Fiction > Harvard Classics > Euripides > Hippolytus
Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.).  Hippolytus.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 400–799
But will not to the last end strive and serve.        400
For some grow too soon weary, and some swerve
To other paths, setting before the Right
The diverse far-off image of Delight:
And many are delights beneath the sun!        404
Long hours of converse; and to sit alone
Musing—a deadly happiness!—and Shame:
Though two things there he hidden in one name,
And Shame can be slow poison if it will;        408
  This is the truth I saw then, and see still;
Nor is there any magic that can stain
That white truth for me, or make me blind again.
Come, I will show thee how my spirit hath moved.        412
When the first stab came, and I knew I loved,
I cast about how best to face mine ill.
And the first thought that came, was to be still
And hide my sickness.—For no trust there is        416
In man’s tongue, that so well admonishes
And counsels and betrays, and waxes fat
With griefs of its own gathering!—After that
I would my madness bravely bear, and try        420
To conquer by mine own heart’s purity.
  My third mind, when these two availed me naught
To quell love was to die—  [Motion of protest among the Women.
                            —the best, best thought—        424
—Gainsay me not—of all that man can say!
I would not have mine honour hidden away;
Why should I have my shame before men’s eyes
Kept living? And I knew, in deadly wise,        428
Shame was the deed and shame the suffering;
And I a woman, too, to face the thing,
Despised of all!
                  Oh, utterly accurst        432
Be she of women, whoso dared the first
To cast her honour out to a strange man!
’Twas in some great house, surely, that began
This plague upon us; then the baser kind,        436
When the good led towards evil, followed blind
And joyous! Cursed be they whose lips are clean
And wise and seemly, but their hearts within
Rank with bad daring! How can they, O Thou        440
That walkest on the waves, great Cyprian, how
Smile in their husbands’ faces, and not fall,
Not cower before the Darkness that knows all,
Aye, dread the dead still chambers, lest one day        444
The stones find voice, and all be finished!
Friends, ’tis for this I die; lest I stand there
Having shamed my husband and the babes I bare,        448
In ancient Athens they shall some day dwell,
My babes, free men, free-spoken, honourable,
And when one asks their mother, proud of me!
For, oh, it cows a man, though bold he be,        452
To know a mother’s or a father’s sin.
  ’Tis written, one way is there, one, to win
This life’s race, could man keep it from his birth,
A true clean spirit. And through all this earth        456
To every false man, that hour comes apace
When Time holds up a mirror to his face,
And girl-like, marvelling, there he stares to see
How foul his heart! Be it not so with me!        460

Ah, God, bow sweet is virtue, and how wise,
And honour its due meed in all men’s eyes!
NURSE (who has now risen and recovered herself)

Mistress, a sharp swift terror struck me low
A moment since, hearing of this thy woe,        464
But now—I was a coward! And men say
Our second thought the wiser is alway.
  This is no monstrous thing; no grief too dire
To meet with quiet thinking. In her ire        468
A most strong goddess bath swept down on thee.
Thou lovest. Is that so strange? Many there be
Beside thee!… And because thou lovest, wilt fall
And die! And must all lovers die, then? All        472
That are or shall be? A blithe law for them!
Nay, when in might she swoops, no strength can stem
Cypris; and if man yields him, she is sweet;
But is he proud and stubborn? From his feet        476
She lifts him, and—how think you?—flings to scorn!
  She ranges with the stars of eve and morn,
She wanders in the heaving of the sea,
And all life lives from her.—Aye, this is she        480
That sows Love’s seed and brings Love’s fruit to birth;
And great Love’s brethren are all we on earth!
  Nay, they who con grey books of ancient days
Or dwell among the Muses, tell—and praise—        484
How Zeus himself once yearned for Semelê;
How maiden Eôs in her radiancy
Swept Kephalos to heaven away, away,
For sore love’s sake. And there they dwell, men say,        488
And fear not, fret not; for a thing too stern
Hath met and crushed them!
                            And must thou, then, turn
And struggle? Sprang there from thy father’s blood        492
Thy little soul all lonely? Or the god
That rules thee, is he other than our gods?
  Nay, yield thee to men’s ways, and kiss their rods!
How many, deem’st thou, of men good and wise        496
Know their own home’s blot, and avert their eyes?
How many fathers, when a son has strayed
And toiled beneath the Cyprian, bring him aid,
Not chiding? And man’s wisdom e’er hath been        500
To keep what is not good to see, unseen!
  A straight and perfect life is not for man;
Nay, in a shut house, let him, if he can,
’Mid sheltered rooms, make all lines true. But here,        504
Out in the wide sea fallen, and full of fear,
Hopest thou so easily to swim to land?
  Canst thou but set thine ill days on one hand
And more good days on the other, verily,        508
O child of woman, life is well with thee!  [She pauses, and then draws nearer to PHAEDRA.
Nay, dear my daughter, cease thine evil mind,
Cease thy fierce pride! For pride it is, and blind,
To seek to outpass gods!—Love on and dare:        512
A god hath willed it! And, since pain is there,
Make the pain sleep! Songs are there to bring calm,
And magic words. And I shall find the balm,
Be sure, to heal thee. Else in sore dismay        516
Were men, could not we women find our way!

