Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > Agamemnon
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  Agamemnon.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1000–1499
And he who followed spake of ill on ill,        1000
Keening Lost, lost, all lost! thro’ hall and bower.
Had this my husband met so many wounds,
As by a thousand channels rumour told,
No network e’er was full of holes as he.        1004
Had he been slain, as oft as tidings came
That he was dead, he well might boast him now
A second Geryon of triple frame,
With triple robe of earth above him laid—        1008
For that below, no matter—triply dead,
Dead by one death for every form he bore.
And thus distraught by news of wrath and woe,
Oft for self-slaughter had I slung the noose,        1012
But others wrenched it from my neck away.
Hence haps it that Orestes, thine and mine,
The pledge and symbol of our wedded troth,
Stands not beside us now, as he should stand.        1016
Nor marvel thou at this: he dwells with one
Who guards him loyally; ’tis Phocis’ king,
Strophius, who warned me erst, Bethink thee, queen,
What woes of doubtful issue well may fall!        1020
Thy lord in daily jeopardy at Troy,
While here a populace uncurbed may cry,
“Down with the council, down!” bethink thee too,
’Tis the world’s way to set a harder heel        1024
On fallen power.
        For thy child’s absence then
Such mine excuse, no wily afterthought.
For me, long since the gushing fount of tears        1028
Is wept away; no drop is left to shed.
Dim are the eyes that ever watched till dawn,
Weeping, the bale-fires, piled for thy return,
Night after night unkindled. If I slept,        1032
Each sound—the tiny humming of a gnat,
Roused me again, again, from fitful dreams
Wherein I felt thee smitten, saw thee slain,
Thrice for each moment of mine hour of sleep.        1036
All this I bore, and now, released from woe,
A hail my lord as watch-dog of a fold,
As saving stay-rope of a storm-tossed ship,
As column stout that holds the roof aloft,        1040
As only child unto a sire bereaved,
As land beheld, past hope, by crews forlorn,
As sunshine fair when tempest’s wrath is past,
As gushing spring to thirsty wayfarer.        1044
So sweet it is to ’scape the press of pain.
With such salute I bid my husband hail!
Nor heaven be wroth therewith! for long and hard
I bore that ire of old.        1048
        Sweet lord, step forth,
Step from thy car, I pray—nay, not on earth
Plant the proud foot, O king, that trod down Troy!
Women! why tarry ye, whose task it is        1052
To spread your monarch’s path with tapestry?
Swift, swift, with purple strew his passage fair,
That justice lead him to a home, at last,
He scarcely looked to see.        1056
        For what remains,
Zeal unsubdued by sleep shall nerve my hand
To work as right and as the gods command.

Daughter of Leda, watcher o’er my home,
Thy greeting well befits mine absence long,
For late and hardly has it reached its end.
Know that the praise which honour bids us crave,
Must come from others’ lips, not from our own:        1064
See too that not in fashion feminine
Thou make a warrior’s pathway delicate;
Not unto me, as to some Eastern lord,
Bowing thyself to earth, make homage loud.        1068
Strew not this purple that shall make each step
An arrogance; such pomp beseems the gods,
Not me. A mortal man to set his foot
On these rich dyes? I hold such pride in fear,        1072
And bid thee honour me as man, not god.
Fear not—such footcloths and all gauds apart,
Loud from the trump of Fame my name is blown;
Best gift of heaven it is, in glory’s hour,        1076
To think thereon with soberness: and thou—
Bethink thee of the adage, Call none blest
Till peaceful death have crowned a life of weal.
’Tis said: I fain would fare unvexed by fear.        1080

Nay, but unsay it—thwart not thou my will

Know, I have said, and will not mar my word.

Was it fear made this meekness to the gods?

If cause be cause, ’tis mine for this resolve.

What, think’st thou, in thy place had Priam done?

He surely would have walked on broidered robes.

Then fear not thou the voice of human blame.

Yet mighty is the murmur of a crowd.

Shrink not from envy, appanage of bliss.

War is not woman’s part, nor war of words.

Yet happy victors well may yield therein.

Dost crave for triumph in this petty strife?

Yield; of thy grace permit me to prevail!

