Translated by Herbert Weir Smyth
Revised by Gregory Crane and Graeme Bird
Further Revised by Gregory Nagy
1 I ask the gods for release from these ordeals [ponoi] of mine here. I have by now been a watchman here for the length of a whole year, during which time I have been spending my nights here on the palace roof of the sons of Atreus, as I rest on my elbows, like a dog. I have learned to know well the gathering of the night’s stars, 5 bringers of winter and summer to humankind, those radiant potentates shining in the firmament, and I know when they set and when they rise. Even now I am still watching for the signal [sumbolon] of the flame, the gleam of fire bringing news from Troy 10 and shouts announcing its capture. For thus commands my Queen, woman in passionate heart and man in strength of purpose. And whenever I make here my bed, restless and dank with dew and unvisited by dreams—for instead of sleep fear stands ever by my side, 15 so that I cannot close my eyelids fast in sleep—and whenever I care to sing or hum (and thus apply an antidote of song to ward off drowsiness), then my tears start forth, as I bewail the fortunes of this house of ours, not ordered for the best as in days gone by. 20 But now may there be a fortunate release from these ordeals [ponoi] of mine! May the fire bringing good news flash through the gloom!
40 This is now the tenth year since the mighty plaintiff [anti-dikos] against Priam, King Menelaos, and with him King Agamemnon, the both of them linked by Zeus in honor [tīmē] of throne and scepter, that steady pair of Atreus’ sons, launched from this land [of Argos] 45 an armada of a thousand ships, with a mass of Argive warriors coming to their aid. Loud rang the battle-cry that the two of them shouted from the heart [thūmos]. Just as eagles scream, 50 in lonely grief for their children, as they circle over their nest, high up above, rowing with the oars of their wings, screaming because they have lost their nestlings—having now wasted all the pain [ponos] of watching over their nest. 55 But high up above there is someone who hears—Apollo perhaps or Pan, or Zeus—hearing the shrill wailing scream of the clamorous birds, those sojourners in the air space of these gods. And against the transgressors the god sends a Fury [Erinys]2 at last, though it was late in coming. 60 This is how [houtōs] it was when the sons of Atreus were sent by Zeus, whose power is over all, Zeus xenios [= god of xenoi ‘guests and hosts’], against Alexander [= Paris]. Zeus was about to cause, for the sake of a woman with many a husband, a multitude of struggles most wearying, with many a knee buckling in the dust 65 and many a spear splintering in the preliminaries [pro-teleia] [of close combat]—Zeus was about to cause all this for Danaans [= Achaeans] and Trojans alike. So, things are where they are right now. And it all moves to fulfillment [teleîsthai], toward what is destined [pe-prō-menon]. Not by setting fires underneath a sacrifice, not by pouring libations on top of it, 70 not by tears, can anyone charm away [para-thelgein] the implacable feelings of anger coming out of a ritual performed without fire.
I am authorized [kurios] to narrate the power [kratos] of men to set in motion an expedition. It is a predestined power, belonging to men 105 who are granted control [telos]. This [authority of mine to narrate] is because the life force, still vital within me, is taking its breath from the inspiration of the gods to give me the ability to make people believe, which is the strength of singing and dancing. It is all about the twin-throned power [kratos] of the Achaeans, 110 how this single-minded pair, in charge of all the young men of Hellas, was sent off, with spear and with avenging hand holding the spear. They were sent off against the land of the Teukroi, [Troy,] by an onrushing bird omen, and the omen was the king of birds—[two] birds appearing to the [two] kings of the ships. 115 One of them was black all over, while the other one was black, too, but it was white at the other end. They appeared [phainesthai] [in an epiphany] near the palace, on the right hand—the hand that holds the spear. They [had come down from the air and] were roosting in a most visible space, for all to see. And they were devouring a rabbit that was bursting with the vitality of offspring ready to be born. 120 She was caught in the moment of her very last effort to run away.
Sing the song of lament for Linus, for Linus sing it, but let the victory belong to whatever is genuinely good.
Then the wise seer [mantis] of the army, seeing that the two warlike sons of Atreus were twins in character, recognized the devourers of the rabbit and 125 the leaders of the expedition already under way, [that they were the same,] and this is the way [houtō] he spoke, speaking the language of omens [terazein]: “In due time this expedition, set in motion, will capture the city of Priam as its prey, and, at the ground level of that city’s towered walls, all the plentiful herds of the community 130 will be ravaged most violently by fate [Moira]. The only thing to guard against is this: may it not happen that some resentment [agā] sent by the gods may cloud over and ruin the mighty bit forged for Troy’s mouth by the army. I say this because she, in her pity, is angry. I mean, holy [hagnā] Artemis. She is angry 135 at the winged hunting dogs of her father [Zeus], for they are sacrificing [thuein] a miserable frightened thing, together with her offspring that were ready to be born, before she has brought them forth. She [Artemis] has a loathing for the feast of the eagles.”
140 “Though she [= the goddess Artemis] is full of good intentions [euphrōn], the beautiful [kalā] one, toward the tender cubs of vicious lions, and though she takes delight in the breast-loving young of all wild animals that roam the fields, she now demands that the symbols [sumbola] of these things be brought to fulfillment [krainein], I mean, the epiphanies [phasmata], 145 which are auspicious in a right-handed kind of way even if they are reprehensible. And I call upon Paean, the healer, praying that she [Artemis] will not stop the sailing of ships, holding them back for a long time 150 by causing the winds to blow in the opposite direction for the Danaans [Achaeans]. She [Artemis] is urging a sacrifice of another kind, [a sinister one,] the kind that knows no law [nomos], the kind that is unsuited for feasting [dais] [on meat], the kind that naturally creates quarrel after quarrel, resulting in vengeance, and the kind that shows no fear of any man [who is a husband]. I say this because there is something that has stayed behind here at home: it is something terrifying, which keeps coming back again and again. 155 It is a treacherous keeper of the household. It is an anger [mēnis] that remembers, and it comes with punishment for whatever happened to a child.” Such dire things did Kalkhas proclaim, speaking the language of omens. But the omens, signaled by the birds seen during the expedition, came also with big benefits for the palaces of the kings. I connect what is sounded out in these omens with what I say:
Sing the song of lament for Linus, for Linus sing it, but let victory belong to whatever is genuinely good.
160 Zeus, whoever he may be—if by this name it pleases him to be invoked, by this name I call to him—as I weigh all things in the balance, I have nothing to compare 165 except “Zeus,” if in truth I must cast aside this vain burden from my heart.
He who once was mighty, swelling with insolence for every fight, 170 he shall not even be named as having ever existed; and he who arose later, he has met his overthrower and is past and gone. But whoever, heartily taking thought beforehand, sings a victory song for Zeus, 175 he shall gain wisdom altogether.
