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HELEN, wife Of MENELAUS
TEUCER, a Greek warrior, who fought at Troy
CHORUS OF CAPTIVE GREEK WOMEN, attending HELEN
MENELAUS, King of Sparta
PORTRESS of THEOCLYMENUS
THEONOE, sister of THEOCLYMENUS
THEOCLYMENUS, King of Egypt
SERVANT of THEOCLYMENUS
Before the palace of THEOCLYMENUS in Egypt. It is near the mouth of the Nile. The tomb of Proteus, the father of THEOCLYMENUS is visible. HELEN is discovered alone before the tomb.
HELENLo! These are the fair virgin streams of Nile, the river that waters Egypt's tilth, fed by pure melting snow instead of rain from heaven. Proteus during his life-time was king of this land, dwelling in the isle of Pharos, and ruling o'er Egypt; and he took to wife one of the daughters of the sea, Psamathe, after she left the embraces of Aeacus. Two children she bare in this his palace, a son Theoclymenus, who hath passed his life in duteous service to the gods, and likewise a noble daughter, her mother's pride, called Eido in her infancy, but when she reached her youthful prime, the age for wedded joys, renamed Theonoe; for well she knew whate'er the gods design, both present and to come, for she had won this guerdon from her grandsire Nereus. Nor is my fatherland unknown to fame, e'en Sparta, or my sire Tyndareus; for a legend tells how Zeus winged his way to my mother Leda's breast, in the semblance of a bird, even a swan, and thus as he fled from an eagle's pursuit, achieved by guile his amorous purpose, if this tale be true. My name is Helen, and I will now recount the sorrows I have suffered. To a hollow vale on Ida came three goddesses to Paris, for beauty's prize contending, Hera and Cypris, and the virgin child of Zeus, eager to secure his verdict on their loveliness. Now Cypris held out my beauty,-if aught so wretched deserves that name,-as a bride before the eyes of Paris, saying he should marry me; and so she won the day; wherefore the shepherd of Ida left his steading, and came to Sparta, thinking to win me for his bride. But Hera, indignant at not defeating the goddesses, brought to naught my marriage with Paris, and gave to Priam's princely son not Helen, but a phantom endowed with life, that she made in my image out of the breath of heaven; and Paris thought that I was his, although I never was,-an idle fancy! Moreover, the counsels of Zeus added further troubles unto these; for upon the land of Hellas and the hapless Phrygians he brought a war, that he might lighten mother-earth of her myriad hosts of men, and to the bravest of the sons of Hellas bring renown. So I was set up as a prize for all the chivalry of Hellas, to test the might of Phrygia, yet not I, but my name alone; for Hermes caught me up in the embracing air, and veiled me in a cloud; for Zeus was not unmindful of me; and he set me down here in the house of Proteus, judging him to be the most virtuous of all mankind; that so I might preserve my marriage with Menelaus free from taint. Here then I abide, while my hapless lord has gathered an army, and is setting out for the towers of Ilium to track and recover me. And there by Scamander's streams hath many a life breathed out its last, and all for me; and I, that have endured all this, am accursed, and seem to have embroiled all Hellas in a mighty war by proving a traitress to my husband. Why, then, do I prolong my life? Because I heard Hermes declare, that I should yet again make my home on Sparta's glorious soil, with my lord,-for Hermes knew I never went to Ilium,-that so I might never submit to any other's wooing. Now as long as Proteus gazed upon yon glorious sun, I was safe from marriage; but when o'er him the dark grave closed, the dead man's son was eager for my hand. But I, from regard to my former husband, am throwing myself down in suppliant wise before this tomb of Proteus, praying him to guard my husband's honour, that, though through Hellas I bear a name dishonoured, at least my body here may not incur disgrace.TEUCER enters.
TEUCERWho is lord and master of this fenced palace? The house is one I may compare to the halls of Plutus, with its royal bulwarks and towering buildings. Ha! great gods! what sight is here? I see the counterfeit of that fell murderous dame, who ruined me and all the Achaeans. May Heaven show its loathing for thee, so much dost thou resemble Helen! Were I not standing on a foreign soil, with this well-aimed shaft had worked thy death, thy reward for resembling the daughter of Zeus.
HELENOh! why, poor man, whoe'er thou art, dost thou turn from me, loathing me for those troubles Helen caused?
TEUCERI was wrong; I yielded to my anger more than I ought; my reason was, the hate all Hellas bears to that daughter of Zeus. Pardon me, lady, for the words I uttered.
HELENWho art thou? whence comest thou to visit this land?
TEUCEROne of those hapless Achaeans am I, lady.
HELENNo wonder then that thou dost bate Helen. But say, who art thou? Whence comest? By what name am I to call thee?
TEUCERMy name is Teucer; my sire was Telamon, and Salamis is the land that nurtured me.
HELENThen why art thou visiting these meadows by the Nile?
TEUCERA wanderer I, an exile from my native land.
HELENThine must be a piteous lot; who from thy country drives thee out?
TEUCERMy father Telamon. Couldst find a nearer and a dearer?
HELENBut why? This case is surely fraught with woe.
TEUCERThe death of Ajax my brother at Troy was my ruin.
HELENHow so? surely 'twas not thy sword that stole his life away?
TEUCERHe threw himself on his own blade and died.
HELENWas he mad? for who with sense endowed would bring himself to this?
TEUCERDost thou know aught of Achilles. son of Peleus?
HELENHe came, so I have heard, to woo Helen once.
TEUCERWhen he died, he left his arms for his comrades to contest.
HELENWell, if he did, what harm herein to Ajax?
TEUCERWhen another won these arms, to himself he put an end.
HELENArt thou then a sufferer by woes that he inflicted?
TEUCERYes, because I did not join him in his death.
HELENSo thou camest, sir stranger, to Ilium's famous town?
TEUCERAye, and, after helping to sack it, myself did learn what ruin meant.
HELENIs Troy already fired and utterly by flames consumed?
TEUCERYea, so that not so much as one vestige of her walls is now to be seen.
HELENWoe is thee, poor Helen! thou art the cause of Phrygia's ruin.
TEUCERAnd of Achaea's too. Ah! 'tis a tale of grievous misery!
HELENHow long is it since the city was sacked?
TEUCERNigh seven fruitful seasons have come and gone.
HELENAnd how much longer did ye abide in Troy?
TEUCERMany a weary month, till through ten full years the moon had held her course.
HELENAnd did ye capture that Spartan dame?
TEUCERMenelaus caught her by the hair, and was for dragging her away.
HELENDidst thou thyself behold that unhappy one? or art thou speaking from hearsay?
TEUCERAs plain as I now see thee, I then saw her.
HELENConsider whether ye were but indulging an idle fancy sent by heaven.
TEUCERBethink thee of some other topic; no more of her!
HELENAre you so sure this fancy was reliable?
