Fiction > Harvard Classics > Euripides > Hippolytus
Euripides (480 or 485–406 B.C.).  Hippolytus.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 800–1199
Was it well she came from a joyous home        800
To a far King’s bridal across the foam?
  What joy hath her bridal brought her?
Sure some spell upon either hand
Flew with thee from the Cretan strand,        804
Seeking Athena’s tower divine;
And there, where Munychus fronts the brine,
Crept by the shore-flung cables’ line,
  The curse from the Cretan water!        808
And, for that dark spell that about her clings,
Sick desires of forbidden things
  The soul of her rend and sever;
The bitter tide of calamity        812
Hath risen above her lips; and she,
  Where bends she her last endeavour?
She will hie her alone to her bridal room,
And a rope swing slow in the rafters’ gloom;        816
And a fair white neck shall creep to the noose,
A-shudder with dread, yet firm to choose
The one strait way for fame, and lose
  The Love and the pain for ever.  [The Voice of the NURSE is heard from within, crying, at first inarticulately, then clearly.        820

Help ho! The Queen! Help, whoso hearkeneth!
Help! Theseus’ spouse caught in a noose of death!

God, is it so soon finished? That bright head
Swinging beneath the rafters! Phædra dead!        824

O haste! This knot about her throat is made
So fast! Will no one bring me a swift blade?

Say, friends, what think ye? Should we haste within,
And from her own hand’s knotting loose the Queen?        828

Nay, are there not men there? ’Tis an ill road
In life, to finger at another’s load.

Let it lie straight! Alas! the cold white thing
That guards his empty caste for the King!        832

Ah! “Let it lie straight!” Heard ye what she said?
No need for helpers now; the Queen is dead!  [The Women, intent upon the voices from the Castle, have not noticed the approach of THESEUS. He enters from the left; his dress and the garland on his head show that he has returned from some oracle or special abode of a God. He stands for a moment perplexed.

Ho, Women, and what means this loud acclaim
Within the house? The vassals’ outcry came        836
To smite mine ears far off. It were more meet
To fling out wide the Castle gates, and greet
With a joy held from God’s Presence!  [The confusion and horror of the Women’s faces gradually affects him. A dirge-cry comes from the Castle.
                                      How?        840
Not Pittheus? Hath Time struck that hoary brow?
Old is he, old, I know. But sore it were,
Returning thus, to find his empty chair!  [The Women hesitate; then the Leader comes forward.

O Theseus, not on any old man’s head
This stroke falls. Young and tender is the dead.

Ye Gods! One of my children torn from me?

Thy motherless children live, most grievously

How sayst thou? What? My wife?…
Say how she died.

In a high death-knot that her own hands tied.

A fit of the old cold auguish—Tell me all—
That held her? Or did some fresh thing befall?        852

We know no more. But now arrived we be,
Theseus, to mourn for thy calamity.  [THESEUS stays for a moment silent, and puts his hand on his brow. He notices the wreath.

What? And all garlanded I come to her
With flowers, most evil-starred God’s-messenger!        856
  Ho, varlets, loose the porral bars; undo
The bolts; and let me see the bitter view
Of her whose death bath brought me to mine own.  [The great central door of the Castle is thrown open wide, and the body of PHAEDRA is seen lying on a bier, surrounded by a group of Handmaids, wailing.

Ah me, what thou hast suffered and hast done:
  A deed to wrap this roof in flame!
Why was thine hand so strong, thine heart so bold?
Wherefore, O dead in anger, dead in shame,
The long, long wrestling ere thy breath was cold?        864
        O ill-starred Wife,
What brought this blackness over all thy life?  [A throng of Men and Women has gradually collected.

        Ah me, this is the last
—Hear, O my countrymen!—and bitterest        868
Of Theseus’ labours! Fortune all unblest,
How hath thine heavy heel across me passed!
Is it the stain of sins done long ago,
        Some fell God still remembereth,        872
That must so dim and fret my life with death?
I cannot win to shore; and the waves flow
Above mine eyes, to be surmounted not.
        Ah wife, sweet wife, what name        876
        Can fit thine heavy lot?
Gone like a wild bird, like a blowing flame,
In one swift gust, where all things are forgot!
        Alas! this misery!        880
Sure ’tis some stroke of God’s great anger rolled
        From age to age on me,
For some dire sin wrought by dim kings of old.

