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Written ca. 429 B.C.E
Translated by E. P. Coleridge
IOLAUS, friend of Heracles
COPREUS, herald of EURYSTHEUS
DEMOPHON, King of Athens
MACARIA, daughter of Heracles
SERVANT, of Hyllus, son of Heracles
ALCMENA, mother of Heracles
EURYSTHEUS; King of Argos
CHORUS OF AGED ATHENIANS
Acamas, the brother of DEMOPHON, younger sons of Heracles,
Before the altar and temple of Zeus at Marathon. IOLAUS, an old man, and the children of Heracles are seen on the steps of the altar.
I hold this true, and long have held: Nature hath made one
man upright for his neighbours' good, while another hath a disposition
wholly given over to gain, useless alike to the state and difficult to
have dealings with, but for himself the best of men; and this I know, not
from mere hearsay. For I, from pure regard and reverence for my kith and
kin, though might have lived at peace in Argos, alone of all my race shared
with Heracles his labours, while he was yet with us, and now that he dwells
in heaven, I keep these his children safe beneath my wing, though myself
need protection. For when their father passed from earth away, Eurystheus
would first of all have slain us, but we escaped. And though our home is
lost, our life was saved. But in exile we wander from city to city, ever
forced to roam. For, added to our former wrongs, Eurystheus thought it
fit to put this further outrage upon us: wheresoe'er he heard that we were
settling, thither would he send heralds demanding our surrender and driving
us from thence, holding out this threat, that Argos is no meal city to
make a friend or foe, and furthermore pointing to his own prosperity. So
they, seeing how weak my means, and these little ones left without a father,
bow to his superior might and drive us from their land. And I share the
exile of these children, and help them bear their evil lot by my sympathy,
loth to betray them, lest someone say, "Look you! now that the children's
sire is dead, Iolaus no more protects them, kinsman though he is." Not
one corner left us in the whole of Hellas, we are come to Marathon and
its neighbouring land, and here we sit as suppliants at the altars of the
gods, and pray their aid; for 'tis said two sons of Theseus dwell upon
these plains, the lot of their inheritance, scions of Pandion's stock,
related to these children; this the reason we have come on this our way
to the borders of glorious Athens. To lead the flight two aged guides are
we; my care is centred on these boys, while she, I mean Alcmena, clasps
her son's daughter in her arms, and bears her for safety within this shrine,
for we shrink from letting tender maidens come anigh the crowd or stand
as suppliants at the altar. Now Hvllus and the elder of his brethren are
seeking some place for us to find a refuge, if we are driven by force from
this land. O children, children, come hither! hold unto my robe; for lo!
I see a herald coming towards us from Eurystheus, by whom we are persecuted,
wanderers excluded from every land. A curse on the and him that sent thee,
hateful wretch! for that same tongue of thine hath oft announced its master's
evil hests to these children's noble sire as well.
COPREUS, the herald of EURYSTHEUS, enters.
Doubtless thy folly lets thee think this is a good position
to have taken up, and that thou art come to a city that will help thee.
No! there is none that will prefer thy feeble arm to the might of Eurystheus.
Begone! why take this trouble? Thou must arise and go to Argos, where awaits
thee death by stoning.
Not so, for the god's altar will protect me, and this land
of freedom, wherein we have set foot.
Wilt give me the trouble of laying hands on thee?
By force at least shalt thou never drag these children hence.
That shalt thou soon learn; it seems thou wert a poor prophet,
after all, in this.
COPREUS seizes the children.
This shall never happen while I live.
Begone! for I will take them hence, for all thy refusals, for
I hold that they belong to Eurystheus, as they do indeed.
He throws IOLAUS to the ground.
Help, ye who long have had your home in Athens! we suppliants
at Zeus' altar in your market-place are being haled by force away, our
sacred wreaths defiled, shame to your city, to the gods dishonour.
The CHORUS OF AGED ATHENIANS enters.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hark, hark! What cry is this that rises near the altar? At
once explain the nature of the trouble.
See this aged frame hurled in its feebleness upon the ground!
Woe is me!
Who threw thee down thus pitiably?
Behold the man who flouts your gods, kind sirs, and tries by
force to drag me from my seat before the altar of Zeus.
From what land, old stranger, art thou come to this confederate state of
four cities? or have ye left Euboea's cliffs, and, with the oar that sweeps
the sea, put in here from across the firth?
Sirs, no island life I lead, but from Mycenae to thy land I
What do they call thee, aged sir, those folk in Mycenae?
Maybe ye have heard of Iolaus, the comrade of Heracles, for
he was not unknown to fame.
Yea, I have heard of him in bygone days; but tell me, whose are the tender
boys thou bearest in thine arms?
These, sirs, are the sons of Heracles, come as suppliants to
you and your city.
What is their quest? Are they anxious, tell me, to obtain an audience of
That so they may escape surrender, nor be torn with violence
from thy altars, and brought to Argos.
Nay, this will nowise satisfy thy masters, who o'er thee have
a right, and so have tracked thee hither.
Stranger, 'tis but right we should reverence the gods' suppliants, suffering
none with violent hand to make them leave the altars, for that will dread
justice ne'er permit.
Do thou then drive these subjects of Eurystheus forth, and
this hand of mine shall abstain from violence.
'Twere impious for the state to neglect the suppliant stranger's prayer.
Yet 'tis well to keep clear of troubles, by adopting that counsel,
which is the wiser.
Thou then shouldst have told the monarch of this land thy errand
before being so bold, out of regard to his country's freedom, instead of
trying to drag strangers by force from the altars of the gods.
Who is monarch of this land and state?
Demophon, son of gallant Theseus.
