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- Specimens of Greek Tragedy - 10/44 -

Nor entrance give the foe, who on his shield To flout us bears the hated effigy. His Sphynx, midst rattling darts, will hardly thank Him that advanced her to our battlements.-- Heaven grant that as I say the event may be.


Thy tidings pierce my fluttering breast, and fright Makes all my tresses rise upright At that fell foeman's vaunt; may heaven confound his spite.


Five were accursed; one righteous man succeeds The seer Amphiaraus, good and brave. His post is at the Homoloian gate. Here he reproaches heaps on Tydeus' head, Calling him murderer and the public bane, Leader of Argos in all evil ways, The Furies' pursuivant, henchman of death, That has Adrastus to his ruin trained. Thy brother too, stained by his father's fate, Great Polynices, with accusing face Turned heavenward, he upbraids and thus he speaks: "Certes a deed it is to please the gods, Fair to recount and glorious to hand down, Thus thy own city to lay low and raze Her temples with an alien soldiery. What stream can wash away a mother's curse? How shall thy country, captive to a foe By thee set on, requite thee with her love? For me, this hostile land must be my tomb And be enriched with my prophetic bones. Forward! I look for no inglorious grave." Thus spake the seer as he before him threw His glittering shield. On it was no device. Foremost to be, not seem, was still his aim. His soul is as a plough-land deep and rich, From which a harvest of good counsels grows. Against him send some worthy opposite. He most is to be feared who fears the gods.


Woe worth the day that links the righteous man To the dark fortunes of iniquity. In all the world is nothing so malign, Of fruit so poisonous, as an evil friend. One day shall ye behold the pious man, Going on ship-board with an impious crew, Sink amid sinners reprobate of heaven. Another day shall ye behold the just, In an outlawed and godless commonwealth, Snared like their fellows in the net of doom And struck by the avenging rod of heaven. And so this seer, this son of Oecleės, A wise, just, blameless, and god-fearing man, A famous prophet, to an impious host Against his better judgment misallied And drawn to march with them whose bourne is hell, With them must perish; such the stern decree. Hardly, I think, he will assault the gate; Not that his heart will faint or arm will fail, But that he knows he on this field must die, Unless Apollo's oracle prove false, Which if he tells not, prudence seals his lips. Yet shall our champion be stout Lasthenes, A churlish gate-ward to intruders he, An aged head upon a youthful frame. Quick is his eye and nimble is his hand From the shield's cover to dart forth the spear. But who shall win the gods alone can tell.


O hear our righteous prayer, ye heavenly powers, The ruin be the foe's, not ours, And may the thunder smite him who would storm our towers.


The chief whose post is at the seventh gate Is thine own brother; hear his direful prayers, His imprecations on our commonwealth. He prays that he may mount our battlements, Be there proclaimed our king, shout victory, Meet thee, and slay thee, and insult thee slain, Or, living, drive thee forth a banished man, Disgracing thee as thou hast him disgraced. With such fell words and adjurations dire Of his paternal gods to hear his prayer, Strong Polynices makes the field resound. A shield he bears, fair-shaped and newly-wrought, Whereon a twofold emblem is empaled: A lady with a stately mien leads on The golden likeness of a man-at-arms, The legend says that Justice is her name And she is bringing back a banished man To claim his native city and his home. [Footnote: Four lines, probably spurious, if not interpolated, are here omitted.]


O madness of the wicked, heaven-abhorred! O hapless race of Oedipus my sire, Alas! a father's curse is here fulfilled. But now away with tears, away with wails, Lest a worse cause of lamentation come. For Polynices, all too truly named, [Footnote: The last part of the name means _strife_.] Soon shall he know what his device portends, And whether golden letters on his shield, Vaunt as they may, shall bring the boaster home. Perchance if Justice, virgin child of Zeus, Were in his thoughts and deeds, so it might be; But neither when he issued from the womb, Nor in his childhood's days, nor in his youth, Nor since the beard has gathered on his chin, Has Justice e'er vouchsafed a word to him. Nor now, when on his native soil he treads In enmity, is Justice at his side. Nor could the deity deserve her name If she could be a miscreant's paramour. Herein I put my trust, and will myself Accept this combat; better right has none; Chieftains alike we meet, brethren we are And deadly enemies. My armour, ho!


The only complete specimen of a trilogy extant is the "Oresteia" of Aeschylus, comprising the "Agamemnon," the "Choephoroe" (Mourners), and the "Eumenides" (Furies). In this series are presented the murder of Agamemnon on his return from the conquest of Troy, by his queen, Clytemnestra, and her paramour, Aegisthus; the slaying of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus by the avenger of blood, Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, at the bidding of Apollo; the pursuit of Orestes as a matricide by the Furies; and his final acquittal and restoration by the favour of Apollo and Athene. The trilogy is full of political sentiment and allusion. The last piece, "Eumenides," has a distinct political purpose. In the murder of Agamemnon in his home, after his return from his victory over the Asiatic enemies of Hellas, by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, the audience could hardly fail to see a parallel to the persecution of Cimon, the hero of the conservative party to which Aeschylus belonged, after his victories over the Persians, by the leaders of the democratic party, Pericles and Ephialtes.

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LINES 1-39.


Grant me, oh gods, deliverance from this toil, This year-long watch, which, couched upon the roof Of the Atridae, dog-like I have kept, Scanning the nightly gatherings of the stars, Those radiant potentates, that throned on high, Lead on the changing seasons for mankind. And now I still am looking for the sign, The beacon light which is to flash from Troy The tidings of the city's fall, for so Ordains the will of our man-hearted queen. Broken my rest, my couch is drenched with dew, And by no pleasant dream is visited. In place of slumber fear waits on me there, So that my eyes can never close in sleep; And if to sing or whistle I essay, In hope to charm away my drowsiness, Straightway I fall to weeping for this house, That into evil hands of late has fallen. Would but the light, that happy tidings bears, Shine through the dark to end our sufferings. _(Beacon light appears,)_ Offspring of night, all hail! A glorious day Thou dost to Argos bring, with many a dance And song in honour of this victory. Joy! joy! I go to call on Agamemnon's queen To leave her couch, and forthwith in her halls Bid the glad voice of jubilation rise To greet this beacon fire. If true it be That Troy is taken, as the light proclaims, My watch the highest throw of fortune's dice Has cast, and with my lords all must be well. No more I say, a heavy curb is laid Upon my lips; these walls, if they had voice, Would tell their secret; as for me, I speak To those who know, to others I am mute.

Specimens of Greek Tragedy - 10/44

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