Sire, this great grief bath come to many an one,
A true wife lost. Thou art not all alone.

        Deep, deep beneath the Earth,
        Dark may my dwelling be,
And night my heart’s one comrade, in the dearth,        888
O Love, of thy most sweet society.
This is my death, O Phædra, more than thine.  [He turns suddenly on the Attendants.
Speak who speak can! What was it? What malign
Swift stroke, O heart discounselled, leapt on thee?  [He bends over PHAEDRA; then, as no one speaks, looks fiercely up.        892
What, will ye speak? Or are they dumb as death,
This herd of thralls, my high house harboureth?  [There is no answer. He bends again over PHAEDRA.
Ah me, why shouldst thou die?
A wide and royal grief I here behold,        896
Not to be borne in peace, not to be told.
        As a lost man am I.
My children motherless and my house undone,
        Since thou art vanished quite,        900
Purest of hearts that e’er the wandering Sun
Touched, or the star-eyed splendour of the Night.  [He throws himself beside the body.

Unhappy one, O most unhappy one;
  With what strange evil is this Castle vexed!        904
Mine eyes are molten with the tears that run
  For thee and thine; but what thing follows next?
        I tremble when I think thereon![They have noticed that there is a tablet with writing fastened to the dead woman’s wrist. THESEUS also sees it.

Ha, what is this that hangs from her dear hand?
A tablet! It would make me understand
Some dying wish, some charge about her bed
And children. ’Twas the last prayer, ere her head
Was bowed for ever.  [Taking the tablet.        912
                    Fear not, my lost bride,
No woman born shall lie at Theseus’ side,
Nor rule in Theseus’ house!
                            A seal! Ah, see        916
How her gold signet here looks up at me,
Trustfully. Let me tear this thread away,
And read what tale the tablet seeks to say.  [He proceeds to undo and read the tablet. The Chorus breaks into horrified groups.

        Woe, woe! God brings to birth
A new grief here, close on the other’s tread!
        My life bath lost its worth.
May all go now with what is finishèd!
The castle of my King is overthrown,        924
A house no more, a house vanished and gone!

O God, if it may be in any way,
Let not this house he wrecked! Help us who pray!
I know not what is here: some unseen thing        928
That shows the Bird of Evil on the wing.  [THESEUS has read the tablet and breaks out in uncontrollable emotion.

Oh, horror piled on horror!—Here is writ…
Nay, who could hear it, who could speak of it?

What, O my King? If I may hear it, speak!

Doth not the tablet cry aloud, yea, shriek,
Things not to he forgotten?—Oh, to fly
And hide mine head! No more a man am I.
    God what ghastly music echoes here!        936

How wild thy voice! Some terrible thing is near.

No; my lips’ gates will hold it back no more:
        This deadly word,
That struggles on the brink and will not o’er,        940
        Yet will not stay unheard.  [He raises his hand, to make proclamation to all present.
        Ho, hearken all this land!  [The people gather expectantly about him.
Hippolytus by violence bath laid hand
On this my wife, forgetting God’s great eye.  [Murmurs of amazement and horror; THESEUS, apparently calm, raises both arms to heaven.        944
Therefore, O Thou my Father, hear my cry,
Poseidon! Thou didst grant me for mine own
Three prayers; for one of these, slay now my son,
Hippolytus; let him not outlive this day,        948
If true thy promise was! Lo, thus I pray.

Oh, call that wild prayer back! O King, take heed!
I know that thou wilt live to rue this deed.

It may not be.—And more, I cast him out
From all my realms. He shall be held about
By two great dooms. Or by Poseidon’s breath
He shall fall swiftly to the house of Death;
Or wandering, outcast, o’er strange land and sea,        956
Shall live and drain the cup of misery.