Surely it were most to the purpose to discuss this matter somewhat
with him; all else has been said in vain.
Lo! here he comes in person, in hot haste, and Acamas his brother,
to hear what thou hast to say.
DEMOPHON, Acamas, and their retinue enter.
Since thou for all thy years hast outstripped younger men in
coming to the rescue to this altar of Zeus, do thou tell me what hath chanced
to bring this crowd together.
There sit the sons of Heracles as suppliants, having wreathed
the altar, as thou seest, O king, and with them is Iolaus, trusty comrade
of their sire.
Why should this event have called for cries of pain?
turning to COPREUS
This fellow caused the uproar by trying to drag them forcibly from this
altar, and he hurled down the old man, till my tears for pity flowed.
Hellenic dress and fashion in his robes doth he no doubt adopt,
but deeds like these betray the barbarian. Thou, sirrah, tell me straight
the country whence thou camest thither.
An Argive I; since that thou seek'st to know. Who sent me,
and the object of my coming, will I freely tell. Eurystheus, king of Mycenae,
sends me hither to fetch these back; and I have come, sir stranger, with
just grounds in plenty, alike for speech or action. An Argive myself, Argives
I come to fetch, taking with me these runaways from my native city, on
whom the doom of death was passed by our laws there; and we have right,
since we rule our city independently, to ratify its sentences. And though
they have come as suppliants to the altars of numerous others, we have
taken our stand on these same arguments, and no one has ventured to bring
upon himself evils of his own getting. But they have come hither, either
because they perceived some folly in thee, or, in their perplexity, staking
all on one risky throw to win or lose; for surely they do not suppose that
thou, if so thou hast thy senses still, and only thou, in all the breadth
of Hellas they have traversed, wilt pity their foolish troubles. Come now,
put argument against argument: what will be thy gain, suppose thou admit
them to thy land, or let us take them hence? From us these benefits are
thine to win: this city can secure as friends Argos, with its far-reaching
arm, and Eurystheus' might complete; whilst if thou lend an ear to their
piteous pleading and grow soft, the matter must result in trial of arms;
for be sure we shall not yield this struggle without appealing to the sword.
What pretext wilt thou urge? Of what domains art thou robbed that thou
shouldst take and wage war with the Tirynthian Argives? What kind of allies
art thou aiding? For whom will they have fallen whom thou buriest? Surely
thou wilt get an evil name from the citizens, if for the sake of an old
man near the grave, a mere shadow I may say, and for these children, thou
wilt plunge into troublous waters. The best thou canst say is, that thou
wilt find in them a hope, and nothing more; and yet this falls far short
of the present need; for these would be but a poor match for Argives even
when fully armed and in their prime, if haply that raises thy spirits;
moreover, the time 'twixt now and then is long, wherein ye may be blotted
out. Nay, hearken to me; give me naught, but let me take mine own, and
so gain Mycenae; but forbear to act now, as is your Athenian way, and take
the weaker side, when it is in thy power to choose the stronger as thy
Who can decide a cause or ascertain its merits, till from both
sides he clearly learn what they would say?
O king, in thy land I start with this advantage, the right
to hear and speak in turn, and none, ere that, will drive me hence as elsewhere
they would. 'Twixt us and him is naught in common, for we no longer have
aught to do with Argos since that decree was passed, but we are exiles
from our native land; how then can he justly drag us back as subjects of
Mycenae, seeing that they have banished us? For we are strangers. Or do
ye claim that every exile from Argos is exiled from the bounds of Hellas?
Not from Athens surely; for ne'er will she for fear of Argos drive the
children of Heracles from her land. Here is no Trachis, not at all; no!
nor that Achaean town, whence thou, defying justice, but boasting of the
might of Argos in the very words thou now art using, didst drive the suppliants
from their station at the altar. If this shall be, and they thy words approve,
why then I trow this is no more Athens, the home of freedom. Nay, but I
know the temper and nature of these citizens; they would rather die, for
honour ranks before mere life with men of worth. Enough of Athens! for
excessive praise is apt to breed disgust; and oft ere now have myself felt
vexed at praise that knows no bounds. But to thee, as ruler of this land,
fain would show the reason why thou art bound to save these children. Pittheus
was the son of Pelops; from him sprung Aethra, and from her Theseus thy
sire was born. And now will I trace back these children's lineage for thee.
Heracles was son of Zeus and Alcmena; Alcmena sprang from Pelops' daughter;
therefore thy father and their father would be the sons of first cousins.
Thus then art thou to them related, O Demophon, but thy just debt to them
beyond the ties of kinship do I now declare to thee; for I assert, in days
gone by, I was with Theseus on the ship, as their father's squire, when
they went to fetch that girdle fraught with death; yea, and from Hades'
murky dungeons did Heracles bring thy father up; as all Hellas doth attest.
Wherefore in return they crave this boon of thee, that they be not surrendered
up nor torn by force from the altars of thy gods and cast forth from the
land. For this were shame on thee, and hurtful likewise in thy state, should
suppliants, exiles, kith and kin of thine, be haled away by force. In pity
cast one glance at them. I do entreat thee, laying my suppliant bough upon
thee, by thy hands and beard, slight not the sons of Heracles, now that
thou hast them in thy power to help. Show thyself their kinsman and their
friend; be to them father, brother, lord; for better each and all of these
than to fall beneath the Argives' hand.
O king, I pity them, hearing their sad lot. Now more than ever
do see noble birth o'ercome by fortune; for these, though sprung from noble
sire, are suffering what they ne'er deserved.
