.        196
Scornful to me thou art, yet shalt not fend
  My wrath from him; though unto hell he flee,
            There too are we!
And he, the blood-defiled, should feel and rue,        200
Though I were not, fiend-wrath that shall not end,
Descending on his head who foully slew.  [Re—enter Apollo from the inner shrine.

Out! I command you. Out from this my home—
Haste, tarry not! Out from the mystic shrine,        204
Lest thy lot be to take into thy breast
The winged bright dart that from my golden string
Speeds hissing as a snake,—lest, pierced and thrilled
With agony, thou shouldst spew forth again        208
Black frothy heart’s-blood, drawn from mortal men,
Belching the gory clots sucked forth from wounds.
These be no halls where such as you can prowl—
Go where men lay on men the doom of blood,        212
Heads lopped from necks, eyes from their spheres plucked out,
Hacked flesh, the flower of youthful seed crushed out,
Feet hewn away, and hands, and death beneath
The smiting stone, low moans and piteous        216
Of men impaled—Hark, hear ye for what feast
Ye hanker ever, and the loathing gods
Do spit upon your craving? Lo, your shape
Is all too fitted to your greed; the cave        220
Where lurks some lion, lapping gore, were home
More meet for you. Avaunt from sacred shrines,
Nor bring pollution by your touch on all
That nears you. Hence! and roam unshepherded—        224
No god there is to tend sn]uch herd as you.

O king Apollo, in our turn hear us.
Thou hast not only part in these ill things,
But art chief cause and doer of the same.        228

How? stretch thy speech to tell this, and have done.

Thine oracle bade this man slay his mother.

I bade him quit his sire’s death,—wherefore not?

Then didst thou aid and guard red-handed crime.

Yea, and I bade him to this temple flee.

And yet forsooth dost chide us following him!

Ay—not for you it is, to near this fane.

Yet is such office ours, imposed by fate.

What office? vaunt the thing ye deem so fair.

From home to home we chase the matricide.

What? to avenge a wife who slays her lord?

That is not blood outpoured by kindred hands.

How darkly ye dishonour and annul
The troth to which the high accomplishers,
Hera and Zeus, do honour. Yea, and thus
Is Aphrodite to dishonour cast,        244
The queen of rapture unto mortal men.
Know that above the marriage-bed ordained
For man and woman standeth Right as guard,
Enhancing sanctity of troth-plight sworn;        248
Therefore, if thou art placable to those
Who have their consort slain, nor will’st to turn
On them the eye of wrath, unjust art thou
In hounding to his doom the man who slew        252
His mother. Lo, I know thee full of wrath
Against one deed, but all too placable
Unto the other, minishing the crime.
But in this cause shall Pallas guard the right.        256

Deem not my quest shall ever quit that man.

Follow then, make thee double toil in vain!

Think not by speech mine office to curtail.

None hast thou, that I would accept of thee!

Yea, high thine honour by the throne of Zeus:
But I, drawn on by scent of mother’s blood,
Seek vengeance on this man and hound him down.

But I will stand beside him; ’tis for me
To guard my suppliant: gods and men alike
Do dread the curse of such an one betrayed,
And in me Fear and Will say, Leave him not.  [Exeunt omnes.
The scene changes to Athens. In the foreground, the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis; her statue stands in the centre; Orestes is seen clinging to it.

Look on me, queen Athena; lo, I come
By Loxias’ behest; thou of thy grace
Receive me, driven of avenging powers—
Not now a red—hand slayer unannealed,        272
But with guilt fading, half effaced, outworn
On many homes and paths of mortal men.
For to the limit of each land, each sea,
I roamed, obedient to Apollo’s hest,        276
And come at last, O Goddess, to thy fane,
And clinging to thine image, bide my doom.  [Enter the Chorus of Furies, questing like hounds.