TEUCERWith these eyes I saw her face to face, if so be I see thee now.
HELENHath Menelaus reached his home by this time with his wife?
TEUCERNo; he is neither in Argos, nor yet by the streams of Eurotas.
HELENAh me! here is evil news for those to whom thou art telling it.
TEUCER'Tis said he disappeared with his wife.
HELENDid not all the Argives make the passage together?
TEUCERYes: but a tempest scattered them in every direction.
HELENIn what quarter of the broad ocean?
TEUCERThey were crossing the Aegean in mid channel.
HELENAnd after that, doth no man know of Menelaus' arrival?
TEUCERNo; none; but through Hellas is he reported to be dead.
HELENThen am I lost. Is the daughter of Thestius alive?
TEUCERDost speak of Leda? She is dead; aye, dead and gone.
HELENWas it Helen's shame that caused her death?
TEUCERAye, 'tis said she tied the noose about her noble neck.
HELENAre the sons of Tyndareus still alive or not?
TEUCERDead, and yet alive: 'tis a double story.
HELENWhich is the more credible report? Woe is me for my sorrows!
TEUCERMen say that they are gods in the likeness of stars.
HELENThat is happy news; but what is the other rumour?
TEUCERThat they by self-inflicted wounds gave up the ghost because of their sister's shame. But enough of such talk! I have no wish to multiply my griefs. The reason of my coming to this royal palace was a wish to see that famous prophetess Theonoe. Do thou the means afford, that I from her may obtain an oracle how I shall steer a favourable course to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus; for there Apollo hath declared my home shall be, giving to it the name of Salamis, my island home, in honour of that fatherland across the main.
HELENThat shall the voyage itself explain, sir stranger; but do thou leave these shores and fly, ere the son of Proteus, the ruler of this land, catch sight of thee. Now is he away with his trusty hounds tracking his savage quarry to the death; for every stranger that he catcheth from the land of Hellas doth he slay. His reason never ask to know; my lips are sealed; for what could word of mine avail thee?
TEUCERLady, thy words are fair. Heaven grant thee a fair requital for this kindness! For though in form thou dost resemble Helen, thy soul is not like hers, nay, very different. Perdition seize her! May she never reach the streams of Eurotas! But thine be joy for evermore, lady!TEUCER departs. The CHORUS OF CAPTIVE GREEK WOMEN enter. They sing responsively with HELEN.
HELENAh me! what piteous dirge shall I strive to utter, now that I am beginning my strain of bitter lamentation? What Muse shall I approach with tears or songs of death or woe? Ah me! ye Sirens, Earth's virgin daughters, winged maids, come, oh! come to aid my mourning, bringing with you the Libyan flute or pipe, to waft to Persephone's ear a tearful plaint, the echo of my sorrow, with grief for grief, and mournful chant for chant, with songs of death and doom to match my lamentation, that in return she may receive from me, besides my tears, dirges for the departed dead beneath her gloomy roof!
CHORUSBeside the deep-blue water I chanced to be hanging purple robes along the tendrils green and on the sprouting reeds, to dry them in the sun-god's golden blaze, when lo! I heard a sound of woe, a mournful wail, the voice of one crying aloud in her anguish; yea, such a cry of woe as Naiad nymph might send ringing o'er the hills, while to her cry the depths of rocky grots re-echo her screams at the violence of Pan.
HELENWoe! woe! ye maids of Hellas, booty of barbarian sailors! one hath come, an Achaean mariner, bringing fresh tears to me, the news of Ilium's overthrow, how that it is left to the mercy of the foeman's flame, and all for me the murderess, or for my name with sorrow fraught. While for anguish at my deed of shame, hath Leda sought her death by hanging; and on the deep, to weary wandering doomed my lord hath met his end; and Castor and his brother, twin glory of their native land, are vanished from men's sight, leaving the plains that shook to their galloping steeds, and the course beside reed-fringed Eurotas, where those youthful athletes strove.
CHORUSAh, misery! Alas! for thy grievous destiny! Woe for thy sad lot, lady! Ah! 'twas a day of sorrow meted out for thee when Zeus came glancing through the sky on snowy pinions like a swan and won thy mother's heart. What evil is not thine? Is there a grief in life that thou hast not endured? Thy mother is dead; the two dear sons of Zeus have perished miserably, and thou art severed from thy country's sight, while through the towns of men a rumour runs, consigning thee, my honoured mistress, to a barbarian's bed; and 'mid the ocean waves thy lord hath lost his life, and never, never more shalt thou fill with joy thy father's halls or Athena's temple of the "Brazen House."
HELENAh! who was that Phrygian, who was he, that felled that pine with sorrow fraught for Ilium, and for those that came from Hellas? Hence it was that Priam's son his cursed barque did build, and sped by barbarian oars sailed unto my home, in quest of beauty, woman's curse, to win me for his bride; and with him sailed the treacherous queen of Love, on slaughter bent, with death alike for Priam's sons, and Danai too. Ah me! for my hard lot! Next, Hera, stately bride of Zeus, seated on her golden throne, sent the son of Maia, swift of foot, who caught me up as I was gathering fresh rose-buds in the folds of my robe, that I might go to the "Brazen House," and bore me through the air to this loveless land, making me an object of unhappy strife 'twixt Hellas and the race of Priam. And my name is but a sound without reality beside the streams of Simois.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSWell I know thou hast a bitter lot to bear; still 'tis best to bear as lightly as we may the ills that life is heir to.
HELENGood friends, to what a fate am I united? Did not my mother bear me to be a monster to the world? For no woman, Hellene or barbarian, gives birth to babes in eggs inclosed, as they say Leda bare me to Zeus. My life and all I do is one miracle, partly owing to Hera, and partly is my beauty to blame. Would God I could rub my beauty out like a picture, and assume hereafter in its stead a form less comely, and oh! that Hellas had forgotten the evil fate that now I bear, and were now remembering my career of honour as surely as they do my deeds of shame. Now, if a man doth turn his eyes to a single phase of fortune, and meets ill-usage at heaven's hands, 'tis hard no doubt; but still it can be borne; but I in countless troubles am involved. First, although I never sinned, my good name is gone. And this is a grief beyond the reality, if a man incurs blame for sins that are not his. Next, have the gods removed me from my native land, to dwell with men of barbarous ways, and reft of every friend, I arn become a slave though free by birth; for amongst barbarians all are slaves but one. And the last anchor that held my fortunes, the hope that my husband would return one day, and rid me of my woes, is now no more, lost since the day he died. My mother too is dead, and I am called her murderess, unjustly it is true, but still that injustice is mine to bear; and she that was the glory of my house, my darling child, is growing old and grey, unwedded still; and those twin brethren, called the sons of Zeus, are now no more. But 'tis fortune, not my own doing, that hath crushed me with sorrow and slain me. And this is the last evil of all; if ever I come to my native land. they will shut me up in prison, thinking me that Helen of Ilium, in quest of whom Menelaus came thither. Were my husband still alive, we might have recognized each other, by having recourse to tokens which ourselves alone would know. But now this may not be, nor is there any chance of his escape. Why then do I prolong my life? What fortune have I still in store? Shall I choose marriage as an alternative of evils, and dwell with a barbarian lord, seated at his sumptuous board? No! when a husband she loathes is mated with a woman, even life is loathly to her. Best for her to die; but how shall I die a noble death? The dangling noose is an uncomely end; even slaves consider it disgrace; to stab oneself hath something fair and. noble in it; 'tis a small thing that moment of ridding the flesh of life. Yes, it must be; I am plunged so deep in misery; for that beauty, which to other women is a boon, to me hath been a very bane.
