Euripides, Herakles

Translated by Robert Potter
Adapted by Mary Ebbott and Casey Dué
Further adapted by Miriam Kamil
Introduction: Herakles has gone to the underworld, where he was sent by Eurystheus to drag to light the triple-headed dog Cerberus. Lykos, king of Thebes, certain that the enterprise will prove fatal to the hero, seizes on his three sons, together with their mother Megara, and grandfather Amphitryon, in order to allay his fears of their popularity and influence by killing them.
[The scene is at Thebes, before the house of Herakles.]
Who among mortals does not know the one who shared his
bed with Zeus, the Argive Amphitryon? Alcaeus was his sire,
from Perseus sprung, and Herakles his son.
He held his seat in Thebes, where the earthborn
crop of sown men grew, of which race [genos] only a few 5
Mars spared: their great descendants in the city [polis]
of Kadmos [i.e., Thebes] flourished: Creon, of their line,
son of Menoikeus, was king of this land.
And Creon was father of Megara here—
to her the sons of Thebes attuned their reeds 10
and wedding hymns, when to my house
the illustrious Herakles with festive joy
led her as his bride. But leaving Thebes, my residence,
and this Megara, and the alliance formed through her, my son desired
to fix his seat at Argos, in the city walls [polis] 15
raised by the Cyclopes: [1] exiled from there I fled, having killed
Electryon. [2] To alleviate my misfortunes,
and wishing to inhabit his fatherland,
he offered high rewards to Eurystheus
to civilize the earth, whether he was prompted by 20
the goads of Hera or by necessity.
The other toils [ponos] he achieved with hard labor;
but for the last, to Hades’ dreary abode
through the dark jaws of Tainaros he went,
to drag the thrice-fanged hound to light. From there he has not returned. 25
Yet in Thebes remains the story of times of old,
that Lykos once, wedded to Dirce,
held his awful reign over the seven towers of Thebes,
before the sons of Zeus, Amphion and his brother Zethus,
the so-called white colts, were monarchs [verb of turannos] of the land. 30
His son, who bears his father’s name,
(no Theban, but coming from Euboea),
killed Creon, and having killed him now rules the land,
having fallen on this city when it was sick with strife [stasis].
We, because, it seems, we are allied to Creon’s family, 35
draw our greatest miseries: for, while my son,
is in the dark recesses of the earth below,
Lykos, the new ruler of this land,
wishes to destroy the sons of Herakles,
to slay his wife, and, that murder may be quenched by murder, 40
me, too, a weak old man, (if somehow I can
be numbered among men); so that, when they become men
they should not achieve vengeance [dikē] for their mother’s family.
I (for my son left me in his house,
to guard his children when down the earth’s 45
dark steep he took his way),
to save them from impending ruin,
sit here, with their mother, at this altar, raised to Zeus, the high savior [sōtēr],
which my son erected as a generous monument
of his victorious spear, when his strong arm subdued the Minyae. [3] 50
Deprived of all things, food and drink, and clothing,
we keep these seats in this sanctuary. On the bare, uncovered ground
we make our beds, for our house is closed shut
against us. Here we sit at a loss for safety [sōtēria].
Of my friends [philos], I see some who were not such; 55
and they, who are indeed my true friends, are powerless to help.
Among men such is the influence of calamity.
May no one who was the least well-minded [with good noos] to me encounter it—
calamity, that most unerring test of friendship. [philos].
O venerable man, who once destroyed the Taphian towers, [4] 60
the leader of the famous [kleos] Theban force,
what darkness hides the councils of the gods from mortal eyes!
To me no joy devolves from all my father’s fortune:
who once was blessed with all the pride of wealth [olbos].
He once ruled, which inflamed the long spears 65
to rage against the bosom of the fortunate.
He once had children: me he gave in marriage to your son,
to be the illustrious wife of Herakles.
These blessings in his death flew away at once—
now you, old man, and I are about to die, 70
and these too, the sons of Herakles, whom, beneath my wings
I keep safe [sōzō], like the mother bird who crouches over her nestlings.
They in turn question me, “Mother, tell us,
where on earth has our father gone?
What is he doing? When will he return?” Helpless in their youth 75
they ask for their father. To divert their minds, I tell comforting tales,
but in amazement I see,
whenever the gates creak , their ready feet
start forward, to fall at their father’s knees.
But now what hope or means of safety [sōtēria] 80
can you provide, venerable man? I look to you.
For neither from this land by secret flight can we escape—
each avenue is held by guards too strong for us—
nor in our friends [philos] is there any hope of salvation left [sōtēria].
If your thoughts suggest anything, 85
propose it; let not instant death overtake us.
Daughter, it is no easy or slight task
to advise earnestly without ordeal [ponos].
Since we are weak, let us just delay.
Have you need of more pain, or do you so love the light of day? 90
I rejoice in the light, and I cherish hope.
So do I, but hope is in vain, old man, where hope must fail.
Ills [kakos] find a remedy in their delay.
The time in delay is painful, and gnaws at me me.
Some prosperous course may yet be opened, daughter, 95
for you and me to escape these present evils [kakos].
My son, your husband, may perhaps yet return.
But remain calm, and from your children’s eyes
dry those flowing tears; calm them with stories,
a soothing, but wretched, fallacy. 100
For even the sufferings of mortals waste away,
and the blasts of storms do not keep their strength always.
The fortunate are not fortunate to the end [telos]—
everything changes and is different from before.
The best [aristos] man is the one who always 105
trusts in hope; the coward [kakos] gives up.
Leaning on my staff I come, strophe
to the high roofed halls and the old-man’s home
a white swan , foretelling ill
I come to pour the mournful songs. 110
Nothing except words [epos] is left to me now.
A lifeless vision of the night I seem,
the phantom of a dream.
Though these words do tremble, yet friendly shall they flow.
Children, children, bereft of your father. 115
You, poor old man, and you, afflicted woman,
How your heart is pained with bitter anguish,
for your lost husband is kept in Hades’ house!
To one another

Do not hurry my feeble frame, antistrophe
as up the craggy steep 120
faintly and slowly on I creep
like the colt that draws the heavy cart up the stony street.
And, as I go with infirm step,
gently lead this heavy burden,
support me by the robe and by the hand. 125
I, an old man, will support an old man,
just as when I, as a young man, held up the youthful spear and shield.
I was there together in the toils [ponos] of my agemates
and brought no disgrace on my renowned [with good kleos] fatherland.
Behold these boys! How stern their brow, 130
their father’s spirit
flashing from their eyes!
They, too, know his hapless fortune,
and his manly grace retain.
O Greece, if bereft of these, 135
what firm allies,
you will lose.

But, I see the monarch of this land,
Lykos, advancing to this house. He’s here.