Ah, see! here comes he at the point of need.
Shake off that evil mood, O King; have heed
For all thine house and folk.—Great Theseus, hear!  [THESEUS stands silent in fierce gloom. HIPPOLYTUS comes in from the right.        960

Father, I heard thy cry, and sped in fear
To help thee.—But I see not yet the cause
That racked thee so.—Say, Father, what it was.  [The murmurs in the crowd, the silent gloom of his Father, and the horror of the Chorus-women gradually work on HIPPOLYTUS and bewilder him. He catches sight of the bier.
Ah, what is that! Nay, Father, not the Queen        964
Dead!  [Murmurs in the crowd.
    ’Tis most strange. ’Tis passing strange, I ween.
’Twas here I left her. Scarce an hour hath run
Since here she stood and looked on this same sun.        968
What is it with her? Wherefore did she die?  [THESEUS remains silent. The murmurs increase.
Father, to thee I speak. Oh, tell me, why,
Why art thou silent? What doth silence know
Of skill to stem the bitter flood of woe?        972
And human hearts in sorrow crave the more,
For knowledge, though the knowledge grieve them sore
It is not love, to veil thy sorrows in
From one most near to thee, and more than kin.        976
THESEUS (to himself)

Fond race of men, so striving and so blind,
Ten thousand arts and wisdoms can ye find,
Desiring all and all imagining:
But ne’er have reached nor understood one thing,        980
To make a true heart there where no heart is!

That were indeed beyond man’s mysteries,
To make a false heart true against his will.
But why this subtle talk? It likes me ill,        984
Father; thy speech runs wild beneath this blow.
THESEUS (as before)

O would that God had given us here below
Some test of love, some sifting of the soul,
To tell the false and true! Or through the whole        988
Of men two voices ran, one true and right,
The other as chance willed it; that we might
Convict the liar by the true man’s tone,
And not live duped forever, every one!        992
HIPPOLYTUS (misunderstanding him; then guessing at something of the truth)
What? Hath some friend proved false?
                                      Or in thine ear
Whispered some slander? Stand I tainted here,        996
Though utterly innocent?  [Murmurs from the crowd.
                        Yea, dazed am I;
’Tis thy words daze me, falling all awry,
Away from reason, by fell fancies vexed!        1000

O heart of man, what height wilt venture next?
What end comes. to thy daring and thy crime?
For if with each man’s life ’twill higher climb,
And every age break out in blood and lies        1004
Beyond its fathers, must not God devise
Some new world far from ours, to hold therein
Such brood of all unfaithfulness and sin?
  Look, all, upon this man, my son, his life        1008
Sprung forth from mine! He hath defiled my wife;
And standeth here convicted by the dead,
A most black villain!  [HIPPOLYTUS falls back with a cry and covers his face with his robe.
                      Nay, hide not thine head!        1012
Pollution, is it? Thee it will not stain.
Look up, and face thy Father’s eyes again!
Thou friend of Gods, of all mankind elect;
Thou the pure heart, by thoughts of ill unflecked!        1016
I care not for thy boasts. I am not mad,
To deem that Gods love best the base and bad,
  Now is thy day! Now vaunt thee; thou so pure,
No flesh of life may pass thy lips! Now lure        1020
Fools after thee; call Orpheus King and Lord;
Make ecstasies and wonders Thumb thine hoard
Of ancient scrolls and ghostly mysteries—
Now thou art caught and known!        1024
                                Shun men like these,
I charge ye all! With solemn words they chase
Their prey, and in their hearts plot foul disgrace.
  My wife is dead.—“Ha, so that saves thee now,”        1028
That is what grips thee worst, thou caitiff, thou!
What oaths, what subtle words, shall stronger be
Than this dead hand, to clear the guilt from thee?
  “She hated thee,” thou sayest; “the bastard born        1032
Is ever sore and bitter as a thorn
To the true brood.”—A sorry bargainer
In the ills and goods of life thou makest her,
If all her best-beloved she cast away        1036
To wreck blind hate on thee!—What, wilt thou say,
“Through every woman’s nature one blind strand
Of passion winds, that men scarce understand?”—
Are we so different? Know I not the fire        1040
And perilous flood of a young man’s desire,
Desperate as any woman, and as blind,
When Cypris stings? Save that the man behind
Has all men’s strength to aid him. Nay, ’twas thou…        1044
  But what avail to wrangle with thee now,
When the dead speaks for all to understand,
A perfect witness!
                    Hie thee from this land        1048
To exile with all speed. Come never more
To god-built Athens, not to the utmost shore
Of any realm where Theseus’ arm is strong!
What? Shall I bow my head beneath this wrong,        1052
And cower to thee? Not Isthmian Sinis so
Will bear men witness that I laid him low,
Nor Skiron’s rocks, that share the salt sea’s prey,
Grant that my hand bath weight vile things to slay!        1056