Then, if thou wilt, let some one stoop to loose
Swiftly these sandals, slaves beneath my foot:
And stepping thus upon the sea’s rich dye,        1096
I pray, Let none among the gods look down
With jealous eye on me—reluctant all,
To trample thus and mar a thing of price,
Wasting the wealth of garments silver-worth.        1000
Enough hereof: and, for the stranger maid,
Lead her within, but gently: God on high
Looks graciously on him whom triumph’s hour
Has made not pitiless. None willingly        1104
Wear the slave’s yoke—and she, the prize and flower
Of all we won, comes hither in my train,
Gift of the army to its chief and lord.
—Now, since in this my will bows down to thine,        1108
I will pass in on purples to my home.

A Sea there is—and who shall stay its springs?
And deep within its breast, a mighty store,
Precious as silver, of the purple dye,        1112
Whereby the dipped robe doth its tint renew.
Enough of such, O king, within thy halls
There lies, a store that cannot fail; but I—
I would have gladly vowed unto the gods        1116
Cost of a thousand garments trodden thus
(Had once the oracle such gift required),
Contriving ransom for thy life preserved.
For while the stock is firm the foliage climbs,        1120
Spreading a shade, what time the dog-star glows;
And thou, returning to thine hearth and home,
Art as a genial warmth in winter hours,
Or as a coolness, when the lord of heaven        1124
Mellows the juice within the bitter grape.
Such boons and more doth bring into a home
The present footstep of its proper lord.
Zeus, Zeus, Fulfilment’s lord! my vows fulfil,        1128
And whatsoe’er it be, work forth thy will!  [Exeunt all but Cassandra and the Chorus.

  Wherefore for ever on the wings of fear
    Hovers a vision drear
  Before my boding heart? a strain,        1132
  Unbidden and unwelcome, thrills mine ear,
    Oracular of pain.
  Not as of old upon my bosom’s throne
    Sits Confidence, to spurn        1136
    Such fears, like dreams we know not to discern.
Old, old and gray long since the time has grown,
    Which saw the linked cables moor
The fleet, when erst it came to Ilion’s sandy shore;        1140
    And now mine eyes and not another’s see
      Their safe return.
    Yet none the less in me
The inner spirit sings a boding song,        1144
    Self-prompted, sings the Furies’ strain—
      And seeks, and seeks in vain,
      To hope and to be strong!
Ah! to some end of Fate, unseen, unguessed,        1148
    Are these wild throbbings of my heart and breast—
      Yea, of some doom they tell—
        Each pulse, a knell.
    Lief, lief I were, that all        1152
To unfulfilment’s hidden realm might fall.
    Too far, too far our mortal spirits strive,
      Grasping at utter weal, unsatisfied—
    Till the fell curse, that dwelleth hard beside,        1156
    Thrust down the sundering wall. Too fair they blow,
      The gales that waft our bark on Fortune’s tide!
      Swiftly we sail, the sooner all to drive
      Upon the hidden rock, the reef of woe.        1160
    Then if the hand of caution warily
      Sling forth into the sea
    Part of the freight, lest all should sink below,
    From the deep death it saves the bark: even so,        1164
      Doom-laden though it be, once more may rise
      His household, who is timely wise.
      How oft the famine-stricken field
Is saved by God’s large gift, the new year’s yield!        1168
        But blood of man once spilled,
    Once at his feet shed forth, and darkening the plain,—
      Nor chant nor charm can call it back again.
        So Zeus hath willed:        1172
Else had he spared the leech Asclepius, skilled
    To bring man from the dead: the hand divine
Did smite himself with death—a warning and a sign.
    Ah me! if Fate, ordained of old,        1176
Held not the will of gods constrained, controlled,
      Helpless to us-ward, and apart—
      Swifter than speech my heart
Had poured its presage out!        1180
Now, fretting, chafing in the dark of doubt,
    ’Tis hopeless to unfold
Truth, from fear’s tangled skein; and, yearning to proclaim
    Its thought, my soul is prophecy and flame.        1184

Get thee within, thou too, Cassandra, go!
For Zeus to thee in gracious mercy grants
To share the sprinklings of the lustral bowl,
Beside the altar of his guardianship,        1188
Slave among many slaves. What, haughty still?
Step from the car; Alcmena’s son, ’tis said,
Was sold perforce and bore the yoke of old.
Ay, hard it is, but, if such fate befal,        1192
’Tis a fair chance to serve within a home
Of ancient wealth and power. An upstart lord,
To whom wealth’s harvest came beyond his hope,
Is as a lion to his slaves, in all        1196
Exceeding fierce, immoderate in sway.
Pass in: thou hearest what our ways will be.

