Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > Agamemnon
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  Agamemnon.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 500–999
  Of hopings vain—        500
Void, void and vain, for scarce the sleeping sight
  Has seen its old delight,
When thro’ the grasps of love that bid it stay
  It vanishes away        504
On silent wings that roam adown the ways of sleep.
  Such are the sights, the sorrows fell,
About our hearth—and worse, whereof I may not tell.
  But, all the wide town o’er,        508
Each home that sent its master far away
  From Hellas’ shore,
Feels the keen thrill of heart, the pang of loss, today.
  For, truth to say,        512
The touch of bitter death is manifold!
Familiar was each face, and dear as life,
  That went unto the war,
But thither, whence a warrior went of old,        516
  Doth nought return—
Only a spear and sword, and ashes in an urn!
  For Ares, lord of strife,
Who doth the swaying scales of battle hold,        520
War’s money-changer, giving dust for gold,
  Sends back, to hearts that held them dear,
Scant ash of warriors, wept with many a tear,
Light to the hand, but heavy to the soul;        524
  Yea, fills the light urn full
  With what survived the flame—
Death’s dusty measure of a hero’s frame!
Alas! one cries, and yet alas again!        528
Our chief is gone, the hero of the spear,
  And hath not left his peer!
Ah woe! another moans—my spouse is slain,
  The death of honour, rolled in dust and blood,        532
Slain for a woman’s sin, a false wife’s shame!
  Such muttered words of bitter mood
Rise against those who went forth to reclaim;
  Yea, jealous wrath creeps on against th’ Atrides’ name.        536
    And others, far beneath the Ilian wall,
  Sleep their last sleep—the goodly chiefs and tall,
  Couched in the foeman’s land, whereon they gave
Their breath, and lords of Troy, each in his Trojan grave.        540
  Therefore for each and all the city’s breast
  Is heavy with a wrath supprest,
As deep and deadly as a curse more loud
  Flung by the common crowd;        544
And, brooding deeply, doth my soul await
  Tidings of coming fate,
Buried as yet in darkness’ womb.
For not forgetful is the high gods’ doom        548
  Against the sons of carnage: all too long
Seems the unjust to prosper and be strong,
  Till the dark Furies come,
And smite with stern reversal all his home,        552
  Down into dim obstruction—he is gone,
And help and hope, among the lost, is none!
O’er him who vaunteth an exceeding fame,
  Impends a woe condign;        556
The vengeful bolt upon his eyes doth flame,
  Sped from the hand divine.
This bliss be mine, ungrudged of God, to feel—
  To tread no city to the dust,        560
  Nor see my own life thrust
Down to a slave’s estate beneath another’s heel!
Behold, throughout the city wide
Have the swift feet of Rumour hied,        564
  Roused by the joyful flame:
But is the news they scatter, sooth?
Or haply do they give for truth
  Some cheat which heaven doth frame?        568
A child were he and all unwise,
  Who let his heart with joy be stirred,
To see the beacon-fires arise,
  And then, beneath some thwarting word,        572
  Sicken anon with hope deferred.
  The edge of woman’s insight still
  Good news from true divideth ill;
Light rumours leap within the bound        576
That fences female credence round,
But, lightly born, as lightly dies
The tale that springs of her surmise.
Soon shall we know whereof the bale-fires tell,        580
The beacons, kindled with transmitted flame;
Whether, as well I deem, their tale is true,
Or whether like some dream delusive came
The welcome blaze but to befool our soul.        584
For lo! I see a herald from the shore
Draw hither, shadowed with the olive-wreath—
And thirsty dust, twin-brother of the clay,
Speaks plain of travel far and truthful news—        588
No dumb surmise, nor tongue of flame in smoke,
Fitfully kindled from the mountain pyre;
But plainlier shall his voice say, All is well,
Or—but away, forebodings adverse, now,        592
And on fair promise fair fulfilment come!
And whoso for the state prays otherwise,
Himself reap harvest of his ill desire!

