Fiction > Harvard Classics > Euripides > Hippolytus
Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.).  Hippolytus.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1–399

GREAT among men, and not unnamed am I,
The Cyprian, in God’s inmost halls on high.
And wheresoe’er from Pontus to the far
Red West men dwell, and see the glad day-star,        4
And worship Me, the pious heart I bless,
And wreck that life that lives in stubbornness.
For that there is, even in a great God’s mind,
That hungereth for the praise of human kind.        8
  So runs my word; and soon the very deed
Shall follow. For this Prince of Theseus’ seed,
Hippolytus, child of that dead Amazon,
And reared by saintly Pittheus in his own        12
Strait ways, bath dared, alone of all Trozên,
To hold me least of spirits and most mean,
And spurns my spell and seeks no woman’s kiss.
But great Apollo’s sister, Artemis,        16
He holds of all most high, gives love and praise,
And through the wild dark woods for ever strays,
He and the Maid together, with swift hounds
To slay all angry beasts from out these bounds,        20
To more than mortal friendship consecrate!
  I grudge it not. No grudge know I, nor hate;
Yet, seeing he bath offended, I this day
Shall smite Hippolytus. Long since my way        24
Was opened, nor needs now much labour more.
  For once from Pittheus’ castle to the shore
Of Athens came Hippolytus over-seas
Seeking the vision of the Mysteries.        28
And Phædra there, his father’s Queen high-born;
Saw him, and as she saw, her heart was torn
With great love, by the working of my will.
And for his sake, long since, on Pallas’ hill,        32
Deep in the rock, that Love no more might roam,
She built a shrine, and named it Love-at-home:
And the rock held it, but its face alway
Seeks Trozên o’er the seas. Then came the day        36
When Theseus, for the blood of kinsmen shed,
Spake doom of exile on himself, and fled,
Phædra beside him, even to this Trozên.
And here that grievous and amazèd Queen,        40
Wounded and wondering, with ne’er a word,
Wastes slowly; and her secret none bath heard
Nor dreamed.
              But never thus this love shall end!        44
To Theseus’ ear some whisper will I send,
And all be bare! And that proud Prince, my foe,
His sire shall slay with curses. Even so
Endeth that boon the great Lord of the Main        48
To Theseus gave, the Three Prayers not in vain.
  And she, not in dishonour, yet shall die.
I would not rate this woman’s pain so high
As not to pay mine haters in full fee        52
That vengeance that shall make all well with me.
  But soft, here comes he, striding from the chase,
Our Prince Hippolytus!—I will go my ways.—
And hunters at his heels: and a loud throng        56
Glorying Artemis with praise and song!
Little he knows that Hell’s gates opened are,
And this his last look on the great Day-star!  [APHRODITE withdraws, unseen by HIPPOLYTUS and a band of huntsmen, who enter from the left, singing. They pass the Statue of APHRODITE without notice.

Follow, O follow me,
  Singing on your ways
Her in whose hand are we,
Her whose own flock we be,
The Zeus-Child the Heavenly;        64
  To Artemis be praise!

Hail to thee, Maiden blest,
Proudest and holiest:
God’s Daughter, great in bliss,        68
Leto-born, Artemis!
Hail to thee, Maiden, far
Fairest of all that are,
  Yea, and most high thine home,        72
Child of the Father’s hall;
Hear, O most virginal,
Hear, O most fair of all,
  In high God’s golden dome.  [The huntsmen have gathered about the altar of ARTEMIS. HIPPOLYTUS now advances from them, and approaches the Statue with a wreath in his hand.        76

To thee this wreathèd garland, from a green
And virgin meadow bear I, O my Queen,
Where never shepherd leads his grazing ewes
Nor scythe has touched. Only the river dews        80
Gleam, and the spring bee sings, and in the glade
Hath Solitude her mystic garden made.
  No evil hand may cull it: only he
Whose heart bath known the heart of Purity,        84
Unlearned of man, and true whate’er befall.
Take therefore from pure hands this coronal,
O mistress loved, thy golden hair to twine.
For, sole of living men, this grace is mine,        88
To dwell with thee, and speak, and hear replies
Of voice divine, though none may see thine eyes.
Oh, keep me to the end in this same road!  [An OLD HUNTSMAN, who has stood apart from the rest, here comes up to HIPPOLYTUS.

My Prince—for “Master” name I none but God—
Gave I good counsel, wouldst thou welcome it?

Right gladly, friend; else were I poor of wit.

Knowest thou one law, that through the world has won?

What wouldst thou? And how runs thy law? Say on.

It hates that Pride that speaks not all men fair!

And rightly. Pride breeds hatred everywhere.

And good words love, and grace in all men’s sight?

Aye, and much gain withal, for trouble slight.

How deem’st thou of the Gods? Are they the same?