Clear unto thee, O maid, is her command,
But thou—within the toils of Fate thou art—        1200
If such thy will, I urge thee to obey;
Yet I misdoubt thou dost nor hear nor heed.

I wot—unless like swallows she doth use
Some strange barbarian tongue from oversea—        1204
My words must speak persuasion to her soul.

Obey: there is no gentler way than this.
Step from the car’s high seat and follow her.

Truce to this bootless waiting here without!
I will not stay: beside the central shrine
The victims stand, prepared for knife and fire—
Offerings from hearts beyond all hope made glad.
Thou—if thou reckest aught of my command,        1212
’Twere well done soon: but if thy sense be shut
From these my words, let thy barbarian hand
Fulfil by gesture the default of speech.

No native is she, thus to read thy words
Unaided: like some wild thing of the wood,
New-trapped, behold! she shrinks and glares on thee.

’Tis madness and the rule of mind distraught,
Since she beheld her city sink in fire,        1220
And hither comes, nor brooks the bit, until
In foam and blood her wrath be champed away.
See ye to her; unqueenly ’tis for me,
Unheeded thus to cast away my words.  [Exit Clytemnestra.        1224

But with me pity sits in anger’s place
Poor maiden, come thou from the car; no way
There is but this—take up thy servitude.

Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou
Apollo, Apollo!

Peace! shriek not to the bright prophetic god,
Who will not brook the suppliance of woe.

Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou
Apollo, Apollo!

Hark, with wild curse she calls anew on him,
Who stands far off and loathes the voice of wail.

Apollo, Apollo!
God of all ways, but only Death’s to me,
Once and again, O thou, Destroyer named,
thou hast destroyed me, thou, my love of old!

She grows presageful of her woes to come,
Slave tho’ she be, instinct with prophecy.

Apollo, Apollo!
God of all ways, but only Death’s to me,
O thou Apollo, thou Destroyer named!        1244
What way hast led me, to what evil home?

Know’st thou it not? The home of Atreus’ race:
Take these my words for sooth and ask no more.

Home cursed of God! Bear witness unto me,
  Ye visioned woes within—
The blood-stained hands of them that smite their kin—
The strangling noose, and, spattered o’er
With human blood, the reeking floor!        1252

How like a sleuth-hound questing on the track,
Keen-scented unto blood and death she hies!

Ah! can the ghostly guidance fail,
Whereby my prophet-soul is onwards led?        1256
Look! for their flesh the spectre-children wail,
Their sodden limbs on which their father fed!

Long since we knew of thy prophetic fame,—
But for those deeds we seek no prophet’s tongue.        1260

God! ’tis another crime—
Worse than the storied woe of olden time,
Cureless, abhorred, that one is plotting here—
A shaming death, for those that should be dear!        1264
  Alas! and far away, in foreign land,
  He that should help doth stand!

I knew th’ old tales the city rings withal—
But now thy speech is dark, beyond my ken.        1268

O wretch, O purpose fell!
Thou for thy wedded lord
The cleansing wave hast poured—
A treacherous welcome!        1272
                        How the sequel tell?
Too soon ’twill come, too soon, for now, even now,
  She smites him, blow on blow!

Riddles beyond my rede—I peer in vain
Thro’ the dim films that screen the prophecy.

  God! a new sight! a net, a snare off hell,
  Set by her hand—herself a snare more fell!
    A wedded wife, she slays her lord,        1280
  Helped by another hand!
                          Ye powers, whose hate
  Of Atreus’ home no blood can satiate,
Raise the wild cry above the sacrifice abhorred!        1284

Why biddest thou some fiend, I know not whom,
Shriek o’er the house? Thine is no cheering word.
  Back to my heart in frozen fear I feel
  My waning life-blood run—        1288
  The blood that round the wounding steel
  Ebbs slow, as sinks life’s parting sun—
Swift, swift and sure, some woe comes pressing on!

    Away, away—keep him away—
  The monarch of the herd, the pasture’s pride,
  Far from his mate! In treach’rous wrath,
  Muffling his swarthy horns, with secret scathe
    She gores his fenceless side!        1296
  Hark! in the brimming bath,
  The heavy plash—the dying cry—
Hark—in the laver—hark, he falls by treachery!