Zeus, who sets mortals on the path to understanding, Zeus, who has established this as a fixed law: “Learning comes by suffering [pathos].” But even as the ordeal [ponos], bringing memory of pain, drips over the mind in sleep, 180 so equilibrium [being sōphrōn] comes to men, whether they want it or not. Violent, it seems to me, is the kharis of daimones enthroned upon their awesome seats.
So then the captain of the Achaean ships, the elder of the two— 185 holding no seer at fault, bending to the adverse blasts of fortune, when the Achaean people, on the shore over against Khalkis 190 in the region where Aulis’ tides surge to and fro, were very distressed by opposing winds and failing stores;
and the breezes that blew from the Strymon, bringing harmful leisure, hunger, and tribulation of spirit in a cruel port, idle wandering of men, and sparing neither ship 195 nor cable, began, by doubling the season of their stay, to rub away and wither the flower of Argos; and when the seer, pointing to Artemis as cause, proclaimed to the chieftains another remedy, 200 more oppressive even than the bitter storm, so that the sons of Atreus struck the ground with their canes and did not stifle their tears—
205 then the elder king spoke and said: “It is a hard fate to refuse obedience, and hard, if I must slay my child, the glory of my home, and at the altar-side stain 210 a father’s hand with streams of virgin’s blood. Which of these courses is not filled with evil? How can I become a deserter to my fleet and fail my allies in arms? 215 That they should with all too impassioned a passion crave a sacrifice [thusia] to lull the winds—even by way of a virgin’s blood— divine law [themis] speaks out against that. For it should all turn out in a good way.”
But when he had donned the yoke of Necessity, with the veering of a mind that has turned around, 220 making a turn that is impious, unholy, unsanctified, from then he changed his intention and began to conceive that deed of uttermost audacity. For wretched delusion [parakopē], counselor of ill, primal source of woe, makes man bold. So then he hardened his heart to become the sacrificer [thutēr] of his daughter 225 so that he might further a war waged to avenge a woman, and as an offering for the voyaging of a fleet!
For her supplications, her cries of “Father,” and her virgin life, 230 the commanders in their eagerness for war cared nothing. Her father, after a prayer, told his ministers to raise her—fallen about her robes, she lay face-down 235 in supplication with all her thūmos—to lift her like a young goat, high above the altar; and with a gag upon her lovely mouth to hold back the shouted curse against her house
by the bit’s strong and stifling might. Then, as she shed to earth her saffron robe, she 240 struck each of her sacrificers [thutēres] with a glance from her eyes yearning for pity, looking as if in a picture, wishing she could speak; for she had often sung-and-danced [melpein] where men met at her father’s hospitable table, 245 and with her virgin voice would lovingly honor her dear father’s prayer for the blessing of a paean at the third libation.
What happened next I did not see and do not tell.3 The art of Kalkhas was not unfulfilled. 250 Justice [dikē] inclines her scales so that lessons learned may come at the price of suffering [pathos]. But the future, that you shall know when it occurs; till then, let it be—it is like weeping before it is time to lament. But it will come, clear as day, together with the light of dawn.
As herald of gladness, with the proverb, 265 “May Dawn be born from her mother Night!” You shall hear joyful news surpassing all your hopes: the Argives have taken Priam’s town!
What have you said? The meaning of your words has escaped me, so incredible they seemed.
I said that Troy is in the hands of the Achaeans. Is my meaning clear?
270 Joy steals over me, and it challenges my tears.
Sure enough, for your eye betrays your loyal heart.
What then is the proof? Have you evidence of this?
I have, indeed; unless some god has played me false.
Do you believe the persuasive visions of dreams?
275 I would not heed the fancies of a slumbering brain.
But can it be some pleasing rumor that has fed your hopes?
Truly you scorn my understanding as if it were a child’s.
But at what time was the city destroyed?
In the night, I say, that has but now given birth to this day here.
280 And what messenger could reach here with such speed?
Hephaistos, from Ida speeding forth his brilliant blaze. Beacon passed beacon on to us by courier-flame: Ida, to the crag of Hermes in Lemnos; to the mighty blaze upon the island succeeded, third, 285 the summit of Athos sacred to Zeus; and, soaring high aloft so as to leap across the sea, the flame, traveling joyously onward in its strength…
Such are the torch-bearers I have arranged—in succession one to the other completing the course; and the victor is he who ran both first and last. 315 This is the kind of proof and token [sumbolon] I give you, the message of my lord from Troy to me.
Lady, my prayers of thanksgiving to the gods I will offer soon. But as I would like to hear and satisfy my wonder at your tale straight through to the end, so may you tell it yet again.
320 This day the Achaeans hold Troy. Within the town there sounds loud, I believe, a clamor of voices that will not blend. Pour vinegar and oil into the same vessel and you will say that, as foes, they keep apart; so the cries of vanquished and victors greet the ear, 325 distinct as their fortunes are diverse. Those, flung upon the corpses of their husbands and their brothers, children upon the bodies of their aged fathers who gave them life, bewail from lips no longer free the death of their most philoi, while these— 330 a night of restless labor [ponos] after battle sets them down famished to breakfast on such fare as the town affords; not faring according to rank, but as each man has drawn his lot by chance. 335 And even now they are quartered in the captured Trojan homes, delivered from the frosts and dew of the naked sky, and like happy men will sleep all the night without a guard.
Lady, you speak as wisely as a balanced [sōphrōn] man. And, for my part, now that I have listened to your certain proofs, I prepare to address due prayers of thanksgiving to the gods; for a success has been achieved that is not without tīmē in return [kharis] for the ordeal [ponos].
355 Hail, sovereign Zeus, and you kindly Night, possessor of the great kosmoi, you who cast your meshed snare upon the towered walls of Troy, so that neither old nor young could overleap 360 the huge enslaving net of all-conquering atē. I revere great Zeus of xenoi—he who has brought this to pass. He long kept his bow bent against Alexander 365 until his bolt would neither fall short of the mark nor, flying beyond the stars, be launched in vain.
“The stroke of Zeus”they may call it; his hand can be traced there. As he determines, so he acts. Someone said 370 that the gods do not trouble themselves to remember mortals who trample underfoot the kharis of inviolable sanctities. But that man was impious!
Now it stands revealed! 375 The penalty for reckless crime is ruin when men breathe a spirit of arrogance above just measure, because their mansions teem with more abundance than is good for them. But let there be such wealth as brings no distress, enough to satisfy 380 a sensible man. For riches do not protect the man who in his insatiability [koros] has kicked the mighty altar of Dikē into obscurity.
385 Perverse Persuasion, the overmastering child of designing Atē, drives men on; and every remedy is futile. His evil is not hidden; it shines forth, a baleful gleam. 390 Like base metal beneath the touchstone’s rub, when tested he shows the blackness of his grain—for he is like a child who chases a winged bird— 395 and upon his people he brings a taint against which there is no defense. No god listens to his prayers. The man associated with such deeds, him they destroy in his unrighteousness.