If I might ask the father and the wife 140
of Herakles—and of course I may, since
I am your master, find out what I want to know—
for how long do you seek to prolong your life?
By what hope or help do you expect not to die?
Do you think that from the realms of Hades, where he lies, 145
the sire of these children will come? Thus you heighten your grief,
since you must die so unbecomingly—
you, who spread many an empty boast through Greece,
that Zeus once shared your bed, and gave that strange son birth,
and you, who you are called the wife of the bravest [aristos] man! 150
Yet by your husband what illustrious deed has been achieved,
even if he slew the marsh-bred Hydra,
or Nicaean beast, which caught in his nets,
he claims to have grasped it in his arms, and strangled?
On this presume you to contend with me? Is it for this 155
the sons of Herakles ought not to die?
Who, with no merit, held the reputation of daring courage [good psukhe],
since with beasts he fought, but had his prowess in naught else besides.
For his left hand never knew to raise the shield;
never came near the spear, but he used a bow to fight, 160
a coward’s [most kakos] weapon, and was always ready for flight.
No true test of manhood, none of daring courage [good psukhe] is the bow;
courage is best shown by him, who, remaining steadfast, dares to face
the rapid spear and the furrowed wounds it cuts.
Think not, old man, that what I do now takes rise from insolence, 165
but, rather, from, caution: well I know I slew
her father Creon, and possess his throne.
I therefore have no use for these boys to grow up,
and leave them to avenge [take dikē on] my deeds.
May Zeus protect his son, for that to Zeus 170
belongs. It shall be my part to refute with my words
his ignorance about you, Herakles, for never
will I bear to hear you defamed [spoken of, kluein, badly, kakos]. And first
the charge of cowardice (shame on the tongue
that brought so vile a charge!) will I disprove, 175
and call the gods to witness. I call on
the thunder, and the flaming car of Zeus,
ascending in which Heracles , fixed his winged arrows
in the ribs of the Giants, those sons of Earth, ,
And shared the glorious triumph of the gods. [5] 180
To Pholoë go, you basest [superlative of kakos] of kings,
and ask the four-hoofed monsters of the centaur race [genos],
what man they judge the bravest [aristos]—
whom would they name, but my son?
Ask the Euboean Dirphe, [6] that nurtured you— 185
it would not sound your praise, for you have done
nothing noble [esthlon] to which your country might bear witness.
But wisdom’s prime invention, the arrow-bearing quiver,
you blame: hear me now, and become wise [sophos]!
The man arrayed in arms is to his arms a slave, 190
and, if stationed near the weak-hearted,
through their cowardice he perishes.
Or if he should break his spear, what has he to protect him
from the carnage, his lone means of valor thus disarmed?
But he who grasps the skillful-aiming bow 195
has in his hand the one best thing. For even if he sends
a thousand arrows against the breast of others,
he defends himself from death; and, his stand held distant,
pours his vengeance on his foes,
who, though watchful, are wounded by blind arrows, 200
nor to their arms exposed. For in the fight
this is especially wise [sophos], to annoy [treat badly, kakos]
the enemies, while saving [sōzō] your own body.
These are my arguments, in refutation of yours
concerning the points you made. 205
But why do you wish to kill these boys?
What have they done to you? Yet I consider you wise [sophos]
in this one thing
that, being the coward [kakos] you are, you fear the offspring
of the brave [aristos]. Yet this is hard on us,
that we must die on account of your cowardice, 210
when you should suffer at the hands of us, your betters,
were Zeus with righteous [dikaios] thought attentive to us.
If you wish to hold the scepter of this land,
permit us to leave this country as exiles.
You should do nothing with violence [biâ], or you shall
suffer violence [biâ] 215
when the god shall change the direction of the winds.
O Theban land (for on you as well I think it right
to pour my reproachful words),
is this how you defend Herakles and his sons?
Yet he advanced alone against all the Minynae in arms, 220
and let the eye of Thebes see freedom.
Nor, Greece, do you deserve my praise, nor will I ever keep
silent at your baseness [superlative of kakos] to my son.
You should, in aid of these poor boys, come bringing
fire, spears, arms, in return for [kharis] their father’s toils 225
of clearing sea and land from its monsters.
But, children, neither the state [polis] of Thebes,
nor Greece will defend you. To me, a friend [philos] but a weak one,
you turn, but I am nothing but a talking tongue.
For the strength I once had has left me, 230
trembling with age, my languid nerves without vigor.
To Lykos: If I now were young, and there were might in this body,
I would grasp the spear and stain those blond locks
with blood so that I might see you flee beyond
the bounds of the Atlantic, in fear of my lance. 235
Are not the good [agathos], though slow to opprobrious words,
often provoked by wrongs to give them vent?
Speak against me whatever proud words you want—
my actions will be harsh to you in return for your words.
Go, attendants,, some to Helicon, some to the valleys of Parnassus; 240
, and bid the woodsmen cut the trunks of oak,
and bear them to the city [polis];
pile them each way round this altar, set them on fire,
and burn those wretches there; that they may know
their dead Creon no longer rules in these realms, 245
but I am now the lord of Thebes.
And you, old men, who dare oppose me
and my will, do not groan for the sons of Herakles alone
but also for the ruin that will fall
on your own house. You will remember then 250
that you are slaves to my despotic power [turannis].
You, offspring of the earth, whom Mars of old
sowed, when the dragon’s furious jaws he stripped of teeth,
will not each of you raise the staff that supports
his right hand , and dash it against this man’s unholy head, 255
who, not a Theban, over my land and people
most basely [superlative of kakos] rules, alien though he be?
Yet never will you rejoice being despot over me,
nor will you possess what my hand earned with toil.
Go back from where you came, commit your 260
outrage [hubris] there; while I live, never will you kill
the sons of Herakles; for not so far beneath the earth
does he lie concealed that he forsakes his sons.
Since you hold sway here in this land, having destroyed it,
he who has helped it does not receive his worthy due. 265
Much I avail my friends [philos] by all the zeal
I show the dead, for the dead want friends [philos] the most t.
O my right hand, how you long to grasp the spear!
But the desire is lost in weakness.
Else I would stop you from calling me a slave— 270
with glory [kleos] might we then inhabit this our Thebes,
in which you now delight. For the city [polis] does not think well
which is sick with base sedition [stasis] and ill counsels;
otherwise it would not have acquired you as despot.
Old men, I praise [verb of ainos] you; for on account of friends [philos] 275
friends [philos] must have a just [dikaios] resentment.
Yet in our cause let not your anger rise against your despots,
don’t suffer anything. And you, Amphitryon,
hear now my opinion, if I seem to speak anything worthwhile.
I love my children; how can I but love them, 280
whom I brought forth, and toiled over ?
And to die I think is terrible; yet the one
who strives against necessity I deem but ill advised.
But we, since we must die, we should not die
consumed by fire, letting our enemies [ekhthros] laugh at us: 285
to me death is a better evil [kakos];
and to the honor of our house we owe much.
The glory [with good kleos] of the powerful spear is yours;
let not that glory be tarnished by your death through fear.
My well-famed [with good kleos] husband needs no witness 290
that he would not wish to save [sōzō] his sons,
if they gain a poor [kakos] reputation from it. For the well-born
suffer from the disgrace of their children;
nor shall I refuse to emulate my noble husband.
See now how much I esteem your hope. 295
Do you think that from the realms below your son will come?
Who of the dead has come back again from Hades?
Or do you think that this one [Lykos] will relent to words?
Not at all. One must flee a boorish enemy [ekhthros]—
to the wise [sophos], whose minds are trained well, we submit, 300
for we find there a modest [aidōs] gentleness.
My mind suggests, if we prevail to save
my sons by exile, what a wretched state
safety [sōtēria] is with distressful poverty
since from the face of such a guest [xenos] each friend [philos] will turn, 305
nor behold him with a pleasant eye longer than a single day.
Then dare to die with us, since death awaits you anyway.
We call forth, old man, the nobleness [with good genos] of your soul.
He who strives against the fortunes sent by the gods
is eager but to show his foolishness; 310
for the necessary ill will come—no one can stop it.
If, while my arm retained its vigorous force,
this insult [hubris] had been offered, I would have repelled it with ease;
but now I am nothing. It is yours then, Amphitryon, to look to
how best to drive back the impending ill. 315
Not abject fear, nor fond desire of life keeps me
from death, but I wish for my son
to save [sōzō] his sons—it seems I am in love with the impossible.
See, the neck is ready for your sword,
cut me, kill me, hurl me from the rock. 320
Just grant me one favor [kharis], lord, I beg you:
kill me, and kill her, the wretched mother, first,
so that we not behold the children’s death, the unhallowed sight;
nor, while their warm blood flows, hear them call on their mother,
and on me their father’s father. As for the rest, if you are eager 325
do it. We have no power to rescue us from death.
I am your suppliant, too; to grace [kharis] add grace [kharis],
and merit thanks for both. Permit me, king,
opening the doors, which now are shut against us,
to array my children in the dress [kosmos] of death, 330
giving them at least a scanty portion from their father’s house.
Well, so be it. Attendants, open the house.
Go in, array [verb of kosmos] yourselves; I begrudge you not your robes.
When you are dressed with such attire [kosmos] as suits you,
I will come, and send you to the dark realms below. 335
Come then, my sons, let your unhappy steps
attend your mother to your father’s house over which others
have power and have seized his wealth; the name as yet remains with us.
In vain, Zeus, did I share my wife with you.
In vain am I called together with you the father of this son. 340
You are less a friend [philos] than you seem to be.
Mortal as I am, in virtue [aretē] I surpass you, a mighty god;
for I have not betrayed the sons of Herakles.
You knew well enough how to come by stealth to my marriage-bed,
to invade a bed not yours, no permission obtained. 345
But you do not know to save [sōzō] your friends [philos].
You are an ignorant god or you are by nature not just [dikaios].
The lament for Linos after the strophe
song for success Phoibos sings,
drawing his golden plectrum 350
over the beautiful voiced seven string lyre [kithara].
But I sing of the one who went below the earth
Whether I call him the son of Zeus
or child of Amphitryon
I wish to sing a crown of his 355
toils through eulogy,
the striving for excellence [aretē] of his labors [ponoi]
are a glory to the dead.

