Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  Prometheus Bound.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 800–1204
Shall take its name from thee. And Europe’s plain        800
Then quitting, thou shalt gain the Asian coast.
Doth not the all-ruling monarch of the Gods
Seem all ways cruel? For, although a God,
He, seeking to embrace this mortal maid,        804
Imposed these wanderings on her. Thou hast found,
O maiden! bitter suitor for thy hand;
For great as are the ills thou now hast heard,
Know that as yet not e’en the prelude’s known.        808
Io.        Ah woe! woe! woe!
Prom.  Again thou groan’st and criest. What wilt do
When thou shalt learn the evils yet to come?
Chor.  What! are there troubles still to come for her?        812
Prom.  Yea, stormy sea of woe most lamentable.
Io.  What gain is it to live? Why cast I not
Myself at once from this high precipice,
And, dashed to earth, be free from all my woes?        816
Far better were it once for all to die
Than all one’s day to suffer pain and grief.
Prom.  My struggles then full hardly thou wouldst bear,
For whom there is no destiny of death;        820
For that might bring a respite from my woes:
But now there is no limit to my pangs
Till Zeus be hurled out from His sovereignty.
Io.  What! shall Zeus e’er be hurled from His high state?        824
Prom.  Thou wouldst rejoice, I trow, to see that fall.
Io.  How should I not, when Zeus so foully wrongs me?
Prom.  That this is so thou now mayst hear from me.
Io.  Who then shall rob Him of His sceptred sway?        828
Prom.  Himself shall do it by His own rash plans.
Io.  But how? Tell this, unless it bringeth harm.
Prom.  He shall wed one for whom one day He’ll grieve.
Io.  Heaven-born or mortal? Tell, if tell thou mayst.        832
Prom.  Why ask’st thou who? I may not tell thee that
Io.  Shall His bride hurl Him from His throne of might?
Prom.  Yea; she shall bear child mightier than his sire.
Io.  Has He no way to turn aside that doom?        836
Prom.  No, none; unless I from my bonds be loosed. 1
Io.  Who then shall loose thee ’gainst the will of Zeus?
Prom.  It must be one of thy posterity.
Io.  What, shall a child of mine free thee from ills?        840
Prom.  Yea, the third generation after ten. 2
Io.  No more thine oracles are clear to me.
Prom.  Nay, seek not thou thine own drear fate to know.
Io.  Do not, a boon presenting, then withdraw it.        844
Prom.  Of two alternatives, I’ll give thee choice.
Io.  Tell me of what, then give me leave to choose.
Prom.  I give it then. Choose, or that I should tell
Thy woes to come, or who shall set me free.        848
Chor.  Of these be willing one request to grant
To her, and one to me; nor scorn my words:
Tell her what yet of wandering she must bear,
And me who shall release thee. This I crave.        852
Prom.  Since ye are eager, I will not refuse
To utter fully all that ye desire.
Thee, Io, first I’ll tell thy wanderings wild,
Thou, write it in the tablets of thy mind.        856
When thou shalt cross the straits, of continents
The boundary, 3 take thou the onward path
On to the fiery-hued and sun-tracked East.
[And first of all, to frozen Northern blasts        860
Thou’lt come, and there beware the rushing whirl,
Lest it should come upon thee suddenly,
And sweep thee onward with the cloud-rack wild;] 4
Crossing the sea-surf till thou come at last        864
Unto Kisthene’s Gorgoneian plains,
Where dwell the grey-haired virgin Phorkides, 5
Three, swan-shaped, with one eye between them all
And but one tooth; whom nor the sun beholds        868
With radiant beams, nor yet the moon by night:
And near them are their wingèd sisters three,
The Gorgons, serpent-tressed, and hating men,
Whom mortal wight may not behold and live.        872
Such is one ill I bid thee guard against;
Now hear another monstrous sight: Beware
The sharp-beaked hounds of Zeus that never bark, 6
The Gryphons, and the one-eyed mounted host        876
Of Arimaspians, who around the stream
That flows o’er gold, the ford of Pluto, dwell: 7
Draw not thou night to them. But distant land
Thou shalt approach, the swarthy tribes who dwell        880
By the sun’s fountain, 8 Æthiopia’s stream:
By its banks wend thy way until thou come To
that great fall where from the Bybline hills
The Neilos pours its pure and holy flood;        884
And it shall guide thee to Neilotic land,
Three-angled, where, O Io, ’tis decreed
For thee and for thy progeny to found
A far-off colony. And if of this        888
Aught seem to thee as stammering speech obscure,
Ask yet again and learn it thoroughly:
Far more of leisure have I than I like.