Help is there, Queen, in all this woman says,
To ease thy suffering. But ’tis thee I praise;
Albeit that praise is harder to thine ear        520
Than all her chiding was, and bitterer!

Oh, this it is hath flung to dogs and birds
Men’s lives and homes and cities—fair false words!
Oh, why speak things to please our ears? We crave        524
Not that ’Tis honour, honour, we must save!

Why prate so proud! ’Tis no words, brave nor base,
Thou cravest; ’tis a man’s arms!  [PHAEDRA moves indignantly.
                                  Up and face        528
The truth of what thou art, and name it straight!
Were not thy life thrown open here for Fate
To beat on; hadst thou been a woman pure
Or wise or strong; never had I for lure        532
Of joy nor heartache led thee on to this!
But when a whole life one great battle is,
To win or lose—no man can blame me then.

Shame on thee! Lock those lips, and ne’er again
Let word nor thought so foul have harbour there!

Foul, if thou wilt: but better than the fair
For thee and me. And better, too, the deed
Behind them, if it save thee in thy need,        540
Than that word Honour thou wilt die to win!

Nay, in God’s name,—such wisdom and such sin
Are all about thy lips!—urge me no more.
For all the soul within me is wrought o’er        544
By Love; and if thou speak and speak, I may
Be spent, and drift where now I shrink away.

Well, if thou wilt!—’Twere best never to err,
But, having erred, to take a counsellor        548
Is second.—Mark me now. I have within
Love-philtres, to make peace where storm hath been,
That, with no shame, no scathe of mind, shall save
Thy life from anguish; wilt but thou be brave!  [To herself, reflecting.        552
Ah, but from him, the well-beloved, some sign
We need, or word, or raiment’s hem, to twine
Amid the charm, and one spell knit from twain.

Is it a potion or a salve? Be plain.

Who knows? Seek to be helped, Child, not to know.

Why art thou ever subtle? I dread thee, so.

Thou wouldst dread everything!—What dost thou dread?

Least to his ear some word be whispered.

Let be, Child! I will make all well with thee!
—Only do thou, O Cyprian of the Sea,
Be with me! And mine own heart, come what may,
Shall know what ear to seek, what word to say!  [The NURSE, having spoken these last words in prayer apart to the Statue of CYPRIS, turns back and goes into the house. PHAEDRA sits pensive again on her couch till towards the end of the following Song, when she rises and bends close to the door.        564

    Erôs, Erôs, who blindest, tear by tear,
      Men’s eyes with hunger; thou swift Foe, that pliest
    Deep in our hearts joy like an edgèd spear;
    Come not to me with Evil haunting near,        568
    Wrath on the wind, nor jarring of the clear
      Wing’s music as thou fliest!
    There is no shaft that burneth, not in fire,
    Not in wild stars, far off and flinging fear,        572
    As in thine hands the shaft of All Desire,
      Erôs, Child of the Highest
    In vain, in vain, by old Alpheüs’ shore
      The blood of many bulls doth stain the river,        576
    And all Greece bows on Phœbus’ Pythian floor;
    Yet bring we to the Master of Man no store,
    The Keybearer, who standeth at the door
        Close-barred, where hideth ever        580
    The heart of the shrine. Yea, though he sack man’s life
      Like a sacked city, and moveth evermore
    Girt with calamity and strange ways of strife,
        Him have we worshipped never!        584

    There roamed a Steed in Oechalia’s wild,
      A Maid without yoke, without Master,
    And Love she knew not, that far King’s child;
    But he came, he came, with a song in the night,        588
    With fire, with blood; and she strove in flight,
    A Torrent Spirit, a Maenad white,
      Faster and vainly faster,
Sealed unto Heracles by the Cyprian’s Might.        592
      Alas, thou Bride of Disaster!
    O Mouth of Dirce, O god-built wall,
      That Dirce’s wells run under,
    Ye know the Cyprian’s fleet footfall!        596
    Ye saw the heavens around her flare,
    When she lulled to her sleep that Mother fair
    Of Twy-born Bacchus, and decked her there
      The Bride of the bladed Thunder.        600
For her breath is on all that hath life, and she floats in the air,
      Bee-like, death-like, a wonder.  [During the last lines PHAEDRA has approached the door and is listening.