405 But she, bequeathing to her people the clang of shield and spear and army of fleets, and bringing to Ilion destruction in place of dowry, with light step she passed through the gates—daring a deed undareable. Then loud wailed the spokesmen [prophētēs pl.] of the house, crying, 410 “Alas, alas, for the home, the home, and for the princes! Alas for the husband’s bed and the impress of her form so dear! He sits apart in the anguish of his grief, silent, dishonored but making no reproach. In his yearning for her who sped beyond the sea, 415 a phantom will seem to be lord of the house. The pleasure [kharis] of fair-formed statues is hateful to him; and in the hunger of his eyes all loveliness [Aphrodite] is departed.
420 Apparitions causing sorrow [penthos] come to him in dreams, bringing only vain kharis; for vainly, whenever in his imagination a man sees delights, 425 immediately the vision, slipping through his arms, is gone, winging its flight along the paths of sleep.” Such are the sorrows [akhos pl.] at hearth and home, but there are sorrows surpassing these; and at large, in every house of all who went forth together from the land of Hellas, 430 unbearable grief [penthos pl.] is seen. Many things pierce the heart. Each knows whom he sent forth. But to the home of each come 435 urns and ashes, not living men.
Arēs barters the bodies of men for gold; he holds his balance in the contest of the spear; and 440 back from Ilion to their loved ones he sends a heavy dust passed through his burning, a dust cried over with plenteous tears, in place of men sending well-made urns with ashes. 445 So they lament, praising now this one: “How skilled in battle!” now that one: “Fallen nobly in the carnage”. “For another’s wife,” some mutter in secret, and 450 grief charged with resentment spreads stealthily against the sons of Atreus, champions in the strife. But there far from home, around the city’s walls, those in their beauty’s bloom have graves in Ilion— 455 the enemy’s soil has covered its conquerors.
Dangerous is a people’s voice charged with anger—it acts as a curse of publicly ratified doom. 460 In anxious fear I wait to hear something shrouded still in gloom. The gods are not blind to men with blood upon their hands. In the end the black Spirits of Vengeance [Erinyes] bring to obscurity that one who has prospered by renouncing dikē and 465 wear down his fortunes by reverse. Once a man is among the unseen, there is no more help for him. Glory in excess is fraught with peril; 470 the lofty peak is struck by Zeus’ thunderbolt. I choose prosperity [olbos] unassailed by envy. May I not be a sacker of cities, and may I not myself be despoiled and live to see my own life in another’s power!
475 – Heralded by a beacon of good tidings a swift report has spread throughout the town. Yet whether it is true, or some deception of the gods, who knows?
—Who is so childish or so bereft of sense, 480 once he has let his heart be fired by sudden news of a beacon fire, to despair if the story change?
—It is just like a woman’s eager nature to yield assent to pleasing news before yet the truth is clear.
485 —Over credulous, a woman’s mind has boundaries open to quick encroachment; but quick to perish is kleos spread by a woman.
We shall soon know about this passing on of flaming lights 490 and beacon signals and fires, whether they perhaps are true [alēthēs pl.] or whether, dream-like, this light’s glad coming has beguiled our senses. Look! There, I see approaching from the shore a herald crowned with boughs of olive. 495 The thirsty dust, consorting sister of the mud, assures me that neither by pantomime nor by kindling a flame of mountain wood will he signal [sēmainein] with smoke of fire. Either in plain words he will bid us to rejoice the more, or else—but I have little love for the report opposite to this! 500 May still further good be added to the good that has appeared!
Whoever makes this prayer with other intent toward the polis, let him reap himself the fruit of his misguided purpose!
All hail, soil of Argos, land of my fathers! On this happy day in the tenth year I have come to you. 505 Many hopes have shattered, one only have I seen fulfilled; for I never dared to dream that here in this land of Argos I should die and have due portion of burial most philos to me. Now blessings on the land, blessings on the light of the sun, and blessed be Zeus, the land’s Most High, and the Pythian lord; 510 and may he launch no more his shafts against us. Enough of your hostility did you display by Scamander’s banks; but now, in other mood, be our savior [sōtēr] and our healer, O lord Apollo. And the gods of the gathering [agōn], I greet them all; him, too, my own patron, 515 Hermes, beloved herald, of heralds all revered; and the cult-heroes [hērōes] who sent us forth—I pray that they may receive back in kindliness the remnant of the host which has escaped the spear.
Joy to you, Herald from the Achaean host!
I do rejoice. I will no longer refuse to die, if that pleases the gods.
540 Was it yearning for this your fatherland that wore you out?
Yes, so that my eyes are filled with tears for joy.
It was then a pleasing malady from which you suffered.
How so? Teach me, and I shall master what you say.
You were smitten with desire for those who returned your love.
545 Do you mean that our land longed for the longing host?
So longed that often from a darkly brooding spirit I have sighed.
Where did this gloom of melancholy upon your spirit come from?
Long since have I found silence an antidote to harm.
How so? Did you fear anyone when our princes were gone?
550 In such fear that now, in your own words, even death would be a great favor [kharis].
Yes, all’s well, well ended. Yet, of what occurred in the long years, one might well say that part fell out happily, and part in turn amiss. But who, unless he is a god, is free from suffering all his days? 555 For were I to recount our hardships and our wretched quarters, the scanty space and the sorry berths—what did we not have to complain of? Then again, ashore, there was still worse to loathe; for we had to lie down close to the enemy’s walls, 560 and the drizzling from the sky and the dews from the meadows distilled upon us, working constant destruction to our clothes and filling our hair with vermin.
Your words have proved me wrong. I do not deny it; for the old have ever enough youth to learn aright. 585 But these tidings should have most interest for the household and Clytemnestra, and at the same time enrich me.
I raised a shout of triumph in my joy long before this, when the first flaming messenger arrived by night, telling that Ilion was captured and overthrown. 590 Then there were some who chided me and said: “Are you so convinced by beacon-fires as to think that Troy has now been sacked? Truly, it is just like a woman to be elated in heart.” By such taunts I was made to seem as if my wits were wandering. Nevertheless I still held on with my sacrifice, and throughout all the quarters of the city, according to their womanly custom, 595 they uttered in a proper way [euphēmeîn] a shout of happy praise while in the shrines of the gods they lulled to rest the fragrant spice-fed flame.
A boast like this, loaded full with truth [alētheia], does not shame the speech of a noble wife.
615 Thus has she spoken for your schooling, but speciously for those that can interpret right. But, Herald, say—I want to hear of Menelaus. Has he, our land’s own power [kratos], achieved a nostos and a way of salvation back home?
620 It would be impossible to report false news as fair so that those I love should take pleasure for long.
Oh if only you could tell tidings true [alēthēs] yet good! It is not easy to conceal when true and good are split apart.
The prince was swept from the sight of the Achaean host, 625 himself, and his ship likewise. I speak no lies.
Did he put forth in sight of all from Ilion, or did a storm, distressing all in common, snatch him from the fleet?
Like master bowman you have hit the mark; a long tale of distress have you told in brief.