I read amiss dark sayings such as thine,
Yet something warns me that they tell of ill.
    O dark prophetic speech,
    Ill tidings dost thou teach
    Ever, to mortals here below!        1304
    Ever some tale of awe and woe
    Thro’ all thy windings manifold
    Do we unriddle and unfold!

Ah well-a-day! the cup of agony,
Whereof I chant, foams with a draught for me.
Ah lord, ah leader, thou hast led me here—
Was’t but to die with thee whose doom is near?

  Distraught thou art, divinely stirred,
  And wailest for thyself a tuneless lay,
  As piteous as the ceaseless tale
  Wherewith the brown melodious bird
  Doth ever Itys! Itys! wail,        1316
Deep-bowered in sorrow, all its little lifetime’s day!

Ah for thy fate, O shrill-voiced nightingale!
Some solace for thy woes did heaven afford,
Clothed thee with soft brown plumes, and life apart from wail—        1320
But for my death is edged the double-biting sword!

What pangs are these, what fruitless pain,
  Sent on thee from on high?
Thou chantest terror’s frantic strain,        1324
Yet in shrill measured melody.
How thus unerring canst thou sweep along
The prophet’s path of boding song?

  Woe, Paris, woe on thee! thy bridal joy
  Was death and fire upon thy race and Troy!
    And woe for thee, Scamander’s flood!
    Beside thy banks, O river fair,
    I grew in tender nursing care        1332
    From childhood unto maidenhood!
Now not by thine, but by Cocytus’ stream
And Acheron’s banks shall ring my boding scream.

    Too plain is all, too plain!
A child might read aright thy fateful strain.
    Deep in my heart their piercing fang
    Terror and sorrow set, the while I heard
    That piteous, low, tender word,        1340
Yet to mine ear and heart a crushing pang.

Woe for my city, woe for Ilion’s fall!
  Father, how oft with sanguine stain
Streamed on thine altar-stone the blood of cattle, slain        1344
  That heaven might guard our wall!
  But all was shed in vain.
Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,
And I—ah burning heart!—shall soon lie low as well.        1348

    Of sorrow is thy song, of sorrow still!
      Alas, what power of ill
    Sits heavy on thy heart and bids thee tell
    In tears of perfect moan thy deadly tale?        1352
Some woe—I know not what—must close thy piteous wail.

List! for no more the presage of my soul,
Bride-like, shall peer from its secluding veil;
But as the morning wind blows clear the east,        1356
More bright shall blow the wind of prophecy,
And as against the low bright line of dawn
Heaves high and higher yet the rolling wave,
So in the clearing skies of prescience        1360
Dawns on my soul a further, deadlier woe,
And I will speak, but in dark speech no more.
Bear witness, ye, and follow at my side—
I scent the trail of blood, shed long ago.        1364
Within this house a choir abidingly
Chants in harsh unison the chant of ill;
Yea, and they drink, for more enhardened joy,
Man’s blood for wine, and revel in the halls,        1368
Departing never, Furies of the home.
They sit within, they chant the primal curse,
Each spitting hatred on that crime of old,
The brother’s couch, the love incestuous        1372
That brought forth hatred to the ravisher.
Say, is my speech or wild and erring now,
Or doth its arrow cleave the mark indeed?
They called me once, The prophetess of lies,        1376
The wandering hag, the pest of every door—
Attest ye now, She knows in very sooth
The house’s curse, the storied infamy.

Yet how should oath—how loyally soe’er
I swear it—aught avail thee? In good sooth,
My wonder meets thy claim: I stand amazed
That thou, a maiden born beyond the seas,
Dost as a native know and tell aright        1384
Tales of a city of an alien tongue.

That is my power—a boon Apollo gave.

God though he were, yearning for mortal maid?

Ay! what seemed shame of old is shame no more.

Such finer sense suits not with slavery.

He strove to win me, panting for my love.

Came ye by compact unto bridal joys?

Nay—for I plighted troth, then foiled the god.

Wert thou already dowered with prescience?

Yea—prophetess to Troy of all her doom.

How left thee then Apollo’s wrath unscathed?

I, false to him, seemed prophet false to all.

Not so—to us at least thy words seem sooth.