First the sacred forest of Zeus he cleared,
and he slew the lion— 360
over his manly limbs the victor wore
the tawny beast’s shaggy hide,
terrific with its yawning jaws upon his head.

Next with many a shaft winged antistrophe
from his fatal bow, he slew the 365
mountain band of savage Centaurs
and laid the bleeding monsters low.
The lovely rapids of Peneus knew him
and large stretches of uncultivated plains,
Pelian abodes and 370
neighboring Omole’s deep caves;
pouring out from where with pine torches
in their hand, the Centaurs tamed
the Thessalian landwith their cavalry.

The spotted hind, that reared with pride 375
the golden antlers of its head,
and wasted Oene’s groves,
he chased, he seized, he bound,
a trophy to the huntress goddess.

He yoked the mares of Diomedes to the car, strophe
and taught their mouths the iron bit to bear. 381
These horses were unreined, and pawing in their gore-stained stalls,
greedy of human flesh for food,
and drank with savage joy human blood:
fed on horrid food. The silver-flowing Hebrus passed, 385
he drove its farther bank beside,
to the ocean wave, with headlong haste,
laboring [ponos] for the tyrant [turannos] of Mycenae.

Near the Malian headlands
next to the waters of Anauros, 390
he slew Kyknos, the xenos killer,
piercing him with his shafts, in blood he lies,
and gives the avenged stranger rest.

To the rich gardens near the Hesperides, antistrophe
where still the tuneful sisters pour the strain 395
he came. He plucked the ambrosial fruit that grew
shining on the boughs of gold.
In vain the watchful dragon wreathed around
his spires voluminous and vast;
the fiery-scaled guard he slew. 400
Then to the wide ocean’s foaming gulfs he passed,
making them calm for mortals in ships.

Beneath the center of the skies,
he made his hands the foundation,
going to Atlas’ home, 405
and on his patient shoulders bore
the starry mansions of the gods.

Over the black Euxine’s crashing waves strophe
he sought the Amazonian cavalry
in martial ranks arranged along the coast 410
at Maeotis, where many rivers meet.
Who of his friends [philos], their country’s pride,
did not in arms arise, to attend their chief?
The golden robes, the girdle of the queen
were his dangerous quarry. 415
Greece took the illustrious spoils
of the barbarian girl, and
it is preserved [sōzō] in Mycenae.

The horrid Hydra’s hundred heads,
hell-hound of Lerna, armed with flames, 420
he cut off each one,
coated with whose venom
his shafts killed the triple-bodied Geryon,
the herdsman of Erytheia.

He won prizes in many other races antistrophe
and glorious conquest crowned his brow. 426
But now, last of his toils [ponos], he sailed to Hades’
realms below. Unhappy, from that mournful shore,
he has lost his life and will not come back again.
Far from his house each faithless friend [philos] has fled. 430
The boat of Charon awaits his sons,
along that godless, unjust [without dikē] road
from which one never returns.
Your house looks to your hands,
though you are not here. 435

If I had the strength of my youth
and could shake my spear in battle
with my fellow Theban agemates,
I would stand forward and protect your sons
with courage, but youth and strength 440
are withered here and I have them no longer.