630 Did the general voice of other voyagers bring news of him as alive or dead?
None knows to give clear report of this—except only the Sun that fosters life upon the earth.
How then do you say 635 the storm rose by the anger of the daimones upon the naval host and passed away?
An auspiciously spoken-of [euphēmos] day one should not pollute with a tale of misfortune—the tīmē due to the gods keeps them apart. When a messenger with gloomy countenance reports to a people dire disaster of its army’s rout— 640 one common wound inflicted on the polis, while from many a home many a victim is devoted to death by the two-handled whip beloved of Arēs, destruction [atē] double-armed, a gory pair—when, I say, he is packed with woes like this, 645 he should sing the triumph-song of the Avenging Spirits [Erinyes].
Who can have given a name so altogether true—was it some power invisible guiding his tongue aright by forecasting of destiny? 685 —who named that bride of the spear and source of strife with the name of Helen? For, true to her name, a Hell she proved to ships, Hell to men, Hell to city, 690 when stepping forth from her luxuriant [habros] and costly-curtained bower, she sailed the sea before the breath of earth-born Zephyros. And after her a goodly host of warrior 695 huntsmen followed on the oars’ vanished track in pursuit of a quarry that had beached its boat on Simoeis’ leafy banks—in a conflict [eris] to end in blood.
To Ilion, its purpose fulfilling, 700 the goddess Mēnis brought a marriage rightly named a mourning, exacting in later requital for the dishonor done to hospitality and to Zeus, the partaker of the hearth, 705 upon those who with loud voice celebrated the song in honor of the bride, even the bridegroom’s kin to whom it fell that day to raise the marriage-hymn. 710 But Priam’s city has learned, in her old age, an altered strain, and now, I trust, wails a loud song, full of lamentation, calling Paris “evil-wed”; for she has borne the burden of a life in which everything was destroyed, a life full of lamentation because of 715 the wretched slaughter of her sons.
This is how [houtōs]4 it was when a man brought back home a lion cub and raised him. He [= the lion cub] was deprived of his mother’s milk, yet still desiring the breast. Gentle he was, 720 in the preliminaries [pro-teleia] of his life, friendly to children, and a delight to the old. He was often cradled in the arms, like some nursing child, with his 725 bright eye turned toward the hand that held him. He was fawning, forced by the needs of his stomach to fawn. But then, brought to full growth in the course of time, he demonstrated the nature [ēthos] he had from his parents. Without being invited to do so, doing it as a compensation [kharis] to those who fostered him, 730 he prepared a feast [dais], bringing disasters [atai], with sheep being slaughtered. And the house was defiled with blood. Those who lived there could not fight back their pain [algos], and great was the destruction, with much slaughter. 735 He was something that comes from a god [theos]—some kind of a priest [hiereus] of disaster [Atē], as if he had been nurtured for that purpose, right inside the house.
At first, I would say, there came to Ilion the spirit of unruffled calm, 740 a delicate ornament of wealth, a darter of soft glances from the eye, love’s flower that stings the heart. Then, swerving from her course, she brought 745 her marriage to a bitter end, sped on to the children of Priam under escort of Zeus, the warder of host and guest, ruining her sojourn and her companions, a vengeful Fury [Erinys] to be lamented by mourning brides.
750 A venerable utterance proclaimed of old has been fashioned among mankind: the prosperity [olbos] of man, when it has come to fulfillment [telos], engenders offspring and does not die childless, 755 and from his good fortune there springs up insatiable misery.
But I hold my own mind and think apart from other men. It is the evil deed that afterwards begets more iniquity 760 like its own breed; but when a house has straight dikē, the lot of its children is blessed always.
But an old hubris tends to give birth, 765 in evil men, sooner or later, at the fated hour of birth, to a young hubris and that irresistible, unconquerable, unholy daimōn, Recklessness, 770 and black spirits of Derangement [atē] upon the household, which resemble their parents.
But dikē shines in smoke-begrimed dwellings 775 and esteems the virtuous man. From gilded mansions, where men’s hands are foul, she departs with averted eyes and makes her way to pure homes; she does not worship the power 780 of wealth stamped counterfeit [para‑sēmos] by the praise [ainos] of men, and she guides all things to their proper end.
810 Argos first, as is dikē and proper, I greet, and her local gods who have helped me to my nostos and to the justice [dikē] I exacted from Priam’s city. For listening to no pleadings [dikē pl.] by word of mouth, without dissenting voice, they cast into the 815 bloody urn their ballots for the murderous destroying of Ilion; but to the urn of acquittal that no hand filled, Hope alone drew near. The smoke even now is a proper signal [eu‑sēmos] of the city’s fall. The blasts of Destruction [atē] still live, and 820 the embers, as they die, breathe forth rich fumes of wealth. For this success we should render to the gods a return in ever-mindful kharis, seeing that we have thrown round the city the toils of vengeance, and in a woman’s cause it has been laid low by the fierce Argive beast, 825 brood of the horse, a shield-armed folk, that launched its leap when the Pleiades waned. Vaulting over its towered walls, the ravening lion lapped up his fill of the blood of turannoi.
855 Citizens of Argos, you Elders present here, I shall not be ashamed to confess in your presence my fondness for my husband—with time diffidence dies away in humans.
Offspring of Leda, guardian of my house, 915 your ainos fits well with my absence; for you have drawn it out to ample length. But becoming praise—this prize should rightly proceed from other lips. For the rest, treat me not as if I were a woman, in a luxuriant [habros] manner, nor, like some barbarian, 920 grovel before me with widemouthed acclaim; and do not draw down envy upon my path by strewing it with tapestries. It is the gods we must honor thus; but it is not possible for a mortal to tread upon woven fineries without fear. 925 I tell you to revere me not as a god, but as a man. Footmats and woven garments are different things when they are sounded out by the voice of Rumor; to think no folly is the best gift of the gods. Only when man’s life comes full circle [olbios]; 930 and if I may act in all things as I do now, I have good confidence.
Come now, do not speak so contrary to my purpose.
Purpose! Be assured that I shall not weaken mine.
You must in fear have vowed to the gods thus to act.
With full knowledge I pronounced this my definitive word [telos], if ever man did.
935 What do you suppose that Priam would have done, if he had achieved your triumph?
He would have set foot upon the woven fineries, I certainly believe.
Then do not be ashamed of mortal reproach.
And yet a people’s voice is a mighty power.
True, yet he who is unenvied is unenviable.
940 Surely it is not woman’s part to long for fighting.
True, but it is seemly for the fortunate [olbioi] to yield the victory.
What? Is this the kind of victory in strife that you prize?
Oh yield! Yet of your own free will entrust the victory to me.
Well, if you will have your way, 945 quick, let some one loose my sandals, which, slavelike, serve the treading of my foot! As I walk upon these purple vestments may I not be struck from afar by any glance of the gods’ jealous eye. A terrible shame it is for one’s foot to mar the resources of the house by wasting wealth and costly woven work.