LEADERHelen, never believe that the stranger, whoe'er he was that came, has spoken naught but truth.
HELENYet he said so clearly that my lord was dead.
LEADERThere is much that falsehood seems to make quite clear.
HELENThe word of truth hath a very different sound to falsehood.
LEADERThou art inclined to misfortune, rather than to luck.
HELENFear girds me with terrors as with a garment, and takes me in her train.
LEADERWhat friends hast thou within the palace?
HELENAll are my friends here save him who seeks to wed-me.
LEADERThy action then is clear; leave thy seat at the tomb.
HELENTo what words or advice art thou leading up?
LEADERGo in and question the daughter of the ocean Nereid, who knoweth all things, even Theonoe, whether thy husband is still alive, or whether he hath left the light of day; and when thou knowest for certain, be glad or sorrowful, as fits thy fortune. But before thou hast right knowledge, what shall sorrow avail thee? Nay, hearken to me; leave this tomb and seek the maiden's company, that she may tell thee the truth, for from her shalt thou learn all. If thou abide here in this seat, what prospect hast thou? And I will myself go in with thee, and with thee inquire of the maiden's oracles; for 'tis a woman's bounden duty to share a sister's trouble.The following lines are chanted responsively by HELEN and the CHORUS.
HELENKind friends, I welcome your advice. Come in, come in, that ye may learn the result of my struggle within the palace.
CHORUSThy invitation comes to very willing ears.
HELENWoe for this heavy day! Ah me! what mournful tidings shall hear?
CHORUSDear mistress mine, be not a prophetess of sorrow, forestalling lamentation.
HELENWhat is the fate of my poor husband? Doth he still behold the light turning towards the sun-god's chariot and the stars in their courses? Or among the dead, beneath the earth, is he to death consigned?
CHORUSOf the future take a brighter view, whatever shall betide.
HELENOn thee I call, and thee adjure, Eurotas green with river-reeds, to tell me if this rumour of my husband's death be true.
CHORUSWhat boots this meaningless appeal?
HELENAbout my neck will I fasten the deadly noose from above, or drive the murderous knife with self-aimed thrust deep into my throat to sever it, striving to cut my flesh, a sacrifice to those goddesses three and to that son of Priam, who in days gone by would wake the music of his pipe around his steading.
CHORUSOh may sorrow be averted otherwhither, and thou be blest!
HELENWoe is thee, unhappy Troy! Thou through deeds not done by the art ruined, and hast suffered direst woe; for the gift that Cypris gave to me, hath caused a sea of blood to flow, and many an eye to weep, with grief on grief and tear on tear. All this hath Ilium suffered and mothers have lost their children; and virgin sisters of the slain have cut off their tresses by the swollen tide of Phrygian Scamander. And the land of Hellas hath lifted her voice of woe and broken forth in wailing, smiting on her head, and making tender cheeks to stream with gore beneath the rending nail. Ah blest maid Callisto, who long ago in Arcady didst find favour with Zeus, in the semblance of beast four-footed, how much happier was thy lot than my mother's, for thou hast changed the burden of thy grief and now with savage eye art weeping o'er thy shaggy monster-shape; aye, and hers was a happier lot, whom on a day Artemis drove from her choir, changed to a hind with horns of gold, the fair Titanian maid, daughter of Merops, because of her beauty; but my fair form hath proved the curse of Dardan Troy and doomed Achaea's sons.HELEN and the CHORUS go into the palace. After the doors have closed upon them, MENELAUS enters. He is alone and clad in rags.
MENELAUSAh! Pelops, easy victor long ago o'er thy rival Oenomaus in the chariot-race on Pisa's plain, would thou hadst ended thy career amongst the gods that day thou wert beguiled into making a banquet for them, or ever thou hadst begotten my father Atreus, to whom were born by Aerope his wife, Agamemnon and myself Menelaus, an illustrious pair; and herein I make no idle boast, for 'twas a mighty host, I trow, that I their leader carried o'er the sea to Troy, using no violence to make them follow me, but leading all the chivalry of Hellas by voluntary consent. And some of these must we number 'mid the slain, and some to their joy have 'scaped the sea, bearing to their homes again names long reckoned dead. But I, poor wretch, go wandering o'er grey Ocean's swell a weary space, long as that which saw me sick the towers of Ilium; and for all my longing to reach my country I am not counted worthy of this boon by heaven, but to Libya's desert cheerless roadsteads have I sailed, to each and all of them; and whensoe'er I draw me near my native land, the storm-wind drives me back again, and never yet have favouring breezes filled my sails, to let me reach my fatherland. And now a wretched, shipwrecked mariner, my friends all lost, am I cast up upon this shore; and my ship is shattered in a thousand pieces against the rocks; and its keel was wrested from its cunning fastenings; thereon did I with difficulty escape, most unexpectedly, and Helen also, for her had I rescued from Troy and had with me. But the name of this country and its people I know not; for I blushed to mingle with the crowd to question them, anxious for very shame to hide my misfortunes which reduce me to these sorry rags. For when a man of high degree meets with adversity, he feels the strangeness of his fallen state more keenly than a sufferer of long standing. Dire want is wasting me; for I have neither food, nor raiment to gird myself withal; behold the facts before you to judge from-I am clad in tatters cast up from the ship; while all the robes I once did wear, glorious attire and ornaments, bath the sea swallowed; and in a cavern's deep recesses have I hidden my wife, the cause of all my trouble, and have come hither, after straitly charging the survivors of my friends to watch her. Alone am I come, seeking for those there left some help, if haply I may find it after careful search. So when I saw this palace girt with towering walls and stately gates of some prosperous lord, I drew nigh; for I have hope to obtain somewhat for my sailors from this wealthy house, whereas from houses which have no store, the inmates for all their goodwill could furnish naught. Ho! there, who keeps the gate and will come forth to bear my tale of woe into the house?A PORTRESS comes out of the palace in answer to his call.
PORTRESSWho stands before the door? Begone from the housel stand not at the court-yard gate, annoying my masters! otherwise shalt thou die, for thou art a Hellene born. and with them have we no dealings.