Chorus (now speaking)
But I see them wearing
the robes of death,
the sons of the once great Herakles,
and his much-loved [philos] wife, 445
leading her children coupled at her side
by the same chain of fate, and the old father of Herakles.
I am wretched,
I am not able to hold back the tears
pouring yet from my old eyes. 450
Come now: what priest, what butcher of the afflicted,
what bloody murderer of my wretched life [psukhē]
leads these ready victims to the home Hades?
Alas, my sons, ill-matched beneath the yoke,
the old, the young, the mothers, are we led to death. 455
O miserable fate, that awaits me and my sons,
whom never shall my eyes again behold!
I brought you forth, I nurtured you, to be insulted [hubris],
scorned and murdered by your foes.
Alas, much have my hopes of glory failed me, 460
which I hoped because of your father’s words.
To you [speaking to one of her sons], your father now gone
would have assigned Argos,
you would have had the seat of proud Eurystheus,
the rich and productive fields of Pelasgia,
throwing over your head the robe of the beast, 465
the lion’s skin, in which he himself was armed.
And you [another son] were to be leader of chariot-loving Thebes,
enriched with your mother’s realms
since you once persuaded your father
to place in your hand in jest 470
his protective and cunningly wrought club.
On you [the third son] Oikhalia’s towers, subdued once
by his far-wounding bow, he promised to bestow:
thus his three sons with three empires [turannis],
your father would have lifted you up, planning great things for your manhood. 475
And I for your brides chose the most illustrious women,
and formed alliances at Athens,
at Sparta, and at Thebes, so that, anchored thus,
your blessed [with good daimōn] lives might defy each rising storm.
These hopes are vanished: fortune, ever changing in her course 480
now gives the Fates instead of brides to you;
to me, wretched me, I have tears for a nuptial bath;
your grandfather here prepares the wedding feast,
considering Hades your father-in-law: the alliance now is bitter.
Oh me! which shall I first, which last 485
clasp to my bosom? Which with fondness kiss,
and which embrace? Or, like the yellow-winged bee,
shall I collect the griefs of each, and bring them all
into one store, and there condense the tear?
O you, my beloved [most philos], if any voice is heard 490
among the dead in Hades, to you, Herakles, I speak:
your father dies, your sons, and I too perish,
once by mortals called blessed because of you.
Hurry, come, aid us, and let your shade appear to me.
Your coming is enough, even if you come as a dream. 495
For they are evil [kakos] who would slay your sons.
Perform whatever to the infernal powers is due, woman.
I, Zeus, stretching my hands to heaven,
I call you: if you intend to help these children,
defend them now; your aid soon will not avail them at all. 500
How often have I invoked you, but I labor [ponos] in vain.
Of necessity, then, it seems we must die.
Old men, brief are the affairs of life;
pass its course in sweet tranquility,
nor grieve yourselves from morning to night. 505
Time knows not to preserve [sōzō] hope;
but, rushes on with its own concerns, and flies away.
Look at me, conspicuous once among men,
and doer of well-known deeds; but in one day fortune has
taken it from me, just like a feather in the breeze. 510
Neither great wealth [olbos], nor reputation is known to be
secure and lasting for anyone. Farewell, for now, my agemates,
you see your friend [philos] for the very last time.
O venerable man, do I spy my dearest [most philos] or what do I see?
I do not know, daughter; I am speechless. 515
Yes, it is he, who we had heard was held beneath the earth,
unless we see some dream in the clear light of day.
What am I saying? What sort of dream do I see so anxiously?
This is none other than your son, old man.
Come, children, hang upon your father’s robes. 520
Go to him, quickly go, don’t linger!
Not Zeus himself could be a better savior [sōtēr] for you.
I greet you, fair house! My pillared hearth, hail!
With pleasure, reascending to the light, I see you again.
Well, what may this mean? Before the house I see my sons, 525
their heads wrapped in the dress of death;
and, amid a crowd of men, my wife;
my father, too, in tears at some misfortune.
Near them will I stand and ask the cause.
Tell me, wife, what new affliction has befallen my house? 530
O most dear [most philos] of men! O light, coming to your father
you have come, you are safe [sōzō], returning to your friends [philos]
in their time of need.
What are you saying? Into what kind of disturbance have I come, father?
We are perishing. — Pardon me, old man,
If first I snatch the words that should be yours. 535
The female is more pitiful than the male,
and he was about to kill my children, and I was destroyed.
By Apollo, what sort of story begins like this?
Dead are my brothers, and my aged father.
How was this done? by whom? what hostile spear? 540
By Lykos, new monarch of this land.
Opposed by the arms of all or was the land afflicted?
By faction [stasis]; now he holds power over the seven gates of Thebes.
What terror reached you and my old father’s age?
He intends to kill your father and me and your sons. 545
What? Did he fear the orphan weakness of my sons?
Lest at some time they should avenge Creon’s death.
But why this dress [kosmos], which suits the infernal powers?
We wear these coverings in preparation for our deaths.
Should you by force [biâ] have died? Wretched me! 550
We were bereft of friends [philos]: we heard you were dead.
From what were your minds overwhelmed with this despair?
The heralds of Eurystheus brought these tidings.
Why then did you leave my house [oikos] and household gods?
We were forced [biâ]; your father was dragged from his bed. 555
Did not shame [aidōs] check such rude affront to age?
Shame [aidōs]? Lykos lives far from that goddess.
Were we so destitute of friends [philos] while I was away?
Who is a friend [philos] to the unfortunate?
Are thus my battles with the Minyae slighted? 560
Misfortune, as I said, has no friend [philos].
Will you not cast these coverings of Hades from your heads,
and look upon the light, your eyes rejoicing with that
sweet [philos] exchange from the dark gloom below?
I (for this work requires my hands) 565
will first go and utterly destroy the house
of this new tyrant [turannos], ripping his unholy head
and hurl it to the hungry dogs as prey. However many Thebans
requite my good service with evil,
this victorious club shall punish; 570
those that fly, my winged shafts shall reach,
until all Ismenus is choked with the dead,
and Dirce rolls her silver tide with blood discolored.
Whom should I protect more than my wife,
my father, and my sons? Farewell, my labors [ponoi]: 575
in vain I have I achieved them for others rather than my loved ones here ;
yet I must die in their defense, since for their father
they were to die. Or shall we say it is good
that I met the Hydra in battle, and the lion
sent by Eurystheus, but to keep my sons from death 580
I will not labor [verb of ponos] ardently? Ah! may I then be called
the glorious-conquering Herakles no more.
Just [dikaios] it is for the father to guard his sons,
his aged father, and wedded wife.
It is for you, my son, to be a friend [philos] to friends [philos] 585
and to hate your enemies [ekhthros]. But don’t act too hastily.
In what way do I act faster than I should, father?
The king has many allies who are poor,
but extolled as rich [olbios], and so appearing:
these have raised seditious tumults [stasis], and destroyed the city [polis], 590
to plunder their neighbors. All their own wealth
they have wasted away in foul intemperance and sloth.
You were seen coming here: be cautious then,
lest by this hateful [ekthros] band you perish in ambush.
I do not care if the whole city [polis] saw me. 595
But seeing a bird in an inauspicious place,
I knew some ordeal [ponos] had befallen my house,
and so my entrance was with studied secrecy.
Excellent! Go then, and address Hestia,
look upon your paternal home. 600
The tyrant soon will come with intent
to wound, to slay, to slaughter
your wife, yours sons, and me.
For you waiting there, everything will come
with safety gained; but do not arouse
the city [polis], son, till this deed be well achieved. 605
I will do this, for you have spoken well. I will go in the house
after this tedious absence, having come up from the sunless courts
of Hades’ queen below; and first I will salute
with reverent awe the gods beneath my roof.
Did you indeed to Hades’ house descend, son? 610
And dragged the triple-headed dog to light.
Subdued with a fight, or by the goddess given?
With a fight: I was lucky enough to see the mysteries.
And is the beast in Eurystheus’ house?
The city [polis] of Hermion in the grove of Chthonia holds him. 615
Knows not Eurystheus your return to light?
He knows it not: my zeal led me here first.
Why the delay in your stay under the earth?
To rescue Theseus from Hades, father.
Where is he? Has he gone to his native land? 620
To Athens he is gone, with joy having escaped those gloomy shades.
But come, my sons, attend your father into his house.
You enter now with fairer expectations
than you left it. Take courage then,
no longer pour this stream of tears. 625
And you, my wife, gather your presence of mind [psukhē];
tremble no more, nor hang upon my robes;
I have no wings, nor will I flee my friends [philos].
Ah, they hold me yet, still hanging upon my robes.
How close you came to death! 630
I will lead you, taking you in my hands
like a ship that tows little boats behind it. For I do not refuse
the care of my sons. This feeling is common to all mortals,
both the better off and those who have nothing love
their children. There may be differences in property; 635
some abound, some have want, but for their children all have equal love [philos].
Hercules, Megara, and the children exit
Youth is dear [philos] to me, strophe
but age lies on my head a burden
heavier than all the rocks of Aetna,
over my eyes 640
a darkness conceals the light.
Not for the wealth [olbos]
of Asia’s tyrant [turannos],
not for a house full of gold,
would I trade youth: 645
it is the best in prosperity [olbos],
but also beautiful in poverty.
This cumbersome, sad, funereal age
I hate: would that it would flow
out with the waves 650
and never come to the
homes and cities [polis] of mortals,
but let it be carried off always
on wings through the air!
If the gods were wise antistrophe
and understood men 656
they would bring a second youth,
as a visible mark on those who
display excellence [aretē],
and dying, they would come 660
back to the light of the sun again
to run a double course.
Not so the base: their youthful hour,
once fled, should be recalled no more:
and in this way you might know the bad [kakos] 665
from the good [agathos] men,
like stars appearing through clouds
that give the sailors their direction.
But now no distinctive mark is given
to the useful and to the base [kakos]. 670
All are driven down one rolling age,
exalting wealth alone.

I will not leave off from the Graces [Kharites], strophe
mingled with the Muses,
the sweetest union. 675
May I not live without the Muses,
but may I always be garlanded.
Still as an old man I sing
the song of Memory [Mnēmē].
Still the victory song 680
of Herakles I sing,
as long as Bromios is a giver of wine
and the tortoise shell lyre of seven tones
and Libyan reed play the tune,
I shall not cease from 685
the Muses who made me dance!

The Delian maidens sing a paean antistrophe
around the temple’s splendid gate
for the beautiful son of Leto
and the beautiful choruses whirl in dancing. 690
Paeans at your gates
I will sing like a swan,
a white-haired singer
from aging jaws,
for this is good for hymns. 695
Surpassing all in his excellence [aretē],
the noble son of Zeus,
with great toil has made
life tranquil for mortals
having destroyed the horrible beasts. 700

At length, Amphitryon, you have come out from the house.
Tedious was the time you spent to array [kosmos] yourselves
in the dark robes and ornaments of death.
But hurry, call forth the children and the wife
of Herakles to appear before the house: now I claim the terms, 705
that unreluctant you submit to die.
In my afflictions, king, do you pursue me with rigorous speed,
and in death add insult [hubris] to wrong?
It is necessary for you, if you are in power, to be more moderate in haste.
Since you impose a necessity that we die, 710
we must submit, and what seems best to you must be done.
Where is Megara? Where are the children of Alcmene’s son?
I think, if from the doors I guess aright–
What is it? What proof do you have of what you think?
–she sits as a suppliant before her hallowed gods. 715
As a suppliant she sits in vain to save [sōzō] her life.
And calls in vain her husband who has died.
He is not here and never will he come.
Never, unless some god restores him to us.
Go to her then, and lead her from the house. 720
Then I would be an accomplice to her murder.
Since such is your thought, then I,
who have no vain fears, will bring them forth,
the mother and the sons. You, my attendants, follow,
so that, relieved from all our toils [ponos], with pleasure we may rest. 725
Go, then, if you must go! The rest, perhaps,
will be a care to someone else. Since you committed evil [kakos],
look for evil [kakos] in return. Old men, for good
he goes, and rushes on the net
staked round with swords, the all-evil [all kakos] thinking 730
to kill those inside. I will go, and see his corpse
fall: an enemy [ekhthros] dying holds some pleasure,
when vengeance [dikē] catches up to him for his deeds.
A reversal of evils [kakos]! strophe
The once great king 735
turns his life back to Hades,
O justice [dikē], and the
back-flowing river of the gods.

At last you have arrived where
with death you will pay the penalty [dikē] 740
for committing outrageous wrongs [hubris]
on your betters.

Joy has thrown out tears,
he has come back, the lord of this land,
a thing which earlier I had no hope in my mind [phrēn] 745
of experiencing [paskhō].
But, old men, let us see if
the matters inside the house
are happening as I want them to.