Three aspects of the circumstance constrain me, Iolaus, not
to spurn the guests thou bringest; first and foremost, there is Zeus, at
whose altar thou art seated with these tender children gathered round thee;
next come ties of kin, and the debt I owe to treat them kindly for their
father's sake; and last, mine honour, which before all I must regard; for
if I permit this altar to be violently despoiled by stranger hands, men
will think the land I inhabit is free no more, and that through fear I
have surrendered suppliants to Argives, and this comes nigh to make one
hang oneself. Would that thou hadst come under a luckier star! yet, as
it is, fear not that any man shall tear thee and these children from the
altar by force.
Get thee to Argos and tell Eurystheus so; yea and more, if he have any
charge against these strangers, he shall have justice; but never shalt
thou drag them hence.
Not even if I have right upon my side and prove my case?
How can it be right to drag the suppliant away by force?
Well, mine is the disgrace; no harm will come to thee.
'Tis harm to me, if I let them be haled away by thee.
Banish them thyself, and then will I take them from elsewhere.
Nature made thee a fool, to think thou knowest better than
It seems then evildoers are to find a refuge here.
A temple of the gods is an asylum open to the world.
Maybe they will not take this view in Mycenae.
What! am I not lord of this domain?
So long as thou injure not the Argives, and if wise, thou wilt
Be injured for all I care, provided I sin not against the gods.
I would not have thee come to blows with Argos.
I am of like mind in this; but I will not dismiss these from
For all that, I shall take and drag my own away.
Why then perhaps thou wilt find a difficulty in returning to
That shall I soon find out by making the attempt.
Touch them and thou shalt rue it, and that without delay.
I conjure thee, never dare to strike a herald.
Strike I will, unless that herald learn discretion.
Depart; and thou, O king, touch him not.
I go; for 'tis feeble fighting with a single arm. But I will
come again, bringing hither a host of Argive troops, spearmen clad in bronze;
for countless warriors are awaiting my return, and king Eurystheus in person
at their head; anxiously he waits the issue here on the borders of Alcathous'
realm. And when he hears thy haughty answer, he will burst upon thee, and
thy citizens, on this land and all that grows therein; for all in vain
should we possess such hosts of picked young troops in Argos, should we
forbear to punish thee.
Perdition seize thee! I am not afraid of thy Argos. Be very
sure thou shalt not drag these suppliants hence by force, to my shame;
for I hold not this city subject unto Argos, but independently.
'Tis time to use our forethought, ere the host of Argos approach our frontier,
for exceeding fierce are the warriors of Mycenae, and in the present case
still more than heretofore. For all heralds observe this custom, to exaggerate
what happened twofold. Bethink the what a tale he will tell his master
of his dreadful treatment, how he came near losing his life altogether.
Children have no fairer prize than this, the being born of
a good and noble sire, and the power to wed from noble families; but whoso
is enslaved by passion and makes a lowborn match, I cannot praise for leaving
to his children a legacy of shame, to gratify himself. For noble birth
offers a stouter resistance to adversity than base parentage; for we, in
the last extremity of woe, have found friends and kinsmen here, the only
champions of these children through all the length and breadth of this
Hellenic world. Give, children, give to them your hand, and they the same
to you; draw near to them. Ah! children, we have made trial of our friends,
and if ever ye see the path that leads you back to your native land, and
possess your home and the honours of your father, count them ever as your
friends and saviours, and never lift against their land the foeman's spear,
in memory of this, but hold this city first midst those ye love. Yea, they
well deserve your warm regard, in that they have shifted from our shoulders
to their own the enmity of so mighty a land as Argos and its people, though
they saw we were vagabonds and beggars; still they did not give us up nor
drive us forth. So while I live, and after death,-come when it will,-loudly
will I sing thy praise, good friend, and will extol thee as I stand at
Theseus' side, and cheer his heart, as I tell how thou didst give kind
welcome and protection to the sons of Heracles, and how nobly thou dost
preserve thy father's fame through the length of Hellas, and hast not fallen
from the high estate to which thy father brought thee, a lot which few
others can boast; for 'mongst the many wilt thou find one maybe, that is
not degenerate from his sire.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
This land is ever ready in an honest cause to aid the helpless.
Wherefore ere now it hath endured troubles numberless for friends, and
now in this I see a struggle nigh at hand.
Thou hast spoken well, and I feel confident their conduct will
be such; our kindness will they not forget. Now will I muster the citizens
and set them in array, that I may receive Mycenae's host with serried ranks.
But first will I send scouts to meet them, lest they fall upon me unawares;
for at Argos every man is prompt to answer to the call, and I will assemble
prophets and ordain a sacrifice. But do thou leave the altar of Zeus and
go with the children into the house; for there are those who will care
for thee, even though I be abroad. Enter then my house, old man.
I will not leave the altar. Let us sit here still, praying
for the city's fair success, and when thou hast made a glorious end of
this struggle, will we go unto the house; nor are the gods who champion
us weaker than the gods of Argos, O king; Hera, wife of Zeus, is their
leader; Athena ours. And this I say is an omen of success, that we have
the stronger deity, for Pallas will not brook defeat.
DEMOPHON and his retinue go out.
Though loud thy boasts, there be others care no more for thee for that,
O stranger from the land of Argos; nor wilt thou scare my soul with swelling
words. Not yet be this the fate of mighty Athens, beauteous town! But thou
art void of sense, and so is he, who lords it o'er Argos, the son of Sthenelus,
thou that comest to another state, in no wise weaker than Argos, and, stranger
that thou art, wouldst drag away by force suppliants of the gods, wanderers
that cling to my land for help, refusing to yield to our king, nor yet
having any honest plea to urge. How can such conduct count as honourable,
at least in wise men's judgment?