Surely: we are but fashioned on their frame.

Why then wilt thou be proud, and worship not…

Whom? If the name he speakable, speak out!

She stands here at thy gate the Cyprian Queen!

I greet her from afar: my life is clean.

Clean? Nay, proud, proud; a mark for all to scan!

Each mind hath its own bent, for God or man.

God grant thee happiness … and wiser thought!

These Spirits that reign in darkness like me not.
HUNTSMANWhat the Gods ask, O Son, that man must pay!
HIPPOLYTUS (turning from him to the others).

On, huntsmen, to the Castle! Make your way
Straight to the feast room; ’tis a merry thing
After the chase, a board of banqueting.
And see the steeds be groomed, and in array
The chariot dight. I drive them forth to-day.  [He pauses, and makes a slight gesture of reverence to the Statue on the left. Then to the OLD HUNTSMAN.        116
That for thy Cyprian, friend, and nought beside!  [HIPPOLYTUS follows the huntsmen, who stream off by the central door in the Castle. The OLD HUNTSMAN remains.
HUNTSMAN (approaching the Statue and kneeling)

O Cyprian—for a young man in his pride
I will not follow!—here before thee, meek,
In that one language that a slave may speak,        120
I pray thee; Oh, if some wild heart in froth
Of youth surges against thee, be not wroth
For ever! Nay, be far and hear not then:
Gods should be gentler and more wise than men!  [He rises and follows the others into the Castle.        124
The Orchestra is empty for a moment, then there enter from right and left several Trozenian women, young and old. Their number eventually amounts to fifteen.


  There riseth a rock-born river,
    Of Ocean’s tribe, men say;
  The crags of it gleam and quiver,
    And pitchers dip in the spray:        128
A woman was there with raiment white
To bathe and spread in the warm sunlight,
  And she told a tale to me there by the river,
    The tale of the Queen and her evil day:        132
  How, ailing beyond allayment,
    Within she hath bowed her head,
  And with shadow of silken raiment
    The bright brown hair bespread.        136
For three long days she hath lain forlorn,
Her lips untainted of flesh or corn,
  For that secret sorrow beyond allayment
    That steers to the far sad shore of the dead.        140
Some Women

Is this some Spirit, O child of man?
Doth Hecat hold thee perchance, or Pan?
Doth she of the Mountains work her ban,
  Or the dread Corybantes bind thee?        144

Nay, is it sin that upon thee lies,
Sin of forgotten sacrifice,
In thine own Dictynna’s sea-wild eyes?
  Who in Limna here can find thee;        148
For the Deep’s dry floor is her easy way,
And she moves in the salt wet whirl of the spray.
Other Women

Or doth the Lord of Erechtheus’ race,
Thy Theseus, watch for a fairer face,        152
For secret arms in a silent place,
  Far from thy love or chiding?

Or hath there landed, amid the loud
Hum of Piraeus’ sailor-crowd,        156
Some Cretan venturer, weary-browed,
  Who bears to the Queen some tiding;
Some far home-grief, that bath bowed her low,
And chained her soul to a bed of woe?        160
An Older Woman

Nay—know yet not?—this burden hath alway lain
On the devious being of woman; yea, burdens twain,
The burden of Wild Will and the burden of Pain.
Through my heart once that wind of terror sped;        164
    But I, in fear confessèd,
Cried from the dark to Her in heavenly bliss,
The Helper of Pain, the Bow-Maid Artemis:
Whose feet I praise for ever, where they tread        168
    Far off among the blessèd!

But see, the Queen’s grey nurse at the door,
Sad-eyed and sterner, methinks, than of yore,
    With the Queen. Doth she lead her hither,        172
To the wind and sun?—Ah, fain would I know
What strange betiding hath blanched that brow,
    And made that young life wither.  [The NURSE comes out from the central door, followed by PHAEDRA, who is supported by two handmaids. They make ready a couch for PHAEDRA to lie upon.

O sick and sore are the days of men!
What wouldst thou? What shall I change again?
Here is the Sun for thee; here is the sky;
And thy weary pillows wind-swept lie,
    By the castle door.        180
But the cloud of thy brow is dark, I ween;
And soon thou wilt back to thy bower within:
So swift to change is the path of thy feet,
And near things hateful, and far things sweet;        184
    So was it before!
Oh, pain were better than tending pain!
For that were single, and this is twain,
With grief of heart and labour of limb.        188
Yet all man’s life is but ailing and dim,
  And rest upon earth comes never.
But if any far-off state there be,
Dearer than life to mortality;        192
The hand of the Dark hath hold thereof,
And mist is under and mist above.
And so we are sick of life, and cling
On earth to this nameless and shining thing.        196
For other life is a fountain sealed,
And the deeps below are unrevealed,
  And we drift on legends for ever!  [PHAEDRA during this has been laid on her couch; she speaks to the handmaids.

