Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > The Libation-Bearers
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  The Libation-Bearers.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 800–1200
Him and these fellow-farers at his side;        800
Give them such guest-right as beseems our halls;
I bid thee do as thou shalt answer for it.
And I unto the prince who rules our home
Will tell the tale, and, since we lack not friends,        804
With them will counsel how this hap to bear.[Exit Clytemnestra.

        So be it done—
    Sister—servants, when draws nigh
    Time for us aloud to cry,        808
    Orestes and his victory?
      O holy earth and holy tomb
    Over the grave—pit heaped on high,
    Where low doth Agamemnon lie,        812
      The king of ships, the army’s lord!
    Now is the hour—give ear and come,
      For now doth Craft her aid afford,
    And Hermes, guard of shades in hell,        816
    Stands o’er their strife, to sentinel
        The dooming of the sword.
I wot the stranger worketh woe within—
For lo! I see come forth, suffused with tears,        820
Orestes’ nurse. What ho, Kilissa—thou
Beyond the doors? Where goest thou? Methinks
Some grief unbidden walketh at thy side.[Enter Kilissa, a nurse.

My mistress bids me, with what speed I may,
Call in Ægisthus to the stranger guests,
That he may come, and standing face to face,
A man with men, may thus more clearly learn
This rumour new. Thus speaking, to her slaves        828
She hid beneath the glance of fictive grief
Laughter for what is wrought—to her desire
Too well; but ill, ill, ill besets the house,
Brought by the tale these guests have told so clear.        832
And he, God wot, will gladden all his heart
Hearing this rumour. Woe and well-a-day!
The bitter mingled cup of ancient woes,
Hard to be borne, that here in Atreus’ house        836
Befel, was grievous to mine inmost heart,
But never yet did I endure such pain.
All else I bore with set soul patiently;
But now—alack, alack!—Orestes dear,        840
The day—and night-long travail of my soul!
Whom from his mother’s womb, a new-born child,
I clasped and cherished! Many a time and oft
Toilsome and profitless my service was,        844
When his shrill outcry called me from my couch!
For the young child, before the sense is born,
Hath but a dumb thing’s life, must needs be nursed
As its own nature bids. The swaddled thing        848
Hath nought of speech, whate’er discomfort come—
Hunger or thirst or lower weakling need,—
For the babe’s stomach works its own relief.
Which knowing well before, yet oft surprised,        852
’Twas mine to cleanse the swaddling clothes—poor I
Was nurse to tend and fuller to make white;
Two works in one, two handicrafts I took,
When in mine arms the father laid the boy.        856
And now he’s dead—alack and well—a—day!
Yet must I go to him whose wrongful power
Pollutes this house—fair tidings these to him!

Say then with what array she bids him come?

What say’st thou! Speak more clearly for mine ear.

Bids she bring henchmen, or to come alone?

She bids him bring a spear-armed body-guard.

Nay, tell not that unto our loathed lord,
But speed to him, put on the mien of joy,
Say, Come along, fear nought, the news is good:
A bearer can tell straight a twisted tale.

Does then thy mind in this new tale find joy?

What if Zeus bid our ill wind veer to fair?

And how? the home’s hope with Orestes dies.

Not yet—a seer, though feeble, this might see.

What say’st thou? Know’st thou aught this tale belying?

Go, tell the news to him, perform thine hest,—
What the gods will, themselves can well provide.

Well, I will go, herein obeying thee;
And luck fall fair, with favour sent from heaven.  [Exit.        876