I am for peace myself; yet I tell thee, wicked king, although thou come
unto my city, thou shalt not get so easily what thou expectest. Thou art
not the only man to wield a sword or targe with plates of brass. Nay, thou
eager warrior, I warn thee, bring not war's alarms against our lovely town;
My son, why, prithee, art thou returned with that anxious look?
Hast thou news of the enemy? Are they coming, are they here, or what thy
tidings? For of a surety yon herald will not play us false. No! sure I
am their captain, prosperous heretofore, will come, with thoughts exceeding
proud against Athens. But Zeus doth punish overweening pride.
The host of Argos is come, and Eurystheus its king; my own
eyes saw him, for the man who thinks he knows good generalship must see
the foe not by messengers alone. As yet, however, he hath not sent his
host into the plain, but, camped upon a rocky brow, is watching-I only
tell thee what I think this means-to see by which road to lead his army
hither without fighting, and how to take up a safe position in this land.
However, all my plans are by this time carefully laid; the city is under
arms, the victims stand ready to be slain to every god, whose due this
is; my seers have filled the town with sacrifices, to turn the foe to flight
and keep our country safe. All those who chant prophetic words have I assembled,
and have examined ancient oracles, both public and secret, as means to
save this city. And though the several answers differ in many points, yet
in one is the sentiment of all clearly the same; they bid me sacrifice
to Demeter's daughter some maiden from a noble father sprung. Now I, though
in your cause I am as zealous as thou seest, yet will not slay my child,
nor will I compel any of my subjects to do so against his will; for who
of his own will doth harbour such an evil thought as to yield with his
own hands the child he loves? And now thou mayest see angry gatherings,
where some declare, 'tis right to stand by suppliant strangers, while others
charge me with folly; but if I do this deed, a civil war is then and there
at hand. Do thou then look to this and help to find a way to save yourselves
and this country without causing me to be slandered by the citizens. For
I am no despot like a barbarian monarch; but provided do what is just,
just will my treatment be.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Can it be that heaven forbids this city to help strangers,
when it hath the will and longing so to do?
My children, we are even as those mariners, who have escaped
the storm's relentless rage, and have the land almost within their reach,
but after all are driven back from shore by tempests to the deep again.
Even so we, just as we reach the shore in seeming safety, are being thrust
back from this land. Ah me! Why, cruel hope, didst thou then cheer my heart,
though thou didst not mean to make the boon complete? The king may well
be pardoned, if he will not slay his subjects' children; and with my treatment
here I am content; if indeed 'tis heaven's will, I thus should fare, still
is my gratitude to thee in no wise lost. Children, I know not what to do
for you. Whither shall we turn? for what god's altar have we left uncrowned?
to what fenced city have we failed to go? Ruin and surrender are our instant
lot, poor children! If I must die, 'tis naught to me, save that thereby
I give those foes of mine some cause for joy. But you, children, I lament
and pity, and that aged mother of your sire, Alcmena. Ah, woe is thee for
thy long span of life! and woe is me for all my idle toil! 'Twas after
all our destined doom to fall into the hands of our hated foe, and die
a death of shame and misery. But lend me thine aid, thou knowest how; for
all hope of these children's safety has not yet left me. Give me up instead
of them to the Argives, O king; run no risk, but let me save the children;
to love my life becomes me not; let it pass. Me will Eurystheus be most
glad to take and treat despitefully, as I was Heracles' companion; for
the man is but a boor; wherefore wise men ought to pray to get a wise man
for their foe, and not a proud senseless fool; for so, even if by fortune
flouted, one would meet with much consideration.
Old man, blame not this city; for though perhaps a gain to
us, yet would it be a foul reproach that we betrayed strangers.
A generous scheme is thine, but impossible. 'Tis not in quest
of the yon king comes marching hither; what would Eurystheus gain by the
death of one so old? Nay, 'tis these children's blood he wants. For there
is danger to a foe in the youthful scions of a noble race, whose memory
dwells upon their father's wrongs; all this Eurystheus must foresee. But
if thou hast any scheme besides, that better suits the time, be ready with
it, for, since I heard that oracle, I am at a loss and full of fear.
MACARIA enters from the temple.
Sirs, impute not boldness to me, because I venture forth; this
shall be my first request, for a woman's fairest crown is this, to practise
silence and discretion, and abide at home in peace. But when I heard thy
lamentations, Iolaus, I came forth, albeit I was not appointed to take
the lead in my family. Still in some sense am I fit to do so, for these
my brothers are my chiefest care, and I fain would ask, as touching myself,
whether some new trouble, added to the former woes, is gnawing at thy heart.
My daughter, 'tis nothing new that I should praise thee, as
I justly may, above all the children of Heracles. Our house seemed to be
prospering, when back it fell again into a hopeless state; for the king
declares the prophets signify that he must order the sacrifice, not of
bull or heifer, but of some tender maid of noble lineage, if we and this
city are to exist. Herein is our perplexity; the king refuses either to
sacrifice his own or any other's child. Wherefore, though he use not terms
express, yet doth he hint, that, unless we find some way out of this perplexity,
we must seek some other land, for he this country fain would save.
Are these indeed the terms on which our safety depends?
Yea, on these; if, that is, we are successful otherwise.