Lykos [within]
Ah me! Ah me!
The music arising inside the house antistrophe
is dear [philos] to my ears. 751
Death is not far off: he cries, he cries,
the proud king groans, the prelude to his death.
Lykos [within]
O land of Thebes, I am destroyed by a trick.
Then die. Bear then this retribution, 755
punishment [dikē] for thy deeds.
What mortal man shall by lawlessness [without nomos]
dare to violate the gods, blessed holders of heaven, and foolishly say that
they have no power?
Old men, the unholy man is no longer. 760
There is silence in the house: let us turn to dances—
my friends [philos] have succeeded as I hoped.

Let there be dances— dances and feasts strophe
throughout the holy citadel of Thebes!
There has been a change from tears, and 765
a change of fortune
bids the exulting song arise,
for the mighty tyrant lies low.
Our earlier king has come anew,
leaving the refuge of Acheron. 770
Hope has come beyond expectations!

The gods, the gods take care of antistrophe
the unjust [not dikaios] and listen to the reverent.
Gold and good fortune
drive mortals out of their senses [phrēn], 775
bringing along unjust [not dikē] power.
For no man dares to look at the changes time brings .
Having given up law [nomos]
in favor of lawlessness
he shatters the black chariot of prosperity [olbos]. 780

O Ismenus, come bearing crowns strophe
and, Thebes, throughout the whole seven-gated city
may festive dance and song resound!
Hurry, lovely Dirce, from your silver spring:
and come, daughters of Asopus, 785
leaving your father’s water. Bring
the Nymphs as fellow singers for
the victorious contest [agōn] of Herakles.
O wooded rock of Pythia
and the homes of the Heliconian Muses, 790
give to my town
the joy-resounding song;
where the race [genos] of sown men appeared,
a band with shields of bronze,
whose children’s children 795
still inhabit this land,
a blessed light to Thebes!

O marriage bed shared by two, antistrophe
one a mortal, the other Zeus,
who came to the bed 800
of the bride descended from Perseus.
How true your marriage
already long ago, O Zeus,
appeared to be beyond all doubt.
Time has shown the brilliant 805
strength of Herakles,
who has come out of the earth
leaving the dark home and Hades’ bedroom.
You are a better king [turannos] to me
than the baseness of that lord, 810
which now the contest of sword-bearing struggles [agōn]
will make apparent to the beholder,
if what is just [dikaion]
is still pleasing to the gods.