Yes; lift me: not my head so low.
  There, hold my arms.—Fair arms they seem!—
My poor limbs scarce obey me now!
Take off that hood that weighs my brow,
      And let my long hair stream.        204

Nay, toss not, Child, so feveredly.
  The sickness best will win relief
By quiet rest and constancy.
      All men have grief.        208
PHAEDRA (not noticing her)

Oh for a deep and dewy spring,
  With runlets cold to draw and drink?
And a great meadow blossoming,
Long-grassed, and poplars in a ring,        212
    To rest me by the brink!

Nay, Child! Shall strangers hear this tone
So wild, and thoughts so fever-flown?

Oh, take me to the Mountain! Oh,
Past the great pines and through the wood,
Up where the lean hounds softly go,
  A-whine for wild things’ blood,
And madly flies the dappled roe.        220
O God, to shout and speed them there,
An arrow by my chestnut hair
Drawn tight, and one keen glimmering spear—
      Ah! if I could!        224

What wouldst thou with them—fancies all!—
Thy hunting and thy fountain brink?
What wouldst thou? By the city wall
Canst hear our own brook plash and fall        228
  Downhill, if thou wouldst drink.

O Mistress of the Sea-lorn Mere
Where horse-hoofs beat the sand and sing,
O Artemis, that I were there        232
To tame Enetian steeds and steer
    Swift chariots in the ring!

Nay, mountainward but now thy hands
  Yearned out, with craving for the chase;        236
And now toward the unseaswept sands
  Thou roamest, where the coursers pace!
  O wild young steed, what prophet knows
The power that holds thy curb, and throws        240
  Thy swift heart from its race?  [At these words PHAEDRA gradually recovers herself and pays attention.

What have I said? Woe’s me! And where
  Gone straying from my wholesome mind?
What? Did I fall in some god’s snare?        244
  —Nurse, veil my head again, and blind
  Mine eyes.—There is a tear behind
  That lash.—Oh, I am sick with shame!
    Aye, but it hath a sting,        248
  To come to reason: yet the name
    Of madness is an awful thing.—

Could I but die in one swift flame
  Unthinking, unknowing!        252

I veil thy face, Child.—Would that so
  Mine own were veiled for evermore,
  So sore I love thee!… Though the lore
Of long life mocks me, and I know        256
How love should be a lightsome thing
  Not rooted in the deep o’ the heart;
  With gentle ties, to twine apart
If need so call, or closer cling.—        260
Why do I love thee so? O fool,
  O fool, the heart that bleeds for twain,
  And builds, men tell us, wails of pain,
To walk by love’s unswerving rule        264
The same for ever, stern and true!
  For “Thorough” is no word of peace:
  ’Tis “Naught-too-much” makes trouble cease.
And many a wise man bows thereto.  [The LEADER OF THE CHORUS here approaches the NURSE.        268

Nurse of our Queen, thou watcher old and true,
We see her great affliction, but no clue
Have we to learn the sickness. Wouldst thou tell
The name and sort thereof, ’twould like us well.        272

Small leechcraft have I, and she tells no man.

Thou know’st no cause? Nor when the unrest began?

It all comes to the same. She will not speak.
LEADER (turning and looking at PHAEDRA).

How she is changed and wasted! And how weak!

’Tis the third day she hath fasted utterly.

What, is she mad? Or doth she seek to die?

I know not. But to death it sure must lead.

’Tis strange that Theseus takes hereof no heed.

She hides her wound, and vows it is not so.

Can he not look into her face and know?

Nay, he is on a journey these last days.

Canst thou not force her, then? Or think of ways
To trap the secret of the sick heart’s pain?

Have I not tried all ways, and all in vain?
Yet will I cease not now, and thou shalt tell
If in her grief I serve my mistress well!  [She goes across to where PHAEDRA lies; and presently, while speaking, kneels by her.        288
Dear daughter mine, all that before was said
Let both of us forget; and thou instead
Be kindlier, and unlock that prisoned brow.
And I, who followed then the wrong road, now        292
Will leave it and be wiser. If thou fear
Some secret sickness, there be women here
To give thee comfort.  [PHAEDRA shakes her head
                      No; not secret? Then        296
Is it a sickness meet for aid of men?
Speak, that a leech may tend thee.
                                    Silent still?
Nay, Child, what profits silence? If ’tis ill        300
This that I counsel, make me see the wrong:
If well, then yield to me.
                            Nay, Child, I long
For one kind word, one look!  [PHAEDRA lies motionless. The NURSE rises.        304
                              Oh, woe is me!
Women, we labour here all fruitlessly,
All as far off as ever from her heart!
She ever scorned me, and now hears no part        308
Of all my prayers!  [Turning to PHAEDRA again.
                  Nay, hear thou shalt, and be,
If so thou will, more wild than the wild sea;
But know, thou art thy little ones’ betrayer!        312
If thou die now, shall child of thine be heir
To Theseus’ castle? Nay, not thine, I ween,
But hers! That barbed Amazonian Queen
Hath left a child to bend thy children low,        316
A bastard royal-hearted—sayst not so?—

Ah!  [She starts up, sitting, and throws the veil off.