No longer then cower before the hated Argive spear; for I,
of my own free will, or ever they bid me, am ready to die and offer myself
as a victim. For what excuse have we, if, while this city deems it right
to incur great danger on our behalf, we, though we might save ourselves,
fly from death, by foisting our trouble on others? No! indeed, 'twere surely
most ridiculous to sit and mourn as suppliants of the gods, and show ourselves
but cowards, children as we are of that illustrious sire. Where among the
brave is such conduct seen? Better, I suppose, this city should be taken
and I (which Heaven forefend!) fall into the hands of the enemy, and then,
for all I am my noble father's child, meet an awful doom, and face the
Death-god none the less. Shall I wander as an exile from this land? Shall
I not feel shame then, when someone says, as say they will, "Why are ye
come hither with suppliant boughs, loving your lives too well? Begone from
our land! for we will not succour cowards." Nay, if these be slain and
I alone be saved, I have no hope in any wise of being happy, though many
ere now have in this hope betrayed their friends, For who will care to
wed a lonely maid or make me mother of his children? 'Tis better I should
die than meet such treatment, little as I merit it. This were fitter treatment
for some other, one that is not born to fame as I am. Conduct me to the
scene of death, crown me with garlands, and begin the rites, if so it please
you; then be victorious o'er the foe, for here I offer my life freely and
without constraint, and for my brothers and myself I undertake to die.
For I, by loving not my life too well, have found a treasure very fair,
a glorious means to leave it.
Ah, what shall I say on hearing the maid's brave words, she
that is ready to die for her brothers? Who can speak more noble words or
do more noble deeds henceforth for ever?
Daughter, thou art his own true child, no other man's but Heracles',
that godlike soul; proud am I of thy words, though I sorrow for thy lot.
Yet will I propose a fairer method: 'tis right to summon hither all the
sisters of this maiden, and then let her, on whom the lot shall fall, die
for her family; for that thou shouldst die without the lot is not just.
My death shall no chance lot decide; there is no graciousness
in that; peace! old friend. But if ye accept and will avail you of my readiness,
freely do I offer my life for these, and without constraint.
Ah, this is even nobler than thy former word; that was matchless,
but thou dost now surpass thy bravery and noble speech. I cannot bid, will
not forbid thy dying, O my daughter! for by thy death thou dost thy brothers
A cautious bidding thine! Fear not to take a stain of guilt
from me, only let me die as one whose death is free. Follow me, old friend,
for in thy arms I fain would die; stand by and veil my body with my robe,
for I will go even to the dreadful doom of sacrifice, seeing whose daughter
I avow myself.
I cannot stand by and see thee bleed.
At least do thou beg me this boon of the king, that I may breathe
out my life in women's arms instead of men's.
It shall be so, unhappy maid; for this were shame to me to
refuse the honour due, for many reasons: because thou hast a soul so brave;
because 'tis right; and thou hast shown more courage than any of thy sex
my eyes have ever seen. Now, if thou hast aught to say to these children
or thy aged guide. oh! say the last thou hast to say-then go.
Farewell, old friend, farewell and prithee teach these children
to be like thyself, wise at every point; let them strive no further, for
that will suffice them. And seek to save them from death, even as thou
art anxious to do; thy children are we, thy care it was that nurtured us.
Thou seest how I yield my bridal bloom to die for them. For you, my brothers
gathered here, may you be happy! and may every blessing be yours, for the
which my blood shall pay the price! Honour this old friend, and her that
is within the house, Alcmena, the aged mother of my sire, and these strangers
too. And if ever heaven for you devise release from trouble and a return
to your home, remember the burial due to her that saved you, funeral fair
as I deserve; for I have not failed, but stood by you, and died to save
my race. This shall be my pearl of price instead of children, and for the
maiden life I leave, if there be really aught beyond the grave-God grant
there may not be! For if, e'en there, we who are to die shall find a life
of care, I know not whither one shall turn; for death is held a sovereign
cure for every ill.
Maiden of heroic soul, transcending all thy race, be sure the
fame that thou shalt win from us, in life, in death, shall leave the rest
of women far behind; farewell to thee! I dare not say harsh words of her
to whom thou art devoted, the goddess-daughter of Demeter.
DEMOPHON leads MACARIA away.
Children, I am undone, grief unnerves my limbs; take hold and support me
to a seat hard by, when ye have drawn my mantle o'er my face, my sons.
For I am grieved at what hath happened, and yet, were it not fulfilled,
we could not live; thus were our fate worse, though this is grief enough.
The SERVANT OF HYLLUS enters.
Without the will of heaven none is blest, none curst, I do maintain; nor
doth the same house for ever tread the path of bliss; for one kind of fortune
follows hard upon another; one man it brings to naught from his high estate,
another though of no account it crowns with happiness. To shun what fate
decrees, is no wise permitted; none by cunning shall thrust it from him;
but he, who vainly would do so, shall have unceasing trouble.
Then fall not prostrate thou, but bear what heaven sends, and set limit
to thy soul's grief; for she, poor maid! in dying for her brothers and
this land, hath won a glorious death, and splendid fame shall be her meed
from all mankind; for virtue's path leads through troublous ways. Worthy
of her father, worthy of her noble birth is this she does. And if thou
dost honour the virtuous dead, I share with thee that sentiment.
SERVANT OF HYLLUS
All hail, ye children! Where is aged Iolaus? where the mother
of your 'sire, absent from their place at this altar?
Here am I, so far as I can be here at all.
Why dost thou lie there? Why that downcast look?
There is come a sorrow on my house, whereby I suffer.
Arise, lift up thy head.
I am old, and all my strength is gone.
But I come with tidings of great joy for thee.
Who art thou? Where have I met thee? I have no remembrance.
I am a vassal of Hyllus; dost not recognize me now?
Best of friends, art thou come to save us twain from hurt?
Assuredly; and moreover thou art lucky in the present case.
Alcmena, mother of a noble son, to thee I call! come forth,
hear this welcome news. For long has anguish caused thee inwardly to waste,
wondering if those, who now are here, would ever come.
ALCMENA enters from the temple in answer to the call.