There is the sea—and who shall drain it dry? It produces the oozing stain of abundant purple, equal in value to silver 960 —an ooze that forever renews itself, with which to dye garments; and the palace, O king, with the help of the gods, is sustainable—with its supply of these [purple garments]. The palace doesn’t know what it is to be in poverty of these things. And I would have vowed in my prayers to arrange for the trampling of not one but many garments, if it had been so ordered by the oracles for the palace, 965 back when I was planning to arrange a payback for your life [psūkhē]. For if the root still lives, leaves come again to the house and spread their over-reaching shade against the scorching dog star Sirius; so, now that you have come to hearth [hestia] and home, it signals [sēmainein] that warmth has come in wintertime; 970 and again, when Zeus makes wine from the bitter grape, then immediately there is coolness in the house when its rightful lord occupies his halls.
975 Why does this terror so persistently hover standing before my prophetic heart? Why does my song, unbidden and unfed, chant strains of augury? Why does assuring confidence not sit on my heart’s throne 980 and spurn the terror like an uninterpretable dream? But Time has collected the sands of the shore upon the cables cast thereon 985 when the shipborn army sped forth for Ilion.
Of their nostos I learn with my own eyes and need no other witness. 990 Yet still my thūmos within me, self-taught [auto‑didaktos], intones the lyreless dirge of the Avenging Spirit [Erinys], and cannot wholly win its customary confidence of hope. 995 Not for nothing is my bosom disquieted as my heart throbs within my justly fearful phrenes in eddying tides that warn of some event. But I pray that my expectation may fall out false 1000 and not come to fulfillment.
Truly blooming health does not rest content within its due bounds; for disease ever presses close against it, its neighbor with a common wall. 1005 So human fortune, when holding onward in straight course, strikes upon a hidden reef. And yet, if with a well-measured throw, caution heaves overboard 1010 a portion of the gathered wealth, the whole house, with woe overladen, does not founder nor engulf the hull. Truly the generous gift from Zeus, 1015 rich and derived from yearly furrows, makes an end of the plague of famine.
But a man’s blood, once it has first fallen by murder to earth 1020 in a dark tide—who by magic spell shall call it back? Even he who possessed the skill to raise from the dead5—did not Zeus make an end of him as warning? 1025 And unless one fate ordained of the gods restrains another fate from winning the advantage, my heart would outstrip my tongue and pour forth its fears; 1030 but, as it is, it mutters only in the dark, distressed and hopeless ever to unravel anything in time when my phrēn is aflame.
1035 Get inside, you too, Kassandra; since it is not with mēnis that Zeus has appointed you to share the holy water of a house where you may take your stand, with many another slave, at the altar of the god who guards its wealth. Get down from the car and do not be too proud; 1040 for even Alkmene’s son,6 men say, once endured to be sold and to eat the bread of slavery. But if such fortune should of necessity fall to the lot of any, there is good cause for gratitude [kharis] in having masters of ancient wealth; for they who, beyond their hope, have reaped a rich harvest of possessions, 1045 are cruel to their slaves in every way, even exceeding due measure. You have from us such usage as custom [nomos] warrants.
It is to you she has been speaking and clearly. Since you are in the toils of destiny, perhaps you will obey, if you are so inclined; but perhaps you will not.
1050 Well, if her language is not strange and foreign, even as a swallow’s, I must speak within her comprehension and move her to comply.
Go with her. With things as they now stand, she gives you the best. Do as she bids and leave your seat in the car.
1055 I have no time to waste with this woman here outside; for already the victims stand by the central hearth awaiting the sacrifice—a grace [kharis] we never expected to be ours. As for you, if you will take any part, make no delay. 1060 But if, failing to understand, you do not catch my meaning, then, instead of speech, make a sign with your barbarian hand.
It is an interpreter [hermēneus] and a plain one that the stranger seems to need. She bears herself like a wild creature newly captured.
No, she is mad and listens to her wild mood, 1065 since she has come here from a newly captured city, and does not know how to tolerate the bit until she has foamed away her fretfulness in blood. No! I will waste no more words upon her to be insulted thus.
But I will not be angry, since I pity her. 1070 Come, unhappy one, leave the car; yield to necessity and take upon you this novel yoke.
Woe, woe, woe! O Apollo, O Apollo!
Wherefore your cry of “woe” in Loxias’7 name? 1075 He is not the kind of god that has to do with mourners.
Woe, woe, woe! O Apollo, O Apollo!
Once more with ill-omened words she cries to the god who should not be present at times of lamentation.
1080 Apollo, Apollo! God of the Ways, my destroyer! For you have destroyed me this second time utterly.
I think that she is about to prophesy about her own miseries. The divine gift still abides even in the phrēn of one enslaved.
1085 Apollo, Apollo! God of the Ways, my destroyer! Ah, what way is this that you have brought me? To what house?
To that of Atreus’ sons. If you do not perceive this, I’ll tell it to you. And you shall not say that it is untrue.
1090 No, no, rather to a god-hating house, a house that knows many a horrible butchery of kin, a slaughter-house of men and a floor swimming with blood.
The stranger seems keen-scented as a hound; she is on the trail where she will discover blood.
1095 Here is the evidence in which I put my trust! Behold those babies bewailing their own butchery and their roasted flesh eaten by their father!
Your kleos for reading the future had reached our ears; but we have no need of spokesmen [prophētēs pl.] here.
1100 Alas, what can she be planning? What is this fresh woe [akhos] she contrives here within, what monstrous, monstrous horror, unbearable to philoi, beyond all remedy? And help stands far away!
1105 These prophesyings pass my comprehension; but the former I understood—the whole city rings with them.
Ah, damned woman, will you do this thing? Your husband, the partner of your bed, when you have cheered him with the bath, will you—how shall I tell the end [telos]? 1110 Soon it will be done. Now this hand, now that, she stretches forth!
Not yet do I comprehend; for now, after riddles [ainigma pl.], I am bewildered by dark oracles.
Ah! Ah! What apparition is this? 1115 Is it a net of death? No, it is a snare that shares his bed, that shares the guilt of murder. Let the fatal group [stasis], insatiable [without koros] against the family, raise a shout of jubilance over a victim accursed!
What Spirit of Vengeance [Erinys] is this that you bid 1120 raise its voice over this house? Your words do not cheer me. Back to my heart surge the drops of my pallid blood, even as when they drip from a mortal wound, ebbing away as life’s beams sink low; and Destruction [atē] comes speedily.
1125 Ah, ah, see there, see there! Keep the bull from his mate! She has caught him in the robe and gores him with the crafty device of her black horn! He falls in a vessel of water! It is of doom wrought by guile in a murderous cauldron that I am telling you.
1130 I cannot boast that I am a keen judge of prophecies; but these, I think, spell some evil. But from prophecies what word of good ever comes to mortals? Through terms of evil their wordy arts 1135 bring men to know fear chanted in prophetic strains.