    Zeus, sire of them who on Olympus dwell,
        Hear thou, O hear my prayer!
    Grant to my rightful lords to prosper well
        Even as their zeal is fair!        880
    For right, for right goes up aloud my cry—
        Zeus, aid him, stand anigh!
        Into his father’s hall he goes
        To smite his father’s foes.        884
Bid him prevail! by thee on throne of triumph set,
Twice, yea and thrice with joy shall acquit the debt.
Bethink thee, the young steed, the orphan foal
  Of sire beloved by thee, unto the car        888
  Of doom is harnessed fast.
Guide him aright, plant firm a lasting goal,
Speed thou his pace,—O that no chance may mar
  The homeward course, the last!        892
And ye who dwell within the inner chamber
  Where shines the stored joy of gold—
Gods of one heart, O hear ye, and remember;
Up and avenge the blood shed forth of old,        896
            With sudden rightful blow;
      Then let the old curse die, nor be renewed
            With progeny of blood,—
    Once more, and not again, be latter guilt laid low!        900
    O thou who dwell’st in Delphi’s mighty cave,
    Grant us to see this home once more restored
            Unto its rightful lord!
Let it look forth, from veils of death, with joyous eye        904
        Unto the dawning light of liberty;
    And Hermes, Maia’s child, lend hand to save,
            Willing the right, and guide
Our state with Fortune’s breeze adown the favouring tide.        908
          Whate’er in darkness hidden lies,
          He utters at his will;
    He at his will throws darkness on our eye,
      By night and eke by day inscrutable.        912
          Then, then shall wealth atone
          The ills that here were done.
          Then, then will we unbind,
          Fling free on wafting wind        916
      Of joy, the woman’s voice that waileth now
      In piercing accents for a chief laid low;
          And this our songs shall be—
        Hail to the commonwealth restored!        920
          Hail to the freedom won to me!
All hail! for doom hath passed from him, my well—loved lord!
And thou, O child, when Time and Chance agree,
    Up to the deed that for thy sire is done!        924
    And if she wail unto thee, Spare, O son—
Cry, Aid, O father—and achieve the deed,
The horror of man’s tongue, the gods’ great need!
  Hold in thy breast such heart as Perseus had,        928
          The bitter woe work forth,
    Appease the summons of the dead,
          The wrath of friends on earth;
    Yea, set within a sign of blood and doom,        932
And do to utter death him that pollutes thy home.  [Enter Ægisthus.

Hither and not unsummoned have I come;
For a new rumour, borne by stranger men
Arriving hither, hath attained mine ears.        936
Of hap unwished-for, even Orestes’ death.
This were new sorrow, a blood-bolter’s load
Laid on the house that doth already bow
Beneath a former wound that festers deep.        940
Dare I opine these words have truth and life?
Or are they tales, of woman’s terror born,
That fly in the void air, and die disproved?
Canst thou tell aught, and prove it to my soul?        944

What we have heard, we heard; go thou within
Thyself to ask the strangers of their tale.
Strengthless are tidings, thro’ another heard;
Question is his to whom the tale is brought.        948

I too will meet and test the messenger,
Whether himself stood witness of the death
Or tells it merely from dim rumour learnt:
None shall cheat me, whose soul hath watchful eyes.  [Exit.        952

Zeus, Zeus! what word to me is given?
What cry or prayer, invoking heaven,
    Shall first by me be uttered?
What speech of craft—nor all revealing,        956
Nor all too warily concealing—
    Ending my speech, shall aid the deed?
For lo! in readiness is laid
The dark emprise, the rending blade;        960
    Blood-dropping daggers shall achieve
The dateless doom of Atreus’ name,
Or—kindling torch and joyful flame
  In sign of new-won liberty—        964
    Once more Orestes shall retrieve
  His father’s wealth, and throned on high,
  Shall hold the city’s fealty.
  So mighty is the grasp whereby,        968
Heaven-holpen, he shall trip and throw
Unseconded, a double foe.
      Ho for the victory!  [A loud cry within.

Help, help, alas!

Ho there, ho! how is’t within?
Is’t done? is’t over? Stand we here aloof
While it is wrought, that guiltless we may seem
Of this dark deed; with death is strife fulfilled.[Enter a slave.        976

O woe, O woe, my lord is done to death!
Woe, woe, and again, Ægisthus gone!
Hasten, fling wide the doors, unloose the bolts
Of the queen’s chamber. O for some young strength        980
To match the need! but aid availeth nought
To him laid low for ever. Help, help, help!
Sure to deaf ears I shout, and call in vain
To slumber ineffectual. What ho!        984
The queen! how fareth Clytemnestra’s self?
Her neck too, hers, is close upon the steel,
And soon shall sink, hewn thro’ as justice wills.  [Enter Clytemnestra.

What ails thee, raising this ado for us?

I say the dead are come to slay the living.

Alack, I read thy riddles all to clear—
We slew by craft and by like craft shall die.
Swift, bring the axe that slew my lord of old;        992
I’ll know anon or death or victory—
So stands the curse, so I confront it here.  [Enter Orestes, his sword dropping with blood.

Thee too I seek: for him what’s done will serve.

Woe, woe! Ægisthus, spouse and champion, slain!

What, lov’st the man? then in his grave lie down,
Be his in death, desert him nevermore!

Stay, child, and fear to strike, O son, this breast
Pillowed thine head full oft, while, drowsed with sleep,        1000
Thy toothless mouth drew mother’s milk from me.

