Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > The Furies
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  The Furies.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 400–799
The realm of death, he cometh; neither yonder        400
          In freedom shall he stand.
          Hear the hymn of hell,
            O’er the victim sounding,—
          Chant of frenzy, chant of ill,        404
            Sense and will confounding!
          Round the soul entwining
            Without lute or lyre—
          Soul in madness pining,        408
            Wasting as with fire!
When from womb of Night we sprang, on us this labour
          Was laid and shall abide.
Gods immortal are ye, yet beware ye touch not        412
          That which is our pride!
None may come beside us gathered round the blood feast—
          For us no garments white
Gleam on a festal day; for us a darker fate is,        416
          Another darker rite.
That is mine hour when falls an ancient line—
          When in the household’s heart
The god of blood doth slay by kindred hands,—        420
          Then do we bear our part:
On him who slays we sweep with chasing cry:
          Though he be triply strong,
We wear and waste him; blood atones for blood,        424
          New pain for ancient wrong.
I hold this task—’tis mine, and not another’s.
          The very gods on high,
Though they can silence and annul the prayers        428
          Of those who on us cry,
They may not strive with us who stand apart,
          A race by Zeus abhorred,
Blood-boltered, held unworthy of the council        432
          And converse of heaven’s lord.
Therefore the more I leap upon my prey;
          Upon their head I bound;
My foot is hard; as one that trips a runner        436
          I cast them to the ground;
Yea, to the depth of doom intolerable;
          And they who erst were great,
And upon earth held high their pride and glory,        440
          Are brought to low estate,
In underworld they waste and are diminished,
          The while around them fleet
Dark wavings of my robes, and, subtly woven,        444
          The paces of my feet.
Who falls infatuate, he sees not, neither knows he
          That we are at his side;
So closely round about him, darkly flitting,        448
          The cloud of guilt doth glide.
Heavily ’tis uttered, how around his hearthstone
          The mirk of hell doth rise.
Stern and fixed the law is; we have hands t’ achieve it,        452
          Cunning to devise.
Queens are we and mindful of our solemn vengeance.
          Not by tear or prayer
Shall a man avert it. In unhonoured darkness,        456
          Far from gods, we fare,
Lit unto our task with torch of sunless regions,
          And o’er a deadly way—
Deadly to the living as to those who see not        460
          Life and light of day—
Hunt we and press onward. Who of mortals hearing
          Doth not quake for awe,
Hearing all that Fate thro’ hand of God hath given us        464
          For ordinance and law?
Yea, this right to us, in dark abysm and backward
          Of ages it befel:
None shall wrong mine office, tho’ in nether regions        468
          And sunless dark I dwell.  [Enter Athena from above.

Far off I heard the clamour of your cry,
As by Scamander’s side I set my foot
Asserting right upon the land given o’er        472
To me by those who o’er Achaia’s host
Held sway and leadership: no scanty part
Of all they won by spear and sword, to me
They gave it, land and all that grew thereon,        476
As chosen heirloom for my Theseus’ clan.
Thence summoned, sped I with a tireless foot,—
Hummed on the wind, instead of wings, the fold
Of this mine ægis, by my feet propelled,        480
As, linked to mettled horses, speeds a car.
And now, beholding here Earth’s nether brood,
I fear it nought, yet are mine eyes amazed
With wonder. Who are ye? of all I ask,        484
And of this stranger to my statue clinging.
But ye—your shape is like no human form,
Like to no goddess whom the gods behold,
Like to no shape which mortal women wear.        488
Yet to stand by and chide a monstrous form
Is all unjust—from such words Right revolts.

O child of Zeus, one word shall tell thee all.
We are the children of eternal Night,        492
And Furies in the underworld are called.

I know your lineage now and eke your name.

Yea, and eftsoons indeed my rights shalt know.

Fain would I learn them; speak them clearly forth.

We chase from home the murderers of men.

And where at last can he that slew make pause?

Where this is law—All joy abandon here.

Say, do ye bay this man to such a flight?

Yea, for of choice he did his mother slay.

Urged by no fear of other wrath and doom?

What spur can rightly goad to matricide?

Two stand to plead—one only have I heard.

He will not swear nor challenge us to oath.