O land of Argos, fatherland of mine!
To thee at last, beneath the tenth year’s sun,
My feet return; the bark of my emprise,
Tho’ one by one hope’s anchors broke away,
Held by the last, and now rides safely here.        600
Long, long my soul despaired to win, in death,
Its longed-for rest within our Argive land:
And now all hail, O earth, and hail to thee,
New-risen sun! and hail our country’s God,        604
High-ruling Zeus, and thou, the Pythian lord,
Whose arrows smote us once—smite thou no more!
Was not thy wrath wreaked full upon our heads,
O king Apollo, by Scamander’s side?        608
Turn thou, be turned, be saviour, healer, now!
And hail, all gods who rule the street and mart,
And Hermes hail! my patron and my pride,
Herald of heaven, and lord of heralds here!        612
And Heroes, ye who sped us on our way—
To one and all I cry, Receive again
With grace such Argives as the spear has spared.
Ah, home of royalty, beloved halls,        616
And solemn shrines, and gods that front the morn!
Benign as erst, with sun-flushed aspect greet
The king returning after many days.
For as from night flash out the beams of day,        620
So out of darkness dawns a light, a king,
On you, on Argos—Agamemnon comes.
Then hail and greet him well! such meed befits
Him whose right hand hewed down the towers of Troy        624
With the great axe of Zeus who righteth wrong—
And smote the plain, smote down to nothingness
Each altar, every shrine; and far and wide
Dies from the whole land’s face its offspring fair.        628
Such mighty yoke of fate he set on Troy—
Our lord and monarch, Atreus’ elder son,
And comes at last with blissful honour home;
Highest of all who walk on earth today—        632
Not Paris nor the city’s self that paid
Sin’s price with him, can boast, Whate’er befal,
The guerdon we have won outweighs it all.
But at Fate’s judgment-seat the robber stands        636
Condemned of rapine, and his prey is torn
Forth from his hands, and by his deed is reaped
A bloody harvest of his home and land
Gone down to death, and for his guilt and lust        640
His father’s race pays double in the dust.

Hail, herald of the Greeks, new-come from war.

All hail! not death itself can fight me now.

Was thine heart wrung with longing for thy land?

So that this joy doth brim mine eyes with tears.

On you too then this sweet distress did fall—

How say’st thou? make me master of thy word.

You longed for us who pined for you again.

Craved the land us who craved it, love for love?

Yea, till my brooding heart moaned out with pain.

Whence they despair, that mars the army’s joy?

Sole cure of wrong is silence, saith the saw.

Thy kings afar, couldst thou fear other men?

Death had been sweet, as thou didst say but now.

’Tis true; Fate smiles at last. Throughout our toil,
These many years, some chances issued fair,        656
And some, I wot, were chequered with a curse.
But who, on earth, hath won the bliss of heaven,
Thro’ time’s whole tenor an unbroken weal?
I could a tale unfold of toiling oars,        660
Ill rest, scant landings on a shore rock-strewn,
All pains, all sorrows, for our daily doom.
And worse and hatefuller our woes on land;
For where we couched, close by the foeman’s wall,        664
The river-plain was ever dank with dews,
Dropped from the sky, exuded from the earth,
A curse that clung unto our sodden garb,
And hair as horrent as a wild beast’s fell.        668
Why tell the woes of winter, when the birds
Lay stark and stiff, so stern was Ida’s snow?
Or summer’s scorch, what time the stirless wave
Sank to its sleep beneath the noonday sun?        672
Why mourn old woes? their pain has passed away;
And passed away, from those who fell, all care,
For evermore, to rise and live again.
Why sum the count of death, and render thanks        676
For life by moaning over fate malign?
Farewell, a long farewell to all our woes!
To us, the remnant of the host of Greece,
Comes weal beyond all counterpoise of woe;        680
Thus boast we rightfully to yonder sun,
Like him far-fleeted over sea and land.
The Argive host prevailed to conquer Troy,
And in the temples of the gods of Greece        684
Hung up these spoils, a shining sign to Time.
Let those who learn this legend bless aright
The city and its chieftains, and repay
The meed of gratitude of Zeus who willed        688
And wrought the deed. So stands the tale fulfilled.

Thy words o’erbear my doubt: for news of good,
The ear of age hath ever youth enow:
But those within the Clytemnestra’s self        692
Would fain hear all; glad thou their ears and mine.