Silence ye Women! Something is amiss.

How? In the house?—Phædra, what fear is this?

Let me but listen! There are voices. Hark!

I hold my peace: yet is thy presage dark.

        Oh, misery!
O God, that such a thing should fall on me!        608

        What sound, what word,
O Women, Friend, makes that sharp terror start
Out at thy lips? What ominous cry half-heard
          Hath leapt upon thine heart?        612

I am undone!—Bend to the door and hark,
  Hark what a tone sounds there, and sinks away!

Thou art beside the bars. ’Tis thine to mark
  The castle’s floating message. Say, Oh, say        616
    What thing hath come to thee?
PHAEDRA (calmly)

    Why, what thing should it be?
The son of that proud Amazon speaks again
In bitter wrath: speaks to my handmaiden!        620

I hear a noise of voices, nothing clear.
  For thee the din bath words. as through barred locks
    Floating, at thy heart it knocks.

“Pander of Sin” it says.—Now canst thou hear?—
  And there: “Betrayer of a master’s bed.”

      Ah me, betrayed! Betrayed!
  Sweet Princess, thou art ill bested,
Thy secret brought to light, and ruin near,        628
      By her thou heldest dear,
By her that should have loved thee and obeyed!

Aye, I am slain. She thought to help my fall
With love instead of honour, and wrecked all.        632

      Where wilt thou turn thee, where?
And what help seek, O wounded to despair?

I know not, save one thing to die right soon.
For such as me God keeps no other boon.        636

The door in the centre bursts open, and HIPPOLYTUS comes forth, closely followed by the NURSE. PHAEDRA cowers aside.


O Mother Earth, O Sun that makest clean,
What poison have I heard, what speechless sin!

Hush, O my Prince, lest others mark, and guess…

I have heard horrors! Shall I hold my peace?

Yea, by this fair right arm, Son, by thy pledge…

Down with that hand! Touch not my garment’s edge!

Oh, by thy knees, be silent or I die!

Why, when thy speech was all so guiltless? Why?

It is not meet, fair Son, for every ear!

Good words can bravely forth, and have no fear.

Thine oath, thine oath! I took thine oath before!

’Twas but my tongue, ’twas not my soul that swore.

O Son, what wilt thou? Wilt thou slay thy kin?

I own no kindred with the spawn of sin!  [He flings her from him.

Nay, spare me! Man was born to err; oh, spare!

O God, why hast Thou made this gleaming snare,
Woman, to dog us on the happy earth?
Was it Thy will to make Man, why his birth
Through Love and Woman? Could we not have rolled        656
Our store of prayer and offering, royal gold,
Silver and weight of bronze before Thy feet,
And bought of God new child souls, as were meet
For each man’s sacrifice, and dwelt in homes        660
Free, where nor Love nor Woman goes and comes?
  How, is that daughter not a bane confessed,
Whom her own sire sends forth—(He knows her best!)—
And, will some man but take her, pays a dower!        664
And he, poor fool, takes home the poison-flower;
Laughs to hang jewels on the deadly thing
He joys in; labours for her robe-wearing,
Till wealth and peace are dead. He smarts the less        668
In whose high seat is set a Nothingness,
A woman naught availing Worst of all
The wise deep-thoughted! Never in my hall
May she sit throned who thinks and waits and sighs!        672
For Cypris breeds most evil in the wise,
And least in her whose heart has naught within;
For puny wit can work but puny sin.
  Why do we let their handmaids pass the gate?        676
Wild beasts were best, voiceless and fanged, to wait
About their rooms, that they might speak with none,
Nor ever hear one answering human tone!
But now dark women in still chambers lay        680
Plans that creep out into light of day
On handmaids’ lips—  [Turning to the NURSE.
                    As thine accursèd head
Braved the high honour of my Father’s bed,        684
And came to traffic…. Our white torrent’s spray
Shall drench mine ears to wash those words away!
And couldst thou dream that I…? I feel impure
Still at the very hearing! Know for sure,        688
Woman, naught but mine honour saves ye both.
Hadst thou not trapped me with that guileful oath,
No power had held me secret till the King
Knew all! But now, while he is journeying,        692
I too will go my ways and make no sound.
And when he comes again, I shall be found
Beside him, silent, watching with what grace
Thou and thy mistress shall greet him face to face!        696
Then shall I have the taste of it, and know
What woman’s guile is.—Woe upon you, woe!
How can I too much hate you, while the ill
Ye work upon the world grows deadlier still?        700
Too much? Make woman pure, and wild Love tame,
Or let me cry for ever on their shame!  [He goes off in fury to the left. PHAEDRA still cowering in her place begins to sob.