The form of justice, not its deed, thou willest.

Prove thou that word; thou art not scant of skill.

I say that oaths shall not enforce the wrong.

Then test the cause, judge and award the right.

Will ye to me then this decision trust?

Yea, reverencing true child of worthy sire.
ATHENA (to Orestes)

O man unknown, make thou thy plea in turn.
Speak forth thy land, thy lineage, and thy woes;
The, if thou canst, avert this bitter blame—
If, as I deem, in confidence of right
Thou sittest hard beside my holy place,        516
Clasping this statue, as Ixion sat,
A sacred suppliant for Zeus to cleanse,—
To all this answer me in words made plain.

O queen Athena, first from thy last words
Will I a great solicitude remove.
Not one blood-guilty am I no foul stain
Clings to thine image from my clinging hand;
Whereof one potent proof I have to tell.        524
Lo, the law stands—The slayer shall not plead,
Till by the hand of him who cleanses blood
A suckling creature’s blood besprinkle him.
Long since have I this expiation done,—        528
In many a home, slain beasts and running streams
Have cleansed me. Thus I speak away that fear.
Next, of my lineage quickly thou shalt learn:
An Argive am I, and right well thou know’st        532
My sire, that Agamemnon who arrayed
The fleet and them that went therein to war—
That chief with whom thy hand combined to crush
To an uncitied heap what once was Troy;        536
That Agamemnon, when he homeward came,
Was brought unto no honourable death,
Slain by the dark-souled wife who brought me forth
To him,—enwound and slain in wily nets,        540
Blazoned with blood that in the laver ran.
And I, returning from an exiled youth,
Slew her, my mother—lo, it stands avowed!
With blood for blood avenging my loved sire;        544
And in this deed doth Loxias bear part,
Decreeing agonies, to goad my will,
Unless by me the guilty found their doom.
Do thou decide if right or wrong were done—        548
Thy dooming, whatsoe’er it be, contents me.

Too mighty is this matter, whatsoe’er
Of mortals claims to judge hereof aright.
Yea, me, even me, eternal Right forbids        552
To judge the issues of blood-guilt, and wrath
That follows swift behind. This too gives pause,
That thou as one with all due rites performed
Dost come unsinning, pure, unto my shrine.        556
Whate’er thou art, in this my city’s name,
As uncondemned, I take thee to my side.—
Yet have these foes of thine such dues by fate,
I may not banish them: and if they fail,        560
O’erthrown in judgment of the cause, forthwith
Their anger’s poison shall infect the land—
A dropping plague-spot of eternal ill.
Thus stand we with a woe on either hand:        564
Stay they, or go at my commandment forth,
Perplexity or pain must needs befal.
Yet, as on me Fate hath imposed the cause,
I choose unto me judges that shall be        568
An ordinance for ever, set to rule
The dues of blood-guilt, upon oath declared.
But ye, call forth your witness and your proof,
Words strong for justice, fortified by oath;        572
And I, whoe’er are truest in my town,
Them will I choose and bring, and straitly charge,
Look on this cause, discriminating well,
And pledge your oath to utter nought of wrong.  [Exit Athena.        576