Can I my mother spare? speak, Pylades.

Where then would fall the hest Apollo gave
At Delphi, where the solemn compact sworn?        1004
Choose thou the hate of all men, not of gods.

Thou dost prevail; I hold thy counsel good.  [To Clytemnestra.
Follow; I will to slay thee at his side.
With him whom in his life thou lovedst more        1008
Than Agamemnon, sleep in death, the meed
For hate where love, and love where hate was due!

I nursed thee young; must I forego mine eld?

Thou slew’st my father; shalt thou dwell with me?

Fate bore a share in these things, O my child!

Fate also doth provide this doom for thee.

Beware, O child, a parent’s dying curse.

A parent who did cast me out to ill!

Not cast thee out, but to a friendly home.

Born free, I was by twofold bargain sold.

Where then the price that I received for thee?

The price of shame; I taunt thee not more plainly.

Nay, but recount thy father’s lewdness too.

keeping, chide not him who toils without.

’Tis hard for wives to live as widows, child.

The absent husband toils for them at home.

Thou growest fain to slay thy mother, child.

Nay, ’tis thyself wilt slay thyself, not I.

Beware thy mother’s vengeful hounds from hell.

How shall I ’scape my father’s, sparing thee?

Living, I cry as to a tomb, unheard.

My father’s fate ordains this doom for thee.

Ah, me! this snake it was I bore and nursed.

Ay, right prophetic was thy visioned fear.
Shameful thy deed was—die the death of shame!  [Exit, driving Clytemnestra before him.

Lo, even for these I mourn, a double death:
Yet since Orestes, driven on by doom,
Thus crowns the height of murders manifold,        1036
I say, ’tis well that not in night and death
Should sink the eye and light of this our home.
    There came on Priam’s race and name
      A vengeance; though it tarried long,        1040
        With heavy doom it came.
    Came, too, on Agamemnon’s hall
        A lion-pair, twin swordsmen strong.
    And last, the heritage doth fall        1044
      To him to whom from Pythian cave
      The god his deepest counsel gave.
    Cry out, rejoice! our kingly hall
        Hath ’scaped from ruin—ne’er again        1048
    Its ancient wealth be wasted all
          By two usurpers, is sin-defiled—
        An evil path of woe and bane!
    On him who dealt the dastard blow        1052
        Comes Craft, Revenge’s scheming child.
    And hand in hand with him doth go,
              Eager for fight,
    The child of Zeus, whom men below        1056
      Call Justice, naming her aright.
            And on her foes her breath
            Is as the blast of death;
    For her the god who dwells in deep recess        1060
            Beneath Parnassus’ brow,
          Summons with loud acclaim
          To rise, though late and lame,
    And come with craft that worketh righteousness.        1064
    For even o’er powers divine this law is strong—
          Thou shalt not serve the wrong.
    To that which ruleth heaven beseems it that we bow.
          Lo, freedom’s light hath come!        1068
            Lo, now is rent away
    The grim and curbing bit that held us dumb.
      Up to the light, ye halls! this many a day
            Too low on earth ye lay.        1072
      And Time, the great Accomplisher,
      Shall cross the threshold, whensoe’er
      He choose with purging hand to cleanse
      The palace, driving all pollution thence.        1076
      And fair the cast of Fortune’s die
      Before our state’s new lords shall lie,
      Not as of old, but bringing fairer doom.
          Lo, freedom’s light hath come!  [The scene opens, disclosing Orestes standing over the corpses of Ægisthus and Clytemnestra; in one hand he holds his sword, in the other the robe in which Agamemnon was entangled and slain.        1080