What means that shout, that echoes throughout the house? Hath
there come yet a herald from Argos, O Iolaus, and is he treating thee with
violence? Feeble is any strength of mine; yet thus much let me tell thee,
stranger, never, whilst I live, shalt thou drag them hence. Shouldst thou
succeed, no more let me be thought the mother of that hero. And if thou
lay a finger on them, thou wilt struggle to thy shame with two aged foes.
Courage, aged dame, fear not; not from Argos is a herald come,
with hostile messages.
Why then didst raise a cry, fear's harbinger?
I called thee to come to me in front of this temple.
I know not what it means; who is this?
A messenger who says thy grandson cometh hither.
All hail to thee for these thy tidings! But why is he not here,
where is he? if in this land he hath set foot. What hath happened to keep
him from coming hither with thee, to cheer my heart?
He is posting the army he brought with him, and seeing it marshalled.
Then have I no concern herein.
Yes, thou hast; though it is my business to inquire.
What then wouldst thou learn of these events?
About how many allies has he with him?
A numerous force; I cannot otherwise describe the number.
The leaders of the Athenians know this, I suppose?
They do; already is their left wing set in array.
Is then the host already armed for battle?
Yea, and already are the victims brought near the ranks.
About what distance is the Argive host from us?
Near enough for their general to be plainly seen.
What is he about? marshalling the enemy's line?
So we guessed; we could not hear exactly. But I must go, for
I would not that my master should engage the foe without me, if I can help
I also will go with thee; for I like thee am minded, so it
seems, to be there and help my friends.
It least of all becomes thee thus to utter words of folly.
Far less to shrink from sharing with my friends the stubborn
Mere looks can wound no one, if the arm do naught.
Why, cannot I smite even through their shields?
Smite perhaps, more likely be smitten thyself.
No foe will dare to meet me face to face.
Friend, the strength, that erst was thine, is thine no more.
Well, at any rate, I will fight with as many as ever I did.
Small the weight thou canst throw into the balance for thy
Detain me not, when I have girded myself for action.
The power to act is thine no more, the will maybe is there.
Stay here I will not, say what else thou wilt.
How shalt thou show thyself before the troops unarmed?
There be captured arms within this shrine; these will I use,
and, if I live, restore; and, if I am slain, the god will not demand them
of me back. Go thou within, and from its peg take down a suit of armour
and forthwith bring it to me. To linger thus at home is infamous, while
some go fight, and others out of cowardice remain behind.
The SERVANT goes into the temple.
Not yet hath time laid low thy spirit, 'tis young as ever; but thy body's
strength is gone. Why toil to no purpose? 'Twill do thee hurt and benefit
our city little. At thy age thou shouldst confess thy error and let impossibilities
alone. Thou canst in no way get thy vigour back again.
What means this mad resolve to leave me with my children undefended
Men must fight; and thou must look to them.
And what if thou art slain? what safety shall I find?
Thy son's surviving children will care for thee.
Suppose they meet with some reverse? which Heaven forefend!
These strangers will not give thee up, fear not.
They are my last and only hope, I have no other.
Zeus too, I feel sure, cares for thy sufferings.
Ah! of Zeus will I never speak ill, but himself doth know whether
he is just to me.
The SERVANT enters from the temple, carrying the
Lo! here thou seest a full coat of mail; make haste to case
thyself therein; for the strife is nigh, and bitterly doth Ares loathe
loiterers; but if thou fear the weight of the armour, go now without it,
and in the ranks do on this gear; meantime will I carry it.
Well said! keep the harness ready to my hand, put a spear within
my grasp, and support me on the left side, guiding my steps.
Am I to lead this warrior like a child?
To save the omen, we must go without stumbling.
Would thy power to act were equal to thy zeal!
Hasten; I shall feel it grievously, if I am too late for the
'Tis thou who art slow, not I, though thou fanciest thou art
Dost not mark how swift my steps are hasting?
I mark more seeming than reality in thy haste,
Thou wilt tell a different tale when thou seest me there.
What shall I see thee do? I wish thee all success, at any rate.
Thou shalt see me smite some foeman through the shield.
Perhaps, if ever we get there. I have my fears of that.
Ah! would to Heaven that thou, mine arm, e'en as I remember
thee in thy lusty youth, when with Heracles thou didst sack Sparta, couldst
so champion me to-day! how I would put Eurystheus to flight! since he is
to craven to wait the onslaught. For prosperity carries with it this error
too, a reputation for bravery; for we think the prosperous man a master
of all knowledge.
IOLAUS and the SERVANT depart.
The SERVANT enters.
O earth, and moon that shines by night, and dazzling radiance of the god,
that giveth light to man, bear the tidings to me, shout aloud to heaven
for joy, and beside our ruler's throne, and in the shrine of grey-eyed
Athene. For my fatherland and home will I soon decide the issue of the
strife with the gleaming sword, because I have taken suppliants under my
'Tis a fearful thing, that a city prosperous as Mycenae is, one famed for
martial prowess, should harbour wrath against my land; still, my countrymen,
it were a shameful thing in us to yield up suppliant strangers at the bidding
of Argos. Zeus is on my side, I am not afraid; Zeus hath a favour unto
me, as is my due; never by me shall gods be thought weaker than mortal
O dread goddess, thine the soil whereon we stand, thine this city, for
thou art its mother, queen, and saviour; wherefore turn some other way
the impious king, who leadeth a host from Argos with brandished lance against
this land; for, such my worth, I little merit exile from my home.
For thy worship is aye performed with many a sacrifice, and never art thou
forgotten as each month draweth to its close, when young voices sing and
dancers' music is heard abroad, while on our wind-swept hill goes up the
cry of joy to the beat of maidens' feet by night.