Alas! whom shall I call of mortal men
Happy? The highest are cast down again.

Father, the hot strained fury of thy heart
Is terrible. Yet, albeit so swift thou art        1060
Of speech, if all this matter were laid bare,
Speech were not then so swift; nay, nor so fair….  [Murmurs again in the crowd.
I have no skill before a crowd to tell
My thoughts. ’Twere best with few, that know me well.—        1064
Nay, that is natural; tongues that sound but rude
In wise men’s ears, speak to the multitude
With music.
            None the less, since there is come        1068
This stroke upon me, I must not be dumb,
But speak perforce…. And there will I begin
Where thou beganst, as though to strip my sin
Naked, and I not speak a word!        1072
                                Dost see
This sunlight and this earth? I swear to thee
There dwelleth not in these one man—deny
All that thou wilt!—more pure of sin than I.        1076
  Two things I know on earth: God’s worship first;
Next to win friends about me, few, that thirst
To hold them clean of all unrighteousness.
Our rule doth curse the tempters, and no less        1080
Who yieldeth to the tempters.—How, thou say’st,
“Dupes that I jest at?” Nay; I make a jest
Of no man. I am honest to the end,
Near or far off, with him I call my friend.        1084
And most in that one thing, where now thy mesh
Would grip me, stainless quite! No woman’s flesh
Hath e’er this body touched. Of all such deed
Naught wot I, save what things a man may read        1088
In pictures or hear spoke; nor am I fain,
Being virgin-souled, to read or hear again.
  My life of innocence moves thee not; so be it.
Show then what hath seduced me; let me see it.        1092
Was that poor flesh so passing fair, beyond
All woman’s loveliness?
                        Was I some fond
False plotter, that I schemed to win through her        1096
Thy castle’s heirdom? Fond indeed I were!
Nay, a stark madman! “But a crown,” thou sayest,
“Usurped, is sweet.” Nay, rather most unblest
To all wise-hearted; sweet to fools and them        1000
Whose eyes are blinded by the diadem.
In contests of all valour fain would I
Lead Hellas; but in rank and majesty
Not lead, but be at ease, with good men near        1104
To love me, free to work and not to fear.
That brings more joy than any crown or throne.  [He sees from the demeanor of THESEUS and of the crowd that his words are not winning them, but rather making them bitterer than before. It comes to his lips to speak the whole truth.
I have said my say; save one thing. one alone.
O had I here some witness in my need,        1108
As I was witness! Could she hear me plead,
Face me and face the sunlight; well I know,
Our deeds would search us out for thee, and show
Who lies!        1112
          But now, I swear—so hear me both,
The Earth beneath and Zeus who Guards the Oath—
I never touched this woman that was thine!
No words could win me to it, nor incline        1116
My heart to dream it. May God strike me down,
Nameless and fameless, without home or town,
An outcast and a wanderer of the world;
May my dead bones rest never, but be hurled        1120
From sea to land, from land to angry sea,
If evil is my heart and false to thee!  [He waits a moment; but sees that his Father is unmoved. The truth again comes to his lips.
If ’twas some fear that made her cast away
Her life … I know not. More I must not say.        1124
Right hath she done when in her was no right;
And Right I follow to mine own despite!