Last night, when first the fiery courier came,
In sign that Troy is ta’en and razed to earth,
So wild a cry of joy my lips gave out,        696
That I was chidden—Hath the beacon watch
Made sure unto thy soul the sack to Troy?
A very woman thou, whose heart leaps light
At wandering rumours!—and with words like these        700
They showed me how I strayed, misled of hope.
Yet on each shrine I set the sacrifice,
And, in the strain they held for feminine,
Went heralds thro’ the city, to and fro,        704
With voice of loud proclaim, announcing joy;
And in each fane they lit and quenched with wine
The spicy perfumes fading in the flame.
All is fulfilled: I spare your longer tale—        708
The king himself anon shall tell me all.
Remains to think what honour best may greet
My lord, the majesty of Argos, home.
What day beams fairer on a woman’s eyes        712
Than this whereon she flings the portal wide,
To hail her lord, heaven-shielded, home from war?
This to my husband, that he tarry not,
But turn the city’s longing into joy!        716
Yea, let him come, and coming may he find
A wife no other than he left her, true
And faithful as a watch-dog to his home,
His foemen’s foe, in all her duties leal,        720
Trusty to keep for ten long years unmarred
The store whereon he set his master-seal.
Be steel deep-dyed, before ye look to see
Ill joy, ill fame, from other wight, in me!        724

’Tis fairly said: thus speaks a noble dame,
Nor speaks amiss, when truth informs the boast.  [Exit Clytemnestra.

So has she spoken—be it yours to learn
By clear interpreters her specious word.        728
Turn to me, herald—tell me if anon
The second well-loved lord of Argos comes?
Hath Menelaus safely sped with you?

Alas—brief boon unto my friends it were,
To flatter them, for truth, with falsehoods fair!

Speak joy if truth be joy, but truth, at worst—
Too plainly, truth and joy are her divorced.

The hero and his bark were rapt away
Far from the Grecian fleet? ’tis truth I say.

Whether in all men’s sight from Ilion borne,
Or from the fleet by stress of weather torn?

Full on the mark thy shaft of speech doth light,
And one short word hath told long woes aright.

But say what now of him each comrade saith?
What their forebodings, of his life of death?

Ask me no more: the truth is known to none,
Save the earth-fostering, all-surveying Sun.

Say by what doom the fleet of Greece was driven?
How rose, how sank the storm, the wrath of heaven?

Nay, ill it were to mar with sorrow’s tale
The day of blissful news. The gods demand
Thanksgiving sundered from solicitude.
If one as herald came with rueful face
To say, The curse has fallen, and the host        752
Gone down to death; and one wide wound has reached
The city’s heart, and out of many homes
Many are cast and consecrate to death,
Beneath the double scourge, that Ares loves,        756
The bloody pair, the fire and sword of doom—
If such sore burden weighed upon my tongue,
’Twere fit to speak such words as gladden fiends.
But—coming as he comes who bringeth news        760
Of safe return from toil, and issues fair,
To men rejoicing in a weal restored—
Dare I to dash good words with ill, and say
How the gods’ anger smote the Greeks in storm?        764
For fire and sea, that erst held bitter feud,
Now swore conspiracy and pledged their faith,
Wasting the Argives worn with toil and war.
Night and great horror of the rising wave        768
Came o’er us, and the blasts that blow from Thrace
Clashed ship with ship, and some with plunging prow
Thro’s scudding drifts of spray and raving storm
Vanished, as strays by some ill shepherd driven.        772
And when at length the sue rose bright, we saw
Th’ Ægæan sea-field flecked with flowers of death,
Corpses of Grecian men and shattered hulls.
For us indeed, some god, as well I deem,        776
No human power, laid hand upon our helm,
Snatched us or prayed us from the powers of air,
And brought our bark thro’ all, unharmed in hull:
And saving Fortune sat and steered us fair,        780
So that no surge should gulf us deep in brine,
Nor grind our keel upon a rocky shore.
So ’scaped we death that lurks beneath the sea,
But, under day’s white light, mistrustful all        784
Of fortune’s smile, we sat and brooded deep,
Shepherds forlorn of thoughts that wandered wild,
O’er this new woe; for smitten was our host,
And lost as ashes scattered from the pyre.        788
Of whom if any draw his life-breath yet,
Be well assured, he deems of us as dead,
As we of him no other fate forebode.
But heaven save all! If Menelaus live,        792
He will not tarry, but will surely come:
Therefore if anywhere the high sun’s ray
Descries him upon earth, preserved by Zeus,
Who wills not yet to wipe his race away,        796
Hope still there is that homeward he may wend.
Enough—thou hast the truth unto the end.