    Sad, sad and evil-starred
        Is Woman’s state.        704
    What shelter now is left or guard?
What spell to loose the iron knot of fate?
    And this thing, O my God,
O thou sweet Sunlight, is but my desert!        708
I cannot fly before the avenging rod
    Falls, cannot hide my hurt.
What help, O ye who love me, can come near,
    What god or man appear,        712
To aid a thing so evil and so lost?
Lost, for this anguish presses, soon or late,
To that swift river that no life hath cross.
No woman ever lived so desolate!        716

Ah me, the time for deeds is gone; the boast
Proved vain that spake thine handmaid; and all lost!  [At these words PHAEDRA suddenly remembers the NURSE, who is cowering silently where HIPPOLYTUS had thrown her from him. She turns upon her.

O wicked, wicked, wicked! Murderess heart
To them that loved thee! Hast thou played thy part?        720
Am I enough trod down?
                        May Zeus, my sire,
Blast and uproot thee Stab thee dead with fire!
Said I not—Knew I not thine heart?—to name        724
To no one soul this that is now my shame?
And thou couldst not be silent! So no more
I die in honour. But enough; a store
Of new words must be spoke and new things thought,        728
This man’s whole being to one blade is wrought
Of rage against me. Even now he speeds
To abase me to the King with thy misdeeds;
Tell Pittheus; fill the land with talk of sin!        732
  Cursèd be thou, and whoso else leaps in
To bring bad aid to friends that want it not.  [The NURSE has raised herself, and faces PHAEDRA, downcast but calm.

Mistress, thou blamest me; and all thy lot
So bitter sore is, and the sting so wild,        736
I bear with all. Yet, if I would, my Child,
I have mine answer, couldst thou hearken aught.
  I nursed thee, and I love thee; and I sought
Only some balm to heal thy deep despair,        740
And found—not what I sought for. Else I were
Wise, and thy friend, and good, had all sped right.
So fares it with us all in the world’s sight.

First stab me to the heart, then humour me
With words! ’Tis fair; ’tis all as it should be!

We talk too long, Child. I did ill; but, oh,
There is a way to save thee, even so!

A way? No more ways! One way hast thou trod
Already, foul and false and loathed of god!
Begone out of my sight; and ponder how
Thine own life stands! I need no helpers now.  [She turns from the NURSE, who creeps abashed away into the Castle.
Only do ye, high Daughters of Trozên,        752
Let all ye hear be as it had not been;
Know naught, and speak of naught! ’Tis my last prayer.

By God’s pure daughter, Artemis, I swear,
No word will I of these thy griefs reveal!        756

’Tis well. But now, yea, even while I reel
And falter, one poor hope, as hope now is,
I clutch at in this coil of miseries;
To save some honour for my children’s sake;        760
Yea, for myself some fragment, though things break
In ruin around me. Nay, I will not shame
The old proud Cretan Castle whence I came,
I will not cower before King Theseus’ eyes,        764
Abased, for want of one life’s sacrifice!

What wilt thou? Some dire deed beyond recall?
PHAEDRA (musing)

Die; but how die?

Let not such wild words fall!
PHAEDRA (turning upon her)

Give thou not such light counsel! Let me be
To sate the Cyprian that is murdering me!
To-day shall be her day; and, all strife past,
Her bitter Love shall quell me at the last.        772
  Yet, dying, shall I die another’s bane!
He shall not stand so proud where I have lain
Bent in the dust! Oh, he shall stoop to share
The life I live in, and learn mercy there!  [She goes off wildly into the Castle.        776

Could I take me to some cavern for mine hiding,
  In the hill-tops where the Sun scarce hath trod;
Or a cloud make the home of mine abiding,
  As a bird among the bird-droves of God!        780
    Could I wing me to my rest amid the roar
    Of the deep Adriatic on the shore,
Where the waters of Eridanus are clear,
  And Phaëthon’s sad sisters by his grave        784
Weep into the river, and each tear
  Gleams, a drop of amber, in the wave.
To the strand of the Daughters of the Sunset,
  The Apple-tree, the singing and the gold;        788
Where the mariner must stay him from his onset,
  And the red wave is tranquil as of old;
    Yea, beyond that Pillar of the End
    That Atlas guardeth, would I wend;        792
Where a voice of living waters never ceaseth
  In God’s quiet garden by the sea,
And Earth, the ancient life-giver, increaseth
  Joy among the meadows, like a tree.        796

O shallop of Crete, whose milk-white wing
Through the swell and the storm-beating,
  Bore us thy Prince’s daughter,


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