Now are they all undone, the ancient laws,
    If here the slayer’s cause
Prevail; new wrong for ancient right shall be
    If matricide go free.        580
Henceforth a deed like his by all shall stand,
    Too ready to the hand:
Too oft shall parents in the aftertime
    Rue and lament this crime,—        584
Taught, not in false imagining, to feel
    Their children’s thrusting steel:
No more the wrath that erst on murder fell
    From us, the queens of hell,        588
Shall fall, no more our watching gaze impend—
    Death shall smite unrestrained.
Henceforth shall one unto another cry,
Lo, they are stricken, lo, they fall and die        592
Around me! and that other answers him,
O thou that lookest that thy woes should cease,
    Behold, with dark increase
They throng and press upon thee; yea, and dim        596
    Is all the cure, and every comfort vain!
Let none henceforth cry out, when falls the blow
    Of sudden—smiting woe,
  Cry out, in sad reiterated strain,        600
O Justice, aid! aid, O ye thrones of hell!
    So though a father or a mother wail
  New-smitten by a son, it shall no more avail,
Since, overthrown by wrong, the fane of Justice fell!        604
Know that a throne there is that may not pass away,
  And one that sitteth on it—even Fear,
Searching with steadfast eyes man’s inner soul:
Wisdom is child of pain, and born with many a tear;        608
        But who henceforth,
What man of mortal men, what nation upon earth,
  That holdeth nought in awe nor in the light
  Of inner reverence, shall worship Right        612
        As in the older day?
  Praise not, O man, the life beyond control,
  Nor that which bows unto a tyrant’s sway.
        Know that the middle way        616
Is dearest unto God, and they thereon who wend,
        They shall achieve the end;
  But they who wander or to left or right
        Are sinners in his sight.        620
    Take to thy heart this one, this soothfast word—
      Of wantonness impiety is sire;
    Only from calm control and sanity unstirred
  Cometh true weal, the goal of every man’s desire.        624
  Yea, whatsoe’er befal, hold thou this word of mine:
          Bow down at Justice’ shrine,
      Turn thou thine eyes away from earthly lure,
    Nor with a godless foot that altar spurn.        628
    For as thou dost shall Fate do in return,
          And the great doom is sure.
    Therefore let each adore a parent’s trust,
      And each with loyalty revere the guest        632
          That in his halls doth rest.
  For whoso uncompelled doth follow what is just,
          He ne’er shall be unblest;
      Yea, never to the gulf of doom        636
          That man shall come.
  But he whose will is set against the gods,
    Who treads beyond the law with foot impure,
  Till o’er the wreck of Right confusion broods,—        640
    Know that for him, though now he sail secure,
The day of storm shall be; then shall he strive and fail
  Down from the shivered yard to furl the sail,
And call on powers that heed him nought, to save,        644
  And vainly wrestle with the whirling wave.
        Hot was his heart with pride—
        I shall not fall, he cried.
        But him with watching scorn        648
        The god beholds, forlorn,
    Tangled in toils of Fate beyond escape,
    Hopeless of haven safe beyond the cape—
  Till all his wealth and bliss of bygone day        652
    Upon the reef of Rightful Doom is hurled,
        And he is rapt away
  Unwept, for ever, to the dead forgotten world.  [Re-enter Athena, with twelve Athenian citizens.

O herald, make proclaim, bid all men come.
Then let the shrill blast of the Tyrrhene trump,
Fulfilled with mortal breath, thro’ the wide air
Peal a loud summons, bidding all men heed.
For, till my judges fill this judgment-seat,        660
Silence behoves,—that this whole city learn
What for all time mine ordinance commands,
And these men, that the cause be judged aright.  [Apollo approaches.

O king Apollo, rule what is thine own,
But in this thing what share pertains to thee?

First, as a witness come I, for this man
Is suppliant of mine by sacred right,
Guest of my holy hearth and cleansed by me        668
Of blood-guilt: then, to set me at his side
And in his cause bear part, as part I bore
Erst in his deed, whereby his mother fell.
Let whoso knoweth now announce the cause.        672
ATHENA (to the Chorus)

’Tis I announce the cause—first speech be yours;
For rightfully shall they whose plaint is tried
Tell the tale first and set the matter clear.        676

Though we be many, brief shall be our tale.
(To Orestes) Answer thou, setting word to match with word;
And first avow—hast thou thy mother slain?

I slew her. I deny no word hereof.

Three falls decide the wrestle—this is one.

Thou vauntest thee—but o’er no final fall.

Yet must thou tell the manner of thy deed.

Drawn sword in hand, I gashed her neck, ’Tis told.

But by those word, whose craft, wert thou impelled?

By oracles of him who here attests me.

The prophet-god bade thee thy mother slay?

Yea, and thro’ him less ill I fared, till now.

If the vote grip thee, thou shalt change that word.

Strong is my hope; my buried sire shall aid.

Go to now, trust the dead, a matricide!

Yea, for in her combined two stains of sin.

How? speak this clearly to the judges’ mind.

Slaying her husband, she did slay my sire.

Therefore thou livest; death assoils her deed.

Then while she lived why didst thou hunt her not?

She was not kin by blood to him she slew.

And I, am I by blood my mother’s kin?