MENELAUSMother, herein sayest thou rightly on all points. 'Tis well; I will obey; but moderate thy words.
PORTRESSAway! stranger, my orders are to admit no Hellene to this palace.
MENELAUSHa! do not seek to push me hence, or thrust me away by violence.
PORTRESSThou dost not heed my words, and therefore hast thyself to blame.
MENELAUSCarry my message to thy master in the palace.
PORTRESSSome one would rue it, methinks, were I to take thy message.
MENELAUSI come as a shipwrecked man and a stranger, whom heaven protects.
PORTRESSWell, get thee to some other house than this.
MENELAUSNay, but I will pass into the house; so listen to me.
PORTRESSLet me tell thee thou art unwelcome, and soon wilt be forcibly ejected.
MENELAUSAh me! where are now those famous troops of mine?
PORTRESSElsewhere maybe thou wert a mighty man; thou art not here.
MENELAUSO fortune! I have not deserved such insult.
PORTRESSWhy are thy eyes with tear-drops wet? Why so sad?
MENELAUS'Tis the contrast with my fortunes erst so blest.
PORTRESSHence! then, and give thy friends those tears.
MENELAUSWhat land is this? whose is the palace?
PORTRESSProteus lives here. It is the land of Egypt.
MENELAUSEgypt? Woe is me! to think that hither I have sailed!
PORTRESSPray, what fault hast thou to find with the race of Nile?
MENELAUS'Twas no fault I found; my own disasters I lament.
PORTRESSThere be plenty in evil case; thou art not the only one.
MENELAUSIs the king, of whom thou speakest, here within?
PORTRESSThere is his tomb; his son rules in his stead.
MENELAUSAnd where may he be? abroad, or in the house?
PORTRESSHe is not within. To Hellas is he a bitter foe.
MENELAUSHis reason, pray, for this enmity? the results whereof I have experienced.
PORTRESSBeneath this roof dwells the daughter of Zeus, Helen.
MENELAUSWhat mean'st thou? what is it thou hast said? Repeat, I pray, thy words.
PORTRESSThe daughter of Tyndareus is here, who erst in Sparta dwelt.
MENELAUSWhence came she? What means this business?
PORTRESSShe came from Lacedaemon hither.
MENELAUSWhen? Surely I have never been robbed of my wife from the cave!
PORTRESSBefore the Achaeans went to Troy, sir stranger. But get thee hence; for somewhat hath chanced within, whereat the whole palace is in an uproar. Thou comest most unseasonably; and if my master catch thee, death will be thy stranger's gift. This say I, because to Hellas I am well disposed, albeit I gave thee harsh answers for fear of my master.The PORTRESS goes back into the palace.
MENELAUSWhat can I think or say? For after my previous troubles, this is a fresh piece of ill-luck I hear, if, indeed, after recovering my wife from Troy and bringing her hither, and putting her for safety in the cave, I am then to find another woman living here with the same name as my wife. She called her the begotten child of Zeus. Can there be a man that hath the name of Zeus by the banks of Nile? The Zeus of heaven is only one, at any rate. Where is there a Sparta in the world save where Eurotas glides between his reedy banks? The name of Tyndareus is the name of one alone. Is there any land of the same name as Lacedaemon or Troy? I know not what to say; for naturally there are many in the wide world that have the same names, cities and women too; there is nothing, then, to marvel at. Nor yet again will I fly from the alarm a servant raises; for there is none so cruel of heart as to refuse me food when once he hears my name. All have heard of Ilium's burning, and I, that set it ablaze, am famous now throughout the world, I, Menelaus. I therefore wait the master of this house. There are two issues I must watch; if he prove somewhat stern of heart, I will to my wreck and there conceal myself; but if he show any sign of pity, I will ask for help in this my present strait. This is the crowning woe in all my misery, to beg the means of life from other princes, prince though I be myself; still needs must I. Yea, this is no saying of mine, but a word of wisdom, "Naught in might exceedeth dread necessity."HELEN and the CHORUS enter from the palace. They do not notice MENELAUS.
CHORUS singingI have heard the voice of the maiden inspired. Clear is the answer she hath vouchsafed within yon palace, declaring that Menelaus is not yet dead and buried, passed to the land of shades, where darkness takes the place of light; but on the stormy main is wearing out his life, nor yet hath reached the haven of his country, a wanderer dragging out a piteous existence, reft of every friend, setting foot in every corner of the world, as he voyageth home from Troy.
HELENLo! once again I seek the shelter of this tomb, with Theonoe's sweet tidings in my ears; she that knoweth all things of a truth; for she saith my lord is yet alive and in the light of day, albeit he is roaming to and fro after many a weary voyage, and hither shall he come whenso he reach the limit of his toils, no novice in the wanderer's life. But one thing did she leave unsaid. Is he to escape when he hath come? And I refrained from asking that question clearly, so glad was I when she told me he was safe. For she said that he was somewhere nigh this shore, cast up by shipwreck with a handful of friends. Ah! when shall I see thee come? How welcome will thy advent be!She catches sight of MENELAUS.Ha! who is this? Am I being snared by some trick of Proteus' impious son? Oh! let me, like a courser at its speed, or a votary of Bacchus, approach the tomb! for there is something wild about this fellow's looks, who is eager to o'ertake me.
MENELAUSHo there! thou that with fearful effort seekest to reach the basement of the tomb and the pillars of burnt sacrifice, stay thee. Wherefore art flying? Ah! with what speechless amaze the sight of thee affects me!
HELENO friends! I am being ill-treated. This man is keeping me from the tomb, and is eager to take and give me to his master, whose wooing I was seeking to avoid.
MENELAUSNo robber I, or minister of evil.
HELENAt any rate the garb wherein thou art clad is unseemly.
MENELAUSStay thy hasty flight; put fear aside.
HELENI do so, now that I have reached this spot.
MENELAUSWho art thou? whom do I behold in thee, lady?
HELENNay, who art thou? The self-same reason prompts us both.
MENELAUSnever saw a closer resemblance.
HELENGreat God! Yea, for to recognize our friends is of God.
MENELAUSArt thou from Hellas, or a native of this land?
HELENFrom Hellas; but I would learn thy story too.
MENELAUSLady, in thee I see a wondrous likeness to Helen.
HELENAnd I in thee to Menelaus; I know not what to say.
MENELAUSWell, thou hast recognized aright a man of many sorrows.
HELENHail! to thy wife's arms restored at last!
MENELAUSWife indeed! Lay not a finger on my robe.
HELENThe wife that Tyndareus, my father, gave thee.
MENELAUSO Hecate, giver of light, send thy visions favourably!
HELENIn me thou beholdest no spectre of the night, attendant on the queen of phantoms.
MENELAUSNor yet am I in my single person the husband of two wives.
HELENWhat other woman calls thee lord?
