Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Scenes from ‘Agamemnon’
By Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803)
Translation of Edgar Alfred Bowring
  [During the absence of Agamemnon at the siege of Troy, Ægisthus, son of Thyestes and the relentless enemy of the House of Atreus, wins the love of Clytemnestra, and with devilish ingenuity persuades her that the only way to save her life and his is to slay her husband.]


ÆGISTHUS—To be a banished man,… to fly,… to die:
… These are the only means that I have left.
Thou, far from me, deprived of every hope
Of seeing me again, wilt from thy heart
Have quickly chased my image: great Atrides        5
Will wake a far superior passion there;
Thou, in his presence, many happy days
Wilt thou enjoy— These auspices may Heaven
Confirm— I cannot now evince to thee
A surer proof of love than by my flight;…        10
A dreadful, hard, irrevocable proof.
  Clytemnestra—If there be need of death, we both will die!—
But is there nothing left to try ere this?
  Ægis.—Another plan, perchance, e’en now remains;…
But little worthy …
                Cly.—And it is—
                        Ægis.—Too cruel.
  Cly.—But certain?
              Ægis.—Certain, ah, too much so!
Canst thou hide it from me?
                    Ægis.—How canst thou
Of me demand it?
            Cly.—What then may it be?…
I know not … Speak: I am too far advanced;
I cannot now retract: perchance already        20
I am suspected by Atrides; maybe
He has the right already to despise me:
Hence do I feel constrained, e’en now, to hate him;
I cannot longer in his presence live;
I neither will, nor dare.—Do thou, Ægisthus,        25
Teach me a means, whatever it may be,
A means by which I may withdraw myself
From him forever.
            Ægis.—Thou withdraw thyself
From him? I have already said to thee
That now ’tis utterly impossible.        30
  Cly.—What other step remains for me to take?…
        Cly.—Now I understand thee.—What a flash,
Oh, what a deadly, instantaneous flash
Of criminal conviction rushes through
My obtuse mind! What throbbing turbulence        35
In ev’ry vein I feel!—I understand thee:
The cruel remedy … the only one …
Is Agamemnon’s life-blood.
                    Ægis.—I am silent …
  Cly.—Yet, by thy silence, thou dost ask that blood.
  Ægis.—Nay, rather I forbid it.—To our love        40
And to thy life (of mine I do not speak)
His living is the only obstacle;
But yet, thou knowest that his life is sacred:
To love, respect, defend it, thou art bound;
And I to tremble at it.—Let us cease:        45
The hour advances now; my long discourse
Might give occasion to suspicious thoughts.—
At length receive … Ægisthus’s last farewell.
  Cly.—Ah! hear me … Agamemnon to our love …
And to thy life?… Ah, yes; there are, besides him,        50
No other obstacles: too certainly
His life is death to us!
                Ægis.—Ah! do not heed
My words: they spring from too much love.
                            Cly.—And love
Revealed to me their meaning.
                    Ægis.—Hast thou not
Thy mind o’erwhelmed with horror?
                    Cly.—Horror?… yes;…
But then to part from thee!…
            Ægis.—Wouldst have the courage?…
  Cly.—So vast my love, it puts an end to fear.
  Ægis.—But the king lives surrounded by his friends:
What sword would find a passage to his heart?
  Cly.—What sword?
                Ægis.—Here open violence were vain.
  Cly.—Yet,… treachery!…
                    Ægis.—’Tis true, he merits not
To be betrayed, Atrides: he who loves
His wife so well; he who, enchained from Troy,
In semblance of a slave in fetters, brought
Cassandra, whom he loves, to whom he is        65
Himself a slave …
                Cly.—What do I hear!
Expect that when of thee his love is wearied,
He will divide with her his throne and bed;
Expect that, to thy many other wrongs,
Shame will be added: and do thou alone        70
Not be exasperated at a deed
That rouses every Argive.
                    Cly.—What said’st thou?…
Cassandra chosen as my rival?…
Atrides wills.
            Cly.—Then let Atrides perish.
  Ægis.—How? By what hand?
                    Cly.—By mine, this very night,
Within that bed which he expects to share
With this abhorred slave.
                Ægis.—O Heavens! but think …
  Cly.—I am resolved …
            Ægis.—Shouldst thou repent?…
                            Cly.—I do
That I so long delayed.
                    Ægis.—And yet …
                            Cly.—I’ll do it;
I, e’en if thou wilt not. Shall I let thee,        80
Who only dost deserve my love, be dragged
To cruel death? And shall I let him live
Who cares not for my love? I swear to thee,
To-morrow thou shalt be the king in Argos.
Nor shall my hand, nor shall my bosom tremble …        85
But who approaches?
                Ægis.—’Tis Electra …
Let us avoid her. Do thou trust in me.