O cursed with murder’s guilt, how else wert thou
The burden of her womb? Dost thou forswear        700
Thy mother’s kinship, closest bond of love?

It is thine hour, Apollo—speak the law,
Averring if this deed were justly done;
For done it is, and clear and undenied.        704
But if to thee this murder’s cause seem right
Or wrongful, speak—that I to these may tell.

To you, Athena’s mighty council-court,
Justly for justice will I plead, even I,        708
The prophet-god, nor cheat you by one word.
For never spare I from my prophet-seat
One word, of man, of woman, or of state,
Save what the Father of Olympian gods        712
Commanded unto me. I rede you then,
Bethink you of my plea, how strong it stands,
And follow the decree of Zeus, or sire,—
For oaths prevail not over Zeus’ command.        716

Go to; thou sayest that from Zeus befal
The oracle that this Orestes bade
With vengeance quit the slaying of his sire,
And hold as nought his mother’s right of kin!        720

Yea, for it stands not with a common death,
That he should die, a chieftain and a king
Decked with the sceptre which high heaven confers—
Die, and by female hands, not smitten down        724
By a far-shooting bow, held stalwartly
By some strong Amazon. Another doom
Was his: O Pallas, hear, and ye who sit
In judgment, to discern this thing aright!—        728
She with a specious voice of welcome true
Hailed him, returning from the mighty mart
Where war for life gives fame, triumphant home;
Then o’er the laver, as he bathed himself;        732
She spread from head to foot a covering net,
And in the endless mesh of cunning robes
Enwound and trapped her lord, and smote him down.
Lo, ye have heard what doom this chieftain met,        736
The majesty of Greece, the fleets high lord:
Such as I tell it, let it gall your ears,
Who stand as judges to decide this cause.

Zeus, as thou sayest, holds a father’s death
As first of crimes,—yet he of his own act
Cast into chains his father, Cronos old:
How suits that deed with that which now ye tell?
O ye who judge, I bid ye mark by words!        744

O monsters loathed of all, O scorn of gods,
He that hath bound my loose: a cure there is,
Yea, many a plan that can unbind the chain.
But when the thirsty dust sucks up man’s blood        748
Once shed in death, he shall arise no more.
No chant nor charm for this my Sire hath wrought.
All else there is, he moulds and shifts at will,
Not scant of strength nor breath, whate’er he do.        752

Think yet for what acquittal thou dost plead:
He who hath shed a mother’s kindred blood,
Shall he in Argos dwell, where dwelt his sire?
How shall he stand before the city’s shrines,        756
How share the clansmen’s holy lustral bowl?

This too I answer; mark a soothfast word:
Not the true parent is the woman’s womb
That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed        760
New-sown: the male is parent; she for him,
As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ
Of life, unless the god its promise blight.
And proof hereof before you will I set.        764
Birth may from fathers, without mothers, be:
See at your side a witness of the same,
Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,
Never within the darkness of the womb        768
Fostered nor fashioned, but a bud more bright
Than any goddess in her breast might bear.
And I, O Pallas, howsoe’er I may,
Henceforth will glorify thy town, thy clan,        772
And for this end have sent my suppliant here
Unto thy shrine; that he from this time forth
Be loyal unto thee for evermore,
O goddess—queen, and thou unto thy side        776
Mayst win and hold him faithful, and his line,
And that for aye this pledge and troth remain
To children’s children of Athenian seed.

Enough is said; I bid the judges now
With pure intent deliver just award.

We too have shot our every shaft of speech,
And now abide to hear the doom of law.
ATHENA (to Apollo and Orestes)

Say, how ordaining shall I ’scape your blame?

I spake, ye heard; enough. O stranger men,
Heed well your oath as ye decide the cause.

O men of Athens, ye who first to judge
The law of bloodshed, hear me now ordain.
Here to all time for Ægeus’ Attic host
Shall stand this council-court of judges sworn,
Here the tribunal, set on Ares’ Hill        792
Where camped of old the tented Amazons,
What time in hate of Theseus they assailed
Athens, and set against her citadel
A counterwork of new sky-pointing towers,        796
And there to Ares held their sacrifice,
Where now the rock hath name, even Ares’ Hill.
And hence shall Reverence and her kinsman Fear


Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.