Say from whose lips the presage fell?
Who read the future all too well,        800
  And named her, in her natal hour,
  Helen, the bride with war for dower?
’Twas one of the Invisible,
  Guiding his tongue with prescient power.        804
On fleet, and host, and citadel,
  War, sprung from her, and death did lour,
When from the bride-bed’s fine-spun veil
She to the Zephyr spread her sail.        808
Strong blew the breeze—the surge closed o’er
The cloven track of keel and oar,
  But while she fled, there drove along,
  Fast in her wake, a mighty throng—        812
Athirst for blood, athirst for war,
  Forward in fell pursuit they sprung,
Then leapt on Simois’ bank ashore,
  The leafy coppices among—        816
No rangers, they, of wood and field,
But huntsmen of the sword and shield.
Heaven’s jealousy, that works its will,
Sped thus on Troy its destined ill,        820
  Well named, at once, the Bride and Bane;
  And loud rang out the bridal strain;
But they to whom that song befel
  Did turn anon to tears again;        824
Zeus tarries, but avenges still
  The husband’s wrong, the household’s stain!
He, the hearth’s lord, brooks not to see
Its outraged hospitality.        828
Even now, and in far other tone,
Troy chants her dirge of mighty moan,
  Woe upon Paris, woe and hate!
  Who wooed his country’s doom for mate—        832
This is the burthen of the groan,
  Wherewith she wails disconsolate
The blood so many of her own
  Have poured in vain, to fend her fate;        836
Troy! thou hast fed and freed to roam
A lion-cub within thy home!
A suckling creature, newly ta’en
From mother’s teat, still fully fain        840
  Of nursing care; and oft caressed,
  Within the arms, upon the breast,
Even as an infant, has it lain;
  Or fawns and licks, by hunger pressed,        844
The hand that will assuage its pain;
  In life’s young dawn, a well-loved guest,
A fondling for the children’s play,
A joy unto the old and gray.        848
But waxing time and growth betrays
The blood-thirst of the lion-race,
  And, for the house’s fostering care,
  Unbidden all, it revels there,        852
And bloody recompense repays—
  Rent flesh of kine its talons tare:
A mighty beast, that slays and slays,
  And mars with blood the household fair,        856
A God-sent pest invincible,
A minister of fate and hell.
  Even so to Ilion’s city came by stealth
    A spirit as of windless seas and skies,        860
  A gentle phantom-form of joy and wealth,
    With love’s soft arrows speeding from it eyes—
Love’s rose, whose thorn doth pierce the soul in subtle wise.
  Ah, well-a-day! the bitter bridal-bed,        864
    When the fair mischief lay by Paris’ side!
  What curse on palace and on people sped
    With her, the Fury sent on Priam’s pride,
By angered Zeus! what tears of many a widowed bride!        868
  Long, long ago to mortals this was told,
    How sweet security and blissful state
  Have curses for their children—so men hold—
    And for the man of all—too prosperous fate        872
Springs from a bitter seed some woe insatiate.
  Alone, alone, I deem far otherwise;
    Not bliss nor wealth it is, but impious deed,
  From which that after-growth of ill doth rise!        876
    Woe springs from wrong, the plant is like the seed—
While Right, in honour’s house, doth its own likeness breed.
  Some past impiety, some gray old crime,
    Breeds the young curse, that wantons in our ill,        880
  Early or late, when haps th’ appointed time—
    And out of light brings power of darkness still,
A master-fiend, a foe, unseen, invincible;
  A pride accursed, that broods upon the race        884
    And home in which dark Ate holds her sway—
  Sin’s child and Woe’s, that wears its parent’s face;
    While Right in smoky cribs shines clear as day,
And decks with weal his life, who walks the righteous way.        888
  From gilded halls that hands polluted raise,
    Right turns away with proud averted eyes,
  And of the wealth men stamp amiss with praise,
    Heedless, to poorer, holier temples hies,        892
And to Fate’s goal guides all, in its appointed wise.
    Hail to thee, chief of Atreus’ race,
    Returning proud from Troy subdued!
    How shall I greet thy conquering face?        896
    How nor a fulsome praise obtrude,
    Nor stint the meed of gratitude?
    For mortal men who fall to ill
    Take little heed of open truth,        900
    But seek unto its semblance still:
    The show of weeping and of ruth
    To the forlorn will all men pay,
    But, of the grief their eyes display,        904
    Nought to the heart doth pierce its way.
    And, with the joyous, they beguile
    Their lips unto a feigned smile,
    And force a joy, unfelt the while;        908
    But he who as a shepherd wise
      Doth know his flock, can ne’er misread
    Truth in the falsehood of his eyes,
    Who veils beneath a kindly guise        912
      A lukewarm love in deed.
    And thou, our leader—when of yore
    Thou badest Greece go forth to war
    For Helen’s sake—I dare avow        916
    That then I held thee not as now;
    That to my vision thou didst seem
    Dyed in the hues of disesteem.
    I held thee for a pilot ill,        920
    And reckless, of thy proper will,
    Endowing others doomed to die
    With vain and forced audacity!
    Now from my heart, ungrudgingly,        924
    To those that wrought, this word be said—
    Well fall the labour ye have sped—
    Let time and search, O king, declare
    What men within thy city’s bound        928
    Were loyal to the kingdom’s care,
      And who were faithless found.  [Enter Agamemnon in a chariot, accompanied by Cassandra. He speaks without descending.