MENELAUSThe inmate of yonder cave, whom I from Troy convey.
HELENThou hast none other wife but me.
MENELAUSCan it be my mind is wandering, my sight failing?
HELENDost not believe thou seest in me thy wife?
MENELAUSThy form resembles her, but the real truth robs me of this belief.
HELENObserve me well; what need hast thou of clearer proof?
MENELAUSThou art like her; that will I never deny.
HELENWho then shall teach thee, unless it be thine own eyes?
MENELAUSHerein is my dilemma; I have another wife.
HELENTo Troy I never went; that was a phantom.
MENELAUSPray, who fashions living bodies?
HELENThe air, whence thou hast a wife of heaven's workmanship.
MENELAUSWhat god's handiwork? Strange is the tale thou tellest.
HELENHera made it as a substitute, to keep me from Paris.
MENELAUSHow then couldst thou have been here, and in Troy, at the same time?
HELENThe name may be in many a place at once, though not the body.
MENELAUSUnhand me! the sorrows I brought with me suffice.
HELENWhat! wilt leave me, and take that phantom bride away?
MENELAUSFor thy likeness unto Helen, fare thee well.
HELENRuined! in thee I found my lord only to lose thee.
MENELAUSThe greatness of my troubles at Troy convinces me; thou dost not.
HELENAh, woe is me! who was ever more unfortunate than I? Those whom I love best are leaving me, nor shall I ever reach Hellas, my own dear native land.The FIRST MESSENGER enters in haste.
MESSENGERAt last I find thee, Menelaus, after an anxious search, not till I have evandered through the length and breadth of this foreign strand; I am sent by thy comrades, whom thou didst leave behind.
MENELAUSWhat news? surely you are not being spoiled by the barbarians?
MESSENGERA miracle hath happened; my words are too weak for the reality.
MENELAUSSpeak; for judging by this haste, thou hast stirring news.
MESSENGERMy message is: thy countless toils have all been toiled in vain.
MENELAUSThat is an old tale of woe to mourn! come, thy news?
MESSENGERThy wife hath disappeared, soaring away into the embracing air; in heaven she now is hidden, and as she left the hollowed cave where we were guarding her, she hailed us thus, "Ye hapless Phrygians, and all Achaea's race! for me upon Scamander's strand by Hera's arts ye died from day to day, in the false belief that Helen was in the hands of Paris. But I, since I have stayed my appointed time, and kept the laws of fate, will now depart unto the sky that gave me birth; but the unhappy daughter of Tyndareus, through no fault of hers, hath borne an evil name without reason."Catching Sight of HELENDaughter of Leda, hail to thee, so thou art here after all! I was just announcing thy departure to the hidden starry realms, little knowing that thou couldst fly at will. I will not a second time let thee flout us thus, for thou didst cause tiki lord and his comrades trouble all for naught in Ilium.
MENELAUSThis is even what she said; her words are proved true; O longed-for day, how hath it restored thee to my arms!
HELENO Menelaus, dearest husband, the time of sorrow has been long, but joy is now ours at last. Ah, friends, what joy for me to hold my husband in a fond embrace after many a weary cycle of yon blazing lamp of day!
MENELAUSWhat joy for me to hold my wife! but with all that I would ask about these years, I now know not where I may first begin.
HELENO rapture! the very hair upon my head starts up for joy! my tears run down! Around thy neck I fling my arms, dear husband, to hug my joy to me.
MENELAUSO happy, happy sight! I have no fault to find; my wife, he daughter of Zeus and Leda, is mine again, she whom her brothers on their snow-white steeds, whilst torches blazed, made my happy bride, but gods removed her from my home. Now is the deity guiding us to a new destiny, happier than of yore.
HELENEvil into good transformed hath brought us twain together at last, dear husband; but late though it be, God grant me joy of my good luck!
MENELAUSGod grant thee joy! I join thee in the self-same prayer; for of us twain one cannot suffer without the other.
HELENNo more, my friends, I mourn the past; no longer now I grieve. My own dear husband is restored to me, whose coming from Troy I have waited many a long year.
MENELAUSI to thee, and thou to me. And after these long, long years I have at last discovered the fraud of the goddess. But these tears, in gladness shed, are tears of thankfulness rather than of sorrow.
HELENWhat can I say? What mortal heart could e'er have had such hope? To my bosom I press thee, little as I ever thought to.
MENELAUSAnd I to mine press thee, who all men thought hadst gone to Ida's town and the hapless towers of Ilium.
HELENAh me! ah me! that is a bitter subject to begin on.
MENELAUSTell me, I adjure thee, how wert thou from my home conveyed?
HELENAlas! alas! 'tis a bitter tale thou askest to hear.
MENELAUSSpeak, for I must hear it; all that comes is Heaven's gift.
HELENI loathe the story I am now to tell.
MENELAUSTell it for all that. 'Tis sweet to hear of trouble past.
HELENI ne'er set forth to be the young barbarian's bride, with oars and wings of lawless love to speed me on my way.
MENELAUSWhat deity or fate tore thee from thy country, then?
HELENAh, my lord! 'twas Hermes, the son of Zeus, that brought and placed me by the banks of Nile.
MENELAUSA miracle! Who sent thee thither? O monstrous story!
HELENI wept, and still my eyes are wet with tears. 'Twas the wife of Zeus that ruined me.
MENELAUSHera? wherefore should she afflict us twain?
HELENWoe is me for my awful fate! Woe for those founts and baths where the goddesses made brighter still that beauty, which evoked the fatal verdict!
MENELAUSWhy did Hera visit thee with evil regarding this verdict?
HELENTo wrest the promise of Cypris-
MENELAUSHow now? Say on.
HELENFrom Paris, to whom that goddess pledged me.
MENELAUSWoe for thee!
HELENAnd so she brought me hither to Egypt to my sorrow.
MENELAUSThen she gave him a phantom in thy stead, as thou tellest me?
HELENAnd then began those woes of thine, ah, mother! woe is me!
MENELAUSWhat meanest thou?
HELENMy mother is no more; my shameful marriage made her fix the noose about her neck.
MENELAUSAh me! is our daughter Hermione yet alive?
HELENStill unwed, childless still, she mourns my fatal marriage.
MENELAUSO Paris, who didst utterly o'erthrow my home, here was thy ruin too and theirs, those countless mail-clad Danai.
HELENFrom my country, city, and from thee heaven cast me forth unhappy and accursed, because I left,-and yet not I,-home and husband for union of foul shame.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSIf haply ye find happiness in the future, it will suffice when to the past ye look.
MESSENGERMenelaus, grant me too a portion of that joy which, though mine own eyes see, I scarcely comprehend.
MENELAUSCome then, old friend, and share with us our talk.
MESSENGERWas it not then in her power to decide all the trouble in Troy?
MENELAUSIt was not; I was tricked by the gods into taking to my arms a misty phantom-form, to my sorrow.