  Electra—Ægisthus flies from me, and he does well;
But I behold that likewise from my sight
My mother seeks to fly. Infatuated        90
And wretched mother! She could not resist
The guilty eagerness for the last time
To see Ægisthus.—They have here, at length,
Conferred together … But Ægisthus seems
Too much elated, and too confident,        95
For one condemned to exile … She appeared
Like one disturbed in thought, but more possessed
With anger and resentment than with grief …
O Heavens! who knows to what that miscreant base,
With his infernal arts, may have impelled her!        100
To what extremities have wrought her up!…
Now, now, indeed, I tremble: what misdeeds,
How black in kind, how manifold in number,
Do I behold!… Yet, if I speak, I kill
My mother:… If I’m silent—?…        105

  Ægis.—Hast thou performed the deed?
  Cly.—Ægisthus …
                Ægis.—What do I behold? O woman,
What dost thou here, dissolved in useless tears?
Tears are unprofitable, late, and vain;
And they may cost us dear.
                  Cly.—Thou here?… but how?…
Wretch that I am! what have I promised thee?
What impious counsel?…
                    Ægis.—Was not thine the counsel?
Love gave it thee, and fear recants it.—Now,
Since thou’rt repentant, I am satisfied;
Soothed by reflecting that thou art not guilty,        115
I shall at least expire. To thee I said
How difficult the enterprise would be;
But thou, depending more than it became thee
On that which is not in thee, virile courage,
Daredst thyself thy own unwarlike hand        120
For such a blow select. May Heaven permit
That the mere project of a deed like this
May not be fatal to thee! I by stealth,
Protected by the darkness, hither came,
And unobserved, I hope. I was constrained        125
To bring the news myself, that now my life
Is irrecoverably forfeited
To the king’s vengeance …
                        Cly.—What is this I hear?
Whence didst thou learn it?
                    Ægis.—More than he would wish
Atrides hath discovered of our love;        130
And I already from him have received
A strict command not to depart from Argos.
And further, I am summoned to his presence
Soon as to-morrow dawns: thou seest well
That such a conference to me is death.        135
But fear not; for I will all means employ
To bear myself the undivided blame.
  Cly.—What do I hear? Atrides knows it all?
  Ægis.—He knows too much: I have but one choice left:
It will be best for me to ’scape by death,        140
By self-inflicted death, this dangerous inquest.
I save my honor thus; and free myself
From an opprobrious end. I hither came
To give thee my last warning: and to take
My last farewell…. Oh, live; and may thy fame        145
Live with thee, unimpeached! All thoughts of pity
For me now lay aside; if I’m allowed
By my own hand, for thy sake, to expire,
I am supremely blest.
                Cly.—Alas!… Ægisthus …
What a tumultuous passion rages now        150
Within my bosom, when I hear thee speak!…
And is it true?… Thy death …
                    Ægis.—Is more than certain….
  Cly.—And I’m thy murderer!…
                        Ægis.—I seek thy safety.
  Cly.—What wicked fury from Avernus’ shore,
Ægisthus, guides thy steps? Oh, I had died        155
Of grief, if I had never seen thee more;
But guiltless I had died: spite of myself,
Now, by thy presence, I already am
Again impelled to this tremendous crime….
An anguish, an unutterable anguish,        160
Invades my bones, invades my every fibre….
And can it be that this alone can save thee?…
But who revealed our love?
                        Ægis.—To speak of thee,
Who but Electra to her father dare?
Who to the monarch breathe thy name but she?        165
Thy impious daughter in thy bosom thrusts
The fatal sword; and ere she takes thy life,
Would rob thee of thy honor.
                        Cly.—And ought I
This to believe?… Alas!…
                            Ægis.—Believe it, then,
On the authority of this my sword,        170
If thou believ’st it not on mine. At least
I’ll die in time….
                Cly.—O Heavens! what wouldst thou do?
Sheathe, I command thee, sheathe that fatal sword.—
Oh, night of horrors!… hear me … Perhaps Atrides
Has not resolved….
                Ægis.—What boots this hesitation?…
Atrides injured, and Atrides king,
Meditates nothing in his haughty mind
But blood and vengeance. Certain is my death,
Thine is uncertain: but reflect, O queen,
To what thou’rt destined, if he spare thy life.        180
And were I seen to enter here alone,
And at so late an hour … Alas, what fears
Harrow my bosom when I think of thee!
Soon will the dawn of day deliver thee
From racking doubt; that dawn I ne’er shall see:        185
I am resolved to die:…—Farewell … forever!
  Cly.—Stay, stay … Thou shalt not die.
                            Ægis.—By no man’s hand
Assuredly, except my own:—or thine,
If so thou wilt. Ah, perpetrate the deed;
Kill me; and drag me, palpitating yet,        190
Before thy judge austere: my blood will be
A proud acquittance for thee.
                        Cly.—Madd’ning thought!…
Wretch that I am!… Shall I be thy assassin?…
  Ægis.—Shame on thy hand, that cannot either kill
Who most adores thee, or who most detests thee!        195
Mine then must serve….
                Cly.—Ah!… no….
                            Ægis.—Dost thou desire
Me, or Atrides, dead?
                    Cly.—Ah! what a choice!…
  Ægis.—Thou art compelled to choose.
                        Cly.—I death inflict …
  Ægis.—Or death receive; when thou hast witnessed mine.
  Cly.—Ah, then the crime is too inevitable!        200
  Ægis.—The time now presses.
            Cly.—But … the courage … strength?…
  Ægis.—Strength, courage, all, will love impart to thee.
  Cly.—Must I then with this trembling hand of mine
Plunge … in my husband’s heart … the sword?…
                            Ægis.—The blows
Thou wilt redouble with a steady hand        205
In the hard heart of him who slew thy daughter.
  Cly.—Far from my hand I hurled the sword in anguish.
  Ægis.—Behold a steel, and of another temper:
The clotted blood-drops of Thyestes’s sons
Still stiffen on its frame: do not delay        210
To furbish it once more in the vile blood
Of Atreus; go, be quick: there now remain
But a few moments; go. If awkwardly
The blow thou aimest, or if thou shouldst be
Again repentant, lady, ere ’tis struck,        215
Do not thou any more tow’rd these apartments
Thy footsteps turn: by my own hands destroyed,
Here wouldst thou find me in a sea of blood
Immersed. Now go, and tremble not; be bold.
Enter and save us by his death.—        220