Mistress, the message that I bring is very short for thee to
hear and fair for me, who stand before thee, to announce. O'er our foes
we are victorious, and trophies are being set up, with panoplies upon them,
taken from thy enemies.
Best of friends! this day hath wrought thy liberty by reason
of these tidings. But there still remains one anxious thought thou dost
not free me from;-a thought of fear;-are those, whose lives I cherish,
spared to me?
They are, and high their fame through all the army spreads.
The old man Iolaus,-is he yet alive?
Aye, that he is, a hero whom the gods delight to honour.
How so? Did he perform some deed of prowess?
He hath passed from age to youth once more.
Thy tale is passing strange; but first I would that thou shouldst
tell me how our friends won the day.
One speech of mine puts it all clearly before thee. When we
had deployed our troops and marshalled them face to face with one another,
Hyllus dismounted from his four-horsed chariot and stood midway betwixt
the hosts. Then cried he, "Captain, who art come from Argos, why cannot
we leave this land alone? No hurt wilt thou do Mycenae, if of one man thou
rob her; come! meet me in single combat. and if thou slay me, take the
children of Heracles away with thee, but, if thou fall, leave me to possess
my ancestral honours and my home." The host cried yes! saying the scheme
he offered was a fair one, both to rid them of their trouble and satisfy
their valour. But that other, feeling no shame before those who heard the
challenge or at his own cowardice, quailed, general though he was, to come
within reach of the stubborn spear, showing himself an abject coward; yet
with such a spirit he came to enslave the children of Heracles. Then did
Hyllus withdraw to his own ranks again, and the prophets seeing that no
reconciliation would be effected by single combat, began the sacrifice
without delay and forthwith let flow from a human throat auspicious streams
of blood. And some were mounting chariots, while others couched beneath
the shelter of their shields, and the king of the Athenians, as a highborn
chieftain should, would exhort his host-"Fellow-citizens, the land, that
feeds you and that gave you birth, demands to-day the help of every man."
Likewise Eurystheus besought his allies that they should scorn to sully
the fame of Argos and Mycenae. Anon the Etrurian trumpet sounded loud and
clear, and hand to hand they rushed; then think how loudly clashed their
ringing shields, what din arose of cries and groans confused! At first
the onset of the Argive spearmen broke our ranks; then they in turn gave
ground; next, foot to foot and man to man, they fought their stubborn fray,
many falling the while. And either chief cheered on his men, "Sons of Athens!
Ye who till the fields of Argos! ward from your land disgrace." Do all
we could, and spite of every effort, scarce could we turn the Argive line
in flight. When lo! old Iolaus sees Hyllus starting from the ranks, whereon
he lifts his hands to him with a prayer to take him up into his chariot.
Thereon he seized the reins and went hard after the horses of Eurystheus.
From this point onward must I speak from hearsay, though hitherto as one
whose own eyes saw. For as he was crossing Pallene's hill, sacred to the
goddess Athene, he caught sight of Eurystheus' chariot, and prayed to Hebe
and to Zeus, that for one single day he might grow young again and wreak
his vengeance on his foes. Now must thou hear a wondrous tale: two stars
settled on the horses' yokes and threw the chariot into dark shadow, which-at
least so say our wiser folk-were thy son and Hebe; and from that murky
gloom appeared that aged man in the form of a youth with strong young arms;
then by the rocks of Sciron the hero Iolaus o'ertakes Eurystheus' chariot.
And he bound his hands with gyves, and is bringing that chieftain once
so prosperous as a trophy hither, whose fortune now doth preach a lesson,
clear as day, to all the sons of men, that none should envy him, who seems
to thrive, until they see his death; for fortune's moods last but a day.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
O Zeus, who puttest my foes to flight, now may I behold the
day that frees me from cruel fear!
At last, O Zeus, hast thou turned a favouring eye on my affliction;
yet do I thank thee for what has happened. And though ere this I did not
believe my son was gathered to the gods, now am I convinced thereof. My
children, now at last from toil shall ye be free, free from him, whom hideous
death awaits, Eurystheus; now shall ye behold your father's city, and set
foot in the land of your inheritance, and sacrifice to those ancestral
gods, from whom ye have been debarred and forced to lead in strangers'
lands a life of wretched vagrancy. But tell me, what sage purpose Iolaus
nursed in his heart, that he spared the life of Eurystheus, for to my mind
this is no wisdom, to catch a foe and wreak no vengeance on him.
'Twas his regard for thee, that thou might'st see him subject
to thy hand, and triumph o'er him. Rest assured, 'twas no willing prisoner
he made, but by strong constraint he bound him, for Eurystheus was loth
indeed to come alive into thy presence and pay his penalty. Farewell, my
aged mistress; I pray thee remember thy first promise when I was beginning
my story; set me free; for, at such a time as this, sincerity becometh
The SERVANT departs.
A MESSENGER enters. He is followed by guards who bring in EURYSTHEUS
Sweet is the dance to me, whenso the clear-toned flute and lovely Aphrodite
shed grace upon the feast; and a joyful thing too it is, trow, to witness
the good luck of friends, who till then ne'er dreamt of it. For numerous
is the offspring of Fate, that bringeth all to pass, and of Time, the son
Thine is the path of justice, O my city; this must no man wrest from thee,
thy reverence for the gods, and, whoso denieth it of thee, draws nigh to
frenzy's goal, with these plain proofs in view. Yea, for the god proclaims
it clearly, by cutting short the bad man's pride in every case.
In heaven, mother, lives thy son, passed from earth away; that he went
down to Hades' halls, his body burnt by the fire's fierce flame, is past
belief; in golden halls reclined he has to wife Hebe, lovely nymph. Thou,
O Hymen, hast honoured them, children both of Zeus.