MESSENGERHow so? was it then for this we vainly toiled?
MENELAUS'Twas Hera's handiwork, and the jealousy of three goddesses.
MESSENGERIs this real woman, then, thy wife?
MENELAUSThis is she; trust my word for that.
MESSENGERDaughter, how changeful and inscrutable is the nature of God! With some good end doth he vary men's fortune-now up, now down; one suffers; another who ne'er knew suffering, is in his turn to awful ruin brought, having no assurance in his lot from day to day. Thou and thy husband have had your share of trouble-thou in what the world has said, he in battle's heat. For all the striving that he strove, he got him naught; while now, without an effort made, every blessing fortune boasts is his. And thou, in spite of all, hast brought no shame upon thy aged sire, or those twin sons of Zeus, nor art thou guilty of those rumoured crimes. Now again do I recall thy wedding rites, remembering the blazing torch I bore beside thee in a four-horsed chariot at full gallop; while thou with this thy lord, a new-made bride, wert driving forth from thy happy home. A sorry servant he, whoso regardeth not his master's interest, sympathizing with his sorrows and his joys. Slave though I was born, yet may I be numbered amongst honest servants; for in heart, though not in name, I am free. For this is better far than in my single person to suffer these two evils, to feel my heart corrupt, and as the slave of others to be at my neighbour's beck and call.
MENELAUSCome, old friend, oft hast thou stood side by side with me and taken thy full share of toil; so now be partner in my happiness. Go, tell my comrades, whom I left behind, the state of matters here, as thou hast found them, and the issue of my fortunes; and bid them wait upon the beach and abide the result of the struggle, which I trow awaits me; and if mayhap we find a way to take this lady from the land by stealth, tell them to keep good watch that we may share the luck and escape, if possible, from the barbarian's clutch.
MESSENGERIt shall be done, O king. Now I see how worthless are the seers' tricks, how full of falsehood; nor is there after all aught trustworthy in the blaze of sacrifice or in the cry of feathered fowls; 'tis folly, the very notion that birds can help mankind. Calchas never by word or sign showed the host the truth, when he saw his friends dying on behalf of a phantom, nor yet did Helenus; but the city was stormed in vain. Perhaps thou wilt say, 'twas not heaven's will that they should do so. Then why do we employ these prophets? Better were it to sacrifice to the gods, and crave a blessing, leaving prophecy alone; for this was but devised as a bait to catch livelihood, and no man grows rich by divination if he is idle. No! sound judgment and discernment are the best of seers.The MESSENGER departs.
LEADERMy views about seers agree exactly with this old man's: whoso hath the gods upon his side will have the best seer in his house.
HELENGood! so far all is well. But how camest thou, poor husband, safe from Troy? though 'tis no gain to know, yet friends feel a longing to learn all that their friends have suffered.
MENELAUSThat one short sentence of thine contains a host of questions. Why should I tell thee of our losses in the Aegean, or of the beacon Nauplius lighted on Euboea? or of my visits to Crete and the cities of Libya, or of the peaks of Perseus? For I should never satisfy thee with the tale, and by telling thee should add to my own pain, though I suffered enough at the time; and so would my grief be doubled.
HELENThy answer shows more wisdom than my question. Omit the rest, and tell me only this; how long wert thou a weary wanderer o'er the wide sea's face?
MENELAUSSeven long years did I see come and go, besides those ten in Troy.
HELENAlas, poor sufferer! 'twas a weary while. And thou hast thence escaped only to bleed here.
MENELAUSHow so? what wilt thou tell? Ah wife, thou hast ruined me.
HELENEscape and fly with all thy speed from this land. Thou wilt be slain by him whose house this is.
MENELAUSWhat have I done to merit such a fate?
HELENThou hast arrived unexpectedly to thwart my marriage.
MENELAUSWhat! is some man bent on wedding my wife?
HELENAye, and on heaping those insults on me, which I have hitherto endured.
MENELAUSIs he some private prince, or a ruler of this land?
HELENThe son of Proteus, king of the country.
MENELAUSThis was that dark saying I heard the servant tell.
HELENAt which of the barbarian's gates wert thou standing?
MENELAUSHere, whence like a beggar I was like to be driven.
HELENSurely thou wert not begging food? Ah, woe is me!
MENELAUSThat was what I was doing, though I had not the name of beggar.
HELENOf course thou knowest, then, all about my marriage.
MENELAUSI do. But whether thou hast escaped thy lover, I know not.
HELENBe well assured I have kept my body chaste.
MENELAUSHow wilt thou convince me of this? If true, thy words are sweet.
HELENDost see the wretched station I have kept at this tomb?
MENELAUSI see, alas! a bed of straw; but what hast thou to do with it?
HELENThere I crave escape from this marriage as a suppliant.
MENELAUSFor want of an altar, or because it is the barbarians' way?
HELENThis was as good a protection to me as the gods' temples.
MENELAUSMay I not then even bear thee homeward on my ship?
HELENThe sword far sooner than thy wife's embrace is waiting thee.
MENELAUSSo should I be of all men the most miserable.
HELENPut shame aside, and fly from this land.
MENELAUSLeaving thee behind? 'twas for thy sake I sacked Troy.
HELENBetter so, than that our union should cause thy death.
MENELAUSOh! these are coward words, unworthy of those days at Troy!
HELENThou canst not slay the prince, thy possible intent.
MENELAUSHath he, then, a body which steel cannot wound?
HELENThou shalt hear. But to attempt impossibilities is no mark of wisdom.
MENELAUSAm I to let them bind my hands, and say nothing?
HELENThou art in a dilemma; some scheme must be devised.
MENELAUSI had liefer die in action than sitting still.
HELENThere is one hope, and only one, of our safety.
MENELAUSWill gold, or daring deeds, or winning words procure it?
HELENWe are safe if the prince learn not of thy coming.
MENELAUSary one tell him it is I? He certainly will not know who I am.
HELENHe hath within his palace an ally equal to the gods.
MENELAUSSome voice divine within the secret chambers of his house?
HELENNo; his sister; Theonoe men call her.
MENELAUSHer name hath a prophetic sound; tell me what she doth.
HELENShe knoweth everything, and she will tell her brother thou art come.
MENELAUSThen must we die; for I cannot escape her ken.
HELENPerchance we might by suppliant prayers win her over.
MENELAUSTo what end? To what vain hope art thou leading me?
HELENThat she should not tell her brother thou art here.
MENELAUSSuppose we persuade her, can we get away?
HELENEasily, if she connive thereat; without her knowledge, no,
MENELAUSBe that thy task; women deal best with women.
HELENI will not fail, be sure, to clasp her knees.
MENELAUSCome, then; only, suppose she reject our proposals?
HELENThou wilt be slain, and I, alas! wedded by force.
MENELAUSThou wilt betray me; that "force" of thine is but an excuse.