Chor.  If thou hast aught to add, aught left untold        892
Of her sore-wasting wanderings, speak it out;
But if thou hast said all, then grant to us
The boon we asked. Thou dost not, sure, forget it.
Prom.  The whole course of her journeying she hath heard,        896
And that she show she hath not heard in vain
I will tell out what troubles she hath borne
Before she came here, giving her sure proof
Of these my words. The greater bulk of things        900
I will pass o’er, and to the very goal
Of all thy wanderings go. For when thou cam’st
To the Molossian plains, and by the grove 9
Of lofty-ridged Dodona, and the shrine        904
Oracular of Zeus Thesprotian,
And the strange portent of the talking oaks,
By which full clearly, not in riddle dark,
Thou wast addressed as noble spouse of Zeus,—        908
If aught of pleasure such things give to thee,—
Thence strung to frenzy, thou didst rush along
The sea-coast’s path to Rhea’s mighty gulf, 10
In backward way from whence thou now art vexed,        912
And for all time to come that reach of sea,
Know well, from thee Ionian shall be called,
To all men record of thy journeyings.
These then are tokens to thee that my mind        916
Sees somewhat more than that is manifest.
What follows (to the Chorus) I will speak to you and her
In common, on the track of former words
Returning once again. A city stands,        920
Canobos, at its country’s furthest bound,
Hard by the mouth and silt-bank of the Nile;
There Zeus shall give thee back thy mind again, 11
With hand that works no terror touching thee,—        924
Touch only—and thou then shalt bear a child
Of Zeus begotten, Epaphos, “Touch-born,”
Swarthy of hue, whose lot shall be to reap
The whole plain watered by the broad-streamed Neilos:        928
And in the generation fifth from him
A household numbering fifty shall return
Against their will to Argos, in their flight
From wedlock with their cousins. 12 And they too        932
(Kites but a little space behind the doves),
With eager hopes pursuing marriage rites,
Beyond pursuit shall come; and God shall grudge
To give up their sweet bodies. And the land        936
Pelasgian 13 shall receive them, when by stroke
Of woman’s murderous hand these men shall lie
Smitten to death by daring deed of night:
For every bride shall take her husband’s life,        940
And dip in blood the sharp two-edgèd sword
(So to my foes may Kypris show herself!) 14
Yet one of that fair band shall love persuade
Her husband not to slaughter, and her will        944
Shall lose its edge; and she shall make her choice
Rather as weak than murderous to be known.
And she at Argos shall a royal seed
Bring forth (long speech ’twould take to tell this clear)        948
Famed for his arrows, who shall set me free 15
From these my woes. Such was the oracle
Mine ancient mother Themis, Titan-born,
Gave to me; but the manner and the means,—        952
That needs a lengthy tale to tell the whole,
And thou canst nothing gain by learning it.
Io.  Eleleu! Oh, Eleleu! 16
The throbbing pain inflames me, and the mood        956
      Of frenzy-smitten rage;
      The gadfly’s pointed stings,
      Not forged with fire, attacks,
And my heart beats against my breast with fear.        960
      Mine eyes whirl round and round:
      Out of my course I’m borne
By the wild spirit of fierce agony,
      And cannot curb my lips,        964
And turbid speech at random dashes on
Upon the waves of dread calamity.

Chor.  Wise, very wise was he
Who first in thought conceived this maxim sage,        968
      And spread it with his speech, 17
That the best wedlock is with equals found,
And that a craftsman, born to work with hands,
      Should not desire to wed        972
Or with the soft luxurious heirs of wealth,
Or with the race that boast their lineage high.

      Oh ne’er, oh ne’er, dread Fates,
May ye behold me as the bride of Zeus,        976
      The partner of His couch,
Nor may I wed with any heaven—born spouse!
For I shrink back, beholding Io’s lot
      Of loveless maindenhood,        980
Consumed and smitten low exceedingly
By the wild wanderings from great Hera sent!

To me, when wedlock is on equal terms,
        It gives no cause to fear:        984
Ne’er may the love of any of the Gods,
        The strong Gods, look on me
        With glance I cannot ’scape!

That fate is was that none can war against,
        Source of resourceless ill;
Nor know I what might then become of me:
        I see not how to ’scape
        The counsel deep of Zeus.        992
Prom.  Yea, of a truth shall Zeus, though stiff of will,
Be brought full low. Such bed of wedlock now
Is He preparing, one to cast Him forth
In darkness from His sovereignty and throne.        996
And then the curse His father Cronos spake
Shall have its dread completion, even that
He uttered when he left his ancient throne;
And from these troubles no one of the Gods        1000
But me can clearly show the way to ’scape.