Things for the most part form a single chain; for men say Athene used to
champion their father, and now the citizens of that goddess have saved
his children, and checked the insolence of him whose heart preferred violence
to justice. God save me from such arrogance, such greed of soul!
Mistress, though thine eyes see him, yet will I announce we
have brought Eurystheus hither for thy pleasure, an unexpected sight, for
him no less a chance he ne'er foresaw; for little he thought of ever falling
into thy hands, what time he marched from Mycenae with his toil-worn warriors,
to sack Athens, thinking himself far above fortune. But a power divine
hath reversed our destinies, changing their position. Now Hyllus and brave
Iolaus I left raising an image to Zeus, who routs the foe, for their triumphant
victory, whilst they bid me bring this prisoner to thee, wishing to gladden
thy heart; for 'tis the sweetest sight to see a foe fall on evil days after
Art come, thou hateful wretch? Hath justice caught thee then
at last? First, turn thy head this way to me, and endure to look thy enemies
in the face, for thou art no more the ruler, but the slave. Art thou the
man-for this I fain would learn-who didst presume to heap thy insults on
my son, who now is where he is, thou miscreant? What outrage didst thou
abstain from putting upon him? Thou that didst make him go down alive even
to Hades, and wouldst send him with an order to slay hydras and lions?
Thy other evil schemes I mention not, for to tell them were a tedious task
for me. Nor did it content thee to venture thus far only; no! but from
all Hellas wouldst thou drive me and my children, heaven's suppliants though
we were, grey-beards some of us, and some still tender babes. But here
hast thou found men and a free city, that feared not thee. Die in torment
must thou, and e'en so wilt thou gain in every way, for one death is not
thy due, after all the sorrow thou hast caused.
Thou mayst not slay him.
Then have we taken him captive in vain. But say, what law forbids
It is not the wiff of the rulers of this land.
Why, what is this? Do they not approve of slaying enemies?
Not such as they have taken alive in battle.
Did Hyllus uphold this decision?
He, I suppose, ought to have disobeyed the law of the land.
The prisoner's life ought not to have been spared a moment.
It was then that he was wronged, by not being slain at first.
Why, then, he is still in time to pay his penalty.
There is no one who will slay him now.
I will; and yet I count myself someone.
Well, thou wilt incur great blame, if thou do this deed.
I love this city well; that cannot be gainsaid. But since this
man hath fallen into my power, no mortal hand shall wrest him from me.
Wherefore let who will, call me the woman bold, with thoughts too high
for her sex; yet shall this deed be brought to pass by me.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Lady, full well I understand thou hast a dire quarrel with
this man, and 'tis pardonable.
Woman, be sure I will not flatter thee nor say aught to save
my life, that can give any occasion for a charge of cowardice. It was not
of my own free will I took this quarrel up; I am aware that I was born
thy cousin, and kinsman to Heracles, thy son; but whether I would or no,
Hera, by her power divine, caused me to be afflicted thus. Still, when
undertook to be his foe, and when I knew I had to enter on this struggle,
I set myself to devise trouble in plenty, and oft from time to time my
midnight communing bore fruit, scheming how to push aside and slay my foes,
and for the future divorce myself from fear; for I knew that son of thine
was no mere cipher, but a man indeed; yea, for, though he was my foe, I
will speak well of him, because he was a man of worth. Now, after he was
taken hence, was I not forced, by reason of these children's hatred, and
because I was conscious of an hereditary feud, to leave no stone unturned
by slaying, banishing, and plotting against them? So long as I did so,
my safety was assured. Suppose thyself hadst had my lot, wouldst not thou
have set to harassing the lion's angry whelps, instead of letting them
dwell at Argos undisturbed? Thou wilt not persuade us otherwise. Now therefore,
since they did not slay me then, when I was prepared to die, by the laws
of Hellas my death becomes a curse on him who slays me now. The city wisely
let me go, in that she regarded the gods more than her hatred of me. Thou
hast had my answer to thy words; henceforth must I be called avenging spirit
and noble hero too. 'Tis even thus with me; to die have I no wish, but,
if I leave my life, I shall in no way be grieved.
Alcmena, fain I would advise thee somewhat; let this man go,
for 'tis the city's will.
Suppose he die, and yet I obey the city?
That would be best of all; but how can this be?
I will teach thee easily. I will slay him and then give up
his corpse to those of his friends who come for it, for, as regards his
body, I will not disobey the state; but by his death shall he pay me the
Slay me, I do not ask thee for mercy; yet since this city let
me go and shrunk from slaying me, I will reward it with an old oracle of
Loxias, which in time will benefit them more than doth appear. Bury my
body after death in its destined grave in front of the shrine of the virgin
goddess at Pallene. And I will be thy friend and guardian of thy city for
ever, where I lie buried in a foreign soil, but a bitter foe to these children's
descendants, whensoe'er with gathered host they come against this land,
traitors to your kindness now; such are the strangers ye have championed.
Why then came I hither, if I knew all this, instead of regarding the god's
oracle? Because I thought, that Hera was mightier far than any oracle,
and would not betray me. Waste no drink-offering on my tomb, nor spill
the victim's blood; for I will requite them for my treatment here with
a journey they shall rue; and ye shall have double gain from me, for I
will help you and harm them by my death.
Why, why delay to kill this man, after hearing this, since
this is needed to secure the safety of your city and your children? Himself
points out the safest road. Though the man is now our foe, yet after death
is he our gain. Away with him, ye servants, and cast him to the dogs when
ye have slain him. Think not thou shalt live to cast me forth from my native
The guards lead out EURYSTHEUS.
I agree. Lead on, servants. Our conduct shall bring no stain of guilt upon