HELENNay, by thy life I swear a sacred oath.
MENELAUSWhat meanest thou? dost swear to die and never to another husband yield?
HELENYes, by the self-same sword; I will fall by thy side.
MENELAUSOn these conditions touch my right hand.
HELENI do so, swearing I will quit the light of day if thou art slain.
MENELAUSI, too, will end my life if I lose thee.
HELENHow shall we die so as to gain fame?
MENELAUSI will slay thee and then myself upon the summit of the tomb. But first will I in doughty fight contest another's claim to thee; and let who will draw nigh! for I will not sully the lustre of my Trojan fame, nor will I, on my return to Hellas, incur a storm of taunts, as one who robbed Thetis of Achilles; saw Ajax, son of Telamon, fall a weltering corpse; and the sort of Neleus of his child bereft; shall I then flinch myself from death for my own wife? No, no! For if the gods are wise, o'er a brave man by his foes laid low they lightly sprinkle the earth that is his tomb, while cowards 'they cast forth on barren rocky soil.
LEADERGrant, heaven, that the race of Tantalus may at last be blest, and pass from sorrow unto joy!
HELENAh, woe is me! Yea, all my lot is woe; O Menelaus, we are utterly undone! Behold! from forth the house comes Theonoe, the prophetess, The palace echoes as the bolts are unfastened; fly! yet what use to fly? For whether absent or present she knows of thy arrival here. Ah me! how lost am I! Saved from Troy and from a barbarian land, thou hast come only to fall a prey to barbarian swords.THEONOE enters, attended by hand-maidens carrying torches.
THEONOELead on, bearing before me blazing brands, and, as sacred rites ordain, purge with incense every cranny of the air, that I may breathe heaven's breath free from taint; meanwhile do thou, in case the tread of unclean feet have soiled the path, wave the cleansing flame above it, and brandish the torch in front, that I may pass upon my way. And when to heaven ye have paid the customs I exact, bear back into the house the brand from off the hearth. What of my prophecy, Helen? how stands it now? Thou hast seen thy husband Menelaus arrive without disguise, reft of his ships, and of thy counterfeit. Ah, hapless man! what troubles hast thou escaped, and art come hither, and yet knowest not whether thou art to return or to abide here; for there is strife in heaven, and Zeus this very day will sit in solemn conclave on thee. Hera, who erst was thy bitter foe, is now grown kind, and is willing to bring thee and thy wife safe home, that Hellas may learn that the marriage of Paris was all a sham, assigned to him by Cypris; but Cypris fain would mar thy homeward course, that she may not be convicted, or proved to have bought the palm of beauty at the price of Helen in a futile marriage. Now the decision rests with me, whether to ruin thee, as Cypris wishes, by telling my brother of thy presence bere, or to save thy life by taking Hera's side, concealing thy coming from my brother, for his orders are that I should tell him, whensoe'er thou shouldst reach these shores. Ho! one of you, go show my brother this man is here, that I may secure my safety.
HELENMaiden, at thy knees I fall a suppliant, and seat myself in this sad posture on behalf of myself and him, whom I am in danger of seeing slain, after I have so hardly found him. Oh! tell not thy brother that my husband is returned to these loving arms; save us, I beseech thee; never for thy brother's sake sacrifice thy character for uprightness, by evil and unjust means bidding for his favour. For the deity hates violence, and biddeth all men get lawful gains without plundering others. Wealth unjustly gotten, though it bring some power, is to be eschewed. The breath of heaven and the earth are man's common heritage, wherein to store his home, without taking the goods of others, or wresting them away by force. Me did Hermes at a critical time, to my sorrow, intrust to thy father's safe keeping for this my lord, who now is here and wishes to reclaim me. But how can he recover me if he be slain? How could thy sire restore the living to the dead? Oh! consider ere that the will of heaven and thy father's too; would the deity or would thy dead sire restore their neighbour's goods, or would they forbear? restore them, I feel sure. It is not, therefore, right that thou shouldst more esteem thy wanton brother than thy righteous father. Yet if thou, prophetess as thou art and believer in divine providence, shalt pervert the just intention of thy father and gratify thy unrighteous brother, 'tis shameful thou shouldst have full knowledge of the heavenly will, both what is and what is not, and yet be ignorant of justice. Oh! save my wretched life from the troubles which beset it, granting this as an accession to our good fortune; for every living soul loathes Helen, seeing that there is gone a rumour throughout Hellas that I was false unto my lord, and took up my abode in Phrygia's sumptuous halls. Now, if I come to Hellas, and set foot once more in Sparta, they will hear and see how they were ruined by the wiles of goddesses, while was no traitress to my friends after all; and so will they restore to me my virtuous name again, and I shall give my daughter in marriage, whom no man now will wed; and, leaving this vagrant life in Egypt, shall enjoy the treasures in my home. Had Menelaus met his doom at some funeral pyre, with tears should I be cherishing his memory in a far-off land, but must lose him now when he is alive and safe? Ah! maiden, I beseech thee, say not so; grant me this boon, I pray, and reflect thy father's justice; for this is the fairest ornament of children, when the child of a virtuous sire resembles its parents in character.
LEADERPiteous thy pleading, and a piteous object thou! But I fain would hear what Menelaus will say to save his life.
MENELAUSI will not deign to throw myself at thy knees, or wet mine eyes with tears; for were I to play the coward, I should most foully blur my Trojan fame. And yet men say it shows a noble soul to let the tear-drop fall in misfortune. But that will not be the honourable course that I will choose in preference to bravery, if what I shall say is honourable. Art thou disposed to save a stranger seeking in mere justice to regain his wife, why then restore her and save us likewise; if not, this will not be the first by many a time that I have suffered, though thou wilt get an evil name. All that I deem worthy of me and honest, all that will touch thy heart most nearly, will I utter at the tomb of thy sire with regret for his loss. Old king beneath this tomb of stone reposing, pay back thy trust! I ask of thee my wife whom Zeus sent hither unto thee to keep for me. I know thou canst never restore her to me thyself, for thou art dead; but this thy daughter will never allow her father once so glorious, whom I invoke in his grave, to bear a tarnished name; for the decision rests with her now. Thee, too, great god of death, I call to my assistance, who hast received full many a corpse, slain by me for Helen, and art keeping thy wage; either restore those dead now to life again, or compel the daughter to show herself a worthy equal of her virtuous sire, and give me back my wife. But if ye will rob me of her, I will tell you that which she omitted in her speech. Know then, maiden, I by an oath am bound, first, to meet thy brother sword to sword, when he or I must die-there is no alternative. But if he refuse to meet me fairly front to front, and seek by famine to chase away us suppliants twain at this tomb, I am resolved to slay Helen, and then to plunge this two-edged sword through my own heart, upon the top of the sepulchre, that our streaming blood may trickle down the tomb; and our two corpses will be lying side by side upon this polished slab, a source of deathless grief to thee, and to thy sire reproach. Never shall thy brother wed Helen, nor shall any other; I will bear her hence myself, if not to my house, at any rate to death. And why this stern resolve? Were I to resort to women's ways and weep, I should be a pitiful creature, not a man of action. Slay me, if it seems thee good; I will not die ingloriously; but better yield to what I say, that thou mayst act with justice, and I regain my wife.