Woe for me, woe! Again the agony—
Dread pain that sees the future all too well
With ghastly preludes whirls and racks my soul.        1400
Behold ye—yonder on the palace roof
The spectre-children sitting—look, such things
As dreams are made on, phantoms as of babes,
Horrible shadows, that a kinsman’s hand        1404
Hath marked with murder, and their arms as full—
A rueful burden—see, they hold them up,
The entrails upon which their father fed!
For this, for this, I say there plots revenge        1408
A coward lion, couching in the lair—
Guarding the gate against my master’s foot—
My master-mine—I bear the slave’s yoke now,
And he, the lord of ships, who trod down Troy,        1412
Knows not the fawning treachery of tongue
Of this thing false and dog-like—how her speech
Glazes and sleeks her purpose, till she win
By ill fate’s favour the desired chance,        1416
Moving like Ate to a secret end.
O aweless soul! the woman slays her lord—
Woman? what loathsome monster of the earth
Were fit comparison? The double snake—        1420
Or Scylla, where she dwells, the seaman’s bane,
Girt round about with rocks? some hag of hell,
Raving a truceless curse upon her kin?
Hark—even now she cries exultingly        1424
The vengeful cry that tells of battle turned—
How fain, forsooth, to greet her chief restored!
Nay, then, believe me not: what skills belief
Or disbelief? Fate works its will—and thou        1428
Wilt see and say in ruth, Her tale was true.

Ah—’tis Thyestes’ feast on kindred flesh—
I guess her meaning and with horror thrill,
Hearing no shadow’d hint of th’ o’er—true tale,        1432
But its full hatefulness: yet, for the rest,
Far from the track I roam, and know no more.

’Tis Agamemnon’s doom thou shalt behold.

Peace, hapless woman, to thy boding words!

Far from my speech stands he who sains and saves.

Ay—were such doom at hand—which God forbid!

Thou prayest idly—these move swift to slay.

What man prepares a deed of such despite?

Fool! thus to read amiss mine oracles.

Deviser and device are dark to me.

Dark! all too well I speak the Grecian tongue.

Ay—but in thine, as in Apollo’s strains,
Familiar is the tongue, but dark the thought.

Ah ah the fire! it waxes, nears me now—
Woe, woe for me, Apollo of the dawn!
Lo, how the woman-thing, the lioness        1448
Couched with the wolf—her noble mate afar—
Will slay me, slave forlorn! Yea, like some witch,
She drugs the cup of wrath, that slays her lord
With double death—his recompense for me!        1452
Ay, ’tis for me, the prey he bore from Troy,
That she hath sworn his death, and edged the steel!
Ye wands, ye wreaths that cling around my neck,
Ye showed me prophetess yet scorned of all—        1456
I stamp you into death, or e’er I die—
Down, to destruction!
                      Thus I stand revenged—
Go, crown some other with a prophet’s woe.        1460
Look! it is he, it is Apollo’s self
Rending from me the prophet-robe he gave.
God! while I wore it yet, thou saw’st me mocked
There at my home by each malicious mouth—        1464
To all and each, an undivided scorn.
The name alike and fate of witch and cheat—
Woe, poverty, and famine—all I bore;
And at this last the god hath brought me here        1468
Into death’s toils, and what his love had made,
His hate unmakes me now: and I shall stand
Not now before the altar of my home,
But me a slaughter-house and block of blood        1472
Shall see hewn down, a reeking sacrifice.
Yet shall the gods have heed of me who die,
For by their will shall one requite my doom.
He, to avenge his father’s blood outpoured,        1476
Shall smite and slay with matricidal hand.
Ay, he shall come—tho’ far away he roam,
A banished wanderer in a stranger’s land—
To crown his kindred’s edifice of ille        1480
Called home to vengeance by his father’s fall:
Thus have the high gods sworn, and shall fulfil.
And now why mourn I, tarrying on earth,
Since first mine Ilion has found its fate        1484
And I beheld, and those who won the wall
Pass to such issue as the gods ordain?
I too will pass and like them dare to die!  [Turns and looks upon the palace door.
Portal of Hades, thus I bid thee hail!        1488
Grant me one boon—a swift and mortal stroke,
That all unwrong by pain, with ebbing blood
Shed forth in quiet death, I close mine eyes.

Maid of mysterious woes, mysterious lore,
Long was thy prophecy: but if aright
Thou readest all thy fate, how, thus unscared,
Dost thou approach the altar of thy doom,
As fronts the knife some victim, heaven-controlled?        1496

Friends, there is no avoidance in delay.

Yet who delays the longest, his the gain.

The day is come—flight were small gain to me!


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