First, as is meet, a king’s All-hail be said
To Argos, and the gods that guard the land—        932
Gods who with me availed to speed us home,
With me availed to wring from Priam’s town
The due of justice. In the court of heaven
The gods in conclave sat and judged the cause,        936
Not from a pleader’s tongue, and at the close,
Unanimous into the urn of doom
This sentence gave, On Ilion and her men,
Death: and where hope drew nigh to pardon’s urn        940
No hand there was to cast a vote therein.
And still the smoke of fallen Ilion
Rises in sight of all men, and the flame
Of Atè’s hecatomb is living yet,        944
And where the towers in dusty ashes sink,
Rise the rich fumes of pomp and wealth consumed.
For this must all men pay unto the gods
The meed of mindful hearts and gratitude:        948
For by our hands the meshes of revenge
Closed on the prey, and for one woman’s sake
Troy trodden by the Argive monster lies—
The foal, the shielded band that leapt the wall,        952
What time with autumn sank the Pleiades.
Yea, o’er the fencing wall a lion sprang
Ravening, and lapped his fill of blood of kings.
Such prelude spoken to the gods in full,        956
To you I turn, and to the hidden thing
Whereof ye spake but now: and in that thought
I am as you, and what ye say, say I.
For few are they who have such inborn grace,        960
As to look up with love, and envy not,
When stands another on the height of weal.
Deep on his heart, whom jealousy hath seized,
Her poison lurking doth enhance his load;        964
For now beneath his proper woes he chafes,
And sighs withal to see another’s weal.
I speak not idly, but from knowledge sure—
There be who vaunt an utter loyalty,        968
That is but as the ghost of friendship dead,
A shadow in a glass, of faith gone by.
One only—he who went reluctant forth
Across the seas with me—Odysseus—he        972
Was loyal unto me with strength and will,
A trusty trace-horse bound unto my car.
Thus—be he yet beneath the light of day,
Or dead, as well I fear—I speak his praise.        976
Lastly, whate’er be due to men or gods,
With joint debate, in public council held,
We will decide, and warily contrive
That all which now is well may so abide:        980
For that which haply needs the healer’s art,
That will we medicine, discerning well
If cautery or knife befit the time.
Now, to my palace and the shrines of home,        984
I will pass in, and greet you first and fair,
Ye gods, who bade me forth, and home again—
And long may Victory tarry in my train!  [Enter Clytemnestra, followed by maidens bearing purple robes.

Old men of Argos, lieges of our realm,
Shame shall not bid me shrink lest ye should see
The love I bear my lord. Such blushing fear
Dies at the last from hearts of humankind.
From mine own soul and from no alien lips,        992
I know and will reveal the life I bore,
Reluctant, through the lingering livelong years,
The while my lord beleaguered Ilion’s wall.
First, that a wife sat sundered from her lord,        996
In widowed solitude, was utter woe—
And woe, to hear how rumour’s many tongues
All boded evil-woe, when he who came


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