                    Ægis.—Come forth,
Thyestes, from profound Avernus; come,
Now is the time; within this palace now
Display thy dreadful shade. A copious banquet
Of blood is now prepared for thee, enjoy it;        225
Already o’er the heart of thy foe’s son
Hangs the suspended sword; now, now, he feels it:
An impious consort grasps it; it was fitting
That she, not I, did this: so much more sweet
To thee will be the vengeance, as the crime        230
Is more atrocious…. An attentive ear
Lend to the dire catastrophe with me;
Doubt not she will accomplish it: disdain,
Love, terror, to the necessary crime
Compel the impious woman.—        235
AGAMEMNON (within)

                        Aga.—Treason! Ah!…
My wife? .. O Heavens! .. I die .. O traitorous deed!
  Ægis.—Die, thou—yes, die! And thou redouble, woman,
The blows redouble; all the weapon hide
Within his heart; shed, to the latest drop,        240
The blood of that fell miscreant: in our blood
He would have bathed his hands.

                            Cly.—What have I done?
Where am I?…
                Ægis.—Thou hast slain the tyrant: now
At length thou’rt worthy of me.
                        Cly.—See, with blood
The dagger drips;… my hands, my face, my garments,
All, all are blood … Oh, for a deed like this,
What vengeance will be wreaked!… I see already
Already to my breast that very steel
I see hurled back, and by what hand! I freeze,        250
I faint, I shudder, I dissolve with horror.
My strength, my utterance, fail me. Where am I?
What have I done?… Alas!…
                            Ægis.—Tremendous cries
Resound on every side throughout the palace:
’Tis time to show the Argives what I am,        255
And reap the harvest of my long endurance.

  Elec.—It still remains for thee to murder me,
Thou impious, vile assassin of my father …
But what do I behold? O Heavens!… my mother?…
Flagitious woman, dost thou grasp the sword?        260
Didst thou commit the murder?
                        Ægis.—Hold thy peace.
Stop not my path thus; quickly I return;
Tremble: for now that I am king of Argos,
Far more important is it that I kill
Orestes than Electra.        265

                  Cly.—Heavens!… Orestes?…
Ægisthus, now I know thee….
                        Elec.—Give it me:
Give me that steel.
            Cly.—Ægisthus!… Stop!… Wilt thou
Murder my son? Thou first shalt murder me.

  Elec.—O night! .. O father! .. Ah, it was your deed,
Ye gods, this thought of mine to place Orestes
In safety first.—Thou wilt not find him, traitor.—
Ah live, Orestes, live: and I will keep
This impious steel for thy adult right hand.
The day, I hope, will come, when I in Argos        275
Shall see thee the avenger of thy father.

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