Alas, alas, the sorrow of my ill-starred doom! For it is my own suffering [pathos], crowning the cup, that I bewail. Ah, to what end did you bring me here, unhappy as I am? For nothing except to die—and not alone. What else?
1140 Frenzied in phrenes you are, by some god possessed, and you wail in wild strains your own fate, like that brown bird that never ceases making lament—alas!—and in the misery of her phrenes moans Itys, Itys, 1145 throughout all her days abounding in sorrow, the nightingale.8
Ah, fate of the clear-voiced nightingale! The gods clothed her in a winged form and gave to her a sweet life without tears. But for me waits destruction by the two-edged sword.
1150 From where come these vain pangs of prophecy that assail you? And why do you mold to melody these terrors with dismal cries blended with piercing strains? How do you know the bounds of the path of your 1155 ill-boding prophecy?
Ah, the marriage, the marriage of Paris, that destroyed his philoi! Ah me, Scamander, my native stream! Upon your banks in bygone days, unhappy maid, was I nurtured with fostering care; 1160 but now by Cocytus and the banks of Acheron,9 I think, I soon must chant my prophecies.
What words are these you utter, words all too plain? A newborn child hearing them could understand. I am smitten with a deadly pain, while, 1165 by reason of your cruel fortune, you cry aloud your pitiful moans that break my heart to hear.
O the ordeals [ponoi], the ordeals [ponoi] of my city utterly destroyed! Alas, the sacrifices my father offered, the many pasturing cattle slain to save its towers! 1170 Yet they provided no remedy to save the city from suffering even as it has; and I, my noos at boiling point, must soon fall to the ground.
Your present speech chimes with your former strain. 1175 Surely some malignant spirit, falling upon you with heavy swoop, moves you to chant your piteous woes fraught with death. But the end I am helpless to discover.
And now, no more shall my prophecy peer forth from behind a veil like a newlywed bride; 1180 but it appears to be rushing toward me, breathing, blowing, toward the sun’s rising, so as to dash against its rays, like a wave. It is something far mightier than this pain of mine here. No more by riddles [ainigma plural] will I put knowledge into your thinking [phrenes]. And bear me witness, as, running close behind, 1185 I scent the track of crimes done long ago. For from this roof never departs a khoros chanting in unison, but singing not a happy tune; for it tells not of good. And so, gorged on human blood, so as to be the more emboldened, a reveling band [kōmos] of kindred Furies [Erinyes] haunts the house, 1190 hard to drive away. Lodged within its halls they sing their hymn, the primal atē; and, each in turn, they spurn with loathing a brother’s bed, for they bitterly spurn the one who defiled it.10 Have I missed the mark, or, like a true archer, do I strike my quarry? 1195 Or am I prophet of lies, a door-to-door babbler? Bear witness upon your oath that I know the deeds of error, ancient in story, of this house.
How could an oath, a pledge although given in honor, effect any cure? Yet I marvel at you that, 1200 though bred beyond the sea [pontos], you speak truth of a foreign polis, even as if you had been present there.
The seer Apollo appointed me to this office.
Can it be that he, a god, was smitten with desire?
Before now I was ashamed [aidōs] to speak of this.
1205 In prosperity everyone becomes delicate [habros].
Oh, but he wrestled me down, breathing down ardent pleasure [kharis] on me.
Did you in due course come to the rite of marriage?
I consented to Loxias but broke my word.
1210 Were you already possessed by the art inspired of the god?
Already I prophesied to my countrymen all their sufferings [pathos pl.].
How came it then that you were unharmed by Loxias’ wrath?
Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of anything.
And yet to us at least the prophecies you utter seem true enough.
Ah, ah! Oh, oh, the agony! 1215 Once more the dreadful ordeal [ponos] of true prophecy whirls and distracts me with its ill-boding onset. Do you see them there—sitting before the house—young creatures like phantoms of dreams? Children, they seem, slaughtered by their own kindred, 1220 their hands full of the meat of their own flesh; they are clear to my sight, holding their vitals and their inward parts—piteous burden!—which their father tasted. For this cause I tell you that a strengthless lion, wallowing in his bed, plots vengeance, 1225 a watchman waiting—ah me!—for my master’s coming home—yes, my master, for I must bear the yoke of slavery.The commander of the fleet and the overthrower of Ilion little knows what deeds shall be brought to evil accomplishment by the hateful hound, whose tongue licked his hand, who stretched forth her ears in gladness, 1230 like treacherous atē. Such boldness has she—a woman to slay a man. What odious monster shall I fitly call her? An Amphisbaina?11 Or a Scylla, tenanting the rocks, a pest to mariners, 1235 a raging, devil’s mother, breathing relentless war against her philoi? And how the all-daring woman raised a shout of triumph, as when the battle turns, while she feigned joy at the salvation [sōtēriā] of nostos! And yet, it is all one, whether or not I am believed. What does it matter? 1240 What is to come, will come. And soon you yourself, present here, shall with great pity pronounce me all too true [alēthēs] a prophetess.
Thyestes’ banquet on his children’s flesh I understood, and I tremble. Terror possesses me as I hear the truth [alēthēs], nothing fashioned out of falsehood to resemble truth. 1245 But as for the rest I heard I am thrown off the track.
I say you shall look upon Agamemnon dead.
Lull your speech, miserable girl, making it euphēmos.12
Over what I tell no healing god presides.
No, if it is to be; but may it not be so!
1250 You do but pray; their business is to slay.
What man is he that contrived this woe [akhos]?
Surely you must have missed the meaning of my prophecies.
I do not understand the scheme of him who is to do the deed.
And yet all too well I understand the Greek language.
1255 So, too, do the Pythian oracles; yet they are hard to understand.
Oh, oh! What fire! It comes upon me! Woe, woe! Lykeian Apollo! Ah me, ah me! This two-footed lioness, who mates with a wolf in the absence of the noble lion, 1260 will slay me, miserable as I am. As if brewing a drug, she vows that with her wrath she will mix requital for me too, while she whets her sword against her husband, to take murderous vengeance for bringing me here. Why then do I bear these mockeries of myself, 1265 this wand, these prophetic chaplets on my neck?
1295 O woman, very pitiful and very sophē, long has been your speech. But if, in truth, you have knowledge of your own death, how can you step with calm courage to the altar like an ox, driven by the god?
There is no escape; no, my friends, there is none any more.
1300 Yet he that is last has the advantage in respect of time.
The day has come; flight would profit me but little.
Well, be assured, you are brave suffering with courageous phrēn.
None who is happy is commended thus.
Yet surely to die with kleos is a grace [kharis] for mortals.
1305 Alas for you, my father, and for your noble children!
What ails you? What terror turns you back?
Why do you cry “alas”? Unless perhaps there is some horror in your phrenes.
This house stinks of blood-dripping slaughter.
1310 And what of that? It is just the savor of victims at the hearth.
It is like a breath from the grave.