It is enough! God’s name is witness large,
And thy great oath, to assoil thee of this charge.        1128

Is not the man a juggler and a mage,
Cool wits and one right oath—what more?—to assuage
Sin and the wrath of injured fatherhood!

Am I so cool? Nay, Father, ’tis thy mood
That makes me marvel! By my faith, wert thou
The son, and I the sire; and deemed I now
In very truth thou hadst my wife assailed,
I had not exiled thee, nor stood and railed,        1136
But lifted once mine arm, and struck thee dead!

Thou gentle judge! Thou shalt not so be sped
To simple death, nor by thine own decree.
Swift death is bliss to men in misery.        1140
Far off, friendless forever, thou shalt drain
Amid strange cities the last dregs of pain!

Wilt verily cast me now beyond thy pale,
Not wait for Time, the lifter of the veil?        1144

Aye, if I could past Pontus, and the red
Atlantic marge! So do I hate thine head.

Wilt weigh nor oath nor faith nor prophet’s word
To prove me? Drive me from thy sight unheard?        1148

This tablet here, that needs no prophet’s lot
To speak from, tells me all. I ponder not
Thy fowls that fly above us! Let them fly.

O ye great Gods, wherefore unlock not I
My lips, ere yet ye have slain me utterly,
Ye whom I love most? No. It may not be!
The one heart that I need I ne’er should gain
To trust me. I should break mine oath in vain.        1156

Death! but he chokes me with his saintly tone!—
Up, get thee from this land! Begone! Begone!

Where shall I turn me? Think. To what friend’s door
Betake me, banished on a charge so sore?        1160

Whoso delights to welcome to his hall
Vile ravishers … to guard his hearth withal!

Thou seekst my heart, my tears? Aye, let it be
Thus! I am vile to all men, and to thee!        1164

There was a time for tears and thought; the time
Ere thou didst up and gird thee to thy crime.

Ye stones, will ye not speak? Ye castle walls!
Bear witness if I be so vile, so false!        1168

Aye, fly to voiceless witnesses! Yet here
A dumb deed speaks against thee, and speaks clear!

Would I could stand and watch this thing, and see        1172
My face, and weep for very pity of me!

Full of thyself, as ever! Not a thought
For them that gave thee birth; nay, they are naught!

O my wronged Mother! O my birth of shame!
May none I love e’er bear a bastard’s name!
THESEUS (in a sudden blaze of rage)

Up, thralls, and drag him from my presence! What,
’Tis but a foreign felon! Heard ye not?  [The thralls still hesitate in spite of his fury.

They touch me at their peril! Thine own hand
Lift, if thou canst, to drive me from the land.

That will I straight, unless my will be done!  [HIPPOLYTUS comes close to him and kneels.
Nay! Not for thee my pity! Get thee gone!  [HIPPOLYTUS rises, makes a sign of submission, and slowly moves away. THESEUS, as soon as he sees him going, turns rapidly and enters the Castle. The door is closed again. HIPPOLYTUS has stopped for a moment before the Statue of ARTEMIS, and, as THESEUS departs, breaks out in prayer.

So; it is done! O dark and miserable!
I see it all, but see not how to tell
The tale.—O thou belovèd, Leto’s Maid,
Chase-comrade, fellow-rester in the glade,
Lo, I am driven with a caitiff’s brand        1188
Forth from great Athens! Fare ye well, O land
And city of old Erechtheus! Thou, Trozên,
What riches of glad youth mine eyes have seen
In thy broad plain! Farewell! This is the end;        1192
The last word, the last look!
                              Come, every friend
And fellow of my youth that still may stay,
Give me god-speed and cheer me on my way.        1196
Ne’er shall ye see a man more pure of spot
Than me, though mine own Father loves me not!  [HIPPOLYTUS goes away to the right, followed by many Huntsmen and other young men. The rest of the crowd has by this time dispersed, except the Women of the Chorus and some Men of the Chorus of Huntsmen.


Surely the thought of the Gods hath balm in it alway, to win me


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