Ho! clear is here the trace of him we seek:
Follow the track of blood, the silent sign!        280
Like to some hound that hunts a wounded fawn,
We snuff along the scent of dripping gore,
And inwardly we pant, for many a day
Toiling in chase that shall fordo the man;        284
For o’er and o’er the wide land have I ranged,
And o’er the wide sea, flying without wings,
Swift as a sail I pressed upon his track,
Who now hard by is crouching, well I wot,        288
For scent of mortal blood allures me here.
    Follow, seek him—round and round
Scent and snuff and scan the ground,
Lest unharmed he slip away,        292
    He who did his mother slay!
Hist—he is there! See him his arms entwine
Around the image of the maid divine—
    Thus aided, for the deed he wrought        296
    Unto the judgment wills he to be brought.
It may not be! a mother’s blood, poured forth
    Upon the stainèd earth,
None gathers up: it lies—bear witness, Hell!—        300
    For aye indelible!
And thou who sheddest it shalt give thine own
    That shedding to atone!
Yea, from thy living limbs I suck it out,        304
    Red, clotted, gout by gout,—
A draught abhorred of men and gods; but I
    Will drain it, suck thee dry;
Yea, I will waste thee living, nerve and vein;        308
    Yea, for thy mother slain,
Will drag thee downward, there where thou shalt dree
    The weird of agony!
And thou and whatsoe’er of men hath sinned—        312
    Hath wronged or God, or friend,
Or parent,—learn ye how to all and each
    The arm of doom can reach!
Sternly requiteth, in the world beneath,        316
    The judgment-seat of Death;
Yea, Death, beholding every man’s endeavour,
    Recordeth it for ever.

I, schooled in many miseries, have learnt
How many refuges of cleansing shrines
There be; I know when law alloweth speech
And when imposeth silence. Lo, I stand
Fixed now to speak, for he whose word is wise        324
Commands the same. Look, how the stain of blood
Is dull upon mine hand and wastes away,
And laved and lost therewith is the deep curse
Of matricide; for while the guilt was new,        328
’Twas banished from me at Apollo’s hearth,
Atoned and purified by death of swine.
Long were my word if I should sum the tale,
How oft since then among my fellow-men        332
I stood and brought no curse. Time cleanses all—
Time, the coeval of all things that are.
Now from pure lips, in words of omen fair,
I call Athena, lady of this land,        336
To come, my champion: so, in aftertime,
She shall not fail of love and service leal,
Not won by war, from me and from my land
And all the folk of Argos, vowed to her.        340
Now, be she far away in Libyan land
Where flows from Triton’s lake her natal wave,—
Stand she with planted feet, or in some hour
Of rest conceal them, champion of her friends        344
Where’er she be,—or whether o’er the plain
Phlegræan she look forth, as warrior bold—
I cry to her to come, where’er she be
(And she, as goddess, from afar can hear),        348
And aid and free me, set among my foes.

Thee not Apollo nor Athena’s strength
Can save from perishing, a castaway
Amid the Lost, where no delight shall meet        352
Thy soul—a bloodless prey of nether powers,
A shadow among shadows. Answerest thou
Nothing? dost cast away my words with scorn,
Thou, prey prepared and dedicate to me?        356
Not as a victim slain upon the shrine,
But living shalt thou see thy flesh my food.
Hear now the binding chant that makes thee mine.
    Weave the weird dance,—behold the hour        360
      To utter forth the chant of hell,
      Our sway among mankind to tell,
    The guidance of our power.
    Of Justice are we ministers,        364
      And whosoe’er of men may stand
      Lifting a pure unsullied hand,
    That man no doom of ours incurs,
      And walks thro’ all his mortal path        368
      Untouched by woe, unharmed by wrath.
      But if, as yonder man, he hath
    Blood on the hands he strives to hide,
      We stand avengers at his side,        372
    Decreeing, Thou hast wronged the dead:
      We are doom’s witnesses to thee.
    The price of blood his hands have shed,
    We wring from him; in life, in death,        376
      Hard at his side are we!
Night, Mother Night, who brought me forth, a torment
          To living men and dead,
Hear me, O hear! by Leto’s stripling son        380
          I am dishonoured:
He hath ta’en from me him who cowers in refuge,
          To me made consecrate,—
A rightful victim, him who slew his mother,        384
          Given o’er to me and Fate.
          Hear the hymn of hell,
            O’er the victim sounding,—
          Chant of frenzy, chant of ill,        388
            Sense and will confounding!
          Round the soul entwining
            Without lute or lyre—
          Soul in madness pining,        392
            Wasting as with fire!
Fate, all—pervading Fate, this service spun, commanding
          That I should bide therein:
Whosoe’er of mortals, made perverse and lawless,        396
          Is stained with blood of kin,
By his side are we, and hunt him ever onward,
          Till to the Silent Land,


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