That stings thee?

Nurse, most sore
Thou hast hurt me! In God’s name, speak that name no more.

Thou seest? Thy mind is clear; but with thy mind
Thou wilt not save thy children, nor be kind        324
To thine own life.

My children? Nay, most dear
I love them,—Far, far other grief is here.
NURSE (after a pause, wondering).

Thy hand is clean, O Child, from stain of blood?

My hand is clean; but is my heart, O God?

Some enemy’s spell hath made thy spirit dim?

He hates me not that slays me, nor I him.

Theseus, the King, hath wronged thee in man’s wise?

Ah, could but I stand guiltless in his eyes!

O speak! What is this death-fraught mystery?

Nay, leave me to my wrong. I wrong not thee.
NURSE (suddenly throwing herself in supplication at PHAEDRA’S feet).
Not wrong me, whom thou wouldst all desolate leave!
PHAEDRA (rising and trying to move away).

What wouldst thou? Force me? Slinging to my sleeve?

Yea, to thy knees; and weep; and let not go!

Woe to thee, Woman, if thou learn it, woe!

I know no bitterer woe than losing thee.

I am lost! Yet the deed shall honour me.

Why hide what honours thee? ’Tis all I claim!

Why, so I build up honour out of shame!

Then speak, and higher still thy fame shall stand.

Go, in God’s name!—Nay, leave me; loose my hand!

Never, until thou grant me what I pray.
PHAEDRA (yielding, after a pause).

So be it. I dare not tear that hand away.
NURSE (rising and releasing PHAEDRA).

Tell all thou wilt, Daughter. I speak no more.
PHAEDRA (after a long pause).

Mother, poor Mother, that didst love so sore!

What mean’st thou, Child? The Wild Bull of the Tide?

And thou, sad sister, Dionysus’ bride!

Child! wouldst thou shame the house where thou wast born?

And I the third, sinking most all-forlorn!
NURSE (to herself)

I am all lost and feared. What will she say?

From there my grief comes, not from yesterday.

I come no nearer to thy parable.

Oh, would that thou could’st tell what I must tell!

I am no seer in things I wot not of.
PHAEDRA (again hesitating)

What is it that they mean, who say men … love?

A thing most sweet, my Child, yet dolorous.

Only the half, belike, hath fallen on us!
NURSE (starting)

On thee? Love?—Oh, what say’st thou? What man’s son?

What man’s? There was a Queen, an Amazon…

Hippolytus, say’st thou?
PHAEDRA (again wrapping her face in the veil)

Nay, ’twas thou, not I!  [PHAEDRA sinks back on the couch and covers her face again. The NURSE starts violently from her and walks up and down.

O God what wilt thou say, Child? Wouldst thou try
To kill me?—Oh, ’tis more than I can bear;        368
Women, I will no more of it, this glare
Of hated day, this shining of the sky.
I will fling down my body, and let it lie
Till life he gone!        372
                    Women, God rest with you,
My works are over! For the pure and true
Are forced to evil, against their own heart’s vow,
And love it!  [She suddenly sees the Statute of CYPRIS, and stands with her eyes riveted upon it.        376
              Ah, Cyprian! No god art thou,
But more than god, and greater, that hath thrust
Me and my queen and all our house to dust!  [She throws herself on the ground close to the statue.

Some Women

O Women, have ye heard? Nay, dare ye hear
  The desolate cry, of the young Queen’s misery?
A Woman

My Queen, I love thee dear,
  Yet liefer were I dead than framed like thee.

Woe, woe to me for this thy bitter bane,
Surely the food man feeds upon is pain!

How wilt thou bear thee through this livelong day,
  Lost, and thine evil naked to the light?
Strange things are close upon us—who shall say        388
  How strange?—save one thing that is plain to sight,
The stroke of the Cyprian and the fall thereof
On thee, thou child of the Isle of fearful Love!  [PHAEDRA during this has risen from the couch and comes forward collectedly. As she speaks the NURSE gradually rouses herself, and listens more calmly.

O Women, dwellers in this portal-seat
Of Pelops’ land, gazing towards my Crete,
How oft, in other days than these, have I
Through night’s long hours thought of man’s misery,
And how this life is wrecked! And, to mine eyes,        396
Not in man’s knowledge, not in wisdom, lies
The lack that makes for sorrow. Nay, we scan
And know the right—for wit bath many a man—


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