LEADEROn thee, maiden, it rests to judge between these arguments. Decide in such a way as to please one and all.
THEONOEMy nature and my inclination lean towards piety; myself, too, I respect, and I will never sully my father's fair name, or gratify my brother at the cost of bringing myself into open dishonour. For justice hath her temple firmly founded in my nature, and since I have this heritage from Nereus I will strive to save Menelaus; wherefore, seeing it is Hera's will to stand thy friend, I will give my vote with her. May Cypris be favourable to me! though in me she hath no part, and I will try to remain a maid alway. As for thy reproaches against my father at this tomb; lo! I have the same words to utter; I should be wronging thee, did I not restore thy wife; for my sire, were he living, would have given her back into thy keeping, and thee to her. Yea, for there is recompense for these things as well amongst the dead as amongst all those who breathe the breath of life. The soul indeed of the dead lives no more, yet hath it a consciousness that lasts for ever, eternal as the ether into which it takes the final plunge. Briefly then to end the matter, I will observe strict silence on all that ye prayed I should, and never with my counsel will I aid my brother's wanton will. For I am doing him good service, though he little thinks it, if turn him from his godless life to holiness. Wherefore devise yourselves some way of escape; my lips are scaled; I will not cross your path. First with the goddesses begin, and of the one,-and that one Cypris,-Crave permission to return unto thy country; and of Hera, that her goodwill may abide in the same quarter, even her scheme to save thee and thy husband. And thou, my own dead sire, shalt never, in so far as rests with me, lose thy holy name to rank with evil-doers.THEONOE and her attendants enter the palace.
LEADERNo man ever prospered by unjust practices, but in a righteous cause there is hope of safety.
HELENMenelaus, on the maiden's side are we quite safe. Thou must from that point start, and by contributing thy advice, devise with me a scheme to save ourselves.
MENELAUSHearken then; thou hast been a long while in the palace, and art intimate with the king's attendants.
HELENWhat dost thou mean thereby? for thou art suggesting hopes, as if resolved on some plan for our mutual help.
MENELAUSCouldst thou persuade one of those who have charge of cars and steeds to furnish us with a chariot?
HELENI might; but what escape is there for us who know nothing of the country and the barbarian's kingdom?
MENELAUSTrue; 'tis impossible. Well, supposing I conceal myself in the palace and slay the king with this two-edged sword?
HELENHis sister would never refrain from telling her brother that thou wert meditating his death.
MENELAUSWe have not so much as a ship to make our escape in; for the sea. hath swallowed the one we had.
HELENHear me, if haply even a woriian can utter words of wisdom. Dost thou consent to be dead in word, though not really so?
MENELAUS'Tis a bad omen; still, if by saying so I shall gain aught, I am ready to be dead in word, though not in deed.
HELENI, too, will mourn thee with hair cut short and dirges, as is women's way, before this impious wretch.
MENELAUSWhat saving remedy doth this afford us twain? There is deception in thy scheme.
HELENI will beg the king of this country leave to bury thee in a cenotaph, as if thou hadst really died at sea.
MENELAUSSuppose he grant it; how, e'en then, are we to escape without a ship, after having committed me to my empty tomb?
HELENI will bid him give me a vessel, from which to let drop into the sea's embrace thy funeral offerings.
MENELAUSA clever plan in truth, save in one particular; suppose he bid thee rear the tomb upon the strand, thy pretext comes to naught.
HELENBut I shall say it is not the custom in Hellas to bury those who die at sea upon the shore.
MENELAUSThou removest this obstacle too; I then will sail with thee and help stow the funeral garniture in the same ship.
HELENAbove all, it is necessary that thou and all thy sailors who escaped from the wreck should be at hand.
MENELAUSBe sure if once I find a ship at her moorings, they shall be there man for man, each with his sword.
HELENThou must direct everything; only let there be winds to waft our rails and a good ship to speed before them!
MENELAUSSo shall it be; for the deities will cause my troubles to cease. But from whom wilt thou say thou hadst tidings of my death?
HELENFrom thee; declare thyself the one and only survivor, telling how thou wert sailing with the son of Atreus, and didst see him perish.
MENELAUSOf a truth the garments I have thrown about me, will bear out my tale that they were rags collected from the wreckage.
HELENThey come in most opportunely, but they were near being lost just at the wrong time. Maybe that misfortune will turn to fortune.
MENELAUSAm I to enter the palace with thee, or are we to sit here at the tomb quietly?
HELENAbide here; for if the king attempts to do thee any mischief, this tomb and thy good sword will protect thee. But I will go within and cut off my hair, and exchange my white robe for sable weeds, and rend my cheek with this hand's blood-thirsty nail. For 'tis a mighty struggle, and I see two possible issues; either I must die if detected in my plot, or else to my country shall I come and save thy soul alive. O Hera! awful queen, who sharest the couch of Zeus, grant some respite from their toil to two unhappy wretches; to thee I pray, tossing my arms upward to heaven, where thou hast thy home in the star-spangled firmament. Thou, too, that didst win the prize of beauty at the price of my marriage; O Cypris! daughter of Dione, destroy me not utterly. Thou hast injured me enough aforetime, delivering up my name, though not my person, to live amongst barbarians. Oh! suffer me to die, if death is thy desire, in my native land. Why art thou so insatiate in mischief, employing every art of love, of fraud, and guileful schemes, and spells that bring bloodshed on families? Wert thou but moderate, only that!-in all else thou art by nature man's most well, come deity; and I have reason so to say.HELEN enters the palace and MENELAUS withdraws into the background.
CHORUS singingstrophe 1
Thee let me invoke, tearful Philomel, lurking 'neath the leafy covert in thy place of song, most tuneful of all feathered songsters, oh! come to aid me in my dirge, trilling through thy tawny throat, as I sing the piteous woes of Helen, and the tearful fate of Trojan dames made subject to Achaea's spear, on the day that there came to their plains one who sped with foreign oar across the dashing billows, bringing to Priam's race from Lacedaemon thee his hapless bride, Helen,-even Paris, luckless bridegroom, by the guidance of Aphrodite.
And many an Achaean hath breathed his last amid the spearmen's thrusts and hurtling hail of stones, and gone to his sad end; for these their wives cut off their hair in sorrow, and their houses are left without a bride; and one of the Achaeans, that had but a single ship, did light a blazing beacon on sea-girt Euboea, and destroy full many of them, wrecking them