You are not speaking of proud Syrian incense for the house.
Nay, I will go to bewail also within the palace my own and Agamemnon’s fate. Enough of life! 1315 Alas, my friends, not with vain terror do I shrink, as a bird that fears a bush. After I am dead, bear witness for me of this—when for me, a woman, another woman shall be slain, and for an ill-wedded man another man shall fall. 1320 I claim this from you as my xenos now that I am about to die.
Poor woman, I pity you for your death foretold.
I still want to have the chance, just for one moment, to make a speech—or a lament [thrēnos] that I perform for my own self. I pray to the sun, as I face its light for the last time, that the enemies may pay a bloody penalty to compensate for my death as well, 1325 which is the murder of a slave, an easy defeat. Ah, I cry out about the things that happen to humans! Even when things go well, one can still compare it all to a shadow [skiā]; but when things go badly, the dabbing of a wet sponge blots out the drawing. 1330 And this I think is far more pitiable than that.
It is the nature of all human kind to be unsatisfied with prosperity. From stately halls no one bars it with warning voice that utters the words “Enter no more.” 1335 So the Blessed Ones [makares] have granted to our prince to capture Priam’s town; and, divinely-honored, he returns to his home. Yet if he now must pay the penalty for the blood shed by others before him, and by dying for the dead 1340 he is to bring to pass retribution of other deaths, what mortal man, on hearing this, can boast that he was born with an unharmful fate [daimōn]?
Alas! I am struck deep with a mortal blow!
Silence! Who is this that cries out, wounded by a mortal blow?
1345 And once again, alas! I am struck by a second blow.
– The deed is done, it seems—to judge by the groans of the King. But come, let us take counsel together if there is perhaps some safe plan of action.
– I tell you my advice: summon the townsfolk to bring rescue here to the palace.
– 1350 To my thinking we must burst in and charge them with the deed while the sword is still dripping in their hands.
– I, too, am for taking part in some such plan, and vote for action of some sort. It is no time to keep on delaying.
– It is plain. Their opening act 1355 is the signal [sēmeion pl.] of a plan to set up a tyranny in the polis.
– Yes, because we are wasting time, while they, trampling underfoot the kleos of Delay, allow their hands no slumber.
– I know not what plan I could hit on to propose. It is the doer’s part likewise to do the planning.
– 1360 I too am of this mind, for I know no way to bring the dead back to life by mere words.
– What? To prolong our lives shall we thus submit to the rule of those defilers of the house?
– No, it is not to be endured. No, death would be better, 1365 for that would be a milder lot than tyranny.
– And shall we, upon the evidence of mere groans, divine that the man is dead?
– We should be sure of the facts before we indulge our wrath. For surmise differs from assurance.
– 1370 I am supported on all sides to approve this course: that we get clear assurance how it stands with Atreus’ son.
Much have I said before to serve my need and I shall feel no shame to contradict it now. For how else could one, devising hate against enemies [ekhthroi] 1375 who bear the semblance of philoi, fence the snares of ruin too high to be overleaped? This is the agōn of an ancient feud, pondered by me of old, and it has come—however long delayed. I stand where I dealt the blow; my purpose is achieved. 1380 Thus have I done the deed—deny it I will not. Round him, as if to catch a haul of fish, I cast an impassable net—fatal wealth of robe—so that he should neither escape nor ward off doom. Twice I struck him, and with two groans 1385 his limbs relaxed. Once he had fallen, I dealt him yet a third stroke as a prayer of gratitude [kharis] to the infernal Zeus, the savior [sōtēr] of the dead. Fallen thus, he gasped away his thūmos, and as he breathed forth quick spurts of blood, 1390 he struck me with dark drops of gory dew; while I rejoiced no less than the sown earth is gladdened in the sky’s refreshing rain at the birthtime of the flower buds.
We are shocked at your tongue, how bold-mouthed you are, 1400 that over your husband you can utter such a boastful speech.
You are testing me as if I were a witless woman. But my heart does not quail, and I say to you who know it well—and whether you wish to praise or to blame me, it is all one—here is Agamemnon, 1405 my husband, now a corpse, the work of this right hand, an artisan of dikē. So stands the case.
Woman, what poisonous herb nourished by the earth have you tasted, what potion drawn from the flowing sea, that you have taken upon yourself this maddened rage and the loud curses voiced by the community [dēmos]? 1410 You have cast him off; you have cut him off; and out from the polis you shall be cast, a burden of hatred to your people.
It’s now that you would doom me to exile from the polis, to the hatred of my people and the curses of the dēmos; though then you had nothing to urge against him that lies here. And yet he, 1415 caring no more than if it had been a beast that perished—though sheep were plenty in his fleecy folds—he sacrificed his own child, she whom I bore with most philos travail, to charm the winds of Thrace. Is it not he whom you should have banished from this land 1420 in requital for his polluting deed? No! When you arraign what I have done, you are a stern judge. Well, I warn you: threaten me thus on the understanding that I am prepared, conditions equal, to let you lord it over me if you shall vanquish me by force. But if a god shall bring the contrary to pass, 1425 you shall learn equilibrium [sōphroneîn] though taught the lesson late.
You are proud of spirit, and your speech is overbearing. Even as your phrēn is maddened by your deed of blood, upon your face a stain of blood shows full plain to behold. Bereft of all honor, forsaken of philoi, 1430 you shall hereafter atone for stroke with stroke.
Listen then to this too, this the righteous sanction on my oath: I swear by dikē, exacted for my child, by atē, and by the Erinys, to whom I sacrificed that man, that my expectations do not tread for me the halls of fear, 1435 so long as the fire upon my hearth is kindled by Aegisthus, loyal in phrenes to me as in days gone by. For he is no slight shield of confidence to me. Here lies the man who did me wrong, plaything of each Khrysēis at Ilion; 1440 and here she lies, his captive, and auguress, and concubine, his oracular faithful whore, yet equally familiar with the seamen’s benches. The pair has met no undeserved fate. For he lies thus; while she, who, like a swan, 1445 has sung her last lament in death, lies here, his beloved; but to me she has brought for my bed an added relish of delight.
Alas! Ah, that some fate, free from excess of pain, nor yet lingering, 1450 might come full soon and bring to us everlasting and endless sleep, now that our most gracious guardian has been laid low, who in a woman’s cause had much endured and by a woman’s hand has lost his life. 1455 O Helen, distorted in noos, who did yourself alone push over the brink these many lives [psūkhai], these lives exceeding many, beneath the walls of Troy. Now you have bedecked yourself with your final crown, that shall long last in memory, 1460 because of blood not to be washed away. Truly in those days eris, an affliction that has subdued our lord, dwelt in the house.
Do not burden yourself with thoughts such as these, nor invoke upon yourself the fate of death. Nor yet turn your wrath upon Helen, 1465 and deem her a slayer of men, as if she alone had pushed over the brink many a Danaan life [psūkhē] and had wrought anguish past all cure.