I know the time and manner: therefore now
Let Him sit fearless, in His peals on high
Putting His trust, and shaking in His hands        1004
His darts fire-breathing. Nought shall they avail
To hinder Him from falling shamefully
A fall intolerable. Such a combatant
He arms against Himself, a marvel dread,        1008
Who shall a fire discover mightier far
Than the red levin, and a sound more dread
Than roaring of the thunder, and shall shiver
That plague sea-born that causeth earth to quake,        1012
The trident, weapon of Poseidon’s strength:
And stumbling on this evil, He shall learn
How far apart a king’s lot from a slave’s.
Chor.  What thou dost with thou mutterest against Zeus.        1016
Prom.  Things that shall be, and things I wish, I speak.
Chor.  And must we look for one to master Zeus?
Prom.  Yea, troubles harder far than these are His.
Chor.  Art not afraid to vent such words as these?        1020
Prom.  What can I fear whose fate is not to die?
Chor.  But He may send on thee worse pain than this.
Prom.  So let Him do: nought finds me prepared.
Chor.  Wisdom is theirs who Adrasteia worship. 18        1024
Prom.  Worship then, praise and flatter Him that rules;
My care for Zeus is nought, and less than nought:
Let Him act, let Him rule this little while,
E’en as He will; for long He shall not rule        1028
Over the Gods. But lo! I seed at hand
The courier of the Gods, the minister
Of our new sovereign. Doubtless he has come
To bring me tidings of some new device.        1032

Herm.  Thee do I speak to,—thee, the teacher wise,
The bitterly o’er-bitter, who ’gainst Gods
Hast sinned in giving gifts to short-lived men—
I speak to thee, the filcher of bright fire.        1036
The Father bids thee say what marriage thou
Dost vaunt, and who shall hurl Him from His might;
And this too not in dark mysterious speech,
But tell each point out clearly. Give me not,        1040
Prometheus, task of double journey. Zeus,
Thou seest, is not with such words appeased.
Prom.  Stately of utterance, full of haughtiness
Thy speech, as fits a messenger of Gods.        1044
Ye yet are young in your new rule, and think
To dwell in painless towers. Have I not
Seen two great rulers driven forth from thence? 19
And now the third, who reigneth, I shall see        1048
In basest, quickest fall. Seem I to thee
To shrink and quail before these new-made Gods?
Far, very far from that am I. But thou,
Track once again the path by which thou camest;        1052
Thou shalt learn nought of what thou askest me.
Herm.  It was by such self-will as this before
That thou didst bring these sufferings on thyself.
Prom.  I for my part, be sure, would never change        1056
My evil state for that thy bondslave’s lot.
Herm.  To be the bondslave of this rock, I trow,
Is better than to be Zeus’ trusty herald!
Prom.  So it is meet the insulter to insult.        1060
Herm.  Thou waxest proud, ’twould seem, of this thy doom.
Prom.  Wax proud! God grant that I may see my foes
Thus waxing proud, and thee among the rest!
Herm.  Dost blame me then for thy calamities?        1064
Prom.  In one short sentence—all the Gods I hate,
Who my good turns with evil turns repay.
Herm.  Thy words prove thee with no slight madness plagued.
Prom.  If to hate foes be madness, mad I am.        1068
Herm.  Not one could bear thee wert thou prosperous.
Prom.  Ah me!
Herm.  That word is all unknown to Zeus.
Prom.  Time waxing old can many a lesson teach.        1072
Herm.  Yet thou at least hast not true wisdom learnt.
Prom.  I had not else addressed a slave like thee.
Herm.  Thou wilt say nought the Father asks, ’twould seem.
Prom.  Fine debt I owe Him, favour to repay.        1076
Herm.  Me as a boy thou scornest then, forsooth.
Prom.  And art thou not a boy, and sillier far,
If that thou thinkest to learn aught from me?
There is no torture nor device by which        1080
Zeus can impel me to disclose these things
Before these bonds that outrage me be loosed.
Let then the blazing levin-flash be hurled;
With white-winged snow-storm and with earth-born thunders        1084
Let Him disturb and trouble all that is;
Nought of these things shall force me to declare
Whose hand shall drive Him from His sovereignty.
Herm.  See if thou findest any help in this.        1088
Prom.  Long since all this I’ve seen, and formed my plans.
Herm.  O fool, take heart, take heart at last in time,
To form right thoughts for these thy present woes.