There lies our country’s twofold tyranny,
My father’s slayers, spoilers of my home.
Erst were they royal, sitting on the throne,.
And loving are they yet,—their common fate        1084
Tells the tale truly, shows their trothplight firm.
They swore to work mine ill—starred father’s death,
They swore to die together; ’tis fulfilled.
  O ye who stand, this great doom’s witnesses,        1088
Behold this too, the dark device which bound
My sire unhappy to his death,—behold
The mesh which trapped his hands, enwound his feet!
Stand round, unfold it—’tis the trammel—net        1092
That wrapped a chieftain; hold it that he see,
The father—not my sire, but he whose eye
Is judge of all things, the all—seeing Sun!
Let him behold my mother’s damnèd deed,        1096
Then let him stand, when need shall be to me,
Witness that justly I have sought and slain
My mother; blameless was Ægisthus’ doom—
He died the death law bids adulterers die.        1000
But she who plotted this accursed thing
To slay her lord, by whom she bare beneath
Her girdle once the burden of her babes,
Beloved erewhile, now turned to hateful foes—        1104
What deem ye of her? or what venomed thing,
Sea-snake or adder, had more power than she
To poison with a touch the flesh unscarred?
So great her daring, such her impious will.        1108
How name her, if I may not speak a curse?
A lion-springe! a laver’s swathing cloth,
Wrapping a dead man, twining round his feet—
A net, a trammel, an entangling robe?        1112
Such were the weapon of some strangling thief,
The terror of the road, a cut-purse hound—
With such device full many might he kill,
Full oft exult in heat of villainy.        1116
Ne’er have my house so cursed an indweller—
Heaven send me, rather, childless to be slain!

Woe for each desperate deed!
Woe for the queen, with shame of life bereft!        1120
And ah, for him who still is left,
Madness, dark blossom of a bloody seed!

Did she the deed or not? this robe gives proof,
Imbrued with blood that bathed Ægisthus’ sword:        1124
Look, how the spurted stain combines with time
To blur the many dyes that once adorned
Its pattern manifold! I now stand here,
Made glad, made sad with blood, exulting, wailing—        1128
Hear, O thou woven web that slew my sire!
I grieve for deed and death and all my home—
Victor, pollution’s damnèd stain for prize.

Alas, that none of mortal men
Can pass his life untouched by pain!
Behold, one woe is here—
Another loometh near.

Hark ye and learn—for what the end shall be
For me I know not: breaking from the curb,
My spirit whirls me off, a conquered prey,
Borne as a charioteer by steeds distraught
Far from the course, and madness in my breast        1140
Burneth to chant its song, and leap, and rave—
Hark ye and learn, friends, ere my reason goes!
I say that rightfully I slew my mother,
A thing God-scorned, that foully slew my sire.        1144
And chiefest wizard of the spell that bound me
Unto this deed I name the Pythian seer
Apollo, who foretold that if I slew,
The guilt of murder done should pass from me;        1148
But if I spared, the fate that should be mine
I dare not blazon forth—the bow of speech
Can reach not to the mark, that doom to tell.
And now behold me, how with branch and crown        1152
I pass, a suppliant made meet to go
Unto Earth’s midmost shrine, the holy ground
Of Loxias, and that renowned light
Of ever-burning fire, to ’scape the doom        1156
Of kindred murder: to no other shrine
(So Loxias bade) may I for refuge turn.
Bear witness, Argives, in the aftertime,
How came on me this dread fatality.        1160
Living, I pass a banished wanderer hence,
To leave in death the memory of this cry.

Nay, but the deed is well; link not thy lips
To speech ill-starred, nor vent ill-boding words—        1164
Who hast to Argos her full freedom given,
Lopping two serpents’ heads with timely blow.

Look, look, alas!
Handmaidens, see—what Gorgon shapes throng up,        1168
Dusky their robes and all their hair enwound—
Snakes coiled with snakes—off, off, I must away!

Most loyal of all sons unto thy sire,
What visions thus distract thee? Hold, abide;        1172
Great was thy victory, and shalt thou fear?

These are no dreams, void shapes of haunting ill,
But clear to sight my mother’s hell-hounds come!

Nay, the fresh bloodshed still imbrues thine hands,
And thence distraction sinks into thy soul.

O king Apollo—see, they swarm and throng—
Black blood of hatred dripping from their eyes!

One remedy thou hast; go, touch the shrine
Of Loxias, and rid thee of these woes.

Ye can behold them not, but I behold them.
Up and away! I dare abide no more.  [Exit.

Farewell than as thou mayst,—the god thy friend
Guard thee and aid with chances favouring.
    Behold, the storm of woe divine
    That raves and beats on Atreus’ line
      Its great third blast hath blown.        1188
    First was Thyestes’ loathly woe—
    The rueful feast of long ago,
      On children’s flesh, unknown.
    And next the kingly chief’s despite,        1192
    When he who led the Greeks to fight
      Was in the bath hewn down.
    And now the offspring of the race
    Stands in the third, the saviour’s place,        1196
      To save—or to consume?
    O whither, ere it be fulfilled,
    Ere its fierce blast be hushed and stilled,
      Shall blow the wind of doom?  [Exeunt.        1200


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