Ah me! Look! 815
Have we come to the same violence of fear,
old men, what sort of apparition do I see above the house?
Flee, flee, my friends;
to your slow steps add speed; get out of the way.
O lord Paean, 820
avert whatever ill this omen bodes.
Take heart, old men, beholding her,
Lussa, the progeny of Night, and me, Iris, the servant of the gods.
No evil to the town [polis] do we bring,
but war against the house of one man, 825
whom fame reports the son of Zeus and your Alcmene.
While he was finishing his bitter struggles [athlos],
necessity protected [sōzō] him, nor would his father
Zeus ever allow me, or Hera, to do him ill.
But since he has finished Eurystheus’ mandates, 830
Hera wills that he bathe his hands afresh in blood,
his children’s blood, and I assent.
Hurry, and relentlessly seize his heart,
unwedded daughter of black Night!
Drive madness into this man, and child-murdering 835
confusion in his mind [phrēn]. Make his feet
leap and let him float in blood, until over the waves
of Acheron he wafts that beauteous band
of sons, which like a garland wreathe around him,
slain by his hand. So let him know the rage of Hera, how high it swells against him, 840
and let him learn mine. The gods indeed will be nothing
and mortals considered great, if he does not pay this penalty [dikē].
Illustrious is my lineage, sprung from Night,
my mother, and the blood of Ouranos;
and this is my office, never to be admired by friends [philos], 845
I have no joy coming to dear [philos] mortals.
But I wish to warn you and Hera, before I see you
rush headlong on this wrong, if you will obey my words.
This man, into whose house you send me, is not
unknown to fame [without sēma], either on earth or among the gods. 850
The earth untrod by human step, the monster-teeming sea,
he tamed, and he alone restored the honors of the gods,
which were by impious men trod under foot.
Thus I cannot advise you to plan these great evils [kakos].
Do not admonish the schemes of Hera and me. 855
I am directing you to the better path instead of the evil [kakos] one.
The wife of Zeus did not send you here to be balanced [sōphrōn].
I call you, Helios to witness, that I do what I wish not to do.
But if indeed the will of Hera I must execute and yours, with speed and fury
I will go, as hounds follow the hunter. Neither the vexed sea, that roars beneath its waves, 860
the rocking earthquake, or the thunder’s rage and blasts of winds,
are like the races I will run in the breast of Herakles.
I will rend these solid walls, I will desolate his house,
but first I will slay his sons, and he that kills them shall not know
they are his sons that fall beneath his hands, until he leaves off from my rage [lussa]. 865
And see, now at the doors he shakes his hair, and rolls
in silence his distorted Gorgon eyes.
His breathing is not balanced [sōphrōn]: like a bull,
dreadful in the assault, he roars, and calls the Stygian Furies,
he howls with noisy fury, like dogs rushing on the hunt. 870
I will dance you even more quickly and I will play the reed of terror.
But to Olympus, radiant Iris, speed your noble feet,
while I will hasten unseen into this house of Herakles.
Oh, oh! Lament, O Thebes! Cut down is
the flower of the city [polis], 875
the offspring of Zeus.
Unhappy Greece, mourn, for you have lost
the patron of mankind. He now dances to the reed
of murderous frenzy [lussa].
The Gorgon progeny of Night, Lussa, 880
with mournful rage ascends her car,
with hundred-headed hissing serpents she wreathes her horrid hair,
and glares pernicious lightning from her eyes.
Quickly the daimōn changes good fortune—
soon the children will breathe their last at the hands of their father. 885
Amphitryon [within]
Oh horror!
Zeus, your offspring [genos] is now without offspring;
unjust [not dikē] retribution [ponos] has spread out
flesh eating frenzy [lussa] with evils [kakos].
[within] Oh roofs!
Now begins the dreadful dance without drums,
without the grace [kharis] of the thyrsus of Bromios. 890
[within] Oh house!
Blood will be poured for a libation,
not the wine of Dionysus.
[within] Flee, children, get out!
Hostile, hostile is the song played on the reeds, 895
The chase is the hunt for children.
For Lussa will not in vain
rave [bakkheuō] [7] in this house.
Amphitryon [within]
Woe, woe.
Oh no, how I groan for the old man, 900
his father, and the mother who gave birth
and brought up her children in vain.
Behold, behold,
a wild storm shakes the house, 905
the roof is falling in!
from within, to Athena: Ah, ah, what, child of Zeus, are you doing to the house?
Pallas, you are sending hellish ruin on the house
as you once did upon Enkelados.
O Thebans white with age— 910
What is this shout that calls us?
Within the house are deeds that will not be forgotten.
I will bring no other prophet [mantis]
The boys are dead.
Ah, let me weep their fate.
Let your tears flow, there is much cause for tears.
Horrible murder, horrible the father’s hands. 915
What we have suffered [paskhō] is beyond the power of words.
How was this mournful ruin [atē] of the sons,
this ruin [atē] from the father? Tell in what way
from the gods these furious evils [kakos]
rushed on the house. 920
How did destruction end her bloody work?
Before the altar of high Zeus the holy [hieros] rites
were now prepared to purify the ground of the house
since Herakles had killed the tyrant and had thrown out his corpse.
His sons had formed a beauteous cluster round, 925
his father, and Megara: the basket was taken in a circle
around the altar, and we kept holy silence .
Ready to bear the torch in his right hand, [8] Alcmene’s son,
and plunge it in the water basin, he stood
silent: as long as he paused, his children’s eyes 930
were fixed upon him. But then he was no longer the same,
but wildly his distorted eyeballs glared,
their nerves all bulged with blood,
and down his beard dropped foam:
then with a horrid laugh he cried, 935
“Why, father, do I perform the sacrifice before I have slain Eurystheus,
twice to kindle this purifying flame, and twice the toil [ponos]?
These efforts could be a single labor for my hands.
When I bring Eurystheus’ head here,
in addition to those now dead, then I will purify my hands. 940
Now pour it on the ground, and cast each hallowed vase aside!
Who will bring me my bow? And who my club?
I am going against Mycenae: I need to take
crowbars and picks: from their deep base I will heave
the well compacted ramparts, though by 945
Cyclopean hands built.” Then issuing forth, he said
his car was there, though there he had no car;
he said he mounted, and, as if he lashed
his coursers forward, waved his hand; a sight
ridiculous, yet dreadful. We stood there, 950
each darting a glance at the other, and one asks,
“Is our lord playing with is, or is he mad?”
Then he wandered up and down through the house:
stopping in the middle of the men’s quarters, he said it was
the town [polis] of Nisus, though he went about inside his house. 955
Then he stretched along the pavement, as if there
the banquet was prepared. After some short stay, he continued on,
and the hall he called the wood-fringed Isthmus.
There, having stripped his body of clothes,
he wrestled with nothing, and declared 960
he had obtained a glorious victory,
but over unreal foes. Then he shouted dreadful threats
against Eurystheus, for he thought himself now at Mycenae.
His father then touched his strong hand, and thus addressed him:
“Son, what are you suffering [paskhō]? What kind of journey 965
is this? Has the blood of those, who you just now killed,
caused you this frenzy [bakkheuō]?” But he, who thought him to be
the father of Eurystheus struck with fear and coming as a suppliant to him,
thrust him off, and from his quiver drew his shafts
prepared against his sons, thinking that he was slaying 970
the sons of Eurystheus. They, wild with fright,
ran in different directions: one, to hide in the robes
of his unhappy mother; one to the shade of a pillar;
the other flew under the altar, like a bird.
Their mother cries, “What are you doing? You are their father! 975
Are you killing your sons?” The elder man and the attendants cry aloud.
But Herakles , as his son winds around the pillar,
with dreadful steps turns opposite to meet him,
and strikes him to the heart: backwards the boy fell,
and stained with his blood the marble column as he died. 980
Herakles shouted with triumph and said this:
“One of Eurystheus’ young lies here in death
by me, paying for his father’s hatred [ekhthros].”
Then he stretched his bow against another son:
this one lay beneath the altar and hoped to lie concealed there. 985
The unhappy boy sprang toward his father’s knees,
preventing the blow and threw his arms around his neck, and cried,
“Dearest [most philos] father, listen, do not kill me,
I am yours, your child, you are not killing one of Eurystheus’.”
But Herakles grimly rolled his Gorgon-glaring eye. 990
And, as the boy pressed too close to let the arrow fly,
as one smites iron on the anvil, on his golden tresses
he dashed the fatal club, and crushed his skull .
Having destroyed the second son, he goes to add
the third victim to these two; but the unhappy mother 995
had earlier taken the boy within the house,
and closed the doors. As though he stormed the walls
raised by the Cyclopes, he assaulted, rent,
and burst the shattered posts, then with one shaft
transfixed his wife and son. From there 1000
he rushed to slay his elderly father:
but now an image came: Pallas, conspicuous
to see, her crested helm waved above her.
She hurled a stone against the breast of Herakles,
which checked his murderous rage, and laid him 1005
stretched, in a torpid slumber, on the ground.
he fell against a pillar’s shattered mass,
crushed in the ruin of the house beneath
its base. We helped his father bind him fast
with cords and confined him to the pillar, closely chained, 1010
so that, when his sleep leaves him, he may do
no further deed of horror. There he lies,
wretched, having slain his sons and wife,
not in a blessed [eudaimōn] repose. I know of no mortal
who is more wretched in his ordeals [athlos]. 1015
There was a murder which Argolid rock held,
committed by the daughters of Danaus,
famous [with much sema] yet unbelievable to Greece,
but this surpasses and goes beyond the evils [kakos]
done then, this deed of the wretched son of Zeus. 1020
It is said that Procne killed her only child
sacrificing him to the Muses,
but you killed three children, destructive one,
by begetting them you assisted the frenzied [lussa] fates.
With what groaning or lament 1025
or song of the dead or dance of Hades
shall I mourn?
Alas, alas,
look, the great doors
of the high-gated house are opening. 1030
Oh my,
look, the wretched children lie
before the unhappy father,
sleeping a terrible sleep after the murder of his children.
The chains are around him, the supports 1035
bound with many knots
around the body of Herakles,
fixed to the column of the house.
Like some bird lamenting the fledgling labors of its young,
the aged father comes with slow feet 1040
following bitter steps he is here.
Hush, aged citizens of Thebes,
be silent. Will you not permit him, lulled to sleep,
to lose the memory of his evils [kakos]?
I groan for you with tears, old sir, 1045
and for your children and the one who had glorious victory.
Move farther away, stand back,
make no noise, no cry