Prom.  Like one who soothes a wave, thy speech in vain        1092
Vexes my soul. But deem not thou that I,
Fearing the will of Zeus, shall e’er become
As womanised in mind, or shall entreat
Him whom I greatly loathe, with upturned hand,        1096
In woman’s fashion, from these bonds of mine
To set me free. Far, far am I from that.
Herm.  It seems that I, saying much, shall speak in vain;
For thou in nought by prayers art pacified,        1000
Or softened in thy heart, but like a colt
Fresh harnessed, thou dost champ thy bit, and strive,
And fight against the reins. Yet thou art stiff
In weak device; for self-will, by itself,        1104
In one who is not wise, is less than nought.
Look to it, if thou disobey my words,
How great a storm and triple wave of ills, 20
Not to be ’scaped, shall come on thee; for first,        1108
With thunder and the levin’s blazing flash
The Father this ravine of rocks shall crush,
And shall thy carcase hide, and stern embrace
Of stony arms shall keep thee in thy place.        1112
And having traversed space of time full long,
Thou shalt come back to light, and then his hound,
The wingèd hound of Zeus, the ravening eagle,
Shall greedily make banquet of thy flesh,        1116
Coming all day an uninvited guest,
And glut himself upon thy liver dark.
And of that anguish look not for the end,
Before some God shall come to bear thy woes,        1120
And will to pass to Hades’ sunless realm,
And the dark cloudy depths of Tartaros. 21
Wherefore take heed. No feigned boast is this,
But spoken all too truly; for the lips        1124
Of Zeus know not to speak in lying speech,
But will perform each single word. And thou,
Search well, be wise, nor think that self-willed pride
Shall ever better prove than counsel good.        1128
Chor.  To us doth Hermes seem to utter words
Not out of season; for he bids thee quit
Thy self-willed pride and seek for counsel good.
Hearken thou to him. To the wise of soul        1132
It is foul shame to sin persistently.
Prom.  To me who knew it all
He hath this message borne;
And that a foe from foes        1136
Should suffer is not strange.
Therefore on me be hurled
The sharp-edged wreath of fire;
And let heaven’s vault be stirred        1140
With thunder and the blasts
Of fiercest winds; and earth
From its foundations strong,
E’en to its deepest roots,        1144
Let storm-wind make to rock;
And let the ocean wave,
With wild and foaming surge,
Be heaped up to the paths        1148
Where move the stars of heaven;
And to dark Tartaros
Let Him my carcase hurl,
With mighty blasts of force:        1152
Yet me He shall not slay.
Herm.  Such words and thoughts from one
Brain-stricken one may hear.
What space divides his state        1156
From frenzy? What repose
Hath he from maddened rage?
But ye who pitying stand
And share his bitter griefs,        1160
Quickly from hence depart,
Lest the relentless roar
Of thunder stun your soul.
Chor.  With other words attempt        1164
To counsel and persuade,
And I will hear: for now
Thou hast this word thrust in
That we may never bear.        1168
How dost thou bid me train
My soul to baseness vile?
With him I will endure
Whatever is decreed.        1172
Traitors I’ve learned to hate,
Nor is there any plague
That more than this I loathe.
Herm.  Nay then, remember ye        1176
What now I say, nor blame
Your fortune: never say
That Zeus hath cast you down
To evil not foreseen.        1180
Not so; ye cast yourselves:
For now with open eyes,
Not taken unawares,
In Atè’s endless net        1184
Ye shall entangled be
By folly of your own.  [A pause, and then flashes of lightning and peals of thunder 22
Prom.  Yea, now in very deed,
No more in word alone,        1188
The earth shakes to and fro,
And the loud thunder’s voice
Bellows hard by, and blaze
The flashing levin-fires;        1192
And tempests whirl the dust,
And gusts of all wild winds
On one another leap,
In wild conflicting blasts,        1196
And sky with sea is blent:
Such is the storm from Zeus
That comes as working fear,
In terrors manifest.        1200
O Mother venerable!