O daimōn who falls upon this house and Tantalus’ two descendants, 1470 you who by the hands of women wield a power [kratos] matching their temper, a rule bitter to my psūkhē! Perched over his body like a hateful raven, in hoarse notes she chants her song of triumph.
1475 Now you have corrected the judgment of your lips in that you conjure up the thrice-gorged fate [daimōn] of this family.13 For by him the lust for lapping blood is fostered in the mouth; so before 1480 the ancient woe [akhos] is healed, there is fresh blood.
So you speak words of praise [ainos] about a mighty daimōn, haunting the house, and heavy in his mēnis—alas, alas!—an evil tale of catastrophic fate insatiable [without koros]; 1485 woe, woe, done by the will of Zeus, author of all, worker of all! For what is brought to pass for mortal men save by the will of Zeus? What of this is not wrought by god?
Do you affirm this deed is mine? Do not imagine that I am Agamemnon’s spouse. 1500 A phantom resembling that corpse’s wife, the ancient bitter evil spirit of Atreus, that grim banqueter, has offered him in payment, sacrificing a full-grown victim in vengeance for those slain children.
1505 That you are not responsible [aitios] for this murder—who will bear you witness? How could anyone do so? And yet the avenger from his father might well be your accomplice. By force 1510 amid streams of kindred blood black Arēs presses on to where he shall grant vengeance for the gore of children served for meat.
I do not think he met an ignoble death. Did he not himself by treachery bring ruin [atē] on his house? 1525 Yet, as he has suffered—worthy prize of worthy deed—for what he did to my sweet flower, shoot sprung from him, the much-bewailed Iphigeneia, let him make no great boasts in the halls of Hādēs, since with death dealt him by the sword he has paid for what he first began.
1530 Bereft of any ready expedient of thought, I am bewildered where to turn now that the house is tottering. I fear the beating storm of bloody rain that shakes the house; no longer does it descend in drops. 1535 Yet on other whetstones Destiny [moira] is sharpening justice [dikē] for another evil deed.
O Earth, Earth, if only you had taken me to yourself before I ever lived to see my lord 1540 occupying a lowly bed of a silver-sided bath! Who shall bury him? Who shall lament him? Will you harden your heart to do this—you who have slain your own husband—to lament for him 1545 and crown your unholy work with a kharis without kharis to his psūkhē, atoning for your monstrous deeds? And who, as with tears he utters praise [ainos] over the godlike man’s grave, 1550 shall sorrow in truth [alētheia] of phrenes?
To care for that duty is no concern of yours. By our hands down he fell, down to death, and down below shall we bury him—but not with wailings from his household. 1555 No! Iphigeneia, his daughter, as is due, shall meet her father lovingly at the swift-flowing ford of sorrows [akhos pl.], and shall fling her arms around him and kiss him.
1560 Reproach thus meets reproach in turn—hard is the struggle to decide. The spoiler is despoiled, the slayer pays penalty. Yet, while Zeus remains on his throne, it remains true: “The doer suffers [paskhein].” For it is divine law. 1565 Who can cast from out the house the seed of the curse? The family is bound fast in calamity [atē].
You have touched with truth [alētheia] upon this oracular saying. As for me, however, I am willing to make a sworn compact with the daimōn of the Pleisthenidai14 1570 that I will be content with what is done, hard to endure though it is. Henceforth he shall leave this house and bring tribulation upon some other family by murder of kin. A small part of the wealth is fully enough for me, if I may but rid these halls 1575 of the frenzy of mutual murder.
Hail gracious light of the day of retribution! At last the hour has come when I can say that the gods who avenge mortal men look down from on high upon the sorrows [akhos pl.] of earth— 1580 now that, to my joy, I behold this man lying here in a robe spun by the Avenging Spirits [Erinyes] and making full payment for the deeds contrived in craft by his father’s hand.
Aegisthus, hubris amid distress I do not honor. You say that of your own intent you slew this man and did alone plot this pitiful murder. 1615 I tell you in the hour of dikē that you yourself—be sure of that—will not escape the people’s curses and death by stoning at their hand.
You speak like that, you who sit at the lower oar when those upon the higher bench control the ship? Old as you are, you shall learn how bitter it is 1620 at your age to be schooled when equilibrium [sōphroneîn] is the lesson set before you. Bonds and the pangs of hunger are far the best doctors of the phrenes when it comes to instructing the old. Do you have eyes and lack understanding? Do not kick against the goads lest you strike to your own hurt.
1625 Woman that you are! Skulking at home and awaiting the return of the men from war, all the while defiling a hero’s bed, did you contrive this death against a warrior chief?
These words of yours likewise shall prove a source of tears. The tongue of Orpheus is quite the opposite of yours. 1630 He led all things by the rapture of his voice; but you, who have stirred our wrath by your silly yelping, shall be led off yourself. You will appear tamer when put down by force.
As if you could ever truly be turannos here in Argos, you who did contrive this one’s death, and 1635 then had not the courage to do this deed of murder with your own hand!
Because to ensnare him was clearly the woman’s part; I was suspect as his enemy of old. However, with his money I shall endeavor to control the citizens; and whoever is unruly, 1640 him I’ll yoke with a heavy collar—and he shall be no well-fed trace-horse! No! Loathsome hunger that lives with darkness shall see him turned gentle.
Why then, in the baseness of your psūkhē, did you not kill him yourself, but leave his slaying to a woman, 1645 a plague to her country and her country’s gods? Oh, does Orestes perhaps still behold the light, that, with favoring fortune, he may come home and be the slayer of this pair with victory complete?
Since you plan to act and speak like that, you shall be taught a lesson soon.
1650 On guard, my philoi company, the task is close at hand.
On guard, then! Let every one make ready his sword with hand on hilt.
My hand, too, is laid on my sword-hilt, and I do not shrink from death.
“Death for yourself,” you say. We accept the omen. We welcome fortune’s test.
No, most philos of men, let us work no further evils. 1655 Even these are many to reap, a wretched harvest. Of woe we have enough; let us have no bloodshed. Old men, go back to your homes, and yield in time to destiny before you come to harm. What we did had to be done. But should this trouble prove enough, we will accept it, 1660 sorely battered as we are by the heavy hand of a daimōn. Such is a woman’s counsel, if any care to learn from it.
But to think that these men should let their wanton tongues thus blossom into speech against me and cast about such insults, putting their fortune [daimōn] to the test! To reject balanced [sōphrōn] counsel and insult their master!
1665 It would not be like men of Argos to cringe before a man as low as you.
Ha! I will visit you with vengeance yet in days to come.
Not if a daimōn shall guide Orestes to return home.
From my own experience I know that exiles feed on hope.
Keep on, grow fat while polluting dikē, since you can.
1670 Know that you shall atone to me for your insolent folly.
Brag in your bravery like a cock beside his hen.
Ignore their idle barking. You and I will be masters of this house and order it aright.