that may disturb his deep repose,
and raise him from his bed. 1050
Ah, this slaughter—
Ah, you are only hurting me more.
—poured out, heaped up!
Will you not keep still in your lament, old men?
Or else he may burst his bonds, 1055
and rising in his rage destroy the city [polis],
destroy his father, and break down this house?
That cannot, cannot be.
Be silent! How he breathes will I observe.
Hush—let me listen. 1060
Is he sleeping?
Yes, he sleeps a ruinous sleep, who slew his children,
slew his wife, destroyed beneath his whizzing shafts.
Now wail.
I wail the ruin of his sons. 1065
And I, ah me! Lament your son, old man.
Silence, I pray you, silence—
see, he stirs, he turns himself.
I will hide myself away,
and lie concealed in darkness. 1070
Be not afraid; night hangs upon the eyelids of your son.
Behold, behold: oppressed by all these ills [kakos],
it grieves me not to leave
the light of life.
But should he kill me, his father, 1075
on these ills [kakos] he would heap ills [kakos],
and rouse the Furies with a parent’s blood.
Better for you to have died when rising in vengeance
for the murdered brothers of your wife,
when you sacked the famous citadel of the Taphians. 1080
Flee, flee, my aged friends, far from the house,
get away: flee the raging man
who is now awake;
soon adding another murder on murder 1085
he will rave [bakkheuō] through the streets [polis] of Thebes.
Why with such fury is your hate, O Zeus, inflamed against
your son? Why have you brought him into a sea of troubles [kakos]?
Ah! I breathe, I see, what I should see,
the air, the earth, and these rays of the sun. 1090
As on tumultuous waves and tempests my mind [phrēn]
whirls and heaves. My breath is hot,
deep, and irregular, not right in its rhythm.
Look, why am I like a moored ship,
with cords around my youthful chest and arms, 1095
why to this shattered pillar am I bound?
And I have corpses lying nearby.
My winged arrows are scattered on the ground, and my bow
which before would hang by my side
to guard [sōzō] me, by me they too were guarded [sōzō]. 1100
Have I returned to Hades, and measured back
the gloomy course appointed by Eurystheus?
But neither the rock of Sisyphus I see,
nor Hades, nor the scepter of the daughter of Demeter.
I am astounded, and I have no idea where I am. 1105
Is any of my friends [philos] near, or far off,
who will dispel this cloud that darkens over my senses?
For I know nothing clearly of what is usual.
My aged friends, shall I go near my ills [kaka]?
I will go with you, nor in misfortune forsake you. 1110
My father, why these tears? Why do you hide
your eyes? Why keep distant from your beloved [most philos] son?
My son! For you are mine, even committing evil [kakos] deeds.
What have I done, thus to cause your tears?
That, which even if a god should learn about, he would mourn. 1115
Your phrase is great, but speaks not the cause.
You yourself see it, if now you are in command of your mind [phrēn].
Say what new ill is marked upon my life.
If you were no longer a bacchant of Hades, I would tell you.
Oh no, distrust and darkness yet are in your words. 1120
I looking to see if your senses yet are sound.
I don’t remember [mnēmē] being frenzied [bakkheuō] in my mind [phrēn].
My aged friends, shall I unbind my son?
Yes and say who bound me and disgraced me so.
Know this much of your miseries [kakos], let the rest go. 1125
I will be silent to learn what I wish to.
O Zeus, from Hera’s seat do you see this?
Have we again suffered [paskhō] hostility from her?
Let the goddess be, and support your own ills [kakos].
I am ruined. What misfortune will you tell me? 1130
Look here, behold the bodies of your sons.
Ah wretched me, what unhappy sight is this?
Against your weak sons this war you waged.
Of what war do you speak? Who has destroyed them?
You, and your bow, and whichever god is to blame [aitios]. 1135
What are you saying? Have I done this dreadful deed?
You were in a frenzy. You ask for terrible answers.
And am I also the murderer of my wife?
All are the actions of your hand alone.
Ah me! A cloud of sorrow hangs around me. 1140
And for this I groan over your fortune.
And in my frenzy I shattered my house?
Only one thing I know: in all things you are wretched.
Where did this ruin-working frenzy seize me?
There, at the altar’s purifying flames. 1145
Wretch that I am, why should I spare my life [psukhē],
stained with the slaughter of my own dear [philos] sons?
Should I not rather cast me from the height of some steep rock,
or plunge my sword into my heart
to be the avenger of my children’s blood, 1150
or give this body to the flames, to purge away
the guilt that stains my hated life?
But to prevent my deadly purposes,
see, Theseus comes, my kinsman and my friend [philos].
I shall be seen; and stand as a detested child-murderer, 1155
in the sight of that guest [xenos] I hold most dear [philos].
What shall I do? In what dark solitude conceal my evils [kakos]?
Would that I had wings, or could sink beneath the sheltering earth!
But let me hide my head, close muffled in my robes.
For I am ashamed of these foul deeds [kakos], 1160
nor, splattered with this guilty blood,
do I wish to pollute [make kakos] the innocent.
I have come with others, those who on Asopus’ banks
hold their station, the armed youth of the Athenian land,
bearing this allied spear to aid your son, reverend sir. 1165
For the report has come to the city [polis] of Erekhtheus
that having seized the scepter of this land,
Lykos with war assaults you. To repay
with grateful zeal what to my friend Herakles is due,
who freed [sōzō] me from the realms below, I come, 1170
if I may do anything, or this confederate force may be of use.
Alas! Why is this ground thus covered with the dead?
Are my intentions thus frustrated? Have I arrived too late
for these recent ills [kakos]? Who killed these boys?
Whose wife do I behold lying here? 1175
For children do not fight in battle lines with the spear—
but I have found some fresh calamity [kakos].
O lord of the olive bearing mount.
Why do you address me with this mournful voice?
We have suffered [paskhō] dreadful sufferings [pathos] at the hands of the gods. 1180
What boys are these, over whom your sorrows flow?
My wretched son’s, their father he;
his hands are stained with their blood.
Turn your voice to happier words.
You command what I wish. 1185
You have told me dreadful things.
At once we are ruined, ruined.
What are you saying? What has he done?
By frenzy’s potion whirled, he slayed then with arrows dipped in the hundred-headed Hydra’s venom.
This is an ordeal [agōn] sent by Hera. But who is he, that sits among the dead?
This is my son, much laboring [ponos], 1190
who went with his giant-slaying spear
to fight on the Phlegraean plane
along with the gods.
Ah, what mortal ever was born
to greater woe [with a bad daimōn]? 1195
You would never know any mortal man
more exercised in toils, more exposed to dangers.
But why does he hide his wretched head in his robes?
He feels shame [aidōs] to behold your face,
his friend [philos], his relative, 1200
amid the blood of his slaughtered children.
I came to mourn with him—uncover him.
Remove, my son, this covering from your eyes.
Throw it aside, show your face to the sun.
A fellow struggler, a counterweight to your tears, is here. 1205
I beseech you, low at your knees I fall,
and grasp your hand and beard, a supplicant,
while down my aged cheek flow tears.
My son, restrain the wild lion’s rage [thumos], 1210
which impelled you to unholy, bloody deeds,
wishing to add evils [kakos] to evils [kakos], child.
Come now—to you, whose wretched seat
is on the ground, I speak—show your face to your friends [philos]. 1215
No cloud has a darkness so black,
which can conceal the misery of your troubles [kakos].
Why do you wave your hand at me, to signify [verb of sema] terror?
As though your words would bring pollution on me?
I’m not concerned about sharing in your misfortune [kakos], 1220
for once I had good fortune with you. Memory will recall
the time when from the gloomy dead your hand brought me to the light.
I hate those who let the impression of a friend’s [philos]
kind deeds [kharis] fade from their heart; and they, who wish to share
his prosperous gale, but will not sail with unfortunate friends [philos]. 1225
Stand up, unveil your wretched head
and look upon us. Whoever of mortals is noble,
he bears the calamities sent by the gods and does not refuse.
Theseus, have you seen this agony [agōn] of my sons?
I heard, I saw the ills [kaka] you have pointed out [verb of sema] to me. 1230
Why then have you unveiled me to the sun?
Why not? Can mortal man pollute the gods?
Flee, unhappy man, my polluting guilt.
There is no stain of guilt for friends [philos] from friends [philos].
I thank you. I am not ashamed that I helped you once. 1235
And I, for being treated [paskhō] well, now pity you.
I am pitiable—I have slain my sons.
You, for your grace [kharis] in others’ ills, I mourn.
Whom have you known with greater troubles [kakos]?
Your vast misfortunes reach from earth to heaven. 1240
I therefore am prepared and fixed to die.
And do you think your threats are a care to the gods [daimōn]?
The gods regard not me, nor I the gods.
Hold your tongue, lest speaking great things you suffer [paskhō] greater.
I now am full of troubles [kakos], and can contain no more. 1245
What will you do? Where does your rage transport you?
Dead, the very place from where I came, I go under the earth.
This is the language of an ordinary person.
You, being free from misfortunes, cannot counsel me.
Does the much enduring Herakles say this? 1250
He had not suffered so much. There is a limit to endurance.
The benefactor, the great friend [philos] to mortals?
They do not avail me at all. Hera triumphs here.
Greece will not allow you to die so rashly.
Now hear me, so that I may refute with arguments 1255
all your advice. I will prove to you,
that neither now, nor in times past, has my life been any kind of life.
My father was one, who, having slain my mother’s aged father,
with the pollution of that blood upon him,
wedded Alcmene, and from her I draw my birth. 1260
When the foundations of a race [genos] are not well laid,
all that arises from it must be unfortunate.
Then Zeus, whoever Zeus may be, begot me, with the hate
of Hera ever hostile. (You, old man, don’t be grieved at my words,
for I consider you, not Zeus, my father.) 1265
While I was still at the breast, two hideous serpents,
sent by Hera to destroy me, rolled their spires
within my cradle. When my age advanced
to youth’s fresh bloom, why should I speak of the toils
I then suffered? What lions, what dire forms 1270
of triple-bodied Typhons, or what giants, what of monstrous
bands in the Centaurs’ war, did I not subdue?
The Hydra, rayed around with heads
still sprouting from the sword, I slew.
These, and a thousand other toils [ponos] endured, 1275
to the dark regions of the dead I went,
to drag the three-headed dog to light, the one that guards
the gate of Hades, at the command of stern Eurystheus.
This last bloody labor [ponos] I dared (wretch that I am!),
the murder of my sons. I have crowned my house with ills [kakos]. 1280
I have come to this point of necessity, at my beloved [philos]
Thebes I cannot dwell. Where would I stay?
To what temple, what assembly of my friends [philos]
Can I go? My disaster [atē] is unapproachable.