O Æther! rolling round
The common light of all,
Seest thou what wrongs I bear?        1204
Note 1. The lines refer to the story that Zeus loved Thetis, the daughter of Nereus, and followed her to Caucasos, but abstained from marriage with her because Prometheus warned him that the child born of that union should overthrow his father. Here the future is used of what was still contingent only. In the lost play of the Trilogy the myth was possibly brought to its conclusion and connected with the release of Prometheus. [back]
Note 2. Heracles, whose genealogy was traced through Alcmena, Perseus, Danae, Danaos, and seven other names, to Epaphos and Io. [back]
Note 3. Probably the Kimmerian Bosporos. The Tanais or Phasis has, however, been conjectured. [back]
Note 4. The history of the passage in brackets is curious enough to call for a note. It is not in any extant MS., but it is found in a passage quoted by Galen as from the Prometheus Bound, and is inserted here by Mr. Paley. [back]
Note 5. Kisthene belongs to the geography of legend, lying somewhere on the shore of the great ocean-river in Lybia or Æthiopia, at the end of the world, a great mountain in the far West, beyond the Hesperides, the dwelling-place, as here, of the Gorgons, the daughters of Phorkys. Those first named are the Graiæ. [back]
Note 6. Here, like the “winged hound” of verse 1043, page 203, for the eagles that are the messengers of Zeus. [back]
Note 7. We are carried back again from the fabled West to the fabled East. The Arimaspians, with one eye, and the Grypes or Gryphons (the griffins of mediæval heraldry), quadrupeds with the wings and beaks of eagles, were placed by most writers (Herod, iv. 13, 27) in the north of Europe, in or beyond the terra incognita of Skythia. The mention of the “ford of Pluto” and Æthiopia, however, may possibly imply (if we identify it, as Mr. Paley does, with the Tartessos of Spain, or Bœtis—Guadalquivir) that Æschylos followed another legend which placed them in the West. There is possibly a paronomasia between Pluto, the God of Hades, and Plutos, the ideal God of riches. [back]
Note 8. The name was applied by later writers (Quintus Curtius, iv. 7, 22; Lucretius, vi. 848) to the fountain in the temple of Jupiter Ammon in the great Oasis. The “river Æthiops” may be purely imaginary, but it may also suggest the possibility of some vague knowledge of the Niger, or more probably of the Nile itself in the upper regions of its course. The “Bybline hills” carry the name Byblos, which we only read of as belonging to a town in the Delta, to the Second Cataract. [back]
Note 9. Comp. Sophocles, Trachin, v. 1168. [back]
Note 10. The Adriatic or Ionian Gulf. [back]
Note 11. In the Suppliants, Zeus is said to have soothed her, and restored her to her human consciousness by his “divine breathings.” The thought underlying the legend may be taken either as a distortion of some primitive tradition, or as one of the “unconscious prophecies” of heathenism. The deliverer is not to be born after the common manner of men, and is to have a divine as well as a human parentage. [back]
Note 12. See the argument of the Suppliants, who, as the daughters of Danaos, descended from Epaphos, are here referred to. The passage is noticeable as showing that the theme of that tragedy was already present to the poet’s thoughts. [back]
Note 13. Argos. So, in the Suppliants, Pelasgos is the mythical king of the Apian land who receives them. [back]
Note 14. Hypermnæstra, who spared Lynceus, and by him became the mother of Abas and a line of Argive kings. [back]
Note 15. Heracles, who came to Caucasos, and with his arrows slew the eagle that devoured Prometheus. [back]
Note 16. The word is simply an interjection of pain, but one so characteristic that I have thought it better to reproduce it than to give any English equivalent. [back]
Note 17. The maxim, “Marry which with a woman thine equal,” was ascribed to Pittacos. [back]
Note 18. The Euhemerism of later scholiasts derived the name from a king Adrastos, who was said to have been the first to build a temple to Nemesis, and so the power thus worshipped was called after his name. A better etymology leads us to see in it the idea of the “inevitable” law of retribution working unseen by men, and independently even of the arbitrary will of the Gods, and bringing destruction upon the proud and haughty. [back]
Note 19. Comp. Agam. 162–6. [back]
Note 20. Either a mere epithet of intensity, as in our “thrice blest,” or rising from the supposed fact that every third wave was larger and more impetuous than the others, like the fluctus decumanus of the Latins, or from the sequence of three great waves which some have noted as a common phenomenon in storms. [back]
Note 21. Here again we have a strange shadowing forth of the mystery of Atonement, and what we have learnt to call “vicarious” satisfaction. In the later legend, Cheiron, suffering from the agony of his wounds, resigns his immortality, and submits to die in place of the ever-living death to which Prometheus was doomed. [back]
Note 22. [It is noticeable that both Æschylos and Sophocles have left us tragedies which end in a thunderstorm as an element of effect. But the contrast between the Prometheus and the Œdipus at Colonos as to the impression left in the one case of serene reconciliation, and in the other of violent antagonism, is hardly less striking than the resemblance in the outward phenomena which are common to the two.] [back]


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