Should I go to Argos? How, since I am banished from my homeland? 1285
Should I seek refuge in another state [polis], then,
where malignant eyes would scowl on me when known,
and tongues goad me with bitter reproaches:
“Is this not the son of Zeus, who once killed his sons
and wife?” Then they would chase me out with curses on my head. 1290
And to the man who once was called blessed
mournful is the change, but he, who has always
had it bad [kakos], grieves nothing, as though he were born to misfortune.
I think I have come to this point of misfortune:
the earth will cry aloud, forbidding me 1295
to touch her soil, and the sea will not let me pass,
nor any spring from where rivers flow. Thus like Ixion’s,
on the whirling wheel in chains, will be my state.
And this would be best [aristos], that no Greek might behold me,
with whom in better days I have been happy [olbios]. 1300
Why therefore should I live? What profit [kerdos] were it
to gain a useless and unholy life?
Let the proud wife of Zeus dance in triumph,
and shake the pavement of the Olympian house.
Her will she has accomplished: she has torn 1305
from his firm base the noblest man of Greece,
rending him to pieces. To such a goddess
who would pay his vows? That for a woman,
jealous of the bed of Zeus, has crushed the innocent [not aitios],
whose deeds were glorious, and benevolent to Greece? 1310

This ordeal [agōn] proceeds from no other daimōn
than from the wife of Zeus. You perceive this well.
To counsel others is an easier task than to suffer [paskhō] evils [kakos]:
yet none of mortal men escape unhurt by fortune,
nor do the gods, unless the stories of the singers are false. 1315
Have they not committed adultery, to which no law [nomos]
assents? Have they not bound with chains
their fathers in pursuit of power [turannis]? Yet they hold
their homes [oikos] on Olympus, even though they err.
What will you say, if you, a mortal born, too proudly 1320
should contend against adverse fortune, but not so the gods?
Retire from Thebes, in accordance with the law [nomos];
follow together with me to the towers of Pallas.
There I will cleanse your hands from this pollution,
and give you a home, and no small share of my wealth. 1325
What presents from my country I received for saving [sōzō]
their death-devoted youth by killing the Cretan bull,
these I will give to you. Through all the land to me
are hallowed fields allotted; these, for the rest of your life,
shall be called after your name by mortals. 1330
And when you die, going to the halls of Hades
with solemn rites and stately monuments
the whole Athenian city [polis] will honor you.
This beautiful crown of good fame [kleos] will my citizens win
from the Greeks, that they helped a noble [esthlos] man. 1335
And I will return this favor [kharis] to you for that
of my salvation [sōtēria]; for now you have need of friends [philos].
[He has no need of friends [philoi] when the gods honor him
for the help of the god is enough for whatever he wishes.]
Ah me! all this is beside my ills [kakos]. 1340
I think not of the gods, as having committed
adultery, which is not right [themis], nor as oppressed with chains.
I have never thought this worthy, nor ever will
believe that one lords it over the others.
The god, who is indeed a god, needs nothing: 1345
these are the wretched stories of the bards.
I have considered, though oppressed with griefs [kakos],
whether I would be a coward by quitting life.
For whoever does not sustain misfortune,
will not sustain the attack of human weapons. 1350
No, I will rise superior to my fate, and go to your city [polis];
for your bounteous gifts receive my thanks [kharis].
But I endured a thousand rugged toils [ponos],
which I never refused, nor from my eyes,
ever dropped a tear; and never did I think 1355
that I should come to this, and pour my griefs out in tears.
But now, it seems, I must be a slave to fortune.

Well, let it be so. You see my exile, old man;
you see my hands stained with my children’s blood.
Give them a tomb and all the honors of the dead, 1360
weeping over them (since the law [nomos] forbids me).
Recline them on their mother’s breast, and give
this sad communion to her arms, which I unhappily
destroyed, not willingly. When you have hidden their bodies in the earth,
Dwell in this city [polis]; wretched though you may be. 1365
Strengthen your soul [psukhē] to bear my miseries [kakos].

Alas, my sons! The author of your life, your father,
has destroyed you: not at all did you benefit from my honors,
which I acquired with toil, the glory [good kleos]
of your father, that noblest of possessions. 1370

You, my pitiable wife, I likewise have destroyed,
ill recompense for your faithful keeping [sōzō] of my marital bed,
and all your long domestic vigilance:
For you my sorrows flow, and for my sons, and for myself:
how wretched are my deeds that rend me 1375
from my children and my wife! Mournful is this last
embrace. Where are my weapons, my mournful associates?
Should I bear them still or cast them from me? What shall I resolve?
If they hang at my side, will they not say,
“With us you killed your wife, your children—when you hold us 1380
your hold your children’s murderers.” If I were to carry them yet,
what shall I answer? But stripped of my arms,
with which I have achieved great deeds throughout Greece,
will I die shamefully exposing myself to my enemies [ekhthros]?
They must not then be left behind, but be wretchedly kept [sōzō]. 1385
I must ask one thing, Theseus: help me take
this monster dog of hell to Argos,
lest, if I go alone, my sorrows for my sons overwhelm me.
O land of Cadmians, citizens of Thebes,
cut your hair, mourn together, go to the tomb 1390
of my sons. Speaking as one, lament together all the dead,
and me: one ruin on us all is fallen,
crushed by one cruel stroke of Hera’s rage.

Rise up, wretched man; enough tears have flowed.
I cannot; torpid are my stiffened joints. 1395
Misfortunes cast the strongest to the ground.
Would that I were stone, insensible of evils [kakos]!
Stop—give your hand to your helping friend [philos].
But don’t let the blood defile your clothes.
Lose not a thought on that; I am not ashamed. 1400
Bereft of my sons, I have a son in you.
Put your arm around my neck, and I will guide your steps.
A friendly [philos] pair, but one a complete wretch.
[To his father] O reverend man, a friend [philos] like this man one must have.
Blessed in her sons is the land that gave him birth. 1405
Theseus, turn me back, that I may see my sons.
Is that dear sight a charm to ease your pain?
I wish it, leaning on my father’s breast.
Lean here, my son: that wish is dear [philos] to me.
Do you thus have no memory [mnēmē] of your labors [ponos]? 1410
All I have endured of hardship [kakos] is less than this.
If someone sees you acting like a woman, he would not praise you.
Do I live so abject in your eyes? I did not seem so before.
Very much so. Being sick, you are not the famous Herakles.
What sort of man were you when you were in
trouble [kakos] in the regions below the earth? 1415
I was the least of all men in courage.
Then how can you say that I am debased in my troubles [kakos]?
Let us go.
Farewell, aged sir.
And to you, my son, farewell.
Entomb my children, as I told you.
And me, my son, who shall entomb me?
I will.
When will you come?
When you have buried my children. 1420
But how?
I will have them brought from Thebes to Athens.
But my ill-starred sons lay in the earth:
for me, who on my house brought ruin with shame,
I will follow Theseus like a boat towed in his wake.
Unwise is he, who prefers wealth or power 1425
to the rich treasure of a good [agathos] friend [philos].
We go in pity and grief,
losing in you our greatest friend [philos].


[ back ] 1. These were architects who were said to build the walls of cities such as Mycenae and Tiryns. The walls were built of unhewn stones, so large that it was thought that humans could not have moved them.
[ back ] 2. After a battle, some cattle that were the property of Electryon were stolen.. Amphitryon, who was married to Alcmene, the daughter of Electryon, recovered them. As he was driving them back, one ran from the herd. Amphitryon threw a large staff at this heifer, and the staff, glancing off her horn, struck the head of Electryon. Thus Amphitryon killed his father-in-law and went into exile.
[ back ] 3. The Thebans had been tributary to Erginus, king of the Minyae. Herakles, meeting his ambassadors as they were going to demand this tribute, treated them very roughly, and drove them back to Orchomenus. Erginus, exasperated at this affront, advanced in arms against Thebes. Herakles met him, defeated his army, and compelled the Minyae to pay the Thebans a double tribute. For this heroic action Creon gave him his eldest daughter Megara in marriage.
[ back ] 4. Amphitryon, to revenge the death of the sons of Eletryon, had carried on the war against the Taphians, called also Teleboans, and demolished their towns.
[ back ] 5. Amphitryon here refers to Herakles’ success in the Gigantomachy, the battle between the gods and the earth-born giants. The gods learned that they would never be able to completely defeat the giants without the help of a mortal, and so it was only with the participation of Herakles that the gods were able to triumph.
[ back ] 6. Lykos was a Euboean: Dirphe, or Dirphys, was a mountain of Euboea not far from Oebalia, which Herakles conquered. Therefore the mountain can be called a witness of his valor.
[ back ] 7. This verb is from the name Bacchus, a name from the god Dionysus. Notice how in this play it can mean a celebratory, inspired, or divine raving on the one hand, or a maddened frenzy on the other.
[ back ] 8. This was the ceremony of hallowing the purifying water: the sacrificer took a 1ighted brand from the altar, and plunged it into the laver: as fire was held to be of a purifying nature, and this was sacred fire, it was thought to communicate its purifying quality to the water.